Two weeks ago, I took a walk around Al Aqaba. I wanted to see how far toward the mountain I could go before the road ended.
I walked down from the village on a gravel-y road and thought about bringing a group on this walk. This seemed like a nice, leisurely start. I got ten minutes down the hill and saw the road end, just in front of a grove of olive trees. This road was made to help the villagers get to their olives. I didn't know what path to take after the olive trees or whether it was safe, so I turned back. Ten minutes of steep uphill walking proved difficult. I've been on my computer too much lately, just sitting on my butt. If I bring visitors on a mountain walk, they might be a little distressed at this finale. Maybe if they're rewarded with lunch....
Then the road leveled off and I headed back toward the village. It was starting to rain. I looked up towards one of the houses (Haj Sami calls them barracks because often the families have to share the space with their animals) and I saw a mother and her children looking at me. I was a pretty odd sight, still. After I acknowledged them, I knew what was coming.
"T3ali!" Come! They waved at me.
I left the road and walked up to their house. I'm not sure if they were surprised that I accepted their invitation, but this was probably the first time an ajnabia had been in their house. The woman, who introduced herself as Sarah, welcomed me inside and hurried off, probably to put on some coffee. Another woman joined me in the room, and pointed at Sarah. She explained to me in Arabic, but I didn't understand until she gestured, rubbing her index fingers together and giving me the number two. They were both married to one man. I had never met a family with two wives, as much as I had heard about polygamy in Islam, and Palestine. A man is allowed to have four wives, but I'd never, even in the villages, seen this situation.
We were sitting in a two-room house made of concrete blocks. The rain from yesterday had made water stains on the wall, which the second woman pointed out to me. Her daughter of about eight years came in carrying a big, bundled-up baby. The woman took him and put him in a cradle swinging from a rope in the middle of the room.
I asked the daughter in Arabic what grade she was in, and she replied that she was in third. You speak English? I asked. She giggled. I asked "how are you?" She responded "fine, thanks."
Two little boys were peeking their heads in the doorway, looking at me. I asked, "shoo ismak?" what's your name? They ran away, shrieking with laughter. I smiled at the woman sitting next to me, and she smiled back at me.
She introduced herself at Hajar. Hagar. Sarah and Hagar! "zei Ibrahim!" I exclaimed. She smiled, yes. Bas, ihna mish zeihom. But we are not like them.
"Alhamdullilah," I said instinctively, to Hagar, then I wondered if that sounded naive or offensive. "Alhamdulliah," she said back. Thanks to God.
I could see the hill I had attempted to climb just outside their front door--their view was gorgeous. I asked Hagar if there was a way, "tariq" up to the top, she said yes. I asked her if there were landmines, bombs, and I pantomimed something exploding. She shook her head, no. She said the Jews train between here and the hill sometimes, and she pantomimed shooting.
"Kul yom?" I asked. Every day?
Not on Friday and Saturday, she said. I thought, of course, not on Shabbat, when the soldiers go home. If I was going to lead a nature walk, it would have to be on the weekend.
We sat quietly for a while, while the boys played peek-a-boo with me from outside. They were holding handfuls of fresh bread. It wasn't pita bread, or khubs tabun, it looked more crepe-y and thin. I asked Hagar what it was. She said it was khubs saj. She left and after a few minutes brought back a plastic shopping bag full of khubs saj for me. I dug in. It was delicious.
I asked Hagar if she was from Al Aqaba, which seemed like an obvious question. She told me no, she was from close-by, near the Maleh. I knew the Maleh was a salty hot-spring that had been mostly drained by a settlement. People used to come from all around to sit in the springs. It was said to have healing powers. People would say, "I'm going to the Maleh," the salt, and everyone knew what that meant.
Hagar clarified, "ihna bedu, mish fallahin." We are Bedouin, not villagers. I was immediately surprised at this statement, because Haj Sami had told me he didn't like one caption a website had printed, describing a girl from Al Aqaba as a "bedouin girl." It was easy to see why. If Al Aqaba was seen as a bedouin community, its planning wouldn't be taken as seriously. But Hagar's family was an exception. She explained that she settled in Al Aqaba because of her husband, and the animals they kept here, but she frequently took the bus to see her relatives in their Bedouin community by the Maleh.
It was still raining, but I saw rays of light shooting in through the holes between the wall and the roof. The roof was just metal sheets, held down onto the concrete blocks with various heavy things like tires and rocks. The sun was getting through and making little golden spots on the wall. I told Hagar maybe there would be a rainbow. "Mumkin qaws kuzah?" She smiled.
And sure enough, I saw a rainbow outside the door. I got up and immediately Hagar told me, "sit, sit!" but I was that strange ajnabia with the camera, and I had to get a few pictures. I asked one of the little boys, "sho hada?" what's that? and he yelled, "qaws kuzah!!!"
The other boy was jumping up and down yelling "qaws kuzah! qaws kuzah! qaws kuzah!" and it was the cutest thing I'd ever seen.
I found Sarah making khubs saj in a little stone hut, tossing the dough like a pizza and throwing it over the metal bowl. I told her I would come back to visit, and she told me to come visit everyday. It had finished raining, and the rainbow was fading. I said goodbye to the family and walked back toward the guest house.