Abruptly, it is time to go. I grab my
backpack and climb into Abed’s taxi. It is sunset and we
are a little rushed because it is Ramadan and Abed, our
driver, has taken neither food nor drink since day break.
The breaking of the fast will be soon and he wants to get
home with his family for this special meal.
We embark along a very bumpy road, with the noticeable exception of the short section of highway that leads to the nearby Israeli settlement. We are on our way to Susiya, a village under immediate threat of demolition by the Israeli authorities. We (EAPPI) are here to provide protective presence to the villagers as they wait for their court case to be heard on August 3. It is feared that the Israeli authorities will attempt the demolition before then.
Just as the sun melts into the stony hills, we gingerly inch our way into
The Village. The villagers are preparing to
take their first sustenance since beginning their Ramadan
fast at dawn. We stop in front of Nassar’s house. I decide to join the women in the
kitchen as we accept the invitation into their home. As they
finish food preparations they do not make eye contact with
me. I stand awkwardly, watching, waiting to be noticed and
then somewhat reluctantly rejoin the men.
As I settle unto the floor mat the
only ones who seem to notice me are the children. The
oldest, 8, is charmingly polite and has indicated that I am to sit
beside him. The food is placed on a tablecloth in front of
us and I am obviously his responsibility. He passes me
bread, made earlier in the outdoor taboon oven, and
indicates that I should take some chicken. The meal is enhanced by carrot stew, soup and a
tomato okra dip and rice. In the timeless tradition of
sharing a meal in the Middle East, we eat without
plates or utensils. It is a bit of a challenge for me and
although I make a little more of a mess than the others, no
one seems to mind.
After the meal I manage to make
myself visible by helping to bring the dishes from the floor
to the kitchen, a challenge for my mature hips and knees! My
new little friend snuggles into me as he watches TV.
A satisfied quietness envelopes us and there is no compulsion
to fill the silence. We exchange a few questions about
our mission and the village. Everyone seems tired,
content just to be in each others company as people drop in and out without fuss.
It is then time for us to go. As we stumble among in the darkness I wish to myself we had taken thetime to situate ourselves into our sleeping quarters earlier. We will
sleep in the clinic, a room with concrete walls and a canvas
roof. The wind is high and the canvas snaps. Dust is thick,
a fine carpet softening the hard concrete floor. A single
light bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminates the space that is now our home for
the next six weeks. Mats on the floor with makeshift
sleeping bags complete our preparations. When I visit the
hamam (toilet) some distance away, I wonder how I will manage if I
have to get up in throughout the night!
My teammate, Leif, makes a reference to the water I drank, and all of a sudden the terrible
realization of what i have done seeps into me. Under no
circumstance were we to drink the water. Even unpeeled fruit
and uncooked vegetables are suspect. Something
has happened to the water in Susyia and
newcomers who have consumed it have gotten sick.
Dread that I may have so carelessly jeopardized the first part of my
assignment oozes through me.
As we trudge back, Nasser calls out to us and we join him
outside his home for a chat and a sweet dessert. He offers a
few pointers. …watch out for snakes and scorpions. Put
away the headlamps and close our eyes tightly for a minute.
Then open them and see how we can see our way by moonlight.
He brings us to the plum orchard and we taste the ripening
plums…so sweet. He tells us, ‘ the Koran allows for the
eating of fruit off the tree when one is passing through
during Ramadan. You must not gather for the family or to
prepare a meal, but just pick it from the tree as you are
passing through!’ The moon illuminates the path back to our
Arabic music blares just outside our window and like mice to the
pied piper we are drawn out. The Susyia night club is in
full swing. Two teen aged girls, 3 pre teen boys, and
two little girls welcome us. We clap and sway to the latest
Arab hits, are patiently taught a traditional dance,
play hand clapping games, and practice Arabic! Lots and lots
of laughter! The young boys dance – the girls not so much.
Ohla, one of the mothers joins us for a while before she
takes her little ones home to bed. Quite tired now, we
In an ink blue sky, the crescent moon stretches up to a Venus so
bright, it brings to mind the story of the star on the night
Jesus was born …..also in an occupied land!
The soft bleating of sheep, distant barking of dogs
and the murmurings of families settling down for the night
completes our first night in Susiya.