I had spent my last five nights in Susiya. A new team had arrived and was soon able to manage on its own. However, tummy problems made it problematic to provide full presence in the village. I seemed to be the only one who has that ‘cast iron stomach’ and so I was the constant along with whoever was well enough.
I could not have known what a gift this would be as I eased deeper into the culture. Continuous shared meals, longer together times, opportunities to help with household tasks. I helped little Hamoodie feed the sheep, Wi’dad, wash the grain sent from Canada and lay it out to dry in the sun, Eola, make labaneh ( dried yoghurt) , Mahmoud, mix za’atar- a Palestinian spice mixture; the day to day tasks that keep men, women, and children so busy.
We were all more relaxed that week. The immanent threat of demolition had been postponed….the court case put off until talks with the DCO (District Coordination Office) take place. No longer were we planning for and dealing with the steady stream of media, journalists, activists, government officials, inundating the village requiring food and lodging. Nassar, exhausted from making himself available to all who have found their way to this tiny village of 350 people, was able to relax and spend time with his family. They sat outside in the coolness of the evening softly talking and laughing.
I enjoyed many meals at Eola’s tent. Ida, a Danish activist, who speaks Arabic, was often there as well. She tirelessly liaised with all the participants in this drama – up late into the night, strategically planning the next day’s activitie, out with the shepherds at dawn, because of threats from the Israeli settlers near by, and translating for for the visitors as they come and go.
We all rested uncomfortably in the afternoons as we coped with a heat wave sent to us from India keeping the temperatures well above 40C. At least at night there was a breeze of sorts pushing the hot air about.
We moved and talked slowly. Through Ida, we were able to ask and answer questions about each others lives. One morning that week Abu Jihad, the patriarch of the family, invited students to join us. They were volunteering in a refugee camp. As each told a little about themselves, Abu Jihad told them that I was ‘Family’! Tears …..
On my last day, the hottest day of the heat wave, the women of the village prepared for a shopping trip in Hebron for ‘back to school’ clothes. Eola, who made our breakfasts, was eight months pregnant, and was feeling poorly because of a miserable head cold. However, she dressed beautifully in a traditional full length black dress for the outing. Life is hard for the women in the village and they don’t often have the opportunity for an outing to the city. This shopping trip was a very special occasion.
As I returned to our apartment in Yatta for a shower and a fitful rest in the unrelenting heat. I wondered how Eola would manage to get through her shopping day in the crowded city.
A superb meal of stuffed cabbage and turkey greeted is as we arrived back in the evening. We joined Nassar and his family for the evening meal. I commented on the superhuman feat of his wife’s preparation of this feast after such a long and tiring day. ‘She is strong’, he grins as they exchange an appreciative look and a smile.
After dinner, Leif, my Norwegian colleague, and I sit appreciatively under the full moon in a cloudless azure sky studded with stars. With heavy hearts, we decide to make our rounds to say our good byes. No need for flashlights as we meander from tent to tent in the moonlight. Eventually, we are called to Eola’s tent. The children are outside, gathered around a coconut cake and her specialty, a milk pudding. She is disappointed because it hasn’t set as she had hoped. I am overwhelmed as I realize the effort she has made under such trying circumstances.
It is customary in the Palestinian culture, I was told, to sing at a farewell gathering. The children take their turns, singing familiar Arabic songs. Then it is our turn to sing songs from our homelands – Norway, Denmark and Newfoundland..
The little ones weave in and out of our arms and slowly succumb to sleep. One by one, Mahmoud, their father, carries them to their sleeping mats.
Eola looks at me and, Ida translating, softly says, ‘You are sad! ‘She intuits that I am overwhelmed by a deep sense of all that I am about to leave behind. I have come to love the families with whom we have fostered a friendship midst the turmoil of the past few months. I feel so privileged to have been immersed in a culture that is virtually the same as it was centuries ago; a way of life that may soon disappear in this new homogeneous world that is being created. I have walked, talked, slept, cried, played, worried, and celebrated with families I have grown cherish.
With heavy hearts, we walked back to our tent where Mahmoud joined us. He chatted with Leif about his life in the village. It seemed to be ‘men talk’ and I felt I should leave them alone but my presence didn’t seem to matter, so I stayed. We felt the poignancy of the moment. At some point Mahmoud suggested that our tent was so hot and airless that we might prefer sleeping outside. He told us that when he was a boy, he always slept outside. In the morning, his family would look all over to see where they might find him. He showed me his favourite ‘sleeping’ rock! I was open to the idea because a rat had nudged Leif the night before and I was a little anxious. So….. I contentedly slept outside, close to the guard dog who had just had a litter and was protective.
My last night in Susiya, I slept under the stars, waking every few hours to follow the full moon’s trail across the deep blue sky. For that night at least, my heart was at peace in this incredible Palestinian village.
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, It is still a beautiful world.”