Him

When evening light starts to filter through the cloudy window above us, I grow antsy and ask if anyone wants to go for another walk. Hani and Ali agree to join me.

By early evening, the streets are more crowded, and our walk is punctuated with “Salaam alaykum” as Ali greets friends and neighbors. With the exception of a few years in Saudi Arabia, Ali has lived in the camp his whole life—unable to afford to move elsewhere—and seems to know someone on every street.

This neighborly familiarity gives me confidence to walk through a wedding party when the sight of men dancing and singing in the street piques my curiosity. The party is waiting outside the groom’s house to take him to pick up his bride. Then it will move to a wedding hall, Hani tells me, where music, feasting, and fireworks will go on through the night.

Bearded men greet me as I walk through the crowd, and children stare. Musicians playing reed flutes and vase-shaped hand drums called tablahs stand in a circle around clapping celebrants. Though I feel welcome, I’m not sure where I feel more foreign: surrounded by this traditional wedding street party or with four Palestinian brothers watching Ashlee Simpson on TV.

Her

After the men leave for their walk, the ladies remove their headscarves again, and someone tunes the radio to upbeat, Arabic dance music. One of the older women jumps up and begins moving her hips back and forth in sliding half moons. The women—young and old, single and married—dance with each other. In their sweeping synchronicity, their separateness from men seems to have nothing to do with oppression.

Between songs, Amal needs to go to the bathroom in the back of the house. She opens the door slowly and peers to the right, then pokes her head out a little further and looks to the left, making sure the coast is clear. Noting that Douglas hasn’t returned, and without her headscarf, she sprints to the bathroom.

“If we knew you would be this much fun, we would have come back earlier,” Amal says when she returns. I also wish that I’d met them earlier and that I could return to the camp before our departure from Jordan.

After more dancing, one of Hani’s brothers looks in to say that Douglas has returned. All of the ladies scramble to put on their headscarves. Everyone gathers in the front room as Hani, Ali, and Douglas slowly stroll back in and take seats under the Dome of the Rock. It’s dark outside, and the mood is winding down toward sleep.

One of the children is given money to buy ice cream bars for everyone, and when he returns we all sit, quietly licking our ice cream, until Hani says we have to go. Everyone protests, though we have been visiting for most of the day. The baby is tired, Abra says, but her drooping eyelids show that she is, too.

Hani’s brothers say goodbye to me with warm smiles, and the women and I swap quick kisses on the cheek. I step out into the still-hot street and turn to wave at the family in their doorway. Then I squeeze into the car’s back seat with Abra, the sleeping baby, Jane, and the diaper bag.

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