Her

“It’s Jordan’s hottest weather in sixty-seven years,” a radio weatherman says as we drive to the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp, where my new friend Hani grew up. In the back seat of Hani’s Mitsubishi sedan, I am squeezed between two sweating women, a baby, and an overloaded diaper bag. My red, ankle-length skirt—which I bought specifically for visiting the conservative refugee camp—feels like a wet Band-Aid in the hundred-degree heat. Before leaving this morning, I ripped out the lining of the skirt. Even that sheer silk felt oppressive in the heat. My skirt is no doubt cooler, though, than the dress pants Hani and my boyfriend, Douglas, are wearing.

As a woman in Jordan, I am automatically relegated to any car’s back seat. But the fact that Hani’s wife Abra [the names of Hani’s family members have been changed in this essay] sits here with me on the way to Baqa’a tempers my visceral reaction against the sexist allocation of car seats. After knowing Abra for just ten days, I’ve learned that she makes her own decisions, like choosing not to wear a headscarf over her shoulder-length, auburn-highlighted black hair. I also know that Hani chose to marry Abra because, in his words, he “wanted to be with an equal.” This statement made me immediately like Hani, whose constantly dirty glasses and prematurely graying hair lend him an endearing seriousness. Hani’s belief in the equality of the sexes has been calming the vocal feminist in me since I arrived in Jordan, where I’m beginning to see the possibilities for self-expression created by gender differences, instead of just the restrictions.

This doesn’t change my sweltering in the shared body heat of the back seat, though. Abra sits on my left, holding her one-and-a-half-year-old son, Nabil. Jane, Abra’s nanny from the Philippines, presses against my right side, the diaper bag in her lap. As we descend from the Jordanian capital, Amman—where Hani and Abra live—toward the Baqa’a camp, the stifling wind blowing through the open windows becomes too much for Abra. She insists that Hani turn on the air conditioning, which he had kept off to save gas, and he rolls up the windows just as we leave the highway and enter the refugee camp. The glass panes accentuate the differences between our eclectic posse in the car—three Palestinian Jordanians, two white North Americans, and a Filipina—and the people on the street.

Inside the camp stand rows of uninterrupted, sand-colored buildings. Kids in flip-flops and shorts play soccer in the street and wave at us. Men peer into the car windows. Women avert their eyes. I stare at all of them.

Him

From an altitude of fifty miles, the Baqa’a refugee camp is recognizable on Google Earth as a gray, angular realm of concrete northwest of Amman, Jordan. The camp, as its residents call it, sits in a broad valley in the mountains of Biblical Gilead. To its south, the Amman suburbs bleed down from a high plateau. From twenty thousand feet, the camp’s straight edges, grid streets, and tin roofs grow more defined against the surrounding villages, olive groves, and open fields. By five thousand feet, the camp nearly fills the computer screen and becomes a world.

The camp’s artificial geography results from its sudden creation in 1968, when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) resettled twenty-six thousand Palestinians displaced by the 1967 Arab Israeli war into tents at Baqa’a. The camp is now the largest in the Middle East outside of Gaza. More than one hundred thousand people pack into 14.1 square kilometers, and each family lives on an area of 96 square meters.

Among these thousands are my friend Hani’s mother, three of his four brothers, three of his four sisters, and tens of in-laws, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Though all of Hani’s siblings are older than twenty, six of them live at home with his mother. Hani, thirty-five, considers himself fortunate to be able to afford an apartment in cosmopolitan Amman.

In a country where institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians is common, Hani’s escape from Baqa’a is extraordinary. He scored the highest of all Jordanian men on the country’s general secondary exams, earning him a Fulbright Fellowship for graduate study in the United States, where he and I fast became friends.

During our two years together in graduate school, Hani often acted as both ambassador and host. He cooked feasts of homemade hummus and dish after dish of difficult-to-pronounce main courses while speaking with soft-spoken humility about his people’s horrific recent history. After dinner, as I sat beneath a map of Palestine that dominated one wall of Hani’s apartment and sipped sugary black tea boiled with mint, he would make thin pancakes called katayef and stuff them with cheese and pistachios. After dessert, regardless of how long we smoked fruit-flavored tobacco from Hani’s Jordanian water pipe, or sheesha, he would always ask why I had to go so soon.

Six years later, after Hani returned to Jordan to teach, he and I reunited to feast again. This time, though, Hani ordered the food at an Amman restaurant called Farujnah (“Our Chicken”), where we went directly after Hani and Abra picked up me and my girlfriend Alisha at Queen Alia International Airport. Over fried chicken, lamb kabobs, and a table full of mezze, we discussed destinations for our three-week visit.

As Alisha and I had hoped, Hani’s mother invited us to her home in Baqa’a for lunch after Friday prayers. I knew that a visit to the camp could only provide a momentary, fixed glimpse of life there, something like a satellite view from fifty miles above the earth. Nonetheless, such a firsthand view—like the immediate detail of Google Earth—might allow us to imagine daily life in the camp.

It would be difficult to drive through Baqa’a at over ten miles per hour without hitting something or someone. The streets are barely wide enough for two cars to squeeze through side by side. Add parked cars, pedestrians (there are few sidewalks), and children playing in the streets, and driving at a crawl becomes a necessity.

The rows of concrete houses in Baqa’a appear as if they’ve grown in fits and spurts. Hani explains that there were gardens next to many homes when he was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. These were destroyed, though, as people enlarged their prefab shelters or built new concrete-block houses to accommodate their growing extended families. As many as four generations now live in most houses. In Hani’s mother’s home, there are three.

When we arrive at Hani’s mother’s house, we are greeted by his youngest brother, Farid, and his twenty something cousin, Dawud, on the steps of her front door, which opens onto the unpaved street. They both wear T-shirts and jeans and are clean-shaven, with wavy, close-cropped black hair like Hani’s.

Hani, dwarfed by both men, approaches first and shakes their hands. Abra follows up the uneven steps in four-inch black heels, holding the baby. As Alisha meets Farid and Dawud, each of them says hello and slightly nods. Hani told us before we arrived that the men would not greet Alisha with a handshake, a culturally inappropriate breach of the barrier between the sexes. He didn’t want her to embarrass herself by unknowingly extending her right hand, only to be met with stares.

After I shake hands with Farid and Dawud, they immediately lead me to a couch in the sitting room adjacent to the house’s entryway, which is scattered with shoes. Then Hani’s mother, Khulud, walks in, and Hani introduces her as “living history.”

Hani’s mother doesn’t know exactly how old she is, but it’s safe to say that she’s over sixty. She wears a translucent white headscarf tied loosely around her neck and a black, ankle-length abaya with red and orange embroidered designs on the sleeves and bodice. A widow, Khulud has been forced three times to flee her home: first to the West Bank from her now-destroyed native village near the Israeli town of Ramla; then east of the River Jordan; then finally to Baqa’a during the 1967 war. Despite all this, her face bears few wrinkles beneath its remarkable, ruddy glow. On her right hand, she wears a gold ring. Her fingernails are the color of opaque, yellow seashells. She holds her lower back as she stands in front of me.

I stand up and smile at Hani’s mother, repeating “Tasharrafna” (“You honor us”), which I’ve memorized specifically for this occasion. Hani had instructed me not to shake her hand. Then I offer her the plastic bottle of New Hampshire maple syrup that Alisha and I have brought, while Hani explains to her in Arabic what it is. She nods in recognition—syrup-drenched pastries are popular among Palestinians—and Hani translates her thanks.

Her

As we enter the house, I glimpse a few women in a back room, but they don’t come out to greet us. They look like Cinderellas in hiding. I don’t know if they are related, hired help, or friends, but before I can ask, Douglas and I are shuffled into a sitting area. One large, brownish floral couch, a loveseat, and a few chairs border the room; in the center sits a glass coffee table. On one wall hangs a red, fringed rug—the kind with a picture of Elvis or a Harley Davidson logo, usually found at flea markets or county fairs. This one, however, shows Jerusalem’s gold-domed Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock.

I sit down on the couch next to Douglas. Everyone else sits in the remaining chairs and on the loveseat. Hani’s mother leaves the room and returns shortly with two glasses of water on a tray for me and Douglas. No one else is offered anything to drink.

A ceiling fan blows dense air on us; one man keeps wiping his sweaty face with a handkerchief. I keep shuffling my skirt to move the air beneath it. My thighs are pressed together under the skirt, but I really want to hike up the garment above my knees. Various family members enter the room, introduce themselves, then exit; I can’t keep track of who’s who and how they are all related.

While listening to Arabic vowels and consonants pieced together in beautiful combinations like humdolallah and hamhamsi, I watch a steady stream of people walk up and down a flight of stairs in the entryway. Then I spot someone bringing a platter of rice down the stairs and realize there must be another apartment upstairs.

After half an hour of mostly Arabic conversation that Douglas and I don’t understand, one of Hani’s brothers announces, “Time to eat.”

I slowly approach the next room, not wanting to be the first to enter. The men and Abra sit on three black and gold patterned twin mattresses that form a U-shaped sitting area on the floor. In the middle of the floor between the mattresses, someone has stretched a thin piece of clear plastic on which to set the food.

Lunch appears from behind a sheet hanging in the doorway between the eating room and what must be another kitchen. This is where I saw the Cinderellas when we first arrived. Several hands—belonging to how many people I can’t tell—hold bowls of hummus, tomato-cucumber salad, pita, yogurt, and a stringy green sauce, waiting for Hani’s mother and sister-in-law to take them. This anonymous hand-off looks like a silent puppet show. I’m not sure if the person, or people, behind the curtain don’t want to be seen, or shouldn’t be.

“Alisha, start eating,” one of the brothers or cousins tells me, and I stop watching the hands.

Him

“Welcome to Jordan. You are very welcome,” Hani’s oldest brother Ali says as he heaps the choicest pieces of chicken on my plate.

Ali, sitting immediately to my right, is dressed more formally than the other men, in brown polyester pants and a button-down shirt. He’s also barefoot and speaks English more confidently.

In the middle of the floor sits a stainless steel platter, at least two feet in diameter, heaped with spiced rice, chicken, and almonds, called maqlouba (“upside down”).

We dig in with our right hands. Unaccustomed to dining cross-legged on the floor, I eat slowly to avoid getting food on my clothes. Whenever I stop for a moment, Hani’s brothers, now three, pile more food on my plate before I can refuse.

Ali seems eager to talk, as most Jordanians do. When I compliment him on his English, he tells me that he spoke English for years when he worked in Saudi Arabia for a multinational company. Like many Palestinians who grew up in Jordan, he sought better job opportunities and higher salaries in the Persian Gulf countries but never felt at home there.

Just as one of Hani’s other older brothers, Hassan, tries to scoop another spoonful of rice on my plate, I manage to say “Thanks, no more.” Seeing that Alisha and I are finished eating, Hani’s mother brings out sweet hot tea in glasses without handles.

We’ll be settling in long enough to get a sense of Palestinian politics as viewed from Baqa’a, I hope. I warm up to the most controversial issues by asking Hassan, a high school history teacher, whether he discusses the Palestinian diaspora in his classes.

“No. The textbooks hardly mention it,” Hassan answers.

“And what about current events in Palestine?”

Hassan says that talking about these is discouraged. Despite knowing that Jordan’s King Abdullah tries to keep a tight lid on Palestinian discontent, I am surprised that the country’s schools so overtly suppress discussion of Palestinian issues. Nearly one-third of Jordan’s six million people are Palestinian refugees.

Hassan and Ali seem willing to talk about anything, though, so I ask them what they think about Hamas and its governing of the Gaza Strip, where many of the camp’s inhabitants originated.

“Hamas is a good organization, but it should not be in politics,” Hassan says, and his brother agrees. They praise the party’s ability to provide needed social services but don’t think Hamas works positively for Palestinian statehood.

Then Ali says, “Mr. Douglas, I think you are very interested in politics. You have been asking us many questions. Can I ask you a question?”

I’m taken aback by Ali’s formal approach but consent, since I can’t imagine what he would ask that I wouldn’t want to answer.

“Do you think the Jews planned 9/11?” Ali asks.

After ten days in Jordan, this is the first time I feel uncomfortable about my Americanness. Not because Ali seems hostile toward me, but because I’m instantly aware of a vast cultural difference about what’s socially acceptable to think and say. And for all Ali knows of me, I could be Jewish.

Trying to be diplomatic yet honest, I say I don’t think that such a diverse group of people could unify to organize such attacks, and I don’t know why they would anyway.

Ali continues by insisting that Israeli and American Jews direct all American foreign policy.

“There’s no other explanation,” he says, pointing out that policies ostensibly meant to promote democracy often seek to destroy it, as in the case of Palestinian self-governance.

I agree that U.S. foreign policy is an incoherent set of double standards, especially in relation to Palestinians and the Middle East. I seek more neutral ground by emphasizing the connection between U.S. foreign policy and American corporations’ desires to grow their markets around the world.

This makes sense to Ali, and he nods repeatedly, but before he can ask me anything else, his wife brings us slices of watermelon.

Her

After eating, Hani and his brothers lie down on their sides. Douglas and I remain sitting with our backs pressed against the peeling, whitewashed walls.

Judging from Hani’s brothers’ body language, I’m not meant to be a part of the conversation they’re having with Douglas about Palestinian politics. Though it’s unlike me to not want to discuss politics, I don’t care to be involved. If I were in the United States, I would interject my thoughts to ensure that a female voice is heard. But on this day, in this country, with this generous family who has welcomed us into their home, U.S. gender politics don’t seem to matter, and I decide not to try and prove anything—intelligence or equality. Instead I take pictures of Hani’s mother doing what grandmothers everywhere do: playing with her baby grandson.

Him

Though it’s still uncomfortably hot at five in the afternoon, the voices of neighbors emerging from their houses cue Hani to rouse his youngest brother and cousin. They want to take Alisha and me on a walk through the camp.

As we leave the house, Hani—having overheard my conversation with Ali—tells me that Ali’s belief in a conspiracy between Jews and the U.S. government is very common among Palestinians in Jordan’s refugee camps. Walking the labyrinth of Baqa’a makes it easier to understand many refugees’ need for a theory that explains their plight.

Baqa’a isn’t the poorest place I’ve ever visited. Daily anxiety over obtaining food and shelter was much more apparent to me when I visited Guatemala and Peru, where it’s common to see people digging through trash cans in search of a meal. I don’t see food stress like this in Baqa’a, though I’m sure it exists. Here, the everyday consequences of poverty are more obvious in people’s lost potential.

This is what saddens Hani the most. The camp’s limited economic, educational, and transport opportunities—like those of American ghettos—inhibit most of its residents from fully utilizing their talents and pursuing their potential. Poor living conditions and the chronic health problems that also result often drain the inhabitants’ initiative and financial stability.

In an international effort to alleviate these problems, aid and volunteers steadily trickle into Baqa’a. As we walk the camp’s streets, Hani points out a bakery donated by Japan, a school paid for by China, and a forest on a nearby hillside planted with Scandinavian trees. We also pass the walled enclosure of the UNRWA camp services office, with a lone pine tree in its courtyard, and a sign memorializing West Germany’s donation of the camp’s first prefab shelters.

“All the world meets here,” Hani quips.

Given the influx of international aid to Baqa’a, it seems ironic that the sixty-year-old problem of Palestinian homelessness still persists. Though the younger generation at Baqa’a is now focused on getting ahead in Jordanian society, Hassan told me at lunch, the older generations still feel very much like they’re waiting to go back home.

When we pass a paved schoolyard, this contrast appears writ large in the camp. A dozen teenage boys wearing European football jerseys are playing soccer. One of the boys sees Alisha taking a picture and waves at us. In the cloudless sky above him, a kite painted with the black, white, and green bars and the red triangle of the Palestinian flag hovers like a bird waiting for its flock to migrate.

Her

“I feel like Angelina Jolie,” I say sarcastically as we step into the street full of children. This has become an ongoing joke with Douglas and me when we travel, ever since Angelina started receiving international press for pursing her luscious lips next to disadvantaged children around the world.

I wonder if the children think we’re aid workers, volunteers, or journalists, here to promise something new. I’ve felt this awkwardness before while living in Kenya and in Guatemala. But worse for me than awkward is the power of TV to represent—and misrepresent—people’s lives. Without me ever saying a word, the children can imagine, or at least think they can imagine, my life back in the States because of Angelina or Ashlee. I, on the other hand, can’t imagine a single day in Baqa’a. TV dramas on life in a Palestinian refugee camp don’t exist. I doubt I’ll ever see “Survivor: Baqa’a,” with Western women forced to go shopping wearing black abayas in 100 degree heat and men playing shoeless street soccer. Americans don’t watch reality shows about reality.

Wandering through the camp, we pass barber shops and CD stores pulsing with Arabic pop. It’s Friday, the Muslim holy day, and many shops are closed, with dilapidated metal blinds rolled down over their windows. The paint on the buildings—if they’re painted at all—is mostly chipped or faded.

When we turn onto the street with the daily outdoor market, plastic bags and black banana peels blanket the pavement. Hani’s brother immediately apologizes for the mess, stating that trash doesn’t get collected on Fridays. He’s embarrassed, which makes me sad, the way I used to feel when my grandmother—who never had much money—gave me five dollars for Christmas every year.

The market itself is protected from the sun by blue tarps and strips of corrugated tin. Open stalls spill out into the streets. Men in Western-style clothes and in ankle-length dishdashas sell everything from bras to bootleg DVDs. Hani tells us that normally the market is so crowded that you can’t drive through it, but since it’s Friday most people are home with their families.

After walking for nearly an hour, a group of seven girls and one boy—ranging in age from five to twenty-something—approach us, laughing and holding shopping bags. Hani’s cousin, Dawud, who’s been walking with us, jokes with the new arrivals. Each girl wears a hijab but not the long abayas that Hani’s mother and sister-in-law wear. These young women look hip in their tight jeans and short-sleeve T-shirts worn over long-sleeved shirts, which assure that their arms are covered all the way to their wrists.

The girls gravitate toward me, and one of them, Hani’s youngest sister Amal, speaks to me in perfect, confident English. Amal tells me that she had been asked to take the children out to create more space in the house for the “visitors.” I’m happy to have this whole entourage of girls to talk to, but as soon as we get back home, they all disappear into a room that I haven’t been in yet, leaving me to sit with the men on the mattresses.

Him

Wilted from our walk, we plop down where we ate lunch to drink more tea. Hassan and Ali are there flipping through the TV channels.

We quickly grow bored with the government-run channel’s endless images of Jordan’s archaeological treasure, Petra—the ornate tombs and temples of a two-thousand year-old Nabataean Arab city carved out of red sandstone cliffs. Farid complains about the tens of thousands of dollars being spent to promote Petra in the global election to determine seven new wonders of the world. VOTE4PETRA billboards and tents full of computers for free voting line Jordan’s roadsides. A beauty pageant that crowned a seventeen-year-old “Miss Petra” was even held to draw attention to the site’s candidacy.

Farid argues that the money spent on the Vote for Petra advertising campaign would have been better used to boost needed social services. Several men quietly agree, but the topic doesn’t spark a discussion. Instead, Ashlee Simpson grabs everyone’s attention.

The channel surfing has stopped on an English-language entertainment show chronicling Simpson’s career. Seen from Baqa’a, the actress-turned-singer’s ups and downs seem more laughable than ever to me, but she holds the men’s gazes.

Most households in Baqa’a, like most Jordanian homes, have a TV, and often receive up to three thousand channels via satellite from all over the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. This abundance of information from diverse locales helps explain the easy familiarity people in Baqa’a have with Americans and their celebrities. And as with American TV, the reality presented on Arab stations is not usually the one in which most Palestinians live—it’s more affluent and powerful. By extension, no one in Baqa’a talks to me as if I live like or am associated with Ashlee Simpson.

Her

While the men watch Ashlee Simpson, Amal pokes her head out of the adjoining room and asks if I’d like to join the women. I jump up, curious to know what’s taking place behind the door.

Inside the room sit fifteen women, teenage girls, and a boy, all of them talking and laughing. The room itself appears to be a bedroom. Mattresses have been placed on the floor along the walls, and one side of the room has a built-in closet from floor to ceiling. The closet holds clothes and more mattresses and heaps of blankets. It seems that everything gets pulled out only at night for sleeping.

One of the girls gives me the only chair in the room. I feel uncomfortable sitting above everyone, like a librarian about to read to children. The one fan in the room is turned toward me, and I try to protest that we all need it, but they insist.

I survey the people in the room, still not sure how everyone is related. Amal satisfies my curiosity.

“These two and I are Hani’s sisters. Those two are the wives of Hani’s brothers. Her husband”—she points—“is in the United Arab Emirates—and this one’s husband is…”

Before Amal finishes her sentence, I make a gesture to suggest ‘the one with the big belly,’ and everyone laughs in recognition.

An older woman with dyed red hair sits in the corner reciting the Koran. I ask if she made the food for lunch, since I had only just seen her. Amal nods and explains that she didn’t eat with us because she is fasting this Friday. I realize it was her hands that I’d seen passing through the curtain.

Three older teenage girls introduce themselves as Hani’s nieces. Several more girls and one young boy later, I’ve officially met everyone in the room. Then Amal, an English teacher, becomes the official interpreter as they ask me questions.

Someone points to the silver rings on my fingers. “Do you like silver more than gold?”

“Do you and your husband have children?”

Though Douglas and I aren’t married, only Hani and Abra know this. I go along with the question and just say, “No.”

“What do you do in America? How long are you here?”

“I’m an English teacher. We’re visiting for three weeks.”

Then the most common questions: “What do you think of Jordan? Before you got here, did you think that we all rode camels?”

I assure them that I’m enamored with Jordan and that I never expected to see them riding camels. Then the conversation shifts to Amal’s upcoming wedding. She is soon to be married to a social studies teacher in the school where she teaches. Though it is not an arranged marriage, as is customary in some Palestinian families, preparations for the wedding are still a family affair, involving a series of meetings between the parents to approve or disapprove of the marriage and the dowry. The bride-to-be is eager to show everyone the gold jewelry she’ll be wearing at her wedding. She passes around a red felted box of bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and rings for careful inspection. Giggles fill the room.

“Isn’t it more fun in here than out there with the men?” Amal asks me. “We prefer to sit in here with each other; it’s boring out there.”

I agree, feeling a sense of freedom in the separation. For the first time today, the conversation is not serious or merely a series of questions; it feels more like sharing.

Why don’t any of you wear your headscarves in this room?” I ask her.

“We never wear them in the home, but since your husband is here, we have to wear them in his presence, so we’d rather just stay in here.”

“What about in front of the men in the family?” Every so often one of the cousins or brothers had entered the room, but none of the women bothered to put a scarf on.

“They can see us without our scarves; they’re family.”

Just then, a young boy comes in and starts dancing with one of the girls. Someone suggests having a dance party—at least this is what I understand from Amal. The girls start putting on their headscarves, anticipating the walk past Douglas to the radio in the front room.

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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