Things I won’t forget (“Peeling Oranges” final installment)

As I finish up my writing about Jordan and Palestine, I’d like to share some final snapshots.

Faces 

My host mom, who walks by my room and says a cheerful “Keefik ya Jordan?” after a long day at work. 

My baby sister, who sits on my lap, pressing the tops of my fingernails and squeezing the skin between my thumb and forefinger.

My nine-year-old brother, who spins a Frisbee in the street, mumbling songs from Glee in broken English.

My twenty-year-old sister, who throws her head back in a hoarse laugh, and slapping her leg.

My sixteen-year-old sister, who kicks her feet as she shows us her new dakbeh dance moves.

A nine-year-old neighbor boy, who shyly says “marhaba” as the white blossoms of a cherry tree fall into his black hair.

An Iraqi tweenage refugee, who invites me to play basketball, her icy blue eyes growing wide on her creamy face that reminds me of an upturned almond, shaved of its skin.

Our cab driver Samir in Bethlehem, who insists on showing us Aida refugee camp, the separation wall, and the famous graffiti that’s sprayed on it.

Our tour guide ‘Eisa (Jesus) at the Nativity church in Bethlehem, who explains every detail of the church, and shares with us his frightening childhood memories of the 1967 war.

Our favorite Armenian shopkeeper Maro in Jerusalem, who tells us about her daughter in America while selling us hand-embroidered crafts from West Bank cities at a discounted price.

Our fellow travelers from our hostel in Jerusalem (a Yankee, a Scot, an Aussie, and a Kiwi), who make me realize that I need no reason or justification to travel and see the world. 

Images

Clouds sweep over the golden Dome of the Rock, the orange rooftops, and the green Mount of Olives—all visible from a church bell tower in Jerusalem’s center.

Flocks of birds dipping and turning between the boxy, cement hills of Amman in the pinkness of twilight.

The viridian, rock-studded hills of north Jordan, which seem to shift and overlap as our bus flies down the slopes.

Tastes 

Spoonfuls of sugar and sage leaves in boiling black tea.

Spinach-laden broth poured over steaming, soft rice. 

Olive oil and zaatar (a thyme and sesame seed mixture) stuffed between the folds of warm pita.

Lemon and mint blended together in a cold glass.

Crispy falafel and yogurt-covered cucumbers in a sesame-bread sandwich.

 

 

Kisses on Palm Sunday (“Peeling Oranges” series)

(My spring break spent in Jerusalem and Galilee provided me with many images that I hope to share through my Peeling Oranges series.)

Outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, I sulk in a mix of frustration and guilt, wanting to participate in the centuries-old traditions and services that originated in this city. On Palm Sunday, why can’t I find the leafy branches that laid across these stone roads two-thousand years ago?  Why can’t I find a Catholic Mass in this city of churches?

Momentarily distracted from my anxiety as I pass a group of young Palestinian children climbing on rocks, I wave as they yell, “Photo, photo!”

Discovering that I speak Arabic, they clamber down the ruins to shout out their names and ask mine.  The four girls pose for a photo, as the boy, Muhammad, stands shyly to the side.  In the clearest, highest Arabic I’ve ever heard, a girl with hair as blonde and eyes as blue as mine asks who my Arabic teacher is, and a girl with freckles on her forehead wonders if I pray.  I receive hugs and kisses on my cheek as I leave, waving goodbye to catch up with my friends.

But the blonde girl runs after me, calling, “Are you married?!”  I laugh at her question, which to her seems so important and to me so trivial.  After another round of embraces from the group, tears nearly slip down my cheek, where the coldness of their kisses lingers on my skin.

Once again, God is reminding me that it’s his people, not simply his traditions and rituals, where he can most easily found.  He has answered my prayer in a way I didn’t expect, substituting palms and incense with kisses and laughter.