And now a word about Middle Eastern hospitality.
It's... well, overwhelming. Any visitor to an Arab home can rest assured that they will, through ambush or insistence, leave much fatter and happier than they arrived, and will probably have to waddle home and spend a week sleeping off their foodbaby. Stepping out your door is a dangerous business in Palestine, but not for Bilbo's reasons- and not, Mom, because you're going to get shot- but rather because you have to remember to budget an extra forty-five minutes for unplanned but suddenly essential housecalls. I should have prepared myself for this; staying with a family for a few days in El-Minya, Egypt, I often found myself near tears at the dinner table, a single bite of bread all that stood between me and literal explosion.
Abu Saadi, our landlord, lives on the ground floor of our building. If this fact seems insignificant to you, I guess you need to go back and read the last paragraph again. Abu Saadi and his wife, I think, are tied with around 390 million other Arabs for the title of Most Hospitable Person On Earth. The first time I met him, Sara and I had gone down to inquire about our electricity issues. Opening his door to our knocking, Abu Saadi swept us into his apartment and marched us to the living room, exclaiming "welcome! Welcome! Come in! Sit down! Why have you not come to visit me before? This is very bad. You must come down more often. Sit, sit!"
Electricity seemed the farthest thing from Abu Saadi's mind. How can one discuss electricity without food and drink, after all? Impossible. Hearing our arrival, Imm Saadi bustled in to meet us.
"Will you have tea?"
"No, thank you," Sara and I replied, having barely finished a cup upstairs.
"Thank you, we're fine."
"Really, you must have tea."
"That's very kind of you, but..."
"I will make some tea."
Clearly we were destined to have tea. The cherry cake which accompanied it was a bit of a curveball, but we took it in stride.
Abu Saadi, in spite of his recent operation which left a vivid purple scar along the length of his leg, often manages to make the trip up three flights of stairs to our apartment to good-naturedly criticize our cooking and offer his advice on everything from poorly-insulated windows to the best place in the market to buy fresh fish. Anybody living within strolling distance from Abu Saadi will never go hungry. When he's not pressing cup after delicious cup of coffee on us, he's poking his head out of his door when he hears a key in the outer lock and handing us gigantic containers of ful (bean paste with olive oil).
How often do you come home at the end of a normal day- a Tuesday, for all intents and purposes, since the weekend here is Friday and Saturday- and find yourself unable to focus on anything except how unbelievably good your life is? Maybe it has something to do with Palestine itself. I don't mean to wax philosophical, but I... well, I guess maybe it's easier to appreciate the beauty in the abstract- family, friends- and the little things when all the goodness in life IS found in the small and the intangible.
Snapshots of Nablus:
Elbows flying and headscarves fluttering, our girls running along the court during sports; my students shouting "her fault! Her fault!" amid giggles as we act out a play under the one square of shade in the school courtyard; shoes pounding, again, at dusk, during a pick-up post-lesson game of basketball; sugary sahlep and reminders of a bittersweet language love affair when I again- finally- search for words like "kış" and "edemebilirim"; tongue-twisters and laughter in downstairs Upstairs; folk songs on the banjo on the balcony, starlight above.
You can choose your own platitude to go here. Something about beauty in simplicity? I dunno. I'm happy, and they all seem true right now.