We’ve now begun our third and final month here and are noticing subtle changes in our mood and focus. We’ve completed the revision and update of the ‘astonishingly detailed Handover Report’ that I spoke of in one of my earliest postings, and this will be sent to Yanoun Team 31. We’ve been trying to figure out if there is a way to make the three-day “Taste of Yanoun” less overwhelming for them, but suspect that it’s just the nature of the beast. And we find, to our delight, that we do feel comfortable and confident in our roles. We remain committed to our tasks here, but are now beginning to think about how we will best tell of our experiences when we get home. And we know that saying our goodbyes will be difficult.
These people have taken us into their hearts and their homes unconditionally and it has been such a privilege to share this small window of time in their and our lives. Last week we were honored to be invited to the engagement party of our young shepherd friend in Nabi Nun whom we visit three times a week. We dressed in our best (cleanest) jeans and shirts, scraped the worst of the sheep dung from our shoes, and began walking to Aqraba where the party was to be held. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of kilometers when we were offered a ride. The driver spoke no English, but we managed to convey that we were going to Ahmed’s engagement party. Upon arrival in Aqraba, a town of approximately 10,000 people, the driver stopped several times to ask where the party was being held. Very quickly he deposited us triumphantly and with characteristic genuine pleasure at having been able to help, directly at the doorstep.
We were greeted with a great deal of excitement and and ushered into the house, Peter to the men’s room and Rachel, Birgitta and I to the women’s room. The room was small, crowded, noisy and hot with the older women seated in chairs against the walls and the younger women dancing in the center. We were given soft drinks and joined in the dancing until the arrival of Ahmed and Fatan.
We scarcely recognized Ahmed since we are accustomed to seeing him on the hillside, in rough work clothes, with his sheep and goats. He is a handsome young man at any time, but in his suit with a fresh shave and haircut he was absolutely ‘kwayyes, kwayyes’! His fiancee is 17, a second cousin, and just lovely. I was told that this is one of the two times that she will appear in ‘public’ with her hair uncovered, the second time being her wedding day. (Unfortunately, pictures were not permitted).
Poor Ahmed was clearly embarrassed by being the center of attention and we realized that he probably hadn’t been in a women’s room since he was a young child (children move freely between the two rooms). The couple was greeted and congratulated by each of the women present (kisses on each cheek). The engagement ceremony consisted of Ahmed’s presenting Fatan with gold jewelry (in case the marriage should not work out she will not be left without resources), the exchange of rings (which are worn on their right hand until they are married, at which time they will switch them to the left), and a drink with linked arms, each drinking from the other’s gold goblet. This was followed by another round of congratulations. The music resumed with Fatan dancing for Ahmed in the center of a circle of women, and Ahmed joining that outer circle for just a brief bit. Conversation flowed easily, especially with the high school aged girls who were eager to practice their English. And the schools in Aqraba must be using the same textbooks that our young friend in Burin had purchased for herself, since I heard the phrase “Your eyes are enchanting” more than once! Unfortunately, we had to be back in Yanoun by dark so we missed the rest of the party and the meal which, judging from the aromas floating in from the kitchen, promised to be delicious.
When we next visited Ahmed in Nabi Nun, we found him more relaxed and happy than we have ever seen him. In our usual patchwork combination of English, Arabic and sign language he expressed his pleasure that we had come to the party and joked about his discomfort there. After tea and coffee, he was clearly reluctant to have our visit end and walked a part of the way back with us, naming in Arabic some of the new spring flowers that have appeared and quizzing us to be sure we had the pronunciation correct. I repeat…we know that saying our goodbyes will be difficult.