August 2009 I found myself in Bil'in, Palestine. Ok, so I didn't find myself there, especially not in the post-college-tour-of-the-world sense. I worked super hard all summer rolling burritos and organizing fundraisers and then, in August of 2009, I was broke in Bil'in.
I wasn't there by myself either. That insinuation makes me sounds so much cooler than I am or ever have felt. No, I was with an organization called the Interfaith Peace Builders, and there were about twenty of us from all over the world.
So, I was broke and surrounded by friends in Bil'in in 2009 in August. And it was hot.
We were at the home of Eyad and Tesaheel Burnat. Eyad is the head of the Public Committee there, spokesperson for their weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall. He is dark and slight and tired. As he invited us into his home, he explained that their house was raided at 4am. It was 2pm.
They showed us videos of the demonstrations, of the tear gas, pass around the real bullets coated in rubber fired weekly at the villagers and internationals. But I, due to local customs, my own socialization, or whatever, have turned into the babysitter. There are four children. I can't remember one of their names. He was 9. The other are Mohammed (4), Mayar (5), Abdul Khalil (11).
That is all background.
Dusk is seeping in through light-osmosis and the cool air was settling, welcoming the heat like old friends. We are in the garden in the back, Abdul Khalil and me. I've been assigned to stay overnight at another house and he is begging me not to go. I don't speak Arabic and he doesn't speak English, but it is clear. He pulls on my arms, I hug him, smooth his forehead with my thumb, which only makes him more insistent. "Oh, Nancy, Nancy!" he sighs. He is in love.
I ask my group leaders if I can switch out, stay here. They acquiesce.
Back in the garden, thick now with dusk on dusty ground. The gradient smells relieved. He says "Anana?" And I think he has, in his wild devotion, given me a new name. But when I go over to him, he is gentle. He lowers lavender from his mother's garden into my cupped hands. And then thyme.
And it is too much and I tell him to stop, that his mother will be so mad. But still I take my hands up to my face and inhale fragrant gifts from the most romantic man I've known. Abdul Khalil is beaming.
That night, after we've played at grown-up all day, we are children again, both of us. On the roof, after smoking a hookah and seeing who can draw the longest (and then getting busted by his parents), the black is pitch. What are we doing then? Just sitting talking? Singing and laughing? No, we get hushed by the parents when we make noise. We hear but do not see the helicopters. WOOSHWOOSHWOOSHWOOSHWOOSH We feel but do not hear the helicopters. And then the children stand up and sing a new song, they drone and march "the soldiers are coming the soldiers are coming."
Abdul Khalil goes downstairs and back up to the roof. From his clenched fist, he drops a pendant into my open hand. Red hello kitty with a little red bell. I look into his eyes and put it on my necklace. He can't believe it. He is overcome. I am in love.
And when he goes to sleep, I am so frightened that he will not be there to protect me.