Quote of the Day – 16 August 2017: Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa
Like we did every day of that month, we barged into the painting workshop to eat. Yasmina, the youngest of the Colombian sisters, who had a practical sense and was organized, divided the food into five equal portions while we waited to hear the adan that allowed us to interrupt the station. Out of solidarity, Muna fasted with us, even though she was A Christian. We didn't have plates, so we used painting trays taken from the school cabinet and sat in circles, eyes on Sister Clairie's tasty gifts and pinched ears, to hear the first notes of the adan.
– Alllaaaaahu akbar… Akbar Alllaaaahu…
The chant came down from heaven upon us, and we came out of the post "in the name of Allah the merciful and merciful."
We devoured the food in a few minutes and when we were done we realized that we all looked with jind at the jar where a few drops of flavored sauce remained. Iasmina also assumed the unofficial role of mediator.
– I'll tell you what, he said standing up.
He wore his hair tied behind his back in a ponytail, so tight that his eyes were driving away; The black curls were scattered on the back of his neck, like a bouquet ravaged by rebellious strands.
– We're going to play a game and whoever wins takes the jar, she told us.
He looked around the room and the idea came from a balloon drawing by a child.
– It's called the ball game, he said and improvised the rules on the spot, drawing inspiration from what you see around. The players – explained to us walking his cious body in front of us – they have to jump on one foot on a straight line and say "baloooon" without breathing until they have no air. Whoever jumps the furthest wins.
I can't remember who won, I just know it wasn't me. Instead, I remember the Drina's guide look just before she threw paint on Yasmina, who came out of the game while the Drina burst into her dazzling laughter. I jumped to Yasmin's aid with the blue paint tubes, which I squeezed on the Drina, while Layla, pinched behind her sister, was throwing paint all over the parts. Muna did not side with anyone, but threw stacks of papier mâché at anyone who entered his range. My memories that night are sprayed with paint and full of laughter, that I was hoarse for a few days afterwards. We stayed there late at night, striving to clear the tracks of the dye fight, and many years later, when I came back to see the orphanage, I found a group of little girls playing the ball game in the yard in front of the painting workshop.
Miss Haydar caught me the next morning, on my way back to the scene to retrieve my blanket. He was waiting for me when I walked through the painting room window, a window that I was leaving open. The ordeal of the five hours of questioning passed as if it wasn't after seeing the Drina's approving look when she realized we weren't funneling anyone. Earning drin's respect was like taking an award.
Although I had so little and sometimes we sat uneaten, my memories of those years are ultimately happy, full of will and substance. Winters in Jerusalem were white and harsh, and all we had was a thin, ashes blanket to keep the cold of the night at bay. The regulations forbade us to sleep more in one bed or glue the beds and it was woe to us if we were caught on the fact, but we often break the rule and divide the blankets, keeping each other warm. A new girl who came to the orphanage a year after me peed on us on a night like this when we were sleeping together to warm up. His name was Maha and he only stayed a few months, but after this incident we were more careful when we were getting someone in our group.
Um Ahmed, the cook, was preparing three meals every day for a couple of hundred girls growing up. The breakfast, which I often delayed, consisted of a slice of bread and hot tea at its discretion. The evening meal was the same, plus a slice of mortadella. In the four years we've been there, we've rarely been given anything else. On the other hand, we could eat enough for lunch. I always got some kind of stew, cooked in a huge metal boiler and poured over boiled rice. I could eat as much stew as I wanted until the boiler was over. The problem was that the only meat it contained was cockroaches that roamed in large numbers through the kitchen.
I was used to them, too. In fact, we often compete to see who finds most of the bugs in the stew. In the food of bame or tomato easing those black scum were easy to find, whereas in mulukhiya, dark jute food was much harder to see. Back then it was inevitable that one of the girls, poor thing, would not eat a cockroach by mistake.
The Book of Mornings in Jenin can be purchased from: