My name is Susie.
That's all I knew how to say but it turned out to be enough to get us started.
We went on a hike on Saturday with a small group of Israeli families from the area where we live. Joining us were three Palestinian families from the same area, but the other side of the checkpoint. We all met at a gas station that's in a kind of no man zone and together we crossed the road and headed down a path toward the springs in the village of Hussan. I found out about the walk via Facebook and some activist friends of mine who are involved in a group called Path of Hope and Peace. I had met one of the organizers at this same gas station a few months before. We have a common friend. And another organizer belongs to our synagogue.
Fewer Palestinian families joined than expected because on this particular Saturday there were ten weddings in Hussan. The walk was beautiful and I struck up a few conversations with our hosts/guides. Ali is a gardener and works for several families in our town. He has a permit to work anywhere in Israel, he told me. He also told me that Israelis tell him he looks like Israeli singer Eyal Golan, which he kind of does. We laughed about that. Ameen also joined and brought his two girls Meervat and Mayeece, ages 10 and 7. He is a tour guide from Tekoa and speaks English very well.
When we finally got down to the spring, I noticed other families there, not part of our group. The adults kept to themselves but the kids seemed curious. There were about eight kids who all looked to be between nine and eleven years old. Spindly bodies, dripping wet with spring water. Frenetic conversations. Animated gestures. The teasing tone of fifth graders, universally understood despite any language barriers. I can spot fifth graders a mile away. It's my favorite age. They noticed me too and shouted HELLO! GOODBYE! SHALOM!
I turned around and walked right up to them and said, Isme Susie. My name is Susie. Sadly it's about the only thing I know how to say in Arabic. I pointed to myself and repeated, Isme Susie.
The boys went crazy. Shrieking their own names. Laughing.
Shwe shwe, I said. Slow down. Isme Susie. Then I pointed to each one.
I had their attention now so I started to say ONE, TWO, THREE in English. Soon all the boys were shouting the numbers in English up to ten. Then they waited for my next move.
ECHAD, SHTAYIM, SHALOSH...
They all chimed in on the Hebrew numbers too.
Then I said, Arabiya?
Immediately they started screaming the numbers in Arabic.
Shwe shwe, I said. Then the boys counted slowly from one to ten so that I could count with them. At that point my nine-year-old daughter joined in. She knows the numbers in Arabic too. The conversation continued. I understood they wanted to know how old is my daughter and her grade in school. Most of the boys were indeed in fifth grade. I told them my son is in fifth grade and motioned for him to join us. I introduced him and the boys were careful to repeat his name. Ameen's daughter Meervat knew a little English and helped with some translation. They asked where I was from. AMRIKA!!!! I also managed to convey that I live in Tsur Hadassah. They know it's close by. Then one by one they wanted me to watch as they ran and jumped in the spring again. SUSIE!! SUSIE!! I hooted and hollered for them and gave them my hearty approval.
As we were leaving I said goodbye to my young friends and passed out high fives and fist bumps. My son asked how I could talk to them if I don't know any Arabic. I just told them my name, I said. That's all it took.