(Still running a few days behind ~~ writing about 12/18 here)
After we left Tzvat on Monday afternoon, we drove to the Golan Heights. A disconcerting length of the drive was within sight of Lebanon, clearly visible across a forbidding and impregnable border.
When we got to the village where we were having dinner with a Druze family and staying in a B&B we could see Syria, across a similar unbridgeable closeness. The Druze village we were staying in in Israel was matched by a Druze village in Syria on a neighboring hill. There are people in our village who have family members who had gone to visit family on the other side and gotten stuck on the wrong side of the civil war. They used to try to shout to each other from hill to hill but, mostly, they are separate now.
That happened to our hostess, Fauzia (which means “happiness”) — she hasn’t seen one of her sisters for years. We’ve met Fauzia twice. She cooked a fabulous meal for us on our last night in Israel in November, 2013, after which we said good night and Amir drove several hours through the darkness to get us back to Tel Aviv and an early morning flight.
This time we got to help her cook. Gale and I entered her spotless kitchen with pots a simmering. Everything smells rich and exotic. When we met her, her business of feeding tourists was a sporadic one but now she feeds up to four gatherings a day and has handled a bus load of 50, this empty nester who has parlayed a talent for cooking and business into a thriving enterprise.
Fauzia ties kerchiefs on our heads and aprons around our waists. I look like a goofball but Gale pulls it off pretty well.
Fauzia is clearly wary of inexperienced hands in her domain and has already cooked most of the food. She sets us to the task of stuffing and rolling grape leaves, something she can deftly do with two hands held above the bowl of rice stuffing.
I am clumsier; I have to lay the leaf down on the counter to stuff and roll. Still, she doesn’t know that I am a ringer. I’ve been stuffing grape leaves since I was a little girl and I am pretty darn good.
We roll leaves and chop salad and adjourn to the large living room where a table is set for five and the heat from the wood stove has knocked several of our small group flat out. When food approaches they start to stir.
Food continues to approach. In addition to our slightly lopsided vine-leaves and bowls of salad dressed with lemon, oil and mint, there are heaping bowls of hummus cradling pools of green olive oil. Olives, too. Rice with browned vermicelli (exactly as my grandmother made it) and slivered almonds, an upside down rice dish of chicken and vegetables with rice, kofta baked simply and also simmered in tahini sauce. Melt in your mouth beans in tomato sauce to go on the rice and the thinnest of all thin flatbreads to soak it up with. That bread is the best. Chewy, light. It’s not easy to make, that bread. I know.
While we are eating, the five of us — Jerry, Gale, Tom and Amir — have a wide ranging discussion on religion and politics, which is pretty much how we spend our days. Fauzia keeps us supplied with tea and lemonade but stays out of range.
When we are done and slumped on the floor cushions in a stupor, nibbling on fresh picked apple slices and baklava, she comes in to tell her story.
I have heard it before — the three sons and two daughters, whose pictures line the walls. We hear about each, including the daughter, a teacher, who has moved to Berkeley, CA, where her Druze husband runs a car service. She beams with pride, this woman who never had the chance at an education while her brothers and then all her five children went off and trained for a career.
Despite the fact that she runs a very successful business, Fauzia yearns for the chance to learn formally as a student. “What would you have studied,” I ask with the help of Amir’s interpreting skills. She grew up speaking Arabic, learned Hebrew (in which she is now fluent) at 55 which is an amazing feat, but she says it’s too late for her. “But what?” I press her.
She sits a little straighter and there is a steely look in her eyes. I am not surprised when she says unhesitatingly, “A lawyer. I’ve wanted to be a lawyer all my life.” With such determination does she say it that I feel it in my toes. I am glad I am not facing her in court.
But she thinks it’s too late for her, despite my protests to the contrary. Mature students are by far the most enjoyable to teach, focused and ready to work for their dreams. Maybe when she gets back from San Francisco she says. She’s going for a month. I hope she keeps the thought alive.
Tired now we pile into the car and head down a hill through the village to a modern, clean guesthouse. We sleep like people too exhausted or too foolish to know what might lurk behind the Syrian border out our window. There is nothing, today, except the occasional patrol, lots of “Danger. Landmines” signs and the odd tank. But once it was a raging battlefield and the scars remain on the land and in the hearts.
This morning it was back to Fauzia’s for breakfast. It was unreal. Eggs, labne with za’atar, bread and za’atar, (all I need right there), potato pancakes and vegetables and cheeses and big bites. We are well fortified for a day in the Galilee.