The lady who inspired me to write this story is truly very special. Each time that I travel to Jerusalem she constantly welcomes me into her home and openly tells me her stories. She imparts wisdom and life lessons to all who enter her house, everything that she has she counts as a blessing and she loves to share with the people around her.
For this lady, life has not been easy and the challenges have been great. She constantly fights each personal battle with bravery and courage.
Today her heart is for the visitor, the traveler, the new mother and the newlywed. To the world, she is a normal woman walking the streets. But I know her secret!
Not many people know her story and even fewer people know of her life.
Before the night fades and the sun begins to rise, before the Fajr prayers echo throughout the city – she’s awake. She has already started preparing breakfast for her husband.
No two days are the same, and there is no telling who will come to visit and who will come to stay.
As she glances into the mirror whilst fixing her red long hair, a lifetime flashes before her eyes. Her lifetime. Her legacy. She remembers the stories: the pain, the challenges, the passion and the survival. As she sweeps her hair behind her ears, she glances over pictures of her family: her daughters, her sons, her pride and her joy.
The thudding sound of the rusty courtyard door awakes her from her reflection. The cleaner is arriving, humming softly upon entry carrying fresh produce from Damascus Gate. She greets the cleaner and welcomes her.
Click, the Fairuz tape begins to rattle in the player – and the cleaner begins to work and sing. Her strong voice echos throughout the house and out into the courtyard:
خدني ولا تخدني الفرح عالطريق حبك بيحصدني وماعندك رفيق
“Take me, joy is on the way, my love for you consumes me and you don’t have a companion”
And so she works – the meals, the visitors, the preparations for her family. Hours fly by and there is still more to be done. She joins in the cleaning, the sweeping.
After a while the first neighbor arrives.. he’s Eritrean; he works late at night in the city center. He has no television, so every Tuesday he comes to watch the latest news played on the Eritrean channel. He adjusts the channels and she starts to prepare the tea.
Colorful pictures flash before the unlikely pair.
“This is my city, my country. We have hotels there, people can visit..”
They converse in broken Hebrew and Arabic whilst she pours the steaming tea into two tall clear glasses.
From cooking to dancing, singing to hotel advertisements the flickering television reveals the secrets and gems of Eritrea.
The neighbor leaves just before One o’clock, and she continues cleaning. After eating a little food, the maid prepares herself to leave, fixing her hijab across her face. Their eyes meet and they exchange a soft glance of warmth.
“See you tomorrow, Insha’allah”
As the day progresses her family begin to arrive. They come with their friends, their daughters, their sons.Within minutes the house is an array of different languages – Hebrew, Arabic and some broken English – yes, all are loved here. ALL ARE WELCOMED HERE.
Some of the family stay for a few minutes, some stay for hours.
It’s 7:30pm and I walk up the stairs, three neighbors sit gathered around her. Those gathered smile and laugh together with her, she looks so radiant, so poised.
“Ahlan Sarah habibti”
The neighbors shuffle to create some room and a chair is pulled up. We talk together in the courtyard whilst sipping our hot arabic coffee. As my eye wanders, I see a white flower falling from the plant growing on the wall. Jasmine. It sways in the wind, slowly and softly falling in front of her, landing perfectly on her knees. When she sees it she smiles. She clasps the sweet flower in her hand and smells it with closed eyes. As her eyes open she looks at me, with a smile. Grasping the flower, she slowly places it into the corner of my hair. Her eyes are sparkling and she is beaming.
In my eyes it is her strength that makes her beautiful.