Looking over at the driver, my gaze met his in the rear view mirror. Unlike his wife and children, his expression held little sympathy. He looked like he had been waiting for me to make eye contact with him. He looked angry. He began to shake his head at me and then he began to shake his finger at me as well. He began to speak and though I had no understanding of the words. I did understand his tone. He sounded just like my father when he went into lecture mode, usually after I did something that scared the hell out of both he and my mother. If I had to guess at the meaning of his words, I imagine they went something like: “Stupid, reckless, crazy American girl. Your parents should not allow you out of the house on our own…ever!” I could be wrong about the translation. I doubt it.
Over the course of maybe a half hour he seemed to repeat the same rant over and over, every few moments. He would shake either his head or his finger at me. The other man said not a word, though I could see him shake his head from time to time as well. I didn’t know where they were taking me, but I was certain they were not going to hurt me. I don’t know why, but I felt safe.
After another ten minutes or so, I could see we were driving through a village. Small, stone houses were set in no particular pattern on one long, curvy gravel road. Smoke curled out of many of the roofs. I could see sheep wandering about at will. Pulling up to one of the structures the man driving turned off the ignition and everyone got out. The woman gestured for me to follow her and the children inside.
I remember one large room with two smaller rooms off the end. There was electricity for light, but no running water and the bathroom was outhouse style. The woman began to cook on what I can only describe is a combination of hot plates somehow jury-rigged together. For the next hour or so, I tried to help her but was shooed away. She kept trying to get me to sit on the one cushioned chair in the room. Instead, I played with the children all the while trying to figure out where I was and how I was going to get back to the Kibbutz; every moment, supremely grateful I was not back on the road with those men. Through gestures, smiles, and laughter the three of us managed to communicate an exchange of names. The little girl was called Laila, her brother Makhi and the mother’s name, Hana.
Pointing outside to the two men now sitting right outside the door, smoking, I learned from Laila, her father’s name was Yusuf. I don’t remember the other man’s name or what his relation was to this family. I taught the kids the Itsy Bitsy spider. (The only fun childhood song I could remember all the words to.) I wasn’t able to get them to say the words but they could follow along as I sang and quickly learned the finger motions. Eventually the men came in and we ate. I remember it was lamb and rice. I had the feeling they normally did not eat this well or have as much food on their table. With little ability to communicate the remainder of the evening passed quietly, ending around nine and with me sharing a small bed with Leila and Makhi.
The next morning, I woke to find Hana again cooking up more food. Yusuf was there, sitting with another man. He motioned for me to sit and once I had settled myself at the wooden table, he nodded to the other guy who began to speak in halting English. I was relieved at being able to communicate, to be understood. I was overjoyed I was going to be able to figure out where I was and how to get back. Equally as important, I was going to be able to thank Yusuf for saving my life.
Rashad was the name of the English speaker who also turned out to be Yusuf’s brother. I explained who I was, how I happened to be on the crossroads and where I was going. Yusuf began to shake his head again. Before he started his lecture, I asked his brother to tell him I knew how reckless and stupid I had been. I asked Rashad to also relay to Yusuf how grateful I was for what he had done. Apparently my words took Yusuf off guard because he didn’t begin his rant again. He gave me an almost smile, a nod and immediately began to eat without uttering another word.
Shortly after breakfast, we all piled back into the station wagon. I assumed Yusuf was going to take me back to the crossroad where in daylight it would be safe for me to hitch a ride. His brother turned and informed me they were going to drive me to Kfar Blum. He said it was an hour’s drive from where we were. I wanted to tell them it wasn’t necessary, that I would be fine now. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. What had almost happened last night and the terror I’d felt was still very much with me. I didn’t want to be dropped on an empty road again.
Turn the page!