My past might be shady and blurry, but my future is clearer thanks to this horrible, wonderful, shocking trip to a land so different, but so much a part of me nonetheless.
Looking down the mountain and trying to understand how the Jews ...my ancestors ...felt with the strong Roman warriors at the bottom, I realize this country has been a war zone since the beginning of time.
Why should the twenty-first century be different than the first?
Sometimes our enemies are our closest friends.
"Where are you taking me?" I ask Avi.
As the others were eating breakfast our last morning in the south of Israel, he borrowed a car from the rental agency in the hotel and is taking me for a drive. He wont tell me where we're going, though, so I'm nervous.
"To meet a friend."
As we drive over the barren, dirt road, he looks at me with those dark, mysterious eyes.
"Should I be?" I ask.
"No. You should never be scared with me."
Gee, most of the time I am scared to be with him. But mostly it's because I'm afraid of my own feelings, which are out of control when I'm with him.
I put my hands in my lap and stare out at the beautiful scenery. Who knew rocks and the desert landscape could be so beautiful and so different from the grassy mountains of the moshav.
We're listening to Israeli music on the radio, but I need to get rid of my nervous energy. I start my butt exercises. Tighten. Release. Tighten. Release.
"What are you doing?" Avi asks.
I look over at him and say casually, "Butt exercises."
He stares at me for a second, then bursts out laughing.
"It's not funny," I counter. "If you sit for a long time, your butt'll look like one great big blob of jelly."
"We wouldn't want that, would we?" he says.
I shake my finger at him. "Go ahead and make fun of me. You'll be sorry when you have the biggest butt on the moshav." I lean back in the car seat. "Before you make fun of me you should try it out first."
"You have a nice butt." Avis lips twitch in amusement. "Okay, tell me how to do it."
"Not if you're going to make fun of me." I don't want to make a fool out of myself again.
"Come on," he urges me. "I won't make fun of you. I promise."
"Fine," I say.
I take a deep breath and realize I'm about to tell a very masculine boy how to do butt exercises. I want to cringe with embarrassment, but he actually looks serious.
I say quickly, "You just tighten your butt muscles like this and then release. The longer you hold the tightened part, the harder it gets."
I attempt to demonstrate the action and feel like a complete dork.
But then I look over at him and he's actually trying the exercise. I can tell by the concentrated look on his face.
"Do you ever vary it, tightening one cheek then the other?" he asks.
I try to suppress a giggle, but I can't. In fact, I can't stop laughing as I watch Avi trying to tighten each cheek in rhythm to the music playing on the radio. He's making fun of himself, emphasizing each movement of his butt along with the rhythm of the song.
I try it, too, and can't stop tightening to the beat of the music. It's contagious, and I'm having one of the best times of my life.
"I didn't know you could be so funny," I tell him, still trying to keep my giggles to a minimum, but having a hard time of it.
"Yeah, well, you caught me off guard."
"Be off guard more often," I say in a very flirty way and smile at him when he looks over at me.
He shakes his head and sighs in resignation. "You're going to get me in trouble with Ron. I told him I'd take care of you."
I mean it. Avi was a royal pain in my butt (pardon the pun) when I first got to Israel. But now that he's opened up and let me into his personal life, I feel closer to him than I've felt to anyone in a long time. Even Mitch.
And I realize now Mitch and I are not compatible. In truth, he probably doesn't even know me. I keep a wall of my own up so I don't get hurt. I like Mitch. But I think if he knew me, I mean REALLY knew me, he wouldn't even consider being my boyfriend.
Why? Because I'm high maintenance, for one thing. And second of all I need a strong guy to take my crap and give it right back to me. I guess Avis a little bit like Ron in that respect. Could it be I'm compatible with a guy who's a mirror image of the Sperm Donor?
We turn onto a small, paved road and drive for another fifteen minutes.
"Where are we?" I ask as he parks the car in front of a small house.
He opens his car door. "Here."
He smiles this great big smile, comes around to my side of the car, and opens my door. I know it's considered the gentlemanly thing to do, but let's be honest. I am no lady, and Avi ...we'll, he's no gentleman. He's a rough, rugged Israeli who can whip bales of hay around effortlessly. Just the way I like 'em.
I step out of the car and survey my surroundings. I was wrong before--at the moshav it's the North Pole compared to this place in the middle of the desert. I seriously think if I break an egg on the street, it'll be cooked from the hot sun in less than ten seconds.
There are houses in front of me, made of cement, and they're all the same. By that, I mean the houses are all white. No brick, no paint...just all white cement.
"Who lives here?" I ask quietly. It's like a little village in the middle of nowhere.
He walks toward the entrance to one of the primitive houses, and I follow dumbly.
"Palestinians," he answers.
Why would an Israeli take me to a Palestinian persons house? I want to ask questions, but I don't have enough time because the front door to the house starts to open.
A teenager, about our age, opens the door. His skin is darker than mine, about the same shade as Avi's. In fact, if Avi hadn't told me this guy was a Palestinian, I would have thought he was Israeli.
I know current events. You'd have to live in a cave not to know Palestinians and Israelis do not see eye to eye on anything. And that's putting it mildly.
But as I watch this Palestinian guy shake Avi's hand and pull him into a short embrace, once again what I know and who I know is tilted on its axis.
"Tarik, this my friend, Amy Barak. She's an American."
Nobody's ever called me Amy Barak before and I'm taken aback. I was born by the name of Amy Nelson because that was my mother's maiden name. Am I Amy Barak?
Some part of me, way deep down, likes the way it sounds. Or maybe I like the way it sounds coming out of Avi's full lips.
Either way, it doesn't matter. I'm nervous. I do everything in my power not to bite my nails or act as shocked as I feel on the inside.
But Tarik smiles, putting me a little at ease. And it's a real smile, not one of those fake ones people do just to be polite (like Marc does). No, this smile of Tarik's reaches his eyes.
"Come in!" Tarik says eagerly. "It's been a long time, friend," he says to Avi as he pats him on the shoulder.
"How's university hunting?" Avi asks him.
Tarik chuckles. "Not worth talking about. Although I did get a letter from UCLA and Northwestern. So tell me, Amy, what brings you here?" he adds as he leads us to a small room.
There are pillows in the middle of the floor and lining one wall. Tarik motions for us to sit. I watch Avi as he sits down on an orange pillow and I follow his lead, sitting down on a light blue one.
"I came with my father for the summer," I say.
I watch as a woman, wearing her head covered and in full traditional Muslim attire, brings a tray of fruit and sets it in front of Tarik. She doesn't say anything, just sets it down and leaves.
Tarik picks up an orange and hands it to me. "From our tree outside. I bet it's better than in America."
I look at Avi, who takes a cluster of grapes off of the tray and starts eating them. Only after I start peeling my orange does Tarik take his own. Is that his custom, to let his guests eat first?
I just cant believe I'm sitting in a Palestinians house and he's feeding an Israeli Jew and an American stranger. With a smile on his face, no less.
"Are you two dating?" Tarik asks.
"Only for the summer," I chime in as my face gets hot with embarrassment. "That's all."
Tarik laughs. "And after the summer?"
He directs the question to me, but Avi says, "After the summer she goes back to her country. She's got a boyfriend back there."
"Ah, the story gets more interesting now. I think I like these American women."
Avi pops a large, green grape into his mouth. "Please, Tarik, don't let her fool you. Amy Isanha taweel."
"Excuse me?" I say. "If you're going to talk about me, speak English so I can defend myself."
Tarik looks at me with a mischievous look on his face. "He says you have a sharp tongue, like a snake."
My mouth opens wide and I say, "I do not. Apologize," I tell Avi.
"Amy, you should know this guy doesn't apologize," Tarik says. "It's not in his nature."
Avi chuckles as he pops another green grape into his mouth, finishing the last one. "Tarik, you should be a lawyer instead of a doctor. You like to argue both sides of an argument, confusing everyone."
Shuffles from the door interrupt us as two girls come into the room with cups and a teapot. They set the cups down in front of us.
"These are my sisters, Madiha and Yara."
Gosh, my life is so different from these girls. They smile and bow slightly in greeting and I stand up and do the same although I feel a little underdressed. I wonder what they think of me. I don't cover my head or wear long robes like they do and I imagine how different our lives are.
After they leave, I sit back down and take a bite of my orange. It is as sweet as if I licked a spoonful of sugar. Yum!
When the sisters leave us alone Avi says to Tarik, "Amy thinks all Israelis hate Palestinians."
The last thing I want to do is start a political discussion with these two and here Avi is, bringing it up. I almost choke on my orange. When I'm finally able to swallow, I open my mouth to say something. Nothing comes out.
Tarik leans back and says, "The Palestinians hold claim to the same land as the Israelis. There's no way around that fact."
"But," Avi continues, "not every Palestinian hates every Israeli and not every Israeli hates every Palestinian."
"How can you guys be friends?" I ask. I turn to Tarik and say, "He's going into the Israeli army!"
Tarik shrugs. "This is his life, what he must do. Mine is not so different. But my people have chosen to fight in a different way; it's the only way my people think is effective."
"Nobody wins," I say. "Why can't you just come to some kind of agreement and stick with it?"
"Hopefully in the future things will change," Tarik admits. "To some, peace with the Israelis is not an option. Me? I want peace, but I also want my people to live their lives respectfully."
Avi looks at me and says, "Many Israelis want the same thing, Amy. Peace, but with the guarantee our women and children can walk in the streets or ride buses without having to worry about their safety."
"But what comes first?" Tarik asks.