My husband has the weirdest looking nose in the world. It is round the way baby potatoes are and slightly raised up, the ridge of his nose is fairly short. His nose is not his only unique characteristic. He is a mild mannered, patient, good-natured and very compassionate; He constantly gives money to every single panhandler we encounter on the streets of Vancouver. To the point where some pan handlers know us already and smile at us from a distance. He can’t say no to anybody who asks for help. I mean he has put up with me for 12 years for Pete’s sake. My parents believe that he deserves a medal for that. I am really not that bad, plus I think that my husband enjoys the challenge of taming a wild woman. One day he will figure out a way.
I used to think that my husband was pretty unique until I met his mother. It was a bit freaky meeting her at first. I felt I was talking with a shorter version of my husband only he was wearing a dress and a head scarf ….. I mean she. He really looks lots like his mom, not just the nose but the same eye brows, the same eyes, the same thick short fingers.
I met Alia (my mother in law) for the first time after two years of marriage. We decided to visit my husband’s home town of Mash-had which is a small Palestinian town out side of Nazareth in the Galilee, north of Israel. To say I was nervous about meeting my in-laws for the first time would be an understatement. We were picked up at the airport by a brother and a cousin. As we drove into Mash-had, Alia was standing in the doorway of their house waiting to greet her son, apparently she had been standing there for an hour. My husband jumped out of the car to greet her. There in the doorway she hugged her son, only because of the height difference she was hugging his waist. They embraced for about 10 minutes. It was very sweet.
“I am not from Mash-had” was one of the first things she told me. “ I am from Kufer Kana.” Kufer is colloquial Palestinian Arabic for village and Kana is the biblical Kana where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water to wine. She told me how difficult it was for her to move to Mash-had at first, how things here are different and the people are different too. “It is hard being a foreigner all my life by I got used to it.” She told me. Yeah! I could relate to her feelings, I have been a foreigner all my life as well. Turns out that Kufer Kana is a 15 minute walk from Mash-had. Since Mash-had in on a hill top you could see Kufer Kana by standing on the top of the house roof. Essentially she can wave to her sister in Kufer Kana from her house roof every morning. The two villages didn’t seem that different to my tourist eyes, but to her they were worlds apart.
Alia raised nine children, 5 girls and 4 boys. In 1948 when Israel confiscated lands from Palestinians, the land left wasn’t enough to support the family. My father in-law had to look for work in far away cities like Haifa, Tiberius and even Tel-Aviv. He would be gone sometimes for weeks. Alia would be left alone to raise the kids and farm the land. In the early days she had to walk an hour every morning to get a daily military permit to work in her own land then walk home, get the kids ready for school before she started farming work. At night all the kids would sit around a kerosene lamp doing their homework. My husband remembers that it would get so noisy sometimes that he couldn’t hear himself talk. He also remembers that his mother rarely ever raised her voice on any of her kids. There was no rest for this woman, even on days she gave birth, she had to get up, get dinner ready and work the land the next day with a new born baby in hand. In a town where it is common for boys as young as 12 to join the work force, Alia pushed all her children to finish their education. 8 out of 9 finished high school and most of them went on to get higher education. Alia has the highest percentage of educated offspring in all of Mash-had, something that has been a great point of pride for her. The fact that she herself was illiterate and didn’t receive any schooling makes me admire her that much more.
“You married the best of my children” she told me once while we were alone in the kitchen. She told me that my husband as a boy was the most mild mannered of the children and that he caused the least amount of trouble. He also would help her out in house work from a very young age. I wish I had told her that he is the one most like her. Alia spoke in very low voice, it was more like a whisper. You had to strain in order to hear her talk. She had a very unique laugh, she would start by making this sound “hmmmmmmm”, and then she would laugh with her whole body, like little children. One day she asked me to show her the gold that my husband gave me upon our marriage. It is customary in Arabic culture for the groom to buy piles of gold for the bride. When I showed her my wedding ring, “That is it!” she exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have agreed to merry him just for that”. I tried to explain to her that we didn’t have much money when we got married and couldn’t afford to waste much on jewelry. Few days later she presented me with jewelry she bought for me. “Every bride should have new jewelry, here, this is for you”.
Alia had many unique characteristics, besides the nose, she never gossiped about other people, a very unique feature for an Arab women. I never heard her say anything negative about anybody. When she couldn’t think of anything positive to say she would say nothing. She was kind and generous to everybody including young children. When I asked about how difficult it must have been to raise 9 children, she told me that if it was up to her she would have had 9 more. Wow!
Alia passed away on Dec 19th , 2003. None of my children inherited the unique nose but hopefully they will inherit some of her other unique characteristics. I will always remember her standing in the doorway of her house waiting longingly for her son.