Excerpt 1 – Living Stones

From “Living Stones”

At the University of Oklahoma, Ashley Wells had decided near the end of her senior year in zoology that she really wanted to continue on in medicine.  But being late in her decision, she needed time to take the MCAT exam.  So she transferred to the University of Washington in Seattlefor graduate studies in zoology prior to applying to the UW medical school.

Tall and slender with long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes that squinted when she laughed, she might be thought beautiful, but considered herself a serious young woman.  And she saw herself as possessing a rather global perspective on life.  She had grown up in a conservative Christian family inOklahoma.  Her parents’ support for Christian Zionism had transferred to her.  She, too, believed that Israel should possess the Holy Land at all costs.  God promised it.  It should be its own state and be staunchly defended by Christians from hostile Arab neighbors.  And she followed events in theMiddle Eastwith interest.  She saw them as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  So when Najid Haddad appeared as her fellow lab assistant for the beginning zoology classes, he fascinated her.  More than his exotic features and soulful expression caught her eye.  She had never met an international student from theMiddle East.

“Come in. Please, come in,” Ashley beckoned to the tall young man with black hair and a swarthy complexion who stood in the doorway.  She had noticed him coming down the hall.  He reminded her of one of the international soccer players on the Seattle Sounders. The small windowed break room for graduate students contained a couple of tan lounge chairs and an old print sofa—but most importantly, a coffee pot and hot plate for tea.  Two other young men sprawled in the chairs seemed indifferent, lost in their reading.  “Please, come in,” she repeated with a broad smile.  “I don’t want anyone to feel left out.  Coffee or tea?”  She patted the sofa next to her, indicating where he could sit.

“Tea would be fine,” he said softly. “I did learn about American customs, that it’s all right to accept a cup of tea on the first offer instead of waiting for the third one.  But I don’t know if it would be acceptable to sit so close to a young woman.”

With that, one of the American grad students looked up.  “She won’t bite.”  He resumed his reading.

Najid sat next to Ashley, who rose to bring him a cup of tea.  “Thank you.  I didn’t worry that you would bite,” he said.

“Bad American joke,” Ashley said.  She looked at this athletic-looking guy who seemed so mild mannered and almost shy.  Maybe he’s just unsure of this new American culture.  “Where are you from?  It’s Najid isn’t it?”

“Yes, and I’m fromIsrael, near the town ofNazareth.”

“Really?  And how long have you been here?”

“Three weeks.”

“Awesome!  What do you think of Seattle so far?”

“It’s beautiful, but very busy.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry.  I don’t know any Americans yet.  My two housemates are from Libya.”

“Your English is great.  Where did you learn to speak it so well?”

“We studied it in school starting from the sixth grade.”

“So was that in Nazareth?”

“Yes.  But we studied in English at the University in Haifa.”

“Is that where you got your zoology degree?”

“Yes.  But then I had another year in graduate school while applying here at the University of Washington.”

“Are you on a scholarship?”

“Of course.  I could not come on my own.  My father works in the olive groves near us and has to support my mother and their six younger children.  So I applied for a Fulbright scholarship and here I am.”  Najid smiled for the first time.

By this time the two other grad students perked up.  “I’mBrandon,” one said.  He put his papers aside and stood to shake hands.  “You know Ashley here, and this is Ethan.”

Najid stood and returned the handshakes.  “I didn’t know her name, and I am so pleased to meet all of you.”

“So you live inIsrael, not the West Bank?”Brandon asked.  “Please, sit down.”

“Yes, my family has lived there for generations—over three hundred years.”  He sat down, sipping his tea.

“Are you Jewish then?”

“No, but we have many Jews in our town.  We are Palestinians.”

“So let me get this straight.” Brandon looked puzzled.  “You are Palestinian and your family goes back three centuries inIsrael?”

“Probably longer than that, but we have no records older than about ten generations.”

“So you speak Palestinian?”

“No.”  Najid laughed with a twinkle in his eye.  “We speak Arabic.”

“Oh.”Brandon furrowed his brow. “You mean that you are a Palestinian Arab but you live in Israel?  I thought all Palestinians stayed on theWest Bank.”

Najid chuckled.  “No, we have lived there always, before Israel existed as a country.  But many of us do live in the West Bank or Gaza.”

“Do you speak Hebrew?” Ethan inquired.

“Oh yes.  I played with Jewish boys growing up and learned it from them, but also at school.”

“So you must be Muslim,”Norman replied.  “Which branch are you with, Sunnis or are you Shiite?”

“Neither.  I’m a Christian.”

Ethan looked surprised and rose to pour another cup of coffee.  “More tea?” He gestured toward Najid, who held out his cup for more tea.  “I don’t get it.  I assumed all Palestinians are Muslim.”

“Oh no.” Najid shook his head.    “We  in my family are called Melkite Christians, part of the old Byzantine Empire.  I come from a long line of Christians dating back nearly two thousand years to the early church of Antioch in Syria.  So I am a Christian by birth … but also by choice.”

“Okaaay …” Ethan paused, gazing out the window.  “So you’re telling me that many people in Israel are not Jewish, but Palestinian.  And some of those are Christian and not Muslim?  I’ve never read that.  Do you have any data to back that up?”

“The last census I know happened in 2006.  With a population of five million people in Israel, over one million are Arabs.  Of course, most Palestinians live outside Israel, even in many countries like the U.S. and Canada.”

“So how many of the Palestinians in Israel are Christian?”

“About two hundred thousand, according to the Israeli census.”

“Poor Najid,” Ashley intervened.  “He came here for tea and ended up getting grilled.”

“What is grilled?  You mean like a sandwich?”

“No,” Ashley said with a laugh.  “That’s an English idiom that means you had to answer a lot of questions.”

“Oh, I don’t mind them at all.  I love to talk about my country and our history.”

Ashley looked at this shy young man, feeling strangely attracted to him.  He’s in a new world, far from home, unsure of our informal culture and direct speech, not knowing what is acceptable behavior, and wanting to please.  His courage impressed her.  She had never heard of Palestinian Christians living in Israel playing as children with Jewish neighbors.  He didn’t fit her picture of a hostile Palestinian.  She hoped they can get better acquainted.  He sparked a mild sense of adventure in her, as though he might open her eyes to new things, and she wondered where it could lead.

“Well, we better get back to work.” Ashley stood.  “Those freshmen students won’t know a frog’s liver from its spleen.”

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