I was again walking back from the Old City to Mount of Olives, my camera gear, notebook, some fruit and water bottle all in my backpack. Four kids, ages I believe eight to ten were playing with yo-yos. Each had one tied to his finger, practicing various tricks. They were quite good, actually, and I could not help but stop to watch.
One of them looked over and saw me. I became the center of attention as I introduced myself. They did the same in turn. I set my backpack on the stone wall and removed my camera. As kids do, they got excited and wanted to show off for the video.
“Where you from?”
“‘merica,” I responded.
“You know Canada?”
“Good. Good. Canada here, ” pointing above his hand, “What here?” pointing to the side. “What here?”
“I don’t understand. Where?”
“Here! Here! Canada here. America here. What here?” gesturing again.
“Oh! The ocean?” I responded.
“No. No. What place?”
“Uh … Not ocean,” trying to picture in my head what he was asking, “Oh! California?”
“Yes! California! My uncle, he was in California!”
“Ah! Very good.”
One of the boys said, “You have yo-yo?”
“No,” I replied.
“Ayowah! Qadesh? How much?”
“Ten shekels,” he replied. This did not surprise me. Everything from bread to pastries to fruit to juice is ten shekels. It’s an easy number for both tourists and vendors. I gave him a coin. He jumped the wall and ran into the convenience store just across from where we were standing. He came back in less than a minute with a really nice, shiny yellow yo-yo. I was really excited, as I had not played with one for a long time.
He assembled it for me, and even tied the slip knot in the end. He then held my hand up to make certain it fit. I wound it up, gave it a whirl, and on my first go it came right back, snapping quickly into the palm of my hand.
In a matter of two more tries I had a horizontal fling working and then with some practice, the trick where you create a triangle and the yo-yo swings in and out of the temporary shape made of string.
“My first time!” The boys clapped and wanted to show me more.
I set my yo-yo down and filmed for another few minutes. The same boy then stopped. While he was winding the string around his toy, he asked, “You Muslim?”
He seemed a little worried by this and looked at the others.
“You like Muslim?”
“Yes. Of course. I like Muslims, Christians, and Jews.”
“Oh!?” he was surprised, but pleased, “That’s good. Good!”
The smallest of the boys was really excited now and spun round to join the conversation, taking his turn to test me, “You love god?”
“Yes,” I said smiling.
“You know God’s name?”
“Yes! Allah! Wow!” He looked around at the others.
Then he put me to the real test, “Say ‘Inshallah’ ” (God willing)
I repeated, intentionally emphasizing the second syllable instead of the first as he had, “Inshallah!”
Two of the four boys clapped as all four were quite pleased, “Inshallah! Good!”
We played with the yo-yos a bit more, practicing new tricks. A few cars zoomed by, as they do at night, sometimes drag racing on both sides of the street, up or down hill. One car drove slowly by, friends or relatives of the boys waving out the window calling to them.
A bit later, the more mature of the boys, whose command of English was better said, “You know nigger?”
I was caught off guard.
“Nigger. In America, my father don’t like them. He hates ni—”
I cut him off, “What?” I was not certain I heard him correctly, “Wait, wait. Hey. Don’t use that word. It’s not good.”
“Why? He say they all–”
“Stop. Don’t say it again. African-American. Or just American, ok?”
He continued, but a bit confused by my reaction, “My father say they … they not good. In California they—”
The other boys had stopped playing with their yo-yos and were listening, intent on the conversation, “Listen,” I said, “If I meet one Palestinian who, who is mean to me, or breaks my camera, are all Palestinians bad?”
He laughed, but got it immediately, “No. No.” and shook his head, looking at the ground between his feet.
“Ok. Your father? He meets one bad man. Doesn’t matter if black or white, African or Chinese or German. Does this mean they are all this way? Are all Palestinians the same? Is that possible?”
“No … ” his lights were coming on inside. I could see he was processing, “Oh!” He looked up again and smiled. Perhaps for the first time he was seeing things with that other-than-me point of view. “Ok. Ok. No more ‘nigger’. African or American, ok?”
“Right. American. Like Palestinian.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
This seemed to be something he had wanted to hear as it really struck a cord in him. It made sense. He was hungry for connection, The next half hour was spent posing for the camera, trying more difficult tricks, and sharing contact information in order that they could find me on Facebook. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook (which I take with me everywhere for just such an occasion) and printed my name four times, one for each.
As we finally prepared to say goodnight, my new yo-yo in hand, tied tight around my middle finger, the oldest boy said, “You, you are my best friend. We love you. Ok? Best friend. We write to you on Facebook tonight! Bye!”
They must have asked me a half dozen times if I had internet on my phone, which I did not, and then when I would be on-line so they could find me. To date, now four days later I have not heard from any of them. I am sad, to be honest, as I am excited to show them the video.