Natalie squeezed my cheeks with her clammy little girl hand and pulled my face even closer to hers.
“No! Errrrr,”she rolled beautifully from the back of her throat.
“Ecchhchhcchhc” I unsuccessfully imitated.
“Le!” She sputtered the Arabic word for ‘no’ with eyebrows raised and head shaking. She pulled my face still closer and wrapped her other arm around my neck and shoulder.
Her eyes widened and her mouth opened again, just centimeters from mine. “Errrr-” Her roll was cut short as a rubber dart ricocheted off her forehead and hit me in the nose.
“Yeeeeeeee!!! Ithneen!!!” squealed Ramzi, celebrating hitting both of us as he ran towards the table and then slid on his knees to rescue his ammunition before it was swept up by his teyta. She missed the dart, but still shook her head and clicked her tongue disapprovingly as she wiped her hands on her apron.
I laughed a big belly laugh.
I had stopped by the apartment below mine for a brief visit several hours earlier. The grandmother and grandfather of the family live there and their son and his family live one level above- a very typical living arrangement in this culture.
A few days before, the 15-year-old Andreas had asked me for some help in trigonometry. I told him I would do my best, remembering that his classes are taught completely in German.
So there I sat, in the midst of this wonderful family- helping with German trigonometry, learning Arabic from a seven-year-old, dodging darts, and smelling the wonderful aroma of makloobeh being prepared.
It felt like home.
Teyta swatted the little kids away to wash their hands before lunch. She pulled me up from the chair by my hands. “I feel you are not strange” she said to me in her broken English and patted and squeezed me with her full palms on both of my cheeks. “Like a daughter I know forever from far away. Stay and eat with us.”
And so I did and my heart was full.