Sitting in the shade of a damp sheet strung across two clotheslines hadn’t been too bad. But now out on the street, I had to stop pretending it wasn’t hot. The concrete tossed the day’s heat into my face as we walked down narrow streets of the tall apartment buildings in Aisha’s neighborhood.
It was the day of l-Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. As the sun considered setting, people started to appear on the streets, freshly scrubbed and in new clothes. Time for the party!
Aisha had explained that all of the children would be out on the streets in their new clothes, playing, dancing, and laughing. We were on our way to witness this delightful street party now.
But we were only approaching Aisha’s mother’s apartment when we encountered a slight glitch in our plans: apparently, Aisha’s nephew had whacked a neighbor girl with his belt. The girl’s mother approached the few family members lingering outside of Aisha’s mother’s apartment. She was furious as she displayed the belt’s point of contact with her daughter’s face.
Along with the others, I peered at the unbruised, unbroken skin, trying to ascertain the validity of the crime. Her inflammatory remarks didn’t set well with the boy’s family. An instant wall of excuses met her accusations: this wasn’t the boy’s problem, but her daughter’s problem, the family told her.
The little girl’s shaky sobs were lost as the confrontation exploded. Hollering escalated, echoing up and down the street. Neighbors rushed to the scene to offer unwanted advice and intercession. Others stood in the background to observe. Above us, others leaned out of windows to watch the drama unfold on the street below. A bit of pushing began, but tapered off quickly as friends dragged the more aggressive ones away. There was little effort to control any display of temper.
I was the only foreigner, the only one who didn’t quite culturally grasp what was happening. I leaned awkwardly against the doors of a closed shop to watch, fighting my own instincts to intervene.
The original crime had been so trivial. Why the big fight in the middle of the street?
Meanwhile, the little belt slinging offender was running around slaying other children with his belt, unhindered and unnoticed altogether… except by me!