Habibi
imagine you can measure one country’s customs by another’s. Public kissing—I mean, kissing on the mouth, like romantic kissing—is
not okay
here. It is simply not done. Anyway, it is not
supposed
to be done.”
    “Not by anyone?” she asked. “Not by Greeks or Jews or Armenians, or only not by Arabs?”
    With her luck she had been born into the only nonkissing culture, just when it started feeling like a valuable activity.
    “I cannot speak for Greeks and Jews and Armenians. I used to trade desserts with them, but I cannot speak for them regarding kissing. Somehow I do not think they are as strict about kissing as the Arabs are. Probably to their benefit. Of course anyone can kiss once they are married.”
    Poppy looked suddenly alarmed. “Is there someone you want to kiss?”
    “Oh sure, I just arrived nine days ago and I’ve already staked him out.”
    “Liyana, you must be patient. Cultural differences aren’t learned or understood immediately. Most importantly, you must abide by theguidelines where you are living. This is common sense. It will protect you. You know that phrase you always hated—
When in Rome, do as the Romans do? You must remember, you are not in the United States”
    As if he had to remind her.
    When she went to bed that night, she pressed her face into the puffy cotton pillow. It smelled very different from the pillows in their St. Louis house, which smelled more like fresh air, like a good loose breeze. This pillow smelled like long lonely years full of bleach.

    The next day Liyana’s family rented the whole upstairs apartment of a large white stone house out in the countryside, halfway between Jerusalem and the town of Ramallah. A bus stopped right in front. Surrounded by stony fields, the house had a good flat roof they’d be able to read their books on, if they spread out blankets. Poppy pointed out the old refugee camp down the smaller road behind the house—it had been one of the first ones from 1948. From the roof it looked like a colorful village of small buildings crowded close together. “Believe me,” Poppy said, “it looks better from a distance. Camps are difficult places.” Beyond it sat the abandoned Jerusalem airport—afew streaks of gray runway and a small cower. “It’s fast asleep,” Poppy said sadly.
    Each wide-open empty bedroom in the house had a whole wall of built-in wooden cupboards and closets and a private sunporch. Finally they’d be able to unpack.
    Their new landlord, Abu Janan, which meant the Father of Janan, looked like the Prophet of Gloom, with a huge stomach too big for his pants. He told them they probably wouldn’t be able to get a telephone hookup for at least a year, since he just got his after requesting it forever.
    Poppy said, “Well, I’ll work on it immediately since I’m a doctor and require one. Also” (he winked at Liyana), “don’t teenagers need to have telephones?” As if she had anyone to call.
    “Where is Janan?” she asked.
    “Who?” Poppy said.
    “The person this man is the father of.”
    “In Chicago. Grown up.”
    Too bad. She’d thought she might have a built-in friend.
    From the immaculate bare kitchen of their new flat, Rafik and Liyana could hear squawking rising from the backyard. They went downstairs and stepped outside to find a pen of plump black chickens pecking heartily in straw. A short cottage held their laying nests.
    “We’re living at a manger after all,” Rafik whispered. “You want to sneak down sometimes and give them treats?”
    “What is a treat to a chicken?”
    “Cantaloupe seeds and the middles of squash.”
    “How do
you
know?”
    Rank shrugged. “I have many secrets. We could let them out someday!” The yard was surrounded by a wall so they wouldn’t be able to go far.
    Liyana felt a pleasant mischief lay its cool hand on her head again.
    Rafik said, “Did you see that landlord of ours? He could use some exercise! If he chases them, he’ll get some!”
    Liyana mused.

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