On the entire planet, there is no place available where both families could get together and meet one another. The whole world doesn’t have a single spot where my family could travel to without having to suffer the process of applying for a visa, of obtaining permits, of begging officials and of crossing borders, so they could come to my engagement party. Even my home, in this case Gaza, seems to be the furthest point on earth that no one can easily reach, and with the tightened siege on Gaza, no one can easily leave, either. Mohammed and I met last year in Chicago during winter break and since then we became very close friends. As time elapsed our friendship turned into love about which we had to inform our families, unaware of all the challenges lying ahead of us. Had not Mohammed been more patient than I was, I would have given up on us since I thought my life has been so complicated that I couldn’t handle a complicated relationship.
Last night, I had a dream that I was running, running and running, and I kept running till I glanced an emergency exit. Though I cannot remember whether I made my way out, I woke up feeling breathless. Strangled. Suffocated. I cannot even find a better word to describe that feeling, but I think it would suffice to say I woke up to another morning in Gaza! Every night I sleep hopefully that tomorrow is a “better” day only to have a “bitter” one instead. My mornings in Gaza are as salty as the tap water I wash –or rather taint– my face with. I even replaced my “good morning” to my mother with “sabah el-maleh” (salty morning). Despite myself, however, every night I rekindle my hope that tomorrow will bring me a “good morning”.
My life story in its great detail is so unfathomable and forever surprising I can no longer make sense to myself, let alone to others. Life is so unpredictable and ever changing my heart is never prepared for its unsteady rhythms. Between overwhelming happiness and extreme sadness, I am ripped apart. “Where am I? Where am I?,” I was found trembling and whimpering while asleep two nights ago. Nothing but the warmth of my mom’s hug could assure me I was home, safe. While I was still holding her tight, sobbing on her shoulder, my mom, too, broke into tears. “No no no,… mom please don’t…,” I pleaded, still in tears. Awakened by our sobs, my sister in the other room managed to drag herself out of bed and walk towards us. “Why are you two crying! Isn’t he in Heaven? Didn’t you both tell me not to cry over him,” we were taken by surprise when we saw her staggering into the room, not yet strong enough to stand on her feet. We ran to her aid “no no, habibti, we aren’t crying.” Unsurprisingly, she burst into tears, again. My bad!
As everything has to come to an end eventually, I am currently counting down the last few days of my ten-month trip in the United States. I was invited a couple of times to speak on what’s like for a Palestinian from Gaza to live in the U.S. for the first time. My response to such a broad question tends to sound more political than anything, and it’s no wonder when my personal life is nothing but political. I always find myself talking about my experience in terms of how people in America react when they know I am a Palestinian, of how much they know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of what image they hold of us in their minds, and the like, politically speaking. It did not dawn on me that they were looking for a completely different answer. What they meant was that whether I experienced any culture shock. I got it –or I thought I did. I attempted a new answer.
I seem to always do the same thing each time I have to register for something online though I know deep down my country is nowhere to be found. Each time, I open the drop down menu of countries and keep scrolling up and down past all the listed countries, hoping I can find it, up and down again, squinting my eyes at the screen, and then I pause to remind myself of the fact I don’t need to go up and down since countries are listed alphabetically. Disappointed, I scroll up to the letter “I” and choose, albeit reluctantly, “Israel” as “my” country. But, “Israel” is NOT –and will never be- my country. Palestine is.
I am a Cast-lead war survivor. And, a Hurricane Sandy survivor, so-to-speak! Both devastating disasters seemed, to me, eerily similar in a way or another; however, the former is Israel man-made in Gaza and the latter is nature-made in America. Both miraculously left the area where I happened to live unscathed, or rather untouched. As things always seem worse from afar, even much worse to those who know no geography, me included, I have spent three days in a row comforting the panicking friends and the distraught parents who couldn’t stop calling/texting me right after they’d learned about the Superstrom Sandy hitting New York City. “Wallahi I am safe,” I pleaded, the same way I did during the 23 days of Gaza war.
The leaves give a crunch as I step onto them. Lost in the beauty of nature as I stroll up the hill, I seem to have gazed absently into the distance for I don’t know how long but long enough that I could have stiffness or a crick in my neck. Only then could I be shaken back to reality. Sometimes pain could be all what we need to prick our conscience every time we get lost or go astray. I glance down at my mobile clock. Time drags by, intolerably. I turn back and retrace my steps. Down the hill. I realize I am on the slippery slope towards a life of nonsense! It suddenly downs on me that nothing makes sense, nor does the French song I accidentally click on while checking the time for I don’t know how many times! Placed in the middle of nowhere, here I am, bored and lost in America.