When in Granada, Feel as Gazans Do
When I was in Paris, I felt nostalgic. When I was in Granada, I felt home. But when I left it, I felt it. Filled with nostalgic memories of which I couldn’t speak, I wept, inconsolably. Again, in Granada, I had no choice but to board that bus heading to the airport. I, still in tears, waved the place goodbye. My friend –motionless and wordless– watched me helplessly, not knowing how to relive me since he knew what these tears were for. For Al-Ándalus, I bitterly crave. For freedom, I’d always have a yen. For Gaza, I will always return.
I was asked countless times to write about how it feels to be out of Gaza for a little while; however, all my attempts to describe the indescribable were doomed to failure. Visualize me this way. A bird, taken out of its cage and unleashed for a while, didn’t know how freedom smelt like, but when the bird did, it promptly fell in love with the smell for which the bird will be always longing while being in the cage, unwillingly though. I, like the bird, inhaled this intriguing smell of freedom. I, unlike the bird, inhaled it twice this year, once in June when I went to France and the other in October when I went to Spain.
France left me mysteriously speechless, forever. It was my first time I journeyed beyond my besieged Gaza. Everything was a totally shocking experience. The outside world. The flying plane in the sky. I was flying freely -soaring high, in a brilliant blue sky. I felt more than equal to the clouds floating beneath. I’d never thought of demanding my freedom of flying in the sky, yet I’ve always demanded my freedom of movement on the ground. In the sky, I also felt this indescribable feeling of freedom. A whole new world, indeed.
I was totally overwhelmed by the breathtaking view of the city of Paris, by the awe-inspiring Tour Eiffel, by the splendid musée du Louvre, and by the beauty of everything. The glittering lights are everywhere. No wonder Paris is La Ville-Lumière! Till now, I still believe all this was just a mirage. Who could believe that a besieged Gazan would be one day in Paris all at once? Life can’t be more shockingly thrilling!
Compared to my trip to Granada, my trip to France wasn’t that enjoyable as though I went into a coma, incapable of absorbing the utterly new atmosphere. When I was sent an anotherinvitation to attend a conference in Spain, I was a bit hesitant about having another confusing experience. Because of all the complicated processes of applying for a visa, of crossing the border and of other security procedures, let alone the seven-hour, non-negotiable car ride to Egypt to reach the airport, I issued a zillion yeses and noes at once. It seemed like a catch-22 situation. If it was for the “yes”, I’d have to tolerate the laborious task to finally make it to Spain. If it was for the “no”, I’d have to endure the regrettable feeling of losing a chance. Being this type of a person who takes all the possible precautions just in case I won’t reproach myself for not doing what’s needed, I decided to work laboriously for my visa and endure the imminent aftermath.
With awe, I shall speak of Granada. Lo and behold! Think the unthinkable when it comes to its captivating beauty. Till now, my heart gives a sudden leap at the mention of its name. I was fascinated by the majestic grandeur of Granada, the serenity of the place, and the purity of the atmosphere. Unbelievable sights! What a dazzling world!
One starry, mild-weathered night, my Gazan friend, whom I owe, for he thoughtfully –or rather chivalrously– took on the responsibility of taking care of me as this is men’s innate habit of offering free protection to women when they are in a place on their own, and I were totally mesmerized by the scenery, enjoying some fresh air, sipping our Spanish espresso-coffee while leaning against the iron rods of the front-yard of the campus and taking a deep look at everything around. “so?”, came my voice piercing the silence of the place. “I haven’t seen any frowning Spanish till now”, came his answer as a shock. “Pardon me!…” I gave him not only a frown, but a pout, looking for further details.
His illustration made me reach the same conclusion. I didn’t realize this myself because when I am in a place, my attention is much more drawn to the natural surroundings than to the people. I always enjoy contemplating the places not the faces. This is what Arthur, the same Albanian friend I once mentioned in the article I wrote the other day, told me that I lack the skill of analyzing people through looking them in the eye. I still believe that this is none of my business. Contemplating people’s faces is of no interest to me at all. However, yes, I agreed that I haven’t seen any angry faces in Granada. The Spaniards appear in a very relaxed manner, artistically added to the relaxing view of the city.
It would be extremely unfair if the Gazans were compared to the Spanish. In Gaza, most of what occupies its vulnerable image is anger. My people are angry all the time and they have every reason to be so, taxi-driver in particular, not to mention teachers as well. Life frustrations snatch every smile and turn it into a frown as if by magic. Unlike the people of Gaza, the Spanish have no occupation, no siege, no borders, no Israeli-checkpoints, no restraints, no injustice, no power-cuts, no generators, no turtle-like speed of internet connection, no sudden bombardments, and, indeed, on goes the list. My sincere apologizes, I just felt compelled to justify my people’s anger.
Back to the smiling faces, one needs to behold the Spanish to feel relieved. “Hola” (hey), they beam with a relaxed smile whenever your eyes meet theirs. One can’t but fall in love with the Jasmine perfume of this place, God’s Heaven on earth as I’d always love to call. One has to visit the Alhambra along with its adjacent Genera-life Gardens (Arabic Janna Al-Arif), Albayzín and Sierra Nevada mountains to justly justify my uncontrollable tears I burst out in when I left the place.
I, being a Muslim, couldn’t but be spiritually thrilled, yet agonized, by the sense of the Islamic genuineness filling the whole atmosphere. The decorated walls with its intricately carved batters along with the inscribed Quranic verses gave me an enormous sense of pride and glory. These words of “Wa la ghalib illa Allah” (There is no victor but Allah) adorned in every nook and cranny sent a chill down my spine. One has to listen to the way our tour-guide, of great Islamic erudition, pronounced these words into a wonderfully broken Arabic accent. There, in Granada, I witnessed the almost 800-year Islamic heritage. I couldn’t be prouder and much more mournful.
With tears welling up my eyes along with all the nostalgic memories encapsulated in my fully-loaded mind, I came back to my beloved Gaza only to realize that I was lucky enough to witness that celebratory spirit that overcame my tiny place. October 17th, 2011 was an unforgettable day for every Gazan, me in particular. I’ve never seen my people in such an ecstasy as they were on the day that marks the released of the 477 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. This unspeakable feeling of freedom sent my Gaza into raptures. Only on that day, I could swallow all the tearful thoughts, smile my thanks to God and inhale the new smell of freedom with delight, for Gaza has been my Andalus in my eye.