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.
I used to say “home is where my heart is”; nay, “my heart is where home is.” I miss home. Each time memories come sweeping back, my heart feels so much pain that my eyes can no longer fight back my tears, every drop of which as though had been squeezed from me. I manage to hide much of me by faking a smile by which I myself cannot but be amazed at how it could fool people into thinking I live a moment not of normal happiness yet of euphoria. My sadness is extreme and so is my joy. Yet, these moments of “euphoria” come in brief snatches, totally incapable of erasing the deep-rooted pain.
Whatever I had to experience “there” in Gaza is tenfold “here” in America. There, I served a long prison sentence since birth because there I happened to be born. I was born a Palestinian in Gaza. Since then, I knew my life would be extraordinarily different. Here, no one has ever had the kind of life I lived; hence, it is hard for them to understand me and hard for me to explain to them. Life here is so unfamiliar that I cannot but appreciate my life there, which, with all its complexities, seemed much simpler than any life anywhere else! Back home, I never needed to explain my life, for we all shared all kinds of whichever moment we had to live. “There” is where I will always belong.
Where I live, only two things might sound familiar to me: the whooshing sound of a plane flying overheard and the blaring sirens of ambulances passing nearby. Every morning, as I awaken to either sound, for just a moment, before the sleep could clear from my mind, I would feel as though I were in Gaza. My eyes would flash a split second smile because the two months seem not long enough to make me realize that I am no longer there. Weird but true, both sounds make me feel home, for just a moment, only.
Since Gaza is a relatively small place, it is not divided into smaller postal regions; therefore, not a zip code nor a postal address is used in Gaza. Gaza is so small that one doesn’t need a map either. It is a fact that, for some reason, people here couldn’t fathom. This is why when we, Gazans, leave this tiny place and fly somewhere else in the too “huge” world, “most” of us realize that we lack this sense of direction. No wonder I am terrible at maps, let alone following road directions! In Gaza, by mere walking, I used to reach my destination, as simple as that. How could they expect a bird, recently released from a cage, not to be confused which direction to take! Here, I don’t have the courage to go anywhere far from my place all by myself. I always need to be under one’s guidance. Despite this, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t ask whether we are on the right track; I never meant, however, to doubt the proficiency of a guiding friend. I always find it hard to believe that I am guided towards the right destination. Does it have something to do with me being Palestinian that I have trust issues!
In Gaza, I didn’t have a mail address nor did I ever have the pleasure of sending/receiving post. Gaza doesn’t enjoy such a luxury. When I first got here, I had to go to the bank to open an account. The gentleman asked for my postal address in my home country. The expressions they wore on their faces in reaction to my response “I don’t have a postal address in Gaza” made me wish I had faked an address! My kind friend, the one who drove me to the bank, tried harder to explain my situation since I went totally blank that I could no longer speak English. As they once wondered how that could be possible, I still wonder why on earth they’d need my postal address in Gaza while I am currently in the States!
Disappointed, I left. How could I explain to them about my life under occupation if they couldn’t understand such a simple matter! Hopeless, I left. Sad. I was so lost in thought that I couldn’t hear my friend when she asked me whether I was fine. With tears streaking down my face, I nodded. I felt her gentle tap on my shoulder and tender voice telling me “Fidaa, please! It’s all right! Do you want me to drive you somewhere?” “Home,” I sobbed. She switched on the ignition and started heading off to “my” house.
Each time I feel homesick, I skype my family after I make sure I can handle my tears very well, for the last thing I want is to make my family worry about me. Yesterday, I couldn’t. Suddenly, my tears got stuck in the middle of my face which was all frozen in shock when my dad’s hoarse voice came: “what are you doing?” “What am I doing!!” I echoed. “Are you crying?!” In a high-pitched tone he asked. “No no no! I am not,” I lied, “where’s my mom?” “What’s wrong, Fidaa?” he answered my question by asking another. When I told him I just miss home, he gave me a long speech that made me ashamed of myself for how silly I was.
True was all what he said. How couldn’t I stand being away from home to which I will be back soon while other Palestinian refugees scattered around the world don’t have this chance of going back home anytime soon! How couldn’t I be a bit patient while other innocent Palestinians have been sentenced to life imprisonment with no charge whatsoever! Although I couldn’t fully follow my dad’s analogy, he did make a point. As he pointed out, I live here in “Heaven”, a place free of occupation, siege, and other restrictions! I must admit that I am treated quite nicely and generously. People’s extreme kindness and unspeakable hospitality leave me speechless! I need to be fair and write about all these high moral values and good manners I have seen in some people in America. It never ceases to amaze me how nice people could be! However, nothing is worth being away from home and family. Nothing beats my mom’s gentle hug or my sister’s sweet smile. Nowhere else is like home, warts and all.