Far away from my noisy sisters fighting over a broken remote control, a desperate attempt to escape my death-entrenched life seeped through a rusty window as I gazed at a glittering sea. Somewhere on the other end, live another people with no “collateral damage” or “Rafah Crossing” or, indeed, on goes the list.
I have always thought of the insignificance of my life hanging at the mercy of uniformed Egyptian officers, M-16 steel rifles, closed zones, or swift but long-lasting power cuts. Always ready to be doomed to the worst of fates and looming uncertainty. Never in my life have I basked in the independence enjoyed by “outside girls” of my age. “Outside girls”– a term we use to refer to those who get their hair dried without fearing power will be cut off before the hurricane swirling their heads is smoothed.
Still leaving my eyes unleashed at the human velvet covering the sea sand, I thought how fast sand can become sand again with one deafening airstrike from Israel.
Sometime this past week, I was weaving through the events of Mornings in Jenin, taking a handful of new vocabulary to my steadfast black electronic dictionary with every page I turn. It was a starry mild-weathered night where people ditched whatever lodge they carried and flocked to inferior sea-overlooking cafes.
“Absurd is the life that made heaven out of a sewage-flooded sea” I mumbled wishing my words could reach the idling throngs on seashore.
Back into the novel, deeply taken by its characters, I was reading: “Our terror in the kitchen hole had only strengthened the bond between me and Huda. She possessed a…” when a massive explosion shook the walls of my worn-out room. My heart sank and in no time I found myself bent over my baby sister as if offering protection from an F-16 missile. My sister screamed beneath, asking me frantically in an extremely babyish tone what the sound was.
“That was thunder habibti it’s going to rain” I lied.
That night Israel killed three. One child was among the dead and the idling throngs flowed to the streets in aimless directions. Everyone was desperately trying to find a safe place, a place Israel does not suspect of holding terrorists. In a moment, seashore cleared. I turned off the lights, consigned to my thoughts. That day I realized how short life can be and how easily blood can be spilled, yet unnoticed. I brushed my forehead against the pillow trying to push away death pictures invading my head. It killed me my how innocently my sister believed the “thunder and rain”.
My life had taught me to hate anything red. I can hardly remember the last time I purchased a red dress, t-shirt, purse or even a pen. Sometimes, colors bear bitter meanings. This particular color makes me automatically think of martyrs and forget all about Valentine’s Day. Not that I do not feel grateful for Israel allowing my sight to remain intact, but I feel shallow when colors tend to be something vicious and bloody.
A few days ago, I received an invitation for an iftar along with child victims of the 08/09 war on Gaza. I fidgeted and decided not to go. Selfishly, I thought I’m already drooped with much pain and unfulfilled dreams to put on more weight. One hour before the adan, I prodded my conscience and rushed to the sleazy restaurant where the iftar was to be held. On my way, I was thinking how much I deserved the shower of badala, reprimand, my mother had guaranteed for me when she knew I had told them “I can’t make it today, really sorry”.
Dressed in my Tahrir-Square t-shirt, I dragged my feet to a hall where tables stood in rows and children fussed around wildly. Dozens of arms were recklessly thrown to the air, and noise swarmed into my ears like irritating jazz. My eyes blurred at the little excited bodies surging through the hall. I felt relieved that not only child victims attended the event. Relieved. Not for a long time.
Among the fuss, one brown-haired child was leaning on another boy’s shoulders as they ran across with other boys. Both faces bore gloomy expressions. The brown-haired is blind. The other was his chauffeur. Something painful pulled me back to my seat. Later on, I learned the child’s name is Luai.
Half way into the event, following the iftar, it was time for competitions. A young lady announced everyone should pick a number from one to thirty once they were selected to participate. Sympathetic to his condition, Luai was the first to be selected. “What is your favorite number, habibi Luai? came the lady’s empathetic tone. Luai wordless. “Allah is one, Luai, pick number one” a girl’s voice rose up from a plastic chair and successfully made its way through the silence. Convinced by the brief suggestion, Luai consigned to one.
Colors again. Luai was now obliged to utter colors he doesn’t know, or, he once new before Israel had decided to take away his sight forever. Back in 2008, Luai was playing soccer along with cousins and friends when mercilessly Israel raided a bunch of playful terrorists –kids-.
Twisting with embarrassment, Luai haltingly listed the colors of the flag because of which he lost his sight. Black, White, Green and red. All black in Luai’s blank eyes. Colors.
During the remnant hours of the event, I had peeked at Luai’s scribbled forehead thinking how he might have looked like when Israel believed he posed danger to its existence. Nothing could make sense to me and I found myself holding back a tear struggling at the edges of my eyes.
Life here has taken me aback and turned me into a vigorous reader thriving to find place within numerous books. Within the black-streaked pages of Mornings in Jenin, I swung between Gaza, where bombings are relentless, and Jenin’s refugee camp where lifeless bodies persistently clung to the “dream of return”.
Every night, as Israel’s bombs rock Gaza, I hold to my book, Mornings in Jenin, and tray away from everything including myself. I wear Amal, the orphan whose fear, uncertainty and complicated life turned into courage, success and love. Things we long, and yet long for here in this little unrecognized spot. I tread along with Amal’s absurdity and stoicism until sun perks up and I wake up the other day finding Jenin still nestled in my neck.
(Crossposted @ Rana Baker’s Blog Palestine, Memory Drafts and Future Alleys)
(mondoweiss.net / 28.08.2011)