On Literary Evenings: Conversations With The Little One

The evening of May 18th was a calm spring evening in Palestine. A few days earlier, I had just arrived to the country after nine months of being away, and I had it in my mind to make this a very enriching, adventurous, productive and active summer – not only for my resume but also for my soul.

With that in mind, I was coming to Palestine right around the time that the tenth Palestine Festival of Literature, or PalFest, was happening. I clicked on the “Going” icon on the Facebook event and tagged a couple of friends and my cousin to tag along with me. I scanned the schedule for the event that would take place in Ramallah and took a mental note.

Earlier on May 18th, I met my dear friends and cousin for a little lunch. My youngest sibling tagged along also.

“Let’s go the PalFest? It’s the last day.”

“Sure,” we agreed. It wasn’t far from where we were sitting.

We got to Khalil El-Sakakini Cultural Center, and the performances were happening right in the garden. We sat and listened.

We listened to Ahdaf Soueif, Nathalie Handal, Jehan Bseiso (I even formally met her), and others. We listened, laughed, cried, and hoped. There was so much hoping and smiling.

When one of my friends was crying, my youngest sibling turned to me and said, “Why’s she crying?”

The words. The words.

One of the performances were for Nathalie Handal, and she sang to us. She sang something along the lines of “Dance. Let’s just dance.” It was so soothing, so magical, and as I observed my youngest sibling, with her head in her hands, watching and listening closely, I was overcome with such calmness for her.

After the performance was over, my youngest sibling turned to me and said, “That was really nice,” in Arabic.

I smiled. It was. She went home and told my mother about the performance.

When she’s old enough, I want to remember to ask her if this was a pivotal moment for her wanting to attend such events, even though the language is very complicated. After that evening, my youngest sibling wanted to tag along for other literary or spoken word events. At times, she did, and at other times, she wanted to ride her bike with cousins her age.

Sometimes, when we are sitting together, her and I, we remember Nathalie Handal and those words to that song, and we sing them over and over. I still hear her singing, “Dance. Let’s just dance.”

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Podcast Episode

I got to speaking with Nadia Abuelezam, host of the Palestinians Podcast, close to a year ago, after indulging in many episodes regarding her podcast. We talked over the months, and she asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed. I’m just an ordinary person, but I thought to myself, why not?

As a result, my feature made it to the podcast’s 20th episode. Happy listening!

http://www.palestinianspodcast.com/palestinians-podcast—blog.html

 

 

On Growing Up: Conversations with The Little One

“I want to grow up, but I don’t know how,” my youngest sibling told me, as she sat across of me in a small dessert shop in Ramallah, scribbling in her notebook.

She informed me a few weeks ago that she wants to be a writer. She’s in elementary school.

I am at that age where it seems that you are pressured to have your life figured out – or at least, have someone figure it out for you according to their terms (but that’s another story). I often feel myself stuck in the same time, still trying to test out roads not taken, but not knowing when to take the plunge.

A week ago, I attended Sard, a spoken word event in Ramallah. This month’s guest was Suad Amiry, architect and writer. She spoke of a “ten-year itch” she has – she tends to change the course of her life every ten years. Listening to her speak, with her charisma and liveliness, I thought, All is well. There is nothing wrong with changing and trying new things…things that are out of our comfort zone. Here’s Suad. Fearless Suad. 

I don’t know how to grow up, either, but I think it goes something like this: it’s not about the money, the houses, cars, and all that. It is about growing. It’s about being okay with changing courses in your life. It’s about reading something you have written and wondering, Ten years from now, where will I be? How will I look at this differently? What have I learned since then? 

I don’t know how to grow up, either, I want to tell her. We’ll learn and help each other along the way.

Conversations Over A Magazine

When I first moved to Palestine, over a decade ago (though it seems like only a year or so ago), I desperately searched for something to read in English. I didn’t bring any books back with me from the United States save for a copy of Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Although I was fresh out of a fourth grade classroom from an American elementary school, I knew how to read and write Arabic. After all, my first language – the language my parents taught me and spoke to me with – was Arabic. Attending an American elementary school, however, equipped me with better English reading/writing skills, and often times confused my answer to the question: “What is your first language?”

Hence, the reason I searched for something to read in English when I first moved to Palestine.

My family members in Palestine knew where to find books in Arabic, and my new school had a library with English books, but none of them were quite the read I was looking for. I managed, regardless.

It was in the seventh grade, at Angelo’s Restaurant in Ramallah, that I noticed copies of a small magazine on a stand there. I don’t recall what the issue was about, but I do remember that I was always on the lookout for the magazine, which was This Week in Palestine, hoping one day, I’d even write in it. The rest, as they say, is history.

I thought back to this memory a few days ago, when I was eating breakfast with my mother at Zeit o Zaatar, another restaurant in Ramallah. There were copies of the August issue of This Week in Palestine – the 232 issue. I grabbed one, and as we waited on our food, I began skimming through the articles. I read some passages aloud to my mother, with many “Did you know?”‘s. We then flipped to the pictures of the Palestinian traditional dress and marveled at the beautiful attire, discussing which kind my grandmother and my mother, herself, owned.

It is magazines like these that keep conversations going, even for people that are from the same place the magazine revolves around. After all these years, this specific magazine introduces me to people, voices, ideas, information, and images that I like to pass on. It has become a sort of “family gathering” muse, and I am glad the journey started in the seventh grade.

 

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 17: We are Jerusalem.

The unfolding of events in Jerusalem seemed to occur pretty quickly for those of us watching them on television/computer/phone screens. Two Israeli police were killed. Three Palestinian men were killed. The Friday prayers were canceled for the first time since 1969. Security measures, in the form of  metal detectors and cameras, media seemed to focus their lens closely on Jerusalem, ignoring – or at least, for the most part – not mentioning the greater context these events took place in. It wasn’t an instance. It was – is – a result of the occupation.

The gates to Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock compound remained closed for about two weeks, and those who want to pray would have to go through the humiliating measures. The protests resumed for two weeks. Hospitals were raided in order to arrest the injured and capture the dead. Yes, the dead. Bodies had to be smuggled out of the hospital to be buried – quick mourning.

 

Then, after about two weeks, I was watching the very first moments of the security measures being taken down and the gates finally opening, welcoming the people of Jerusalem and all around. The mosques – even the ones in Al-Bireh/Ramallah – began performing takbeerat. My eyes filled with tears watching my fellow brothers and sisters in Jerusalem celebrate this victory. Yes, it was a victory.

My mind drifted to far places, as it often does. It drifted to a good place. That morning was one of them. I imagined the first few moments of a Palestine that is rid of the heinous occupation. I don’t know what will happen before or even after this, but that morning, I received a taste of it. I think many Palestinians did, and that is all thanks to our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

My friend asked a taxi driver on our way home from an adventure in Sebastia, “Do you have hope?”

He said, “If we didn’t have hope, would what happened in Jerusalem have happened?”

 

Image credit: Maannews.com

Generations Past and Pass: On Change

Donald J. Trump came to visit Palestine a week after I flew in. I turned on the television and sat across, watching Trump’s every move and hearing his every word. On the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors. Palestinians know this even before he utters a single word…even before he was sworn into office. Again, on the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors.

“That’s Donald Trump.” My youngest sibling walked into the room and sat next to me.

“The very one,” I replied.

“What’s he doing here?” She asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. I silently hoped that when she was my age, a different, better story would be told.

I watched him speak and glorify the state of Israel and ignore the facts on the ground. I watched him meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and not utter a word about Palestine, the hunger strikers at the time, or anything he should have said. It was all about him wanting to combat terrorism and make the world great again.

As he shook hands with Abbas and left the podium, I thought to myself. How many generations have passed watching different United States presidents stand on a podium, preaching the same thing with no tangible….with no acknowledgement of the facts on the ground?

I thought of my grandparents, parents, myself, and my youngest sibling. We have all seen this two-podium-scenario with different presidents.

Today, there was a gathering in Ramallah in protest of the heinous measures Israel is taking against Palestinians in Jerusalem, especially in regards to Al-Aqsa Mosque. The protest was made up of a gathering of no more than 40 people.

“If this were to happen back in the day, everyone would have taken to the street,” my aunt, in her 40s, noted.

I nodded.

We rode a taxi, and as the taxi driver dropped us off, he said, “God help this generation. Darker times are yet to come.”

Darker times are yet to come. I wondered across how many generations this sentence has been uttered. 

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 16: My Grandfather’s Request

“Grandpa, what do you want me to bring you back from Jerusalem?” I asked my paternal grandfather a day before I would go visit Jerusalem for the second time in the month.

I watched my grandfather, who turned eighty last November, as he slowly walked to his spot on the couch. I was waiting for him to say something like, “Thank you, sidi – Grandpa” or “Just go have fun.”

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

June of this year marked fifty years since the 1967 six-day war, or Al-Naksa, when Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Palestine, was occupied by Israel. Jerusalem is separated into East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is what is proposed as the capital of the State of Palestine on paper. It is where the Old City of Jerusalem, rich with history, exists. For people with a green identity card or with a Gaza identity card, entering Jerusalem is simply difficult.

As I thought of what my grandfather was saying, I remembered my maternal grandfather. He passed away in the United States a little over two years ago, but he always told my grandmother that when his legs were strong again, he wanted to go to Jerusalem. It is that kind of city.

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

One day, sidi. One day we will bring back Jerusalem. We will be able to get there and make more beautiful history between the gates and walls of one of the holiest cities in the world.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 15: The Aftermath

Qalandia checkpoint is a human-sized birdcage. I have said this before, and this is the only way I will ever see it. I rode the Ramallah to Jerusalem bus excited – except I would not be dropped off in Jerusalem. I would be dropped off at the Qalandia checkpoint.

I have not been to Jerusalem in two years. At the bus stop and on Qalandia, I heard stories of women and old men who have not been there in over twenty. I know people who haven’t been there since they were born and who are now having children of their own. I am lucky. It had only been two years since I have visited one of the holiest cities in the world.

Walk to Qalandia

A woman walking towards the Qalandia checkpoint. Photo credit:   Author

As I walked, I reserved great attention to my footsteps. I looked down at my blue Converse as I stepped on stones and the remains of burnt tires.

A few weeks ago, there were protests at Qalandia for the hunger strikers who have had their basic rights stripped away from them. Tires were burnt. Smoke rose in the air. I, however, was not witness to this. I only found stones and the remains of burnt tires.

This is the aftermath of protests. Black skies and ground. Black. Darkness until one day, when we see light.

 

The Trip Home: Anniversary June Part 2

The trip home does not end when the airplane lands in Jordan. It begins.

The taxi radio was on. The radio talk show host was talking about how the next day marks 69 years since the occupation of Palestine. She began talking about the problems in Palestine, the negotiations that died long ago but politicians keep bringing up – as if there is a hidden message we have failed to catch – , the prisoner hunger strike, the, the, the…the list went on.

I was still in Jordan. I would be for a while. I wondered how, for the past 69 years on May 15th, things have not changed…not for the better. I wondered how many more generations will come and hear that for so and so years, things have not changed…not for the better. I will wonder this again, around a week later, when President Donald Trump comes to Palestine.

The next day, I get a message from a dear friend:

“How ironic you arrive on the day we were displaced.”

And my thoughts continued to struggle between the past and the future…when Palestinians were displaced and when they…if they will come back.