I remember how Dr. Refaat Alareer entered the classroom.
He immediately put a few books on the desk. They included Gaza Writes Back – a collection he had edited – and Rifqa by Mohammed El-Kurd.
Dr. Refaat always carried them around. They were a part of his identity, as a reader, writer and storyteller.
He introduced himself, said a few things and told a few jokes. He listened to what we had to say, then took Gaza Writes Back in his hands and started to read aloud.
His face lit up; his eyes opened wide.
He really captured the essence of “Omar X,” a story by Yousef Aljamal.
Dr. Refaat told us that he recently bought a car. The worst part about doing so was that he couldn’t listen to the stories of taxi drivers in Gaza any more.
“I could spend hours just looking at beautiful sentence structures or reading stories,” he said, smiling.
Another favorite hobby of his was making memes. He encouraged us to be similarly creative.
My first impression of Dr. Refaat was that he was different in a good way. His enthusiasm was real.
I had never been able to concentrate properly during a three-hour lecture until I attended one of his.
He taught me creative writing.
He taught me poetry.
He taught me Shakespeare.
He had a profound connection with modern plays and poems and taught them in a funny and interactive way.
When I remember Dr. Refaat Alareer, I don’t just remember him as someone who worked at the university. He was someone who taught life.
He was my friend. Someone I looked up to – like a father.
Even in the darkest of times, he would check on me and other students. He told us that if we needed anything, please let him know.
The last time he texted me via WhatsApp was on 27 November.
He reproached me for not publishing anything since the beginning of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza. And he encouraged me to write.
On 3 December, The Electronic Intifada published an article I wrote titled “World shrinks for Gaza’s children.” I sent Dr. Refaat a link to it but I wasn’t sure if he saw my message.
I have subsequently learned, though, that he reposted a link to the article on Twitter. When I saw that, I couldn’t help but cry.
You believed in me, Dr. Refaat.
You believed in the strength of words.
You told us, “If I must die, you must live to tell my story.”
You always gave me confidence and strength.
I was over the moon when you asked me to deliver a class when you were sick.
I remember when you edited my first story and said, “I see a writer in you.”
You always paid attention to the details.
You shared my first published story on a WhatsApp group before I had even told you it was published. “Good job, Mahmoud,” you said.
You made me a writer.
You were the best teacher I ever had.
I will always be proud to have been one of your students.
I miss your lectures.
I miss the comments you wrote on the right hand margins of our papers.
My eyes filled with tears while I was writing these words. But I wiped them away and continued writing.
You are not dead, Dr. Refaat.
I promise that I will always write.
I will fight with my pencil and my poems.
I will never forget how much you brought to my life.
You will always be my inspiration.
Mahmoud Alyazji is a writer, photographer and video editor based in Gaza.