My disinterest in Zara fashion, Grey’s Anatomy, or even the mouth-watering Brad Pitt (whom I googled to learn how to correctly spell his name), draw me to the most embarrassing words when the only topic of discussion is the untamed grins of my friends, endlessly declaring celebrities as “reserved fiances.” A wild shrill sound usually follows when one girl makes a rival claim to a celebrity coveted by another and a girlish fight erupts between the two.
”Illi!” yells one, usually in an overcrowded campus.
“No! Mine!” retorts the other.
“For both of you,” I add, giggling, as they pretend to lose their tempers. We crack up laughing.
Our lives are not as simple as this. And even if we want to love, we do not allow our hearts commit this sin before forcing the target of our affection swear to God that he is not involved in any kind of resistance groups. This is to assure our hearts that they could be broken because of some pretty girl or by forgetting birthdays, anything, but not martyrdom. Such is life, love and death in Gaza.
Living near a morgue
I have found myself countless times maintaining my grip around the iron rods of my balcony as if to curb the trembling of my knees and the heart heaving beneath the buttons of my school shirt. The morgue of the Shifa hospital, the biggest in Gaza, lurks near where I live.
Funerals, before swarming into one of the shaheed (martyr) graveyards, pass through Urabi Street — a dingy road named after Ahmad Urabi, who revolted against the European domination of Egypt during the Khedive’s rule. I can see Urabi Street when I look down from my balcony.
A space normally filled by tooting vehicles could turn in seconds into atrocious image of bloody stretchers weighed down by fermented faces or shattered flesh. A Palestinian flag would be wrapped around the shaheed . Worn-out muscles and angry chants would carry him back to a brown soil, like the skin of the woman he loved. The scent of carnage would float up, carrying promises of death to those who would ever dare to bother the high walls of occupation. To “protect” Israel’s citizens, lethal “military orders” become unavoidable.
Every night, as my head falls on my pillow, I think of other heads, also falling on pillows but stuffed with different thoughts. I imagine those visiting and revisiting plans of a summer vacation coming true by the simple booking of a flight. I compare this to my misery; a packed Rafah crossing and long hours of indignity. I think of Israel and my foreignness to the West Bank, and the West Bank’s foreignness to me. I fall asleep.
Our tears are different
The outside world, the checkpoint-less expanse, doesn’t know why wrinkles map our faces so early. Our tears are different, and so is their cause. So, too, are the causes of our moments of happiness.
I would at times contemplate the memory of my mother’s face when I delivered her the news of the departure of Israel’s ambassador in Egypt and compare it to my birthday, a week earlier. Her mouth curved into an ecstatic expression, with a smile that took in the entirety of her face. She did not smile like this when I turned 20. Nor did I. But this time, I too indulged in joy and my mouth stretched until it hurt. Unlike on my birthday.
But I do not blame my mother and do not reproach myself.
It’s the kind of Arab rapture that whisks you away from Gaza and drops you in Tahrir Square. You suddenly find yourself amid dark-skinned crowds and feel your body pushed forwards or backwards, depending on how everyone moves. Flags would breathe in your skin and chants would rush to your ears. Leaflets would be held tight in your grip. Blood would rush to your head and you would be swept up with love and excitement.
All of this would happen without crossing the unending miles of the Sinai desert or sweating with waiting throngs in a hall drowned in discontent and packed with curses. Such rapture would eventually lift up 1.6 million hearts. They would no longer feel jealous or wish to boast of their contribution in expelling an Israeli ambassador.
Power cuts, and being consigned to darkness, taught me to amuse myself at the thought of inverting the current apartheid structure in Palestine. I secretly giggle and draw the faces of Mr Ambassador and the some eighty Israeli embassy staff who departed with him.
But it is always the fault of the people in Gaza. Israel’s wrath is always directed at 1.6 million lives teetering between fireworks and firearms.
Any awkward reality finds its place in Gaza. “Babe, you missed our wedding,” is a common statement here. It’s not always that a groom can reach his bride on their wedding day. A while ago, my mother was invited to participate in a groom-free wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, the groom was not allowed a stamp on his passport and was turned back to Egypt.
The implications of such absurdity are probably the best thing about our lives. Israel can destroy our houses, but we’re still going to build a shack and live. They can hijack the lives of our sons but we’re still fertile enough to give life. We can deal with anything but definitely not another “voluntary transfer.”
The shabab (young men) of my country have a unique sense of humor. There are special jokes made about the people of Hebron, and funnier ones about al-majadla, the people of ethnically cleansed Asqalan (as Ashkelon was known before 1948). Such jokes usually stereotype the alleged social incompetence or unfavorable characteristics of a certain community. Many jokes traveled through the generations until our older relatives bequeathed on to us the clutter of their laughter.
The sabaya (young women), for their part, have unrivaled skills for gossip. In a few seconds, the historical record of their “victim” falls open and no detail remains undisclosed.
Both the shabab and sabaya might be accused of all kinds of things, but definitely not the will to abandon their country.
Many times in my life, I have cursed Gaza and questioned my fate. My heart, however, has always failed to skip beats at the hearing of any name, any city, but Gaza.
Rana B. Baker, aged 20, is a student of business administration, and a member of the Gaza-based BDS organizing committee. Her blog is http://ranabaker.wordpress.com and she can be found on twitter at: @RanaGaza