Naked, afraid … and resilient


The four phases of the moon.
The four phases of the moon. Photo: David Warrington, Wikimedia Commons 


Naked: You have nothing and nowhere to go

I never thought it would come to this. Five lunar cycles have waxed and waned since the transformation, altering not only our appearance but the very essence of our beings. A stark departure from the comforts we once knew. How swiftly the world turns its back on 2 million souls, pushing us to the edge of society’s consciousness.

I never fathomed the possibility of being stripped bare of all I held dear. Our family chose to live away from chaos, 20 meters above the street noise, where we enjoyed a view of the sea and a refreshing summer breeze — a quiet life in a tight circle of friends, an emotional safe haven for my loved ones and me.

Then we had to leave our home, thinking it would only be a difficult three days. But three days became forever when our house was bombed. They robbed us of our library filled with cherished books, our bedrooms that kept us safe since childhood, our veranda bursting with plants, our living room imbued with irreplaceable memories, a dining room that witnessed our most precious moments of celebration. Home was everything to our family. We lost the land we owned, our jobs, my university, and every corner of this city we once held dear. All gone; demolished like they never existed.

The only remains of my home I’ve been able to see is from an AFP satellite photo that feels painfully silent whenever I look at it.

Afraid: Death is near and you never know who’s next

The night sky with only stars and comet streaks visible.
A photo taken in December, when lights from electricity did not dim the view of the nightsky. Photo: Mariam Hani Abushahla

And it’s funny: Even after all of this, I didn’t think it could get worse. What else could I lose?

Silly me.

A day after the news about our house, I tried my hardest to stay strong and collected. But this time it was her I had to grieve. For the rest of my life. My best friend, who had narrowly escaped death just days before.

I didn’t believe the news at first. No, I was probably was in denial. I called her over and over again. That’s insane! I had just talked to her yesterday. How can she be dead? That can’t be true.

Shima and her family where murdered after they crossed the 15-km death route from Al-Quds Hospital to the city of Deir Al-Balah. Under fire and on foot, they endured humiliation and fear to finally meet their end.

The irony is that Shima and I first visited that city together last year, for an urban design project for our university. I didn’t know it would be the last timewe would be there together. Now I’m sure we’ll never visit Deir Al-Balah again. She’s gone.

Resilient: Hardened by war but determined to survive … together

Now, after five months of this misery, I can tell you how fear turns to selfishness. I’ve seen it emerge. Living with 20 people ranging from babies to disabled to old, where every person requires special care in a summer house built for a family of four. With little food, no electricity, and no personal space, it’s survival mode every day. It’s like being stuck between the sky and the ground, never knowing when it will end. In this desperation, selfishness creeps in.

But I fight it, knowing I can’t become someone I don’t recognize.

My family taught me that if you eat, you feed. It’s such a simple rule, but so easy to forget in these circumstances. Even if you can afford a decent life for yourself, you can’t leave behind the people under your roof. We must never forget that we’re all in this together.

Once again we were displaced, back to the coastline. The sight of the sea triggers memories of the life from which we were uprooted. Yet the chill air on my face wakes me to a painful present, reminding me olive season has come and gone, with neither olives nor oil to show.

But as Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani wrote in “The Land of Sad Oranges”: “Memories are carried on the shoulders of time like waves of the sea. They come and go, but they leave behind an unforgettable trace in our hearts and souls.”

The battle rages on as we’re trying to rise from the gloom of sorrow, undefeated and unbroken — a testament of the unyielding spirit that lies deep inside us.

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