Put your feet on the earth and don’t attempt to fly: you are in Palestine
It's 6 o’clock, and I get out of bed and say my prayers. I live with my parents-in-law, my sister-in-law, my husband, our five children—four daughters (Rawa,11; Rahaf, 9; Maram, 7; and Asmaa, 2) and Mahmoud, 5. Mahmoud, who sleeps with his aunt, awakens full of energy—bounding up to drink milk with his grandmother. I help him put on his school uniform and he heads to the van that will take him to the kindergarten he attends every day except Friday.
At 7, I make tea and breakfast for the rest of the family and as we eat, we talk about our plans for the day. We usually eat falafel, hummus, tomatoes, potatoes and olives. I wash the dishes and my husband goes to his office for his work as an architect-engineer.
My daughters Rawa, Rahaf and Maram learn the Quran every day, so they go to the mosque for an hour in the morning. During this time, I help my mother-in-law with the housework and play with Asmaa. When Rawa, Rahaf and Maram return from the mosque, we ask them about the verses they memorized and encourage them to continue to do their best. I then help them get ready for their school, which is run by UNRWA.
Mahmoud comes home, full of enthusiasm and saying loudly as he opens the door, “Peace be upon you.” We all laugh at his way of greeting and give him hugs and kisses. I ask him what he did in class and he gives us a summary, usually of a new song or new words he learned.
I help my mother-in-law prepare lunch. We eat and enjoy talking as Asmaa and Mahmoud interrupt with their funny and mischievous behavior, like running around the sofas and hiding under the table. I then clean up and wash the dishes.
After lunch, Asmaa and Mahmoud are like Tom and Jerry, so it’s a good time for them to take a nap. And it’s my chance to take a breath, relax and think about my life.
I ponder: “What else is there? What can I do to change my routine and follow my dreams?” My role as a mother is worthy and my family is precious, but there is something inside me that pushes me to do something more.
On Facebook, I see an advertisement placed by an institution that funds small projects. I send the ad to my friend Wafaa and chat with her online:
Me: Wafaa, we are adults and should have our own work. Let’s stop working for others and think seriously about establishing a women’s project.
Wafaa: Do you have any ideas?
Me: Yes, I’d like to create a place for kids to play. Their parents or caregivesr can leave them with us and go anywhere while we care for them. We’d keep them until their families come back.
Wafaa: You mean a daycare?
Me: Not exactly. We could also have a place for the adults to drink a beverage and spend time with their kids if they want to stay. In addition, we could rent the space for birthday parties or other events for women, because in our society women can’t hold such events in public places. It would be an important thing to offer because many women live far from their families, so when they go out they don’t have an easy place to leave their children. Our place would allow them the freedom to go where they want, and it would also be a space where they can enjoy spending time with their children and friends outside the house.
Wafaa: Oooh, you prepared everything! Where did you get these ideas?
Me: When I visited my family in Egypt last summer, my brother’s wife told me about a similar place where she leaves her children when she spends time with friends. That place is just for kids, so this project would offer more options.
Wafaa: Go on!
Me: We could also set aside one day a week for families, so parents can enjoy time with the kids together.
I felt as if I was flying high with my dreams, and Wafaa was right there with me. We imagined ourselves as successful, independent, strong women, earning lots of money. She approved the idea and encouraged me to apply for the funding, but I wanted to run the idea by my husband first. He is very intelligent, and due to his work as an architect could contribute many ideas.
Rawa, Rahaf and Maram return from school and eat their dinner. Asmaa and Mahmoud play around us, my parents-in-law enjoying their antics. At 9, my husband comes home. On this day I am happier than usual to see him because I want to discuss the potential project. We eat our dinner together, he asks the children about their day, and everyone recounts the most important thing that happened to them, with much laughter.
After everyone goes to bed, I say to him, “I have a wonderful idea that has been on my mind all day. You have to listen and concentrate.” He looks at me in a funny way, as if he expects a disaster. I laugh and tell him everything. He responds that he thinks it’s a good idea, but that it wouldn’t succeed in Gaza.
“We live in very harsh circumstances,” he says. “People rarely have money to feed their families. It’s not a good time for such a project.”
What a shock of depression I felt! I tried to persuade him, but in vain. I then thought carefully about what he said and I realized he is right. The Israeli siege on Gaza kills our souls and our dreams before it kills our bodies. It controls our minds because it preoccupies us with meeting basic needs, like feeding our children.
I flee in my dreams and forget that I’m in Palestine, not a free, independent country. But I have to be realistic: We don’t even have electricity in Gaza for more than four hours a day.
But while all of these pessimistic thoughts flood my brain, I still hang on to a shred of hope that I can come up with a dream I can achieve. It’s my choice to be a hero or a victim of my circumstances.
And then something happens that changes everything.
Hope knows no time
The next day I woke up early and checked my messages. “Hey Israa,” one message began. “I would like to congratulate you on your initial approval to join We Are Not Numbers. I just talked to Pam and she is happy with the potential you show. You have an interview on Thursday at 1 o’clock to meet WANN's team.”
The message was from Issam Adwan. He had been my teacher in a translation course and is a coordinator for We Are Not Numbers. I had sent him a sample of my writing as an application to be part of the mentorship program a month before. Nothing can describe my feelings at that moment. It’s like a magic carpet had taken me into the sky of ambition. I saw myself as a great writer, achieving my dream to have a successful life. Finally, I am finding a way to develop and progress.
Life is never completely hopeless. Never be a victim. Instead, be a hero of your dreams and your life.