An enormous ghost is chasing me. I run, breathing heavily and tasting the salty drops of sweat as they trickle down my face. I turn my head. The eerie silence clings to me like a cloak. I want to scream, but I would hear no echo.
In an attempt to save my life, I keep running until I reach a large primeval gate. Its locks have been eroded, but the gate is still as strong as a long-standing building. I know the worst is coming. I bow with my hands on my knees and try to take a deep breath. Minutes later, I raise my head to look my fear straight in the eye. At this moment, I wish I would die. All of a sudden, the ghost shatters into countless pieces, and then the gate opens.
My alarm went off just as the dawn call rose from the minarets. I opened my eyes and wondered what in the world had happened. I could barely see through the darkness. My heart was still racing, and my face was wet.
Like a baby clinging to his mother, I steadied myself with the familiar sight of my room’s ceiling and realized that it had been a dream. I adjusted my posture, buried my face in my hands, and cried. Then the Eqama sounded, the second call of prayer. After finishing my prayer, I remained seated on my prayer carpet, hugging my legs and putting my head on my knees. I tried to bring all kinds of things buried deep in my heart to the surface. I recalled the recent rush of events, one by one, as if watching a movie in my mind.
That nagging voice inside my head
Just one week ago, I was about to take the last exam for my bachelor’s degree. On such a day, students normally feel jovial, almost free of exam stress, thinking ahead to not having to be a “morning person” for some time, but instead take a rest and have a nice holiday.
But for an over-thinking, future-phobic girl like me, enjoying the moment is not my strength. I was doing my best to ignore that nagging voice inside my head that told me, “You have no bright future.” I was physically and psychologically exhausted from more than 10 days of exams, and that nagging voice inside my head made the situation much worse. It was still early morning before I went to the university to have my last exam; my nagging voice had apparently decided to be my companion from the very start of that day. Half an hour later, I was dressed and heading to the university with a mixture of feelings flooding my nervous system: fear, anxiety, sadness, and some happiness, too.
After the exam, my university friends and I celebrated on campus with snow sprays, fireworks, and spontaneous videos taken of each other. Then we decided to resume our celebration at the beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon together, chitchatting, laughing, having fun, and taking lots of pictures. The sun was about to give its fiery kiss to the sea when my friends and I hugged each other and said goodbye.
Having completed our exams, we knew we were officially announcing the end of our university experience together. We had shared so many years together and now would not see each other as much. So, it seemed as if we were saying our last, tearful goodbyes. From today on, each of us would be preoccupied in our own ways with preparing for the future. Yet the idea of a future is like a ghost for fresh graduates in Gaza. It is hard for us to acknowledge that our life options are greatly limited by the Israeli occupation and siege that has resulted in severe financial crisis, unemployment, and the overall bad conditions we have to deal with every day.
That night in my room, I tried to get some rest. I lay down on my bed, turned my phone off, and thought about what would happen from this day forward. Questions flooded my mind: Is that all? Am I now my own mentor? Am I now a responsible person? What lies behind the ancient metal gate? Is the job market in Gaza just as I always thought? Based on my information, Gaza is characterized by underpaid temporary work contracts. Or the overwhelming presence of training course centers for $200 monthly on the top expected rate. Will it, one day, be necessary for me to be part of this vicious cycle? All of these questions drove me to the point of tears.
But my inner voice intervened with: Whoa! Whoa! So I held back my tears and started listening to it. Go easy on yourself, Nour, the voice cautioned. Stop flogging your mind and heart. It’s only the first day after graduating. Even when I listen to my inner voice, I am a stubborn person. I knew from experience that post-graduate depression was likely to close in on me soon, as it does when I feel that I may not achieve my goal. It took me two hours after this monologue to regain my strength and get an adequate quantity of sleep.
Jumping on the first job offer
The next day, I was preparing to go to the beach — my comfort zone and the only place I usually go when I’m down — when my phone rang. I realized at that point that I had forgotten to activate airplane mode. When I’m upset, I do this. I don’t like receiving phone calls or messages from friends, so why should strangers be able to reach me? Strangers being victims of my mood swings is unthinkable to me. Still, I answered the call.
“Hello! Is this Nour?” a man’s voice said.
“I think so…umm..I mean, yes,” I responded hesitantly. “Who is this?”
“This is Mr. Said. You got the job! We look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Best of luck!”
“Hold on, Mr. Said,” I said, chuckling. “I’ve applied to many places recently, and I’m not sure if I remember what kind of job I applied for with you.” In the days leading up to the final exams, I’d realized that I shouldn’t wait until I’d officially graduated to start looking for work. I knew that if I did, depression would bite my head off from the start. So I’d applied for a lot of jobs and waited until my exams were finished.
“You’re hired as an English instructor for our training group, Nour,” Mr. Said explained.
“English instructor!” I said, in shock. “Oh, really? Thank you so much, Mr. Said. I’ll be there on time.”
After receiving the phone call, I was ecstatic! Knowing I could do it made me feel proud. I thought this would be a golden chance to get a year of experience, a requirement for my master’s degree scholarship, and to engage myself in something beneficial. Though I had never imagined myself being a teacher, I’d always enjoyed being an influencer in my community. But in a completely different, outstanding way, not an ordinary way. I’ve always wanted something to make me stand out among my peers. I wanted to be me, not a copy of anyone else.
Doubting my decision to quit
But it seems that dreams shatter when they come to reality. I thought that taking any job would help get me out of my post-graduation depression, but rather, it made it worse. It put my fears in front of me, with a close understanding of the reality of the job market in Gaza. After three days at work, with much inner conflict, I decided to quit. The job was underpaid, and it didn’t advance me toward the future I imagined for myself after graduation.
I wanted to be working at a big company, an environment I preferred. I liked teaching and did it well. I used to do lots of presentations at university. But with this job, I had to teach kids, which added more pressure. My fear of being unemployed or staying at home after graduation had led me to accept anything without considering the consequences.
The decision to quit made me feel that I was dramatizing things. Three days didn’t seem enough time to make such a decision. I didn’t feel at ease, so I did Istekhara, a prayer in which we ask God to show us the right path.
I arrived at work the following morning, Facetimed Mr. Said, handed in my resignation, and then departed the place.
With an empty feeling inside and my head pounding, I walked down the long street. I turned a deaf ear to the car horns cautioning me. Tears started gathering in my eyes. You, Nour, are such a stupid, overly ambitious girl, my inner voice slapped me. What the hell is wrong with that job? What did you expect the job market to be like? Hey, you live in Gaza, not Singapore or Canada! Are you standing in the ring alone? Thousands of fresh graduates nowadays are unemployed, and just the lucky ones like you have a similar chance. But you lost the boat by choice, and you will pay the cost. You are a loser. You have no bright future.
With a heavy heart, I arrived at my house and went straight to my room, my sanctuary. I changed my clothes, lay down on my bed, and stared at the ceiling. Would I keep quitting jobs at the thought that No, this is not what I hoped for? The heartbreaking reality is that Gaza is full of “This is not what I hoped for.” I cried until my face got wet.
This moment, still seated on my prayer carpet, with the fresh frost of dawn filling my lungs and the first rays of sunlight illuminating my eyes, brought me out of my recollections and back to reality.
I had found the courage to leave my first job after graduation, though someone else in my position, fearing unemployment and lack of opportunities in Gaza, would have jumped at that chance. I confess, I was born to be someone with high expectations of myself. Was it too much for me to be ambitious in Gaza? Too much to have a dream?
I could only hope that my efforts would pay off one day and that would be in a position I’ve always deserved. I know that I will shed more tears before getting there, but it is alright to make some detours on my way to my forever.