Mohammed Moussa | 12-12-2017
“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” -- Paulo Coelho
Acceptance of the “other” depends on the mutual understanding that we are all alike, no matter how different we may seem. I dream of visiting other countries and discovering different cultures but it is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to leave Gaza.
From the time I was a child, I turned to movies to learn about other cultures and faiths and to discover what’s beyond my borders. When I was a kid, we had our electricity all the time, and I would run home from school and ask mom to let me eat my lunch in front of the TV. My favorite actors were Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams and Steve Martin. I loved “Pink Panther” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” I also loved Owen Wilson in “Shanghai Noon.” These movies were my window into the external world. But life in Gaza has changed since then. With only two to three hours of electricity a day, children’s access to TV and other outside influences is very limited. The occupation, with all of its restrictions and regulations, is effectively a blockade on cultural exposure.
I first heard about cultural-exchange programs in high school and was excited about the opportunity to surround myself with the English language I love. (An example is the U.S. government’s Youth Exchange & Study, or YES, program, which brings Muslim students to American high schools for a year.) But my hopes were dashed when I found out those programs cost a lot of money. In college, I decided to study English literature to learn more about others’ lives and traditions. But there were no foreign instructors in Gaza to teach me the beauty of drama and the charm of Shakespeare. I found my Palestinian professors lacking in passion and humor, and their teaching methods reading textbooks and rote memorization. If they took no pleasure in teaching, I thought, how could I love learning?
Nevertheless, I fell in love with American, British and Russian literature, and I pursued my journey of discovery through books, especially novels and poetry. Thanks to Jane Austen, George Orwell, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth and W. B. Yeats, I was able to satisfy my appetite for other cultures at least a little bit.
In 2015, I earned my bachelor's degree in English literature from Al-Azhar University. I was a very hopeful graduate in a hopeless city. I got a job as an English language trainer in a small educational center, seeking to help my students so they, too, could discover and rejoice in the beauty of other cultures and civilizations. Exposing them to such differences felt vitally important. However, the pay was meagerly and I received no support, so I soon felt forced to resign. Today, I work sporadically as a translator of poetry, short novels and literary essays.
I began to write poetry in 2014 after Israel’s last war on Gaza. I continue to surround myself with poems, novels, music and movies. The dream of traveling grows in my heart daily, and sometimes it seems life is worthless if we even the most basic of dreams cannot be achieved. As I say in one of my poems: “A dreamless life is a lifeless one.”
It’s discouraging being a young man who loves cultural diversity in a culturally isolated country. I travel by YouTube and vlogs that inspire me and open my eyes to the world. Through social media, I meet friends around the world with whom I can share parts of my life and learn about theirs. It’s a wonderful experience, but an intangible one, never being allowed to experience places and meet people in person. Still, I consider the people I meet on social media real friends. I tell them about life in Gaza and they share details of their lives and cultures and give me feedback about my poems. But as helpful as social media is in discovering the multicultural world around me, I still feel locked in.
I long to study for a master’s degree – maybe in international relations or conflict resolution –in London, a city I adore. I also dream of establishing a poetry center and inviting poets and authors from around the world to Gaza to support our own poets.
But this city chokes my dreams, and the crisis is worsening. Politics overshadows culture, and people here don’t have enough capacity to secure food and clean water, let alone seek out cultural activities. Our culture is decaying, and this terrifies me.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” How can our culture live, then, if exclusion is forced upon us?
The young people of Gaza have been disconnected from the outside world for decades. We seldom get permits to participate in external multicultural programs or scholarships, and there are no tourists here. There are tens of thousands of us in Gaza City alone, locked away and forgotten, just dreaming of a chance to connect.
Posted: December 11, 2017
Mentor: Kate Casa