Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Bashar Nabhan | 12-08-2017

Gaza sea

"To live, you need to struggle."

This was what my grandfather told me about when I was a lad of 11. I didn't really understand what he meant, and at the time I didn’t actually care. All I wanted was a ball and a space to play football or to watch the skills of Cristiano Ronaldo on YouTube, even though I myself am a goalkeeper.

One year later, my grandfather passed away. But his words didn't.

I always go to the beach—our only sanctuary here in Gaza—to meditate. I go whether I'm feeling content or sad. I sit and whisper my stories to the breeze that touches my face, creating an aura of tranquility that seems to cast me away and to freedom. 

I think about what my grandfather told me each time I go there. I repeat them under my breath like a mantra: "To live, you need to struggle.” I’ve lived through three wars at the age of 18; if that isn’t struggling what is?

But this year, I faced a struggle that for me, showed me I had not really known what the word really meant. This was my last year in high school, which is when—for Palestinians—we take the Tawjeehi exams. Not only is it the most difficult of all of your studies, but it also determines the rest of your life. I dream of becoming a physician, but without a sufficiently high score on the Tawjeehi, I would not receive a scholarship and even if I was accepted, my family would have to pay about $20,000.

During this year, but mainly during the last two months (April through May), there is no time you can waste; you only have time off to sleep and eat. Otherwise, it’s study.

Bashar playing chess

I relinquished almost everything else, including social media. My only occasional escape was to play chess. I played for an hour once. "Checkmate; you lose." This is a sentence I abhor hearing. I never like losing, but I lost that time because of the panic that enveloped me each time I remembered the Tawjeehi. The pressure was not from my parents; we already had one doctor in the family—my brother. It was from me and my expectations for myself. I felt like I had lost connection with everything else.

However, I finally finished the Tawjeehi and received my result: 96.7 percent! I laugh now when I remember the moment I first saw my result. I seriously went out of my mind. I screamed when announcing the result to my family. Tears poured down everyone's cheeks, and happiness hovered all around.

I won. Checkmate, Tawjeehi; you lose. I have been accepted into the faculty of medicine at Islamic University of Gaza. And, grandfather, checkmate you win. I finally understand the message you wanted to deliver to me.

The future will help me understand it even more because, after all, to live, you need to struggle and learn.

Posted: August 11, 2017

Mentor: Palden Jenkins

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