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

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

Drowning under Israeli occupation

Shahd Safi | 16-10-2021

drowning girl

I used to be a passionate person, always setting goals and making plans on the way to achieving my dreams. I’d anticipate everything and try my best not to screw up; I’d foresee all possible obstacles that might pop up and deal with them accordingly.

But my life no longer follows the path I had dreamt for it. Sorrow and soreness are seeping into my heart.

When I was younger, it was easier to make plans for the future, as I wasn't aware of the toxic situation in Gaza. I thought my passion and self-discipline would lead to success, but this turned out to be an illusion. Now, I see my passion as a poison, a curse for my soul. Whenever I try to visualize my future, all I see is utter chaos. The distortion I see between the reality in Gaza and my ambition and hopes for the future result in both anxiety and headaches.

I try to cope by drinking a tea made with anise, a common Palestinian home herbal remedy we drink to relax. But it doesn’t work. It might give me a little comfort, but then what? Everything is the same. My cup of anise can’t change the circumstances surrounding me.

My enthusiasm is escaping me

It kills me that I’m not as lively as I used to be. When I look in the mirror, I see only the pain in my eyes, whereas before I was complimented on how vibrant they were. Most of the time, I feel lethargic and sluggish. I don’t want this to be my destiny, but my enthusiasm is escaping me. The depressed person I see when I look in the mirror isn’t me.

You might tell me to go easy on myself, because none of this is my fault. I, too, want to find peace of mind, but something uncontrollable inside me keeps popping up, loudly insisting I’m a failure.

During my first year of school, my GPA was 92%, which was high enough to cover my tuition fees. But when the coronavirus spread among the world and finally reached Gaza, we had to study online. This was tough, since Gazans already face electricity cuts. Both students and teachers had to adjust to e-learning together. I was one of many who didn’t have good Internet access, and I lost my focus and my patience. I tried to remind myself of the many times I overcame difficult situations, nailing my schoolwork and managing to keep up, but sadly, this time I couldn't. My GPA went down and I lost my scholarship, which means I now have to pay tuition. This is putting pressure on my family at a time when I really hate to burden them.

I don't want to be seen as an irresponsible student, because it’s not who I am, so I’ll keep trying to persevere. As of now, I might graduate late, which adds fire to the rain in my heart. But then again, take my sister: she just graduated, and while I’m super happy for her, I can’t help but wonder what she’ll do next.  It’s unlikely she’ll find a job. It’s unlikely she’ll be able to lead a dignified life, and that hurts both of us. I'm afraid I’ll face the same destiny.

Sometimes I try to convince myself that my fate will be different, that I’m just practicing my habit of ruminating and worrying, but then I see statistics showing the rising number of educated, unemployed youth in Gaza.

This is just one reason for my hopelessness.

I’m losing my sense of self

A week ago, I was video-chitchatting with a friend who lives in the USA, who I like to think of as a spiritual mother. As a way of showing love, she wanted to send me some jam as well as a few books (she knows that I adore reading, which allows me to feel like I’m traveling, even if I can’t leave Gaza). But she can’t send me anything, not the books or the jam.

I really wanted to taste the jam on my tongue. I wanted to feel like we were eating and laughing together. She’s the person I go to when I’m feeling completely drained; she motivates and encourages me. I’d even like to be able to send her something, but I know this is impossible. As for access to books, I know I still have e-books, but I love the scent of a real, hard-copy book. Thanks to the conditions imposed on us by Israel, I’m unable to create my own library, which is devastating.

Any Gazan will tell you that the root of our suffering is summed up by the word ‘Israel’, which is actually the name of a prophet in Islam. Muslims are not supposed to hate anything about our prophets, and even though I hate to transgress God’s directives, I find that this word hurts me deep down. It reminds me of a moment during an interview with a student living in New York. She asked me what shapes my being, and I swear to God that when asked that, I felt real confusion. I stumbled over my words, which was embarrassing, and then she told me I seemed tired. What about delaying the interview? she asked.  It’s ok to reschedule for another day. I felt really thankful she did that. I closed my phone and sat alone for a moment until I could pinpoint why I felt so adrift. I realized that I’d lost my sense of self.

I’ll find a way to smile

The chaos and distortion I feel is not the Gazan people’s fault. It is Israel’s colonization that has stolen our land, our hope, and our souls.

I might feel fed up today, but I know I’ll soon find a way to put a smile on my face, just like I always do.

I will always cling to my faith in God to survive this nothingness.

Posted: October 16, 2021

Mentor: Eva Dunsky


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