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

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

Gaza City, an unusual beauty

Zainab Wael Basheer | 23-12-2020

Samir Mansour bookshop

One morning, I hopped in a car with some others and headed toward college. I suddenly realized I had left my headphones at home and would now have to listen to the driver talk to the older woman in the front seat.

We passed by an old house and the woman pointed to it, telling the driver, “Look how beautiful that old house is, son. I bet it’s older than the creation of Israel.” He smiled and said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Auntie. I don’t think there’s anything truly beautiful here in Gaza.”

I frowned when I heard that. And throughout my first two lectures in class, I thought about what the driver had said. Was he right? Is there a standard concept of beauty that Gaza fails? Why do we always link the beauty of a place with elaborate buildings and pristine scenery?

The old cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” actually means that there is no one definition. It means that beauty only exists in the eyes of observers. If that is true, then why couldn’t that man see what is precious and unique about Gaza rather than only the suffering?

Gaza is different than most other places, so its beauty is different. We have been under siege since 2006, survived three aggressions that destroyed much of our infrastructure and saw blood stain the sand of our beaches. But we rose from the ashes—and that has a beauty of its own.

I see beauty in the kids who play happily on the rubble of destroyed houses, showing the world we will not give up—that “we teach life, sir.” I see beauty in the joyous rush to plug in every appliance possible when the electricity finally comes back on and the lights blaze in a glory of light. I see beauty in multiple generations in one family who gather around the table to eat even when the power is out, candlelight illuminating their smiles. I see beauty in drivers who slow down to buy a packet of Kleenex from a little boy on the street, bringing a grin to his face. And I see beauty in the sun as it sets over the sea—our jewel no matter what tragedy it has witnessed.

I especially love the bookstores in Gaza. At Samir Mansour shop, hundreds of books are stacked to the ceilings, a beautiful sight for every book lover. When you open the door and inhale your first breath, you feel tangibly better than before stepping in. The kind salesmen help you find just what you want and treat you like a friend. The shelves are big and the spaces between them are narrow. Wherever you look you find familiar names. Every time, I feel the urge to buy each and every book and start reading it right away, but then I check my pocketbook and force myself to settle for only couple of them but linger in the store longer so I can discover as many books as I can.

That’s why another of my favorite bookshops is al-Yazji; it has lots of comfortable nooks where you are welcome to settle in and read for hours in peace and quiet. All that knowledge stacked on the shelves! It’s almost like you can smell it.

Another favorite refuge is the seashore. The beauty I enjoy the most is when the sea seems to merge with the sky, looking just like a Van Gogh painting. The fresh air caresses my face and soul, allowing me to find freedom and relieve my stress through meditation.

The seashore is also a great place for spending time with friends and family, playing games, practicing your photography or just lying down with a book. Actually, there is no better place to read than the seashore, with all of the serenity it offers. Gazing at the horizon as the sun rises or sets is my favorite moment of the day, reminding me that every sundown is followed by a sunrise—a metaphor for life.

To see the beauty in Gaza, all one has to do is see and appreciate the small details. They reveal it to be the most wonderful city in the world. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Posted: December 22, 2020

Mentor: Paulette Lee

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