We laugh when we say we live in Gaza, because this is not living. Living here is like being in a cage: I am 26 years old and I have never been outside of Gaza—not because I do not want to leave, but because I cannot.
Gaza has no airport or harbor; its only entrances are Egypt’s Rafah Crossing in the south and Israel’s Erez Crossing in the north. Both gateways are tightly controlled, with only limited numbers and types of people allowed in or out. Ordinary Gazans like me can only leave for extreme medical reasons and sometimes to study abroad. And so we stay.
I believe in God's messages and I have always felt like my name is a sign, as if God is telling me that my calling in life is to struggle. In any Arab country, a person’s full name begins with his or her first name, followed by the father's name and the family name. My first name, Nedaa, means “calling” in Arabic and my father's name “Nedal” (my middle name), means “struggle.”
I am not unique in Gaza; like every other a person, my life has always been a struggle: surviving war, earning a living, preserving a sense of dignity. But on top of all that, I have had my own unique struggles–and the closed borders are among them. On the 9th of October, 2014, my then fiancé travelled from the UAE to Gaza so we could marry. Our wedding was three days later, and we were supposed to return to the UAE together October 27. But explosions had wracked the Sinai during that same period, and the Rafah Crossing into Egypt closed. It opened again a few times in the following months, but thousands of people wanted to get in and out of Gaza, and we were not among the lucky ones.
Six months later, my husband's residence permit for the UAE expired. He couldn’t even return to collect his belongings. After spending more than 15 years out of his homeland so he could get and keep a good job (operations manager for a transportation company), my husband Saif lost everything. He had travelled to Gaza with only four T-shirts and a pair of jeans, full of hope. Instead, it was as if we were walking on the red carpet, only to have it suddenly pulled from under our feet. He is still unemployed today and we are struggling to raise money to pursue the dream we lost. Sometimes I blame myself; I was the one who insisted on marrying in Gaza, so that I could have all of my friends and family around me on this day of joy, like a normal person.
But still, we go on and have started our family; we have no choice. Living in Gaza teaches us how to appreciate each moment of our lives, because we live with the sense that everything could be taken from us at any minute.
Hope keeps us going and we have to believe in a better future, even if we fear it is a fiction, because to lose that feeling would be to lose ourselves. So, despite the fact that during assaults kids are targeted on the beach, we still go there. We play the same way the four Bakr boys played when they were shelled, as if to say they are still alive in every one of us.
I no longer have any real sense of security or safety. I am afraid to have any dreams for the future. Yet I have chosen to move forward, digging deep inside for courage and strength. I have learned to appreciate the tiny details of everyday life: walking in the street under the moonlight, cutting flowers for the kitchen table, sipping a warm cup of coffee in the morning while listening to Fayrouz songs, putting water out for the birds in the window and sharing a piece of chocolate with friends.
But by far my greatest joy, what sustains me through my days, is our daughter Eileen. One evening, Eileen was listening to her favorite songs, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She moved with the kids in the video, laughing and crooning. Watching her angelic face, I felt a sense of determination form inside of me. Someone once asked me, “Why do you write?”, and my answer was, “It is Eileen. I write so that if one day I can no longer keep on going, my words will be all around her, giving her strength and power.”
Today, I am not living to struggle, but instead struggling to find a larger calling. “Struggle” might describe my life right now, but I long for a calling that is much bigger. Every day, I come closer to discovering what that might be.
Paulo Coelho says in “The Alchemist,” “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” When I start to write, I feel as if everything around me is urging me to do so. In these moments, I feel a sparkle of hope. I love that feeling—as if hope is making a deal with the universe. The universe is vast, and I know there is more for me here than struggle.
Mentor: Adiel Suarez-Murias
Posted November 13, 2016