Mona AlMsaddar | 26-11-2020
Being a woman from a conservative family and society in Gaza is one of the hardest battles in my life. Every day, I fight for the laughter in my eyes to emerge and replace my permanent sad appearance.
As a child I was protected in the cocoon of childhood, waiting to emerge as a butterfly into adulthood. I was eager to see the world beyond my parents’ eyes and keen to experience life and make my own mistakes on my own journey. I ached to live and breathe the passion within my heart. I wanted to use my butterfly wings to fly over my childhood walls. I knew that by doing so, I would have new restrictions and rules, but I did not mind that. I chose to fly and I promised myself to keep flying no matter the challenges.
When I was five, I went by a yellow Mercedes taxi to my mother’s family home and I got a haircut. It was so boyish that when I came back my father did not recognize me. He was shocked that my hair was no longer the way it should be for a girl. I remember that he was so angry about this. For years after that, he would not allow me to cut my hair at all. As for my cousins, when they saw me, they kept teasing me about my hair. They even put me in a chicken cage! Now, I have curly short hair because I chose it and I love it.
As a child, football was my favorite pastime that I used to play with my brothers and cousins. I was so short, hardly reaching their hips, and happily accepted being the goalkeeper all the time.
Unlike my younger sister Nesma, who loved playing with her dolls, I preferred to books. Nesma is pro when it comes to skipping rope. But when it comes to me and skipping, I am useless. It was so challenging since my peers at school were very good at it and played it during break time at school. They always wanted me to join them, but I would apologize and run to play football.
Not ready for changes
When I was a teenager, my body started to change, but my mind was not ready for all the restrictions that come with being a young lady. I was not ready for all the no’s and pretending to happily reply “yes” when inside I was rebelling at all the limitations being imposed.
My father, two brothers and my mother wanted me to behave and adjust as a young woman in a conservative society. They did not realise that I had my own feelings and thoughts and I was not happy with the changes that were imposed.
Day after day, I heard the word “EIB”— which means “it is inappropriate for girls” — more than I heard my name. I could not accept to be silent and obey blindly or, in the worst scenario, to be abused and say thanks!
Growing into myself
I became lonely and depressed. I didn’t know how to engage with girls my age and had few close friends. The only thing that helped me were books and writing. Reading all the time helped shape my personality. I learned how to say no with a strong voice, without shyness. I taught myself through mediation and by using my imagination. Music also helped me a lot. (I am passionate about music. It is the language of souls. I listen to the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss. It is fabulous. It makes me want to stand on my toes and move around like a whirling dervish.)
Walking has helped me grow into myself, too. When I walk, I see people’s faces and attitude, buildings, colours, streets and nature. These tiny details can make my day. Walking also helps me when I am sad or grieving. I walk putting my arms together like a small hug, holding myself tight, walking slowly and breathing deeply.
I understand that my parents’ restrictions are to protect me and come from love. But for me, I feel that being comfortable with myself gives me agency to my own power. It is not important what people think about me “as a woman.” What matters the most is how I see myself. Being me is my pure power, my own meaning in life.
As a writer, I choose to fight for my own identity and voice and to place myself in society the way I want. The journey is tough and challenging, but at least I know how to be strong and face every single no. I will be my own lighthouse in a rough sea. I will survive.
Posted: November 27, 2020
Mentor: Mona Al Ghussein