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

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

Melting into words

Basman Derawi | 23-04-2019

Mahmoud Darwish painting
Mahmoud Darwish1

“I don't decide to represent anything except myself, but that self is full of collective memory.” Mahmoud Darwish

As a writer and poet, I am sensitive to words and I love to celebrate them. I believe anything can be a story and that humans are natural storytellers. I am a fast and prolific writer, and when people ask, “What is your inspiration?” I answer, “I am inspired by everything.” Literally, everything.

The melancholy eyes I see on my way to work, set in a small, pinched face, owned by a woman with tiny hands holding a package of chocolate bars under a traffic sign. The heavy sigh and gust of cigarette smoke from the chest of my taxi driver as he talks about how the bad economy has crushed his dreams and thrust him in front of a steering wheel all day. The guffaw of my friend when he defends his opinion after I call him anti-Semitic. Voices in my head that don’t want to believe this world is real. All of these things inspire me.

Book discussion group
A book discussion group organized by We Are Not Numbers. I am the sitting in the bottom left.

The life of a Gazan—all grays and blacks and so little light. The mad rush to plug in all of our various devices when the electricity finally comes surging back after eight hours off. My mother praying on her threadbare run on a rainy day, then getting up to make us tea no matter how tired she is.

I’m inspired by Palestinian women. I cried and laughed when I watched the movie, “Naila and the Uprising.”2 My heart swelled with pride and admiration at the way she raised her son inside prison, with the other inmates teaching him to stand and walk. And at how she continued to raise him alone after his father was deported from Israel to Egypt. Every person and place have a story that teaches us something about life and struggle.

I started writing and reading late in my life, but I listened to music from a young age. Someday, I hope to write songs. The first novel I read was in Arabic and chronicled two Saudis, a man and woman, who traveled to Canada to study. It described their struggle as they fell in love despite their cultural constraints. Although they don't end up together, I love how they defied the stereotypes of their homeland and found forbidden love in another place.

My spine reflects how much I enjoy literature or music; it tingles when art touches my soul. My spine was on fire when I read the collection of short stories in "The Land of Sad Oranges" by Ghassan Kanafani. "Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen except one thing. This one thing is the love that emanates from a human being toward a solid commitment to a conviction or cause,” Kanafani wrote.

My spine tingles when I read the words of Rashid Hussain’s “The Absent One”: “Me, when I squeeze your loaf of bread in my hand, the only thing you would see is my blood flowing over my hand.” (With “me” he means Palestinians and the loaf is Israel. If Palestinians were able to squeeze the Israeli “loaf,” Palestinian blood would flow.) I see my own blood flowing within Rashid’s words.

Palestinian literature is rich in love, pain and laughter. I hope to have the same effect on readers with my writing.

Reading has taught me to think deeply, and even question, everything in life, from the belief system that is my religion to our assumptions about our enemies. While some of my friends see such introspection as needless stress, I regard it as growth—a personal growth for which I hunger. To feed it, I devour texts on philosophy, science and religion and listen to music with my heart as well as my ears. I look to the sky and ask why.

I do not know why I write. All I know is that I want to write; there is a voice caged in my head that must be heard. I need to live my story and, for a reason I haven’t yet found, write it.

1The Arabic words translated: "Maybe you are alive, maybe you are dead. Maybe you are like me, without an address. What is the value of a human without his homeland, without a flag and without an address?"

2The film chronicles the story of Naila Ayesh and a community of other women who organized nonviolent resistance during the First Intifada in the late 1980s.

Posted: April 22, 2019

Mentor: Mary Simkins


Get updates to your inbox. Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter.
New server