Love is more than a family name

I was born in Gaza into a family divided by divorce with a father who had never wanted a daughter, only sons. My only way of escaping this reality was to dream. I dreamt of creating my own family even before I was old enough to understand what marriage was. I dreamt of having my own kids and doing it “right” way before I had learned how babies were created. I dreamt of being a mother even though I didn't know how to raise a child.

I believed in myself. I knew I would be able to give another human being what I myself didn't have. Imagining being able to give a child what I longed for became a kind of therapy.

A few years ago, I finally met the man who I believed in me as much as I believed in myself; marriage to him allowed me to be independent of my father. (Fact of life about life in Gaza: Females remain under the “supervision” to some extent of the males in their family until they marry.) But completing the rest of my dream—giving birth to my own child—was harder than I realized it would be.  I tried and tried to get pregnant, and then when I did, I suffered two miscarriages. A doctor finally discovered I have too much TSH hormone. With the help of medication, I became pregnant again three months later, had to stay in bed for four months to guard against another miscarriage. I so very afraid of losing this baby like the other ones! The days seemed very long.

And then, finally, my dream came true. On February 9, I gave birth to a baby girl. Yes, a girl! While many people in my society prefer their first child to be a boy, thus ensuring support for the family and a legacy for the name, I am filled with joy. This means I have the opportunity to give a young girl what every female deserves and should have in any society: the opportunity to develop to her full potential. And that’s not that easy in Gaza.

Baby Orjwan

My father used to say that I didn’t deserve his family name: Shurrab. So, when my husband Mohammed suggested we name our first baby Orjwan, I was so very happy. (For the curious: “Orjwan” is the word for the dye the Phoenicians extracted from Mediterranean oysters to color their clothes–-a mix of red, orange and purple.) It showed how much he loves and appreciates having me in his life.

But naming our daughter after me is significant in another way. It is a type of catharsis. It is almost like giving birth to a new Orjwan, a version who will have a totally different life. A girl whose father will always be proud of her, and who will always know (because we will show her) that she's more valuable than a family name!

Outsiders may not know that Gaza is divided according to one’s status as either an original Gazan (meaning your ancestors were originally from the Gaza Strip) or a “refugee” (meaning your grandparents were forced to flew to Gaza in 1948, when Israel was first created). While some people who live here don’t care which you are, others—like my father—look down on the refugees. The first comment he uttered upon hearing someone’s name was either “s/he is a Gazan; good!" or "he is a refugee. Bad enough!"

When I chose Mohammed to marry, my father declared it another reason to consider me a failure. You can guess why! I'm a Gazan. Mohammed is a refugee. His family originally came from Jaffa and now live in Khan Younis. Some of them were displaced to Jordan as well. And now my little Orjwan will hold the name of a family who loves her more than mine ever has, a refugee family.

To my baby girl

Dear angel, I drew pictures of you in my mind before you were even conceived. Hold you in my arms and looking into your eyes is my greatest joy. I already know that my greatest achievement in life is giving you a family who will always love you.

Before you were born, I reviewed in my mind every night a list of things I should do and not do to make you happy. No. 1 was to give you a caring father.

My little Orjwan, be brave but patient, outspoken but kind, strong but compassionate. Be yourself. Love yourself as much as we love you! Trust yourself and be sure that nothing will defeat you except yourself.

Your parents promise that neither Gaza's situation nor people's attitudes will stop us from supporting you to achieve whatever you dream.

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Mentor: Pam Bailey

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