My country isn’t in the ‘system’

Editor’s note: Doaa arrived in Helena, Montana, in August as part of a U.S. government program in which she is attending university there for one semester. It is her first trip outside of Gaza, other than her visit to Jerusalem to get her visa.

"So you are from Palestine?" "Yes." "Palestine isn't in the system. I'm sorry," said the guy working behind the counter at CVS pharmacy.

I felt dumb. What did he mean by that? I asked him again, while my head was about to explode, why I couldn't get the medication I needed for my sinus infection. I had a prescription from my college's Wellness Center.

"Palestine isn't in the system."

I had heard that some people use Sudafed to make methamphetamine, and thus U.S. law requires a legal photo ID to purchase it. But I had a sinus infection and breathing was becoming harder and harder as weather in Montana became colder.

I looked at him again; he was avoiding my eyes and I had no idea what to do or say. I knew I should say something, but words failed me. They were turning into daggers in my throat. How should I feel when my Palestinian ID, my passport and my college ID can't get me one box of Sudafed so I could breathe during the night? How should I feel when my country isn't in the “system” because for the U.S. government, my home doesn’t exist? What if I were terribly injured? Would the doctors first check my ID to know whether or not I would be allowed to receive treatment?

My American friend who had the same kind of infection gets a box of Sudafed and leaves while I'm still waiting to see if my other papers will be accepted. They were not.

I left the CVS and stood outside the door. I couldn't move for a couple of minutes, and then cried my heart out in the street. It was the first time since I had arrived in Montana that I felt as if I was an alien, the “other,” who doesn't exist.

Unlike in Gaza, I had never once thought of the chance that I might die while sleeping. But suddenly, the feeling of being safe here disappeared. I knew it wasn't real. I'm a threat. I'm not truly welcomed.

Posted September 29, 2016

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