On the last day of Ramadan (the month during which Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset), my paternal grandfather passed away. He was very ill, mostly due to old age, but it was still very hard to accept. My grandfather left Palestine during the Nakba* and sought refuge in Lebanon; he was almost 26 years old then and ended up living in a camp in Beirut.
When I first learned of his death, memories flooded my mind; I stared in shock and tears started streaming down my face. I remembered how much he loved us and was always protective of us–sometimes too protective. He'd always come across as harsh, scolding us angrily for doing something he thought could harm us; even going to the beach was a reason for him to be afraid. He'd get frustrated and we'd get bothered, but it was just his way of showing concern. I guess it was the result of everything he had been through.
I remembered the big warm smile that spread across his face whenever we'd visit him and my grandmother. We’d go to his bedroom to greet him, since he mostly spent his time lying down. I will never forget how much we loved his Palestinian "ey ey" he'd utter whenever he heard something of which he didn’t approve. I certainly can never forget the stories he told about the village he was from, or as he always stressed, where "we're from." His eyes would glow whenever my little brothers talked about going back to Al-Berwa one day.
In the last couple of years, he had started being very forgetful. One time he woke up from his sleep yelling that he wanted to go to Al-Berwa, insisting that someone take him there. My mom couldn't help but shed tears at the sight of this. He'd also start mentioning people he knew there; when we'd try to calm him and tell him he was probably dreaming, he'd stare into our eyes, give us that grumpy look, then sigh as he closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep.
My grandfather lived in Beirut’s Borj Al-Barajneh camp most of his life; he worked as a butcher and most of the community knew him very well. So, it was right to have his burial there. We used to visit the camp frequently, but rarely during the last couple of years. Walking through the camp again was a shock. There was trash everywhere, sewage leaking all over the place, foul odors and uneven ground. I guess it's always been that way; maybe I had been too young to notice it. People walked around doing what they usually do during Eid (an Islamic celebration following the end of Ramadan): visit their friends and family, take their kids somewhere fun or buy them something sweet.
We walked through a very tight path called Zaroubi** and in a corner was a rusty old swing that caught my attention. A man was pushing it forcefully, while kids enjoyed the ride and sang traditional Eid rhymes, giggling and screaming happily. The camp has a very close-knit community. Although my grandparents had left the camp a long time ago, people kept coming to my grandfather's sister's house to offer their condolences. I barely knew any of the people who greeted me to show their empathy. I'm not sure they knew me either; they just knew I was related to him.
The hardest part of it all was seeing my grandfather before the burial, bidding him a last goodbye and planting a kiss on his forehead, while sending several prayers his way. I wonder if he ever imagined that in 1948 that he was bidding his land his last goodbye. Most of our grandparents left Palestine thinking it was just a temporary situation, that they would go back in a short while. That probably explains why my grandfather would hate even the thought of buying property in Lebanon***. When his sons or daughters would buy something, he'd stubbornly order them to "go sell it!" We never really could get our heads around why he was so angry about that stuff. He had kept all his keys and the deeds for the land he bought prior to leaving Al-Berwa, in anticipation of going back one day. Yet it was his destiny to die outside his land and be buried in the soil of another. May your soul rest in peace jiddo (grandpa)!
We, the youth, always speak about longing for our land; we speak the slogans and raise the banners, but whatever emotion we have will never amount to what our grandparents experienced, and still do.
Mentor: Pam Bailey
Posted September 30, 2015
* Yawm al Nakba means "The Day of the Catastrophe" in Arabic; it is the day when Palestinians were displaced from Palestinian lands in 1948, prior to and after the declaration of an Israeli state.
** Camps in Lebanon are highly populated; houses are so close that two people walking side by side often barely fit in the paths between houses.
*** The law dictating that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot own property wasn't passed until March 2001; even after the law was implemented, Palestinians still buy property but they are unable to register it; they either register their property in the name of a Lebanese friend or a Palestinian relative who holds a foreign citizenship.