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

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

Two dark nights and the Pursuit of Happyness

Baraah Qandeel | 18-05-2021

It’s 3:50 in the morning. I’m sitting in my bed, and my only sister is sleeping next to me. We had put our beds beside each other in what we marked as the safest spot in the room.

It’s 3:55 in the morning. I’m watching a movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. My sister and I had decided to watch it to distract ourselves from the near-nonstop bombings outside. It works somehow, at least for my sister. She falls asleep before the movie ends, but I don’t. I continue to watch the movie as a hopeless attempt to forget about all what’s going on out there, but who am I fooling? I can’t! This truth hits me five minutes before the end of the movie. I pause it, and it feels like my brain pauses as well. Heavy tears run over my cheeks, but I don’t allow myself to sob because I don’t want my sister to wake up and witness how fragile I am.

Dark thoughts keep breaking into my mind. Am I going to wake up in the morning safe and in one piece? Or am I going to be the next announced name in the Ministry of Health’s long, continuously updated list of martyrs? Will my name be followed by the names of my family members as well? Or will I be given another chance to pursue life and “happyness” again, like Chris Gardener (Will Smith) did in the movie?

Bad memories rush into my mind, too. All the terror I felt, all the loud noises that kept knocking at my head to remind me that death wasn’t far away from us, seven years ago in that narrow corridor where we were stacked together, in our old house in Alshujaya district. It’s like Chris Gardener has lent me his special time machine to go back seven years, to that specific night. It was daytime. I am not sure what day it was because I lost count after day 10 of the third war on Gaza. Things had gotten more serious, and by serious, I mean dangerous!

My dad was horrified. He had six souls under his protection, and dozens of random bombs and airstrikes were falling around us. We were all lying on the floor in that narrow corridor of our small house. The bombs didn’t stop, so we weren’t able to sleep. Dear God, they didn’t want us to rest! We were in the holy month of Ramadan, and it was time for Suhoor (break of fast), but none of us dared to stand up to grab a cup of water. My dad literally crawled all the way to the fridge to grab a bunch of tomatoes for our morning meal. 

After the dawn broke, some of us slept for nearly an hour. We woke up to our dad saying, “Get up and grab some clothes, we’re leaving the house!” Imagine how much adrenaline filled our bodies as we got ready to leave in less than five minutes because you might get killed if you hesitate for a second. The answer is: lots and lots of it! I remember not having have enough time to pull together everything I needed and putting on my hijab in the street.

This night, and that night seven years ago, are quite the same. Both so freaking dark and overwhelmingly terrifying. The only difference is that this time I am not stuck in a narrow corridor with six other people. Instead, I’m stuck here in my room with my dark thoughts and my dark memories and a movie, and I’m surrounded with backpacks and plastic bags stuffed with clothes and essentials, in case we are forced to leave the house suddenly. I’m here, after 12 hours of Internet disconnection, totally isolated from the whole world and from people I know and care about, without any updates about them to know if they are safe or not.

It’s 4:55 in the morning. I still can’t sleep, and I’m writing the last couple of lines in this story, wondering, will I wake up in one piece and be given the chance to publish my story and pursue life through the best way I know, through writing? Or will my draft be buried with me under the rubble of my current home (the old one was destroyed during the war of 2014)?

I press play, and here is Chris Gardener, finally feeling happy with a bright smile on his face and tears in his eyes. I’m wondering again. Will I be able to have this smile and teary eyes and warm heart too? Soon maybe?

Posted: May 17, 2021

Mentor: Catherine Baker


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