Maram Faraj | 09-12-2020
As a child, I was perpetually homesick. I was born to an affectionate family in the Gaza Strip and my parents were eager to give me everything they could, trying their best to complete the missing pieces of my life. So, they worked demanding government jobs that moved our family between Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—sometimes every few months, sometimes every few years.
Whenever we left Gaza, I missed the fresh, salty air, the smell of my grandmother’s handmade bread baking in the oven, the smiles of the doormen in front of our apartment building. I missed the voices of my friends and our Saturday night tradition watching The Powerpuff Girls, a cartoon about three young superheroines.
One night, when we were watching the show’s villain plot and scheme, friend made an offhand comment I’ll never forget: “Everybody wants to rule the world.” To be honest, I thought he was joking, but after what I’ve been through, I’ve come to believe that he was more right than he knew. Not everyone is a villain who wants power over other people, but we all want to be powerful, to have influence in the world.
My dream takes flight
As I grew older and came to understand what was happening in my country, my homesickness transformed into a burning desire to leave Gaza. I dreamed of being a flight attendant. It was the closest job I could imagine to being a superhero where I fly in the air, wear fancy uniforms and maybe even save lives. Plus, the job would give me the freedom to leave Gaza, travel the globe and live life on my terms.
Of course, I knew that dreams don’t come easy. The first obstacle, which I didn’t know at the time—or hadn’t remembered—was that Gaza’s only commercial airport had been destroyed by Israeli forces in 2001. My father reminded me of that one day when I shared my dream of becoming a flight attendant. I was four when it happened, he said, describing a truly horrible scene that took place only few miles away from our home. His story sparked a memory: we were in the living room watching the news when I asked my father why there was a smoky cloud on the TV. I remembered my mother’s scream and the many tears she shed.
The disaster left Gaza closed off from the rest of the world, killing many Palestinians’ dreams of studying and traveling abroad. And now, this memory was a significant blow to my own dream. With no airport in my home country, how could I become a flight attendant?
But some months after this revelation, I found inspiration again. My family and I were in Egypt, travelling to Saudi Arabia to visit our relatives. On the flight, I fell asleep for almost three hours. I woke to a beautiful flight attendant kissing me on the cheek as she delivered my lunch. To my family, it was a simple act of kindness, but to me that kindness was a flame that reawakened my dream and burned it deeper into my heart. I knew I wanted to be just like her.
I decided in that moment that I would work hard to achieve my dream, as hard as my parents worked to provide for our family. Despite the tough circumstances, surrounding me, airport or no—I would become a flight attendant.
I knew that education would be the key for me to be able to leave Gaza and pursue my dream. So I read every single book in my middle school library, made new friendships with similarly ambitious people, and familiarized myself with Eastern and Western histories of music, film, literature, conflicts and wars. And of course, I had to improve my English and become fluent. For five years I dedicated myself to learning.
My dream is grounded
My self-improvement mission was more challenging than I’d expected. I came up against yet another obstacle to my dream. This one was cultural. Thirtyyears ago, it wasn’t even possible for a Gazan woman to go college or have a job. And now, for religious and cultural reasons, there still isn’t equality between the two genders. Friends kept putting me down. People scoffed at my goals and told me I was being unrealistic, that my dreams were impossible.
After a time, the constant barrage of criticism wore me down, decreasing my self-esteem and increasing my insecurities. I felt broken. I questioned myself and my goal: Am I really so unsuitable for becoming a flight attendant? Will my dream ever come true?
I felt I had no choice but to call my dream a delusion and give up ... on me. I left all my passion behind and disguised myself in darkness, isolating from friends and even family.
That year, in 2015, I passed the Twjihi exam and graduated high school with an excellent GPA. I had accepted that being a flight attendant here in Gaza was impossible. So I decided to study English Literature at Al-Azhar university, burying my hopes and dreams deep inside me. I had to be who everyone wanted me to be—just an ordinary person.
Ultimately, they were right. I am not living in a fairytale; I’m living in Gaza. And if I can’t leave, I have no choice but to stay and be realistic.
In summer 2017, something changed for the better. I finally had a chance to leave Gaza—not to train as a flight attendant, but to fly to the United States for the U.S Middle East Partnership Initiative. MEPI is a program that works to foster meaningful partnerships between civil society, the private sector and governments in the Middle East and North Africa.
While it was not my exact field of interest, they selected my application and gave me an opportunity to develop myself as a leader in a country I’d always wanted to visit. My goal was to bring out the best of who I am and try to make a difference.
As a woman, I had an opportunity to change perceptions about my gender’s role in a society where everything is about men. I could strengthen my voice away from the social pressures in Gaza. And who knows, maybe a new path for realizing my dream of becoming a flight attendant would emerge from the experience.
But as they’ve said all my life, “Gaza brings misfortune!” I had to travel first to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem to get my visa before flying out of Jordan. When the day came to go, Israel refused to give me a permit to go to Jerusalem. They gave no reason, but I knew the truth: it was because I’m Palestinian. It was the last hope I had of making my dream come true, and they stole it from me, leaving me with nothing to hold. I felt like a worthless Palestinian girl who doesn’t deserve to get what she wants.
For the third time in my life, my dream crumbled. I fell into a serious depression. I even thought of committing suicide just to get rid of the black hole that was eating me alive. I counted every single moment, waiting for death or simply to disappear.
My dream takes flight again!
One night, when my depression felt the heaviest, I had a dream that I was at a store lookingwith a stupid smile on my face at a blue uniform. I smelled its new-clothes smell, holding the garment in my arms as I might my own child. I carried the uniform home to change into it. That was the whole dream. But later that night, I woke up to have a glass of water. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and stopped to look more closely at my reflection.
This was the first time I ever stood in front of my mirror in the middle of the night. But I’ll never forget what I saw or felt. My depression seemed to fall away as I fell under the spell of my reflection. I saw myself wearing the uniform I had seen in my dream. And I knew it was the blue uniform of a flight attendant. My hands shook and my heart started beating so fast. I felt a whirlwind spinning circles in my mind.
Was I still dreaming? No. I had no doubt that this was a sign from God. A message that said: “Do not surrender, keep fighting, we count on you, our brave warrior.” It was just the message I needed to hear. I should not have given up at the first, second, or third obstacle that came between me and my dream. I should not have cursed my fate as a Palestinian, just because I could not achieve what I wanted. I should have known that with my ambition and passion to be a flight attendant, I could still rule the world—maybe not in reality but through my imagination and my dreams. And so I still dream that one day I will be more than what I am now. And then I will rule the world, just like everybody else.
Posted: December 11, 2020
Mentor: Ben Gass