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

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

Journey of a misplaced puzzle piece

Noor Abdo | 04-08-2020

My parents

I was 4 years old when I realized I had been born and raised in a country not my own. From that day onward, my search for “home” began. I was living in Cairo with my father’s Palestinian family, and everyone around me spoke a dialect that was different from the one I heard at home. I thought it was my mistake that I wasn’t like everyone else.

Then I turned 7 and we moved to Kuwait, an entirely different country, where people spoke yet another dialect that was not easy for me to catch on to. The feeling of being misplaced foreigner settled in, although I tried my best to fit in.

My life was peopled by a hodgepodge of languages. I learned to read and write in English because I studied at an Indian school in Kuwait. I gossiped with my mother in Hungarian (her native language) and joked with my dad in Arabic.

At school I tired of getting the same question from classmates: Where do you come from? In frustration, I became mischievous and creative: “Brazil!” I would say, leaving them scratching their heads. I didn’t even know where Brazil was located, but the name sounded cool and it got their focus off me! 

Inheriting love for Palestine

Although my mother is Hungarian and we lived in countries that were foreign to her too, she managed to learn Arabic and communicate with the people around her. Her interest in the Palestinian cause started when she was in college in Budapest and lived with Palestinian dormmates. Soon, she was drawn into the Arab community. That’s where she met the man of her dreams, my father.

My mom was determined to learn Arabic and teach herself as much as possible about the causes of the oppressed, especially in the Middle East. Her love for Palestine became shatterproof and she’d listen to with passion to my father’s parents, learning the names of all the Palestinian cities and villages by heart. After I was born, she introduced me to the idea of Palestine, a dream-like vision, and I grew to love that idea as much as I loved her. 

But I always felt something was missing; I kept asking endless questions. Why are we here? Where do we come from? Why does Mom speak a different language? Why do we only speak English at school? Why are we not allowed to go back to the place my grandparents keep talking about?

My journey through writing

I taught myself to write and read Arabic because it was not a part of our curriculum in school. In first grade, I wrote my first poem about my fledgling Palestinian pride and read it in front of my class. Most of the students didn’t one understood it though, and those who did laughed. Let’s be honest, what is “patriotism” to 7-year-olds?

My pride turned to embarrassment in that moment, and I decided to ignore the questions about my identity and heritage tugging at my heart. I just wanted to fit in and make my young life easy. Still, one question kept ringing in my mind: What really is Palestine? Why was I so consumed by this “idea” and why did I long for my questions to be answered? I was frustrated. I began secretly journaling and planning to write my own book about being Palestinian. It would be titled The Price of Being Palestinian. But my passion started to fade in the midst of my everyday teenaged life.

My first encounter with Palestine

It was the summer of 2014 in Amman, Jordan, when my persistent longing transformed into an electric feeling of connection when I saw Palestine for the first time. I stood at the top of Aljoun's Castle in silence, gazing toward the faraway, rolling hills. My heart fluttered and someone from behind said its name out loud, Palestine. In that moment, everything but my tongue was able to speak. I had found my answer.

I was in denial when we had to leave. I left behind a piece of my heart that wanted to stay there forever.

Hit with reality

That same summer, the Israeli occupation forces launched a massive aggression on Gaza. I felt helpless as I learned every martyr’s name by heart and stared at their photos, knowing I could not offer any help. I felt paralyzed.

This was my catalyst for beginning to write again. I spilled my agitation and helplessness into articles and shared them online on Facebook, where I found people who actually understood me and shared my feelings. This was the first time I felt connected to my people and I created my own social circle on Facebook. I introduced myself to many Palestinian journalists, and photographers from around the world. They had a plethora of thoughts to share, but I noticed how much the language-barrier disconnected them from the rest of the world. That sparked my interest in translation. It thrilled me to think of being able to offer even the tiniest bit of help.

Mohammed Siyam

On the night of November 17, 2014, I learned about a child from the Gaza Strip named Mohammad Siyam who died due to insufficient treatment following the amputation of his leg. I felt like I knew him and his family after reading the posts of photographer Tarek Bakri. His tragic and needless death impacted me deeply; I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I felt the void in my chest getting bigger and bigger. I became discouraged and gave up on writing. It all seemed to be in vain in the face of the huge injustice that my small voice had been trying to fight.

What about now?

I gave into the repetitious cycle of life as a typical high school and then college student who just wanted to fit in. But the spark in me was waiting to be ignited again.

In the beginning of 2020, I discovered We Are Not Numbers while randomly browsing on Facebook. It caught my attention. The application process for new writers was open and I decided to give myself a second chance. I was chosen and that was all the spark needed!

My home, my voice, my journey

Growing up, all I knew about Palestine was from behind a computer screen, and it was never enough. I imagined I was a bamboo stick that would survive anywhere it was planted, but I was somehow certain deep inside that I was actually an olive tree waiting to be rooted in the right soil.

Finding We Are Not Numbers gave me my anchor. Here, I know every Palestinian story matters, every word is valuable. Palestine is no longer just the distressing 9 p.m. newscast. Through being a part of the WANN family, I feel rooted again. 

I have spent all of my life as an expat, experiencing various rich cultures while also discovering the depth of my thirst for home, Palestine. There is something about Palestinian DNA so unique that one strand is enough to keep you seeking it, craving it, feeling it in your bones. It doesn’t matter if you are born in Cairo, New York, Sudan or any other place in this world--you will always and forever long to be there!


Posted: August 4, 2020

Mentor: Katherine Schneider

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