Haya El-Refai | 29-06-2021
When war comes, it steals everything: souls, memories, homes, happiness, love and safety. Instead, it brings fear, blood, death, darkness and terror.
In “normal” times, we find much joy and love as we celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. But war took that from us like a thief.
Usually, a day or two before Eid begins (it’s a three-day event), my aunts and their daughters gather to make special cakes. The smell of baking fills the air, and we talk about how we’re going to spend the days. We cherish the time we spend together. Then, at dawn on the first day of Eid, the sheikh’s chant, called Takbirat, sounds from the mosque. (It begins: Allah is great, Allah is great, Allah is great; there is no God but Allah…) It fills the atmosphere like sweet perfume. Men go to pray, then give zakat—a portion of whatever wealth they have—to those who are poorer than them. Then they return home to prepare to visit to relatives, bring edya (money) to hand out to the children and women (especially if they do not work). In return, women and children dress up in new clothes to welcome guests, offering cake, juice, chocolate and coffee.
When I gave birth to my first baby earlier this year, I thought this Eid would be extra special. Before Laya was even born, I chose the outfit she would wear for the special days.
It’s customary for the mother of a daughter who is pregnant with her first child to buy a year’s worth of clothing for the child, then throw a party to show them off. It’s similar to a baby shower. My mother hosted this for me and many guests came to admire the new outfits, eat desserts and dance. It was magnificent.
But instead of celebrating the holiday with Laya, I hugged her tight so she wouldn’t be scared as Israel’s F-16 bombers flew overhead. On the night of Eid, we knew the war was coming when we heard the bombs. But although one never feels ready for war, I was felt particularly vulnerable because I had not yet recovered from giving birth.
With rumors swirling that Israel would target the tower next to my home, I moved to my parents’ building, taking with me just one of the special dresses—a pink one—that we had bought for Laya. We had bought it for my brother's upcoming wedding and I was afraid my home would be destroyed. The rest of the special clothes I left behind with a tearful farewell.
As we traveled to my parents’ home, I was terribly scared we might get hurt before we could even arrive. I carried Laya as my heart beat heavily in my chest. All around me, I saw people leaving their homes, dressed in their Eid finery. Which of their homes would be destroyed along with all of their memories? Who would become homeless?
As more bombs dropped, my daughter wouldn’t stop crying despite my embraces. My mother said it was because I was scared and feeding her milk full of terror. Between the bombs and Laya’s tears, I couldn’t sleep. I spent the entire time with my family in one room so if we died, we would all die together.
This war stole our joy, and although it is slowly returning, this will be my daughter’s earliest memory. And that is an imprint that will follow her throughout her life.
Posted: June 28, 2021
Mentor: Dierdre Claffey