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

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

I wish I were a bird!

Asmaa Rafiq Kuheil | 05-01-2021

birds in flight

Don’t think for a moment I'm going to reveal my weighty wishes here, the ones towards which I am working so hard. No! Instead, I want to talk about the simplest, yet least possible wish I hold dear.  I have always wished I could have my own bird, a colorful parrot, predominantly yellow, exchanging comments with me and echoing my words. Oh! How stunning! I fantasize about how much it costs, from where it is bought and what food it eats.  But when I put myself in the shoes of that bird, I instantly abhor Asmaa’ as she restricts my liberty, strangles my ambitions and is overwhelmingly selfish. More miserably, she is like Israelis, taking something she never owned, imprisoning everything the bird once hoped for, punishing that poor bird with a life-sentence in a cursed cage for her self-serving desire!

This is heartbreaking and that’s why I have not had the courage to buy a bird, nor will I. Birds are created to fly. I have no right to rob them of the thing they do best just to satisfy a wish! Some wishes cannot be justified even if they can be simply achieved. I must forfeit this desire to make a companion of the birds I wholeheartedly love and to be content to simply dream of being a bird. I yearn for the blessing of being a bird: flying in the sky, breathing fresh air, travelling freely — all the things I am being deprived of as a human, or more accurately, a Palestinian. I long for escape to the skies, so much to escape: depressing news, humid weather and a killing virus occupying a tiny crowded spot on the map.

bomb hitting building
The smoke resulting from the Israeli bombing that awakened me

Bombs, plus coronavirus

Today I woke terrified by the brutal sound of Israeli bombs close by. I clung to my bed wrap, my body frozen, expecting the wall to fall on me then and there. I have never felt this much horror before, though I am 3-war years old. Panic-stricken, I found all my family at the window looking at the ominous black smoke rising from that execrable Israeli bombing nearby. After taking photos of the smoke, the routine question at our home is asked, “How many positive cases of the virus have been confirmed so far?” So unbearable is all of this! As long as the numbers are horribly increasing, there is a cascading countdown to our survival.

Gazan posts on all social media sites are of diverse corona content: millions of corona jokes, medical posts, warning posts, hope in faith posts, graduation with a corona taste posts, death posts and future-look posts.

It’s all part and parcel of our life; though within all this chaos and fear, there is always the pursuit of hope and humor. Thousands of videos on the news show Gazans reacting with cheering and clapping once the police and ambulance officers arrive in an area, thanking them for tackling COVID-19 spread so effectively. One institution made a whole campaign of clapping to support the medical staff and the police officers who check on commitment to the curfew. Humorously, some areas to which police officers haven’t gone yet are jealous, as they are being deprived of their chance to “clap.” Even though clapping for the police officers is not of high significance (as it does nothing to prevent something miserable happening), those Gazans do feel the need to spiritually support the ones who never spare any effort for their own sake.  

Oh! What’s the matter? My 15-year-old sister Nada bursts out crying because one of her friends has tested positive. She groans, “Things are frightening and not promising, Asmaa. COVID-19 is getting much closer. Will we all die?”

“Don’t feel afraid, my beloved Nada. Everything will go well; don’t worry, my dearest.” I assure her, trying to spread something I almost lack: hope.

Electricity shortages, plus coronavirus

Now of course, simple things have taken on new meaning. I speak of the novel, pure majesty of electricity. As soon as the electricity comes on, we open our laptops or mobiles to check emails and other essential news. My mother, on the other hand, bakes bread or turns on the washing machine, arranging her duties according to the limited hours of electricity. Yesterday, the electricity came at 10 am but was cut at 11:00. What? Only ONE hour? We all memorize the electricity schedule by heart and it should have lasted for another 3 hours at least. My mother sighs; it seemed it was off schedule and it would come again at 10 pm.

An important email should be sent, however! What should I do? I prepared everything for my brother’s scholarship application, even the email content, and a single click was the only thing left. I waited, my mind on pins and needles; I was hot. My fan has not been charged, nor has my mobile. 10:30 pm came and nothing happened. Still, I used the last of my mobile charge to listen to the Holy Quran, trying to forget all the aggravation surrounding me.  I could not sleep. I spent that night sleeping halves of hours begging my Lord to turn the electricity on while simultaneously fanning myself using a plastic dish to have some cold air. I expected the power at 2:00 am (the electricity schedule in Gaza); it did not arrive, however. I decided not to sleep and just wanted to write.  The first sentence I wrote unconsciously:

I do apologize to my city for writing this, but these moments when you “hate” living in Gaza are inevitable, no matter how much of a patriot you truly are.

Thank God! The beautiful majesty lit up at 6:00 am; the email was sent; my laptop, mobile, and fan were on charge and, most essentially, I could comfortably sleep!

health workers with face masks
A group of exhausted medical staff at Al-Andonisi Hospital in Gaza

Yearning to escape

Why do I have to wait?
Why do I need to wish for things I should take for granted?
Why do I feel “happy” when something comes which is my right as a human? Surely, it is not something deserving my delight!

The misery of 2020 has been life changing. It has even changed the language itself. “Positive” has become the most negative adjective one could ever hear! So scattered am I. I have no desire to live, except as a bird. Were I a bird, I would not steal rainbows, or quarrel with other birds, or soil the clouds. I wish I were a bird just to escape — to fly high and higher above the sky free of people, Israel, wars, worrying about electricity and the creeping march of viruses. I want wings to soar above the fear that shadows me, to breathe air that is free of despair and to merge my voice with the sweet birdsong of the heavens.

Posted: January 4, 2021

Mentor: Bridget Smith

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