March 4, 2021 is a date I will never forget. That is when I learned about Are Not Numbers (WANN), a project that connects young writers in Gaza to the world, and where I felt the love that began my healing.
After Israeli bombs destroyed my family’s business in 2014, life became much harder for me. The growing pressures of Gaza under the siege made my living conditions worsen day by day.
After three years of this, I became depressed. I felt lost, my mind scattered. Then I lost someone dear to me, because I could not interact with them the way they were expecting me to. I wanted to appear strong, so I didn’t share what was inside me.
After four years of being terribly depressed, I thought what a relief it would be to end it all. Would I ever smile again and feel the beauty of life? Then a friend sent me a message asking me to apply to join WANN. I applied, but I did not expect to be accepted. Yet, in April of 2021, I received email from Issam, the WANN project manager, congratulating me for being officially a WANNer.
I literally don’t know what my life would look like if my friend had not made that suggestion and Issam had not sent me an email accepting me into WANN. I didn’t know how much WANN would change my life.
Issam emailed that WANN would have a grand Tash (gathering) at the beach. Still depressed, I worried that I would have no energy to interact with WANNers and enjoy the blessings of the gathering. But whatever scared feelings I had suddenly went away when I went to the Tash and the other WANNers welcomed me with smiles. I just felt a flash of love, at last awakened, and I was soon convinced that my depression had been in vain. Would you believe that WANNers’ smiles could make me forget my depression and be able to converse with them? Well, those greetings did, and I could communicate easily!
The WANNers had brought many kinds of food to the Tash, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I tried to make fun of myself since I had brought nothing but coffee, and literally every one of my colleagues sought to make me feel at ease, and that enabled me to become friendly to everyone. The truth is that they knew how depressed I had been. Now, my uneasiness and reluctance to be with a crowd were gone.
Mama Asmaa, WANN operations manager, led us in some activities to build a more exciting atmosphere and to remove barriers between us. One of the activities was to pick a piece of paper out of a pocket and do whatever was written on it.
When it was my turn, I tried to hide my face and escape but Asmaa caught me red-handed. “Where do you want to travel?” was the question on the paper. To me, as a Gazan, this question was confusing. I had never thought at all about where I might travel. However, my answer was that I wanted to go to any place where I could receive a grant to do my master’s degree in public administration. At that point, I felt like crying, knowing how hard it would be to travel to such a place.
When Asmaa was done with the activities, I said yes to going to the beach. I cast my eyes upon the sea which seemed full of many hidden secrets. Then I spoke to Haneen, one of my close friends in WANN, as a way of emotional relief, because I believe she has always been the best to help and listen to me. I remember a time when I could not sleep because of my depressed thoughts, and I audio-messaged Haneen as a way of sharing the pain of my brain and heart. That moment I said nothing except “Merhaba” (Hello), yet she immediately felt what pain was inside me.
Later, I met many new WANNers who were full of fun, and we smoked together and did many things to forget about our usual life. Two of them were Noreen and Winnie, who are funny mates and have voices of gold. I sat them down next to me and asked them to keep singing until our grand Tash ended. At the same time, I prayed that the time would not be over, since their singing and the sea were so relaxing.
For some time after that day, I thought my depression was needless, considering the fact that all my WANN mates love and appreciate me as a person. All of them appeared willing to help me and let me speak as a way of emotional relief whenever I was in need. All of my experiences with WANN have persuaded me that sorrow and depression are not proper guides to relaxation and love. Other friends are. I hope the atmosphere of WANN continues to be with me so I can proceed with my life without depression. Being a member of WANN has made me strong.