“"I need some photos of the pigeons you keep,” I say. He sends me a photo of his cats instead, telling me, “These are pigeons that say 'meow, meow!'”
Who would have guessed there is a Palestinian who listens to rappers like Eminem and 50 Cent? Who would have known that someone here can jump like that? Who would have guessed that despite his penchant for lame jokes he is hiding so much suffering?
The first time I met Ahmed, at 27 just a year older than me, was at a course on how to start a business. My first impression was that he was a spoiled, rather carefree guy.
You could easily be fooled by his cheerful spirit and ready laugh—like he had been spared a lot of hardship. However, Ahmed was also my first realization that someone who laughs so much also can be lonely deep inside. It’s a discovery I made when he first invited me to his house.
When I walked into his home, I was shocked at how damaged it was by past bombings; it appeared to be literally on the verge of collapsing. (Ahmed lives in northern Gaza, quite close to the Israeli border.) The ceiling and walls were cracked and some rooms had no doors, only a piece of propped-up piece of wood.
I was curious about what had happened to cause him to live like that. Ahmed told me his father died 10 years ago, requiring him to find temporary jobs to support his family even as he tried to finish university. His mother insisted that he continue on his academic path no matter what. Through all the hardships, Ahmed says his Mom’s presence was what mitigated his suffering and kept him moving forward. The absence of his Dad made him a stronger man and able to support his Mom, two brothers and sister.
Then, in 2012, his mother died.
His mother injured her head in a fall, and after three months in the hospital, other medical problems developed at home, ending in the discovery of gangrene in one of her legs. When the physician visited their home, immediate amputation seemed her only choice and Ahmed was the only one willing and able to assist. He cried like a baby the entire time. Despite it all, three days later, he lost her. Ahmed felt like he was losing his mind, without any source of light or hope. However, for the sake of his family, he did not give up.
Today, he still lacks a full-time job, despite the fact that he has now earned his civil engineering degree. Odd jobs are all he can find. So, in the meantime, he has started several businesses, most of which have failed due to the ever-fluctuating economy in Gaza—a casualty of the Israeli occupation. Currently, he is raising and selling pigeons as a source of food.
Nonetheless, despite so many hardships you’d think the sorrow would paralyze him, he survives by surrounding himself with friends, family and pets. Ahmed likes animals more than any other person I have ever known. He likes to keep cats and pigeons and takes affectionate photos of them all the time.
Ahmed also is an adept football player, able to dodge all other players and score—that is, until he injured one of his knees. Now, he needs an operation he cannot afford. However, he has kept moving forward, even through the 2014 Israel assault on Gaza. Family comes first, he says.
"Why would those who start conflicts not take into account that there are people who care nothing about political issues, and just wish to live peacefully like everybody else on this planet?" he asks.
Mentor: Alastair Thompson