Not long ago, my friends and I were helping my friend Sarah find the perfect dress for her cousin’s wedding. We stormed every store looking for the perfect dress, but in vain. It was getting dark and we were running out of time when we reached the last store. I found a dress that I was certain was the one, but my friends were unconvinced, so I insisted that Sarah try it on. I knew that I needed them to do what I usually do, which is take a step back to appreciate the beauty of the simplest things, even a dress. When Sarah came out of the fitting room, looking glamorous, my friends nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
This is what I usually do when I want to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I always take a step back and my surroundings magically transform from the mundane into miraculous objects. This is also how I grew to appreciate and see the beauty of Gaza as I was growing up. I came to learn that beautiful things don’t look beautiful simply because they are. Sometimes we need to rub our eyes one more time and look at the whole picture.
I have a yen for everything old. Nothing surpasses the beauty of the Old City of Gaza. When I look at the cramped buildings, I can feel they hold the overwhelming yet warm stories of the souls that resided in them over the decades. Hungry for the stories of my ancestors, I like to go on short trips there, where the walls of the buildings scream of the past, making it hard not to ask my mom many questions. I am lucky that my mom was a history major, which might explain my own interest in history, as she has always been able to answer my questions in great detail. No matter how much she said, though, nothing compares to actually standing in front of the buildings, and she is the reason why I started looking at my surroundings differently. I owe my desire to always look for what’s beyond the superficial, to her.
I was 12 when I first saw the Pasha Palace in the Old City of Gaza. Also known as Radwan Castle and Napoleon’s Fort, the Pasha Palace was formerly a large palace and is now a two-story museum situated in the Old City of Gaza. It served as a seat of power in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods and as a police station under the British Mandate.
When I first saw it, the big palace completely surpassed my imagination. I had never before dreamed of anything so elegant and full of culture. It was difficult not to acknowledge the wonderful presence of Mamluk architecture. What I liked most about the palace, besides the decorative columns and doors, was the elegant simplicity of the vaulted ceiling in one of the rooms.
My mother used to work there as a tour guide. In 2005, they were preparing for the grand opening of the museum to the public, which was the biggest event ever for the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. It was also the biggest event ever for me, and I received special treatment from everyone, blushing as I greeted Mom’s colleagues.
People came from everywhere and were excited to see this historic building from a glorious era in their history. For these citizens, this place was like a living miracle that had survived both natural and human factors. I never thought people would want to see this old place, but it dawned on me by the end of the day that it was not just old stuff; it was history. Gaza may be small in size, but it is filled with stories.
Abu Bakr, a colleague of my mom’s, offered us a memorable special tour. The second floor has only one spacious room with a door leading to a secret place, and I was dying with curiosity to see what was behind the door. My mom exchanged eye contact with Abu Bakr, who approached my twin sister and I and said in a low voice, “You are about to go on an adventure!” I must confess, I’d only heard these words in movies and children’s books! My twin and I looked at each other and were ready to venture.
Only the two of us could fit through that small doorway. There were circular stairs, and we had bend over to climb them. We came to a roof with no protective bars, so we had to be careful, as my mom ordered. It was not very high, but it felt amazing standing there on top and being able to see the palace from above. It was an adventure, indeed! I opened my arms – a little girl in love with the beauty of my surroundings. Anyone who saw me would have said, “She is breathing life.”
I want to see that door again. I wonder if I would still be as fascinated. I wonder if I would still fit through it! For now, though, I’ll keep doing what I’m always doing, listening to stories and appreciating the beauty of the simplest things.