Yesterday was not a good day.
I had a class in Abu Deis at 8:00 am, which meant I had to leave my house in Ramallah at 7:00 am. If I lived in a real state, I would leave my house 20 minutes prior to class, but I don’t.
The driver of the bus was a maniac who, despite his ungodly speed, still managed to get us trapped at Qalandia checkpoint for 30 minutes, and almost killed us at least three times.
Eventually, I got to university to teach a class on Modern Arabic Literature. I was already exhausted, and had so little to say to impress all of my new students; wide-eyed and wondering why their teacher arrived disheveled and empty so early in the morning.
I kept thinking that my life is about to be over.
We started the conversation with Sheikh Imam, a figure who seems closer than usual these days. Sheikh Imam suffered so much persecution by the Egyptian government, and spent endless days in jail just for singing about justice and against oppression. After listening to one of his songs about how the love for his country grows deeper despite being surrounded by all kinds of boundaries and hate, one of my students insisted that his emotion wasn’t necessarily love but sacrifice.
What does sacrifice mean, I asked? Some of them said the loss of one’s life for one’s country or for God, some said losing something close to you for a bigger reward, but I kept wondering, why does it have to be sacrifice rather than love?
When my dad spoke of Palestine, it was nothing short of a mind-boggling love affair with a country he barely knew.
When I was much younger, my father used to talk to me about being Palestinian. Having grown up in Amman, I only knew the map and the concept, but my father, who was only one year old when his family was uprooted from Yaffa, painted such a beautiful picture of a city crowded with orange trees and the smell of the sea. When my dad spoke of Palestine, it was nothing short of a mind-boggling love affair with a country he barely knew.
In class yesterday, I felt like it was my turn to declare my position; is it love or obligation? After all, I had a choice to not be here, complaining about getting stuck on a checkpoint every morning. What’s even scarier is that I felt heroic when I talked about my life to others. After all, I was the embodiment of the Palestinian youth who made the choice to come back and be marvellous and intellectual, wasn’t I?
Actually, now that we’re talking, let me tell you a little secret, I dreaded coming back. One night, as I was sorting out what to take with me and what to donate to Salvation Army, I collapsed in my walk-in closet in Washington, DC. I kept thinking that my life is about to be over. I kept imagining my empty house, gathering two years of dust since my mom died. My life was going to be over, and I was walking to my demise with my own two feet.
I did not want to be here, and for the first six months it was very obvious. Then one August, a year ago, around the time of my mother’s second anniversary, I made a choice: I wasn’t going to get off my couch unless somebody gave me a teaching job. Needless to say, it happened.
I can’t help but wonder: what kind of a country are we giving our students?
As I look back at my year while listening to the news of a pending state application, I can’t help but wonder: what kind of a country are we giving our students? A country is not a piece of land defined by a diplomatic entity, but a collective effort to make a space flourish with love, ideas and compassion. Can that be done within boundaries defined by years of defeat, or under the obligation of tucking away our past until it becomes a fable?
I beg to differ.