From Kentucky to Palestine
August 29, 2014 by
Categories: Miscellaneous

In the fall of 2011, I embarked on a trip to volunteer as an ESL instructor in Nablus, Palestine, shortly after losing a close cousin of mine. She passed away weeks before her own trip to Palestine to volunteer as a medical student. Facing the most difficult time of my life, I knew I had to take this trip in her honor, to do what she would have wanted me to.

As a Palestinian-American, I faced over 7 hours of interrogation at the Tel Aviv airport and was almost turned away. Sitting in a windowless waiting room, I longed to walk the dirt roads and smell the distinct Palestinian fresh air—one tinged with the smell of burnt trash, a smell that oddly makes me nostalgic. When I finally made it to the other side, I knew I was home.

This is a blog post I wrote in October 2011, a couple of weeks into my stay. I want to dedicate this to my cousin Kawthar and the thousands of lives lost in Gaza and Palestine.

The sun always sets, the sun always rises. 

Over the day and into the night, I felt a familiar ache spread over my chest. I could feel it tightening, constricting, and then finally exhaling, settling in comfortably after weeks of this same routine. After sleeping just a few hours the night before and waking up early for my 7 am class, I noticed my energy depleting, and not just because I taught four classes of adolescent boys in a row. I learned quickly that heartbreak wasn’t just a metaphor and that my body isn’t just my body, it’s a protector that warns me when my mind silences the pain.

In Palestine, it can be hard to tell what it is that is affecting me. Are they just normal symptoms of transition or roosters keeping me up at night? I learned the hard way that roosters don’t just crow at dawn, but at midnight, 2 AM, 4 AM…and on an on. Is it anxiety about planning for classes, for the pressure of teaching something when they are in fact, teaching me? Are they the faces of the children from the refugee camp who gleefully pronounce the only words in English they know? “Hi Miss.…How arrreee YOUUU??” It’s so fitting that they ask about you before asking of themselves.

I absorb my parent’s homeland with fresh eyes, studying wise and gnarly branches of olive trees, accepting countless cups of mint tea, and learn that at every lost corner, a stranger will kindly give me the same directions as the person before them….. “doogri, doogri, doogri, o shmal. That translates to, Straight straight straight, and then left. Always, without fail.

Despite the excitement of this journey I am on, this is not a vacation, and each night the innocent sun sets onto an occupied land. This mixture of awe and sadness swims together into a well of life and grief and home. Each new moment I experience and every person I meet has made it into this well. At times, it is brimming with energy, and other times it feels like I am gasping for air.

It is in these times that loss compounds loss, and it all comes rushing back.

I am surrounded by people who are also no stranger to loss; who may never reveal what they endure, day in and day out: The brother or father that’s in prison without trial. The degradation and humiliation faced at each checkpoint on the way to and from work. The struggle to explain to their children why a towering wall shuts them out and how they must never stop resisting.
As I hear story after story, I imagine the unthinkable smells, images, and sounds carried within each Palestinian– whether they are stored and hidden in the deep recesses of their mind or held daily within their calloused hands.

They are tough, but they too need to gasp for air.

Is there anything more humbling than loss? The loss of a loved one, the loss of land, a job, an olive tree, or your own pride?

It brings me to my knees. It’s hollowed me out but only through this emptiness could I start over again, could I appreciate the very moment in front of me and not just the one I left behind. I will cry and at times feel hopeless. My heart will ache, but it will feel.

And in between those times, I know I am not alone. If there is anything being Palestinian has taught me, it is that we take care of our own… and our neighbors, too.

And so as I observe the Palestinians continue to laugh and serve one another, I know that I too will find my own meaning.

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One Thought About From Kentucky to Palestine

  • Deidree Yvonne Lennard
    September 7, 2018 at 4:10 pm Reply

    I learned quickly that heartbreak wasn’t just a metaphor and that my body isn’t just my body, it’s a protector that warns me when my mind silences the pain.

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