PENMANIA

By SARAH SOBHI 

(written November 2014)

Everything happened when she was in school.  Maryam was a beautiful and creative girl, in the sixth grade, studying at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

She was known for her talented pen that wrote extraordinary short stories, despite her young age.
Maryam’s first source of support was her father, a humanist and social activist who worked at an international institution in Gaza.  He was proud of his daughter, and was always invited by her school to celebrate her creativity.
The last time was when she won first place for a short story she had written.  It was about a child who lost his entire family in the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008.  The child received psychological and financial support after the story was published.  This showed Maryam how effective a written word can be.
Maryam loved writing more than anything.  If you check her schoolbooks, you’ll find beautiful Arabic calligraphy written in the margins.  One of her friends advised her to collect them in a book along with her short stories.
Maryam replied by laughing, still not quite that certain of her talent.
One day, Maryam returned from school to find her mother’s eyes full of tears.
“What happened, Mom?” she asked timidly.
Her mom just cried.
“What happened?!!” Maryam repeated, now alarmed.
Her mother could not utter a word, she just cried.
Not knowing the reason for such uncontrollable crying, Maryam was frightened by her mother’s tears.  Her grandmother hugged her and told her the bad news.
It was about Maryam’s father, who had been sent on a diplomatic mission to the West Bank as part of the Palestinian delegation from Gaza.  The visit was planned for only a few hours.
Maryam remembered how she had told her father, the rebellious lover of Palestine, before he left, to be careful.
He had not listened to her, she now realized.
Finding themselves in Jerusalem, one of the team members spontaneously suggested that they go pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.  They were arrested by the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces), as it is illegal for Palestinians under the age of 50 to set foot in the Al Aqsa compound.
Hearing the horrible news, Maryam became mute.  She shut herself in her room.  She became so utterly despondent that she felt like she was in a fast sleep.
“How will I have a life without having a life?” She asked herself.  “How can I go on without my father?”
After three days, under the insistence of her mother, Maryam returned to school.  No one asked her about the reason for her absence; they all knew.  Two periods passed.  At the third one, the headmistress called for her.
A creative writing competition, on the occasion of Palestinian-Prisoner-Day, was to take place.  Maryam would be the best to nominate, the headmistress said, since she is the daughter of a prisoner, and has talent for writing.
Maryam refused.
“You will do great,” the headmistress insisted.
“Sorry, I am not in the mood these days,” Maryam explained.
“We know your situation; it’s your chance, honey, to help your father.”
Maryam was astonished.  After thanking the headmistress, Maryam left the school and ran like a free bird through the ruins of the bombed out neighborhood.
She would do anything to have one more hug from her father.
In a week’s time the competition was held.  She had three hours to compose a story with a meaningful message.  She wrote and wrote till the last minute.  She portrayed her father as representing all Palestinian prisoners in administrative detention.  She introduced him as a media man in an international NGO who must be protected by international law.  She was productive, logical, specific and creative.  Her piece was a mix of fact and fiction.
When time was up, Maryam submitted her story and left the competition hall without desire for winning.  She was already fulfilled for having given a voice to her father’s ordeal.
Maryam won the competition.  The result was sent to her school.  She was over the moon.
One of the jurors, a foreign human-rights activist, delivered Maryam’s story to the international community.  He made some phone calls.  The reason behind Maryam’s father’s arrest was found unjust.
The plea for his release was accepted.
Three days after the end of the competition, Maryam returned home to find her father waiting for her.  She got her long-anticipated hug.  She is now a true believer in the power of her pen.
~~~
Maryam is one of more than 150,000 Palestinian children who lost their fathers to the Israeli prisons, abruptly, without understanding why.  Unlike Maryam, many children accept this cruel reality, and only hope their fathers will be released one day.
sarah-sobhi250Sarah Sobhi is 22 and lives in Gaza, Palestine.   She is a writer and translator, and holds a BA in English Literature from IUG (Islamic University of Gaza).  She hopes to continue her master’s degree in creative writing and translation abroad.  Sarah’s dream is of Gaza as a green land, far away from missiles and sudden wars.  Since her dream has not yet materialized, she tries to draw images of a happier Gaza in her stories.  She wishes for her writing to make Gaza known in the world through beauty, not only through wars and suffering.
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