By Afnan Sharawi
It was one of those suffocating mornings in May, when sunrays streaming in through the 15th story window tickled my face. I had barely opened my eyes, still struggling between dreaming and reality. Every morning I woke up to the grieving voices on television reporting something about Gaza. “Afnan, it’s time for breakfast,” called my mother. I knew what was awaiting me. I don’t mean the bread or the soft-boiled egg. I mean the threat. A threat that had haunted me day and night. I was then a high school student with no special dreams. But one thing I knew: I wanted to remain here, in this Arab country, where I was born.
“Afnan, if you don’t do well in school we will send you to Gaza and you will study at the university there.” That was the threat my father had waved at me every day, and now, as I sat at the breakfast table. As if Gaza was the worst place in the world, as if I would be sent to a prison or something. I said nothing in return, but when I went to my room to pick up my books I said to the walls: “I don’t want to go to Gaza!”
“But what is Gaza?” I had asked myself many times. One day I understood. It happened in school, in 12th grade. My cell phone had been confiscated along with those of a few other classmates. The principal returned the phones to the girls who were “local” but refused to return mine. “Locals,” I had come to understand was the word that described the girls who belonged to their country. I went to the principal and protested: “how could you do that?”
“What else do you need, you Palestinian?! It’s enough that we’ve let you live in our country!” As I heard the principal’s words, tears replaced my indignation. I didn’t belong to their country. I understood what it meant to be a Palestinian. Like a bird in a cage, I saw my faraway home but could not reach it. Because I’m Palestinian, I was told not to do this and not to say that. And so I became aware of my identity as an expatriate. I realized why, growing up, the word “Palestinian” had been a taboo. I understood all of this the moment the school principal uttered her hurtful words. In that moment, a dream had etched itself on my heart. Not my childhood dream to become a teacher or a nurse or a journalist, but to live on my land. As days passed, my soul became corrupt with revenge toward those who made us, Palestinians, lose our identity.
June came. We were getting our certificates. On that day there was no struggle in me between dreaming and reality. I was up at once. I heard the grieving voices on television and knew they spoke of martyrs whose souls had spread across the seas and the skies. Being stripped of home and family, they still held the key of the Right of Return. I went to school and got my certificate that showed excellent grades. I hurried home with a smile on my face and I shouted: “Father! You won’t believe it! I did really well!” He was elated, and praised me, and he asked: “Where do you want to study?”
I said – “in Gaza.”
Afnan Sharawi is 20-years old, a graduate of The Islamic University of Gaza with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. She is now working as an English teacher in United Arab Emirates. She hopes that one day people will be able to speak the truth without having any lingering feelings of fear.