Gaza – Areesh /Egypt ( Part 1)
By: Hala Alsafadi
I do count myself as a pretty lucky young lady since I have been through a great deal of things that most of the ladies in my age and in my country have not been through. and Yes, Experience is my keyword! One can never totally have a handle on something unless he had lived that “something.” In other words, I would not really enjoy a piece of advice from someone who only have an extraordinarily massive experience in eating, sleeping, and studying. Those are the people who I really love to text“ Please get a LIFE!!”, oh yeah LIFE! If you never get out of your circle, you are not going to get to know anything beyond your “magnificent” circle. If you want to make people know more about your own circle, you need to get closer to their circles. Then find the circles’ intersections. Only through the intersections, similarities can be shared. Chill, I assure you that this is far away from a Geometry Class since I got issues with that class myself.
To make a long story short, I went to the United States of America when I was 16 years old. As a matter of fact, I turned 16 while I was there. I went there on an Exchange program ( YES Program) to live with an American host family and go to an American High school for a year. It is a program funded by the American State of Department. If I was to vote for this experience ( Easy, Moderate, Hard), trust me, none of those choices would satisfy me. I would want to vote for it as a “Very Beautifully Hard” experience, keeping in mind the young age of mine at that time.
The year of 2006-2007 was the turning point in my life. After going through couple of tests and an interview, I was selected as a YES student. In the Agenda, Gazan YES students were to leave Gaza to Egypt in early August and head back home in Mid June. However, we are Gazans after all; nothing in our country should go according to an Agenda, thanks for Israel. We arrived to the States by the end of August and came back home in August 8th 2007.
You know how we are usually asked about the milestones in our lives? Many people consider graduating from high school or university, or getting jobs, or getting married ,or even their sweet sixteen a milestone in their lives. In my case, being a part of that exchange program ,with no doubt, is my milestone.
It was 2006, the year Hamas got elected as the government in Palestine. It is the year when the Israeli blockade on Gaza was imposed while the selected exchange students were supposed to leave Gaza to the States. The exchange group of my year consisted of 9 students, 3 girls and 6 guys. We were more like a desperate family that started losing hope in stepping out of the Rafah Crossing. At that time, Israel was practicing the collective punishment on Gaza because Hamas won the elections, which really means we were punished for exercising our right of self-determination! No one could get in or out of Gaza at that time. AMIDEAST in cooperation with the American Embassy in Jerusalem tried to work it out for us. They were put down though. We even went to the borders twice a day hoping that we would be able to make it, nevertheless, all we were getting is more disappointment. I remember how much we suffered in the border on the Palestinian side. It was a vey hot summer back then and we barely found any shades. We all felt like we were getting sunburns and sunstroke. I can not remember a time we went to the border without suffering from a severe headache. Poor Adham was injured in his hand from a barbed wire. He started bleeding and went to the Emergency where he got his stitches. Well, no one can imagine the amount of people who were waiting for the border to be opened. The border was full of students who got stuck in Gaza and were trying to go back to their universities abroad. There were people of different ages and backgrounds. There also were some people in ambulances who were supposed to get to Egypt for surgeries. Some people did even sleep right there in hope to cross to the Egyptian side as soon as the sun rises. It was hell on Earth. Seeing a lot of people , who look miserable, carrying around their luggage felt like I was living in the Nakba in 1948. It was so pathetic to realise that we, as Palestinians, do not enjoy the least of our rights as humans.
The next day they called us to inform us that the meeting point is the UN Head Quarter sometime in the very early morning. We were told that there was a “security coordination”. This time a UN bus will “ give us a ride” to the Egyptian Crossing. We were not surprised to be put down again though! I remember how we all lost hope and started talking about how unlucky we were while something deep inside us knew that we were going to spend our next year “ out of area”. I remember how I got back home finding my sister with my mom who was crying her eyes out. Once she saw me, she totally acted normally, as if she was not crying because I supposedly had “left”. I hugged her and told her not to worry since it seems like we are not going anywhere further than Rafah Crossing. After less than an hour, my dad called me telling me that I have to head back again to the UN seeing as we will give it another shot today. That moved nothing in me to the point that I was about to not take my luggage with me this time. My mom gave me a ride to the UN, where my dad was waiting for us. I refused to go through “good-bye mom, good-bye dad” scenario once again because I so felt like I was coming back and I am not a big fan of “drama in the air”. I remember just waving bye-bye to my parents and saying “ see ya soon. I will be back sooner than you expect.” My mom replied “ guys, stop being that pessimistic and Inshalah it will work out this time.” She smiled and send me my little kiss. I didn’t take her words seriously till we actually got in a way I have never seen before. I mean, that driver did actually drive somewhere I never knew it existed in Gaza before. I would not even know how to get there till now. My mom’s smile flashed back in my inward eyes. I knew this time I was not “seeing them anytime soon”. Not long later, those warm tears knew their way down to my chin. We actually made it! We were at the Egyptian side in no time. There was a very huge line standing in front of the gate there. However, with the VIP Pass we have, I knew we would not have to wait for our turns. We just passed by all those people while they were giving us that dirty look. I can not forget how some people started calling us names since they thought that the Vitamin of Favoritism is actually on Play. In no time, we were in Egypt. FINALLY we made it! Our year must be worth it after more than a week of “trying to get out of Gaza”. Nevertheless, it hurts deep inside to know that we even need the UN and the American Embassy to travel and enjoy our right of movement. It was more like taking the permission from Israel to get out of a “prison”.
The moment I stepped in Egypt, I looked back to the side I belong to realizing that I will be a year older next time I step back. I knew I was going to have the experience of my life but I was just hoping that I would be able to deal with the homesickness I will go through. All I thought about was that I already miss my family. I regretted that I didn’t hug and kiss my parents before I left, for I thought I was coming back again. I mean, I did actually cry and say bye every single time before, but then I always came back. This time I thought I was coming back as well and I didn’t want to cry anymore. Here we go, it worked!! I felt really bad for that. I wished that time would go back again and I would kiss my mom and tell her I love her since my mom is my favorite person in the whole world. However, my mom’s words functioned as a trigger “ stop being pessimistic.” Then I decided that I am going to make the best out of my upcoming year. I will make my best to prove myself as an Arab and more importantly as a Palestinian.
Later, I was daydreaming about a bed and a pillow that I couldn’t wait any longer to get to our first stop in a hotel in Al Areesh. Back then, I thought I wouldn’t want to ever remember that stinky part of my “ journey”. Nonetheless, I assure you that it is the funniest part to look back at right now. Once I got into my room ,which I shared with Lama and Jeje, I changed my mind about the bed and pillow scene. The room was so gross that I couldn’t hang in there for 20 minutes. I washed my face and brushed my teeth with the saltiest water ever existed on Planet Earth; it felt like I was actually in the sea for a moment. I insisted to take my shower though which made my friend Lama call me an idiot! As soon as I was done, we went out of the room to join the other disgusted guys who were sitting at the beach. I and the girls pulled chairs and sat all together. We all were like “ what the hell did we do to ourselves?” we started talking about our expectations and host families, I was lucky enough to have known my host family 3 months before that day. We were all so sleepy but none of us could sleep except for Tamer and Rami, who seemed to have no problem with sleeping in their room. However, the rest of the group decided to spend the night on the beach sitting, swimming, and chatting. That day we all got so close to each other. It felt like I was in my own family. I knew that as long as I am with those people, I will not be homesick. We shared many things together. We laughed, we cried, we played, we took naps on the chairs, and did all kind of stupid stuff that night. I remember that one of the guys went to swim in the sea and out of the blue, after getting wet, he remembered that his wallet was still in his pocket!!
As the sun woke up from its night bed behind the sea, our trip to Cairo had to start. We all got ready to leave that stinky place, as we knew that last night will always be a night to remember.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Next ( In Cairo)