Earlier this evening I felt a bit lonely so I decided to take myself out on a date, I deserved it, after all, I spent the day cleaning, unpacking and hanging some pictures on my new walls to make the room feels something to me. I dressed up, gave myself a good compliment in the mirror, plugged my earphones in and danced my way to the stop station where I had to wait for a long time because the city is empty, everyone is “home”. Sakarya is students city and the school has finished a long time ago.
Finally, I got on a bus to go to my favorite coffee place, I got a chocolate muffin and a mean hot mocha. It was late and the place was about to close so I took my order as a takeaway and walked for a while in the city center I thought it would be healthy to see some faces.
Then I headed to one of my secret places in the campus just beside the lake, it’s so quiet here and the view is magical. An orange half moon decorating the right corner of the landscape, shy stars winking at the lake and the streets lights floating on the lake competing with the stars and the moon for the lake’s attention. Everything looks still and perfect. The plan was an on-point coffee with a breathtaking view to have a perfect date with myself.
But here I am crying my heart out feeling “privileged and spoiled”, thinking of my sister in Gaza. I am thinking what would Sara do if she feels lonely? there isn’t much to do there. and I am miles away and there are electric cuts betweens us. I was thinking of how the last time I talked to her I didn’t get to tell her I love her because the electricity cut in the middle of our conversation. I was thinking of my mom words and how much she worries about the family because of the Palestinian “president” sanctions against Gazans, from salary cuts to forcing early retirement to finally suggesting canceling Gazans passports. “I am praying for you and your sister to find jobs soon, just in case…”. I told her not to worry and to have faith.
Sara built herself a brand in Gaza as the minister of positivity. She has more than 25k followers on Instagram where she posts short videos to spread hope and positivity, she is achieving a lot and about to start her MBA, she was awarded a scholarship from the university because of her achievements in spite of her sight disability. I cannot be more proud of her. But I know she is not as happy as she pretends to be. Her sarcastic jokes about the situation in Gaza, about getting out of Gaza, about wanting to experience real life in the real world. about how she never imagined doing her masters in Gaza, I fake laugh at her jokes because I’m helpless. And here I am crying about it.
I am also thinking about my “home” knowing it became uglier and scarier than the last time I have been there. I am thinking of how everyone I know in Gaza envies me because I am out and tell me to never go back. They never believe me when I tell them I miss them and miss Gaza, they say you are living your life now why would you miss Gaza and its people? Why would you miss suffering and miseries?
They make me feel like a first world girl who knows nothing about the world’s problems. I try to tell them that I understand and that I had not forgotten but they don’t believe me. They don’t trust me anymore.
When I was in Gaza I used to be excited when people ask me about the situation in Gaza, I used to write long emails to my international friends to give them an insider view and tell them about hope and how I casually found hope looking from the taxi window, seeing a family pulling their fishing net out of the sea together, seeing some children skateboarding.. It was the small things, the number of applicants in a startup weekend…
Maybe it had to do with my writing during the war, I always felt the responsibility to report what’s going on and I was fortunate with amazing supportive friends.
However, My friends and family don’t see that, don’t see that there are people outside Gaza who genuinely care and need Gazans help to understand the situation because no one can imagine it. they treat me as an outsider which really hurts, they answer my “how are you”, with “fine everything is good”. I know nothing is actually good… People have been let down by so many outsiders, all the fake hope they have been fed for the past 10 years made them intolerant for outsiders. They feel isolated and lonely. The two million of them!
It’s just not fair to me. Because every time I meet someone new they ask me a million question about Gaza and I cannot say I don’t know. I cannot say that Gazans don’t consider me as a Gazan anymore.
Lately, I have been trying to keep myself away from the news because it was so depressing and with no one explaining to me how they cope with it in Gaza I had to do a lot of imagination which ended with me visiting the hospital many times because of a heartache.
Last month, I collapsed in a city where I have no friends in, they called an ambulance and I went to the hospital. “Do you have someone with you?” asked the nurse while putting a needle in my vein to take out some blood, “no” she rolled her eyes and called another nurse to come prepare me for the ECG I looked at her saying in my head “I’m sorry I couldn’t be strong enough to handle what’s going on in my country, which I am not even allowed to visit..” she did the test and left. I called another nurse asking for water and he replied “ Oh we don’t have water here, you gotta go outside and buy from the cafeteria” I said thanks and cracked up laughing at his reaction.
Then, the doctor came telling me that I should go get my test results and then go eat and come for the second round of tests. I understood I had no option but to recollect myself and stand up. Somehow I had to be the patient and the assistant at the same time. I managed. I was fine. It was just depression, I refused to take antidepressant. I’ve been into depression many times before and I kind of became an expert on getting out of it. I took some days to relax and then went back to school. Neither my family nor friends in Gaza knew about this. I thought they don’t need to worry about me, they have enough on their plates. I had to take care of myself, and I did well.
Then I reflected on why did I collapse over news that was not as bad as what I already had lived in Gaza and I came to a conclusion that it was because I couldn’t feel angry. One of the rules I live by is: don’t be sad, be angry. Because anger drives you to take actions, and you get angry when you have hope and faith that you can do something about it. When I was in Gaza my anger was shown in writing and giving workshops on hope and life. I was trying to help people to develop positive attitudes because I know that hope is critical to healthy survival.
But last month I felt helpless, I could do nothing, and people are not allowing me to touch their pain, they played the tough game on me showing me that they are as hard as stones, but I knew they weren’t. They just shut me out.
I know I could have done the same thing many Gazans who left Gaza have done, they went numb switching their feelings and memory off to go by their life trying to chase happiness and a sense of home in whatever city they are in. As easy and attractive it sounds to any Gazan meeting real normal life for the first time. I willingly chose the tough road, I chose to keep it real, to keep relating and keep speaking about Gaza. I know it’s tough now, however, I believe that some people have to go through the tough road to make sure fewer people will be forced to walk through it in the future. I know I am up to amazing things. I know I’ll fix something in the world and this is why I don’t want you to be sad for me. I don’t need sadness, the world doesn’t need sadness. I need your support in what I am about to start.
Gazans are labeling me as an outsider because they know I cannot do much to help them. I want to gain their trust back by helping millions of people in the third world. I want to prove to them that when people have the resources they can make a sustainable change. This is my new mission for the coming years.
In the past two weeks I was in Oslo as one of the 25 earthprenuers under 25 years old participating in Young sustainable impact innovation program in which we were split into five teams who worked for four and half months online to come up with an innovative solution to contribute to achieving one of the UN sustainable development goals before gathering in Oslo to finalize their concepts and pitch them to potential impact investors.
When I applied to the program I had only two goals in mind, Education, and Peace. But then through the program, we searched more and more about the SDGs and my team and I learned that there are more people die because of waterborne disease than who die because of violence and wars. And boy I do know wars.
The thing about water contamination and waterborne disease that they are preventable and not as complicated as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I thought fixing a preventable problem is a good start for me to equip myself with all I need to fix my country.
More on what my team and I are working on, we are commercializing a water filtration technology researched by MIT. Xyla WaterWater is basically a filter made out of a plant tissue with an upfront cost of $2. Our filter will filter water for a family of seven for a whole year for a cost that is less than $10. We want to cater to the affordability challenge providing an environment and user friendly filter. I will share more details on how you can support us in revolutionizing the access to clean water next week.
I was supposed to write about hope… I think I did, somehow. When you don’t find hope, you might be looking in the wrong place, there’s always hope. There’s always something you can do. There’s a lot of disadvantaged people in the world, somehow you can help some of them… and this is why I am sharing my vulnerability with you all. I am trying to do something, and so should you.
I was so consumed in the writing, my coffee is cold now. The moon in the corner has gone, I guess it was too sad for him to watch. The lights are fading away. I looked at the time and it was twenty to midnight and just like Cinderella, I had to be at my dorms by 12. I wiped my tears, collected my stuff and walked through the woods. It was very dark. But when you spent more than half of your life in darkness, it doesn’t feel scary. It feels okay. You learn to imagine the light you need to go on.