Canvas of Life

By: Nihaya Jaber

As a 20-year-old Palestinian living in the besieged land of Gaza, I’ve grown up with my people, sharing the same bitterness of the persistence to live a normal life as much as possible despite all the obstacles we face every day. Being among people of the same culture and same daily life didn’t help me to discover a lot about life. I always had questions in my mind that kept me searching for answers. Even though I grew up filled with hope, dreams, love and strength but I could feel in my bones that there is much more in life to learn. I wanted to draw a canvas of life, yet there were certain missing colors which I was not able to perceive.

I did not have a story to narrate, but life has a strange way of surprising us with stories we never expect. My story started when I was approved for a scholarship that allowed me to spend five glorious weeks in USA with people of different cultures. There, I had the most wonderful experiences that I never expected I would have. It has left me with a wealth of memories which I deeply cherish. Every day has brought me something new to learn or something new to feel. Being close to those people helped me to fill my canvas with the missing colors as I became more aware of the lessons humanity teaches us.

In America, I had that experience which made me to believe that dreams do come true. I had a simple dream that wouldn’t seem like a dream for most people. I was always fascinated of the idea of going to a cinema! The thought of watching a movie in front of a big screen; taking a seat next to numerous people, eating popcorn, laughing and crying, thrilled me. When I heard that my friends were planning to go to a cinema I eagerly asked them if we could do that as soon as possible.

When we finally went, I was really happy because we were not just watching a regular film, rather 3D and 4D films. When it was a 3D film, I enjoyed the amazing flying bubbles that I felt I could touch! I almost screamed when the broken pieces were coming or it felt like coming toward me. I wished I had the chance to chase the beautiful butterflies or to pick one of the colorful flowers. However, it was scary to watch the documentary film about dinosaurs. The dinosaurs looked so real that I became really scared; as their faces were so close to mine, they looked as if they were going to swallow me! It felt like I was inside the film. At some point, I felt like I had to hide myself from the dinosaurs and I was unconsciously hitting my friend who was sitting next to me while trying to rescue my life from falling prey to the giant dinosaurs

Things got more real when it was a 4D cinema. I felt wind blew over my face, my chair was rocking because of the explosions in the movie and other effects that would touch me! I never dreamt of these sorts of films before as I thought they are unreachable for me. While watching I noticed that some Americans who were watching along with me were much less amazed as I was. I was interacting with the films madly but they neither shouted nor made wild gestures like I was doing. It felt awkward to me when I realized my dream was one of the options of their daily routine. Then I thought of it differently. I just came up with a conclusion that everyone has his or her unique dreams, and that was one of my unique dreams. If we can appreciate our blessings and think of others who don’t have what we have, before it becomes what we had, we can learn
the meaning of satisfaction which can lead us to simplicity and peace.

Hereinafter and throughout the five weeks, Muhammed, the talented Iraqi writer, was always the source of happiness among us. No one could imagine that his bright soul and his warm smile hid lots of sadness behind. Keeping strength and hope while everything is ruining around is a difficult ability to be found in any human, but it is not for Muhammed. He started with a smile telling us about his sad stories during the Iraqi conflict between Sunni and Shiites. His stories were the most atrocious stories I have ever heard. Although I am from a Gaza and I am familiar with bombs and war crimes, hearing his stories broke
my heart. I felt that all the hellish life I have lived in Gaza is nothing comparing to his one.

I was touched the most with a particular story of him. It happened when he was on his way to school. He did not face any trouble due to the rush hour; neither cars nor buses were blocking his way. However, scores of dead bodies were lying on the streets and cannibal dogs were ripping them apart. The scene freaked him out and then he ran insanely towards his school. This was only the beginning of his nightmare that started to unfold before his eyes. The terrible chain of events continued. As he arrived at his school with his friend, they discovered that one of their teachers was murdered. He fainted because of the shock and by the time he regained his consciousness at the hospital he was informed that his beloved friend was murdered, too.
This absence of security reminded me of the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, the war that Gaza suffered in 2008-2009. I still remember that horrible day when I was at the door of my school going back to my home. It all started with something which seemed like an earthquake with thousands of people running and screaming around me. I felt terrified, I was in panic! It wasn’t all because of the bombs that were falling everywhere randomly but also because I lost my sister in that utter chaos and confusion. I frantically looked for her everywhere but in vain. My feet carried me back to my home, I was running, screaming with every
missile exploded praying that my sister would be safely back. When I finally arrived home, it was such a
relief to find all my family members were safe.
The savage bombings and shelling lasted for 23days; from December 27, 2008 to 18 January 2009. For 23
days, Gaza, which sank in the darkness because of the permanent power cut, was isolated from the whole world as there was not any way of communication. Every night, I was praying to stay alive untill the next day, and every morning I appreciated the taste of the life more. I was counting my last moments, and because there was a possibility a missile could be shelled to any room all of a sudden, my closest sister and I made up our minds to go together to any room, even to the bathroom! We decided to stay together to die together or survive together. One can hardly imagine to what extent the situation was insane.
All these memories flood to my mind when I was listening to Muhammed’s stories and I could not help but crying. When Muhammed was trying to calm me down, his voice reminded me of my little brother who was always telling me, “It is ok!” every time we heard an explosion nearby, even though I could hear his heart beating rapidly because of the horror. After a while I realized what I went through, shocking and brutal though it is, was nothing comparing to his experiences especially after he witnessed the terrorist attacks by the so-called ” Islamic movements”. Since Islam prohibited murdering the innocents, they cannot be Muslims.

Muhammed’s experience inspired me to keep smiling despite the hardships of life. He taught me, even when death is howling at the doorstep, not to lose hope and faith. Although he went through dreadful and sad moments, which are enough to make anyone depressed forever, he managed to preserve his pure heart and hope. His stories show how awful some humans could become when it comes to their petty gains which they desperately want to attain at whatever cost. I wonder how difficult is it to realize we all are the same! Why can’t all of us treat others in terms of humanity? Yet among all the madness that goes around the world, we will find people like Muhammed who can hold themselves steady and spread hope among others in search for a brighter day.

Then I went through another experience that taught me the fine line between hatred and love. I was walking in Muir Woods National Monument in California, staring at the tall and old-growth trees with two of my Bahraini friends when suddenly a young lady, with many children, stopped us. She was curious to know about the countries we came from after she saw us wearing scarfs which indicated that we were strangers. My friends replied to her questions and then my turn came. “I am from Palestine,” I said proudly. Then she asked about from which part of Palestine I came and I told her I came from Gaza. Then she smiled but I didn’t know how to interpret her smile, especially as her children looked at me strangely without smiling, but I smiled back and curiously I asked her where she’s from. “We are your neighbors that you HATE!”, she answered.

I was puzzled and began wondering who the neighbors that we hate are? It took me a while to realize that she meant she is from Israel, the occupying country of Palestine. Even when her definition was based on hatred, I decided to treat her with love. I said goodbye to her that day with a smile and I met her once again with a smile and I even shook her hands. When I went back home, I wondered why she judged me as a hater! Is hatred the language that unifies our humanity?
She judged me a hater because she looked at me from her personal perspective. Maybe that what made her to think that the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is because we HATE them. What most of them don’t realize that this conflict is because we LOVE our land and we struggle to protect it and to restore our rights that are daily violated by Israel. Our fight is a fight of human rights, not a fight of hatred!
We are all humans and we have our own way of thinking and judging. What most important of having our own way to think or to judge, is to know that others don’t look at things as we do. Whatever the differences were between us, love is the language that make us humans, as Paulo Coelho said in his book The Alchemist:” There was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as a part of a search for something
believed in and desired.”

In sum, in America I discovered that being alive means you have to learn how to love, to donate, to hold hope, to be satisfied, and how to appreciate. Without these, we will never live as humans. Our world will be an ongoing-nightmare full of wars, crimes, and famine. All that is learned by the heart, so we’d better clean our hearts from selfishness, hatred, greed, and all that can spoil our hearts.

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  1. #1 by caroline hope on September 11, 2012 - 7:51 am

    Thank you, Nihaya, it is so generous to share this with us. Keep loving your land.

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