My craving as a child to know about my homeland (Palestine) always landed me on my grandmother’s lap. My grandmother (Um Ziyad), God blesses her sole, was an amazing lady. It seemed as if all the kindness in the world had gathered in her heart. I always thought that my grandmother was an angel trapped on this Earth. This woman was so pure that she practically would not hurt an insect. She was very kind to us kids. She always gathered us around her and told us stories of all sorts. My favorite was her memories of Palestine.
I did not know then that the glows on her eyes when she spoke of Palestine were actually tears in her heart. My grandmother always dreamt of going back to Palestine. I heard her often say “Tomorrow when we go back to Palestine, we would do this or do that.” This lady did not know much about politics or any thing of that sort, but with her simplicity she believed deep heatedly in her undisputed right of claiming back her stolen home.
My grandmother died of old age waiting to go back to Palestine.
My grandmother told me all sort of things; she spoke abundantly about the family home back in the small village. She said that my grandfather ‘Abu Ziyad’ and other few men in the village helped to raise its walls. “It was a very strong house.” She said, “it was built out of stone bricks.” She described all the events that took place in that house.
It always amazed me how to the very little detail my grandmother was able to remember. Now that I think of it, I believe that my grandmother was holding on to her memories, for that was all what has left for her, I guess she was passing on her will. She wanted us kids to know everything about Palestine, hoping someday we can all go back and claim what is rightfully ours.
My grandmother described the day when my dad (Ziyad) her eldest son was born. She told me about the big party they threw for him after his circumcision few days from his birth . She never stopped describing the details of Dad’s wedding, and she named those who attended the ‘Hinna’ party. A bashful smile always found its way to her angelic face when she described herself dancing while carrying the lit candles on the ‘Hinna’ tray. She described all the rooms in the house, and she always referred to the big Olive tree that stood so solid in front of the house. She described the playgrounds where Dad used to play when he was in his young age, and she described the big mosque down the street where my grandfather used to spend most of his leisure time. She told me about the outdoors evenings around the campfire and under the fig tree. “Tea and coffee were always hot and available for the passing by.” She said. She described the hills around the house, and she told me about grapevines at the neighbor’s (Um-Ahmadés) house. She told me about the Orange grooves that stood up the hill, and described how juicy the fruits were. Dad used to pick the Oranges and bring them home.
My grandmother told me every thing; I had her describe every thing; and I had her repeat everything. I was always thirsty to hear more. To me, she was describing heaven.
As a child with rich imagination, I captured all that was said. I kept it deep into my heart. I dreamt of picking up the Oranges and squeezing the juice out of them. I dreamt of visiting ‘Um Ahmad’ and picking the Grapes off her vines. I dreamt of setting around the campfire and eating the BBQ Corn while others enjoying my grandmother’s tea. My grandmother always added fresh green mint leaves to the tea.
I listened, I imagined, and all I was able to do is dream.
As I was growing up the dream of having Palestine back grew up with me. The only time I was able to see my Palestine was made possible by holding a foreign passport. I was able to see my home as a tourist. It felt awkward seeing strange faces dwelling down the streets, and a strange flag hanging where our Palestinian flag once was blowing.
I could not help but remembering the stories that my grandmother used to tell me. What I saw did not look familiar; neither matched to my grandmother’s descriptions. I found myself looking for the family home and hoped it was still standing. For long, I asked for directions, and finally with the help of some elders I was able to locate the house. It looked much different from the picture I drew in my mind. I imagined it much bigger. I wanted to walk into that house. I wanted to see the place where my family once lived. I wanted to live the memories that were captured for long in my heart and on the walls of that house. To my disappointment, the house was occupied. Strange faces were dwelling in my grandmother’s house. I walked away with feelings of disappointment and went on looking for Um Ahmad’s house. As I recollect from memory, Um Ahmad’s house should be few houses down the narow path that ran between the nearby houses. I looked around, walked back and forth, but to my disappointment, there were no signes for any grapevines. I looked up the hill searching for the Orange grooves, but my sight was blocked with newly built compounds. Frustrated, disappointed and a wave of sadness attacked my heart. Every thing I dreamt of had long been gone. The dreams that held me to this land were shattered; the memories that grew into my mind had vanished; the roots that held me deeply attached to this land were extracted.
Strange angry feeling crossed through my mind and heart, a feeling of loosing what I am and who I am. I did not know what to do, or where to go. After all what is the point? The house is occupied, the grapevines are dead, and the Orange grooves were replaced with settlers’ compounds. I felt there was nothing left for me to stay. With extreme sadness, I walked back to my family house and sat under the big Olive tree.
I never felt homeless until that point of time. I never knew what it meant to be raped, until I was raped of my dreams. I held on to the Olive tree and wiped a teardrop that forced its way missing the shattered dreams. I took a deep breath while thoughts of determination rushed into my mind. I thought to myself, they can steal my grandfather’s house, they can kill Um Ahmad’s Grapevines, they can pull out all the Orange trees, but they could never–ever–be able to take Palestine out of my heart.