On the entire planet, there is no place available where both families could get together and meet one another. The whole world doesn’t have a single spot where my family could travel to without having to suffer the process of applying for a visa, of obtaining permits, of begging officials and of crossing borders, so they could come to my engagement party. Even my home, in this case Gaza, seems to be the furthest point on earth that no one can easily reach, and with the tightened siege on Gaza, no one can easily leave, either. Mohammed and I met last year in Chicago during winter break and since then we became very close friends. As time elapsed our friendship turned into love about which we had to inform our families, unaware of all the challenges lying ahead of us. Had not Mohammed been more patient than I was, I would have given up on us since I thought my life had been so complicated that I couldn’t handle a complicated relationship.
Mohammed, born in Jerusalem and raised in Jericho and Ramallah, immigrated to the U.S. when he was 17 years old. I thought I had a tough life in Gaza until I heard Mohammed’s story. Every time I look deep into his eyes, I wonder how he can smile in spite of all the pain he had to endure. I remember I was deeply saddened when I knew about the demolition of his house in Jericho by the brutal Israeli occupation, or about the death of his father who was a leukemia patient and that he died because Israel denied him the access to go to a hospital located on the outskirts of Jericho to receive the needed cancer treatment, and not to mention that Mohammed himself, at a young age, was used as a human shield by Israel to kill two Palestinians, such a terrifying experience that left Mohammed traumatized for many years. I learned enough about him and his family members that made me admire their resilience and stamina. It is worth a mention that his aunt is the famous American-Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh whose heroic story is widely known in the US for her bravery and her bold stance against injustice and oppression. I have the privilege of staying at her house each time I visit Chicago.
I remember last year I cried my heart out while I was all alone in my room when all of a sudden he called. He was so damn worried about me that he wanted to fly from Chicago to New York to be with me. I was unable to take all this in. He told me he loved me so much that he wanted to talk to my parents to tell them about our relationship. And he did. My dad told him that they both needed to meet in person to talk further.
Late May, Mohammed left the US to Palestine to attend his sister’s wedding. While there, he planned to meet my father who, being a businessman, could obtain a permit to cross the border and go to the West Bank. My dad tried earlier to apply for a permit so my mom and sisters could go with him but it was impossible. He was hardly given a permit after trying countless times before. I was still in the US when they both met. My father had lunch with the family, then upon his leave he immediately called to inform me that he liked Mohammed and that he could see us as a good match. His words made me happy.
As I was about to leave the US a month later to apply for another visa at the US embassy in Cairo, Mohammed suggested that it would be easier if he could meet my family in Egypt and he surprised me when he sent me a copy of his ticket that he’d fly out of Amman to Egypt on the same day I’d arrive so he could be with me. He texted me “I wouldn’t leave you alone in Egypt.” When I told my family, they were so excited they hurried to register their names at Rafah border. Mohammed and I both arrived in Egypt sound and safe though we could sense the tense atmosphere prior to Egypt’s 30 June revolution. We stayed in Egypt for a week, working tirelessly on my visa and waiting impatiently for my family to finally cross the border. I was denied the visa and my family were denied leave due to the situation in Egypt. Mohammed and I left Egypt extremely disappointed.
I was trapped in Gaza for four months. I have already written a detailed post about my struggle trying to leave this tiny enclave. During my stay, we kept in touch. Mohammed talked to my family a couple of times over skype. My parents admired him for his good manners, his patience, his love and care towards me. When I finally made it back to the US to do my MA, the two families spoke over the phone regarding our relationship and they planned to announce us as an engaged couple.
Mohammed’s family decided to throw us an engagement party that I felt there was no need for since my family wouldn’t be there. In a matter of a few days everything was planned for, friends and family members were all invited that I couldn’t but agree. While preparing myself for the party, shopping with my sister-in-law and friend, buying everything I needed, choosing songs for the party, checking on the hall and everything, I was all in tears a couple of times feeling how much I needed my mother and sisters to be there for me. Everything around gave me a nostalgic vibe. As I am now looking at the beautiful pictures of my engagement party, I keep wishing my dad, my mom, my siblings, my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents and my friends in Gaza were all among those people who attended my party.
I feel so lucky, however, to have such lovely in-laws and friends in the US who make me feel home. I feel even blessed that I have friends who drove from Indianapolis, and flew from NYC to attend my party and that they needed no visas, no borders, no checkpoints, no other complications. It makes me smile to see all these beautiful smiles in these photos. Everyone had fun at the party and so did I. Now, when I am asked when the wedding will be, I reply “when the border is open”! And only God knows when! The hardest question however is “where will the wedding be?”, Gaza, Ramallah, Jericho, Jordan or Chicago? Again, only God knows where! Thanks to Israeli apartheid that has made our future so unpredictable we cannot even know when and where the wedding will be!
(Cross-posted on Fidaa’s blog Fidaa Abuassi)