Though death is never an easy thing to deal with, losing a person you directly associate with your identity, adds more weight to the tragedy of loss.
Three days ago, my grandmother passed away in Jordan. During her final days, she constantly asked those around her to bring me home. Unable to see my grandmother one last time, pictures of my brother and I sat next to her bed instead.
Today I sit on my balcony, after a long anticipated summer in Canada, recollecting stories of my grandparent’s life in Palestine. A life I grew nostalgic to as a child. I recall struggling to persuade them to tell me these stories, and when they did, I heard the frightened dissonance in their voice as they spoke.
“Teta (Grandma), would you ever go back if it’s ever liberated?” she replied “I can only wish, I’d walk back on my feet if I’m still alive”. Teta, a 75 year old woman, wanted to walk back to Haifa through the same route she did 67 years ago.
It was always harder to get my grandfather to speak. There was always certain sadness in his eyes, those eyes that have seen so much but refuse to remember. The only story I recall him telling me, which I cherish dearly now is a fond memory of how he won a marathon in Jerusalem sometime before 1948.
Having been forcefully displaced twice from Palestine, made their attempts at restarting life difficult. In 1948, they were expelled from Haifa to the Tulkerem refugee camp in the West Bank where my father was born. Shortly after in 1967, they were displaced again to reside in Jordan. Their ability to renounce the tents and quickly reassemble themselves following two devastating expulsions compelled them to neglect their sorrows in order to recover from the circumstances they were in. They latched on to the little hope they had in building a better life for the sake of their children, and they succeeded.
They, like most Palestinians living exile, knew that education is their only insurance. Dispossessed from their own land and forsaken by neighboring Arab countries, they came to realize that no government or humanitarian organization could be depended on. That belief was also passed on to their grandchildren. Perhaps their insistence on me attending a UN refugee school despite my parent’s refusal was their way of passing me through a minor version of their own trial, to surmount the obstacles of a refugee.
Amer Zahr, a Palestinian comedian residing in the United States, was once asked why Palestinians in the diaspora (referring mainly to those living in the west) are very successful. His answer was simple, “Palestinians do not have a plan B”. Palestinians have to make things work no matter the circumstances, because if we fail there is no refuge for us to return to. Zahr may be a comedian, but his answer is far from comical. His response still resonates with me because the reality of our situation could not be any further the truth.
I have both of my grandparents to thank for who I am and where I am today. As a Palestinian family that has been made refugee twice, enduring they had made to ensure my father and the rest of his siblings received their education and led a contented life cannot be measured in words.
67 years later, they both died in exile. Palestine is not liberated, and my grandmother did not get to walk back to see Haifa. To die in exile is a painful thing, but the thought of living and dying in its confines pierces the heart.
I was not left with a key to a house like many other Palestinians; my only inheritance is their memories. Memories handpicked like sweet grapes from their vineyard to compose a memory book; our passport for return, and a burden to never forget the 6 olive trees, the jasmines and the water well.