Memories of a refugee
I searched for him at his home but could not find him, his wife told me “you can find him west of the refugee camp, you will definitely find him sitting under an olive tree”.
It was sunset, I rushed there to find him before he returns to the refugee camp to conduct evening prayers at the local mosque. Indeed I found him there under an olive tree in an orchard not far away from the houses of the camp.
There, I saw a man who is over eighty years old, the wrinkles of his face tell lots of suffering he encountered in his life, he was sitting there wearing his white Palestinian kofiyya on his head, and wearing his special traditional gown with a belt wrapped on his waist,
He was sitting on the ground , busy …rolling his own cigarette with local tobacco placed in a rusty from outside, old tobacco holder.
You could clearly see his shaky hands but you could also see her determination to perfectly roll his tobacco.
I had to break his private time, and his deep thoughts, while he was about to light his cigarette, “as-Salaamu Alaikum (peace on you)” I said and asked for his permission to sit next to him.
He welcomed me and said “god bless you father’s sole” as he knew by deceased father, and said;
“son, your father is resting in peace now and left us living in this suffering….oh God, men of the old times cannot be found now, and the one who goes “passes away” no one can replace him”.
I wondered among myself as I was sitting down, if this old man still have memories of the Diaspora, the Nakba and how the Palestinians became refugees, I wondered if he can talk about becoming e refugee, about refugee camps.
And then I decided without any hesitation to ask him about these issues, I personally lived as a refugee, and then I started thinking about a way to start my chat with him and how to have a smooth talk without just jumping into his memory.
How can I provoke him to tell me even part of his personal experience?, then I started in a ironical way and said; “dear sheikh, you always rest and sleep the long nights while our generation is suffering and facing the ongoing difficulties of this life which we inherited from you!!”
Then he lit another self-made cigarette, blew the smoke in my face and said; “God help us all, against those who inflicted injustice against us, the English, the Jews, and Arab leaders…”
“We my son are the victims of international conspiracy which is still ongoing until this day”, he said.
Then I decided to go ahead and try to provoke him to say more of his “stored memories of the history”, and I said “You, the older generation, the generation of the Nakba, always say that the suffering you experienced is way bigger than our suffering now under the siege, closures ..!!”
He smiled in an ironical way and said to me “You have the right to express you suffering and to consider yourself as the people who suffered most, more than anyone in this world, you are now experiencing what we experienced long time ago, no one told you how we became homeless and refugees after we used to own lands and property, you my son were born in grace in comparison to what he went through”.
Only then I realized that I managed to get this sheikh into “my trap”, I opened his old wound which never healed, and decided to provoke him again and said; “My dear sheikh I am like you, a refugee, but I didn’t see the harsh suffering you are talking about”.
At that moment I could see his anger before he said; “my son you are a refugee, but you are a refugee from a different era, you did not have to go through the humiliation, the hunger and poverty we faced, your father and your grandfather faced this suffering and the displacement, this means you are a refugee, a son of a refugee”.
“Do you remember the ‘food day’, we used to refer to it as the end of days, all of the refugees in the camp used to gather since early morning hours just to be able to reserve a place in order to be able to receive some wheat and food”, the sheikh said.
“Do you remember how the children used to rush in order to be able to receive some used clothes, pants or shirts, shoes…do you remember how the children and youth rush to receive some milk or some food to eat a meal which could be their first and last for that day?
“Do you remember the water that we had to rush in order to get, and stand in line just to be able to drink, do you remember the public toilets as the houses in the refugee camps have to toilets, and how women were embarrassed to be there as men were waiting in line to be able to use the toilets”.
“Do you remember the alleys of the refugee camps in winter time, and how many you fell on the dirt and returned back home with dirty clothes, do you remember how many times you lost your shoes because your foot got stuck in the mud.. that’s if you had a shoe to begin with..”
“Do you remember the ‘mobile cinema’ which the UN used to bring once or twice a year and then we all, men and women, have to sit outside , in front of a screen, which is the school wall, in order to watch an Egyptian movie”.
“Do you remember how nine brothers had to live with their mother and father in one room in the camp, a room which is only 3x3 meters, do you remember how you had to shower in this room, your mother had to cook in this room, and your guests sit in this room, and then at night you have to sleep in the same room”.
“Do you remember how children had to go to school carrying bags made of old clothes sewed by their mothers…”
“Do you remember how the children in UNRWA schools had to completely shave their heads in order to avoid lice due to the lack of water….do you remember how many trousers, pants or shirts you had to wear while they were filled witch holes.. do you remember how many days and weeks you lived without a single penny in your pocket….”
“Do you remember the wild plants which became your only food”, “do you remember how the coffee-shops were always filled with elderly and youth as they are all without work…
“Do you remember how many times people looked down at you because you are a refugee and because of the bad living conditions you live in… do you remember the collaborators who were eavesdropping on us through the windows, and try to look into our homes through holes in the doors..”
He ended his talk as the evening prayers were about to start… and said to me “my son, what I just told you is only a small amount of what the refugees face, they were forced out of their homes and lands, and now I urge you to memorize what I said and pass it to you generation so they don’t forget how we became refugees and how were are living now, the suffering we face…never forget my son… never forget…”
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