HER STORY #73 - ANONYMOUS
Family and Traveling
I am Sondos, an English Literature fresh graduate with a distinguished honor. I was born and grew up in Gaza. My family is originally from Hamama. I have never traveled outside Gaza before.
I think traveling is the most important dream in anyone’s life. For me, it is a big dream but I don’t want to travel for the sake of traveling, just because life is not going well here(in Gaza) like many people who travel for random reasons or immigrate illegally. I aspire to travel for a higher goal such as studying a Masters or perhaps a job opportunity. I think tourism is not a big deal. Learning about other cultures and everything is much more significant.
My family traveled before. My father had his master in Jordan, and my elder sister was born in Jordan. My parents also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. My elder sister had a distinguished project in IT, and they [her sister and a group of other students] participated in a competition. They created an android application for blind people using the braille reading method. Then they had to travel to Abu Dhabi in order to be part of the competition, but unfortunately no one helped with their visa procedures and they lost the opportunity because they couldn’t travel. Now she got married and she lives in the US.
I want to pursue my higher education in Britain. It is the place of classics. Through the years, when we learned English, we had a wide exposure to its culture and civilization. Also, the Masters’ duration there [in Britain] is one year. I love that. Instead of studying for three or four years, I love the idea of going out to learn and then to come back to benefit my community. Some people never come back, but I want to.
I have four sisters and one brother, and I am in the middle. Actually, I am always in the middle and I love it. I make my own decisions. I don’t like someone telling me what to do or what not to do. They always say that the middle child is the one who is a combination between responsibility and spoiling. My parents taught us to be independent and reliable. Of course there are some limitations, but still we have our own personalities. They [my parents] only guide us through the way and they don’t restrict us at all. We don’t have the “it’s forbidden” phrase. Thank God.
My father works as a professor at a respectful university here in Gaza, and my mother is a math teacher. Though I was in the science field during secondary school, I chose to study literature in college for a change. All my family members love math.
Without my family, there is no life. They always support me. Every day when I am home, I tell my family everything that happened with me. I love how we communicate, discuss and talk just about everything. I love them so much.
Religion and politics
We [her family] grew up with Qur’an teachings. However we learned to understand it not just for the sake of reading. My family insists on comprehending Qur’an interpretations and embracing the meaning. We [her family] are not restricted in terms of clothes and other religious beliefs. After all, it all depends on the personality as long as we don’t violate the main rules of Qur’an.
My family doesn’t have any political affiliations. Politics is only for a certain group of people. I think politics is meaningless. I think some people control everything, even the politicians we see. (I think that there is a strong force that plans and moves everything in the nation).
Voluntary work and college
I volunteered in translation at Al Mezan Center for Human Rights [a non-profit organization in Gaza].
Sometimes I feel like people are suffering especially in the camps, but we don’t know enough about them. We think we have developed but it is not true. For example, fishermen really suffer simply because of their job. Imagine that every day the fisherman goes out with the risk of being shot or caught by the Israeli forces. I feel that the Israeli policies are really impacting everyone unjustly and negatively; even simple people suffer.
Personally, these policies [the Israeli policies] have completely changed my life. I finished Tawjihi [secondary school] in 2014, the same year of the third war on the Gaza Strip. It utterly changed me in a positive and negative way. On one hand it [the Israeli policies] forced me to give up many dreams, because I wanted to study abroad, but I couldn’t due to the the war and its pressure. I wanted to pursue dentistry or clinical psychology.
I love clinical psychology. It is mainly when the traditional medicine, as in doctors, fail to diagnose any physical diseases, they transfer the patients to clinical psychology. If someone feels pain in the stomach, they would feel it is cancer, but it might turn out to be anxiety or stress. The solution is the psychological diagnose. It is not common in Gaza.
Then I ended up choosing English literature, maybe because I met a girl who went through the same experience and she made it successfully in this field. People were really shocked when I studied literature, because I had a high average in Tawjihi, 96.7%. I remember specifically how difficult the first semester was, because people thought any person with this high mark must specialize in the scientific arena. They don’t take the person’s dreams or ambitions into consideration.
Now, I say thank God I went for literature. I am really grateful. I love literary criticism and philosophy. When I had to write a report or an article about a book, I felt how creative I was at doing that.
When I finish writing, I am always impressed by my own abilities. I say; “Oh, who wrote this? I really enjoy it so much. Throughout my four years of studies I discovered a hidden energy and abilities. I found out that anyone has unlimited potential. I myself didn’t know I had this.
I was quite comfortable with my major as it gave me a space and time to do multiple things, learn, and evolve in other areas.
Back to the Israeli policies: My first dream of pursuing my undergraduate studies abroad was cancelled due to the war. Now, just like any other graduate, I dream of finding a good job opportunity. However, I look around, and I see contracts for UNRWA employees have ended [because of the reduction of international donations so the UNRWA had to cut out a large number of salaries]. Then, I see the governmental employees receiving half of their salaries, and I think those people who spent their entire life serving ended up without a decent job. How would I as a graduate find one [job]?
I try as much as possible to create an opportunity out of nowhere. We can’t say all of this wasn’t planned by Israel. I am sure it is all an Israeli game. They try to pressure us, which affects the entire community. Every family is influenced. Even if I applied for a scholarship, I might not be able to travel, and so I could lose the scholarship.
I wanted to apply, but I delayed this plan for another two years. I want to work on enriching my skills and abilities. At the same time, a better opportunity might come up. I try to depend on myself and not be controlled/affected by politics and governments.
In June 2014, after one week of the end of my Tawjihi examinations, the war began.
For me, the last war was the most difficult one because it was the year of Tawjihi. The results were announced during the war. Actually, no one expected the results to be out during war time. So, it was all shocking. Many people my age were murdered during the war. And the next day - after the results were out - they said that there would be a land invasion, so my family was too scared and worried about us. As a result, we fled to another area away from our house. It was more of a psychological concern than a real danger.
I couldn’t be happy about my grade. I couldn’t say: “Oh, I succeeded,” because I was considerate about the people who were suffering, losing their houses and beloved ones.
War is horrible for everyone, psychologically and materially. It changes much about the person.
My interest in psychology started, when I used to talk about my perspective on situations or things. People would tell me: “You are a philosopher,” and with time I noticed that I was fond of psychology.
Sometimes I would tell my family: “You shouldn’t treat the child this way, because this will influence his or her in certain ways and then by accident, especially when I had some psychology modules at university, I knew what I was saying was true.
I love analyzing people’s personalities, because I feel each story is driven by psychological reasons more than anything else. The personality is shaped because of things that happened back in childhood. For example: An anti-social person is never born anti-social. People become what they are because of psychosocial factors and experiences during childhood. People don’t understand that. Instead they just say: “Look at him. He is shy or antisocial”, which would only make it worse. I would like to help people understand that the simplest things exist because of psychology.
About Gazans: I believe the most common psychological disorder is depression or the urge to always complain. There are people, who used to laugh at the simplest situations, who have become depressed. Some recovered. I believe the person’s reaction is very important and helps with healing. After all, no one can help a person out but himself\herself.
Also, people in Gaza are really irritated by trivial things. I see this everywhere. Disappointment is really common among us [Gazans]. If a person wants to do something, he\she would come up with plenty of negative reasons and obstacles for why the thing won’t work out - Reasons related to the place, the environment, and financial difficulties.
What I try to do, and what I believe is the most important thing is the support. I always tell everyone: “You can boost your self-confidence.” I know the environment sometimes is hard, but I believe confidence is magical in making people do things and creating a place for themselves. Instead of saying I can’t, simply say I can. Positivity is in the simplest things, like throwing a party, giving gifts, going out for a walk with friends or going to the beach. These things in our [Gazans] life can make us happy.
I suffered from depression during the first semester – when I wasn’t able to travel to pursue my Bachelor’s degree after the war. I hated the specialization. I used to say it was the worst thing of all. I didn’t even study well. I was wasting most of my time on reading novels. It was my way of escaping the reality and coping. I would imagine realities and people and portray worlds that didn’t exist.
When I got my grades, I was shocked because that wasn’t me. I remember: One day I told my family: “Can you believe these are my grades?”, and then I burst into tears. I told my mom that I was unable to overcome what I was going through.
Honestly, I knew it was all psychological. I am not the type of person who would be isolated, lock the room and stay depressed. I always sit with myself to see where things went wrong, and I consider the potential solution to get back on track and return to true self. During the first semester I didn’t build any social relations. Then, I told myself: “If I remain this way I won’t achieve anything or succeed. I must change.” So I vowed to myself to have a certain GPA the following semester, to study hard, meet new people and build new authentic friendships.
After that I achieved what I wanted, so I was back to who I am. The one who loves life, joy, and success was finally back. This made me trust myself more and boosted my self-confidence, because I felt that my abilities were still inside. My life was normal again and I started to accomplish things. I have many things that I want to achieve and reach. They all require time.
Mixing girls and boys can have a positive side, not on the social level but rather the educational one. It is known that when your peer have better skills and abilities, this will benefit you. Different levels of intelligence can be quite beneficial, and it increases the sense of competitiveness, because everyone wants to show off. But through my four years without mixing with boys, I have been really comfortable along my female friends.
I mean if something crazy popped up in our minds, we would easily do it. Yes, sometimes the security men would approach asking us to stop, but that was okay. However, when the environment is mixed, and girls do things, everyone would say that the girls are just seeking attention.
We were really comfortable in the way we talk, move and play. The only thing I hated is when we have appointments with professors and for sure entering the building is scheduled between boys and girls meaning there are times for girls only and other times for boys only. Sometimes, we [girls] would wait for two hours for a five-minute appointment.
Most of the professors are friendly; they studied abroad and they know how the relationship between the student and her professor should be. Sometimes, they overload us with projects and assignments. I had two modules with one professor one time, which was really exhausting.
My graduation project was about the challenges facing bilingual people. The term bilingual, as our professor said, is not used in Gaza, so we had to change the term used in our Graduation project from bilinguals to English as a Foreign Language Learners.
In the project, we had investigated all about the problems bilinguals face in the language learning process and suggested some solutions. Despite the extensive effort and tiredness in getting the project done, I really enjoyed it. We struggled from the lack of resources. We found some researches but they mostly were English with another language - not Arabic or Hindi. That was our only challenge. Finally, we got a good grade.
In my free time I love to learn new things. In summer, I wanted to learn how to draw. I brought the colors and finished my first painting. It was a portrait of the nature, and I posted it on Instagram. Everyone was surprised. It is wonderful how ignorant one can be about what he or she is capable of doing
Most of my time I love to read. Through this stage, I want to refresh my mind as much as I can, so I am trying to watch comic movies and series. When you go through seven months of stress, you need three months for refreshment. Especially now after graduating, I think I am entering a new stage in my life, so I need to clear my mind up to set smart goals and work toward achieving them. And you can’t do that when you are stressed.
I don’t have any favorite authors. I just love the idea/plot of the books. I used to love self-development books but recently I felt like they are all about marketing. For example, they all speak out of their own experience which is not necessarily beneficial to another person. They can benefit in terms of how the person could achieve things or only for people going through the same experience. And some only write about successful people, I mean other people don’t write about themselves. My favorite book is the “The Woman in White [by Wilkie Collins].
I love mysterious books with thrilling plots that intrigue readers to think. So I would go on reading until the end. One of my favorite writers is called Ayman Al Aoutom [Jordanian author]. I love his drama books.
The way he writes is really overwhelming. You will become another person after reading his book. He expressed the experience of suffering in a way that makes you feel that you are the one who is suffering. Sometimes, I would read his books twice. It is always difficult to forget everything, because it is rich of plots, characters and events.
Another writer that I also love reading is Radwa Ashour. One of her novels is called “Al Tantorya.” She speaks about the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. The way she describes the struggle on an individual level is just fascinating. Her novel is about a woman and her suffering through Al-Nakba, and how she dealt with the catastrophe. She describes how, when British soldiers and Zionists enter the area, people at the time didn’t grasp the idea or believe the danger, and instead they [Palestinians] thought they were safe, and that it all was temporary. When it happened for real, they escaped and they were forced to leave their homes. Her father passed away. The woman’s journey began, when she moved in with another family, as she had lost her own family. Similarly to her own experience, her sons also experienced living in the Diaspora – scattered in different countries.
Another one of her novels is called “Safe Weddings,” which is a story about a Gazan woman, called Amina, who is suffering day and night of loss and grief; she is preparing for her son’s wedding, who was murdered but his mother doesn't know he is dead, so she goes on preparing for the wedding and thinking that he is still alive. It is about twin girls, who were living a normal life until one of the girls was murdered, so the mother couldn’t tell which one of her daughters died. The one who survived kept telling her mother she was the other one. So every morning, the mother would ask her daughter: “Who are you?” It was really overwhelming and emotional.
I always think that when a woman is independent, she can succeed. I am sure that my ambitions would take some time to come true. Sometimes success is not enough, for we always seek more. I know that people might think that I am successful, but for me I still want to achieve more.
I would see myself as “successful” when pursuing psycholinguistics, which is uncommon in Gaza, and I want to become an expert in this particular field. Psycholinguistics is the use of language as a window to the nature and structure of the human mind. It includes topics such as speech production and comprehension, language acquisition, and language and the brain.) It is about understanding why people stutter, and why people speak the language that they do. For example: Animals don’t talk, but we do. Why do languages, accents and dialects exist?
As an Arab Muslim woman, I aspire to study this field. Also, I would love to investigate some solutions for certain problems and diseases with the help of some medical specialists.
I love translation and learning languages. I want to work for anyone who needs help in these fields. I also love fashion.
We don’t know where life might take us, so it is good to do diverse things. I can someday create my own brand, designing something Palestinian suitable for our culture and trendy and fashionable at the same time.
Success can be measured by how many people a person is benefiting and serving - to what degree person’s accomplishments are useful to people.
I attended UNRWA schools.
The primary school was nice. Then, the worst part in my life came. During my time in middle school, no one expected of me to do wrong things. Being perfect had become an expectation of me, and it was hard to bear.
During my time in secondary school I changed completely from being a quiet person to a completely active and energetic one. I was trying to break the stereotypical image of the top-grade girl. Everyone would expect of me to be perfect, because my grades were high, and at the time I just wanted people to stop expecting this of me and of judging me. I wanted to be naughty and act crazy like girls my age.
So during secondary school I did that. I was just like any student. In 11th and 12th grades, I was kind of both, quiet and pretty active at the same time. My mother was also a teacher in the school.
I used to tell my father that during my time at the university, I would have my own personality, and I would be responsible, if I could rely on others. I would do what I wanted to do but would be responsible at the same time.
During my time at university I created the image of myself that I wanted – not what people expected of me. I expanded my relationships and friendships. University isn’t limiting as when going to school.
March of Return
In the beginning I think it was strong, and that something good was soon to happen, but things changed.
On May 15th I went to see, because I wanted to know what people were doing and why.
When you’re there [at the demonstrations], the enthusiasm and the patriotic love and the sense of belonging to your homeland overwhelm you making you feel that it is possible to return. I felt this inside me. The motivational speeches there about the love for our homeland was moving and touching.
I took photos and videos. I just stood far away from people, looking at them.
Returning to our homeland is a duty for every Palestinian, not only for refugees. Honestly I felt like I wanted to be a journalist to deliver this message to everyone to the world.
I just wanted to show that Palestine is ours. We have a Palestinian identity, and it was stolen. Palestinians have unlimited capacity, but they don’t have international support. There might be something good for the Palestinian people out of the demonstration.
I think the core problem is when the Arabs disappointed us. Many people died at the March of Return, and no real change happened. It is hard. We need to think rationally. The beginning was good, but now it is destructive. It seems as if people join the demonstrations to die.
However, I believe that someday we will return to our land.
Interview conducted- and text written by Wajiha Al Abyad