Note to readers: If things go as planned, this blog will take on a more personal side for the next few weeks as I write about my experiences in occupied Palestine. Any post regarding the trip will fall under the heading of ‘The Palestine Entries’.
In less than four days, I’ll be heading toward the land that dominates my political discourse as well as most other candid conversations I have. We’ve already begun packing and I can only imagine just how inspiring and life-changing this trip to the Gaza Strip will be.
Maybe it’s a common practice but my family has a tradition of packing very early for international travels. It usually begins years before we even think about making an airline reservation. If any family member runs into a good deal on a useful item, it goes into a suitcase to be filled with gifts for the relatives. Fancy dress shirts, stuffed animals, toy cars (personal favorites of mine), purses, make-up kits, colognes, soccer cleats: the little things that don’t always exist inside the borders. The gifts eventually accumulate well beyond the capacity of the suitcase and plane tickets are reserved.
For the next few days, the presents emerge from the suitcase and are spread all over the master bedroom where Mama inspects and rearranges them one by one. It’s always astonishing to see the final product: the gifts that once overflowed from the suitcase now sit neatly with extra room to spare. If Mama really wanted to, she could fit a medium-sized rhinoceros into a brown paper bag.
Now that we’re almost all packed and ready to go, I can’t help but imagine some of the things I hope or expect to see: demolished homes lining the streets, unstocked food vendors, stray cats, glum fathers, uprooted olive trees, forgotten memorials. But remember, Palestinians are more than capable of enduring. They’re innovative and determined. Overshadowing all the negativity will be brand new apartment buildings, vendors selling barraad — a mysterious yellow slushy that tastes like lemon or mango or banana, children playing with pet rabbits, optimistic families, blooming gardens, and of course, Freedom Flotilla 2.
The last time I visited Gaza was in 2004. Much has changed since then, many terrible things continue to befall these people, but I still expect to see the same smiling faces and curious bystanders so intrigued by the ajnabi, or foreigner, trompsing through their streets with an ice cream cone from Kazem in one hand and a camera in the other.