Guest contribution by Jana Daoud
They say home is where the heart is.
A third generation Palestinian refugee with dual citizenship in Jordan and the United States, I was raised in a home where my culture and religion were prominent aspects of my life. Being as I am, I never really felt at home in either of the countries I’ve lived in. In the United States, I didn’t feel comfortable being myself. A Muslim with an Arab name meant you were the terrorist that terrorized the entire country. And in Jordan, a place my parents called home during throughout their childhoods, I felt even more out of place there than I ever did in the States.
But in the summer after my first year away for college, under the scorching heat of the summer sun, all of that changed. All my mom had to ask was if I wanted to go to Palestine.
The planning was done on the down-low through whispered plans in the corridors and text messages that were immediately erased for fear of the younger kids catching wind of the trip. This was supposed to be a learning experience and the trip of a lifetime for my mom and I. My mom didn’t want this trip to be ruined with whining six and eight year olds, so my younger siblings didn’t know about the trip until the night before we had planned on making the one hour and forty-five minute drive to the border.
We had packed for a little less than a week’s stay. I planned on staying longer.
Admittedly, I didn’t think it was too difficult to get into an occupied country. I mean, I’ve heard the stories but I just assumed that people were exaggerating. They weren’t.
After over six hours at the Israeli side of the border, I was ready to go home, take a shower, and sleep. I was disgusted and I felt dirty and exhausted, mentally and physically. As I waited in the designated area for over five hours while the Israeli military did a complete background check on my mom and me, I spent the time people-watching. It was similar to an airport except for the abnormal amount of security walking around as if they were cautiously handling criminals. No cellphones, no MP3 players, no cameras — just my passport, which had been confiscated by an Israeli officer.
When we finally got our passports stamped and our bags back, we stood in what I hoped would be the last line I would stand in. The lady behind the window, an Eastern European woman, told us, almost menacingly, that we’d get in “this time”.
As I walked outside of the border facility ahead of my mom, I forgot that we happened to be in one of the lowest points on earth. The temperature was easily 35 degrees Celsius, but it felt more like 45 with all the people crowding around us as we struggled to buy bus tickets for the final stretch home.
I sat at the window seat, finally relaxing a little. The cold air conditioning in the bus made up for the seven long and uncomfortable minutes I stood outside. On the other side of the window were sandy hills, your basic desert scene, I thought. I wondered what the big deal about Jericho was — it was just sand and humidity.
The bus started moving and I smiled to myself. I could hear my mom sniffling softly next to me. An older heavy-set man with a full head of white hair sat next to her. “Welcome back,” he said in a cheerful tone.
“This is my first time,” mom said.
“Well, in that case, welcome to Palestine!” he replied. He looked like a business man, a brief case in his lap and a pen in his breast pocket right next to his Palestinian Authority passport. He reminded me of what I imagined my grandfather would look like.
The bus pulled into an empty-of-cars-but-not-people parking-lot, and I knew not to take any more pictures. In front of us was a building that obviously belonged to the Palestinian Authority. Poster images of the last two presidents hung on the outside wall of the building. I put the camera away. The Palestinian Authority is known for arbitrarily cracking down on Palestinians almost as much as the Israeli government.
As my mom chatted with the old, white-haired man, I walked ahead of her to a window where a blue shirted military man sat nonchalantly. The old man gave the officer his passport and made small talk with him. It sounded as if they knew one another. The old man asked about the officer’s uncle and family.
I handed the officer two American passports, my mother’s and my own, and waited as he took his time scribbling nonsense on a small ticket that he stuck into my passport. He took longer with my mom’s passport, glancing up as the old man nodded at him to hurry it up.
The old man and my mom took their time walking through the corridor, making small talk. My mom asked him if he knew my grandfather, as they might have worked together. The man thought the name sounded familiar. Part of the reason my mom was so excited to come to Palestine was to find out more about the work her father did before his untimely death. He introduced himself, saying it was lovely to meet my mother and I on such a great occasion.
I walked ahead, expecting to find our family friends waiting for us by their car. Instead I heard someone call my name. I turned right into an embrace. I didn’t know this woman –– she visited my family when I was away for college –– but she knew me. As soon as I was in her arms, I felt lighter. I wasn’t carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders alone anymore.
It was too bright the morning we were set to leave; too early to be up. The sunlight streaming in through the open windows put a spotlight on the dust hazily floating around me.
I felt a gust of wind. Why now? Why in the middle of July in the Middle East? It hit me as I walked toward the front door. I felt it go through me, taking my heart as it passed. I felt a tug and looked behind me. But no one was there, only an invisible thread attached to my heart as I felt the wind take it up and away.
I looked back toward the door and continued walking. I’ll be back for my heart.
At the front door, I placed my bag on the top step and ran back inside. I had only been here for four nights and three days.
We said our goodbyes at the border. My mom was crying, but I was mad. I told my uncle that I’d try my hardest to return in a week. “You’re welcome in our home anytime. Our doors are always open.”
I never thought I would find the words that justify exactly what I was feeling. I also never thought that I would feel at home. I used to think that my heart was scattered all across the world. Everyone that ever impacted me in my life carried a small piece of my heart with them, I felt. But now, I realize my heart was never with me or anyone else because it was at home, in Palestine, where it (and I) should be.
Jana Daoud is an undergraduate student at Roosevelt University in Chicago where she is majoring in International and Social Justice studies.