Home for all of us is the place where we can find peace, comfort, and love. It is where we find passion, and warmness, no matter where we are or who we are. It is the place where we want to hide and seek peace.
Home is the place where every stone, every corner recalls a memory of a certain event during your childhood; it is where the signs of how tall you became are still carved on the door.
For me, as a third generation Palestinian refugee, I missed experiencing all these feelings, the camp where I have been raised is just a temporary residence, a place that I and my family before me were forced to live in after they lost their homeland, the camp was never to be my home.
It was hard for me to forget the stories of my parents about their homeland, and to accept the camp as my home. Though all my memories and childhood are in the camp, and my whole life spent in the camp, there was always a feeling of commitment towards the original homeland.
It was a Tuesday morning, but not like any other Tuesday, I was going home to Gaza after I spent one week in Jerusalem, and more importantly, I was going to visit the place where my parents were born, the place that was supposed to be my Homeland, the place where I was supposed to have lived if my family had not fled during the war of the '48.
My colleagues at work planned for this surprise, and it was more than I could have hoped for. When I knew about it my body started to shake, and my heart started to beat fast, maybe because I was finally going to see the place where my family, my grandparents used to live. Or maybe because I was going to see the places mentioned in my father’s stories, or maybe because I was going to experience the real feeling of being HOME.
All the way I was trying to imagine what I would see from the old Majdal if there were still any, I was trying to imagine the place as my father described it to me, I was trying to see it through my parents eyes. Home was for me the mosque at the centre of the city, the water well, and the fig tree, the places which were carved in my parents minds and hearts.
When we reached it, I felt that I could hardly breathe, I was looking everywhere trying to see and smell the ghosts of my ancestors, I wanted to see every old house, to touch it and to hear the voices hidden between the stones. I wanted to see the lives of my family before the '48 war; I wanted to be there with them, to see how happy they were, to feel the misery that lies beneath their feelings of loss.
I went to the big mosque at the centre of the city which had been turned in to a museum. I was so happy to see its long minaret, and the old structure of it. I always wrote how my homeland was so precious to me and to my parents, and always imagined the anxiety of being there, but I was shocked with the truth of not experiencing any of these feelings, the feelings of being connected to the place, the feeling of experiencing the joy of returning home, it was hard to me to feel this way.
I felt as a stranger, entering a world that is not mine, and walking in to a place that is totally imaginable for my ancestors, and for my parents but not for me. My memories are not there, my childhood, my life, my friends, the houses, and the streets are not mine. Admitting this was such a disappointing feeling, that the desire to be home was a result of the stories I had heard from my parents, and my grandparents.
What home meant to me is different from what it meant to my parents. My parents would give their lives for a moment at this mosque, to breathe the air of Al Majdal, to see the place that was once their place. My pain was great, hard to describe, feelings of betrayal overwhelmed me. I betrayed my parents for not having the same feelings they have.
It was difficult to finally recognize that my generation is lost between the feelings and anxiety of seeing the homeland of their parents, and between having no commitment towards it; we are lost between denying the camp as our homeland, and between our faith in our ancestor’s stories about their home.
I went back home to Gaza with many questions that will last for ever. I went back holding the sand, the sand that my father asked me to bring, but unfortunately without having any stories to tell about their homeland.
Gaza, December 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.