At the age of 80 my father passed away, after a long journey of suffering, and working hard to ensure for us, his children, a decent life, a life that is better than his own. Like many refugees my fathers’ life was not normal or easy, he had to work harder than anybody to try to change a reality that he had nothing to do with creating. The reality of losing his home, his land, the reality of being a refugee, an adjective that stole all his human rights, the right to a home, the right to live with dignity and respect.
When my father passed away I was sad, overwhelmed with anger and pain, not only for loosing my father, but also because he passed away without fulfilling his main dream of seeing his homeland again for the last time. Year after year, he held onto this dream, tirelessly and without desperation.
In his last days, my father lost interest in anything, even in seeing us, his sons, his daughters, his grandchildren whom he adored. He was so weak that he could not speak, or maybe he did not want to discovering that words had become worthless in the face of the knowledge that life is so short.
He was in hospital for almost a week. During one of his more lucid moments, he began to recall the past seeming to relive it as he spoke loudly, not about his children, or his wife, not about his grandchildren or house, but about the time when he was a young man working as a weaver to save money for his family. He was moving his weak hands as if waving, and was talking about everything that he remembered. He even imagined that he was collecting the woven fabrics to go and sell. As he was trying to leave his bed he fell on the ground and hurt his head. He was unaware of the blood coming from the wound on his head, and was screaming when we tried to hold him and get him back to bed. All he wanted was to go to sell the woven fabrics, to live in the past for the last time.
During this episode I understood how much my father missed his old life and home in Al Majdal, where he really belonged. I realised that the good life that my father lived in the camp, where he settled after he fled from his homeland, did not mean anything to him. That he preferred life when he was working from the early hours of the morning to the sunset for a pittance to the life he lead now. Maybe it was his youth that he missed, but it seemed to me that all the harshness, poverty, and hard work were that he spoke of were words that allowed him to enjoy and taste real life again.
My father died at the age of 80, spending most of his life waiting, hoping, and praying that peace could be achieved so he could go and visit his homeland and find the serenity he was looking for. However, his ultimate wish was not achieved, he died as a refugee; buried in a place that was not his, where he never belonged.
I wonder how many others like my father from the first generation are buried the same way with the refugee on their death certificate as well as in their birth certificate. How many others are destined for the same end, laid to rest in earth far from the roots of their origins.
Is it not enough for this generation to suffer the harsh reality of displacement and homelessness, and moreover to have their plight ignored. Is it not time for the world to act, to make a stand and to give peace a chance and allow the souls of our parents and grandparents to rest? Or is it our destiny as perpetual refugees to suffer in our lives and in our deaths?
Gaza, 13 December 2009
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.