Between Worlds, Never to Belong

oil painting

“Under the Olive Tree” – Oil painting by Aya Salah (2017)

Perhaps it is fate, and perhaps it is destiny.
Perhaps it was always meant to be this way, and perhaps it simply never was. I don’t know. What I do know, is that for most of the time, I do not feel like I fully (physically) belong anywhere.
Belongingness is a complicated abstract concept. Do you belong with your heart, with your yearning, or with concrete memories that physically connect you to a place?
I can’t be the only one who hangs in midair, between worlds, always identifying with both yet never feeling completely embraced in either.
Being a Palestinian Canadian is a most intriguing experience, but it is difficult to describe to someone exactly what it’s like to be a Palestinian in Canada. Having grown up since babyhood and well into adulthood in the marvellous city of Montreal, I can hardly picture myself living anywhere else. Montreal is my home, the bounds of my childhood, the foundation of my character; it is where I feel safe, strengthened, and comfortable to grow.
And yet, I still don’t feel like I fully belong as a Canadian, or that I truly have a right to use this term since I am not originally a native of the land. No matter where I’ve planted my roots, the seeds first and foremost came from Palestinian soil. There is no way to ignore that.
Deep in my aching soul, I keep finding myself yearn for the land and people that had once been, and relentlessly continue to be, a part of me, even way before I was born. It is for this reason I find myself gravitating towards places and experiences in the West that satisfy my nostalgic emotions. I always felt as though a piece of me belonged in the Middle East, on another continent, and that perhaps if I spent more time in both worlds, then Canadian-me and Palestinian-me could comfortably coexist in satisfied harmony.
It was mostly for this reason that I took a great leap of faith, and decided to try living briefly in Palestine. Maybe, just maybe, I could find that missing part of me in new, strange yet vaguely familiar lands.
But alas, belongingness is a far more complicated concept than I ever thought it to be. If only it was simply a matter of physically connecting with a place. The truth (my truth, at least) is… this diaspora situation extends beyond the physical realm. It includes emotional, spiritual, and intellectual (dis)connections at times.
On the surface, I fit in Palestine in a lot of ways. The language, core cultural values of generosity, family, hospitality, and even my self-chosen dress code happen to align quite well with the society I am currently in. But every passing day reminds me how much I do not belong here. Maybe it’s the noticeably different dialect that flows from my lips; maybe it’s the uneasiness I feel at commonplace trashy (yet embraced) values, like cheating and bribery; maybe it’s my constant waves of shock as I learn of occupation and violence that I have obviously never needed to deal with in my own life, and never envisioned I would ever live through.
Fact is, the longer I stay in Palestine, the more I suspect that my heart really belongs in Canada. Yet when I go to Canada, my heart jumps right back across the fence. It’s like it thinks grass is greener on the other side – even when I have been on both sides, where the grass is the same shade of green!
So am I never to belong anywhere? Am I to remain suspended metaphysically between worlds, and realize that no place on Earth can actually ​fill my inner thirst for complete connection? Does anyone actually feel like they belong anywhere, or are we all equally lost, yet too timid to confront the void?
These are a lot of questions that come to mind when I daydream or drift off. Of course, I don’t expect that definite answers exist for them; but they are something to muse over.
Personally, I have no problem with not fully belonging to one single world. Perhaps who I am depends on the very fact I not get blindly attached to one particular worldview. I am a lifelong traveller, travelling between realms of cultures, ideas, controversial histories, intricate experiences and lifestyles.
Perhaps I am never to belong anywhere. 
This constant diaspora, manifested in multiple realms…
And you know what? I am at peace with that.
And God knows Best.
-A.S.
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Imagine Being Palestinian, in Canada

I cannot even begin to describe to you what it was like growing up as a Palestinian, in Canada.

But I will try.

Artist: Imad Abu Shtayyah

Artist: Imad Abu Shtayyah

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Imagine being a child on the road to finding your identity, yet you are unable to convince the world that you exist.

No no, what do you mean you’re Palestinian? Just say you’re from Jordan, it’s what the majority of Jordanians are anyhow, and at least you’ll find it on the map.

The map. Did I mention Palestine exists – in all the hearts & minds of its people, its soil, culture, food, music, dance – I’ve even been there, smelled its sweet air, touched its green leaves, basked under the shadow of its olive trees… but “the map” will not show its existence. Instead it is lumped under an occupier’s name, one I refuse to acknowledge as legitimately formed.

What do I mean by lack of legitimacy? Imagine being thrown out your house by gunpoint with your family members, half of them killed in the process, and made into scattered refugees through violence. Meanwhile these thug criminals take over the house that you built yourself and comfortably live in it, with all your possessions intact. Yet it is now “not yours”, and in a twisted colonizer’s view, “never been yours”. Can we call the occupier a legitimate owner of the house? Never, and a thousand times no.

To be robbed and have it acknowledged as injustice is one thing. But to be robbed of material possession, as well as dignity and pride, and then be somehow blamed for it, is a whole other tragedy on its own.

Imagine being a 10-year old child in a privileged North American country, with little concerns in your pampered little life, when you walk into the living room as the news (obviously not CNN or Fox) plays. You see a small boy and his young father crouching behind a wall as the bullets shoot through the smoky air – and then both father and son crumple. Sudden death, completely avoidable, and completely deliberate.

Imagine knowing that their only crime was that they had Palestine flowing in their veins, but someone else decided they should not be safe on their own land. The land they built with their own hands.

Imagine living in a lovely place like Canada, and instead of feeling as though you are in Paradise, you instead can’t shake off the guilt that your life isn’t as difficult as the kids who risk their lives everyday just walking to school – because the bored soldiers at checkpoints could shoot at you or treat you like a bowling pin to knock over, by launching rocks at your head. (It’s all a game, let’s see who gets more points!) Meanwhile I am here, in Canada, feeling guilty at being safe, as though it were mandatory that a Palestinian child to be in constant danger.

Imagine feeling horrible for being helpless to fight the oppression your own flesh and blood overseas are forced to endure regularly. Imagine this burden on a 13-year old’s conscience. That was me.

The worst of it was, there was no one I could talk to about this. Things may be different now, but rewind over a decade and a half back, I was the only Palestinian (and even Arab), in my grade. It would have been nice to have someone who understood your inner torment, even if you didn’t need to express it.

“call me angry

i hear your voice salt with guilt

and I laugh.

look how easy it is to reveal you.”

— anger is a natural response to oppression (Nayyirah Waheed)

My only outlet in my youth was to write poetry – lots and lots of poetry – to express my frustration and anger. But who cared about the writings of a kid who had an entire country that “doesn’t exist” on her mind, when she should only be concerned with fashion and boys?

I have learned to smile through the anguish until I am now used to having people tell me they cannot picture me in a state of unhappiness.

But if you look past my dynamic colorful outfits and my radiantly positive attitude, you will find a burning sadness inside for the lost part of me I cannot seem to take full ownership of it until it is free.

Inside you will find a fire of rage for the silence of those too reluctant to speak justice when given the platform to do so (and here, the decision to “remain neutral” rings out the opposite message loud and clear). Inside you will find a volcano that erupts every time a Palestinian woman is degraded, every time a Palestinian man is humiliated, and every time a Palestinian child’s dreams are destroyed.

And still inside this heavy-loaded heart you will find the source of my smile, my strength, and my tranquility: the knowledge that Palestine will be free. It is one of those things that cannot die while people believe in it, and millions around the world are not giving up on it anytime soon.

Imagine being Palestinian, outside of Palestine, and realizing your heart never left it.

It is a beautiful ache.

Peace.

A.S.

Selfie Culture

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*I attended a photography-poetry workshop the other day in which we had to take a picture that represents an identity of ourselves, then five minutes to come up with a poem explaining it. I decided to blog what I wrote.

SELFIE CULTURE

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We take pride in our electronic gadgets,

In our seemingly ‘invincible’ generation

Yet cut the power cord or wi-fi,

And we become lost in boredom and confusion.

We taken pride in our painted faces and bodies,

And relentlessly take selfies to prove it

Yet minus those Facebook and Instagram likes

And we become agitated and hollowly unlit.

We take pride in reasonable objects

Why shouldn’t we rejoice in how far we’ve come in life?

Yet pride in materialistic objects for the wrong reasons,

Is exactly the cause of worldly strife.

-A.S.

Dabka Is Resistance

painting by  Ahlam Al Faqih 3

Painting by Ahlam Al Faqih

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It’s not just a dance

(Though, admittedly, dancing it is)

It’s not just a great workout

(Though, let me tell you… the cardio…!)

It’s not just a form of entertainment

(Though entertaining to watch, it definitely is…)

It is, above all, cultural resistance.

When I, a Palestinian, do the dabka

in a relaxed setting,

What I am essentially saying with my body is:

I’m not forgetting

The past

Not forgiving the present situation

Not giving in to an illegal occupation –

I resist.

They may have the land – for now

But occupy our reasoning – just how

Can they expect us to foolishly give in

Our falafels as theirs and keffiyehs as fashion

What’s next – will Arabic

be their “own” language as well

While expecting us to meekly submit

behind the apartheid walls we dwell?

I resist.

Divide a community with a wall

And spill all the blood they want,

Yet there is One taking their every deed in account

Whether they remember it or not

Be you from the East or West, it doesn’t matter where

As long as in the name of justice we resist

To be divided in spirit.

From Gaza to Ramallah to Jerusalem,

Join hands in a circle and do the dabka

From Hebron to Nablus to Jenin,

Join hands in a circle and do the dabka

From every corner of Palestine,

And all the way to Canada,

I’ll join hands – no, hearts in a circle and do the dabka,

I’ll join hearts in a circle and do the dabka.

 flowery palestine

Dabka is resistance

To becoming bitter from anger and abuse

Dabka is resistance

To being blinded from the truth

Dabka is resistance

To becoming passive and neglectful

Dabka is resistance

To ever stop being proactive and hopeful

In His mercy and His will

To fix things still, oh –

Dabka is resistance.

Dabka is

Strong spirits, strong minds,

Strength of kindness one of a kind

Strong characters, strong perseverance

Strength of ongoing patient endurance.

And it shows with every bold step that we take

With every synchronized step that we make

And every graceful wave that is waved –

Dabka is resistance.

dabka ladies

-A.S.