Jalazon Refugee Camp, Palestine|
Somewhere between the alleys of Jalazon refugee camp and the loud laughter of children, Halima Zaid 77, sits with a colorful bandanna covering her silver hair. Her old eyes sinking behind the wrinkles and heavy lids are at once inviting, playful and commanding.
She describes her life since the 50’s as “a life of heartache.” She tells me from behind a smile, “those of us that tasted bitterness, can never really get the taste out of our mouth.” Halima lived her entire life under colonialism and occupation.
Half way through her reminiscence she motions her daughter to go make tea for her guest. I kindly explain it’s not necessary and not to bother. As soon as the words fell from my mouth her tenderness also fell, firmly retorting “I wasn’t asking you.” She commands “You are in my home, you will at least have tea.” So she fed me chocolate, and tea that is too sweet for the tongue and coffee and more chocolate.
As she tries to explain her life, what exists of language swallows itself in shame. “What are the words, how can I explain?” She asks as she drifts into some far away land where I no longer exist. And as though speaking to herself, she tries to conjure the memories. After a momentary silence, she returns to the small room where we sit and whimpers “that’s the issue. No matter what I say I cannot let you feel the sleepless nights that plague me when I remember it all.”
Having lost her 16 year old son during the first intifada, and another during a work accident, she’s never touched life beyond checkpoints, guns, raids, and death. Her husband “my man” as she refers to him, lays on a makeshift bed in the t/v room as she tries once more to articulate her story with the occupation to me.
“It was a lot of moving from tent to tent, from olive tree shade to another, and then here in the camp, to these little boxes.”
Her contagious laughter and warm palms welcome even strangers into her home. Despite being an outsider, I felt at ease. A voice tells me that I am in the company of someone that has met, cared, and loved me in some past life. “My door is always open” she proclaims. “Whoever needs a home, whoever is injured, needs a bite to eat, my door will not close in their face.”
The sad contrast is that the door has closed multiple times in the face of refugees. In 1948, in 1967, every single day a door closes. Originally from the dispossessed village of Beit Nabala, Halima recalls the moment she returned for a visit in 2000. “I dont know why I went honestly. I went to cry, only to come back to this camp with eyes swelled up and a heavy heart.”
After singing old folklore songs she leans towards me and says “we are still sitting and waiting for God’s mercy.”
A day will come, when the nostalgia will shed itself from our flesh and our heavy hearts no longer carry the trauma.