نشر في: 01 May 2015
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Lina Drubi: My visit to the happy land

Amman – Al-Israa News – Exclusive - It was the summer of 1995, I was turning 10 years old in a couple of months, but of course that doesn’t mean I was 10 yet I was exactly 9 years and 10 months, there was something about age that had to be accurate those days and I made sure whenever I was asked about it to give the exact age in years and months. This was the summer break but this one in particular wasn’t like any others, my parents decided they’ll take us on a trip to this place! I was supposed to be excited but I didn’t know how should I feel about this one?! We all knew of a place where people were miserable, because there was what I used to call “the bad guys” who took their lands and controlled their lives, we originally came from their   and we had relatives still living there, I used to see my mum pray to for them but I never thought they’ll decide to take us their one day to visit, I liked the idea of us travelling abroad for a vacation but I wasn’t in peace about this one!
    I remember my mother giving us each a small bag of certain color, mine was red, this was my responsibility, I put some personal things in it, my tooth brush, a towel and some food and we were prepared for the next day journey.
    It wasn’t dawn yet and even though it wasn’t a long drive we had to be early, this was the earliest I’ve ever been up, we packed everything in the car and took off, I remember this feeling when my ears blocked, my mother told me to chew gum, I realized later that this is what happens when you head to a low point in earth and we were heading to the lowest of them all!
     once we finished with the first check point we had to go to the buses, we did, all of us except my father, I didn’t understand first, I thought he had to complete some paper work and then he’ll join us, but the bus started to move and my father was out there on his feet waving, this was very upsetting, when I asked about it my mother said he can’t come he didn’t get permission because he doesn’t have first degree relative there, that answer was enough for me to stop asking about it but for sure it wasn’t satisfying, how on earth can “they” not permit for a father to be with his family on a trip!
    we reached the second check point, their check point, I was scared, these people hate us they might hurt us, I looked up everywhere, I noticed them but never made eye contact, they look normal, just people, yet there was something about their facial expressions that said you are not welcome, but the thing that stuck with me the most is this, once our turn was next in the line my mother said: Lina hide your chocolate! I had some chocolate with me in case I got hungry, most probably my mother said that occasionally, she wasn’t serious, mums say that to their kids all the time but in that particular moment I took it very seriously, I don’t know why the first thing that occurred to my mind is that chocolate was banned here and if they see it with me I’ll be arrested, oh god I was scared to death, I had my hat on, I took it down and hid my hand holding the chocolate with it and just stood there hoping they’ll not notice, but there he is a man in uniform coming toward me, he was directly looking at me, I panicked as he came closer and closer, he stood right by my side, looked at me in the eye, smiled and patted on my head and went away, I breathed then, thank god he didn’t see what I was hiding, I told myself the bad guy isn’t so bad after all, but then I said no, no way this is probably a trap, they can’t be nice we hear about the bad things they do all the time and even if this one smiled at me this doesn’t change the fact that they are bad people, I shouldn’t be fooled ,stay careful I told myself, I hid the chocolate under the hat all the way to the next bus.
   Finally we are there, in the city “Gaza”, it was normal nothing unusual at first sight, but in a second we saw like a hundred young men heading toward us and they started picking up our luggage and offering us a ride, my mother for a reason I didn’t know started to cry, she was really upset, to be honest I thought my mother was soft, there is nothing to cry for, we see these workers all the time back home this is their job. Anyway we took a cap, my mum said: to “AL Remal” please, and all the way I wondered how those relatives will look like, they are definitely sad people, I didn’t expect a big welcome and smiley faces, I told myself: Lina these people are suffering every day, don’t take it personal if they don’t look happy for seeing you.
      we arrived, the street was clean and the house looked beautiful from outside, I was anticipating while getting in, here they, are once we entered through the door to the front yard I saw a lot of people smiling and welcoming and hugging us, they were too welcoming specially that this was the first time we meet! That moment I was relieved, these are very nice people for making all the effort to make us feel good, I thought well! Let’s start my vacation.
    I met so many people, and made so many friends, the weather was perfect and the city was calm, everyone seemed so happy, what an irony! For those who I thought would look miserable to be the happiest and most content and generous people I’ve ever met!
   In front of the house we stayed in was this famous park, they said this park was full of life once, everyone used to come for weekends but what is so special about it is something I was told about by my grandmother, she used to tell us the story of the last Thursday of each month while they lived there, that wasn’t like any other day it was the night for “Um Kalthum” concert broadcasted live on the radio, this was the event everyone waited for , everyone gets out to a coffee house or a park and turn the radio on to listen to Um Kalthum singing for hours, no talking, no interrupting, just enjoying her generous voice and amazing music, the next day I went to this park across the street and I sang.
   one of our relatives owned an orange farm, a big one, he invited us there, trees all over the place and a swimming pool, I played in it all day long, well, not all day only until they drowned me and picked me up, they thought it was a hilarious joke but I certainly didn’t agree, I spent the rest of the day drinking orange juice, seriously that was by far the biggest pile of orange I’ve ever seen.
   another day another family took us to the sea, they are proud of their sea, they say it’s the most beautiful of all others on earth, well, it was, I loved it and played until midnight, there is one thing I clearly remember about it, the jellyfish stings, I had a lot of that, the first one took me by surprise but then I got used to it and I felt proud, I can stand jellyfish stings unlike my sister who started to complain  and cry about it and didn’t want to go into the water the rest of the evening, when we came back home after midnight I saw it, my sister leg was all marked with big bites, oh my god that wasn’t just a sting! They put some ointment on it, these people know how to deal with everything with a smile, I thought it was horrifying and definitely learned my lesson, don’t ever make fun of other people suffering, you never know what they’ve been through.
    It’s time to leave now, how sorrowful, I loved it here that I wanted to stay forever. But we had to, everything comes to an end, that morning we went to the bus station , this became normal to me, but something not normal was in the air suddenly, while we were riding the bus some soldier came in, one of them had his gun pointing at my head, my mother was terrified, what was going on? They asked us all to get off the bus and go back; no travelling today they closed all borders for a week.
We did what they asked not understanding anything! Is this something that they do every once and a while to remind people who’s in control? I thought, we didn’t know for sure until we overheard a bus driver talking about an important figure in their government that had been assassinated by one of his protesters, Oh, God their prime minster was killed!! Not in a million year we could have imagined this happening, we went back, they said we have to wait a week, my relatives welcomed us again but this time their faces said it, they wasn’t so happy about what happened, they somehow knew that one of them killed one of them but they are the ones who’ll pay for it!
we waited a week, the borders were open again, this time I wanted to leave, this time I was scared again, even worse when my older brother teased me about it, he said: I’m afraid once we are on the bridge they’ll bomb us for revenge. I thought we didn’t do anything, we haven’t killed anyone, why would they bomb us this is silly! But deep down I couldn’t not to consider it, may be their anger would make them do such a thing, I was terrified, we reached the bridge I held my breath, this is it we either live or die here, I prayed for nothing to happen, those hours were the longest of my life, it felt ages before we passed, I was tired but I couldn’t rest, not until our bus stopped and the door opened and a familiar voice was heard, he said : welcome home, wish you a safe trip, I looked at him he was a man in uniform too but this uniform I knew very well, It was on the cover of one of our books at school, this man was my favorite person on earth that moment and that lesson when the teacher said our soldiers are the protectors of our people made perfect sense to me then, I felt safe and I slept.
the car stopped and I woke up to a beautiful scene, this is my grandmother house, I couldn’t wait I ran up the stairs and got in, I knew they were all worried about us they heard it on the news, I saw my grandmother and hugged her really tight and said: grandma I went to the park where my grandpa used to listen to Um Kalthum in and I had the best time of my life.

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