I came to Sweden from Gaza. And to live in Stockholm means a lot for a woman like me who came from such a complicated part of the world. I have gone through various levels of comparing my life before and after leaving Gaza. I compared everything – all from the culture and even to the tap water! Yes, we do have water in Gaza, but it isn’t as clean as in Sweden. I always get into unfair comparative thoughts. I know that I shouldn’t compare, and if I continue, I’ll get sick, although it’s sometimes healthy to do it.’
My life in Gaza was very different, my freedom was very limited, my behaviours were controlled, my everything was not mine. I could go to the school, that was great. I was lucky that my family cared a lot about educating us siblings equally. Because many families didn’t allow their daughters to proceed studying after graduating from secondary school. One of those unlucky women was a friend of mine, she got high grades and her dream was to study English language in order to become a teacher. But her father did forbid her from fulfilling that dream.
I remember her very well; how smart she was. We kept in touch since we were living in the same neighbourhood. She wasn’t allowed to leave home for meeting her old friends from the school and therefore she spent all the time indoors, cleaning, cooking, taking care of her younger siblings and doing other things she didn’t want to do. One passionate interest that she was allowed to do was reading books. I used to pass by her home to lend her books, I’m still happy that I could be a small hand in giving her a help to make her happy.
My family allowed me to study at the university; nevertheless they were very traditional and conservative. I was only allowed to leave home for going to the university. Otherwise my father would get angry and punish me by not giving me money. I didn’t get afraid of him when he got angry and shouted at me, because I knew that he wasn’t violent and that he later would ask my mother to talk to me and tell me that I should go to him and say ‘sorry’. In that case, my mother acted as a diplomatic person between my father and me. Sometimes when I went to my father to ask him to forgive me, I went just because I needed money or to be nice to my poor mother who suffered from being a wife of such a stifling man.
I tried my best to use the time I spend at the university, I skipped some classes to go with my friends to the sea or for other purposes. My father’s angry face followed me everywhere and that made me scared, but also rebelled. So, I started to go for shopping after the university and meeting friends at cafés, going back home late. Women late time according to my father’s clock was 16:00. But I stayed outside one extra hour. It was my hour of freedom.
In Stockholm, all hours are my hours of freedom. I can go everywhere I want. I never feel controlled or limited. In the beginning I was screwed to my days back in Gaza. I went to my Swedish languages (SFI) and then directly went back to home. I was lost between ‘before and after Gaza’.
Once, my classmates invited me to a dinner. We went after the school to a big supermarket and started shopping stuff for the dinner. We were from different countries – Japan, China, Russia and Bosnia. Each one of us had had diverse cultural upbringings. We bought vegetables, rice, chicken breasts and beer. Then we went ahead to the ‘Chinese flat’ where we were supposed to cook the dinner. We started preparing the sushi, pancakes, Arabic salad… I was cheerful to cook with friends for the first time in my life. It felt something big, but for my friends it wasn’t. They seemed to enjoy the gathering as a normal thing which they have done before. And that evening, I had my first sushi ever, my Japanese friend made it very well and she thought that I was joking when I asked her ‘What is this food you’re making’. And then I asked her ‘what’s the green paste?’. She said ‘wasabi, be careful, it’s hot’. I got excited, finally something hot, I used to eat very spiced food in Gaza. I slathered three pumps of the paste on my piece of avocado sushi, and I felt like my nose was burning. My friends laughed at me, and I did as well!
After food, our friend brought a box full of nail polishes. We were amazed by the elegant colours and started discussing which brand is better quality and which colour a woman should wear in the summer … I was just listening to them and didn’t take part in their discussion. I felt shy and strange! I didn’t remember the last time I painted my nails, perhaps it was at my brother’s wedding which took place three years ago. I wasn’t allowed to use nail polish, because it’s haram, my father decided many beautiful things to be haram. But that night I coloured my nails shiny silver – my hands looked soft and I felt feminine.
Time passed quickly at my friend’s place, suddenly it was about 23:30. I got very worried. Why? I don’t know exactly, maybe I imagined my father’s angry face… but I was in Stockholm. I embarked the metro and walked towards where I live. I was very happy to discover the world after 16:00… at midnight.