A new world: Hours of freedom

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.

When the Arabic brother and sister reunited in Europe

Last month I visited Hussam, my brother in Belgium for three nights. I couldn’t write about that earlier, because I wanted to absorb my emotions, so I could write from a different angle about those wonderful days.

I packed my suitcase very carefully and made sure that the Dior perfume bottle that I had bought for my brother was in a safe corner. When it was my turn at the security check, they stopped me and asked me to open my bag and give them things containing liquids, I got annoyed because I forgot about that. So, I gave them my hair cream, face washing liquid and the perfume. They took the first two things and when they held the perfume bottle to check how much the amount was, I said if they are going to throw it, I will go to get everything back and go to the other exit to pay for the suitcase, because that bottle was a dear gift to Hussam. But they left me keeping it and I passed the gate to my flight waiting room.

Two hours later, the flight arrived in Brussels. I dragged my suitcase and was very nervous and excited to see Hussam. I didn’t find him there, so I sent him a message and he answered quickly that his car got broken and it will take a few minutes to come. I went downstairs to wait him close to the parking lot. There I was happy to hear the French language all the time, since I like it and reckon it being as  music. After a while, I got a message from Hussam ‘Weenik?’ (where are you). I texted him back with my location along, but he still didn’t find me. Eventually, there he was, ten steps away from me, but we both didn’t recognise each other, which was quite funny and ridiculous. He was in a totally new look, his hair and beard were stained blond, and I was wearing shorts and having my hair without veil.

We looked at each other very surprised as if we were like two strangers that just had met. I got confused by how we had changed. We hugged each other without tears and went silently to the car. In the car Hussam asked me kindly ‘Can you please change your shorts when we get to home, I don’t want my friends to talk about me, I respect you, and you should accept me as I am’. I understood him and said, ‘It’s not their business, I wear whatever I want’. He said ‘We are Arabs’. Then I didn’t want to argue about that, because I knew that we are different and I had to respect his attitudes even if I didn’t agree with him.

It was my intention to travel with shorts and not changing my personality for my brother. I travelled without faking my appearance. I was glad that he didn’t get angry because I was without veil and he respected me. Yet, the Arabic man had his mind, he didn’t like my clothes, he had to accept me because we were in Europe where the equality and freedom should be. Apparently, I took that as an advantage for me as an Arabic woman who strives for her freedom.

When we arrived at his home, I changed my shorts and wore jeans to cover my legs! However, I was full of energy and even more when I saw Hussam going to the kitchen and started preparing dinner for me. It was unusual seeing him cooking, the Arabic brother was cooking for his sister!! He made me happy and proud, how much he had changed, that simple behaviour was valuable for me. It was the best ‘kufta’ (Arabic meat balls) I’ve eaten since I left Palestine. We were sitting at the table, the family feelings invaded me, I missed our old days when we always gathered for dinners and had long talks. But nowadays we are separated in different countries and everyone has his/her own life.

Next day, Hussam drove me around Brussels, we went to Atomium, it was wonderful from out and inside. First, we took the elevator to the top ball, then we went down to the beginning and took the elevator to the other ball. There were different exhibitions in every ball. When we left the Atomium, it started raining and it was the first time ever I saw what they call ‘devil rain’, it was raining in the street where we were, and in the other street, two minutes away, it was sunny!

I asked Hussam to drop me off at the centre of the city, he was worried about me. I said ‘I travelled alone, I won’t get lost’. He seemed surprised by his little sister. Again, how much we have changed since we left the Middle East! I can’t describe how great I felt strolling alone in the middle of nowhere, in a city I never been to before, I walked to Palais de Justice, it was closed for repairing, so I walked further and watched the city from top, then went to Avenue Louise and had a long walk until I got tired and took the metro to Grand Place and finally saw the Manneken Pis. It wasn’t as big as I had expected. It was surrounded by people who were watching it curiously and taking photos. I barely could take a photo and left it with a smile, wondering what’s the special about that little boy who’s peeing all the time.

Later, Hussam joined me and spent the entire day going from place to place in the beautiful Brussels, leaving back to home in Alts after having waffles.

The third day was the busy day in my stay in Belgium, I asked Hussam to drive me to Antwerp. I’m still very thankful to him, because he never seemed fed up or tired of me. I contacted a friend of me who lives in Antwerp and set an appointment to meet at 1 pm. I knew that friend since we were in Palestine. We met only once, but kept in touch through Facebook and through poetry, our common interest. The surprise was hiding there. When I got off the car and went to meet my friend, she was without veil. Without preamble, she said ‘yes, this is me’. I thought she should wear Hijab (veil) since she always posted her photos on Facebook with Hijab. She explained to me the reason, saying that she has the right to wear whatever she wants. Her siblings are still angry at her and they fight trying to convince her wearing the Hijab, even if they live far away from her. In Palestine, they phone, nag and disturb her. She said that she can’t show her photos in public without Hijab, solely to be respectful for her old mother who grew up in a conservative family. My friend got a high position job as a TV journalist, but she refused it, because she didn’t want to appear without Hijab, also only due to the wish of her mother. She said ‘It’s not my mother’s fault that her daughter is a rebel. I don’t want people there to bother her for the rest of her life just because of me, while I’m living my life happily in Belgium. I’m responsible for my attitudes here’.

My friend was one of many other Arabic female friends who have changed a lot when they moved to Europe. They started to see things from a different perspective, they started to be themselves, discovering their real personalities away from the patriarchal society. They became broad and opened minded, strong and independent. I was impressed by my friend, how she was very confident and successful being herself and making her dreams true.

The fourth day in Belgium was my last day, my flight was at 3 pm. Even though, I didn’t want to waste any moment without discovering new things, so I asked my brother to drive me to Bruges and from there I would go directly to the airport. It was definitely my favourite city. A small, gorgeous and vibrant city. I got to see Belfry, the huge tower that built during the 1200s, walking down to Burg Square where the architectural masterpieces reside. I felt like I was walking in a museum – I couldn’t take a Canal Tour though.

Before heading back to the airport, we had the exclusive Belgians oysters and mussels, then Hussam drove me to the Windmills, along the Ringvaart waterway between Dampoort and Kruispoort. It was my last joyful point to see in the city.

To that limit, my memorable visit to my brother finished with lots of fun and surprises in Belgium.


Ways to enter my country

As I’ve been living in Sweden for three years and since then I haven’t visited my country, Palestine, for several reasons, the main one is the political situation there. And because I’m from Gaza Strip, the most conflict zone in the country, it was too away to think about travelling and seeing my family there. It’s possible to enter the city, but then it will be very difficult to get out due to the siege and the long queue of people who wait their turn to travel! Anyways, I’m still not ready to get stuck in the Gaza Strip again. I lived there for 24 years, so I think that visit will not add too much to my life, but only bringing back memories and fear.

The plan now is visiting the outside of that shell which is called ‘Gaza’. Yes, I want to take the risk and go to the other side of the country where I never been. I always watched it on TV when there was news or documentaries about it. Otherwise, I have no idea about how my country looks like. Well, when I was at the school I studied history and geography, of course Palestine took the big part of these subjects. It was weird to study about my country and not be able to witness or experience the real land, it was just information and images printed in books. I felt sad and motivated to know more and to think of a way to get to know my country in personal, but it was impossible.

Recently, as I applied for my Swedish citizenship, I’ve been thinking of travelling to Palestine, this time as a Swedish, not as a Palestinian. I’m not sad about this, on the contrary, I’m happy, because Sweden gave me the opportunity to be a person with a peaceful identity that would allow me to travel wherever I want.

I was sitting with some Swedish friends and talking about my dream of travelling to the West Bank and the ‘48 authority (now called Israel). I was filled with vague emotions, excited for the trip to see the country for the first time ever and afraid of getting disappointed. But, so far, everything is just a dreamy plan. Next step is to make it true, and that will be the adventure.

When I get my Swedish passport, my name and my birth place will be registered in the passport, and that will be a problem when I apply to travel to Palestine. Being registered as from Gaza is politically incorrect to be allowed to enter the country as my information are already registered in Israel. So, what should I do?

Plan number one:

To change my name from Kawther Abu Hani to Bridget Anderson. So, I can travel totally as a Swedish. Another name would help, but the problem now is the birth place. Well, I can tell them that my mother is Swedish and my father is Palestinian, they met in Gaza long time ago and they decided to bring me to life with a Swedish name.

Plan number two:

To do like in the movies, pack myself in a bag and fly away. When the police catch me later, I will tell them that I was riding a donkey in the sky and I fell off founding myself in Jerusalem.

Plan number three:

Back to reality and apply for a permission to enter the country. If it works, I’ll be the happiest ever, I’ll visit all cities, eat plentily of Palestinian food and enjoy every second there. If it wouldn’t work, I’ll keep watching the country from away and live my life.


Lost by Google Maps

Last week I got email telling me that I have interview on Wednesday at a school located in Hjusta (Stockholm), the area is away from where I live and to reach it, I should ride the bus and the metro, it takes proximity 40 minutes.

Today I woke up two hours earlier than the appointment, I prepared myself happily and left home    with optimistic vibes. It was a little sunny and I could see how people were busy on that rush time in the morning when all go to their job places or schools… I missed the feeling of being an employee, productive and spending time at work.

The metro stopped at Hjusta station, there I got off and went out holding my phone and starting to check my GPS, it was 9:10 o’clock. I was glad because I arrived too early and I will spend some time exploring the area before going to the school since I knew that the distance from the station to the school will take only 10 minutes by walking.

I wrote the location on Google Maps and started following the directions, but after a while I stopped and found out that it will take long time until I arrive, I was wrong when I said it won’t take time to walk to the school. After a while I saw that Google Maps showed me driving directions instead of the walking ones! I changed it to the correct one and yet stayed working wrong, it wanted me to drive all the time, very ridiculous.

I got very stressed and annoyed, only 25 minutes left for the interview, I phoned Peter and told him with very upset voice that my GPS got crazy and I got lost in the area, he told me to calm down and will check on his phone for me… nothing happened and I gave up, went back to the station, Peter told me that I should phone the school and explain to them what happened, they will understand me, he said.

I downloaded another maps application on my phone and followed the directions, it showed me that it will take 10 minutes, it seemed logical as it supposed to be. I crossed a long bridge and by going down to the end of it I found the school. I’ve already knew that I’ll not get the job because I was late almost for 15 minutes, but at least I wanted to try, why not?

I interred the school, I could hear my wheeze when I was hardly breathing, I looked around me to find someone to talk to, then I saw a woman appeared and came down the stairs, I quickly said hej, she said hej back and disappeared behind classroom door, she was the boss as I saw on the school website and she was the one who supposed to interview me, but she only said hej, I wanted to talk.

I waited the woman close to that door until she appeared again and I said ‘I’m Kawther and I have interview, sorry for being late, I got lost in the area’. I want to continue talking and to explain, but she interrupted me saying ‘you are too late and there’s another person will be interviewed soon…’. I couldn’t talk anymore and said bye.

I was walking on the bridge and crying a lot, that woman was impolite and rude. She even didn’t want to listen to me, I wanted to show my respect and apology. How a woman who leads a school can behave like that, how does she treat her employees and the students? In that school, there’s a new generation of girls and boy!

I went back to home very disappointed by that woman’s behaviour, I was on the metro crying, I hated everything around me, all the positive energy I had in the morning have vanished and turned off like when a person just click on Off to not listen to the beautiful music. I wanted to back to my country, I felt so bad… and while all those desperate thoughts were invading me, I took my phone out of my pocket and took a picture of the stunning view of the fields under the bridge.

Palestinian woman in Sweden

( Just a quick post for now)

It’s hard to be Palestinian!
Anything just reminds you of being Palestinian,
summer holiday
when friends book tickets to travel to their homelands
going to shops and thinking about my siblings they would like that chilli chocolate
being a Palestinian
means lots of stories
strange, unfair, sad, lost..
I live in Sweden, but my mind and heart are still their in Gaza. Only my body is in Sweden. I enormously miss my family. I have to check the news if their is a war coming soon.. yes, it is like a horror film, people wait for it.
I have to talk with my mother everyday, she’s the angel who always held me during the wars, she’s the strongest woman when I’m weak.
In Stockholm, every morning I wake up, I open the curtains and look at the street thinking that whether I’m in a peaceful country or in Palestine?. It must be a dream. The peace always lived inside me. But that is the truth: I’m in a peaceful country, I don’t have to think about buying tins and bread for the war, I don’t have to worry about myself when I walk i the street.. I don’t look at my siblings as if I will never see them again because we live under fire.
I’m lucky that I moved to live in Sweden. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that I’m totally happy . There are lots of things must be fixed until I heal my bloody memory and get rid of life fears which I always had in Gaza.

Rain wishes

Rain on my only window to you ..
Rain over the dark cars and trucks..
Rain on the city of peace ..
I want this rain to pour on my city there ..
My mother must be dreaming of this rain now,
and my family must be waiting for it in the narrow room in that shelter ..
I will keep this rain between my eyes
I will take it with me to my martyr brothers there ..
Oh rain, stop flowing… because I’m sad.