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I Spent The Whole Night Coloring Eggs

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Reem Musleh

I decided to visit my grandparents who are living alone in their house. You could see the smile on their faces when they saw me coming into the house. They were so happy when I kissed them and sat down to have dinner with them. While we were eating, I saw the sad scenes of Palestinian suffering on TV, and some questions popped up in my head. I began asking my grandparents questions that I have been curious about for some time. Time was flying and I was learning quite a lot of interesting information. My grandfather, who was born in 1924, and my grandmother, who was born in 1932, were telling me how they used to live and face the problems under occupation. Their suffering was great, but they also told me about good things. They told me about some of the advantages of past times that we lack today.

My grandfather sighed and said, “I prefer our past life style. We were together like one big happy family. We worked together hand in hand, we ate together, and had fun with the simplest of things. We used to sleep together in one room; that was taken for granted. Education was also different; boys and girls used to respect their teachers and headmasters, and they hid when they saw them in the streets. The students were especially afraid when the teachers asked their parents for a meeting.”

My grandfather also talked about the wedding ceremonies that were different: “Everybody used to assist each other in the preparation for the happy occasion without being asked. On the day of the marriage, women took the bride’s clothes and put them on a big metal tray called sider, and took them to her new home. The men walked in front of the women to bring the bride from her parents’ house to church. Her face would be veiled in white until her groom uncovered it after the priest’s blessing. Imagine, our houses were close together but it used to take us almost an hour to arrive to church on foot because we used to sing and dance in the streets. The zaffeh, the procession to the church, was a most exciting event during which people were happy from deep within. The morning after the wedding, what we call subha, everybody used to gather in a big circle and again start singing and dancing, and drinking and eating the good food. On that occasion, we used to distribute a kind of cigarette called hishi. Do you think that the married couple went on honeymoon? No, my dear! When your grandmother and I got married, she woke up early the next day and made homemade breakfast for me….”

That was how our life was on the social level, but financially life was not that easy. My grandfather was born during the British Mandate. Life at that time was difficult; a few families were rich, but the majority of families were poor. People used to work hard to gain their daily bread in order to survive. But my grandfather insisted that they used to be happier than they are now. They are living alone in a big house now, while before they were living happily together with their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, although they didn’t have enough money to buy their own food.

My grandfather said: “I used to go to Za’tara, where the Israeli military camp is stationed now near Beit Sahour, to bring our drinking water. I used to carry the bucket over my head and walk that long distance home.” My grandmother added that they didn’t have radios or TV sets. They both assured me that they had bought their TV set in 1962. Before that, news used to travel by word of mouth. Another way of knowing what was going on was by joining a club where the mukhtar, the oldest and most respectable man in town, used to tell everybody the latest news or report what they had heard on an old radio at the municipality.

One of the funny stories that my grandmother told me was as follows: “Three months before Easter Sunday, I used to start collecting eggs from a woman from the Ta’amreh village nearby. Every day the woman would bring three eggs, so that when Easter came I would have enough to color and get ready for distributing them among friends and relatives who came to visit. The day before Easter, I told your father to take the eggs out of the namliyeh [pantry]. When he did that, the eggs fell down and were broken. He went to his room because he wasn’t able to face us after what happened. I had to go quickly to the Ta’amreh village, which was far from where we lived and buy new eggs. I spent the whole night coloring them to replace the old broken ones.”

“During the British Mandate, which lasted from 1917 till 1948, people were able to go wherever they wanted. But people were always afraid of the British soldiers. We used to be treated badly and our freedom was limited. The British soldiers used to ask the oldest man in town to escort them when they went on searching houses to look for something suspicious. Imagine their treatment if they found the type of bullet called rash that people use nowadays for hunting; they used to kill the person who owned that kind of ‘weapon’. Some men spent long hours out in the streets until the soldiers decided to let them go back to their homes.”

Each occupation they lived was worse than the other, but the worst is the Israeli occupation. I am sixteen years old now and I’m living it myself. The first Intifada started in 1987 and it’s back again. I remember my father talking about the events that took place in front of my house during the late eighties. One of those events is about Issa Abu Farha, our neighbor. The Israeli soldiers at the time were looking for him for throwing stones. Every night, Issa escaped from the Israeli soldiers by moving from one house to the other. One day, while he was sitting on the balcony, he heard that soldiers were coming to arrest him. Without thinking, he jumped form the balcony, nearly 3 meters high, and ran away. Fortunately, nothing happened to him.

On 15 November 1981, three houses were demolished. The date is memorable because it was my parents’ wedding day. The Israeli soldiers imposed curfew on Beit Sahour and nobody was allowed to go out to attend the wedding ceremony. My parents were forced to have the marriage ceremony at home.

Now I’d like to talk about my own experience under occupation. I was nearly five years old having breakfast with my mother and my older sister when suddenly we heard a very loud sound of thumping. It was the Israeli soldiers. They entered our house looking for something. They searched our cupboards and threw everything on the floor. At that time there were clashes outside our house and they suspected us hiding youths in our home. It was a regular event for the soldiers to knock on our door in the middle of the night, and on several occasions they arrested my uncles and my cousins and sent them to prison for no reason. I will always remember the fear we felt after each of those aggressive actions.

I think that life in the past was not different from what it is now as far as occupation is concerned. It’s true that people were happier because their lives were simpler, and they used to be more united. The problems that they faced are almost the same as ours; maybe our life is a little bit more difficult. I’m sure that the Palestinian people will not live in freedom, neither tomorrow nor ever. Who knows who is going to occupy us after the Israelis?

From: Your Stories Are My Stories: A Palestinian oral history project. Saint Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem, Wi’am – Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows. Culture and Palestine series AEI-Open Windows 2001. For more information: nancy@alami.net or aei@p-ol.com

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