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Maysoon Zayid, actress and stand up comedian

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 22.03.2008:

From Jersey to Dheisheh: A Love Story

Author Mourid Barghouti once wrote that Palestine “is not the golden map hanging on a golden chain adorning the throats of women in exile.” I mean, think about it; do Canadian chicks wear the shape of Canada on their necks? What about Norwegians? What shape is Norway?

Before I ever went to Palestine, I knew Palestine. It was all that my dad ever talked about. He was terrified that if we didn’t go to live there every summer, we would forget our roots and grow up to be “Little American Whores.”

I was five the first summer I ever went. I packed all my favourite things: my Wonder Woman underoos, my Cabbage Patch Kid Mohammdia, and my most favourite thing in the world – my Michael Jackson sparkly white Thriller glove. I shouldn’t have taken anything because my grandmother was like the Muslim Robin Hood – but instead of stealing from the rich – she’d steal from me and give every single thing I own to the poor refugees. I spent days trying to explain to her that although I felt sorry for the pathetic refugees, I could not comprehend what use they would have for my sparkly glove. For god’s sake – it’s not even a pair!

My parents shipped us to live with our grandparents in Deir Debwan every single summer – regardless of the political climate. I spent my school days in sunny Cliffside Park, New Jersey, and my summers in a freakin’ war zone, but I was never scared because I had my grandmas to keep me safe and my pet goat Bob to keep me happy.

When I was 14, both of my grandmothers passed away and I refused to go back to Palestine. But when I was 22, I did. My mission: to find a husband. My cover: working with disabled orphans in refugee camps.

For those of you who’ve never been to a refugee camp: they don’t have horseback riding, gunnysack races, or roasted marshmallows. They have trash piled sky-high, sewage streaming through the streets, and narrow, winding alleys that make it impossible to tell where the shooting’s coming from. And there are kids.

Millions and millions of bored, hungry, refugee kids.

And I was gonna be their Oprah. I’d bring them medicine, shoes, and glasses, AND catch myself the most stunning refugee man ever. We’d fall madly in love, get married, adopt disabled babies, and live happily ever after.

By the way, I hate kids. They’re disgusting and rife with disease. The first time I walked into an orphanage this thing runs up and hugs me with a freaking octopus growing out of its eye. I mean, you could pet it and it would wiggle.

Sure enough, the next morning, I wake up with an octopus growing out of my eye. I drag myself out of bed, half-blind. I need to go find a pair of glasses for little Muhanned that will make him look a little less cross-eyed. Within two seconds of stepping outside, I am kidnapped and strapped to the back of a donkey. My abductors – the women of the camp. They have decided that I need an extreme makeover, refugee edition. “You are dirty,” they inform me. “You need to wash your hair and put on some libstick.” And why are your clothes so baggy and black? No one will ever marry you!” They strip me down and scrub me clean with a torture device known as a leefa. They straighten my hair with an actual iron, then dip me in a vat of wax and rip. The coup de grâce? The women parade me through the sewage in six-inch stilettos.

These people took care of me, and so I had no choice but to keep on taking care of them. I have been back every year since. I never got a husband, I still hate kids, but I have 732 filthy little animals to call my own, and I freaking love them. Octopus and all.

The same writer once said that “when Palestine is no longer a chain worn with an evening dress … when we walk on Palestinian dust … hurrying to conduct … our passing, normal, boring affairs … then we will really have come close to it …”a

Maysoon Zayid is an actress and standup comedian from Deir Debwan, Palestine, who was raised in New Jersey. She is co-founder of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and runs the charity Maysoon’s Kids. She can be seen in the upcoming Adam Sandler film You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. For more information, visit

This Week in Palestine

March 2008

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