I always reserve a special place in my writing for an act of searching, a searching for the peculiar way in which catastrophes – social, political and even personal – compel us, sometimes after many years, or months, or days, to find in them a sliver of light, or, not necessarily even a sliver of light, but a kind of meaning, any meaning. In this search for the meaning in catastrophes, I meet strangers, relatives, and friends. I write down my conversations with them, and what is more, I carry these conversations with me, within myself, and elicit from them knowledge and wisdom, and sometimes I don’t share this knowledge with anyone else.
While looking back at years of my writing, I dug into the history of my family, my country and my people in Palestine. I talked to friends who had to leave their countries; Syria, Egypt, Tunis or Iran. I met them virtually or face to face in Berlin, the city where I had settled after leaving Palestine. I found out stories I would never have heard of if these encounters had never taken place and some of them were by chance. In all of them, despite the sadness and the catastrophe within the stories, there was a certain meaning, according to the storytellers, which was the luminous part, and there are no cliches in this story.
I moved from Acre and Haifa to Berlin in 2017 and looked for a house similar to the one I imagined myself to have lived in, where I could easily access stories and the wisdom that is gained from living through catastrophe, outside of the geographic space controlled by Israeli colonialism. I could not have imagined that after exactly three years, my room in Berlin would be like any other room in the world, as communication with the outside world was through the phone or laptop with close friends or those who were far away. It was the beginning of the pandemic and the state-imposed restrictions were like God’s wrath on people like me, who essentially live outside their homes more than inside them. As in my life, homes could be people, gardens or a bar we liked or a conversation with a friend or a kiss next to the river. Houses, or the structures including doors, windows, a ceiling and walls are for sleeping, especially for those who live alone.
After one month of quarantine, I moved from a shared apartment to my own rented flat, where I was alone. Some friends commented that my timing to live on my own was somewhat strange, especially since I was really alone—I did not have a lover or boyfriend and visits by friends were prohibited. Those who expressed their surprise know me, but I considered it ‘God’s Punishment’ and accepted the challenge.
After accepting the challenge of this semi-voluntary and semi-imposed isolation, I started praying secretly. I knew, as we all did—even though we denied it—that the world would never again be like it was before the Coronavirus. I started having feelings and tribulations that I knew existed but not in my body or psyche. For a number of reasons, this was a first experience. Inside I silently wished, like a secret prayer written on the walls of Facebook stories and Instagrams, that this new world catastrophe would bring about good fruit, even just one!
Not much time passed before my prayers were answered and an old lover came back into my life. I said to myself, “I wish I had prayed every day!” Anyway, what is most important is that my lover had come back into my life because of Coronavirus. The silence and isolation opened up realms of thought as a result of boredom and in-depth questioning. The cities stop their daily function of making us afraid to ridicule things outside the house, so we expressed—my lover and I—our yearning and dreams and talked about how everything outside the house was not guaranteed. We asked questions like: What are cities? Why do we immigrate? Where are our houses? What is a house, anyway? and we talked about smells, food and a lot about music. I asked: Do you want a family? Do you want to be a father? I feel like a stranger, my love! After this catastrophe, I want to be a mother more than ever—and then suddenly the quarantine was lifted.
I booked a train ticket. Direct trains had hadn’t returned due to the quarantine. So, I had to book a number of tickets and change trains at three stations. I couldn’t complain, not only because I was going to see my lover, but also because any travel after the quarantine was a blessing in itself!
I like travelling by train because of the wide windows facing nature and the imagination. The seats are relatively comfortable, which is also good for the imagination and I can write in a copybook or on my laptop. Most trains also have an internet connection and I can either read or sleep, but I did neither that day. From the moment the train exited the station in Berlin, throughout the stations between, before I reached the Amsterdam station, all I wanted was to see him. I was not afraid.
I arrived late at night and from the moment we met again we knew where we were headed. The route we saw was the only true reality in the world that was trying to improvise ways of salvation from the Coronavirus.
Amidst all this, we established a family and built a home. Of course, we wanted children and talked about the furniture and decided to get married. We moved in together in our house in Amsterdam next to the river (the city has many rivers). In order to relieve my sadness for leaving Berlin, I said to myself, “I am from a beautiful city—Acre—and so I deserve to live in another like Amsterdam.”
Of course, the river is not exactly the Mediterranean, but the fact that there was fresh fish in a European city was attractive, even though it cannot be compared to the fish from Acre. It was nevertheless an important reason to fall in love with the city and to build a home there.
I have always looked for homes while leaving others behind; those that I would return to and others that I did not want to return to. What I fear the most is when catastrophes control our roads and add more checkpoints than there are some already. Maybe some have been set up for unknown reasons, even though they are man-made.
it is as if, the catastrophe that is beyond our perception now brings back all the previous inherited catastrophes beginning from the stories of my grandmother in Palestine about her displacement from her village, passing through the story of my love, a fugitive in the mountains of Iran from the oppression of a dictatorial regime. To the stories of my friends who long to eat maqdus from their mothers in Damascus and elsewhere. Corona is an invisible embodiment of disasters we know abou, and those that we have not heard about yet. Today, at least I and many who I love are living their dimensions, impacts, questions and concerns in many places of the world.
However, in my constant search for meaning in past disasters and in the midst of disasters, I found love—pure and present—a good and compassionate home, and nothing scares it. This is not a cliché.