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What She Regrets Most Is Not Being Able To Save Her Books

Al Shuja’iyah, Gaza Strip- “I was super happy when our temporary home was built,” 19-year-old Riham al Arqan said as she spoke about what she described as a “hut.” Her father, Jihad, built it brick by brick alongside their old home, which was destroyed in the war like the rest of the houses on al-Mansura Street, east of Al Shuja’iyah. It took him a whole month to build this small house of two bedrooms, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. They moved in a week ago, as they could no longer bear to burden their relatives, who had been very kind to them during the war. It is a small place, too tiny for Ahlam’s dreams, and is no substitute for her old home, which she remembers often.
Riham, a second-year medical student at the Islamic University, had no idea that when she left her home on the 20th of July she would return to find it in ruins. Nonetheless, she continuously thanks God that none of her family was hurt. She still remembers how they, and many others, raced against death half-awake while shells were falling all around them, and how many people lost their lives that day. She recalls the names of the fallen, recounts their stories and prays for them very often. She describes how difficult it was to run for their lives, carrying themselves aimlessly that morning when Shuja’iyah was massacred—the day 100 people were killed and many others injured.
But when Riham talks about her home and her neighborhood, everything changes. Happy images are brought back to life. “My mother asked me about our home the other day—she said she was forgetting what it looked like. I said she was exaggerating, and I described every part of it to her, the doors, windows, chandeliers, stairs, everything. For a long time, my dreams were only of going back to our home.” With the innocence of a child, she still wonders how a single shell could bring down a six-floor building that housed more than seventy members of her extended family, who are now scattered all over Gaza- to rubble. But she tries to content herself with God’s wisdom.
The rubble has not been cleared yet, and what they have been paid to rebuild was not enough to cover the costs of building a home that can fit all eight of them and spare them from the threatening rain. However, Riham says she’s content with what they have now, it is better than burdening other families and better than moving from one rental to another (given the high rents these days). For Riham, as long as there is shelter and the whole family is together, even if this shelter is only four walls, a person can live with dignity. One cannot just sit and wait, one should keep pushing through, as life does not wait for anyone.
War has changed Riham. She has come to realize the value and meaning of a homeland, and she has come to realize the value and importance of her studies and her contribution as an individual. What she regrets most is not being able to save her books. Although their current house does not provide much room for studying, Riham is finding herself more eager to study and to excel. She even finished the troubled summer semester with an average of 89%. She now dreams of becoming a competent doctor to save patients’ lives. “Shells that can turn homes to rubble bury memories, but they cannot bury our dreams.”

By Du’a Mheisen (20 December 2014)

Transaled by Fidaa Touma