Stuck

I wanted so bad to live up to your expectations, but it seems like a force is pulling me back from making sure I get to the end of it.

I am trying to find ways to juggle life – work balance but the pressure, the stress seems too much that I find myself sometimes stuck, unable to move forward.

The mind is willing, but my body does not budge to get me moving and doing what I should.

That is me living here in Gaza.

When I thought I am tough enough to endure living in a foreign land and meet new people for almost two decades now, I met my match being here. It’s hard to explain because, on the outside, I look fine, sometimes I feel fine, and recently felt at home in Gaza I wish to stay longer. (Read here)

Strange how that may sound but that is how I feel, and I am trying to figure out where my problem lies  – is it the place? The people? The work? I don’t know!  I don’t want to blame where I am for my feelings in the last six months, nor the people and especially the work for the love of what I do.

I have seen good things here in spite of the history of the country and the recent crisis they endured, and somehow I empathize with their being unable to move freely out of Gaza. Not that I can’t move out from here, being an expat working for an international organization gave me some freedom to shuffle in an out at least every three weeks and be like everybody else. Unlike most people I know and work with they will need permission from Israel to go out for a limited time only, which is not given readily and benefits only very few.  In my case, it may not be the same as for most people, but my being closed off from where I live somehow gives me a little understanding of the people’s lives in occupation.  Not being able to go out and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea across my room can be frustrating. Not being able to walk around town and catch a glimpse of life or experience it does not allow me to live my time here actually.  Creativity in my case is boxed online – I see the world like most people here via the social media.

So little out of the ordinary activity is very much appreciated, like yesterday, being the last day of the work week, I was able to enjoy the morning with some of the people we support in the community outside, in the sun, harvesting olives in one of our beneficiaries farm — that was incredible! When asked by some people how I felt (being the only foreign in the group who obviously had not done olive harvest before) all I said was great. To be out in the sun and not see patients for the most of it for a change, and my colleagues with me are so much fun even if most of the time they speak Arabic.

sam_2170

Now I am back in my apartment, being a Friday nothing much happens here so I am stuck to my computer and live out the day watching movies, catching up with friends online and talking on Skype to my family. That scenario made me somehow understand what most felt day in day out. The frustrations of the young people to be out and enjoying liberties other young people in other parts of the world enjoy. The dreams of parents to give the best to their children – good education, freedom to travel and to choose the life they want to live. Not the current life where everything has to be dependent on what the other person behind the counter say so — it can be too much.

I think that fuels the hatred, the fear and the tension in an already tensed situation since the 40’s basing on their history. The history is written for the Palestinian people by outsiders thinking that lives would be better if foreign people write it for them. And here I am years later, foreign, trying to understand what is incomprehensible because of the kind of work I do. Humanity comes first before politics, and often I am in no liberty to talk about politics (even religion), and I wouldn’t dare even if I want to.  Instead, I will continue bridging the gap of what the world failed to do for these people and support the best I can when I can until it’s time to say hati waqt lahiq (until later).


Being stuck may seem bad for the most of it, but that also gives one perspective of the life we have. To understand that life is not equal in many regions of the world and to experience it in a short time somehow allows me to speak about it. To live it out with these people gives me the profound respect for the resilience of the Palestinians I meet every day be it for work or the little leisure I have here.

My spirits lift when I can pen these feelings and hope those that reads this understands my whim and not take this as drama. Life as an expat may seem appealing for the most of it, but the emotional investment we have is sometimes more than what we can give if we don’t have ways to vent it out.

Now I have to get going … I have pending paper works to accomplish if I want to reach my destination.

It Starts to Feel Like Home

Its 2am, the power is out, feeling the breeze coming from the sea

Very dark outside, you hear nothing except the waves lapping at the shore,The weather is changing I can feel it, it will be cold soonNot sure if I am ready for it

Now, I enjoy the quiet of the night

I can see light from the horizon, from fishing boats waiting for the fishes to bite

And I am still awake, talking to myself, willing myself to write about

How I feel right now … how I feel at home in Gaza.

Of all places, I am here living a life of a hermit after 4pm

Not allowed to be me, to be at places I freely wish to be

Because of the danger – true or imagined

So I am confused why am I feeling at home?

Is it the place? Maybe I tell my dreamy self.

Gaza does not bother me, even though I know of its history

Even though I know of the rift that they have with Israel

Or the fact that in most people’s mind I live in a god-forsaken place

Governed by terrorist, mostly said by people who had never stepped foot

In the holy land, or in Palestine.

I am at peace here believe me, it is not what outsiders say it is

I should know, I am living here for a while

And when I am up at two, I am overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging at where I am

Forgetting I am far away from home and yet I am really sure this place

Has not the allure to make me feel this way

But will not be here for long, will have to go soon

Which is starting to sink in the more I think about it

I would stay if I could but that all depends on my welcome here

Until the time to go comes, I will enjoy the peace,

The solitude, and the overwhelming emotions

That I can call Gaza home even for a short time.

Trip of a Lifetime: The Plan and the First Day

Mentioning to a friend I am going to work in Gaza, a plan was set. W is working and living in Europe making it easy for him to plan the trip, it has a direct flight from his place to Tel Aviv and being Filipino, a visa was not going to be a problem.

Days passed, we agreed on a month – the best time according to the guidebook to visiting Israel and the Holy Land, September! Wanting the trip to be more fun we invited two other friends from home. Unsure whether they will accept or not, W  and I proceeded with our plan.

As early as May the dates were set for the first week of September, in time for the Eid Al-Adha celebration. Not long after, the two other friends from the Philippines agreed to join us and started to look for cheap flights to here. Now we are four!

As the day of the “trip of a lifetime” approaches, more plans are set in motion – where to stay? How much is acceptable rent? Airbnb or hostel? And what will be the itinerary considering the time would be very short – 5 days! Until almost a week before the scheduled trip we haven’t made up our minds, but in the end, we settled for a hostel and tried to arrange our trip a la DIY.

The holiday begins for me … 

I left Gaza via Erez on a Wednesday, before the weekend and will wait for my friends to arrive on Thursday from Philippines and Europe.

Since I am officially on holiday, I felt like I needed a little pampering, so I went to have my nails done and in a relaxed mode, received news that the two friends who started traveling from the Philippines the same day was stuck in Hongkong and was not being allowed to proceed to Beijing because of the airport traffic that could delay their flight to Tel Aviv to at least four days. Even if they can proceed they don’t have the transit visa for China to let them stay for more than 2 hours (and ridiculously if they do get to land in Beijing our planned holidays would be over by the time they arrive in Tel Aviv).

Disheartened, the trip must go on even if it was to go back to the original two-person trip. Luckily they managed to get another booking via Ethiopian air, but it means they lost 1 day of their holidays by arriving after midnight of Thursday (Friday) and spending unplanned cost just to get to see the Holy Land.

From 2 to 4 to 2 and back to 4

W arrived according to plan and prep the coming days while waiting for the other two to arrive later that night. We managed to see a little of the area where we live – walking down Jaffa street from Ha Davidka station to the Jaffa Gate and not to pre-empt the tour, we exited immediately to the New Gate and spent the rest of the afternoon over Middle Eastern cheese platter and beer at the Notre Dame restaurant overlooking the old city and all of Jerusalem city (and neighboring town if you know where to look).

Returning late, we continue waiting over wine and more cheese (European) in our room. A little past midnight the crews complete, and after a little chatter with stories of adventures from Hongkong to Ethiopia Adis Ababa to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport and lots of laughter we were all happily settled in our bunk beds getting ready for the day trip around the old city – Jerusalem at sunrise.

dsc_0077

(Photo courtesy of W) View from the Notre Dame restaurant, Jerualem (2016)

We are all looking forward to the trips from Friday till Tuesday to near and far, even though for me, this is my third time to be going to the holy sites in the Terra Sancta. I don’t mind because every time I am with a different company and with every visit, I discover new places, new things, new information and maybe new friends.

The holidays begins … finally!

For the meantime enjoy the photos.

And if you want to know more about Notre Dame click here!

My Habibi

First encountered the word when I was in Sierra Leone, a call of endearment thrown my way by my then love of my life. It sounded very exotic, me having no understanding of Arabic word whatsoever, and I felt so much loved.

Habibi is an Arabic word directly translating as “my baby” or “my darling”; Habibti is feminine form of habibi, which means “my love”

Arriving in Palestine early this year, the first recognizable word I heard was Habibi, and I was culture shocked to hear it spoken between men — whoa! Only to be told I interpreted the exchanges wrongly (and maybe with malice) and should let it pass. I did, or so I thought, but I am not over it.

The word means my beloved, and in normal conversation, it is normally used between close friends of the same or opposite gender or between couples romantically involved.

For us non-Arabs, it can be (in English)  “my friend / bro / sis” when used among friends, or “my love / baby” when used romantically. In Tagalog, it can be “pare” for men and no idea what can it be for women 🙂

After being here for a while, I can let it rest and accept it as part of the normal conversations in taxi, offices, and meetings but I will keep the first impression and feelings I had when I first heard it nine years ago.


I discovered too that there are books of the same title that tells stories about love … from the looks of it, maybe I should get then and start reading about my love …

 

215693

Habibi bt Naomi Shihab Nye

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. 

 

10138607

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

My dear habibti … hope you enjoy reading!

Third Time’s the Charm @ the Holy Land

I am on leave again, the second for the current post and I am still spending it here in the country. But this time, I will be hosting friends from the university who became best buddies over the years and don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining … one cannot get enough of the Tierra Sancta to be complaining! 

I started this post on the first day of the trip we labeled “trip of a lifetime” while waiting for each one of them to arrive. As they started to join me here in Jerusalem, the writing took a back seat and only now I am finishing it five days after romping from here to the north and ending the last night overlooking the hills of Beit Jala in the West Bank.

The first time I went around the old city, it was the holy week. The experience was surreal – never imagined I will be spending THE Holy Week in the place where it all happened. It brought out all the emotions one could have reliving the life of Jesus Christ and remembering my parents, especially my mom of how much she wanted to come here when she was alive.

SAM_4895.JPG

Palm Sunday entering the Lion’s Gate  from the Garden of Gethsemane

The second time was with a very good friend, who also did visited the holy land in the past but didn’t quite enjoy it with a big pilgrim company. So he decided to come over since I am here and we spent a week visiting the life of Jesus from birth to His resurrection.

JerusalemWithLove2016 (62).JPG

The Icon of Jesus nailed on the cross in Golgotha (inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre)

Now the third time, as they often say is the charm 🙂 and indeed it was! It was the most enlightening so far me (at least) and hopefully to my three other friends as we had discovered more than what we asked for – understanding beyond the biblical history of the intertwined countries of Israel and Palestine.

DSC_0413.JPG

View of the side walkway in Masada (Photo credit to Wayne)

But as much as we wanted to see all of the sites regardless of faith, we missed to visit the Dome of the Rock because of the celebration of the Eid Al-Adha. Having said that, I take it as a sign that there will be a fourth round to my romance with the holy land before I end my mission next year!

 

 

Learning from a Child

“The soul is healed by being with children.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Having no children of my own, I am not without them around my life. In fact, I have one living with us even before she was born, and having a child around, made life easier for all of us especially my parents.

I learned that children are a good healer

When before my parents were regular visitor of our family hospital emergency room with all sorts of ails, but after the arrival of A all aches and pains were gone and both my parents were always heard arguing whose turn it is to carry the little bundle of joy. With that, it reduced the visits to the emergency room from weekly to almost none in one year.

I learned that children are good diffuser when tensions are palpable in the room …

A’s mother was a child herself when she stumbled in our house one Christmas season. Clueless of what would become of her – delivering a child out of wedlock and in an unfamiliar place. My parents were not sold to the idea that me and my cousin will take full responsibility of both the mother and child and gave all the possible scenario of what could be — the “bleak” version.

Especially my Mom, she’s clear pf what should be done once A was born – to return them to their family and be done with it. Or so we thought! As soon as A was born my mom was the first visitor in the hospital taking charge of how-to being the only one seasoned in the art of child-care, to bark orders on how to take care of a baby.

After a couple of hours, all misgivings were gone and telling everyone that wants to listen that she’s a grandmother and that the baby will grow up in our house.

I learned too the children could be an enabler

Since Mom passed away, Dad’s best friend now is A. They are inseparable except when she has to go to school.

As age progressed Dad’s health has been closely monitored and his doctors are happy because he’s able to control his medical conditions and very disciplined when it comes to diet. But when A whine, saying she’s never given enough food to eat (well I asked them not to give cookies after 3pm or she’ll be like pokemon-go character you cannot make her stop until you kick-her) Dad would easily relent and before we knew it both of them are enjoying jarful of the forbidden crumbs.

But above all children can love without condition

Because of their innocence, they are capable of loving without inhibitions and condition except if she’s first honor I will have to buy her Barbie’s dream house … oh boy! 

In our race against time, we forget to be like a child – we try very hard to be an adult when situations can be settled without so much fuss like a child wanting to get on to the next color in the m&m bottle.

Maybe the world will be a better place if we try harder to be more tolerant, to love unconditionally, to not want more than what we need and to learn to give back and show respect where respect is due.

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
― Carl Sandburg

 

The Traveling Titas of Manila

Ideas, tips, and inspiration for Moms who plan trips

Oliver San Juan Photography

A blog and photography portfolio site

Hummus For Thought

By Joey Ayoub

%d bloggers like this: