Sometimes I’m hit by such a rush of memories that I forget where I am for a few seconds, start thinking in another language and suddenly lose my sense of direction. This morning it was the refreshing early 7am breeze and blue skies, undertone of the heat that would build up during the day. My building steps became the path to the sea, the offices across the street into where sea and sky collide, hazy. And then the rush subsided, gone. No longer walking barefoot down a sandy path, instead thrown back into reality by the sound of a car’s brakes screeching to a halt at the traffic lights. I still miss the warmth of the water in the summer, and the quiet patch of beach just across the road from the kibbutz grounds. 15 years on and I know that there will always be seaglass waiting for me in the sand, washed a thousand times over, subdued greens and blues.
I’m exactly 7,292 miles from that location nowadays. When the sun rises here in California it hangs low in the sky in the Arava desert, and slips behind the buildings in Nahariya while the waves slip gently against the coarse sand. I miss the blunt conversations, straight shooters, no time for beating around the bush and euphemisms. A question is a question, no hidden agenda, brusque facades hiding warm, strong, caring personalities, a laugh always a belly laugh and an “I love you” more than just lip service. A huge sense of freedom inhabited my soul during my time there, a tiny country fraught with so much ongoing tension, unrest, and hatred and fear. But ultimately the country in which I have never felt safer. Nowhere else have I walked the streets alone at night without feeling jumpy, nowhere else have I walked around without the fear of being accosted, insulted, or just hurt. But I heard violence, I saw violence, and I met violence, and encountered those who had been through violence, the trauma etched on their lined faces, loss vibrating through their exterior of strength. There was pain, and frustration, pride and will, but the balance that ran through some areas was invisible in others. A small strip of land where hearts beat together but where pockets of land have been divvied out, people forced on or forced away, and bombs and bullets are a language used more often than the handshake of words.
My memories are from 2003 and 2004, during the Second Intifada, a period that ended in another boot quashing a revolution, and a deeper ridge of hatred, in which a wall was built, separating people from their homes, again. I flew over Gaza one day, in a tiny little 6 person airplane, the view from above a vivid exposure that you don’t see from the ground. So many people on such a small piece of land, locked in by walls and fences on one side, by coastguard boats on the other, guards who shoot first, talk later. I don’t have the answer, we can blame history, other countries, hatred, fear, we can blame politicians who side with the hardliners rather than the general population, but blaming the past will not help the present. There has to be a better solution than eternal murder, death, and mutilation, threads of hatred and oppression passed through generations until everyone forgets why we exist, and focuses only on the elimination of the other.
When you actually live somewhere you have a different experience to those who visit, however often they may visit. You plant a little bit of yourselves in the ground, create routines to stabilize that feeling of ungroundedness, you let the words of a new language filter in through your own, rolling these words around in your mouth until they start to feel comfortable. And while you explore there is no urgency to it, you linger in spaces, go back again, tracing the sand with your fingertips, watching the sun create her shadows over the land, burning you, warming you, loving you. People start to address you in the local language, not realizing you are not from there, and you begin to call the place you rest your head “home”. I fit in there, swimming in a sense of belonging, even though on paper I definitely didn’t.
Yalla, it’s time to go back and water those seeds scattered over the desert rocks and down there by the Mediterranean, they are waiting, patiently for me to finish what I started there. A journey of healing, self-love, and understanding that most of the time all is not what it seems to be, and that instinct is key. It might not be tomorrow, this year, or next year, but I will be back, and when I do it will be a different place where the majority share their pita and hummus, and oppression has been replaced by coexistence. Naïve, maybe, but still hopeful. In the meantime I welcome the random rush of memories and the stories of sand, sea, warmth, and growing that continue to flow through my fingers.