nos·tal·gia [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-]
1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.
2.something that elicits or displays nostalgia.
1770–80; < Neo-Latin < Greek nóst ( os ) a return home + -algia -algia
Nostalgia is this magical place that I have been trapped in since I returned from my trip to Palestine last October. The thing I missed the most while I was abroad was driving. I couldn’t wait to get into my car and drive around aimlessly. Driving alone helps me to breathe and sort out my thoughts without distractions. I thought after I got back to the states I would simply be able to get back to the normal flow of things, whatever that means.
Everywhere I drove, every song I heard, every story I tried to write triggered vivid memories from my past. It even seeped into my dreams. I dream VERY vividly to such an extent that I can only explain it to you in person. I couldn’t understand why I was being so nostalgic for my past all of a sudden. I came to realize that my trip served as the perfect avenue to reevaluate my life and more time than I wanted to find myself, as cliché as it sounds. My memories were not just of Palestine, that I found myself achingly longing to return to, but also of people I missed. It hit me that after graduating from UCSD, I did a good job of secluding myself to focus on graduate school and writing.
I had a goal and I was determined to reach it. On top of that, I have always been a very private person. I’m very careful in what I reveal about myself, which is why I picked up blogging. I needed to break that shell. This post is about to get a little more honest than I intended.
Coming from Palestine mid-project period for school meant no time to rest or even sleep off my jet-lag. I dived right back into writing like my sanity depended on it, and it did. I spent almost every minute of my time, since then until my graduation in June, writing. I submerged myself into my novel and befriended my characters so that they would let me tell their story… Or at least share what was important for that time in their lives.
This forced me to neglect my photography. I found it difficult to even look through the thousands of pictures and hundreds of videos I took while in Palestine. I kept pushing it aside.
All too quickly, graduation came. I was suddenly home, sitting on my bed and holding my AULA green diploma holder that my MFA diploma would be placed in once it arrived in the mail. What now? I had a manuscript for my novel that I knew I would never stop editing until it was published, two more novels sitting unfinished on my computer, and lots of searching to do to find a job in the publishing world. For the first time since the summer after graduating high school, I had a seemingly empty summer staring me in the face and way too much time to think about my life.
I found myself looking back on just the last two years of my life and all the hurdles I jumped over and hardships I faced. With the month of Ramadan as my savior, this dark shadow seeped into my life. I had to keep reminding myself that it would pass.
"For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.
Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease."
(Qur’an, Surat Ash-Sharh, Verses 6 & 7)
I lost my motivation to write consistently. I didn’t even want to work on my photography and it was on rare occasions when I made the decision to take out my DSLR for a ride. My focus turned to finding a job. Preparing query letters for literary agents and cover letters for work topped my priority list. San Diego, in all it’s beauty and radiating beaches, felt like it had its’ hands around my throat, suffocating me. It took all my will to remind myself that, “Sometimes Allah closes all the doors and locks all the windows. During these times, it’s nice to think that maybe there’s a storm outside and Allah wants to protect you and keep you safe” (Sheikh Khalid Yasin). I needed to remember the blessing I had of not only living in such a beautiful city, but also always being enveloped with my family’s love and safety. I eased up on myself.
To be able appreciate my blessings and the good times, I need to go through hardships first. I ran across this quote from Anne Bradstreet that read, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome”. Words of wisdom from the first poet and first female writer in the British North American colonies to be published.
I started to see my new situation with fresh eyes. Everything is meant to happen for a reason and at the right time, just like my choice to go after an MFA and receiving the blessing to go abroad. Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah swt be pleased with him) said, “No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s Decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come on your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from you it cannot flee.” This did not mean that I should just sit back and let things happen. I needed to work for what I wanted. I needed to sincerely do my best and leave the rest to Allah swt. I couldn’t just ignore my responsibilities and do what I wanted, which if I had the money, would have been a wonderful alternative. I set new goals and priorities for my writing, job hunting, and knew that sooner or later I would need to open my Palestine pictures and relive the memories.
I’m actually writing this blog post as a break from looking through my Palestine pictures. Last year, during this time, I was experiencing Palestine for what felt like the first time. In my post after I returned from my trip, you may remember me mentioning that it had been twelve years since I returned to Palestine or seen my father’s side of the family. After my father’s parents passed away, I couldn’t imagine visiting when my hope had always been to meet them once again and actually have the opportunity to get to know them. I was twelve the last time I visited and vaguely remembered my trip. This wasn’t the only aspect that made my trip so important to me. I wanted to visit the places where my father was born and raised and the culture that made up half my identity.
When I booked my trip, I kept it a secret for three months. Only my grandmother and a few friends in my MFA program knew that I would be leaving a week after Eid-ul-Fitr. I actually didn’t tell anyone until the day of Eid that I would be leaving. When I finally told a select number of friends, I could tell that they couldn’t understand my excitement. Someone even commented, “It’s not like you’re getting married.” My excitement only doubled when my uncles and aunts in Palestine found out I would be coming to visit them. My father was their only sibling living in the United States and I was going to be his first child to visit them. I could feel the anticipation vibrating through our phone calls before I left. To me, traveling to Palestine was the trip of a lifetime.
I was born and raised in San Diego, California and have visited three other states (Las Vegas, Nevada and both Arizona and Michigan for weddings) all for very short amounts of time. My best memories traveling were of the fun road trips my family ventured on through California. I constantly had to sit back and listen to my friend’s retell stories of their adventures of visiting places all over the world. Some had the opportunity to visit new places and their parent’s homelands not once, but twice a year or more. Traveling came easy to many of them…
Traveling to me meant throwing down a lot of money. Every time my parents and I saved money to allow one of us to travel, it was needed somewhere more important for the benefit of the whole family. I understood this and waited patiently for the day that I would be able to hold the ticket to a new destination. Every time someone in my family moved up in education (me attending college, my brother going to college, me starting graduate school, my mother working on her master’s degree and then doctorate in education), I felt like my father’s joke that I needed to get married so that I could ask my husband to travel the world with me was going to become more of a reality before I had the chance to taste adventure on my own. I didn’t want to wait until I found the right person for me. I needed to travel alone. I needed to grow on my own and taste adventure before taking on more serious responsibilities.
Looking through my memories of Palestine reminds me that I left half my heart there. My heart now rests in the two places I call home, one in my birthplace of San Diego and the other in Falasteen (Palestine). Several nights ago, I was showing my father a few pictures and videos from my trip. I showed him pictures of his childhood home and played him videos of the streets of Jericho, where he was born and raised. I was getting excited with my gestures and telling of stories. He turned to me and said, “You really miss it. You want to go back.” The way he said it made me realize that we shared that feeling of return deeper than anyone else in the room. My mom had always been surrounded by her family in California and she had the greatest blessing of living close to her mother. However, my father had always lived far from his entire family, something that I hope I never have to experience.
Regardless of where my future takes me, I know I’ll always have easy access to a quick plane ticket home. My plane ticket alone to Palestine was close to $2000, not including the presents I took with me and the gifts I brought back. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back and that’s why I left in tears. I don’t remember having ever cried that strongly for any place or person. I have never cried when leaving my parents for school or a trip with friends because I knew that I would always be back.
Palestine, even with all my documentation, feels like a vivid dream I’ll never forget.
“There’s things that happen in a person’s life that are so scorched in the memory and burned into the heart that there’s no forgetting them” (John Boyne).
Nostalgia has taken a new meaning to my life as I sail through the present.
It’s only quite fitting that my name, Haneen, means to have a longing for someone or something. That may always be a part of my personality and destiny, to always have a longing just like the song by Fairouz titled, Ana Andi Haneen or I Have a Longing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj8psXRl7pc Stick my name into Google translate and it will translate Haneen as Nostalgia. I didn’t know this until my cousins in Palestine sent my a message a few years back and it was obvious that they had used a translator to try to speak to me in English.
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you, and Allah knows while you know not” (Qur'an, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 216).
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know that I won’t stop fighting for my goals. I will continue to write for the sake of diversifying novels. I will continue to have faith that Allah swt has something amazing written for my career. I will continue to believe that one day I will visit Palestine again and even travel all over the world on new adventures.
Until then, I’ll continue to send out query letters to literary agents in hopes of getting my novel published and cover letters to secure a job I’ll actually enjoy getting up early and possibly never sleeping for. Please keep me in your dua’, prayers, and good thoughts! I’m working on creating a webpage for myself for my writing and photography to share with you! In the meantime, like my new writer page on Facebook (it’s about time, huh?) by clicking here https://www.facebook.com/haneenoriqatwriter. If you see me in person, ask me if I’ve been writing and taking pictures… I should never stop. Life is always full of excitement and blessings even when you can’t see it at the moment.
Oh! If you speak to me, ask me for a new blog post! But, beware, you may get a lot more honesty from me in my posts than you’d like…
I’ll leave you with a few Dabke songs that are helping me get through my pictures.
Birds of Heaven, “The Homeland of my Eyes”
Mohammad Assaf, “Raise the Kuffiya”
(It picks up at around 2:20)
(Mohammad Assaf was the Arab Idol 2013 winner)
Mohammad Kabha, “On the Road to Jerusalem”
Mohammad Kabha, “Where to Ramallah”
Maher Halabi, “Oh Bird that is Flying”
(Visits all the cities of Palestine and mentions what each city is known for.)
If you have never seen Dabke performed (you’ve been missing out)…
Even in France!