When I told them about the opportunity, Aya said, "I want to fly, Daddy." So I knew at least one of them was willing to leave everything behind - our home, the uncles and aunts, the cousins, the friends - and start over in a new country. Soon the others also agreed: together we would go to Canada, not forever, but for a while. The older girls, Bessan, 21, Dalal, 20, and Shatha, 17, would attend the University of Toronto; the younger children, Mayar, 15, Aya, 14, Mohammed, 13, Raffah, 10, and Abdullah, 6, would attend public school in Canada. There would be many challenges: attending classes in English, experiencing a Canadian winter, learning about a different culture. But we would also be out of the constant tension of Gaza; they'd be safe. These eight children had seemed to be adrift, even in our home, without their mother. This change would be good for them. Together, we would manage. I could see the excitement on their faces, and I felt a renewed sense of optimism for the first time in months. After the family discussion ended and we had cleared away our meal, the kids were eager to get to the beach. Fifteen of us, including the cousins and uncles, followed the rutted path up a small hill and through a meadow that led from the olive grove to the water. We walked all together, our group changing shape every few yards as one child ran ahead and two others stopped to examine an object on the path; the three girls walking together became five, arms linked. Eventually we all made it to the sand.
Despite the cool day, the children ran straight for the water, where they swam and splashed each other for hours, taking breaks to play in the sand. These children of mine - my offspring, my progeny - were the joy of my life, and they had meant the world to Nadia.
I had known Nadia's family before we were married in 1987, when she was twenty-four and I was thirty-two. It was an arranged marriage, as is the custom in our culture, but of the young women my family arranged for me to meet, Nadia seemed the most suitable. She was a quiet, intelligent woman who had studied to become a dental technician in Ramallah on the West Bank. Our families rejoiced at our union but were not as happy when we left Gaza almost immediately after our marriage for Saudi Arabia, where I had been working as a general practitioner. Nadia, too, felt the anxiety of dislocation. Though Bessan and Dalal were born there, Nadia never adjusted to living in Saudi Arabia, never felt that she belonged. The customs were different from the ones we were used to, and she keenly felt the separation from our extended family and wanted to return home, which we eventually did in 1991.
I traveled a lot after we settled again in Gaza (to Africa and Afghanistan for work and to Belgium and the United States for more medical training), but Nadia stayed at home with the children. We were a very traditional family, surrounded by my brothers and their families, my mother, who lived next door, and Nadia's mother and father, who lived nearby. Since I had to be away quite often, both Nadia and I felt the need to be close to other family members. She never complained about my frequent absences during the twenty-two years we were married. I could never have studied at Harvard or worked for the World Health Organization in Kabul, Afghanistan, or even done my obstetrics and gynecology residency in Israel, without the support she gave me.
It seemed surreal that she was gone. I watched my children and wondered what would become of them without their beloved mother. How does anyone come to terms with this sort of pain?
In the weeks since Nadia had died, Bessan, our firstborn, my oldest daughter, had assumed the role of mother as well as older sister. It was a particular relief this day to see her dashing into the sea, the surf soaking her jeans, her laughter carried away on the wind. She was a remarkable girl, my Bessan. She was on track to graduate from the Islamic University in Gaza at the end of the academic year with a business degree. She seemed to be able to handle everything: mothering the children, taking care of the house, and getting high marks at school. Since her mother had died, though, she began to see that exams were the easiest part, that there were other, harsher realities. It was a lot for a twenty-one-year-old to bear.
Excerpted from I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Copyright © 2011 by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Excerpted by permission of Walker & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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