On parasites and parting gifts

So, its been a while-I’ll admit. We’re now, back in Maryland, where Yousuf has started first grade and Noor has started going to pre-school two mornings a week. It was a very long, very hot summer-as Yousuf keeps reminding me (“is the weather cooler now in Gaza? When it is, tell me so we can go back!”) -but a very productive and interesting one. I am always sad to leave Gaza, my home, the place of so much inspiration and energy and hope-despite the continuous efforts to destroy it. For the first time in recent memory,we were able to cross in-and out-of Gaza in a single morning with no problems.

I guess Gaza felt the same way about us leaving so it gave us a little parting gift…

For weeks, Noor, who was attending a nursery there while I was working, was complaining of an itchy head.

I dismissed her daily pleas as a dry scalp and blamed either the saline faucet water or the body wash I mistook as shampoo and had been using on her hair. “But its itchy, itchy” she kept saying (“bi7uk!)… yeah yeah, so is my hair if I don’t use head and shoulders, big deal, I thought, if its not the water, it must be your genes…

But the itching did not cease. When we made it back to Columbia, I noticed little scabs on her scalp, which I could barely make out through her billowy brown curls.

“Yassine-why is her hair itching?” I inquired, hoping the doctor in him could provide an satisfying answer.

“Dunno-maybe its lice?” he replied nonchalantly, the seasoned son of a refugee camp.

“WHAT?! Lice? Where would she have gotten that from?!” I asked, quickly picking through her curls.

“Naw-long shot, I doubt it” he re-assured me, taking a quick look. “See, nothing”.

But more itching. I snuck to her bedroom, closed the door, and in the privacy of our own space, we discovered the horrible truth on our own…a tiny, sesame shaped bug was racing through her scalp, another hopping around like an ecstatic grasshopper in a large empty field (I’ve been told lice don’t jump-apparently, Gaza’s lice do)…

and then I lost it….”YASIIIIIIIIIIINE…NOOR HAS LICE……..HURRY….HELP…go buy lice shampoo or whatever now!!!” I screamed, recalling a diary article I read from some parenting digest I used to get in my inbox. “NOW!!!!” IT was 11pm. But my loving husband went anyway to the nearest Giant and retrieved said medication.

A quick search through my own hair with the lice comb revealed I too had the unwanted buggers feeding on my head. And so I spent the next week boiling and disinfecting and vacuuming and washing and bagging every article of clothing, carpet, couch, toy, or bag we came in touch with, only to discover that its not really the live lice you have to worry about-its their eggs, or nits, which stick to your hair shafts with some kind of superglue they manufacture, and are nearly impossible to get rid of without finding them one by one ( ever heard of the word “nit-picking?”).

Upon discovering this unnerving fact, I began to research and employ every available home remedy known to man to “dissolve” the nit glue…we soaked our hair in olive oil and vinegar, until we smelled like salad; we poured Listerine on our hair over the tub; Vicks baby rub with essential oils; hot air from a dryer; tea tree shampoo; rosemary sprigs under our pillows…you name it, we tried it.

I then spoke to my father on Skype, back in Gaza City, who convinced me that the easiest thing to do is to shave Noor’s hair. “No! I can’t do that! Her curls!” Instead I sat her on the ground and began to snip every little white thing I saw in her hair…but one hair let to another, then another, then a bunch of hairs, until she looked like a mulcher had gone through it.

Then, in a moment of panic, I whisked her to the kitchen, took out the clippers…and sheared off her curls. That’s right, Noor was bald (I say was, because her hair has since grown about half an inch).

“You know you really didn’t have to do that” Yassine said, “just don’t go telling everyone you speak to that our daughter has lice” he added “there is a lot of stigma associated with it even though its very common in schools and has nothing to do with hygeine”.

“Who, me? tell everyone” c’mon Yassine…who am I gonna tell?” I replied.

Yousuf’s initial reaction was laughter. He then said she resembled Ang from the Avatar series, and proceeded to draw an arrow on her forehead, while I was driving, with a marker (I’m not sure how markers miraculously appear when you least expect-or want-them to). Noor loved it. I tried initially to conceal the fact that she had lice from him, worried this news may quickly spread to his friends and send the school in a panic (luckily, Yousuf was not infected, thanks to his short-sheared hair shortly before we left Gaza).

Her hair is slowly growing back, but of course we are constantly asked whether she was born like that, whether she’s sick, whether we decided to hold a belated head-shaving for her (an Islamic tradition, which we never did at birth), or whether we just did it because its a very modern and cool haircut.

“No-just head lice” I reply, finally coming to terms with the parasites who broke the siege and overcoming the stigma. “A parting gift from Gaza!”