Sometimes, when I am deep in thought while performing some banal task like folding the laundry, I wonder what memories Yousuf will harbor from his brief but continuous trips to Gaza. Will it merely be waiting on borders? Will it be factional infighting that scarred our living room windows? Or spontaneous artillery shelling that scarred our nightly slumber? 8 hour electricity outages? Or maybe he will simply forget Gaza as he becomes more and more immersed in suburban America, the way we all slowly forget a place it when it has no presence on our air waves.
You can never really get a straight answer out of 6 year olds-you never know what they are thinking. So I let him live and “experience” Gaza for it is, the reality, the beauty, the horror, without trying to prod and poke and mold his experiences for him. I tried to get him to keep a writing journal this summer, but he was too hot, most of the time, and too busy watching cartoons or swimming the rest of the time.
Yesterday were parent-teacher conferences at Yousuf’s school. Yousuf is a stellar student, told me his teacher. She was stunned-in a good way- to learn we only speak Arabic to him at home, that he didn’t know his ABC’s when he went into KG (part of our Arabic immersion technique). What about class participation, I inquired-is he shy? “Oh no-he is quite the chatterbox-he likes to share just about everything he does, all the extra-curricular activities, bowling…swimming…karate”.
Later that day, I asked what else he shared with his class. “Did you tell the class about your trip to Gaza this summer?” I asked.
“Yes! I did” came the enthusiastic response.
“Oh really? And what did you share?” I continued.
“I told them how I got to go the stores by myself! I also told them I saw a soldier. But I don’t remember- was he a Jewish soldier or Palestinian?”
I smiled. Yousuf remembered Gaza. And for him, the highlight of the trip there, the memory he kept, was the fact that he was able to walk all the way to the store two blocks down the road, down from the bank, across the fading election posters and the ever-present donkey tied to the orange Municipality trash bin with “Sharon” spray-painted on it, with his little sister, and buy things by himself from the shopkeeper that knew him when was a fetus in my womb, and then a nursing babe in my arms. It was this memory that he kept, despite the suffocating summer heat that enveloped us with no reprieve, despite the twice weekly shelling that shook the city streets he shopped on, despite the fact that his father was unable to come with us.
We had just read a story about a boy in Johanessburg, South Africa together-and noted how little things he did in his routine were different-like riding to school in the back of a pick-up truck, while others were the same.
“I guess you can’t do that here in Columbia, can you?” I joked.
We both laughed, as we remembered Gaza. And the memories we keep of it.