My name is Haneen and this is a short essay I wrote about my homeland, Palestine.
As renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish so perfectly stated, “We have on this land what makes life worth living.” Being Palestinian, I have always felt affection towards my country of origin, but this quote truly resonated with me this past June. I never understood, or even tried to understand, how land and a people can be a teacher.
Throughout my days visiting Palestine, I’d walk in my neighborhood in the city of Jifna and see the countless olive trees swaying, yet grounded firmly in the soil that they belong to. Around the trees I saw children playing carelessly, full of passion despite their ball being deflated and not knowing where their next meal will come from. The children playing had a lot more perseverance and patience than anyone would expect. In the city of Yaffa I’d walk along the shore of the bluest sea, and rather than picking up seashells, I’d pick up pieces of glass and stone. The pieces were smoothed down, the stone having no rough edges, and the glass still being tinted vibrant colors, but a little transparent. They were once part of a home that is now long gone, but their beauty remains. The hardships they faced only transformed them, but seldom diminished their beauty or essence; they were resilient. In Jerusalem, people of all ages, sizes, and occupations walked amongst each other, often stopping to engage in conversation. An eighty year old man could make a 6 year old girl laugh, and farther down in the shops an old woman would offer a stranger some freshly fried falafel. The beauty and interconnectedness of humanity could not be more clearly shown than in the streets of Jerusalem.
I learned a lot that month in Palestine. Despite visiting for the first time ever this past summer, I have always had an indescribably deep love and appreciation for my homeland, not only because it is my country of origin, but because I see myself in Palestine. I see myself every time an olive or fig tree is deeply and confidently entrenched in the ground, every time I see children playing in the streets, and every time a stranger walks to another and strikes up a beautiful conversation. The love I have is not only a love that stems from listening to my grandfather’s stories about his childhood there, the lively flavors of the cuisine, and the beautiful rich landscape, but for the resilience, strength, and beauty that the land and people passively taught me. For the first time, I realized the core reason as to why I have always resonated so deeply with a place I had never been to until recently; I do not have to live in Palestine for Palestine to live in me. The essence of Palestine: the perseverance, resilience, beauty, selflessness, and trust in God is something that I will always carry with me, and those traits will do nothing but aid me in flourishing and thriving in life.
There was a specific scent that I kept smelling during my time in Palestine. I couldn’t figure out what it was at the time; it was floral and a little herbal. I was determined to figure it out before I left. My final day before returning to America, I picked a jasmine flower from a massive bush that had been growing on the gate and held it up to my nose, and simultaneously my cousin picked some fresh rosemary and placed it in my hand. Jasmine and rosemary, that was the smell. When I returned home in America, I made a candle of those two aromas, so that every time I lit it, the smell of resilience, love, and strength would fill my room, and inspire me to embody my authentic Palestinian self.