My school only taught English. All the teachers were from English speaking countries that not only taught their language, but also their culture. The fact that my parents only had basic knowledge of the language and the culture, added to the gap of the generations.
They would feel pride at my engleezi speaking ability. A good indication of the good expensive education I was getting; that I am also grateful for, so please don’t misunderstand.
The schools we went to distinguished us from the children who went to public schools who were taught in Arabic, and was an indication of the top middle class of the society we belonged to, children of engineers of Oil and Gas public companies and private business owners.
We learnt English at such an early age that it was stored in the same place in our brains as Arabic, so we didn’t have to translate in our minds, and we can skillfully switch from one language to the other without even noticing.
Sure there was a mediocre Arabic lesson taught by the remnants of Arab unity leftists of the ‘70s and ‘80s who subtly enlightened us with the notion of Arab pride; usually done by having every one in class say which country they came from and in the end being lectured that nobody said that they were Arab, which I found to be counter intuitive since it was an Arabic lesson, and all the non Arab students took French instead.
The residual effect of this exercise had us programed to answer the question of where are you from by saying we were Arab.
We were children of an Arab generation that went through several wars and diasporas, be it ’48, ’67, ’73 or ’82, who left their countries seeking a better life, and now live in a country they don’t belong to, whose children went to English schools with English teachers. This made me wonder which part of me was Arab.
My parents were Palestinians, whatever that meant. They passed on Palestine to us as an idea. We didn’t know much of it, we just knew it was “home”, we were kicked out, and one day we shall return. When we tried to probe to understand what had happened and why, the blame was always thrown on others. When we tried to question as to how we can reclaim our lost land, the task always fell on someone else.
However my father always deemed it necessary to point out our roots, but the circumstances that we lived in didn’t show anything that would allow us to relate to what a Palestinian is. On the contrary, we would get into arguments with people within our family on whether we were Lebanese with Palestinian origins or Palestinians with a Lebanese nationality.
This sentiment made us cling to anything that would resemble our lost land. Various pictures were hung in the foyer, guests had to know upon entrance that we were Palestinians, we had an identity to protect. Our key chains, necklaces, t-shirts, bumper stickers, they had Palestine all over them, we were Palestinians.
Palestine was the pickled green olives, the olive oil that came in tin cans, and the white cheese that was as salty as stories of our lost land; we ate them with pride. Although they didn’t taste that special to me, I dare not mention it, how unpatriotic.
My eldest brother had the closest geographical birth to Palestine. He was born in Lebanon. The day he was born there was an injured militia man, Abu Something, in the same hospital and when knowing that my mother was a Palestinian lady he sent her a bottle of cologne addressed to “The mother of the lion cub.”
Nine years later, on a 5th grade writing assignment, “the lion cub” had to write about a trip to outer space. His assignment involved being sent on a top secret mission by Yasser Arafat to find a planet as an alternative home to Palestinians. He succeeded in his mission by finding Abu Cuckoo, a planet where all the refugees can call home.
My parents were called in by the school to discuss the content of their sons writing. His creativity and patriotic inclinations were worrisome. They returned home in shame. “Remove all this empty talk from your head, and focus on your studies.”