It’s been slightly more than a week since I cycled 4Gaza and I still dream of riding bicycles.
For three days we endured on our metal steeds, our helmets: visor less, our banners: Palestinian flags. Through rain, cold winds, and lush green fields, through wet asphalt roads, warm cozy neighbourhoods, and busy highways, we pedaled. It wasn’t in Gaza; but it was Gaza on our minds.
It’s been slightly more than a year since the attack on Gaza, and its children still have nightmares.
The last leg of the ride was a straight 45 km cycle from Gouda to The Hague. It was raining and the temperatures dropped below usual winter temperatures for most of the cyclers who were there from The Arabian Gulf. We didn’t have jackets on us, for we started out sunny that day. Soon enough we ran out of snacks, most ran out of water. How we felt was not important anymore. We had transpired beyond our physicality and into something grander. We were reminded of a collective idea of belonging, of solidarity, of the relief that we will bring to some of the children, however temporary, however miniscule. On to The Hague we rode, to a modest crowd of 20 supporters who waited for us for two hours in the rain. They came showering us with snacks, water, flowers, and flags, and unrehearsed we started calling for freedom.
On those three days I was not me; I was a half Palestinian – half Irish mother of four, a 14 year old cancer survivor from the West Bank, a Welsh Irish wife of an Israeli historian, a spirited Kashmiri from London, an American widower who dedicates his life to help Arab children, a striking Persian psychiatrist that heads the Pediatric Mental Health Project in Gaza. I was a Palestinian dentist from London, a polished Gazan entrepreneur, an MBA student, a consultant, a marketeer, an Italian-speaking architect, an interior designer, a fashionista, an Engineer, a financial analyst, a lawyer, an 18 year old high graduate volunteering in Ecuador, a German guide. My name was Mutassem, and I was the first Arab amputee to climb Kilimanjaro. I wore lipstick to the ride each morning. I was a chanter afraid of dogs, and I was born in Kisumu, Kenya. I was 14 years old and approaching my 60th year. On these three days, I was not me, I was everybody, and for these three days, and for one of the very few times of my life, I had a small glimpse of Palestine; and it was beautiful.
After the ride we had to head for a celebratory dinner some 1.5 km away from the hotel we were staying in. As I waited for a taxi at the entrance of the hotel, with quivering hands in my jacket pockets, Mutasem passed me. I asked him where is he headed, he said he wouldn’t pass up on a chance to walk by the beach. Gazans and their love of the sea. I realized I couldn’t pass up on the honour of sharing that walk with him.
I guess Steve Sosebee put it best: Human relationships and life experiences when combined with helping others is 99% of why we’re here in this world. The other 1% is to eat chicken shawarma in Ramallah.
In a song for Ahmad Kabbour titled “Oh you who is traveling towards my country”, he asks the traveller to inquire whether it is still forbidden to dream. For the sake of allowing traumatized children to dream, we cycled.