From Asmaa Alatawna’s ‘A Long Walk From Gaza’ – ARABLIT & ARABLIT QUARTERLY

A Long Walk From Gaza — written by Asmaa Alatawna and co-translated by Caline Nasrallah and Michelle Hartman — is a story about a girl’s life in Gaza and her journey to Europe as a young adult. It chronicles the moments that often come to define one’s childhood experience, such as innocent crushes or sneaking off to play in the neighborhood, while also capturing the cruel conditions of living under both occupation and the patriarchy. It is an honest and vulnerable novel: a tale of resilience.

My father slept all day and only rose at dawn to wake my mother so she could prepare his food. She refused and scolded him if he woke us up early too. So he opened a tin of sardines and ate that.

The days he spent at home, out of work, felt like some sort of hellish jail. He kept inventing excuses to hit and kick us and spit in our mother’s face. He was looking for any outlet for his anger.

He turned on the little TV to watch the news. He was closely monitoring all the developments of the Intifada and followed every detail. He turned up the volume whenever they played revolutionary songs, drowning out the sound of the air conditioner.

        In the colors of Palestine he is shrouded
        he is shrouded in green,
        he is shrouded in red,
        he is shrouded in white,
        he is shrouded in black.

We stopped talking so as not to annoy him. Otherwise we’d bear the brunt of his anger and hear those usual curses, You and her—go to your room, damn you. Go inside! I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.

Observing him from behind the door, we could tell that he was living that moment as if he were the one throwing stones and getting shot at. The Children’s Revolt of the First Intifada had broken out. He inspected every face on the screen, trying to see if he could recognize anyone. He wanted to feel like he’d never left Gaza, that he hadn’t missed out on anything.

He was glued to the screen, watching a video of Israeli soldiers breaking the bones of a seventeen-year-old with rocks. Amal pinched me and ran off. I got up to chase her, only for my head to bump into my father’s belly. He hit me, kicked me, cursed me:

“I swear to God, I’ll mop the floor with your blood, you little bitch. What did I tell you all, huh?”

I wriggled free of him with great difficulty and escaped to the chicken coop to hide. Amal was close behind and stuck her tongue out at me.

My father called out to my mother, “Hind, come here, quick. They got Abu Kirsh’s son. They broke his bones.”
My mother rushed over to the television, terrified, to see for herself.

“Poor Umm Rami, poor woman. They killed her son. God give her strength and the patience to endure. May He break all their bones in return.”

She covered her head with her white prayer shawl and went over to our neighbor Akbar Khan’s house. She wanted to use their telephone to call the international central exchange. But she collided with me as I was trying to get away from the crazy red chicken that was fluttering after me and pecking at me, thinking I was trying to steal her eggs. Amal was right behind me, still making fun of me. My mother pushed me over the doorstep and gave me a scolding.

“Go inside. What are you doing still out in this heat? Go in or you’ll get heatstroke.”

But I followed her to the neighbors’ to find out what was going on. She only used their phone if there was an emergency. I overheard what she said to her father—I heard her say Rami’s name. I froze. I was suddenly so afraid for Rami and Abdullah that the tears flowed uncontrollably from my eyes. Memories of our neighborhood, the grove, that masked-up face with a keffiyeh wrapped around it surfaced all at once. Could Rami have gone back to Gaza … had occupation soldiers caught him? Had they killed him? I couldn’t speak. I let my mother tell our neighbor what had happened. I ran off behind the house and climbed the iron ladder up to the roof. By then I was sobbing, caught up in the past, seized by the terror that Abdullah might have been martyred now that they’d captured his brother.

The red chicken still had an eye on me. She was scratching the desert sand with her beak. Throwing stones at her from the roof, I yelled, “What are you looking at you bitch?!”

I climbed back down and splashed some water from the big white plastic tank on my face. I headed to the bedroom to bury myself under a bedsheet so my sisters wouldn’t notice my red-rimmed eyes and make fun of me. My mother came in a few minutes later and ripped off her prayer shawl, the heat unbearable. It fell to the ground. She slammed the door behind her so forcefully that our Jamal al-Mahamel print fell off the wall. The nail it was hanging on fell too. My father picked up the nail and started hammering it back in with his sandal. He hung the print on its nail and turned up the tv.

        Where are the masses?
        Where are all the Arabs?
        Where? Where?

My mother sat beside him and shared the bad news she’d heard from her father about the Intifada and how scary things were getting in the neighborhood.

I lay in the bedroom, eyes closed, hoping that God would answer my prayers. I wanted to go back to our neighborhood immediately. I needed to check on Rami and Abdullah.

My mother called me and my sisters to help her pick the freshly washed and dried cotton out of the cushions. We finished picking out the cotton and Kifah sewed new pillows out of it.

The television went quiet. My father turned out the lights in the living room and lay down on the mattress on the floor. My mother tossed him a new pillow to sleep on.

Asmaa Alatawna, born in Gaza in 1978,  is a Palestinian Bedouin from the desert of Al Naqb, and a French citizen and resident of Toulouse since 2001. A graduate of English literature from the University of Al Azhar, she then obtained her masters in geopolitics from Sciences Po. While in Gaza, Asmaa worked at the Spanish press agency EFE. Today, she is a member of the Institute for Experimental Arts La Petite board in the cinema domain. Alatawna is known for her involvement in art and gender issues.

Caline Nasrallah is a literary translator, editor, and researcher with a focus on language as a feminist tool. She has co-translated two novels, A Long Walk from Gaza being her third. Her editing and translation work spans fiction and non-fiction. She endeavors to put language at the service of liberation in each of her projects.

Michelle Hartman is a professor of Arabic Literature at McGill University and literary translator of fiction, based in Montreal. She has written extensively on women’s writing and the politics of language use and translation and literary solidarities. She is the translator of several works from Arabic, including Radwa Ashour’s memoir The Journey, Iman Humaydan’s novels Wild Mulberries and Other Lives, Jana Elhassan’s IPAF shortlisted novels The Ninety-Ninth Floor and All the Women Inside Me as well as Alexandra Chreiteh’s novels Always Coca Cola and Ali and His Russian Mother.

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