I think that for international women’s day, this poem would be very suitable. I wrote this in honour of my own mother, Amal Hayatli, a long time ago. And what was important about her past is that it showed me that there is no reason for losing hope. When I was younger, I was infected with Orientalism. I believed that we, the Arab people, had no hope for peace or creating any sort of just equality simply because of who were were, and I thought we were chaotic, barbaric and just different.
But my mother and all of her friends (and comrades) of her days as a refugee in Lebanon has destroyed these stereotypes with a single stroke. She was part of a respected women’s union, as well as a supporter of Fatah. She and her friends ensured that women would be at least respected, even if they faced difficulties. She believed in education and never shied way from reading the likes of Lenin and Marx.
One of her best friends is an Arab Christian by birth. Someone of a totally different faith. While the media would have you believe that for some reason we won’t get along, they practically grew up together, and quite possibly saved each other’s lives. Together and with many others, they witnessed the horrors of the Lebanese civil war from 1975, and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as the civil war was still dragging along. We still see her to this day when we visit Palestine, and she still is one of the most lively people I have met, her name is Shadia Helou.
Environments mould you with invisible hands
So what did they do in refugee camps?
Your stories are like windows to a different world
Where the brave die young and the wise die old
A place that is colourful yet poverty stricken
Squashed together by concrete buildings
There were reasons to be happy, but more for sorrow
And if that wasn’t enough there were wars to follow
Environments mould you with a single breath
So what did they do when they puff out death?
Every now and then I sit by your side
As you fire off names of those who died
Quicker than bombs, bullets and flares in the sky
Late night incursions and panicking cries
You even saw people being ripped to shreds
One moment living, another moment dead
You told me when you had a fear of planes
When your group was bombed in your active days
Yet you pulled through; worked and survived
And without this I wouldn’t be alive
Environments mould you with a single swipe
So what did they do when they struck you with life?
I know you were a teacher and a vigorous fighter
But I think you’re best as a caring mother
Baby to child, almost a fully grown man
And I am glad to be raised by your hands
I was not only moulded by your warm embrace
It’s also the blinding heat of the problems we face
A salute to you for fighting to be free
And another for giving birth to me