The Epic Struggle of A Trapped Student
The Epic Struggle of A Trapped Student
By: Fidaa Abuassi
Last night, I had a dream that I was running, running and running, and I kept running till I glanced an emergency exit. Though I cannot remember whether I made my way out, I woke up feeling breathless. Strangled. Suffocated. I cannot even find a better word to describe that feeling, but I think it would suffice to say I woke up to another morning in Gaza! Every night I sleep hopefully that tomorrow is a “better” day only to have a “bitter” one instead. My mornings in Gaza are as salty as the tap water I wash –or rather taint– my face with. I even replaced my “good morning” to my mother with “sabah el-maleh” (salty morning). Despite myself, however, every night I rekindle my hope that tomorrow will bring me a “good morning”.
In this post of mine, I won’t complain about the sewage-scented, salty-taste water nor about the constant power cuts or about the fuel crisis because, despite all of that, I have a “better” life than others’ as my mom always keeps me reminded. Alright then, I shall not complain but can I, at least, lament those “others” and feel sorry that they have a worse life than mine? Yes, mom, I do have a “bitter” life when washing my face, let alone taking a shower, is an issue for me every single morning. And if all the people of Gaza altogether could normalize their suffering, I couldn’t, and never will. Let me just whisper to those who take their life for granted “please don’t.”
Inspired by my own dream, I wonder why this big prison of Gaza doesn’t have an emergency exit one could use at times of suffocation, of asphyxiation, of depression or of any other emergency situations! I have never felt the need to scream at the top of my voice as I do now. I have never hated my life as I do today. I don’t only despise but also reject this life of imprisonment, this life of injustice, this life of nothing but humiliation and dehumanization. I sometimes wish I were born somewhere else, in a place that knows no borders, checkpoints, permits, or endless papers. I am dreaming of a life beyond these borders, a life without borders because I hate borders so much. I do. I do. And, it is unfair when I have all the needed paperwork to travel, and only a goddamn border has the power to determine whether I can leave or not.
If only they knew how hard we worked to make this happen! With the help of many wonderful people I met in the U.S. I got admitted to an MA program and was given an assistantship. Since that wasn’t by any means easy to achieve, I couldn’t have been happier! I thought that, with the school admission letter, my professor’s letter of support, and other letters of recommendation, obtaining a student visa would be a piece of cake.
I was proven wrong. I was easily denied the visa by the US embassy in Cairo for a reason I still don’t grasp. I remember that upon my leaving the embassy I wanted to go back and scream the hell out at them that how dare they deny me a visa after months of effort! I remember crying my eyes out on my way back to Gaza, still in a state of shock that this couldn’t be possible, and that they must have been mistaken or simply utterly ruthless as, by denying me a visa, they decided that all what we did for months came to naught.
A few days later after recovering, I refused to give up. I pulled myself together and decided to re-apply again in the US consulate in Jerusalem, knowing that, for a Palestinian from Gaza, going to Jerusalem is almost a mission impossible. The visa application process took a considerable amount of time till I finally succeeded to have a visa interview appointment. I applied for a permit to go there. To my sheer astonishment, I was granted a permit by Israel to go to Jerusalem for my visa interview in the US consulate in a matter of days only. I felt that moment I was the luckiest on earth. My visit to Jerusalem was just surreal.
After the interview, they usually tell whether one will be given a visa. They didn’t tell me that day. I was told that they would review my documents and let me know their final decision via email. I waited for a response. And waited. And waited. I kept calling, emailing, sending letters, asking the help of this and that, trying every possible means. My university, my sponsor, my friends in the U.S. did their utmost. In my last email to the consulate I sounded so pathetic that they might have felt guilty, so they decided to issue me a visa at last. Two months have already elapsed since the day I started this whole visa process.
One would think that having the visa should be the end of the trouble. That was just the beginning. The people of Gaza are either damned or damned, for Gaza is really doomed when it was destined to have its borders with Egypt and Israel. With the closure of Rafah border due to what’s going on in Egypt, I couldn’t simply leave, nor could a single Gazan. The very few people who managed to leave experienced hell on their way out.
I decided to try the other border, the one with Israel: Eretz. In order to cross Eretz and travel via Amman, I will need an Israeli permit, a Jordanian entry approval, the Allenby-bridge blue card (which I knew about only recently), another permit from the government, and not to forget my passport, my visa and my Palestinian ID. There was only a week left for my school to start, and applying to these permits would take at least 3 weeks. The Jordanian approval alone took me two weeks. It has been so far 3 weeks since I applied for the Israeli permit, and I am still waiting. I sometimes wonder if I was made for waiting because I seem I spend most of my time just waiting.
Two weeks ago, the director of my MA program I enrolled in sent me an email that it is too late for me to join classes since I have missed so far four weeks of classes, and due to that I won’t be able to enter the U.S. though I have a visa valid for a couple of years. I will have to renew the admission letter and the I-20 form to be able to come to the U.S. The school has offered me much help already and generously decided to quickly mail me these new forms.
I am not really in the mood to talk about our mailing service in Gaza. With the water, power and fuel issues, this one seems irrelevant. The documents arrived safe and sound in Ramallah two days ago. Now, I should find a way to bring them here to Gaza or bring “myself” there to Ramallah! I am afraid the new form will be invalid by the time I get the permit to leave Gaza via Eretz. Here I am, trapped in Gaza, unable to leave due to borders! For those who enjoy the freedom of movement, just remember the thousands and thousands of students who are trapped in Gaza waiting for a gate to open! If you believe that we have the right to education, please sign this petition: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Egypt_Open_Gazas_Rafah_Crossing_1/?copy