I can still remember the first thought that crossed my mind when I came back from our family’s five-year trip to the USA. I was about 15 at that time and I was puzzled to see that the faces of people lacked one feature: A smile. It was still the first Palestinian Intifada back in 1990, yet I hadn’t come to understand why the people looked so somber and gloomy. One day as I walked down the street with my mother, I was my old happy perked up self and so I inadvertently smiled at a women whom we passed. My mom suddenly nudged me saying: Don’t smile at people in the street, they’ll interpret it in different ways. Consequently, my heart received its first blow which attempted to kill the free spirit so typical of my late childhood back then. As days passed, I saw and learned how the past three years of unrest moulded the people of Gaza into their current shape. A daily curfew was imposed which started around 6:00 P.M. Our ears got used to the Israeli loudspeakers daily annoucement of :” Those who break the curfew are risking death”. It was common to be walking to school when out of the blue as if a stage fell from the sky where the young stone-hurlers appeared and Israeli soldiers chased them down or shot tear gas at them. If any person got caught up in the middle, they couldn’t turn back. Instead, they would seek shelter in a nearby alley and wait till the clashes abated then go their way.
That was in the day time. But nights often held more excitement. During the night, the whole house was brought wide awake by a long press of the doorbell. Soldiers barged into houses and turned things upside down, especially the kitchen which was torn down and an avalanche of dishes, cups and everything else were brought down in seconds. Such appalling situations are enough to turn any woman into grim and grumpy. Even at school, most teachers were too strict and serious making no room for any kind of cheerfulness.
Just as I struggled with life, so I did with my precious gift of smiling. I knew deep inside that I had to protect it from dying out. Our Prophet (Peace be upon him) taught us that a smile is a form of charity one gives to others. I can relate to that in so many ways when I sense the magic of a smile that radiates powerfully. When Isee a smile, it assures me that everything will be alright and that I’m respected by the person standing in front of me. As simple as it is, the smile in Gaza has gone through many impediments to remain alive.