Afnan Linjawi, Effat University, Makkah, Saudi Arabia
It was a summer breeze that made me first open my eyes
I was too little to see, but old enough to hear my mother’s cries
I heard her croon to me as she cuddled her first baby
But I also heard a boom before she told my dad to turn off the TV
“They bombed the Eastern Province, the Gulf War is here!”
My mother glared at my father, I felt her tears
“Please Abdulmalik, there will be no more news in our house
We have a child now. She will only know about Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.”
My mother was a woman of peace
She hated the news because they never left her at ease
While my father was a news fan
He would lock me out to watch politicians rant
I would stick my ear to the door and peer through the keyhole
Daddy was watching gunshots and blood rivers
Streaming from Iraq to Palestine
As political analysts said it an inevitable sign.
When I went to school to learn about the world
I came in with All Star shoes and fluent English, ready to explore.
My Palestinian teacher refused to meet my eye
I reminded her too much of the enemy that made her cry.
I felt guilty and like a traitor
I didn’t know what my crime was but I felt I betrayed her.
Slowly, Arabic became what I uttered
And black was my attire
Just as I was finding my place
A plane crashed in New York and killed hundreds
I was no longer watching Home Alone on TV
But pictures and names familiar to me.
Women dressing the way I did were headlines
Phone conversations in my language were threat lines
Internally I was chagrined for not doing more
Externally I was mocked for living in closed doors.
After years of bewilderment and accepted nonsense
I realized that it was You who told me I was oppressed
You, told me I was misguided and unblessed
You, put a weapon in my hand
Turned my language into an international poison
Defined my attire as prison
And took away my voice by a caption.
You were my biggest influence
You taught me my place and my importance
You struck fear in my heart
You wanted to break me apart
So I wouldn’t reach out to the nations in their native tongue
And teach them the way my language is sung
So when a head-scarfed girl meets a white blond boy
They’d be too afraid to say hello.
Your photos made them blind to the coral beauty of Jeddah
Your ignorant accusations made them deaf to the stories of grandma
Their fear strung louder than Hijazi music
They missed the chance to create art and magic.
You forgot to tell them that grandma finished school in the thirties
Before men knew how to drive or fix a light bulb
You forgot to tell them women used to guard Makkah
When men tended to pilgrims in Arafah.
I am 23 years old now and I am a journalist
The time for me to write you has come
It is time I tell the world about my true home
It is time to bridge cultures and celebrate the differences.