As I lay in the living room of my sixth-floor apartment, with Christmas lights twinkling in the room, scented candles burning, and the heat on high, my thoughts are concentrated on the imaginary cup of tea I wish I had. After a long day, finally the world sits still around me, and, at least for the next few hours, I have nothing to worry about, and no plan for the evening. All I know is that my throat is slightly aching, and the only thing separating me from my cup of tea is getting off the couch and turning on the stove a few feet away.
Then, I proceed to make the same error I have been making much too frequently lately. I pick up my iPhone and start to tweet about my dilemma – as a joke – of being too lazy to get up and make tea. Before I finish the 140 characters, as always, I catch myself in a small, shameful moment.
I think about my aunt, Abla, in Gaza. The one who is like a mother to me while I visit, who still pinches my cheeks and talks to me like I’m two years old, who takes care of my grandmother. who keeps my whole family going. My ‘amto Abla, who makes endless cups of tea for any visitor she receives, and whom I emulate every time I make tea for my loved ones back in the United States.
In this moment I thought about ‘amto Abla and her tea. For several days the Gaza Strip has been completely out of fuel, causing power outages for eighteen hours a day, severe shortages on gas for cars and generators, and even flooded sewage lines. Stoves and ovens no longer work. I realized that my ‘amto can no longer make tea.
I realized that if I could only send Gaza the power that waits in these apartment stoves for hours and hours day after day, families would be able to cook for their children.
I realized that the candle I’m burning for luxury burns in Gaza for survival.
I realized that no matter how hard I try, there is something in me that always leads me to be ignorant of my opportunities. No matter how often you catch yourself, no matter how much you empathize; you lack perspective by default. Even if the realization comes within milliseconds, you still know that before you hit backspace, all you cared about was you.
It feels like it’s engraved in your mentality – inescapable. I often find myself wishing I could live my life in an underdeveloped country instead just to escape the guilt. Yet then I realize, what an egotistical desire to leave the privileges others would die for, just so that I could feel better about myself.
These overwhelming feelings have come over me thousands times in my life, often all within a few minutes of time, but never as frequently so as the past few weeks. I knew eventually I would end up writing about it. I knew the emotions would become too much to bear; I would need to take some of them out of me and put them into words. Thinking about my aunt brought me to this point.
She was an Arabic teacher in Dubai for over fifteen years. This is the Dubai where billionaires keep their yachts and celebrities take vacations. A few years ago, she left all of that to go back to Gaza and take care of her mother, my grandmother. After years of hard work and education, she returned to the land where she grew up under occupation, in the midst of poverty, war, and challenges we can’t begin to understand. She did this for our family. Hers is a true, heroic action.
As I write this, drinking my tea, I can only wish that one day I can be half of the hero that she is.