At the age of 27, Mohammed Abu Lebda has already survived five wars in Gaza. He and his family are now all trying to leave the besieged territory for Belgium, where his sister lives.
"We are an ordinary family, used to live in peace, with hearts full of love, in our warm little house," Abu Lebda wrote on a GoFundMe page he recently launched to try to pay for his family's escape.
"I'm just trying to survive this madness," he told me. "We lost everything—our house, our jobs. Nothing is left."
This is the first of several new poems by Abu Lebda that will be published in Democracy in Exile. It was translated from the Arabic by Saleh Abu Shamala.
—Frederick Deknatel, Executive Editor
To Be a Gazan (Part 1)
Let go of the titles they bestow upon you and the lofty qualities they drown you in. You're not mighty, and your courage isn't unparalleled. Your resilience isn't as legendary as they say.
Face yourself with truth, trace your life from its beginning, and recall a bit from the past. Destiny chose you to be born in this spot, your existence in this land, narrow in space yet wide in scars, demands that you relinquish a lot.
You'll spend much of your life searching for any life. In this journey, you'll feel pain, befriend fear, gamble with the humanity you gained for the sake of survival only.
As a Gazan, you're not like the rest of humanity. Your standards are entirely different. You can't compare someone who considers electricity a luxury and clean water the elixir of life with anyone else.
Everything they describe you with may seem positive and pride-inducing, but it's not. You've grown accustomed to death and pain. Your talk of body parts and corpses flows easily in conversation, like passing gossip.
Your problem, as a Gazan, is that your outlook on life is entirely different. You seek only a simple livelihood, a roof made of asbestos or corrugated iron, and a battery to light up your nights untouched by electricity.
I'm not exaggerating when I say you're the cause of all this. You changed life's concepts, sacrificed a lot of your humanity under the guise of contentment and satisfaction. You accustomed them to seeing you rise and dust yourself off every time you fell to the ground.
You armed yourself with the weapon of patience, built a house from contentment, and poured your blood instead of shedding tears.
As a Gazan, your legend they speak of, and the courage they sing about, for you, was simply becoming accustomed. The most dangerous thing that can happen to a person is to get used to things, to accept and adapt, to be content with little, and not ask for more than covering.
To be continued…