Story Ten: Ghada from Palestine

It happened…

Everything hurts, still.

I could breathe easier than I did a year and six months ago. Sure, I still fall to pieces when no one is looking but I am able to pick them up quicker with the hope my friends gave me and continue to give me.

I now live with my younger sisters for the first time in years and when I look at them I know I cannot protect them from everything. It would be wrong of me to promise something to them my parents couldn’t keep. My mom and dad and even my partner at the time broke their promise to me that night. It wasn’t their fault, I know this but I had wished she was there to save me.

I was laying there, bleeding, scared and alone in the middle of the night. I wasn’t in any physical pain, I think I was just numb all over. An estranged man sat by the water smoking a cigarette as soon as he was done with me. As if my soul had not been crushed, as if this man earned his cigarette by raping me. He did not just sexually abuse me but he beat my unconscious while doing so. I haven’t told anyone the entirety of that night only because I don’t remember all of it. Unwanted bits and pieces of that night come to me as time goes by. It hurts but I am still here. He crept behind me. We fought. He violently raped me. I woke up and he was smoking a damn cigarette, with not a care in the world he looked straight at me and smiled. I had no idea who he was I just knew that he was a lot older, Hispanic and a “he”. I picked myself off the grass after a while, I’m not really sure how long it took me to finally get up, but I did and I walked to my apartment barefooted and my house-mate was not home. I was alone but I was also numb.

This will help…

“Read the Quran and say a little prayer.”  “Talk to your friends, it helps.”  “Go to therapy because it is always easier to talk to a stranger.”  “Just wait it out and the pain will lessen.” “Come with me to a yoga class.” “Come with me to kick boxing class.” I love my friends and they love me  so much but I’ve come to realize that only I can make me feel better about my traumas but of course with their help. I cannot count on anyone to make the pain completely go away. It happened. I will forever deal with it. I’m not sure of this quite yet but it feels like the rest of my life will be a “process”. Most of the time I think “curse the process, I have to live with the memory till the day I die.” But it does get easier.

Two strikes would just put me on pause…

Sure, I fear that it’ll happen again and again and again. That some man will just abuse my body whenever he feels like it because HE can. Usually when I close my eyes or when I’m alone, I think for a second, the longest second of my life, that it will happen again. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded with very optimistic and happy people. Palestinians have always been occupied and this time we are being killed in front of the international world, the UN and the USA allow it…

if the Palestinian children can get up in the morning and surpass the shootings and the apartheid wall then I could surpass this horrible event that happened to my body. I hated men for a very long time but eventually I learned to hate people’s actions rather than the people themselves, this for my sake and not theirs. Secretly, I dislike it most of them time when my friends say “you’re strong.” “You’re the strongest and bravest woman I have yet to meet.” “Stay strong.” What does it mean to be weak if I am not strong? Being raped should not be measured by strength versus weakness. Sometimes during different state of minds I think “right now I feel scared therefore I am weak” but of course this is NOT the equation of how it goes. Being raped is a kind of trauma that some people do not survive from but I did.

“Normal” does not exist, it never did so I stopped wishing for everything to go back to being “normal”.

It happened to her too…

One of my best friends called me less than two months ago and as soon as she said “Ghada, stay on the phone with me for a bit”, I immediately knew what was going on. I have never wanted to be near anyone as much as I wanted to be physically near her at that moment. When I was raped I was scared and I wanted someone to be near me, simultaneously I wanted to die. She was scared and I was scared for her. I stayed on the phone till she got home and I was assured that she was ‘safe’. My heart broke a thousand times because my best friend, another beautiful independent woman, was just raped by another vicious man who felt like he had the authority to do so. Helpless,  I was oceans away.

And now society plays a role…

I have not told my parents. That summer I flew to Palestine to visit them but I only stayed for about a month. I hadn’t allowed myself to cry or to absorb what had happened to my body and soul. I guess I was in denial or in shock or even both. My mom will not be able to take it. If I had told my father he would have blamed me just like society would have. I really didn’t have time to fight with anyone about who’s fault it was, I knew I needed to ‘fix’ me so I made my trip to Palestine a bit shorter than expected and bought a ticket back to the states. I was angry at my father because when I was little he would physically abuse my mother, me and my brothers. He hasn’t changed. I am still angry at him because I needed him that summer to be my father and not a stereotypical Arab man who will hate me for what a man did to me. I am still disappointed because my father will probably, most likely look at me with disgrace; I “allowed” a man to touch me, beat me, and come inside me. I wanted so bad for him to hug me and say “Ghada, it was not your fault and I love you no matter what.” I know if I had told him I would have been crushed yet again…

So if you’re a father, hold your daughter tonight and tell her “no matter what happens to you I will always love you.” Tell her this only if you mean it. I am telling you this as an Arab woman and as a daughter, if you are anything like my father or like the Arab society than just know that your daughter will have secrets like these that she will keep from you. If you are anything like my father than I feel sorry for you, how dare you put society over her. What is worse than this is to know that my parents cannot be here for me because of our sad, insecure, patriarchal society. Let us help each other fix our society before we decide to fix our country. Fix ourselves before we try to fix our governments. And Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon and etc… Let us fight for each other rather than with each other. If you’re a woman and you’re Arab than I applaud you for fighting for my rights as well as yours because I know how hard it is to fight the men in our lives. For me as a Palestinian woman, I will only speak for myself, but I know it is harder for me to fight men like my father than it is for me to fight Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.

I look into the eyes of my sisters and think “oh my God, please fight for your rights to exist as a whole.”

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