Learning Vocabulary – Rafa7 Momma style

Karamah,” I heard my mother say “was more important than getting in.”

My first time at the border and I saw the Rafa7, the laj2a, come out in my Momma.

“Oooeeee, I woud not mess with that look if I were you,” my face hinted to the shocked young soldier.

She. stared. him. down.
Fierce eyes. Crystal clear voice. Indestructible

…until we got to my Aunt’s, the sister she hadn’t seen in decades, and they wept in each other’s arms for what seemed like hours.

The Rafa7 in my Momma only built her up to break her back down again.
And all I wanted was to ask her what karamah was, but it seemed like a bad time.

I hung on to my embarrassing Arabic question until morning. As the breakfast spread was carefully placed in the middle of the living room floor, I snuck beside her and asked in a whisper.  Teacher that she is, she refused to give a simple translation.

She said if I couldn’t guess by the end of the week, she would tell me the word in English. But she would rather me see what it looks like. I was supposed to pay attention all week and she would point out examples and say “that’s someone demanding karamah.”

Schools. Restaurants. Homes. Every corner of the camp. She would point to people pushing through their lives with pride and inexplicably high standards and say “karamah –  ghasbin3an il-3alam (whether the world likes it or not).”

She kept pointing. Until one day, I pointed.

Story time with my uncle, and that day it was about his prison days and a morning when time for his daily interrogation came early.

The soldier was new, fresh, unphased and he looked him up and down, disgusted; pulled him out of bed, tied his hands. He flung him like a steak onto a BBQ – right into the bars of the cell. My uncle said he felt the bars imprint themselves into his body like mashawi on a grill.

The soldier behind him was waiting, standing like unmovable stone.

My uncle peeled himself off the bars. Finding himself on his knees, picked himself up, got on his feet, turned around, blood dripping from his brow into his lashes and staring the soldier in the eye, says “What? You want me to confess I am an animal? I prefer death to telling such a lie.”

And my 9 yr old hands grabbed my indestructible Momma’s shaking ones and said “it’s okay, Momma, “karamah – ghasbin3an il-3alam,” remember?

Some memories find their way back to us when we need them most.

When my kids ask me to point to examples of someone insisting on karamah, I will tell them about Rafa7, their grandmother and great uncle, and the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who continue to remind us the importance of our dignity, about Khader Adnan, about Hana Shalabi, about the hunger strikers throughout our history who choose karamah and sumoud above submission every day.


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