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Michigan in Color: Elbi

Courtesy of Nicole Khamis

BY NICOLE KHAMIS

Published April 22, 2014

I often stare at my feet.

I look at them and I think back to all the places they have been. The different continents, planes, and oceans, and then I think about this past summer before I entered my freshman year at Michigan. Summer in my home of the West Bank was a dream I never wanted to leave. As we passed through the Allenby Bridge after several hours of being questioned, I felt home — I was home. There is no where else I will ever feel more comfortable, more loved, more myself, than in Palestine.

Palestine is a dream and a nightmare to me at the same time. It is beautiful and breathtaking-meeting the most resilient and loving people you have met in your entire life; it is heartbreaking - I would close my eyes, praying to wake up to different circumstances every day.

I do not talk about my personal experiences in Palestine because I feel I am in a position so entirely different from those who I have left that it would not be fair to them. It is not. But there are two things I would like you to know about the West Bank.

It is the place where I have felt the most helpless.

It is the place I have felt the most pain: the moment a group of children called me “the lucky one” as I stepped on a bus to leave to the Allenby Bridge, because I could leave and they could not.

So as my feet traversed through crumbled homes and checkpoints and waiting rooms and eventually back to Jordan on a plane, I knew I had an obligation as someone who now has the ability to speak freely to give a voice to the voiceless. As I sat on the plane, the faces of all who I had left back in Palestine were traveling with me.

I have always remembered one lesson in my life: do not be fearful of the brokenness of others, and do not forget them just because they are not like you.

I think it is too easy for some who have seen brokenness to forget what they have seen once they leave. For me, it is impossible to forget the little boy who I gave my favorite bracelet and childhood book to; I'll never forget when he called me elbi (his heart), how the scar on his left cheek scrunched up. Or the girl at Allenby who stood next to a gun that was bigger than her in fear; the look of terror on her face will forever remain in my memory.

I think about them every second.

So as I left from Palestine that summer, going into my freshman year of college, I knew I had a platform where I could be heard. However, I lost hope quite easily when I wasn’t with my own people in the beginning of my first semester. I started to drown when I thought about my age, when I listened to others who told me that I was too young to make anything happen. When I become complicit in the suffocating idea that as a young person, I had to wait to do something about this issue. I immediately lost hope for my people. I lost hope time and time again after seeing how blissfully ignorant some of the students I had met here were. Why would college be about losing sight of the many realities at hand, as if they do not exist - shouldn't the college experience be the opposite? Weeks later, I decided to check out a Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) meeting.

I remember how welcomed I felt when I walked into my first SAFE meeting. I remember the outpouring of love at the first CSG meeting, and feeling like I actually had my first safe space during the #UMDIVEST sit-in, wishing it could last forever. I remember feeling solidarity in that room that I had never felt in my entire life. And most importantly, I remember the feeling of hope slowly coming back to me, something that has been foreign and unfamiliar to me in regards to Palestine.

I believe that there are exact moments in our lives that we never forget, a moment you still remember — the faces, the smells, the feeling you had — so vividly. Kind words someone we admire had said to us, that time a conversation with a stranger made us realize something you’d been wanting to realize — but couldn’t on your own, or maybe finally realizing your own worth.

That moment is with you all. It will always be when I walked into the CSG chambers of the first day of the sit in and knew I was not alone.

As I reflect on this year, propping my feet up on a table at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday, I smile. I feel so humbled and blessed to have people who have touched my very being in so many ways. I remember that moment every time I look down, vowing never to forget how each and every one of you taught me to use my voice for positive change; how to be strong, unwavering, and unapologetic in the face of adversity, and so much more that I struggle to put into words. As I sat in the room surrounded by the most beautiful, strong, and inspirational people I have ever met that week, I was filled with so much joy, knowing the little boy with the scar was not forgotten in that moment and he would never be. I thank you eternally for that.

You are all my elbi.

Forever yours,
Nicole

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.