My memories of Palestine start with my name, Fatima Zaghloul. In Arabic, Zaghloul means: “children of the small pigeon.” My grandfather was born in Palestine, which makes me a daughter of the diaspora. Our family’s roots are in Ein Yabrud, a small village close to Ramallah.
My grandfather traveled via Columbia, Bolivia, Paraguay, and finally settled in Argentina, where he met my grandmother. She was Lebanese, and together they started a trading business in a small village close to Buenos Aires. In our family, the story goes that they brought makeup to their new hometown (smiles).
My father was their youngest. He became a lawyer and was the first academic in the family.
I am ‘both.’
I don’t think I am somewhere in between Argentinan and Palestinean: I am both. My father made sure that I was aware of my Palestinean roots, but he also prepared me for what the future would bring. He took me to meetings and political gatherings where the topic of Palestine was always present. He also put me in an English school, even if there were Arabic schools in the area. I ended up studying International Trade at university and worked for a small startup after that.
However, being ‘both’ also means that I am looking for my roots. Think of it as building my own memories of Palestine. At home, we never spoke Arabic. It was the language that my parents and grandparents used to talk about things the children should not hear. Of course, that only made me more interested in that beautiful, mysterious language. My grandmother would teach me a few words, and I did study some Arabic at university, but that never satisfied me.
At 26, I subscribed to a full year language program in Jordan to study Arabic.
The program focuses on Palestineans from the diaspora who are interested in their homeland. My Arabic is far from perfect now, but since I am back, I continue to practice with my father and my aunt. Now, at 28, my father insists on speaking Arabic with me (smiles).
That year in Jordan was fantastic. I studied with Palestinians from all over the World. We learned at the institute, we learned from each other, and most of all, I did live amongst Palestineans in an Arabic environment for more than a year. There were plenty of opportunities to travel in Palestine as well: Nablus, Ramallah, my grandfather’s village Yabrud, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Haifa, Acre. And I felt at home right away, even if I am 100% Argentinan and grew up in another continent.
After coming back from Jordan, I joined a volunteering project at the Palestinean Embassy in Buenos Aires.
It focuses on a poet from Nablus, Fadwa Tuqan, who died during the Second Intifada. We prepare for a traveling exhibition that will highlight different aspects of her work. The project will focus on Palestinean women, and that is where I come in, that is my spot. You can expect dabke as well, and literature and poetry. We are at the very early stage of the preparation; you will have to come back to see the outcome.
The Palestinean community in Argentina consists of many people who are not ethnically Palestinean but support Palestine nevertheless. Many people feel it is essential to fight injustice and oppression, even if we do not face it on a day to day basis ourselves. In the diaspora, we can help by spreading awareness and understanding of what it means to live in Palestine. I believe in giving Palestinean artists a voice in the rest of the World.
What memories did you bring from your visit to Jordan and Palestine?
There are so many (sighs). We did travel a lot during this period and managed to visit most of my homeland. I did bring some tatreez with me, which is traditional embroidery from Palestine. Traditionally, every village would have a color and pattern, and the women would wear long dresses, abayas, during festivities made with this technique. These dresses were an essential part of the Palestinean local culture. Now that so many of us live in the diaspora, some of that tradition is lost. But I did consider having a dress made for me while I was in Palestine. That proved to be impossible because the original tatreez is handmade, and it takes a long time to make it. But I am happy that I brought a tatreez wallet back to Argentina. A lot of good memories are kept safe in it (smiles).
In truth, there are too many memories to talk about them all. Living there amongst Palestineans for a year changed everything for me. But life goes on. Soon, I will be looking for a job. In the meantime, I am happy to volunteer at the Embassy. It creates a space where I can be ‘both.’
Frank Ostyn: www.frankostyn.com