RAMALLAH, January 11 (JMCC) - Student Fidaa Elaydi hadn't seen her uncle in more than 20 years. In this moving account
at the Electronic Intifada
, she describes their first meeting when she travels home to Gaza to welcome him home after his release last year in a prisoner swap with Israel.
I tried to learn his personality, his sense of humor, the way he spoke to people, his mannerisms, and everything else that Skype conversations and phone calls can’t give away. I realized that he was very different from anyone I knew. Unlike most people I knew in Gaza, he never interrupted anyone in conversation. He was respectful and patient and always paid very close attention when others spoke to him. Everyone who met him instantly trusted him. There was something about him; there was honesty in his eyes, thoughtfulness in his facial expression, wisdom in the curve of his brow. Something about him made me instantly feel like I could trust him with all of my secrets and feel like they were safer than before.
He always gave humble advice in every context and topic of conversation, but he never preached. He offered the best solutions to every issue and cited where the wisdom of his advice came from. When we were invited to dinner at two places the same night, he was the one that resolved the issue. When my brothers’ haircuts were too wild for Gaza’s conservative culture, instead of staring and judging, he explained to them people’s reactions. When my cousins and I had a sudden desire to go to the beach in the middle of a winter afternoon, he took us and let us stay as long as we wanted. He is easy going and took everything in life in small doses. He was our tie to occupation and injustice before his release and now he is our anchor.
My uncle’s release not only brought great joy to my family and reunited all of my aunts and uncles both in Gaza and the diaspora, but it also changed the dynamic of our family. It felt like a lot of the pettiness that often exists with large families seemed to disappear from ours for a while. My grandmother is more upbeat and focuses her attention on choosing for me a husband and sharing stories from a time when Palestine’s air was free and her trees more fruitful. The cousins we worried about have been tamed by the influence of a respected uncle. And finally, we no longer have to hang posters, photos and plaques bearing his face on our walls to feel his presence. My uncle Hazem is with us and we treasure him even more than before.