By Tala Abu Rahmeh
“Habibi don’t see me”
I went to Yaffa on Friday night. I have a permit that expires next month, so my friends are taking me all over the place to milk it before I become illegal. It’s almost funny that my ability to drive 20 minutes outside of Ramallah in the direction of Jerusalem will actually expire on a specific date.
I have always avoided Yaffa, I never had a relationship with the city aside from my family’s stories of being uprooted from their homes and the smell of the sea, but every time I go there I feel incredibly rejected, like nothing I will ever be or say will ever make me worthy of this city. It is obviously an unhealthy relationship.
After we approached a row of stunning lights shining from Ben Gurion Airport, our car slowly began sinking into Yaffa’s streets that were dimmed in anticipation of Saturday. There was something incredibly sad about such an ordinary ritual, like a child being forced to sleep and go to a terrible school in the morning.
Sensing my anxiety, my friend Anees drove us to the beach. Since I have little to no knowledge of the city I had no idea we got there until he parked. I never told either of my friends that I was terrified of the sea at night, but for some reason I wasn’t scared. Perhaps it was that feeling of having so little to lose that hung upon my entire space.
We stood there for a bit and all I could think of was how inadequate I felt. I kept wondering that if this city saw me, really saw me, wouldn’t it at least love me a little? A scarier thought chocked me for a second, what if it did see me, and found nothing worthy of love? That would be the ultimate nightmare.
After our night in Yaffa was over, we drove all the way on road 1 accompanied by some songs, a little sadness, three jumbo slices of pizza, and a promise “to do this again.”
I haven’t felt myself since that day, and maybe I won’t for a while, but tonight I’m sending a prayer of love to the city that won’t love me, to those who fight so hard against hate, for those who love themselves no matter how mutilated they feel (and those who don’t), for my four grandparents who lived and died in the shadows of Yaffa’s oranges, and for all of us, may we all be loved, precisely and plentifully.