*Originally Published in PACC’s Literary Magazine August 2017 Issue.
My mother tells me that during the first month of kindergarten, I grew quiet.
Naturally, she found it odd: her daughter had an overflowing mouth, usually pouring with song. Occupied too much space with her trills and skips and laughter. Now, she slipped into a silence that was two sizes too big.
Mama, I was making room for a new tongue.
Seven years old.
I am in second grade.
My homeroom teacher assigns each student a country to explore its respective culture. We had to present our project on a poster. Since our class was generally diverse, each student was assigned their homeland as their topic.
Pooja got India. Japera wrote about St. Croix, Virgin Islands. My best friend Rana was assigned Jordan. I liked the Jordanian flag the best out of the other countries because it looked just like the Palestinian flag, expect with a white star inside the red triangle.
To my surprise, the flag I that was assigned also had a star.
I was confused as to why I was assigned the wrong country. I still remember the orange post-it Mrs. P gave me with “Israel” written at the center in blue BIC ink. It bothered me. I don’t know why, it just did. Mrs. P knew I was from Palestine.
The next morning, I handed Mrs. P a note while she was sitting at her desk. I’ve always wanted to sit at her desk and explore all the drawers. It looked a like stationary funhouse with all her shiny star stickers, blue ice globes, and Hello Kitty calculators.
“Since your mom doesn’t want your project to be about Israel, I’ll have to choose another country for you, Lina.” Mrs. P informed, while folding the note in half.
“But, you know,” She begins coaxing.
“Palestine and Israel are the same thing.”
The next day, Mrs. P hands me a post-it with my newly assigned country.
See, the funny thing is I don’t remember the name of my new country. Nor do I remember the photos I pasted onto the poster with Mama’s help. All that I can recall was that my new country was completely foreign to me. While presenting, I discovered that it was alien to the rest of the class as well.
I really didn’t like that project.
Everyone else had a lot more fun gluing pictures of their favorite foods and well-known landscapes. Each of my classmates shared something personal about their countries, whereas I had nothing to share. No favorite foods, no pretty landscapes, no silly uncle stories.
Rana was lucky.
She had pictures of hummus and falafel and kanafa on her poster. She talked about going back to Jordan during the summer and how her family had always had big breakfasts and how they played marbles in the street or hide and seek at night with all her cousins and neighbors. She told us that her grandfather would always give her one dinar and how she’d spend it on gummy things and Kinder surprise eggs from the village’s supermarket.
I liked her presentation the best.
Being Palestinian is complicated.
Being Palestinian in the diaspora is even more complex.
In simple conversations, we are left to truly ask, “who are we?”
We feel our tongues split into twos and threes.
Imposters in both Palestine and the diaspora.
Sometimes whole. Other times ghost.
Do they know how hard it is to speak when there is wrestling match between two tongues in one mouth?