a story of atoms

This is where I document thoughts that race through my head and swim through my veins.


Being a teacher puts me in overwhelming situations and sometimes I am left speechless.

Today, in the beginning of  story time, I hear the two students sitting next to me quarreling.

“You’re black.” says to the boy.

“Nooo.” Sara* whines.


“What, what did you say Ahmad* ?” I am genuinely questioning my hearing ability at this moment.

“She’s black.” He answers.

He says black like it’s something dirty. Like it’s something you don’t want to be.

Sara doesn’t quite get it.

How do I answer this.

I know Ahmad is innocent. He reminds me of Whine-the-Pooh  when he laughs but he has a lot of sexist upbringing.

“Blue is for boys.”

“Mariam* can’t can’t carry the (toy) toolbox because she is a girl.”

I have given him lectures about colors and toys. He cries when I yell at him for this: He has never been told otherwise.

And now this.

I don’t want to tell him to not say that again.Sara is Black and she still doesn’t understand the story of her skin and this boy is beginning a conversation. I  don’t want her to think that being Black is bad just because some four year old Saudi boy makes it sound like it is.

“Sara’s skin color is beautiful, right class?” I pat her back.

“Yeeeesss.” My class of mainly Arabs sing in unison.

I look at her, pull out my exposed hand.

“Sara, my skin is brown.” I show her my palms. The back of my hand. My wrist.

My skin is an olive color. A light brown, quite typical for Palestinians, but four and five year olds don’t know what tanned\olive skin is: they know white, black, and brown.

“I am brown too.” She agrees.


  • Names have been changed for privacy

Diaspora Stories


 *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?




A woman I just met tells me that I seem so calm.

I laugh.

“Really?” slips from my lips.

I think how I drowned last night. How the morning felt like the shore. How many endings happen at night and how we bury them after dawn.

there are so many stories hiding beneath my skin.

what happens if i don’t give birth.

-i cannot write right now



فَاصْبِرْ صَبْرًا جَمِيلًا’

and some people are so beautiful, that they remind you of ayas in the Quran.



When speaking to young women, one of the most commonly used ice-breakers in the Arab world is:

“Are you married or are you still a girl?”

In other words, are you still a virgin or not. A man’s touch makes you a woman. Not the spreading of your hips of the blooming of your chest. The mark of puberty is meaningless, without the touch of a man.

You are not a woman, even if men look and talk to you like you are a woman.

You are not a woman, even if your mother reminds you to dress like one.

Even if your aunts remind you to sit like one. Like your legs have a secret.

You are not a woman. You must become a doll.  A red bow for lips.

Don’t speak too softly, do you want the men to fall in love?

Don’t speak at all. A woman’s voice is awra (something can stir desire\ must be kept hidden)

Wallah, into el awra


I can hear the wind talking to the trees about you.
The way she says your name.