zaina awad

Zaina Awad, Displaced Palestinian
Interviewed by Shanaz Deen virtually, 07/05/22
Transcribed by Asma Barakat, 07/25/22

(00:00) Shanaz Deen: This is Shanaz Deen interviewing Zeina Awad on July 5, 2022, the oral history is taking place over zoom. So why don’t you start by telling me a bit about where you’re from and what your childhood was like?

(00:16) Zaina Awad: Yeah, so, I am 34 years old, and I was born in Jerusalem. I am one of four siblings. My two elder siblings were born in the UK. And my younger brother and I were born in Jerusalem. And I had a kind of an interesting background, because my father is Palestinian, and my mother is actually English. And so that’s the reason. But it’s relevant in many ways. Because in talking about residency back home, it becomes quite relevant in terms of you know, who is allowed to stay and who is allowed to leave, my older sister was actually in the headlines back home for some time, because they actually split, they tried to split up my family, because my two older siblings were technically not residents, because of where they were born. And so that, you know, that’s kind of like the background there. But in terms of my childhood, we lived in Kafr ‘Aqab, it’s actually our, we joke frequently that our houses, half it straddles Israel and then East Jerusalem, and we’re in West Bank border, literally, the line is drawn right there. So we would joke frequently that like our bathroom is in the West Bank, but are living in East Jerusalem. And we had, like, that meant that there was a checkpoint outside of our home for a very, very long time. And a lot of clashes as well. In terms of my childhood, even though thanks to the fact that I had amazing sisters and a brother, you know, and parents who very much cared about us, you know, it felt it, you know, there’s many things that I miss about it. And there’s a lot of good amount of trauma, but also a lot of good. So I think that’s, you know I’m happy to talk about that as well [laughing].

(02:45) Shanaz Deen: I wonder if you can describe a bit more detail of some of your first memories, seeing the checkpoint outside of your home, out of your town. And maybe coming…and your first realization of like, what that actually was?

(03:06) Zaina Awad: Yeah, actually, so I’ll actually talk a little bit about my very first memory, it’s not at the checkpoint, but I think it’s kind of… So born ’88, my first memory is of we were taught you know, you when first memories you don’t know what you’re making, you’re what you know, what you actually remember, but I remember my mom putting a gas mask on my face because it was you know, the Iraq war and the Gulf, like basically they were bombing Tel Aviv and we were not even anywhere close, but there were sirens and that’s my first memory. My first memory of the checkpoint is I have a memory of my dad trying to bring us home from school. And I was being forced to get out of the car as they drove the car over spikes to deflate the tires because we weren’t allowed to cross checkpoint, you know. One of my primary memories after that, and this is sometime later again, it goes back to like, memories being not complete. I actually have written about this a little bit, but in 1996, I think during one of the intifadas you know there were major clashes at that checkpoint with a ministry member watching from our living room window as a helicopter was outside shooting down into the crowd of people. So who was throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails? And I remember, you know, seeing that, and thinking. Wow, this is, I’ve gone to therapy about this [laughs], obviously, but I remember being like, this is kind of cool. And now thinking, wow, that’s a really screwed up thing to think you know. But yeah, have memories of that, have memories of my father. Take my BBC interviews on the front of the house, because we spoke English. You know, it’s unusual for a family there speaking at that point, I remember my mother, my grandmother, we all lived in a family building. I remember my grandmother throwing out onions out of her window because onions and milk because that’s what helps with tear gas. So yeah, memories like that. Not the greatest memory [laughs].

(05:54) Shanaz Deen: I wonder if we could switch gears still in Jerusalem and think about more positive memories, perhaps like within your family traditions, anything that stands out and gave you like, a little haven in all of the chaos?

(06:13) Zaina Awad: Yeah, I think, you know, it’s actually one of the things that I’m, you know, I have a 2-year-old now I’m married. I’m not married to a Palestinian I’m married to an Indian. And, you know, we’re, we’re very similar countries in terms of cultures in terms of just being really like, wanting to, you know, the focus on family. And one of the traditions that I loved growing up, was every Friday morning, we would have, you know, we didn’t have school on Fridays, we had half day, Saturdays, we had no school on Friday because it’s a Muslim holy day, half day, Saturdays, and Sundays off, because I went to an evangelical Christian missionary school, so there’s more there. But on Friday mornings, I remember my, my dad would go get hummus and falafel from down the street, and we would just have family breakfast on the veranda of our house, and just, you know, have the same breakfast and then every Friday evening have the same dinner of like Maqlouba, which is, you know, the best food ever, and I cook it every time I’m homesick, but just that, like, Fridays at home, were the most peaceful times because we were all together and it was just like that repetition and you learn now, you know, I learned now that you know, so much of that is because it’s like the safe space because it’s a repeated behaviors. And I wonder how much of that my parents really latched on to and tried to create that environment for us with the same meal every Friday. So now I’m like, my husband, and I joke around. I’m like, I want to have this on Fridays. It’s gonna be a Friday thing [laughing]. And, yeah, that’s a lot of my positive memories are around food [laughs].

(08:08) Shanaz Deen: A very distinct memory, I think in all of our minds.

(08:10) Zaina Awad: Yeah, yeah.

(08:16) Shanaz Deen: Tell me a bit about your school. You went to an evangelical school.

(08:24) Zaina Awad: Yeah. So, you know, I went to an evangelical Christian missionary school, it’s called Jerusalem schools, very imaginative title [laughs]. And there were only a few options of English-speaking schools that we could go to and, you know, we weren’t my parents really wanted an English and Arabic education for us. But it was also the fact that like, the schools surrounding us like we call them the Balladiya Schools, you know, the municipality schools, like there just weren’t very good schools. My parents tried to put me in there. A couple of different ones. And I, you know, we spoke only English at home because my mom didn’t know any Arabic. And so I like went into this. Like the equivalent of a public school that was, not very great only in Arabic. And I kind of like froze for two days. I didn’t really know what I was doing. And so my parents ended up putting me in the missionary school because they spoke English. And I went to the same school from K four until I graduated high school, class of 18. It was a great school. The teachers were all very young way, younger than I am right now. You know, they were graduates from college who basically wanted to do some volunteer work or just some of them had the goals of proselytizing, it’s a lot of, one of our, my sister’s teacher told her that God sent her a fax and told her that she knew she needed to go to to the Middle East and save the souls of people. And there were a lot of, I didn’t love that part of it. But you know, at the same time, a lot of our teachers were, you know, incredibly kind, incredibly giving. And I’m really glad that I had that background.

(10:39) Shanaz Deen: So I’m presuming that your family is not Christian?

(10:43) Zaina Awad: No, oh, I should have mentioned that. My family is Muslim. My dad is Muslim, my mom converted when they married. We’re very, not super, traditional, my dad is very culturally traditional. So it was really hard for him for us to go to the school because he didn’t love the fact that we were only speaking English. And he didn’t love the fact that you know, we had people trying to convert us. So that wasn’t great [laughs].

(11:17) Shanaz Deen: Yeah. Could you talk a bit about some of those cultural traditions around Islam? How they manifested, and maybe holiday celebrations? Do you also see patterns of the way you guys enjoyed those days?

(11:36) Zaina Awad: Yeah, I think, you know, for us the biggest, you know, it’s always Eid al-Fitr, you know, Ramadan. Again, it goes back, you know, like, a lot of it is about the food, obviously, but we, because we were, like, mixed, right, you know, my mom converted, but it was because she wanted the marriage recognized, you know, we didn’t always fast for Ramadan, we tried to, you know, in the beginning, but we had the faith, religion has always kind of been, like, a hot topic in my family, because we don’t all believe the same things. And, but in terms of the religious holidays and culture we would still, you know, we’d have family over for breaking the fast and, you know, the Katayef. Yeah, you know, I just remember the smells and I remember, you know, like always going outside and looking for the moon [laughs]. And, where the heck is the moon [laughs], but also, I loved when my dad would just play the Athaan, as soon as that went off, you know, the prayer that was like, it’s time you know, there’s just that sound it’s so comforting and I have you know, there was a lot of tension in the family in many ways, but at least you know, that part of it was beautiful.

(13:39) Shanaz Deen: I want to transition a little bit into your family’s story of migration. When did you guys decide or did you just come to the States or did your entire family migrate and what was that process like and how what went into that decision?

(13:57) Zaina Awad: Yeah, so my family so my parents are still back home I have my you know, my family except for my two sisters are back home. And basically, it all began when so my two older sisters. My eldest sister was going to Birzeit University in Ramallah, you know, well it’s not Ramallah it’s Birzeit, but close to Ramallah. And she, you know, she had enrolled in 2000-2001. I might have the date wrong, but I think it was 2000 and that was around the start of the Second Intifada, and she was a freshman there and I remember coming home and, her school had been bombed, you know, it was the university had been bombed and basically she withdrew from Birzeit and she wanted a college education and Birzeit was one of the only ones available. And so she applied for it to colleges in the US. So she went to college in the US, my other older sister who was a year behind her in school actually went to Princeton. So we all just basically came to the US for college. And with the intention of moving back home, you know, but you know, we all have a different journey. For me specifically. Graduating from Princeton in 2009, worked in DC for a year, at P55. And then went back home, right, so I went back to Jerusalem in 2010. Yeah, late 2010. And with the intention of settling there. And I worked there, I worked for a nonprofit called Madrasti Falasteen, which is actually a Queen Rania initiative, [INDECIPHERABLE] because she’s Palestinian, and it was an initiative to kind of build rebuild schools, you know, rebuild certain types of schools that are under the Jordanians. It’s called the [INDECIPHERACLE]. Anyway, this is going into detail, but basically, I worked there for two years. And it was a hard decision but decided to leave again, knowing that I probably wouldn’t come back. And I think that, for me, personally, it was to do with the fact that it didn’t feel like a psychologically safe space. Because of the ongoing conflict, but also just shifting identities, my identity, and, you know, I just felt like I couldn’t I didn’t fit back home. And that’s been an issue throughout my life because we had the mixed background. But also, it was kind of exacerbated after going back after leaving for some time. It was related to the conflict 100%. But aspects of it were outside of the conflict as well.

(17:45) Shanaz Deen: Yeah.

(17:47) Zaina Awad: Well, no, we all like so I mentioned, that was my specific story. But like my older sister, Nadia, you know, she married a West Banker. So we’re Jerusalem IDs, she married a West Bank ID person, my brother-in-law, you know, and they had a baby, and 2019. And they left because it’s illegal to be married to or with, you know, East Jerusalem resident and a West Banker to be married and they left because he couldn’t, you know, get into East Jerusalem. There was just, for a lot of people, it’s that you’re, you don’t have options when you’re there as Palestinians you don’t have. It’s like you’re in, you’re in such a small community, and it’s so tightly knit, but at the end of the day, like if you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to work for the government, like part of the reason that I left, my job was because we were rebuilding schools and you know, focusing on just creating safe spaces for youth and they were constantly getting demolished, you know, like, it’s just this feeling of nothing is working, and it’s never going to get better. And so I think for a lot of Palestinians, that’s why we leave is because that’s what I say it’s not a psychologically safe space. It’s you know, it’s just constant in your face and a lot of people stay and I commend them for their strengths.

(19:31) Shanaz Deen: Staying, of course, within what you’re comfortable describing, I’m wondering if you could elaborate more about what you had said about shifting identities. What did you notice about yourself and probably what changed with you and your community that ultimately drove that decision?

(19:52) Zaina Awad: Yeah, it’s actually, it was more related to, for me, it was more related to like religion. So I’m a Christian actually. So I, you know, the evangelical school worked but not super, not their type of Christian anyway but this was kind of an issue between me and my father for a while, but that happened. And but also shifting identities in the sense that I don’t know if that’s the right way of putting it, but the feeling that you don’t fit because for a lot of people who are there, it’s like, oh, you left, you have family out there, you know, the longer we stay away, the harder it is to come back, right? Because there’s this sense of a little bit of like, you gave up, you know, and so yeah, just didn’t, I couldn’t make it work. I don’t love this part of it, actually. So if we could, I feel like I miss I don’t know how to put this and I’m just not really comfortable with talking about it right now [laughs]. Of course. Yeah.

(21:28) Shanaz Deen: We don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Yeah. So I guess describe a bit more about your move back to US. What city did you settle and move around? Who’d you get involved with? Where do you find community?

(21:42) Zaina Awad: Yeah, so I actually came back for grad school, I went to the University of Michigan to work in public health, it was to get my master’s in public health because I really wanted to work in public health. And that was kind of driven from you know, what I’ve seen back home in the sense that, you know, there’s a desperate need for mental health care back home. And I think when I said, it was definitely a desperate need for it back there. And I think that you know, part of the reason that like, the rationale that I like, gave for leaving was the whole world has problems, you know, some of them are worse than others. I can’t stay here, but I can go do good somewhere else, you know. And so that’s kind of where I go into the public health space. I graduated from Michigan in 2014 went and moved to Connecticut, of all places. In 2014, met my husband, and thank God because like I got was introduced to a really, really lovely, really tightly knit family there, you know. And then from there, we actually moved to Chicago in 2017. To be closer to largely to be closer to the sister who left home as well she lives here in Chicago as well. In terms of finding community, you know, it’s something that’s always present on our minds because I think for both of us, we really want to have a continuation of our cultures for our kid for our child and so a lot of it is like just like finding people who have similar backgrounds it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same I think a lot of it is just other immigrants I think can be really helpful. But yeah, a lot of moving around and trying to find somewhere to call home I think there’s a sense of it’s not quite home yet, you know, but it’s we’re getting there. I think as you know, as our family grows you’ll feel a little bit more like it but whenever anybody asks me about home it’s Jerusalem right, it’s never gonna change.

(24:41) Shanaz Deen: I’m reminded of another interview. And I love asking parents like, how do you talk to your kids about Palestinian identity? What are those conversations look like? What messages are important to you to communicate to them?

(24:57) Zaina Awad: I think about this all the time, you know, so I have a 2-year-old, so we’re not quite there yet. But it’s so tricky, right? Because I’ve clearly been, I’ve touched on all the negatives. All of the negatives in this conversation. And I feel like that that’s not necessarily what I want to give my kid, you know, I want to be able to share so much more than just this right? It can come down to you know, we’ve bought him I have a friend gave us a book called The Secret Recipe Book, which is about, you know, it’s written by a Muslim Palestinian author, and it’s in English but it’s a, you know, a story of two kids in Michigan who are reunited with their Palestinian grandma, and she comes in a Dishdasha and she cooks them, warak dawali and all these things and it’s about, how they go to a, you know, a food pantry and donate food because that’s what she heard the grandmas used to, sharing with her village, you know, stuff like that. I think a lot of it for me is going to be around the meaning of the, it takes, it takes a village mentality, the closeness of family. And the food, it always comes down to the food, one of my best friends is actually she’s a cookbook author, and she focuses on Palestinian food, you know, she grew up back home with me, I’d love for you to interview her. She’s brilliant. But she has basically done an anthropology of Middle Eastern food trying to you know, establish where all the different foods came from. And just the cultural significance and how so much of our culture is embodied in the act of serving a meal, you know, how you serve it, who it’s for, and all that stuff. There’s just so much there. So that’s going to be part of it, I think, love for him to learn Arabic. My Arabic is atrocious [laughs]. We’ll figure it out. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. But I think it’s just going to be, I really need to start focusing on the positives for him. Because there’s so much beauty there. You know, I’m planning on taking him back home with me next year. So hopefully that works out [laughs].

(27:35) Shanaz Deen: Have you visited Jerusalem since your time [INDECIPHERABLE]?

(27:40) Zaina Awad: Yeah, so I actually went back in 2019. When my niece was born. So yeah, I really need to go back more often. 100%. I went back in 2019. When I was newly pregnant and was super sick the whole time, it was miserable. But actually went because I was renewing my multiple return visa as well, I need to get that renewed, which is a whole ordeal for getting or coming back as a blue ID coming back in and getting that renewed because it’s basically it’s either that I’ll come in as a tourist, and it’s a concept of giving up your residency, which is a really hard thing to you know, as I mentioned earlier, Jerusalem’s always home so giving up residencies just really hard to do. But yeah, I went back then. Hope to go back next year. All things COVID. And, you know, let’s hope it all works out. A little bit nerve-wracking the idea I also really want to take my husband, it’s really important for me too that he gets to see it as well. You know, he, my husband is a son of Indian immigrants and has never been to India and really is upset over that. Definitely needs to take my kid.

(29:06) Shanaz Deen: I completely understand that. I’ve never been to Guyana, where my parents are from like, the only one in the family. Yeah, it’s strange.

(29:19) Zaina Awad: I get it in some ways.

(29:21) Shanaz Deen: Yeah. I want to go for sure. Yeah. I’m curious. How do you stay connected to home when you’re in Chicago or elsewhere in the US? You talk a bit that your work helps you connect because you get to work on issues you care about that affects Palestinians. Is there anything else that or any even underlying values or morals that drives you to do your work?

(29:48) Zaina Awad: Yeah, I think regarding connecting back to home you know, it’s really cool to see, I stay connected through a lot of is through social media, especially in the past couple of years, with just like the Gaza bombings and massacres, and the shooting, Abu Akleh’s killing, you know, a lot of it is on social media. I went to school with a lot of the people who are telling the stories now from back home, like Salem Barahmeh, who designed this t-shirt that says uncivilized. And you know, he’s like, a new incoming, he’s gonna be an amazing, he’s documentary, you know, media person, and he’s fantastic. And I highly recommend anybody follow him. But, I stay in touch through that. Yeah, just through friends back home. And I think that it’s been easier to do because of social media, but it’s also like, it’s harder in a way because, you know, just last summer, with the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, you know, I remember, my friends were there, you know, demonstrating or peacefully protesting outside of the homes. And you can like, live streaming it, you know, that’s how we’ve been staying connected. So that way [laughs]. But again, just seeing, you know, what everyone’s been up to? [laughs] I think, as it relates to my job, my job it’s not related to, I meant in this in the sense of just, I do I work for a children’s hospital. And a lot of the work is it, I work at the hub of the children that is focused on all the community health-focused initiatives. And, you know, in Chicago, there are pretty significant health inequities that are existing here. It’s a very, very racially economically segregated city. And so a lot of the a lot of the issues are kind of similar, right, you know, lack of mental health care, lack of access to quality schools, lack of access to health, just all of it, and that’s just something. It’s just like, at least helping somebody. [laughs] In a small way, I’m not even actually doing anything, I just, it’s wanting to be part of a team that’s actually making a change is huge for me.

(32:56) Shanaz Deen: I think it’s amazing. Just doing anything that you enjoy. This is a loaded question. So you can say, of course, but one of the questions that we’re always interested in is whether or not your religion informs your understanding of Palestinian Liberation, or even just your Palestinian identity and how they maybe work together.

(33:28) Zaina Awad: This is gonna be tricky, I’m gonna mess it up. [laughs]

(33:32) Shanaz Deen: Not possible.

(33:36) Zaina Awad: It’s really interesting because as it relates to Palestinian Liberation it doesn’t really inform that in as much as it kind of, you know, for me, what my religion comes down to is the focus on loving each other and being kind to each other and creating a safe space for people. You know, it sounds, that sounds so simplistic, but I think that at the end of the day, you know, it’s, I want to have a home that is welcoming to whoever comes, you know, and you know, I mentioned earlier, the memory of my grandmother throwing down onions and milk. My grandmother also fed the Israeli army [1]. Yeah. You know, I don’t know if I want that published, because it could be, but you know. At the end of the day, if somebody’s hungry and starving, like, I’m sorry, but we will take care of each other. And I think that is so true for many Palestinians. We all you know, I think at the end of the day we want to feel safe, and we want places where our kids can feel safe. And for a lot of us, it’s like, we don’t, this is gonna this like sounds like normalizing. Right, but I think that Palestinians deserve, we all deserve the most basic human rights obviously. I have learned a lot about the Jewish Diaspora. I’ve learned a lot about discrimination against Jews, I’ve learned a lot about antisemitism. And I think that a lot of what’s happening in Israel is a need to want at wanting to protect themselves from that as well. And I think like, you know, at the end of the day. The same types of things in a leadership beside, you know, I and so I really struggle with this, because obviously, like, it’s an occupation, it’s an illegal occupation. You know, there are war crimes happening all the time. But I just think about how, when you have the direct community, like direct human contact with the other side, you realize we’re all human, you know, I’m one of I wrote this book called checkpointing tails. When I was a senior in high school, it wasn’t a book, it was like, five, five chapters. So it wasn’t really quite good. It wasn’t good at all. [laughs] But it was just like memories of going back and forth across checkpoints. We had to go through two checkpoints to get to school every morning and come home every day. Right. So. And it was, I mean, we were getting shot at, you know, barbed wire, all this crap. Like, it was awful. You know, my mom was a teacher at the school that I went to, I had a younger brother, and we would cross on foot, it was many dangerous situations. On the last day of school in ninth grade, we were coming home and we were lined up at Qalandia checkpoint. And, you know, just throngs of people in the middle of the day, it’s absolutely boiling. And you know, people are desperate to get home, you know, and the checkpoint was closed because there was a car that had been abandoned. And the IDF was basically saying, we need to pull it up just to make sure that it’s not a bomb. And so they blew up the car in front of us. And then they had us waiting, just like for I mean, this is hours to get home without water. Right? So, but I remember there was an 18, I say he’s 18. But you know, the IDF tends to the checkpoint, the people who manned the checkpoint tend to be quite young. One of them I said to him, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” And he basically said something along the lines of “I am.” And he apologized to my mother and me. And that’s what I’m getting at. When you have these conversations. Realize. We’re all the same, if we could just love each other and be kind to each other and maybe this would not be happening. And again, again, super oversimplified, really, you know, that at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s overly simplified, because we just have to remember that we’re all trying to make, trying to be safe. butchered it, I’m sorry.

(39:12) Shanaz Deen: Definitely not over-simplified. You bring such a rich perspective that is so invaluable.

(39:20) Zaina Awad: It’s just when I mentioned earlier, like the not fitting in, this is part of why it’s because you know, like when I the team that I was working on back home. You know, it was like any sort of like semblance of communication with the other side or like, empathizing with the other side was kind of frowned upon because it’s like, oh, you’re being a traitor. And I think that’s what I was trying to get at and it’s just something that I really like personally struggle with. Because, I mean, I’ve had these conversations like that. These are just like I have lived under the occupation, you know, I have had fights with the IDF, at the checkpoints, I have put myself between a soldier and a little boy who was being harassed. I’m not saying I’ve been through the worst, by any means, but I have lived there, and I know what it’s like. And for others, it just really hurts me when people are like, Oh, you have this foreign, super hippie-dippie perspective. And you want to normalize this normalization, you know, it’s the opposite of the BDS movement. And I understand the BDS movement, you know, but it, I just, I don’t come at it from that perspective. I can’t, because it’s just not what I believe in, you know, I think that we do need to connect, I don’t think we need to push each other apart. It’s never going to end otherwise. So it’s like, that’s, that’s kind of what I was getting at. Again, it’s not something I’m like, really great at talking about because it is hard.

(41:13) Shanaz Deen: I don’t want to call it tensions. But do you find, these varying perspectives, fall across generational lines? Yeah, I guess how does your place in the diaspora? How is that unique compared to other Palestinians, you might talk about who have different perspectives? Not that you have to let them draw big patterns. But is there anything that you’ve noticed?

(41:50) Zaina Awad: I mean I can just talk about my father, you know, he, when I asked him what his earliest memory is, you know, he’ll say, his earliest memory is of being, you know, back home in Silwan. The village of Silwan, which is where my family’s from, it’s one of the most like, controversial pieces of land right now. It’s like, people are getting evicted. And, you know, homes are demolished every single day about their, his first memory, or, among his first memories are, is of a redheaded soldier who seemed like a teenage boy coming up to him and saying, tell your family to leave. Because if they don’t, they will be dead tomorrow. And that, you know, that was when it all started for him, they left you know, they walked to Jordan, they came back, but my father has a perspective of it that is very different from mine. And he, you know, that’s when I come at him with my, you know, need to love each other. [laughs] He’s like, What the hell is wrong with you? [laughs] How can we, you know, I understand him, I understand, it comes from a place of privilege to be able to say what I say, you know, I think for those older generations, who fight like hell to stay, and he is one of them, will never leave, he will never leave, my brother will never leave, you know, my younger brother. Some of us fight like hell to stay, and it takes so much strength to be able to do that. So I don’t know, this general generationally, a huge, like, maybe, you know, in some ways I think it just comes down to I think there is a religious factor of it, and, you know, values. What it comes down to more than anything. So I don’t know if that was the answer you were looking for. [laughs]

(44:21) Shanaz Deen: There’s no right or wrong.

(44:23) Zaina Awad: I get like, you know, it’s just it’s such a loaded topic.

(44:28) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, totally.

(44:30) Zaina Awad: It’s just like, anybody could read it and misunderstand.

(44:36) Shanaz Deen: I mean, for what it’s worth, I think there’s a lot of strength that you need to also leave as well. So don’t discredit yourself.

(44:44) Zaina Awad: Oh, yeah. You know, gosh, I have this conversation with people all the time because every time anything happens back home every single time especially when it comes to Gaza, my sister and I go through, it’s just, it’s not being able to disconnect. And I’ll talk to my mom about and she’s like Zeina, you’re paying more attention than we are at this point, you know? And it, it’s just this feeling of guilt that, you know, we left, and how can I be living here in this, incredibly privileged life where my kid has no idea what checkpoint is, you know, or my kid is safe. Not true anymore, right? But there is that this feeling of guilt about coming somewhere better, you know, to build a better life. It does take strength. But I think for a lot of people who are in this place, you know, who have left, there’s always this but my family’s back there. I left them. And they’re fighting like hell to stay. And I chose to leave. And it kind of comes back to what I had said earlier. Yesterday, there was a mass shooting an hour away, how was the safer? You know, it’s just it’s a lot. Sorry, this is super depressing. But that’s just where my mind is right now. I’m in therapy, don’t worry. [laughs]

(46:32) Shanaz Deen: No worries at all. I mean, these are important perspectives to bring to life. I guess, just to close, hopefully, on a more positive note. What brings you hope and resilience? And also as a closing question, if future generations, especially future Palestinians, were to listen to this, what would you want them to know?

(46:58) Zaina Awad: I think what brings me hope is. Well, there are a few things, I think people are paying more attention now. I think you know, there I had mentioned earlier about social media being a big part of it, I think, you know, for better or for worse, you know, like, social media has some horrible aspects to it. But I think that gives me hope I remember growing up and anytime, if there was an even, a semblance of like pro-Palestinian, headline, we will be like, “Yes, this is amazing!” And now I feel like it’s becoming more commonplace, you know, actors, actresses, people are speaking out. In some ways. It’s a little bit problematic, because it’s like, okay, are you just jumping on bandwidth or whatever, you know, but at least there’s visibility, that gives me hope. At least the stories are being told, at least there’s discourse taking place. I think another thing that gives me hope is, for me, personally, is the idea of, the world’s a shitty place sometimes, and we can just give something back, just give something back. Whether it is you know, feed somebody didn’t arrive or, like, you know, what I mean, like goes back to that, just like, for me, it all comes back to what is the one thing that we can do to make it a little bit better for other people. And I think that there’s a lot of community or that you can build a community through that as well. But what gives me hope for Palestine, I think, is you know, I see, so many amazing thinkers and writers right now are emerging from back home who are doing a beautiful story of telling the story in a language that people can understand. And having that narrative is going to be incredibly important. You know, that relatability incredibly important, because I think it becomes really, you know, for a long time we’ve been kind of just been, you know, that part of the world is like this otherizing type of, you know, mentality and I don’t think that people are doing that as much anymore because these stories are being shared. So you know, there’s definitely hope. I don’t know what the outcome is gonna be. [laughs]

(49:59) Shanaz Deen: Only time will tell.

(50:02) Zaina Awad: Yeah, sorry, I’m such a wreck today I feel so depressing. I just, it’s just such a it’s just been really kind of a rough time.

(50:14) Shanaz Deen: We live in a crazy country and crazy world.

(50:18) Zaina Awad: And it’s just so screwed up to me that just the lack of safety, you know, I just kind of I looked back at my [INDECIPHERABLE] and what do you, why do you get to be safe and no one else gets to be safe? Like there’s definitely an awareness of that but it’s just like, I can’t believe I left home to be here.

(50:52) Shanaz Deen: Is there anything you’d like to close the interview?

(51:09) Zaina Awad: No, I don’t think so. I think I’m done. Yeah, there’s, I just wish I had done a better job of talking about the positives.

(51:22) Shanaz Deen: Everything you said was perfect. We could also talk another time about all the positives
if you’d like. But thank you immensely for taking the time to do this. We can just stop the recording.

[1] A clarification from Zaina: “The full story is that my grandmother used to bake bread in this giant electric taboon on the roof of our house, and one day Israeli soldiers insisted on camping out up there because it gave them a clearer view of the checkpoint/surrounding areas. They were pretty belligerent (ha) but let her finish baking while they were up there, and she ended up giving them some of the bread she baked. She’s a mother to 6 men so I’m sure she refused to be intimidated :). My sister also recalls them crashing a family BBQ, but I don’t remember that story!”

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