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Isam's Story

by Isam Idden Naim

        ear university students around the world, fasten your seatbelts  for an extraordinary journey into a black hole that will swiftly swallow your dreams after prematurely aging them."


Allow me to introduce "The Human": Isam, a university student from Gaza. In a few months, I'll turn 20. I have several hobbies associated with this presumed characteristic of being "human": I love playing chess, coding, drawing, and perhaps I love life.


It wasn't solely my high academic performance throughout my school years that prompted many teachers to label me as a "genius" or "outstanding." Perhaps it was the profound impression I left in every participation of mine in local math competitions held among students in the Gaza Strip and Palestine.


My passion veered towards the realm of programming at the start of high school. I was accepted into the Code for Palestine scholarship program. It wasn't just about learning programming from American university students volunteering in the program; we were like a family. We spent the most beautiful three years learning together. They were true inspirations, motivating me and other students to make the world a better place.


My mental health dramatically deteriorated towards the end of high school. I couldn't leave Gaza to study abroad. The dismal educational environment in this geographically isolated space from the technological, scientific, and even social world aborted my dream of becoming an AI expert and contributing to a better world. I lost connection with myself as I'm currently losing connection with the world.


I entered the prison of "depression" for the first time and the antidepressant particles became a persistent, ghostly companion to my bloodstream. I didn't expect to meet many of my colleagues and friends in the same prison, facing the same accusations related to possessing a "dream". However, that spectrum, nicknamed "dream," didn't cease to haunt my absent soul during the year and a half I spent at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Throughout it, my heart persisted in its relentless attempts to break free from that prison and catch up with its inevitable destiny.


"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."


It's October 7th, the second week of the new academic year. The countdown begins; only 40 days remain until my graduation from the depression therapy course, culminating in a certificate of resilience for the sake of my dream.


Unexpectedly, at 6 in the morning, terrifying explosive noises overshadowed the Palestinian national anthem echoing from the neighboring schools around our apartment in Tal El-Hawa, central Gaza. Unconsciously, we fled to my grandfather's house in the far north of Gaza. At 2 am that night, we were asked to evacuate the village. This marked the beginning of the assault, manipulating our lives like a ping-pong ball.


We were relocated to another village in the north. After two nights, we returned to our apartment in Tal El-Hawa, only for one night before seeking refuge at Al-Quds Hospital close to our apartment. We spent a night and then fled again with the break of dawn to a health care center in the north. War is educational; I confirmed that humans can stay awake for more than a week.


Miraculously, we ended up in a vocational training college affiliated with UNRWA in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.


I can easily convince myself that I'm in the climax of an apocalyptic movie.


A strange tragic music mixed with fear plays continuously in my subconscious mind. An entire society with all its layers, thousands of families, relocated to this place. I'm with my family in a cramped space inside the college's table storage, using tables as makeshift 'tents.' We are fortunate as others sleep in the open air.


Drinkable water is as scarce as genuine smiles, and food is incredibly hard to come by and prohibitively expensive. Hunger is a constant companion. We cook over wood fires even in the rain; the smoke is the only salve for the tears frozen in our eyes from excessive crying.


I finally learned patience, but this time ,in the queues of the bathrooms that lack cleanliness. Trash, sewage water, and diseases are the unwelcomed decor everywhere.


Children's screams serve as the loud music to lull us to sleep.


When we return, I will tell my university colleagues that I grasped the practical benefit of electrical circuit lectures. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to extend the electrical lines to 'our tent.'


The accurate definition of a nightmare is the panic attacks that plagued my family each time the blast fragments pierced the building's windows. The sudden heart palpitations will accompany the scene your memory will involuntarily summon throughout the night, urging you to flee.


A shattering shock engulfed my soul when we were told that the residential tower containing our apartment in Tal El-Hawa was leveled to the ground. The roof, a sanctuary where my mother dedicated 15 years of tireless work as a physiotherapist to secure it as our refuge, was reduced to ashes and merged with nothingness.


Thanks for robbing my youth; I'll spend what's left of it rebuilding the basic necessities for myself and my family.


I can only see my dream through a space telescope, blurred by my cascading tears.


My feet move, and my body operates like a soul-numbed biological machine. I walk around the college, encountering many familiar faces: high school teachers, university professors, and even some shadowy figures that I struggle to recognize... I remember! They are the same people I met before in the prison of depression, as if fate gathered us again, but this time with a doubled force to ruin everything.


My university in Gaza was not exempt from the equation turning to ashes. Many of its landmarks, the books within, even the roads leading to it, have turned into piles of rubble. The few remaining parts have become a refuge for the displaced.


What am I to do?! What is the fate of my academic life?! I can stay in Gaza and disregard my aspirations. I can transform into a canvas without colors, devoid of meaning. Or perhaps I can flee abroad, sacrificing all my past academic years to start anew among students years younger than I. I'll ponder over all these options in front of the mirror while gazing at the silver strands in my hair. I console myself that thousands of other students will face a similar fate.


I'll reconcile boldly with the screams of my shocked heart. I'll confess the bitter truth... the truth that we've lost everything: our homeland and home, belongings and wealth, places and memories.


But you know what? None of that means anything to me compared to losing the meaning of my life... the so-called 'dream'.


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