THE NIGHTMARE AND THE DREAM
Oil painting, 1998, 160X200 cm. by Ismail Shammout
The refugee camp became a nightmare prison, which had to be escaped. The train became the symbol and dream of escape and link to life and the world. But, until such a time as the dream could be realized, the refugees were forced to concentrate on ensuring bread for their families.
After receiving the generous hospitality of my father’s friends at Khan Yunis we had to think of how to face our lives. We decided, the family’s young generation, to find work – any work. We proceeded to buy and sell bread, grapes, kerosene … then we learned how to make “Halva” and sell it. I roamed most of Gaza as a sweets salesman and I would sometimes ask my young brother “Jamal” to accompany me so as not to be lonely.
After a period of time the lines of communication between Gaza and the West bank were cut and the Gaza area became isolated – connected to the outside world only through Egypt. The train became symbolic of the connection between Gaza and the world. The camp – in fact, the Gaza strip – became to us (the youth) close to a prison from which we aspired to be freed through study or work outside. Oh! How much I dreamt then of flying and freedom.
After about a year of being refugees schools for refugees were opened and I worked as a teacher – volunteer. And for a few months I worked in the morning as a teacher and in the afternoon as a sweets salesman. The dream came again to my mind to fly and to travel abroad to study art.
The dream of my mother was to plant, near to the tent, a Jasmine and Arabian Jasmine or a lemon tree, and we would say to her: “mother, we do not have the water to irrigate the Jasmine tree that you requested”.
She would answer: “son, the tree is a blessing ….” To her the tree is symbolic of her connection to the land, nature and the homeland as well as being a symbol of life”.
The school atmosphere facilitated for me paper so I painted and colored tens of paintings and pictures which reflected our living conditions in the refugee camp.
The train would carry every day a number of youth from Gaza to Cairo for the purpose of studying, knowledge being our only possible weapon – and available to some of us. Others took the train to Cairo and continued their journey to work in Kuwait or in Saudi Arabia.