I remember almost nothing from the time when as a four-month-old baby I was a refugee during the war, except the stories I grew up with told by my mother. But the aftermath of the war haunted my entire childhood, as it did with many of my peers. Instead of falling asleep listening to bedtime stories, we would listen in on adults in the family talking about the austerity we faced each day.
In the village where I grew up — just at the foot of Mokna mountains that seemed as if they were the guardians — the sun in the morning was no guarantee there would be no rain at noon, not even in the summertime. And in the winter, I cannot but remember those last December days; the cold we felt on our way back from school, gripping our small hands every time we would take off gloves to grab our meals from the bags, as we passed the courtyard of the new mosque that marked the exit from the village.
Knitted by my mother, my gloves were the same color as the jam I spread on the piece of bread I brought with me every day to school, same as my friends did. The few among us whose relatives lived abroad, instead of jam, had their everyday bread with meat.
It had been a decade since the war ended, and we still lived as an extended family. In the room I shared with my parents, inside the old wooden closet, behind a pile of clothes in the corner, I hid all my treasure. A white medicine bag, full of cheap candies. Eid candies.
Every holiday, as if we were a caravan, we would march toward the surrounding villages together with neighborhood children. We had to travel many kilometers on foot on that journey for sweets. Door to door, we shouted “Eid Mubarak!” from outside the yards, and then raced to see which one of us would first arrive at the front door.
There was no greater joy than when a relative of mine came out and gave me more candies than the other children. I felt a sense of superiority over them, usually expressed with a big smile and blush. The latter not because there was something I had to be ashamed of, but because until that moment, the only difference between me and the others were the clothes: Not all of us had bought new clothes for the holiday.
Here and there, someone came out and offered us water and sweets. We continued to the next house, and then to another, until dusk. Then we left, to do the same for the following days, in the next villages.
After the holiday was over and we went back to school, each day when the long bell rang and students would line up in front of the store nearby, I sat at a window and took out my meal from the bag: Two Eid candies.
Since we were at the foot of the mountains, we could not have had a better window view. But the same could not be said for my meal. Often, when my stomach started making noise because last night I had not eaten enough for dinner, I had to take one of the candies out before the breaktime and keep the other for later.
Each day, the same routine. As days went by, the stack of candies in my white medicine bag got smaller. So, I began to reduce the number of candies I brought with me to school: From two to one.
Today, 21 years after the war, the refugee baby who grew up in black and white is creating her own rainbow. A colorful world does not deserve to have children who instead of delving into books, collect scrap metal or clean car windows in never-ending traffic jams. Unfortunately, these stories do not seem to want to diminish any time soon.