Dina Aita is only 16 years old, but has probably seen more than any of her peers. She lives in Gaza, but has spent the past school year on exchange at Sedona Red Rock High School. In an interview with the Sedona Red Rock News, she discussed her time in the United States and her life back home.
Q: Why did you want to go on exchange and how did you end up in the United States?
A: The basic two reasons for me to go on exchange .... the first one is to get out of Gaza. It’s hard to travel, so I wanted to see the outside world and this was the first opportunity for me to travel out of Gaza.
The second reason is that I really wanted to try the exchange and live with a host family. I love America and it’s been a dream for me to come here, and to be in a high school and have American friends. Since my childhood, we’ve just been listening to American music and watching American movies. I’m so into the American culture, so I really wanted to try being in the U.S. and try your culture.
And I wanted to exchange my culture with the outside world, with other people. Because when I came here, a lot of people didn’t know about Palestine or Gaza and I want all of them to know what’s happening there and how we live. The other part of it was that I want to know how people live here, how Americans live. I was really excited about that.
Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about the United States?
A: My favorite thing is how people are so open-minded and friendly and how they are so free here. There’s no [sexism] between boys and girls, so they’re equal to each other. And how things are going here, how people treat each other. How you are free to do whatever you want. There are no limits, you can be in a relationship .... not like in my country. So I like how people live here.
My least favorite thing — I’m not really sure. Maybe that people are free, but they are like over-free. Some people are doing drugs and drinking, and I really didn’t like that. I’ve seen groups of friends at school, some of them were smoking and stuff, and I didn’t like that. And I don’t like the food much, I prefer the food from my country.
Q: How would you describe your life in Gaza?
A: In Gaza, we’re Muslims — and not just Muslims, but we are Arabs, too. They have limits for girls and they prefer boys over girls. They don’t give the girls freedom and they don’t think that girls should travel or that girls should be educated, or should have a job. They believe that the woman’s job is just to have children, open a family, cook and do the housework. I don’t like this idea. They really don’t give the girls as many rights as they give the boys. I like it better here.
Q: What is a normal day like for you at home?
A: It’s totally different from here. Normally, we have early school — it starts at seven in the morning — so we wake up at six and we have to get ready. We don’t have a special uniform, but we have long dresses for school. We can’t wear jeans or shirts, and we have to wear hijab at school. Even if you normally don’t wear hijab, at school you have to wear it.
Then we walk to school, it’s five or 10 minutes from my house. My dad drives, but it’s not very far, I can walk. And then school takes about five hours, it’s pretty short. It’s from seven to 12, and we don’t have any fun classes. All the classes are academic classes, like science and history. We have six periods a day, and the recess is 15 minutes, it’s really short.
We don’t usually hang out with friends after school because we have a lot of assignments. We work a lot, the only free days for us are on the weekend. When I get back home [from school], we eat lunch. This is our main meal. We eat at one or two, and then we usually sleep. My family usually sleeps at two and gets up at five. At five I have some assignments to do, and then I chat with my friends after I finish, watch a movie and I go to bed pretty early, at nine usually.
But we don’t usually hang out with each other. My group, we do hang out, but most of the girls — their parents don’t allow them to hang out and they’re not very open-minded. They’re afraid about their daughters, so girls don’t usually hang out, but boys do.
Q: What kind of assignments do you have around the house?
A: As a family, we usually divide the work. Each family member has a job. I clean the dishes, my mom cooks and we all share. Here, everybody does their job, but in my house, one cleans all the dishes for the family, the other one cleans the rooms of everyone.
For school assignments, we usually memorize a lot of stuff. When I came here, in the pre-calculus class, we didn’t memorize the math rules. But in my country we memorize everything. So it’s pretty hard there and school needs a lot of work. And history, too. History here, we memorize nothing, we just do it at school, but in my country we memorize all the names of the people and all the dates. So you need to study every day, when a test comes you have a lot of things to study. If you didn’t study every day, you would be in big trouble. It’s a lot of work.
Q: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
A: I have three younger brothers, two of them are twins and they’re 1 year old right now. And I have an older sister that is one year older than me. She was on exchange last year, so she supported me to come here. And my mom and dad. So our family has seven members.
Q: What would you like people here to know about the political situation in Gaza?
A: I would really like to send the message that people in Gaza are living life in very bad conditions. We want to live like all the other people in the world. We have an occupation and we don’t have chances to travel. We have unemployment and graduates who study and make the most effort at school and university, but they don’t find chances to have a job because of the Israeli occupation.
Gaza is becoming crowded and more and more people are there, but we live in a very little place. We have wars every two or three years, and a lot of people die every day. I lost three brothers two years ago. I would like people to know how bad we are living and how the Israeli occupation is oppressing us. They’re not giving us our rights, they’re taking most of the sea from us, they’re not letting us fish. They don’t allow us to import stuff that we want, they have limits on that.
And the [biggest issue] is that they don’t allow us to travel. If you ask somebody in Gaza, “What is your dream?” he will be like “I want to travel, I want to get out of Gaza.” This was the basic reason for me to come here. So we live in prison in Gaza.
And we don’t have a lot of water, sometimes water’s not in the house, sometimes it comes and sometimes it goes. And we have blackouts most of the day. We have electricity for six hours a day and the rest of the day is blackout. And we have gas, but it’s so expensive.
People in Gaza are so successful and we want to be a better country, but the Israelis are preventing us from living our life. They’re destroying our lives. And they’ve destroyed a lot of houses in the war, not just people. If you go to Gaza now, a lot of houses are destroyed.
Some people were helping us, other countries were giving us money to build houses. But they can’t anymore because the Israelis are destroying more and more and we can’t fix it. It’s like you fix a house, and after three years the war comes and they destroy it again.
We lost our house in the war and now we’re renting an apartment. My dad was saving money for college for me and my brothers, and now he needs all the money for the house.
The situation [in Gaza] is really bad. And there are a lot of poor people who can’t feed their children. We just want to live life. And America, your government is not helping. American people, I don’t have any problem with them, but usually people in my country hate the Americans and their government because they are helping the Israelis.
So we want people to hear us and we want to solve this problem. We don’t want to live like this anymore. I’m not going to stay there for the rest of my life, even if I have to leave my family. Because there, you can’t achieve any of your dreams. I would like people to know that. Because there are a lot of them who don’t know about Gaza.
Q: What do you miss most from home?
A: My family. I really miss my mom and my two young brothers. They’re so cute right now. And I miss my sister, she’s like my best friend. And I miss my friends at school. Mostly, I miss people. I miss all the people that I left there. I don’t miss the country at all, I don’t miss living there. But I miss people, and I miss my food a lot. If you think about Gaza, there are not a lot of things to miss. Just people. I’m not very excited to go back there, but I’m excited to see people.
Q: What’s your best and your worst memory from home?
A: My best memory is probably when I got accepted to the exchange program to come here. I couldn’t believe that I’m getting out of Gaza and going to America because I always wanted to come here. This is the best memory for me.
And the worst one was two years ago when our house was destroyed and I lost my three brothers. I got hurt also, this [shows a scar on her face] is from the war. This was the worst thing that ever did and ever will happen to me. I can’t imagine anything worse that can happen.
Q: What do you hope for your own future and the future of your country?
A: If we start with my country’s future, I hope that Gaza will be free and we will return back to our land, Palestine. And that we live like the rest of the people in the world are living. That we have chances to work and we can achieve our dreams, we have a normal life and we live freely. This is the dream of any Gazan person. We just want freedom.
For me, for my future, I really want to be — I’m not really sure what I want to be, but I might be a journalist. I’m not going to do it in Gaza, if it doesn’t become free. So my dream is to get our of there, and live in any place out of it, and take my family with me. My dream is to have a job and a normal life. And to live a good life. BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS