Nooran is a first generation Palestinian American born in New Jersey. She is a student of economics and political science. She aspires to dedicate her life to helping refugees. Some of her hobbies include daydreaming, listening to Fairouz, and writing. This story is part of “Muslims of America” a photo series created by photographer Carlos Khalil Guzman.
What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is from when I was four. I’m sitting on my grandmother’s bed. It’s dawn; the sun has just begun to seep through the curtains of my grandmother’s bedroom. My Teta was still asleep, her chest rising and falling next to me. Teta had the longest, darkest hair a grandmother ever could have had. It was smooth to the touch. This was my favorite thing to do as a child; sleep over at my grandmother’s house. It was a ritual that I would sleep next to her, and wake her up by drawing an impossibly tiny comb through her hair. I would brush it across the bed sheets, starting at the roots and finishing the ends almost at the other side of the bed. When my Teta would wake up she would never be cross with me for disturbing her sleep. She would take me to the kitchen, pour me a glass of milk, and turn on the Arabic music video channel. When I moved to far away New Hampshire a few years later, it would become a ritual for me to cry because of how much I missed my Teta. Years later, my Teta’s hair is abruptly short and a silvery gray. I’d do anything to relive one of those mornings from my childhood.
Who is the most important person in your life?
The most important person in my life has undoubtedly been my mother. For as long as I can remember, she has been my best friend. When I was younger I would watch her getting ready for work, cooking, talking on the phone. I thought- and still think- she is the most beautiful person in the world. The thought of disappointing her in the slightest can immediately bring tears to my eyes. I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for her. Something I remember profoundly is how she would force me as a child to copy Arabic texts every day so that I could learn the language. I would painstakingly copy pages upon pages. If my handwriting was messy, or I misspelled a word, I would have to do it all over. At the time I hated it. I didn’t understand why I needed to learn a language that I didn’t use at school. Looking back, I am so thankful for her persistence. Arabic has become an integral part of me. I am clearly biased but I always am raving to people who aren’t familiar with the language that it is the most beautiful in the world. In every scoop of a noon, curve of a ra, dot of a jeem; I see my mother.
What was the happiest moment in your life? The saddest?
The happiest moment of my life is also the saddest moment of my life. It is the most bittersweet moment, the one with feelings so complex that I struggle to find words to describe them. It is the moment I stood in Jerusalem for the very first time. There was joy; the kind that makes you feel weightless, the kind that cements a smile onto your face. Jerusalem is the most beautiful city in the world. I went in the summer of 2012 during Ramadan. Vendors sold sweets, mountains of spices at every shop, multicolored lights tangled in the narrow walkways and arches of the old city. I was here. I was really here. And with this realization came the sadness; that I was here, and my grandparents were not. I had grown up hearing stories of the Palestine of my grandparents’ childhood. Of hide and seek in valleys of lemon and figs. Of tag in the alleys of Jaffa. Of first loves in refugee camps, wedding parties in villages, Eid prayers in Jerusalem. Here, the sadness came like an avalanche. I felt unworthy of the exhilarating glee that came with seeing your homeland for the first time. Throughout the rest of my short visit to Palestine, these two polar opposite emotions were constantly warring with each other. There has been no level of happiness that could match the happiness I felt while roaming in the Old City and there has been no level of sadness like the sadness I felt as I pressed my forehead against the ground in Al Aqsa.
What do you want to be remembered as?
I want to be remembered as a kind person. I think we live in a world today where being rude and cold is considered normal, cool, and even encouraged. Our culture is all about harshly calling people out instead of respectfully disagreeing or privately correcting them. I’m the first person to own up to the fact that I am guilty of hurting people’s feelings. I wish I could go back in time, hold my tongue and be less judgmental. I can’t, so I pray that God and anyone I have ever negatively interacted with forgives me. I try to make a conscious effort everyday to be a kind person. I smile at strangers; strike up conversations with anyone who I notice seems down, check in on my friends constantly. I’ve realized over time that you never know what someone may be going through in their life; that maybe words you think are harmless are actually words that will eat away at them. If I can make one person’s day better, by making them laugh or smile, uplifting them in any way I can, then I will.