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Haya El-Refai: Laya’s first Eid

When war comes, it steals everything: souls, memories, homes, happiness, love and safety. Instead, it brings fear, blood, death, darkness and terror.

In “normal” times, we find much joy and love as we celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. But war took that from us like a thief.

Usually, a day or two before Eid begins (it’s a three-day event), my aunts and their daughters gather to make special cakes. The smell of baking fills the air, and we talk about how we’re going to spend the days. We cherish the time we spend together. Then, at dawn on the first day of Eid, the sheikh’s chant, called Takbirat, sounds from the mosque. (It begins: Allah is great, Allah is great, Allah is great; there is no God but Allah…) It fills the atmosphere like sweet perfume. Men go to pray, then give zakat—a portion of whatever wealth they have—to those who are poorer than them. Then they return home to prepare to visit to relatives, bring edya (money) to hand out to the children and women (especially if they do not work). In return, women and children dress up in new clothes to welcome guests, offering cake, juice, chocolate and coffee.

When I gave birth to my first baby earlier this year, I thought this Eid would be extra special. Before Laya was even born, I chose the outfit she would wear for the special days.

It’s customary for the mother of a daughter who is pregnant with her first child to buy a year’s worth of clothing for the child, then throw a party to show them off. It’s similar to a baby shower. My mother hosted this for me and many guests came to admire the new outfits, eat desserts and dance. It was magnificent.

But instead of celebrating the holiday with Laya, I hugged  her tight so she wouldn’t be scared as Israel’s F-16 bombers flew overhead. On the night of Eid, we knew the war was coming when we heard the bombs. But although one never feels ready for war, I was felt particularly vulnerable because I had not yet recovered from giving birth.

With rumors swirling that Israel would target the tower next to my home, I moved to my parents’ building, taking with me just one of the special dresses—a pink one—that we had bought for Laya. We had bought it for my brother’s upcoming wedding and I was afraid my home would be destroyed. The rest of the special clothes I left behind with a tearful farewell.

As we traveled to my parents’ home, I was terribly scared we might get hurt before we could even arrive. I carried Laya as my heart beat heavily in my chest. All around me, I saw people leaving their homes, dressed in their Eid finery. Which of their homes would be destroyed along with all of their memories? Who would become homeless?

As more bombs dropped, my daughter wouldn’t stop crying despite my embraces. My mother said it was because I was scared and feeding her milk full of terror. Between the bombs and Laya’s tears, I couldn’t sleep. I spent the entire time with my family in one room so if we died, we would all die together.

This war stole our joy, and although it is slowly returning, this will be my daughter’s earliest memory. And that is an imprint that will follow her throughout her life.

Posted: June 28, 2021 in We Are Not Numbers. Included in Vox Populi with permission.

The author’s writing mentor is Dierdre Claffey.

Haya El-Refai earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2019. She has worked as an English writer, trainer and online translator, and she also markets health and beauty products via an online store. She lives in Gaza.

10 comments on “Haya El-Refai: Laya’s first Eid

  1. Lisa Zimmerman
    September 18, 2021


    Liked by 2 people

  2. melpacker
    September 9, 2021

    A brief but moving description of the daily terror Palestinians experience from the apartheid Israeli government that bombs Gaza with weapons supplied by US tax dollars.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rose Mary Boehm
    September 9, 2021

    “When war comes, it steals everything: souls, memories, homes, happiness, love and safety. Instead, it brings fear, blood, death, darkness and terror.” Indeed. I lived war from the time I was just two to when I was seven years old. Never got quite over some PTSD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      September 9, 2021

      Yes, my in-laws survived the bombing and invasion of Germany. It still affected them decades later.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kim4true
    September 9, 2021

    I am so sorry we humans do this horrible thing to other humans. I don’t understand it, and I wish we could just live peacefully. I hope and pray one day that the Palestinian people will know peace again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Noel Canin
    September 9, 2021

    My heart breaks to read your personal experience, especially since I live in Israel, hear the bombers, weep for the families in Gaza, as I do for the children who fear the rockets falling in southern Israel. Many of us oppose the violence against Gaza. I hope in your fear for Laya, you also know this, Haya. I believe that most of us ordinary people just want peace, that Gazan mothers and Israeli mothers just want to hold and love and enjoy their children, not fear what might happen at any moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Saleh Razzouk
    September 9, 2021

    I am aware of this pain. Good to spread the true picture across the world. Yet it reminds me of Sahar Khalifeh’s Origin and Details- أصل وفصل- Assel wa Fasel.

    Liked by 1 person

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