“Children and birds suffer most in war
Children and birds are always running away”
~From "Migration," by Haas Mroue
Perla Issa was born in 1978, in Beirut, during the infancy of the Lebanese Civil War.
For many of us in the US, war is something that happens in faraway places. With faraway people. Most often, if we do choose to think about war, we think of its machinations. We think of bombs, of jets, of tanks. We think of causes and solutions. The people, then, become to us problems to be solved, if they exist at all.
War for us is, I think, the greatest of all abstractions.
When people, when we, become abstractions, humanity is in peril. We are not objects. We are meant to animate life. Among our many purposes, we are meant to build and expand on connections between each other. How I live, and where, is not so far away from you, actually.
And so, Perla made her life here, in Beirut, as normal as anyone else's life. Unlike Haas Mroue's children and birds, she stayed. She grew, she played, she studied. She had big shoes to fill, and the determination to do so.
The expectations she would live up to came from her grandmother, who left Haifa in 1948, in the "Nakba," or "day of catastrophe." With an eight year old son (Perla's father), she made her way to Beirut.
"She refused to go to a camp," Perla says. An act of incredible foresight, considering the laws that Lebanon would eventually pass against the Palestinians of the camps. She scraped by, selling textiles. There was pressure to send her young son to work, which she adamantly resisted. She enrolled him in a French school, and when she couldn't afford the tuition any longer, "She went to the offices of the school and told them that, if they kicked my father out, she'd stand outside their gates everyday" and raise hell.
This was a battle the school must've known they couldn't win. So, they kept Perla's father enrolled. And after that fight he excelled in his studies, eventually earning scholarships that would carry him through his entire academic career. He earned a degree in engineering, and thus paved Perla's future path.
So, with this family history as her foundation, Perla advanced through primary school in Beirut, and in 1990, with the war ending, she moved to Canada and finished high school there.
In New York City, where I teach, I have met countless kids with similar stories. It's a sort of immigrant matriarchy that is beautifully insistent. Hopeful in the absolute sense of the word.
For, children and birds leave the nest so that they may return one day. From the hopes of grandmothers, action springs eternal.
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