The Things We Pack

Hebron, Palestine
Days melt into weeks; weeks sink into months. With only three weeks remaining until my contract in Palestine is finished, my mind forces reflection into the quiet moments of my day. Words and feelings flash before me, taunting their own intangibility as they linger just out of reach: peace treaties, destruction, terrorist, student, goats, rocks, provocation, humiliation, complicity, abandonment. Finger-painting their marks on the walls of my mind, these words, I suspect, seek to vaccinate me from future nostalgia.

Around me are my clothes, rolled up and ready to be packed away, unopened until my feet are standing on Canadian ground. I’ve packed too early, finding myself digging through my bags each morning to find pieces of clothing I need for that day - the raincoat I haven’t needed in months, the scarf I thought I could do without for the last couple weeks.

Leaving is not an unfamiliar experience. Memories of packing quickly on the cold tiled floor of my room in Pakistan, the muezzin punctuating my fear and panic with beauty, hang heavy in my room now like a thick fog, distorting my thinking. Opening the over-sized windows in my room, the orange morning light floods in, as if to cleanse the room of it’s anxiety. I wonder what it is that has motivated my packing nearly three weeks early.

Packing, surely, is cathartic. Freeing my physical space of the clutter and disorganization allows me to decide what I will carry with me and what I will leave behind. Inanimate objects grant me a control I do not possess with the thoughts and memories that have seared a home in my mind.

Wadding through the confusing swamp of change that has overtaken my mind, I wonder what I will take with me when I go: the hours spent lesson planning, the smiles of my students, decorating Mother’s day cards or the choir of F-16s and bus rides through checkpoints, Israeli soldiers with guns cocked in hand. Is there room in my mind for the joy I felt watching the sun sink behind Mount Gerizim and the anger I felt witnessing the late night funeral processions for bodies returned to families years after death? Can I roll up the memories of medics shot at during non-violent protests, the pictures of blood flowing through the streets of Jenin and squeeze them beside my favorite sweater in my backpack? Or should I chose to leave them behind for the person who comes to replace me, like the maroon peacoat I’ve slid under my bed?

I sit in my windowsill and watch the city I have come to call home sink into the dark hues of evening, a cigarette burning quickly between my fingers, contemplating my return to Canada. I wonder how easy it will be to remove myself from the violent atmosphere that has crept into my heart, demanding, with all its might to be recognized and understood. Will I unpack it earnestly with each kufiya I gift to family members, each photograph I show to uninterested eyes? Will it remain stuffed away in my backpack, to be unpacked once I am away from home again, away from the eyes of those who do not also swim in its haunting undercurrent? Or will it nestle into my chest and create a silent home for itself, remaining a distant memory I keep shelved for my own comfort?