Always The Stranger

Marah Sarji, Israel

Every Thursday, there is a salsa night held at the university that is open to students. Usually, there is a class that starts at 20:00 for different levels to learn new moves, and after that, there is a dance party that goes on until people get tired, which is generally at 3:00. I used to attend non-stop, every week until this happened one night.

I participated in class, as usual, having fun laughing at my guy friends that I made there, who still can’t perform a very simple move and just dance to the best of their ability. I have always received a lot of attention for my passion and dancing, but every time guys start making conversation they realize that I am Palestinian and not Jewish, and it becomes awkward. I have learned to just laugh it off, since, well yeah, I will always be the stranger.

This time, it was the most uncomfortable and a bit personal. I was dancing with this guy; his name was Itay. He was tall, tanned and had a strong, built body. If he changed his clothes and shoes I would have easily mistaken him for being a Palestinian. At first, the dancing was a bit off tempo but I understood, leading is not easy in partner dancing. Then his leading got better, he relaxed and it seemed like he enjoyed it.

I was having fun too but was waiting for the expected moment, the moment when he would start talking.

A few minutes in, Itay started making conversation. He gave me compliments for my dancing skills and then started asking the basic questions (in Hebrew):

– How old are you?

– I’m 20. How old are you?

– Awesome! I’m also 20. I am serving now in the army! (a smirk spread on his face, it showed how proud he was of himself)

I asked him about his unit and how long has he been there.

Then I asked:

– What is your name again?

– Itay. And you?

– I’m Marah.

– Wait, so where are you from?

I was thinking: here we go.

– I am a Palestinian. (saying it with a gentle smile)

The moment I said Palestinian, I swear, I could see the whole world turning black in his eyes. If he had the choice not to exist then, he would have chosen that.

His body tensed up, I felt his back getting so stiff, he almost tripped under his own steps. His eyes became hollow.

Everything charming about him just disappeared. He didn’t even know what to say next. I had never felt this uncomfortable in my whole life. I was facing him dancing, and physically surrounded by his arms and body. I had no choice but to stay because I couldn’t go anywhere or leave the situation.

He made me feel like I was a threat to him. Like I wanted to hurt him or kill someone. How can I, someone who loves everyone and tries to be kind even to my enemies, be the reason somebody else feels so uncomfortable just because of my identity? For who I am? That hurt.

We both were waiting for the music to stop so we could split and find new partners. Just our luck, the music never stopped. That night they chose a mixtape that had continuous music with no breaks in between songs.

After a few minutes of feeling this huge discomfort, I told him that I needed a break and that I was tired. He told me he needed one too. We stopped. We both went our own way and I have never been back to salsa night.

This is just one example of the important work produced by YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.eupi-both-flags

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