Every people in the world lives in a place. For Palestinians, the place lives in them.” DR
A Palestine story

Journey From A Palestinian Refugee Camp to America
   Home      Introspective      The moon landing, then and today…


The moon landing, then and today…


August 30 2012

The passing of Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, brought back old memories. The moon walk, for those of us who lived through it, was one of those epochal events where time was measured by the before and after the moon landing.

I was barely 11 years old. Homes in the Palestinian camp where I grew up were recently connected to the power grid. My maternal uncle living next door was one of the very few homes who had a black and white Television. His son who worked as a teacher in the capital city bought his parents a 19 inch black and white TV. It was a generous gift those days leaving me jealous of my uncle kids.

At that age, I didn’t have much interest in watching news. But the news covering the moon landing must have coincided with the night when I usually join with other neighbors to watch the weekly funny sitcom. Next to the news program, this and another weekly social family show were the only shows produced locally.

Special show or not, it was always a privilege sitting on the floor in front of the bizarre small box broadcasting anything, funny or not.

It was in 1969, the summer I ran away from home to join a PLO military camp in Syria. Next day, my other uncle, paternal aunt’s husband walked on me spreading the daily newspaper on the floor reading about the “man” on the moon.

Before going any further, I must share a little about this uncle. He came across as very mysterious; I felt we always enjoyed special mutual emotional affinity.

It must have been during the British mandate in the 1930s when he moved in with my grandparent’s tribe in Palestine claiming to have escaped a family blood feud in Syria. As far as I remember, he never talked about his Syrian family or even tried to reconnect after so many years. When his ex-family was mentioned, he would be expressionless, try to change the subject or just walk away.

He appeared to have been illiterate, but he spoke a little English. It would have been hard for me to ascertain his level of English at the time, for mine was scanty at best.

He passed away during my last year in college while I was still in the States. Since it was not financially feasible for me to visit home while going to school, I never had the opportunity to know for sure the depth of his knowledge of English. However, I suspect he knew a lot more than what he shared. Supposedly he learned English working in British military camps in Palestine prior to 1948.

He always wore a white Kufia (Arab head dress) over his head, but the rest of his attire was what might be considered Western outfit. People from the Syrian region, e.g. Palestine, Lebanon and today’s Syria are intermixed cultures with physical features ranging from the African to European. The majority are however of the Asmar, olive or bronze skin color. His skin pigmentation was leaning more towards the European feature than the average person. This by itself can’t be a determining factor, but there are many other aspects of his life that could point to another origin. For instance, he was a Muslim and observed Ramadan, but I had never seen him follow certain rituals like praying five times a day, which people of his age did. He never showed interest in making haj, pilgrimage to Mecca. In fact, I vividly remember him making remarks during the Haj season, saying that people are better off giving their money to help the fledgling Palestinian revolution than spending it on the haj journey.

 Deep inside I though he probably used the Syrian story to hide his true identity. If he wasn’t from Syria, there could be a good chance he was a British army deserter who mastered the colloquial language and adopted the local culture making Palestine his new home.

Presumably illiterate, he certainly did not read Arabic, by looking at the photos of the landing, he knew I was reading about the human trip to the moon. He asked about what was written in the paper.  I responded with amazement trying to detail to him what I read. He was skeptic, looked at me and said: do you really believe these pictures? Yes, I said. You are too young habibi, my darling, to understand. These are fake pictures. They must have been generated at some Hollywood studio to outdo the Soviets in their race to the moon. He believed it was impossible to land on the moon.

Irrespectively, Neil Armstrong’s demise brought back memories of a place where I first read and watched the moon landing; the place that does not exist anymore but in my never fading memory. Remembering people I love, who like the physical place, they are not with us either.

Memories of an arm race period where the Soviets and Americans were competing for supremacy. An era when having electricity or black and white TV was a privilege.

Fast forwarding to today, I ponder about the next frontier for human advancement. Could it be transmitting matter as fast as data and voice are transferred today?

It seems impossible; but most of the technological innovations we enjoy today seemed impossible then.