Yasmine Ziadat | August 26 2016
Storytelling has always played a big role in my family; whether sitting in my grandparents’ garden learning about their journeys around the world, or drinking mint tea as my aunts and uncles tell us about their childhood. Every summer, when the family reunites in Jordan, we go through the stacks of photo albums in my grandparents’ house. This time I decided to record my wonderful half Palestinian half Swiss Teta (grandmother), Casie Albina, narrating as we went along. From the tale of how her Swiss mother Dora came to meet her Palestinian father Hanna in the 30s, to the stories of their family fleeing as refugees from the 1948 war in Palestine, here is Part One of just a snippet of my Teta’s life.
The whole thing is going to pieces! I got this album when I was 13 or 14, it’s very old. Let’s turn to the first page shall we. Aw, this is my younger brother Micho and I with my favourite doll, Hansley. Mama used to hang a chair upside down with some rope and he would bounce around by the doorway in it all day. This photo was taken in Jerusalem outside our home which still exists. My papa lived in this house, it was his childhood home, and mine too, I was born there. Somebody else lives there now. When my mama went back to see it in 1967, the occupiers refused to let her in.
Oh but this doll, this is one story that I always like to tell. When I was 7 years old Mama gave me a trunk that belonged to my grandmama who lived in Switzerland. When Grandmama died, my mama was sent a trunk of things that belonged to her. In this trunk was a wooden doll house Grandmama had handmade. She even made the furniture, upholstery, little curtains, oh it was fantastic! Mama put it on top of a cupboard in our house and she told me “now you are only allowed to look at it, but when you’re older you can play with it!” She gave me her doll along with it, Hansley. The two of them had knitted leggings and tops and hats and coats for him over the years. I loved that doll. When we were fleeing from the war in Palestine, I dressed him all up and got him ready to take with me. Papa said “no don’t take the doll, leave it here in the trunk. We’re coming back anyway”, but we never did.
This is Micho and I with Papa and our dogs, Rex and Honey. They lived with us until they died many years later.
At the bottom left, is Mama with her sister Trudi. She went to visit Trudi in Palestine in 1938 ow heik shee (or around about then). Mama was born in Horgan, which is just outside of Zurich in Switzerland. Her sister Trudi met her husband in Switzerland, he was Palestinian Greek, an Electrical Engineer. They fell in love and she moved back to Palestine with him. One time Mama decided to visit her to help out with the children, and then she stayed! It was also after my grandmama died. Grandpapa remarried and Mama said she couldn’t stand the sight of her stepmother in her mama’s kitchen. My grandmama cooked a lot, she was always baking and making jams, it was too much for her to take. So she visited Palestine, met Papa there, they got married in 1939, and then she had me in 1940. Mama lived with my aunt in this huge beautiful house, and here at the bottom right, is the forest outside. Look at the five of us cousins on bicycles.
You know, your grandpapa used to go out and ride his horse every morning, for exercise. He loved horses. One time he was riding down the street and he saw Mama shaking her duvet down from the window. The very next day he came back the same way to see if he would find her again, and there she was on the balcony, shaking down the duvet. That’s how they met. They say he was a bit of a Playboy, but of course, she was in love with him. He appeared on a white horse and that was it.
This is a nice picture. Shoofi (look). This was my parent’s wedding picture from 1939. The one with the white hat is my eccentric cousin. Look at that hat she’s wearing, towering over everybody. The second woman from the right is my grandmother from my father’s side, the one I told you about who liked to go to the cinema and listen to singers like Asmahan and Umm Kulthoum.
This here, this is my baby sister Nani and Micho climbing the trees in Papa’s garden. He had lots of horses and gazelles in the garden, even a sheep! We had that sheep when it was just a lamb, he grew up with us in the garden. When he started growing horns, he used to follow Mama’s friend around and nudge her with his horns! Oh, we came home one day, and I remember there was meat hanging all over the place. We just couldn’t believe our eyes. It was so sad. Mama then left a leg of lamb to cook for dinner. It was so tough. Nobody wanted to eat it. We all sat back in our chairs with our arms crossed. That was our kharoof (lamb)!
That’s me on the vegetable man’s donkey. He used to come all the time to sell us vegetables, and poor Mama had to buy from him because she couldn’t speak Arabic, and he couldn’t understand her either, so she would buy things so that he would leave her alone. He would put me on the donkey while she would collect the vegetables. Actually, it’s funny because many years later, we were downtown Mama and I, and all of a sudden somebody came from an alley and said ya imm Micho! (Oh, Micho’s Mother!) So we stopped to see who was calling, and it was the vegetable man! That was in the 80s, almost 40 years later, he recognised us after all that time!
Here we are the three siblings! This is before we left Jerusalem for Haifa, we lived there for a year and a half. That’s where I had to leave my doll Hansley. When the war broke out in 1948, we left Haifa to go to Beirut by boat. Everybody got scared and left their villages. You know, the village Deir Yassin where there was the massacre. A complete massacre. Children, women, old people, all killed. The people who could flee did so. Deir Yassin is still like a cemetery. The English who were governing Palestine left, the Israeli military were taking over, we were all scared. We left thinking maybe a month, two months at most, and we’ll all get to go back. 68 years later and we are still not back.
We caught the last boat out of there.
(Stay posted for Part Two next week!)
Yasmine Ziadat is an undergraduate history and politics student with an interest in current affairs and sassing the patriarchy. If she’s not taking selfies or watching cat videos, you can find her exploring London in search of coffee, music and museums. You can follow her on instagram, twitter, or read her dardishi articles here.