The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is a complex one, at times as perplexing to adults as it is to children. But somewhere between the newscast sound bites and the impassioned political, religious and ideological debates lie the stories of real people, of those whose lives have been unalterably affected by the violence. One of those stories is that of Ibtisam Barakat.
Now a poet, educator and activist living in Missouri, Ibtisam was a child of three in the West Bank city of Ramallah when the Six-Day War of 1967 broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Keeping a promise to herself not to forget, but instead to reach for the raft of remembering, in Tasting the Sky, Ibtisam recalls those frightening days and their aftermath from the point of view of her childhood self. Following a harrowing flight from her home, during which young Ibtisam loses her shoes and becomes temporarily separated from her family, the Barakat family eventually find their way to Jordan, where they remain as refugees for more than four months. When they return to their shell-shocked, occupied Ramallah neighborhood, Ibtisam, her parents and her two older brothers must learn to navigate a new reality, gradually adjusting to life under a constant state of war.
The genius of Barakat's memoir is that, by couching it in the perspective of a very young child, she is able to convey intimate observations and astute insights without lecturing her readers. Instead, in this spare memoir, she gains readers' interest and sympathy by providing a glimpse into how families, especially children, cope with the realities of war, living in a near-constant state of fear but nevertheless finding ways from stealing a tray of pastries to caring for a baby goat to preserve childhood and family life. Realistic, tender, sympathetic stories like this are all too rare, but can be the most effective tools to raise awareness, engage dialogue and open hearts and minds to the views of others.