Jehan’s “Big Yellow Atlas” Moment

Posted On 8/26/16

By Nadia Abuelezam

Many of us have experienced the exact moment that Jehan Bseiso experienced with the Big Yellow Atlas (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go listen to Episode 10 of Palestinians Podcast). Her world was turned upside down as a child when her mother had to pencil in her homeland in a big yellow atlas. My moment happened when I wanted to write my 6th grade report on Palestine but was told by my teacher that there was no such place (because it wasn’t on the world map hanging in the classroom) and perhaps I could write about Egypt instead? This moment (often experienced during childhood) is jarring and makes an individual feel incomplete and insufficient. The homes and playgrounds that I imagined my parents inhabited disappeared into thin air in my mind the instant I couldn’t find Palestine on that map. The conversations I had with my parents and the cultural events where I learned to experience Palestine were suddenly undermined in an instance.

As Palestinians, we’ve all experienced a moment of realization that is similar to Jehan’s. That moment when you realize you aren’t from a place that everyone recognizes, agrees with, knows about, or is even recognized on a map. Jehan has taken her aversion and dislike of maps and has used it to fuel her fire, to make a difference. Despite never meeting Jehan in person, I know that Jehan is a force to be reckoned with. She has a personality that came through the headphones during our Skype conversation. And how could she not be a strong force? She has dedicated her life and her time to making sure people hear about Palestine and her people. While Jehan is the Head of Communications for Doctors Without Borders in the Middle East Region by day (and some long evenings), she is a poet and artist by night giving voice to many in the diaspora.


Photo by: Robert Stothard

Besides publishing her poetry in unconventional places (like news websites and policy blogs) Jehan also has published work with two other Gazan poets in a poetry anthology titled “I Remember My Name.” She is also seeking poetry submissions for a collaborative refugee anthology she is helping to put together. The anthology, entitled ‘Making Mirrors’: Righting/Writing by Refugees will be a multilingual and interactive collaborative volume of poems that will be published as a book and an online project. If you have a poem (and/or photography) to contribute, you can contact her at Please help support her new project in collaboration with Becky Thompson. Jehan traveled to Palestine as part of the Palestinian Festival of Literature in May 2016. To learn more about and to support PalFest, please visit their website.

So why not pick up your pencil/pen/keyboard and start channeling those suppressed emotions into a story or poem. You can contribute to Jehan’s anthology, Palestinians Podcast, or one of our live storytelling events happening in the next few months. While these stifling and jarring events happen, it is best to have a creative and healthy outlet for our emotions and our frustrations. We hope that Jehan has inspired you to consider writing/performing/documenting the moments in your life where you grew as a person and as a Palestinian.