The First Baby Born

Dina Atik is not much different than the average American college student. The bright and vivacious 20-year-old likes to sleep late during her summer vacation, enjoys shopping expeditions with her girlfriends, likes to watch movies, and when she gets the “munchies” she loves to snack on cornflakes with milk.

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Her bedroom door is adorned with a poster of Syrian singer George Wassuf, although now, she says, she is really much more of a fan of Romanian performer Edward Maya and enjoys house dance music.

But there is one thing which sets her apart from any other girl her age: 20 years ago, on February 26, 1990 she was the first baby born at the newly opened Holy Family Hospital.

It was a first time pregnancy for her mother, Marlen, today 45, and father Edward, today 54, who had been married a year earlier at the Church of the Nativity.

And as all soon-to-be-parents they were looking forward to their new arrival. When their family doctor and close family friend Dr. Tabash —who recently retired from his long-held position as director of administration at the hospital- suggested she give birth to their first child at the newly inaugurated Holy Family Hospital they followed his advice… though a bit apprehensively, Marlen admits now with a smile.

Then she laughs at the thought of being apprehensive about giving birth at Holy Family Hospital, because indeed, she says, the hospital has become the premier maternity hospital of the Bethlehem district and today most local women prefer to give birth there. But at the time, 20 years ago, it was an unknown hospital and as a first time mother she felt uneasy about going to a hospital with no proven record.

“I was afraid, first of all because it was my first delivery and then of going to a new hospital which had just been opened,” she said, sipping a cool glass of juice on the front porch of her Bethlehem home in the heat of a summer morning together with Dina. The two are more like sisters than mother and daughter, she said, noting that now they even have started to go to the gym together in the mornings. “I didn’t have any idea what the hospital would be like. I was frightened, really.”

But her obstetrician, Dr. Sameer Asfour who would be delivering the baby at the hospital reassured her, he explained that the new hospital was equipped with the latest equipment and staffed by qualified medical personnel. “The staff was very nice and everybody was calming me down,” she said. “When Dina was born, everybody was so happy.” Marlen recalled now how there had been two other women in the labor ward with her waiting to give birth, but Dina was the first to be born. Dina’s baptism was also held in the hospital garden with the French consul given the honor of being named Dina’s godfather.

Though Dina was still a young girl during the second intifada which broke out in 2001, her memories of that time are still strong. She recalls the endless closures and curfews imposed on the city. Her parents sheltered her and her sister as much as they could from the violence around them.

“I used to get so bored because we had to stay inside the house all the time,” Dina recalled.

Today, though there is no longer any violence as there was during the intifada within Bethlehem, Dina and other young people like her find themselves bored and with little to do in their free time. Though Bethlehem has cafes and restaurants where young people meet each other, unfortunately there are no clubs or places for young people to dance, she said, so sometimes she feels enclosed within Bethlehem because she, along with her friends, are unable to travel outside the town without a permit from the Israelis.

When she was younger she used to play basketball with the St. Joseph’s School team to socialize with friends, she said, and she was an avid scout member of the school’s Catholic Girl Scout troupe. She recalled the wonderful experience of camping in Syria and Jordan with her troupe and meeting with other troupes from other countries. Today she wants to go dancing or bowling or to see a movie but can’t as there are no places for those things in Bethlehem.

Though she loves her hometown, loves living in the birthplace of Jesus which is central to so many Christians around the world, and would never think of leaving her family and friends forever, Dina dreams of experiencing life in other places where she is not surrounded by a separation wall or where she must cross checkpoints and roadblocks.

“Sometimes I would like to experience something else, to visit America,” she said, her eyes shinning. “It is difficult. We can’t even visit nearby Jerusalem unless we have a travel permit which is not east to get and only issued on Christian holidays”.

Individualistic though she may be—she has had a intricate flower pattern tattooed on her right shoulder and sports a total of eight holes pierced in her ears all with her parents agreement – Dina also respects the traditional aspects of her culture and though her dream had been to study fashion design or interior design in Jordan, she acquiesced to her parents request that she remain close to them in Bethlehem and is now a second year student in business administration at Bethlehem University.

Now, as the Holy Family Hospital prepares to celebrate it’s 50,000th birth, the hospital’s first baby is preparing to embark on her own new adventure she recently became engaged to her high school sweetheart Ibrahim Boullot , 24, a information technology graduate of the Al Ahalia University in Jordan who is now working at the Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. Though the two had known each other almost their whole lives – “Everybody knows each other in Bethlehem,” explained Dina — their relationship began to bloom when one day two years ago
Ibrahim saw her playing basketball at the Catholic Action (sports) Club and sent her a text message. They began to correspond first on Facebook and then later they met in person and started going out together in a group with other friends or with her younger sister Rowan as a chaperon.

In June Ibrahim asked for Dina’s hand in the traditional Palestinian manner. He came to her home together with his parents and siblings, bearing flowers and chocolates and requested permission to marry their daughter. The parents are thrilled with the match and in early fall they will hold the official engagement party. Dina imagines a lovely American-style outdoor garden engagement party rather than one held traditionally in their home or a wedding hall.

“I like the idea of having it outside,” she said laughing.

But the wedding, says the independent Dina, is several years away.

“I am still young. First I want to finish my studies, and then maybe work for a year,” she said. She would like to perhaps open up her own shop to sell the things she loves: shoes and sandals, belts and purses and other fashion accessories, she said.

When she was younger she didn’t think about the significance of being the first baby born at Bethlehem’s Holy Family Hospital, said Dina.

“Now I feel special. I was the first of 50,000 babies. I’m the first one and I will give birth there some day too. It’s my hospital.”