Before returning to the impoverished al Bateran families living off Zarka street, I stopped in Gaza’s Sahaa market to buy some fruit and nuts for Iman, pregnant and just over a week away from delivering an expected son.
The nuts vendor bagged a kilo of almonds, saying they were good for women’s health when pregnant. The fruit vendor, familiar since during the massacres of Gaza, asked about a colleague, Spanish cameraman Alberto, and put together a fruit cocktail basket.
Then I was off, catching one of Gaza’s many broken taxis and rattling down the road to the Baterans.
Along the way I passed Mohammed Kahawish, on the street with a large rice-sack type bag, collecting plastics and anything worth selling. I called out to him, but the taxi had passed quickly and with his cataract-clouded eyes he couldn’t see me clearly.
Hadwa was sitting on the stoop of the path leading to her single room home. we walked back and went inside. It was already overheated, no breeze passing through the window near the ceiling or the small window on one wall. The dreary cement seemed to retain heat in the box-room.
Life, Hadwa said, was much the same as the last time I’d inquired: hard, no perks, nothing to look forward to. Again she said, “I’m living, I’m getting by. What can I do?”
A supporter outside had asked me to pass along some money, for food and daily needs, which I did before continuing on to other families.
Amar Bateran wasn’t home; his sad-eyed wife was and tucked the next donation into her pocket, pulling me to see a neighbour who needs care outside of Gaza.
I realize my huge limitations, and much of my visiting and passing along donations is only band-aid therapy, just helping people get by in the short term. With the exception of Hamsa, who was able to buy a horse for work with donations people sent to me, the other families have little prospect of setting up a self-sustaining business or means of income. I’m looking into how much a coffee/tea cart would cost, for one family in Beit Lahia.
But the overwhelming majority of people I meet just have no prospect for a reasonable income. One can only earn so much buying and re-selling packs of gum and sweets, as Amar does. The economy is shattered, thanks to the seige, thanks to international policy-makers’ rude indifference, thanks to the Israeli bombardment of factories and farmland, fishing boats and taxis, houses and markets.
So one of the hardest aspects of being here in Gaza is hearing day in day out, from friends and strangers, of how people are desperate, strangled, long for the freedom to travel, long to work, long to provide the simplest of things for their children. While I am only a visitor in Gaza and these realities don’t reflect my own life possibilities, I internalize them, feel the sorrow of friends who long to travel as I have, or simply long to continue their studies.
It’s also extremely hard to listen to someone tell me of their child/family member’s need for medical care, and to know that I can’t do anything. It’s impossible to convince them that I hold no powers of persuasion, can pull no strings with the Egyptian and Israeli gate-keepers.
Iman was home, Hamsa out with his horse, finding work. With about 10 days until she gives birth, Iman is glowing with a radiance. We’d not had the chance to talk much alone, and she quickly began to ply me with questions about why people like me were in Gaza. I left later with a promise that she would try to call me when she goes into labour.
As I walked back up the alley, I came across Abu Mohammed, father of the martyred 10 year old, Hanin, sitting in the cement wall’s shade with Saud, his brother who has schizophrenia.
Saud grinned in his woeful manner as he told me he still cannot find Semap, the essential medication he needs to off-set his schizophrenia. His words were echoes of Hadwa, and so many others. He is tired, this is no life, there’s nothing to look forward to, we’re living…just barely.
I peeked into Abu Mohammed’s home to say a quick hello to his wife and their daughters. Yasmin was there, the troubled teen who saw her younger sister shot dead and then faced the barrel of an Israeli soldier’s gun as she hid in an apartment. She moves with a stilted akwardness, and her parents point out that she’s ‘not normal’ now, still.
From the martyr’s family I moved on to say another quick hello to Saud’s wife, and to pass along a donation.
I rack my brain thinking of ways to bring a self-sufficiency to the neighbourhood. But it is out of my hands, their hands, and in the hands of those imposing this strangling siege. And, in echoes of the rhetorical question posed to me near-daily, what can one do here? What kind of life is this?