I met with a friend, to talk about his situation, the situation in general now, how he’s dealing with the pressure, the disappointments, how he finds inspiration…
During our coffee he said:
“…I have a cat. I’ve had her since I lived outside Gaza. It breaks my heart that I can’t feed her well. I buy food that’s not fit for her to eat. She eats it and gets sick, then eats it again because there’s nothing else for her. But the food is not good for her. You know, we care for cats, pets, too.”
And spoke of how many are coping with the hell of life here:
“It’s crazy how easy it is to buy certain drugs over counter, like painkillers which some people use recreationally, except here they’re being used intensely. Now there are a growing number of addicts, young people, older people, anyone, using pills every day to escape the pain of life here. The effect: it’s a pain suppressor, so you don’t feel any physical pain. It also makes you happy, so there’s a double effect. People are using it all the time, addicted. But the withdrawal effects are severe, like coming off hard drugs. But there are no rehab programs here, no ways of helping people get off these pills. No support. And no incentive to stop using them. There’s no other escape from reality here, and people are looking for any means to escape their pain, frustration.”
He spoke of his own problems with work and trying to find meaning in life, to find beauty wherever he can:
“Every day I struggle, we struggle. Many people feel defeated and powerless. But we have to keep working, looking for something to give us hope. You’ve got to have hope. And love.”
Yesterday, in a different meeting, the woman with whom I spoke was all the more adamant on the need for self-improvement, bringing oneself out of despair and the idleness that a crushed economy and closed borders has imposed on so many here.
“People need to look inside themselves and realize they have some potential, some ability, whether it is something artistic and creative, or something that can be used in society. There are ways. People can take training, build skills, educate themselves…” She should know: she works with teenagers, empowering them, teaching them skills, hearing their voices, seeing the change from a normal confused adolescent to an aware young adult.
I left her feeling inspired by her drive, her belief in the power of the individual. But I’ve come across so many destitute families who have problems on top of their poverty. And with many of them, I can’ t think of what skill or education will bring them out of this poverty, when no one around them can buy or support a trade that is not a basic essential to life. I find myself caught between admiration for those that truly believe that Palestinians have the potential, despite all of this…siege, occupation, wars and invasions, destroyed economies and destroyed everything… to better themselves still (even though so many are ‘bettered’, are educated, are skilled… but are still unemployed) and live. I’m caught between the admiration for this belief, and the sadness and frustration of seeing those who’ve worked so hard still not reap any benefits, still barely scrape by.
Gaza is complex, to say the very least, and there are people who are better off than others, people who are more or less honest than others, people who have hope and those who don’t… like anywhere in the world. Gaza is filled with people like you and I, put in a surreal situation and challenged beyond reasonable limits. And like my friend today said, Palestinians are as normal as the rest of the world, they deserve the same opportunities as the rest…
“We are humans like everyone else, we worry about things that people in Canada, America, other nations worry about.”
And he left, to go address on his employment problems. And my other friend passed on his non-degree university course, money is too tight, he is too depressed, life is too bleak to concentrate. Everyone says it: I can’t turn off my thinking, it’s whirring, whirring, even in my sleep. I can’t sleep, I can’t relax, I can’t breathe…