Usually it’s a 15 minute trip along the coastal road from Deir al Balah to Gaza city. The trip affords views of sunsets, fishermen (and often Israeli naval ships in the distance, harassing fishermen), beach-goers, food-vendors (basics: roasted corn, nuts…), the black filth of Wadi Gaza’s sewage outpour into the sea (windows stay down, stench overcomes the car), and the few wedding halls and restaurants which struggle to stay open during hard economic times.
It’s an interesting ride, much to see and think about, and Gaza always appears more quickly than I expect.
Yesterday, the ride was longer.
The long, yellow, 8 seater taxi which picked me up was going to Gaza. But I was the first fare in, so the trawl began. Up the central street of Deir, honking and calling for Gaza riders. We passed a larger circle of men setting up plastic chairs, sitting, and waiting for the men’s wedding party to begin.
He trawled, despairing honks more frequent as we near Saleh el Din, the main north-south road running centrally through the Strip. Some drivers will about-face and trawl the main road again looking for fares, but this one decided to turn north, to Gaza. I was his only fare still, with the exception of a group of girls who rode 2 minutes along the way to the bank, then hopped out.
A few more minutes along the road we picked up a couple and their 4 young kids, all nicely dressed. They crammed themselves into the back seat and we set off. Another stop and a man heading to Nusseirat just a little further along the road climbed in front.
Nusseirat’s main street was thriving with what seemed to be more than the usual fruit and veg stands, falafel and kebab joints, and the glow of bare-bulbs over tables set up with anything sellable (mostly coming in through the tunnels). At a photographers, the nicely-dressed family got out and headed in for what should be a lovely picture, all of them very photogenic.
A man headed for the Shifa hospital area of Gaza got in, the man headed to Nusseirat got out. Another going to Zahara further down the road got in, and our taxi coughed off.
The driver scoured still for fares. We passed an area resplendent with trees –this was somewhere close to Wadi Gaza, I felt, as I’d heard near the Wadi there once were forests. This was far from a forest, but greener than the grey desolation that is much of Gaza’s cities, save the palms of Deir al Balah and Nusseirat, and the farm growth of the border areas to the east.
Somewhere along the way, on roads I had not traveled yet in 9 months, we dropped the Zahara man and picked up 4 young women and their mother.
We turned, drove, turned and re-joined the coastal road.
The sea drew me in and I lost myself, until a tappping on my shoulder revived me. One of the young women in the back wanted to know if I was an ajnerbia or not. Yes, I am from another country, I smiled back to her in Arabic.
My thoughts of the sea were again cut short by the tapping: Did I speak English? What was my name? How long had I been here? What did I think of Gaza? Could she have my phone number and we could be friends?
She was brimming that generous Palestinian smile, uttering those generous words of welcome that come so easily to lips here.
In between taps and questions I managed to catch glimpses of sea-revelers: youths swimming in the moonlight; a couple sitting on a boulder looking out to the sea; a family on a blanket…and whiffs of their picnics.
We turned up a road, away from the sea, and continued along a path I’ve seen so often, passing Gaza’s more recent ruins: the bombed and burned buildings near al Quds hospital, the small vegetable stand that stood charred at the massacre’s end but which was replaced by a tent in a matter of days –the determined vendor always waves enthusiastically when I pass –the skeletons of Ministry buildings… I remembered how this very road was avoided by all but the Red Crescent ambulances, people fearing the next re-strike on the Ministry buildings or universities also along the road.
And finally, an hour later, my 15 minute trip ended. New roads, new people, same old destruction, same friendliness. There’s always something to notice in Gaza.