scavenging to live: Gaza Ramadan day 4


As maghreb (sunset) nears, I speed through Saha market en route to Mohammed and Mariam Kahawish, in Tuffah district but walking distance from the market. As I pass the sweet shop I’d been in days before, Ahmed leans out and calls me inside: “you are coming to have iftaar with us soon, right?” he asks.

Yes, yes, of course, I couldn’t pass it up, I assure him, and decide to buy sweets for the Kahawish family. On my first visit to this shop, Ahmed advised me of holiday favourites, so I take a kilo between two items: Kanafe Nablusi and Kanafe Arabi. The kilo costs 20 shekels and I’m sure Mohammed will not have been able to buy any.

I pry myself from the shop promising to return in a few days and continue through deserted streets to the home: its just a minute now from the call to prayer and everyone is inside somewhere waiting to break fast.

It rings out and I’m sure a million and a half Palestinians, minus perhaps the Christians of Gaza, pick up glasses and water bottles at the same moment.

Mohammed and Mariam and their son and daughter live in a small, crack-walled house with poor asbestos roof tiling. The house suffered damage under Israel’s 3 week war on Gaza, but the most that could be done was to put plastic sheeting over the roof to keep rain out.

Aside from being elderly, Mohammed has a few problems which make day to day life, let alone buying Ramadan treats, difficult. A couple of months before the massacre of Gaza, Mohammed fell off of the bicycle he used to get to work. At the time, he’d worked as a cleaner, in homes, businesses and wherever possible. Following his accident, his leg injury prevented him from resuming the work. He resorted to scavenging rubbish bins for sellable plastics. Apparently, 1 kilo of plastics brings between 1 and 3 shekels…just under 1 dollar.

The 69 year old also has a cataract on one eye, making vision difficult and throwing off his balance, thus making him more prone to falling anew. Israeli authorities have denied him exit to receive surgery on his eye, although he has the doctor’s referral.

Whenever I’ve encountered Mohammed outside of his house, he is scavenging for plastics, doing what he can to survive.

We sit down to the meal: rice, bamia (okra), a lentil-pomegranate stew (I’m told there are sweet and non-sweet pomegranates!), and bread. This is basic food, but quite delicious. They are, Mohammed keeps telling me, thrilled I’ve joined them for a meal. Mariam happily divulges the secrets of her lentil stew, then tries to pin me down for some qatayef. I confess I’d had a lot the day before and settle for coffee.

These are generous, humble people extremely keen to share what they have, though it isn’t much, and though I know it’s been bought thanks to Mohammed’s scavenging.


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