Ramadan is filled with beautiful traditions.
The choking, Israeli-led siege and resultant near 50% unemployment, 90% poverty levels mean that the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are not celebrating as they would (my friend’s fridge was empty last week; he and his wife brought in hummus and foul from a restaurant yesterday and had ‘one of the best meals’ they’d had during Ramadan. I love hummus, but that this was a highlight for them is telling of their poverty. The friend, by the way, works full time. So disastrous is the economy that many employers are delaying paying their employees).
One of the lovely aspects of Islam is the respect shown to women (despite the concentrated efforts of those with hidden agendas to uglify Islam). Particularly during Ramadan, men are supposed to visit their (married) sisters, bringing gifts with them.
A friend has many sisters. He is unemployed, though when he worked it was for a pittance. Now, as Ramadan passes, he makes the visits, house to house.
“How much money do you see?” he’d asked me, palm outstretched.
“17.5 shekels,” my answer.
“I need to bring a kilo of dates with me to visit my sister. That’ll be 15 shekels, maybe 12 if I buy the cheaper ones.”
“That leaves me 2 and a half shekels.”
He doesn’t disparage the tradition of bringing gifts to his sisters, but the fact that his situation doesn’t allow even this simple act, let alone the daily conveniences many of us enjoy outside of Gaza.
Sure, they understand he is unemployed. But there is a degree of pride here as well: he is expected to bring gifts; to not bring them signifies (if only in his mind) failure.
Imagine, then, how the father of 6 children, 10 children, 16 children feels when he can only put UN aid food on the table (rice, bread, high carb foods), and can’t bring new school clothes, let alone toys and gifts, to his children.
Hamsa called me. He has never asked for anything, always been reluctant to accept support from outside supporters. Yet tonight his cracked voice betrayed desperation, fear even.
“Life is very, very difficult,” he said. “There is no work.” He scours the streets for recyclable plastics.
His newborn son, just a few months old, is well, Hamsa said. But I wonder about his health, if his mother is producing enough milk, how her health is, how Hamsa is…
On one visit, he’d shown the kerosene stove they use for cooking (the cheapest type of fuel), and the sparse vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, onions) they had. He said ‘al hamdillah‘ and that they ate enough. But they are living on the edge, to be sure.