In Gaza, everything is the opposite of how it should be. With the hot summer days approaching, I’ve found myself unable to cope with the idea of not going to the beach with my kids, not having fun playing in the cool sea water or enjoying the smell of the clean air.
It’s also hard to deal with the idea of not being able to fill the bath tub for my children, so they can cool themselves down away from the burning heat of the summer’s day.
It’s difficult to think that I’ll have to put off all the housework - the laundry, the dishes – and I won’t be able to have a shower after a long, exhausting day at work.
In Gaza, when you choose what you can and cannot have, or what you can and cannot do, the choices are not entirely yours to make. You are, in fact, forced to make them by the circumstances that surround you.
I feel sorry for the children, who can’t plan for their summer vacation because they are caught between the scorching days that seem to pass so slowly, and the harshness of their lives in Gaza. They have either to spend the whole day under the burning summer sun trying to sell chewing gum in an attempt to help their families, afflicted by the severe economic deterioration in Gaza, or playing with friends on the hot, dusty streets.
The only place these children look forward to going, where they can forget their hard lives, is the seaside. There they can finally steal some childhood moments. However, with the frequent reports about untreated sewage being pumped into the sea, and the increasing risk of catching serious diseases, the Gazan children have lost their favourite place for having fun. It is sad but true that many families are still going to the beach, despite all the warnings, not out of ignorance but out of desperation.
In some parts of Gaza, people only get running water for two to three hours a day. Sometimes they stay awake all night to check when the water supply comes on so that they can fill their tanks and enjoy a shower in the morning. Some families collect the rain water in the winter to make up for the lack of water. Others, perhaps the majority, buy purified drinking water. All of this in the 21st century – it seems so far away from the modern life enjoyed by many.
When you find yourself unable to have or to use water the whole day through, when you can’t enjoy a clean glass of water and force yourself to drink it despite its smell and colour, when your son comes back home from school thirsty because there is no access to clean water in his school, when you are frightened to go to the beach because it is so polluted from dumped sewage, then you know that you are in Gaza.
Gaza, June 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.