Gaza: world of the unknown

I feel like I’m inside an empty bottle, unable to breath and about to die. I’m like a car that runs out of oil in the middle of the street, with other cars about to hit.

I ask myself all the time why I don’t love Gaza and why I keep searching for an opportunity to leave it. Here is my answer: You feel that you’re not valuable in this place and that all your efforts will come to nothing. You’ll die a “nobody.”

I think Gaza is the world of the unknowns; here, I am not seen or rewarded for my work.

Today is May 10, and I went to the company I work for, to collect my pay. The actual work, however, has stopped because of COVID-19.

“Al-salamualikum (peace be upon you), Dr. Mohammed," I said.

“Walkikum alsalam, sister Haneen," he responded. “Here is $150. You know the work has stopped.”

Two months earlier, I had started as a trainee for two weeks. Then I became a content writer in a company with clients outside of Gaza. The company had been searching for someone who understands search engine optimization (SEO). I didn’t have experience in this field, but the managers told me they would train me to become an expert. I was given many resources to read about the topic and I learned quickly. In return I was promised $200 for the month of April. I considered it a reward, because I didn't yet have an official contract yet.

I left the company, about to cry—not really because of the missing money, but because I couldn't get myself to ask for what was my due. My inbred respect for older people prevented me from doing so, even though I had earned the full $200 by writing and translating 58 certificates and blog posts. Fifty dollars may not seem like much outside of Gaza, but here, it is a lot.

I called my mom and told her what had happened.

"You must tell him to give you all the money he promised," she said.

"I couldn't," I confessed.

People who know me say, "Haneen, you have a strong personality and you can assert your rights easily." I blame myself for not demanding my rights. I also blame the manager.

I am 23, and I feel lost in this prison where only the air I breathe is free—and who knows if even that will eventually come with a price. I feel a need to apologize to myself, as a sort of reassurance: "I’m sorry, Haneen. This reality is not your fault.”

I graduated in June 2019 with a bachelor's degree in English literature. My journey of frustration began the first day after graduation. I had been active both at the university and in the broader community. I dove into many different courses I thought would help me earn a living after graduation, such as in translation and freelancing. I also participated in many volunteer activities through the Amideast Access program, because that’s part of my identity too.

I got my first job as an English trainer at the Al-Alsalam Training center on June 10, 2019, but it was for only two months. I will not say that it was a bad experience, as I believe I can learn something from every experience. But I was told my salary would be 1,200 shekels (about $340) for two months, during which I would teach three days a week.

When the two months ended, however, my gave me only 1,100 shekels.

“Why?” I asked.

“Many students left our training sessions in the last week," he answered.

"Why do I have to be the responsible one for this?" I asked. 

That was the day I realized I was powerless in this unknown world (Gaza). It was my right to receive my full salary, yet while I at least asked the question, I couldn’t stand up for myself and demand what was rightfully mine.

My second experience was the following September, when I worked for a research center that interviewed Syrian refugees. I worked as both a translator and transcriber.

"You have to do three audios per week," my boss said.

Every audio was one to two hours long, requiring about 12 hours to transcribe and translate. Doing three per week meant I spent the whole week cradling my laptop like it was my partner!

I had to leave the job because when I contracted an ear infection, and I didn’t go back because of how depressed I became as I listened to the refugees’ stories, with many tears wetting my notes.

I have learned that I have fight for the rights. My last message to myself: "Don’t blame yourself, Haneen. It is the beginning of your journey in this life. Fight more what you deserve. Meanwhile, be kind."

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Mentor: Paulette Lee

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