Issam Adwan | 16-08-2018
As a Rafah resident, I thought I knew every place in the city. But I discovered I was wrong.
Rafah is the southernmost city/refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and is crowded with more than 250,000 residents. (It’s also the only city in the Strip with no hospital; that deserves its own story!) For this meeting, I decided to go by taxi, since the home I needed to visit is in a desert-like area and is not easily reachable by foot; I did not want to get lost!
Unfortunately, the taxi driver stopped well before I arrived and said apologetically that this was as far as he could go. He instructed me to walk about 15 minutes on a narrow, sandy road to the house I was to visit. When I reached a spot from which I could see almost the entire surrounding area, the only thought I had at that moment was, “This is what T.S. Eliot referred to in his poem, ‘The Wasteland’.”
I tried to imagine what the community was like in winter and how the residents lived through it. Winters are long and bone-chilling in Gaza without heat, which we don’t have given our fuel shortage. It must seem particularly harsh in such a barren place. As I walked, I noticed I no longer saw electricity poles and there were no signs of water reservoirs. After 20 minutes of walking, I asked for directions to Shireen Nassar’s house. The woman said her daughter, Salma, was awaiting my arrival. It was Shireen, a dark-skinned woman who appeared young but whose eyes seemed exhausted from a burden I did not yet know.
The literal shack in which she lived was actually on the grounds of a farm; a friend had taken pity on the family and allowed them to shelter there. What shocked me was the lack of a kitchen; all the house had was a refrigerator wedged into a part of the living room with some dishes stacked around it. The refrigerator, Shireen said, was mostly used to cool water for the rabbits she raised to sell.
“My kids can handle the heat, but not the rabbits,” she shrugged.
I wondered how she cooked for her family, without a stove or gas, and she replied with a bitter laugh: “I gather wood two or three times a week to cook for my kids. You know, 200 shekels (about $50) a month from selling rabbit meat isn’t enough to raise a family when the father is always absent.”
Shireen, 33, has three children—Snaa’, in the third grade; Fares, first grade; and Salma, 3. However, I learned that the father, Mouneer al-Aede, is in prison. She bitterly told me he is addicted to drugs and had beaten her; she didn’t want him back. Shireen is alone and must support not only her children but her mother and two sisters. Due to lack of money, she had not been able to finish university, where she studied business administration, although she still dreams of earning a degree. Instead, she works odd jobs, including farming and house cleaning. With her own dreams dimming, Shireen puts her hopes into her children; Snaa’ already wants to become an English teacher. Government schools are known for low-quality education, so Shireen pays extra for transportation to an UNRWA school far from their home.
Yet, despite the additional burden of a calcium deficiency that results in frequent broken bones, Shireen thanks God for the life granted to her. Shireen is fighter and she inspires me with her determined struggle.
I asked Shireen to tell me one thing positive in her life, since I had a hard time seeing one. She immediately began talking about the nur al-amal (“light of hope”) she received from the Women’s Programme Center in Rafah, donated by the American nonprofit Rebuilding Alliance. The solar light operates with stored energy from the sun for up to four to eight hours—a “life saver,” she said, during the many hours without electricity.
“The two lamps have helped several times to maintain my strength and faith in life,” she told me. For example, they have been critical to her small rabbit business, as well as to ability to care for her children. When she must put them to bed, she now can read aloud to lull them asleep.
Despite the despair that could easily overcome her ability to keep on, Shireen said that aid like this makes it possible to continue to go on.
Posted: August 15, 2018
Mentor: Pam Bailey