Riwaa Abuquta | 01-10-2019
Everyone has her daily routine that can become almost boring—especially in the Gaza Strip, where the days are monotonous in their sameness. But I always try to liven my day in any way I can. My goal is to be a morning person, waking up ready to “take the first step.”
It’s 5:30 a.m., and the alarm rings.
It’s time to get up. After the al-fajer prayer (first of the day), I drink a cup of coffee and nibble on some dates with my older sister Heba. I have five sisters, and Heba is my partner in the gym. By 6:30 we have to hurry to get ready. I put on my blue workout suit and pink shoes, slip a purple jilbab over it all, then don a pink scarf. We fill our water bottles then walk quickly to the gym, observing the students, workers and bread-cart operators in the wet street, intent on getting to their duties of the day.
The gym offers lots of activities for children whose parents want them to be healthy, but also to pry them away from their phones and TV. We don’t have many sports fields and parks in Gaza, so parents are desperate for alternatives, and here kids can learn new, healthier routines. This gym also offers a lot of exercise opportunities for women. In our culture, it is not considered acceptable for women to run or bike outside, so we go to a special “chalet” for open-air activities and otherwise settle for indoor classes and brisk walking. At first even that was met with critical looks, but we are determined and now it has become normal. People here have become increasingly aware of role of exercise in good health and civil organizations promote it to more isolated and underserved populations in the Gaza Strip.
Our instructor is named Islam, and she has been a gym coach for eight years. She started her career as a physical education teacher in the schools, but due to the lack of job opportunities in recent years, now she works at our gym. Working here gave her the chance to discover her hidden talents and skills; now she is working to get her master’s degree and hopes to start her own exercise business.
When we arrived that morning, other members had begun their warm-ups. Women of all ages (housewives, working women, older women, school and university students) attend for different reasons, including weight loss, fitness, and relief from conditions ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes. There even is a routine designed especially for housewives who have trouble finding time for themselves. Gym participation leads to new friendships and raises self-confidence; it certainly has for me.
It’s Saturday, so after our warm-up exercises, Islam leads us in an “all-over” workout, targeting every muscle of the body. We end with a one-minute wall-sit challenge: We stand with our backs against the wall, bend our knees so our bodies are shaped like a chair, then hold it! If you think this is easy, try it yourself! We wind down with 10 minutes of yoga to quiet mood music, then move to the workout machines.
The work of a teacher
By the time we are done at the gym, it’s 9:30 a.m.
My sister and I go to a bookshop near the gym to print worksheets for my English students. Many of my students have already graduated from school, but because of the huge size of public classrooms (50-55), many have not yet mastered the subject. Others come to me while they are still in school because their parents know they need extra coaching.
I look around and discover so many supplies that could be used for creative activities and games, such as colored paper, stickers and flowered notebooks. A small, purple bear with a brown tie catches my eye; I purchase it for two shekels to give to one student who has earned particularly good marks.
We arrive home at 10 a.m. and my second-grade student—the one with the good marks—is already waiting for me to start our lesson. Today, she receives 10 out of 10 points on her worksheet; she blushes and is over the moon when I give her the bear.
I haven’t eaten breakfast yet, so Heba prepares a “brunch” of boiled egg, avocado, homemade cheese, whole wheat bread and tea. I am ready for a nap; when I wake up, it’s 2:30 and sunny! I sit in the front yard, soaking up the warmth with a mug of Nescafe and a piece of dark chocolate.
The power goes off
Soon it is 3:15 and time for the electricity to shut off, as it does every day due to the shortage of fuel from the Israeli blockade. Feeling bored, I decide to go shopping with one of my other sisters, Maha.
I buy white gym shoes and some snacks for my oldest sister, Alaa. She is 27, but mentally is much younger. When she was five months old, she developed meningococcemia, a virus that attacks brain cells and causes a sudden, very high body temperature. The infection affected the development of both her brain and body, distorting her back into an S shape so she can't walk normally. She likes to play on her swing, listen to music, dance, sit on the beach and ride in cars. They are such simple things, but they make her very happy—unlike most of us, who get bored or depressed so easily.
After shopping, Maha and I drop by Sabreen Restaurant, popular in Rafah city for its shawarma and falafel. We order two shawarma sandwiches with peanut and tahini sauce and a side of pickles. We finally make our way back home at about 7 p.m. The electricity is still off.
After the al-Isha prayer, I gather with the family over a cup of tea and play UNO. I win the first round, but my mother wins the second. My sisters and I stay up late watching the Egyptian film Khalawees, which tackles issues such as immigration, poverty and injustice. The bright side of power outages is family time.
It’s not until midnight that the electricity finally comes on. It’s needed, since it is a cold night. With the sound of drops of water on our roof and a cozy night indoors, we are soon sleepy, so we go to bed. The power outages turn our days upside down.
Posted: September 30, 2019
Mentor: Deborah Root