Heba Zaher | 08-07-2015
On some happy mornings, Dad gives me enough money to get to university by taxi and have my breakfast there. On other mornings, when dad does not have enough change, he gives me only enough for the transportation, without looking in my eyes and without me looking in his.
Yawning, I put on my shoes and open our apartment door, knowing that all the way down the street there will be enough smells to awaken my nose –and me. As I shut the door, the smell of cumin and garlic sneaks from our neighbor’s apartment and lingers in my nose. I wonder, why do they cook at eight in the morning? I hold my nose and rush downstairs.
In the small plot we have in front of our house, dad grows carnation, peppermint and basil. These are the best parts of my aromatic mornings. Closing my eyes, I breathe in as much of these pleasant odors as I can, for I know very well what awaits me in the street.
I can handle it, I console myself; besides, walking is healthy. But deep inside I know walking in Gaza City is never healthy, not for your physical, psychological or mental health. As I take my first step in the street, I catch the usual whiff. It is apparent that donkey carts pass through this street early every morning. And these donkeys clearly refuse to pass without leaving a mark behind –a smelly mark. I try to cross the street without stepping on these “mementos” and proceed on my way.
On days when I have little money, I prefer to walk to university. Now, because I do not want to take a taxi, taxis stop for me, each blowing its horn with the drivers fighting to take the little money I have. That’s what a passenger is for a driver: a shekel (the Israeli form of money we must use in Gaza). But I prefer to keep the money safe and sound in my bag and walk, ignoring the horns. I would rather waste the money on something trivial than give it to mean drivers with decaying cars.
Gaza City has no rules (at least, that are enforced). The only rule we have to which all people are committed is the no-rule rule. This is my fourth year in Gaza (after moving here with my family from the United Arab Emirates), and I found it very annoying at the beginning not having rules to govern people’s actions. But now, I am enjoying it.
I can walk in the street instead of the sidewalk. I can cross the road in any spot I want. Whenever I have a break at the university, I head to the computer lab and while enjoying a cup of coffee, I smile at the sign: “No food. No drinks.” If I had any idea how to paint on the walls, I would write please don’t paint on this wall.
And then when I see the jasmine tree I like (yes, we have trees and flowers!), with its white flowers and pleasant scent, I pick a flower or two –without bothering to look around to make sure no one sees.
When the government once tried to impose rules in this city, it chose electricity, which always seems to be in short supply. It ruled that people could “enjoy” eight hours of power a day. Naturally, however, the schedule seems designed to be broken.
Thus, you find yourself staying up late waiting for power so you can operate the washing machine, complete your university assignments, or just charge your laptop and enjoy a movie like any other human being on planet earth. Eventually, you end up on the balcony staring at the dark sky. And, eventually, you become very familiar with the stars.
On the few nights when I decide to be a good student and stay up late waiting for the power so that I can study, I wind up going to bed anyway. And the minute I get comfortable by putting my head on the pillow and covering myself with a blanket, the power goes on. Because I am a good student, and with all the determination I have, I throw aside the blanket, get out of bed… and turn off the lights.
Mentor: Karen Nakamura
Posted: July 7, 2015