Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Turning 30 in Gaza

Basman Derawi | 16-07-2017


Even university graduates often must sell food on the streets to survive.

I’ll be 30 in a couple of years, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what the life of a 30-year-old guy is supposed to look like. Now, I’m not the type of person who is scared of aging. In fact, I used to believe every age has beauty and 30 would be a time of a liberating independence and maturity.

But then I was brutally reminded that success in life is determined an awful lot by where you’re born.

In “privileged” countries (or so it appears on TV and in the movies; I have been allowed out of Gaza only once), it’s the norm to be able to achieve some independence by your early 30s—holding a decent job, owning your own car and living in your own apartment—maybe even in a house or well on your way toward saving for one. And if you want to marry and start a family, you can do so.

Being 30 in Gaza is different.

For a growing number of young men in Gaza like me, being 30 is like remaining a teenager--perpetually. Thanks to the Israeli blockade, which prohibits exports and many imports, our economy is crippled and dependent on international aid. Unemployment among youth and young adults is approaching 60 percent. Most 30-year-old Gazans don’t have jobs or if they do, the work doesn’t pay them well enough to be able to leave their family homes. It’s not unusual to see an engineer, physiotherapist or nurse working as a taxi driver, selling grilled corn on the street or working as a cleaner.

It also means marriage is out of the question. Gaza is a conservative society in which marriage is the only way to have a relationship with a woman, much less start a family. But the fancy wedding ceremonies society expects (costing an average of $5,000), along with the dowry a man must pay to the family of his bride (in the area of $7,000), are so expensive they are out of reach for a growing number of Gazan young men, who have no or little incomes and come from families who suffer from the same. And then there’s the fact that most girls would prefer not to move into their mother-in-law’s home. Thus, many 30-year-old Gazans are still single, and not by choice.

The last 10 years of my life have been almost nothing but waiting (and war). The Israeli and Egyptian blockade both keeps us from leaving and living. Our electricity—upon which we depend for everything from light, to internet, to water—has just been cut from about four hours a day to three. Without sewage treatment, even our sea—which has always been our refuge—is awash with waste. 

Still, I guess I should consider myself lucky. Even though I don’t have a car or enough money to marry or earn an advanced degree, I at least have a job in the field I studied, physiotherapy (although I earn only $450 a month, far short of the $1,000 or so I would need to begin thinking of marriage). I traveled once. I have a roof over my head. And I have a car battery that gives me a few extra hours of power to charge my phone and laptop.

So in Gaza, I’m lucky. And who knows what two more years will bring before my big 30? I have no choice but to wait and see.

Posted: July 15, 2017

Mentor: Kate Casa

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