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

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

Writing when there is no story

Basman Derawi | 04-12-2018

View of Gaza City from taxi window

As a writer, it is deeply frustrating when words become trapped in my head, unable to find an outlet that does them justice. Meanwhile, life drones on, repeating the same story. When one lives in prison, writing about its walls incessantly is like a jail of its own. Prisoners can write about freedom, sun and fresh air, but if we can’t taste them, how can I be authentic?

Not much has changed these past 12 years in Gaza except the weather and the economy, which have turned from bad to worse. I have the same dreams and [lack of] opportunities. My wants are simple: travel, get a job that pays a livable wage, have access to electricity every day all day, and be able to drink our water without getting sick and obtain proper medical care when needed.

I remember when I first saw a plane as a child; it was a looming machine with two wings, making it look like a big bird. I have always wanted to travel on one. The first time I noticed a plane in the sky, I was 6 years old and visiting my grandpa’s house. Then I saw it many times on TV. As I’ve grown older, my desire to see the world, particularly my ancestral homeland, has become more intense, like a recurring dream. I was fortunate to see it once, in 2013 when I traveled to Jordan for medical treatment. It also was the dream of my grandparents 70 years ago when they were forced to flee historic Palestine—and of every Palestinian today. 

During the 20-minute taxi ride I must take every day to go to work as a physiotherapist, I am lost in thought. One of my friends is plotting and scheming about how to leave Gaza. We know people who have been able to go to Turkey or Belgium to work or study. Others are waiting their turn and have been for months. At every tasha (social gathering), my friends and I joke about the impossibility of leaving, of our fruitless lives after graduation. One of them recently asked, “In 2030, will it be easier to visit the moon or the West Bank?”

View of Gaza City from taxi window

My taxi driver today is silent, either because he is enjoying the radio or because he doesn’t want to talk. The street is empty except for several students carrying backpacks and some children preparing to sell gum and biscuits, waiting by the traffic light before they start their daily work. They look like any other children, but with torn and dirty clothes and eyes tired from tears and humiliation. They will stand under the burning sun in the streets to beg or sell their wares at very low prices.

The morning would be silent if it wasn’t for the buzzing of drones and the voice of Fayrouz on the radio: “I loved you until I forgot to sleep. My fear is that you will forget me. You keep me out of slumber, leaving me awake. I love you. Love you. Love you. Love you.” Her voice is like an angel’s.

The taxi reaches the end of the street and I walk to the physiotherapy clinic where I work. A few shops have opened by now and the smell of falafel fills the air. Fayrouz’ voice fades away and I am left only with a buzzing; I don’t know if it’s from the drones or the questions that race through my head.

Will anything ever change? For better or worse? Which is deadlier, war or routine? I want to travel out of Gaza. I want to breathe air that isn’t haunted. But after hearing about the struggle required to travel through the Rafah crossing to get to Egypt, I feel nauseated.  We have to wait so long to get permission to leave and pay so much money to get it.

At work, there are many conversations about the same old stories: the long-term failure of reconciliation (between the Palestinian political parties), sanctions imposed on Gaza by the Palestinian Authority in its effort to seize control, electricity shortages, unemployment, poverty, the Great Return March protests and the constant presence of drones. This is how we Gazans spend our time, by making light of our stubborn crises that never go away.

As a physiotherapist, I am used to earning about patients’ lives and injuries as we talk. Older people love to talk about the past; some of them are elderly enough to have witnessed the Nakba, when we were driven from our ancestral lands. Young, athletic people usually share dreams of becoming professional players, since soccer is so popular in Gaza. They hold onto their dreams, unwilling to give up even if such an opportunity is unlikely due to the Israeli blockade.

I walk home from work. Every day I leave behind so many stories of fractures, damaged nerves and amputated limbs. My own body is starving for sleep and grateful for weather conducive to a nap. Finally, the summer heat is gone and the electricity is somewhat reliable.

I stand at the window and look at the city. Tired as I am, I write notes on my cellphone. I write all of things in my mind: passion for change… frustration… the journalist who was killed yesterday…the paramedic injured today… the polluted sea.

Posted: December 4, 2018

Mentor: Mary Simkins


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