I sit, three miles from the shore. Fish are found in the deeper water, at least five miles out. When the Israelis prohibit fishing there, our boats lie on the sand. One day our boats are given a thread of hope; the next their bodies are bound with rope. The sun casts a yellow blanket over the piles of nets, the beach and the city. Thinking of the world beyond Gaza makes me feel anxious. Everyone else is living actively, every single moment of their lives–and what is left for me is just floating.
"Ejat Elkhrab Yabba!" (The power came back on, Daddy!) These are the only words warming the hearts of Gazans nowadays. I rush to turn on the lights so I can see, make sure my phone is charging and check that the refrigerator is running so our food doesn’t go bad. I have been lost all day. The moment the power goes off, everything turns into dull shades. God is near, God is here; whispers descend from the heavens and calm me. I fall asleep with tears seeping from the corners of my eyes.
I remember when my 4-month-old nephew needed heart surgery. He was on the brink of death. Most hospitals in Gaza couldn’t perform the operation because they didn’t have the needed equipment or it wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop thinking about death. Our faces pale, we prayed for heaven to open and a miracle to heal him. We tried every possible way to take him to Egypt through Rafah so that he could get his operation, but to no avail. We were not allowed out. One day, we received a call. Volunteer surgeons were coming to Gaza for a week to perform heart operations. Our prayers had been answered! My nephew had his surgery. I was overwhelmed with joy and I wanted to share my happiness with everyone.
A narrow plan B
Most young men in my family can’t find work. Before Egypt destroyed them, my relatives found jobs work in the smuggling tunnels that connected Gaza to the outside world. In November 2011, I went through one of those tunnels to attend my brother's wedding in Egypt. I crossed on foot. It was spacious and felt safe. But upon my return, the tunnel I used was narrow and claustrophobic the deeper I went. It felt like a death trap, about to collapse. I rode a shyata (a plastic “caboose” attached to a generator and cable that pulls it). The tunnels were a response to the closure of the borders in 2008. Digging them came with grave risks, but they served as our lifeline. There were hundreds of tunnels, but because of war and the Egyptian border operations, the number dwindled; no one knows how many still operate, if any. Without the tunnels, prices soared and products became scarce. Now we Gazans depend on imports from Israel and that supply depends on the mood of our occupiers.
A chance for once
So here I am. A woman in her 20s looking for work, but where? In job ads, huh? It's not so easy. Most of these require applicants to have at least three years of experience, sometimes more. What am I supposed to do?! I want to stand on my own feet and not take a 300-shekel handout from my retired father. One day, a cousin visited and saw my despondent expression. She said, "Hey, go and register for the Envision Gaza Program 2020.” I registered without even knowing what it was. Several days later, I received a call for an interview. I felt nauseous as I went to the meeting and found thousands of candidates there. I joined a panel discussion in a small office, and they asked me many questions about my plans and my previous experience with translation. I went home with a glimmer of hope. A month later, I received a call and they asked me if I wanted to sign on with them. I walked on air, ecstatic and excited! The contract was only for six months, but it was my first and only job since my graduation. My mother commented, "a7san men balash”—"better than nothing."
Listening to the songs my sister loves and looking at the paintings she labored over for hours before she finally traveled to France for a scholarship, I feel drawn in by the images: an old woman with lines of misery etched into her face . . . a homeless child . . . dead people laid out on stretchers . . . darkness . . . sadness . . . small, cramped spaces . . . In each stroke of the brush, I can feel her pain and yearning for freedom. We share the same dream, the same pain. Waiting is what Gazans all have in common, and I'm very proud to be one of them. In the meantime, we wait; we rest on the beach; we stay afloat.