It was late and I lay on my bed, gazing through my cracked window at the moon above my dark yet vigorous city. Maybe it’s an advantage of the constant power cuts, being able to admire the beauty of the moon without the disturbance of city lights that steal its splendor away. People in my neighborhood tend to go to bed not long after the sun goes down. It gets quiet. And the quieter it gets the more distinct the buzzing of the drones becomes. I force myself to sleep in spite of them. Yet at times their sound penetrates my dreams, adding background music to images parading in my brain. I ask myself why I am not used to the buzzing yet. The drones are like the Israeli blockade of Gaza: They penetrate every aspect of my life.
For the past couple of years, we’ve received barely six hours of electricity a day. (And although Qatar’s recent donation of cash to pay for enough fuel to give us 11-12 hours daily, no one knows how long it will last. And meanwhile, the schedule remains unpredictable and covers only half of our day.) Thankfully, we have flashlights, so we don’t have to light candles, which can be dangerous. House fires sporadically kill in Gaza. However, flashlights can’t keep food in the fridge from rotting, iron the clothes or allow the simple enjoyment of watching T.V. To cope, we buy small portions of food, so we don’t have to use our fridge, which means going to the market at least three times a week and hauling the bags up the stairs to our apartment on the sixth floor. Elevators don’t work without electricity! When our allotted hours of electricity arrive in the middle of the night, my working mother sometimes wakes up at 2 a.m. to turn on the washing machine or iron. She tells us electricity is the “soul” of the house.
Systems are interdependent. For example, the lack of electricity directly affects our access to clean, running water. When there isn’t electricity, pumps powered by electric motors stop running—and that means no water. Being Gazan means having a plan B for everything and coming up with solutions to the lack of the most mundane things. In the basement of our house, we have a small space where we keep buckets and bottles of water for washing and drinking in emergencies. At times, we have to use the stored water to wash dishes and clothes and even take showers. The funny part is that my 5-year-old brother finds such times exciting. He loves carrying the bottles and pouring water to help my other siblings wash their hands. He enjoys splashing oven-warmed water over his little head with a big mug. For him, it’s like bringing the playground inside.
The electricity shortage makes being a student challenging as well. Most assignments require an internet connection and a charged laptop to prepare papers and presentations. I have to change my routine every couple of days, so it correlates with the electricity schedule. Last week, while I was presenting a report on Rip Van Winkle for my short-story course, darkness suddenly fell upon the room of 80 people and silence followed. The power cut veiled my facial expression, which was a mixture of embarrassment and disappointment. I stood awkwardly for what seemed like forever, but after the first couple of minutes the professor suggested opening the curtains and resuming the presentation without my PowerPoint slides. My mood was ruined, however. After 15 minutes the power, came back again.
A void of books
As an English language and literature student, I am expected to read various genres of literature and practice speaking to develop my language skills. However, obtaining books, especially English ones, is a task similar to Frodo’s search for the ring. Most books aren’t available here; textbooks for school are carefully negotiated imports. So, I have to find good-quality PDFs online as alternatives—either that or try to buy books online, which takes months to arrive if they appear at all. Forget reading anything current. In addition, finding a place to work or even volunteer where I can practice my language is not easy; the unemployment rate among youth in Gaza is 70 percent now. Nearly every institute I contact turns me down.
But…one thing the blockade cannot take away it is the internet. The internet is a prisoners’ window through which we can see the “real” world. An Indonesian friend I met online asked me once, “What is the point of studying in a jobless and futureless place?” That is how she sees Gaza. But it is my only option. I tried to explain that, for me, literature is a refuge and a distraction. It’s like a replacement for life outside. Our occupiers want us to be so caught up in basic survival that education becomes a frivolous luxury. For this reason, education under blockade is an act of rebellion.
It is through knowledge that hope ignites. Gaza’s suffering isn’t okay or normal and, most importantly, it isn’t permanent. Change is possible as long as we insist and persist. I will be Frodo and seek out books, and I will stay up all night if I have to, learning until the last breath of my flashlight dies out.