On August 5, 2022, my family gathered for a meal of the traditional Palestinian dish called maqloubeh, which means upside down. Its name comes from how the meat, vegetables, and rice are cooked in a pot that is then turned upside down onto a platter before serving. It was a Friday, the day of the week set aside for families and friends to visit and catch up with each other. After eating, I was taking a nap. Suddenly, I heard a terrible noise nearby. It’s hard to express how I felt after hearing it, other than thinking that this is the worst nightmare I have ever had.
I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not. I was still lying on my bed, screaming, “Is everything alright?” and “What’s the matter?” No one responded clearly. Everyone was rushing around, and my little sisters were crying loudly. My mother gave me an odd look that sent shivers down my spine and made my heart freeze. I began to think that something terrible had happened.
“What happened?” I screamed again, “Please tell me!” There was silence. All of my sisters stared at me.
My family members gathered in my room, which was the safest one in our house; it has only one small window, meaning there was less glass that could shatter. My mother took a deep breath and, with sadness in her voice, replied, “The escalation started. The Israelis bombed a residential building in central Gaza and assassinated an Islamic Jihad leader. They also killed a five-year-old girl and wounded more than 55 civilians.”
A wave of bad memories flooded my mind. I felt like I did at the beginning of the last assault on Gaza, in May 2021, in which more than 200 Palestinians were killed. I felt like I was choking and couldn’t move or talk.
“How could all this happen when I was just taking a nap?” I said, feeling sorry for myself.
My sister Iman, five wars old, commented, “We haven’t healed from the previous escalation. I’m really fed up with this life; I can’t bear more.” Then she added, “I want to live in peace, but the moments of peace are so few I can count them.”
Across the world, the night has a unique flavor; it is a time of comfort and quiet. But the night in Gaza means fear and terror. During the first night of the assault, it was almost impossible for me to sleep; I was constantly worried about my sisters and what I could do to protect them if we were bombed. My father had been with us during the previous wars, and he was the one who always looked out for us. But he had died since previous war, so someone else had to do his job. In the upside-down world of Gaza, that someone was me.
During the several days of the bombing in August, I had a hard time with my two little sisters, especially Aysha, who was constantly terrified during the attacks. I tried distracting her by counting the number of rockets, to help ease the fear that controlled her. Sometimes we’d recite verses of the Holy Quran together or read books, or I’d encourage her to write what she felt to help overcome the fear.
My oldest sister Heba enjoys baking sweets. During the attack, she told me she didn’t care what was happening around her. “Nothing prevents me from doing what I love to do,” she declared. “I will surprise you with my delicious dishes, so stay tuned.” Her behavior drove me crazy, especially when she commented that cooking was not my cup of tea.
Ahmed, my brother, told silly jokes, like my father used to do. He tries hard to create an atmosphere of happiness and joy, to alleviate my little sisters’ fear and terror. We all knew it wasn’t a suitable time for kidding, but it nonetheless served an important purpose.
I concluded from observing them that we love life as much as possible despite all the circumstances. Not only do Heba and Ahmed love life, but all the Gazans look forward to living in peace, without terror, to do what they love. Life is everything to us, and we want to live it to the fullest.
I wish the only “upside down” in our lives was the delicious meal we ate on Fridays. But, indeed, our entire lives can become upside down – our feelings, behaviors, living conditions – in a few minutes.