“Mama, there is water today,” my daughter insists. “Please fill my bathtub.”
“Wait until I finish my housework.”
“No! You said once we have a water, you will fill my bathtub and let me play with my dolls in the water. Please!”
A water day is a day of urgency. I’m like a busy bee, and not just me, but most of the housewives in Gaza. That is because on water days we receive water from the municipality and electricity at the same time. We only receive eight hours of electricity a day, and we receive the water every four or five days.
Each household has big water barrels connected with the tap, and the municipal water flows through plastic pipes to fill the barrels. However, this water flow is weak and fills the barrels slowly. The generator pushes water through quickly, so we do our best to use the generator-produced water on water days for cleaning the house, showering, and washing the clothes, and to save the water in the barrels for the other days.
The children and I look forward to the water day, my youngest child Assma in particular. She can’t stand the hot weather and her skin turns red. She needs to shower at least twice a day, in particular when there is no electricity to use fans.
The men in our neighborhood never stop shouting, “Has the water arrived? Is the generator pushing the water?” Others respond, saying, “The water stopped; the municipality stopped it.”
“But we haven’t finished yet,” someone shouts back. “There is another hour for the electricity. Why did they stop it early?”
And another one shouts, “Stop your selfishness! We don’t have a drop of water in the tap.”
The water goes to the houses which have generators first, while others who don’t have generators have to wait to get their water until the generators stop running. So there are many conflicts between men on the water days.
Water at the wrong time
Sometimes the municipality turns on the water when the electricity is cut. This makes us mad, because the water flow is very weak and we can hardly fill half of our barrels. In this case, men start phoning the municipality, complaining and demanding that they turn on the electricity or extend the water time until the hour scheduled for the electricity to come back on.
Another problem is when the water comes at night while we are all sleeping and without any announcement. It is a big catastrophe and means that we missed our water and will have to wait another five days for it. Or it means we have to buy water, and not all people are able to do that.
I should mention that this water coming through the tap is not healthy or drinkable. We use it only for cleaning and showering, though the impurities in the water damages our hair. Children whose families can’t buy drinkable water suffer from many stomach viruses.
In a recent conversation with my aunt I asked about her health. “I suffer from headache and I have a severe pains in my shoulders and arms,” she said. The pails of water that women must carry from one place to another around the home are very heavy. Men aren’t available to help with carrying the water because they are at work or searching for work to support their families.
I was on another phone call with my cousin talking about the suffering of her son, who carries home heavy pails of water from the public tap when the municipal water is off and they have run out of stored water. We also talked about how the children enjoy the long showers they can take when we have water is running.
Some Gazans suffer even more
“With all that we suffer with water, we are still in heaven compared to Naher Albared,” my cousin said. This is the first that I had heard of this place, whose name means “cold river” and is in the middle of the Gaza Strip. “They don’t have a municipality there,” my cousin added, meaning that they don’t have plumbing for sinks, showers, or toilets. “Poor people and children have diseases from drinking polluted water. Institutions will sometimes support them with water to drink, but it isn’t enough.”
We in Gaza have lived through all types of catastrophes and suffocating situations. Now we have a somewhat peaceful time as there are no wars—at the moment—but we still have tireless drones with their taunting sound and ever-watchful eyes. And then occasionally there are sudden explosions at night that take our breaths away. We witness the panic of spreading coronavirus in our besieged city. We witness long hot days, and nights of electricity and water crises.
What else do Israelis want us to suffer from to convince us to be grateful for just being alive and to convince us not to think about any improvement in our lives? Either the Israeli occupation will innovate new measures of torture, or there will be a miracle that will catalyze people all over the world to help us gain our freedom and give us access to the rights that all the truly free people in the world have, including access to clean water.