July 6, 2018
It was the 6th of July, at seven a.m., and my two-year-old son Zoher wakes me up by patting my cheek, whispering that he wants breakfast. I smiled and kissed him, then went back to sleep.
I thought about my day ahead and remembered I was scheduled to visit my parents’ house. I forced myself to get up. I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and gazed into the mirror. My face was pale and I felt a weird ache in my heart. I washed my face with a lot of water to wash it away, but it lingered.
I left the bathroom to find Zoher waiting for me, so I went straight to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for him. He wanted a scrambled egg, and while I made it, he looked out of the window, waving to a bird and smiling. As Zoher ate, my daughter Nana, four, awoke. She stood up, staring with big eyes that said, “Why are you eating breakfast without me?! I’m not important? ” She was almost crying. I hugged her and said, “Good morning, tiny sleepyhead.” She sat down on a chair to eat and said to Zoher, “Good morning.” Zoher smiled and said, “Nana, habibti (my love).”
After finishing breakfast, I reminded them that the house must be cleaned before we left to visit my parents. Nana jumped up to help, tidying up her room very quickly. Zoher laughed and said, “No, no!!” He made a song out of it; he kept saying “No, no, no, no” to different rhythms. But he did get his shoes ready and I dressed myself and them. Then we set off.
Wegot to an intersection and waited for one of the shared cars to stop and take us to Gaza City. It was hot and the kids got tired of waiting. Finally, a driver stopped and we got in.
The driver was named Mohammed. He was married and had five children. He said he drives his taxi from six a.m. to ten p.m., but barely covers his expenses. He wants to give his family a better life but feels helpless. He takes his kids to the sea every Friday for a picnic lunch.
“I wish I could leave Gaza for good,” he kept saying. I asked, “What about your relatives?” The driver responded, “They can’t do anything to help our lives here and I barely see them anyway, I work so hard. It won’t hurt to leave them behind if I can have a better life for me and my kids.” These days, I hear everyone talk desperately about leaving Gaza (except they say “damned Gaza”). Life in Gaza is a vicious circle and we are getting dizzy from the endless cycle of violence and boredom. I’m not sure people on the outside realize how monotonous life in Gaza is, aside from the bombs and missiles. There are very few forms of entertainment—no theaters or playhouses like I read about in other countries—and those that exist are not affordable.
Until recently, the crossing between Egypt and Gaza was closed most of the time. Now, suddenly, it has been open since the start of Ramadan (May 15), and so many people seem to be selling their houses and belongings so they can leave Gaza quickly before it closes again. Since May 12, 8,788 people have left Gaza through Rafah. Although the crossing now been open for a while, we have been conditioned to expect it to close without warning, so people are rushing to raise money, settle their affairs and try to leave.
I kept thinking about what our driver had said. So many people are like him; they think anywhere else is better no matter what. I wish for a better life too. Neither my husband nor I have jobs and we can’t even afford fresh fruit. But if we all think that way and left, who would stay?
I stared at the empty land along Salah El-Deen Street. Zoher was looking through the window too, his eyes dreamy and a big smile on his face. I felt a sense of relief and squeezed his hand.
After arriving at my parents’ street, my kids ran quickly to their grandparents’ house. Nana took a moment to catch a flower to give to me. As I sat with my family, the subject of my father’s friend, who was leaving Gaza, came up. My father never liked the idea of immigration; he used to travel to Egypt all of the time when I was 15 and always came back. But this time, he supported his friend’s plan and said anyone who could find a way to go anywhere should. I was shocked, but I understood. Even if it was only for a short time, I long to see something different. My mom replied, “At my age, I won’t leave my country. I was born here and I will die here.” My sister Khetam, who just finished college, said, “What’s the point of staying here with no safety or income? I just finished my university, I am supposed to look for opportunities now, but instead, I am sitting home doing nothing.” She wants to leave to continue her studies and seek her purpose in life.
There was a moment of silence. It ended when my seven-year-old sister said, “I want to leave Gaza too.” We all laughed.
It was almost seven p.m. by then and there was no electricity and the weather was hot. My sisters and I decided we would go up to the roof where it would be cooler. I lay down to see the same stars I saw when I was 16 and still living at home. I used to wish on those stars. This time, it was a little hard to distinguish the stars from the Israeli drones.
We slept there that night, with a cool breeze wafting over us once in a while. I thought to myself, I will never leave this place. It’s where I belong. It has good people, an amazing beach and a deep soul. I normally agree with the idea of leaving Gaza, only because of the hard life. But it’s where my loved ones are; it’s where my heart is.