“She wants to photograph everything,” the young man was saying in Arabic to his friend. True, I was at the window, camera ready. But it’s never possible to catch those quickly-passing moments: like yesterday, the two teens on a bike, one riding, one side-saddle between the driver and the handlebars, but grinning widely. Or the boy hitching his donkey to the cart and navigating it from house-side into the busy traffic near Saha district. 10 years old? Or the kid dancing wedding-style: arms up, hips shaking as he slink-dances down his house stairs. Maybe 5 years old? Or the hoard of kids playing on a mound of sand [blurry, but caught it!]
The immobile shots, or those taken when not in a taxi on a torn up Gaza road, are easier. But still perplex my subjects. Like the perfume seller, with his various-sized bottles, some imports, some local brews. I’d once bought an exquisite Jasmin perfume from one of the many stands on a busy Rafah street. But could I remember which? No.
I returned with the nearly-empty vial, some precious fragrance still inside, and visited a few stands before I found the right one, or one who made a similarly-intoxicating oil. And the fragrances do vary: at another perfume stand I’d bought Jasmin, but it had an acrid, stinging bite to it. So finding the replica today, I was happy.
It’s always interesting to note how things are done differently. Whereas in Canada I could only buy packaged name-brand perfumes in most places, here in Gaza I can taste-test and when I find the right one, the perfumiere (?) pumps it with a syringe into a small glass vial. Practical and charming at once.
So I photographed him today, but missed the syringe bit as was distracted by the mob of schoolgirls who’d crowded me to practise English phrases. I bought vials as gifts for family, and asked him to put some in the original vial, near-empty. He topped it up and gave it as a gift instead of charging, despite my intentions. These things happen all the time in Palestine.
The shot-up house next to a friend’s home near the Rafah border is a reminder of the days when Israeli settlers occupied Gaza. The shot-up land –deeply puckered, rather, from Israeli F-16 bombing –is a reminder of the siege and the tunnels, though the friend doesn’t need reminders. Early this morning he woke up to the latest round of F-16ing the land.
He tells me how his family stayed in the home during the massacre, though most of the other families in the area left. His was defiant. And had no where else to go.
We visit the family of a friend, Mohammed Omer, a journalist who was brutally beaten when returning from receiving the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The story of his interrogation –which amounted to different types of torture –is known (outside the corporate media) and he is now convalescing in Holland, getting vital medical treatment to try to repair some of the extensive damage done to his internal organs and throat.
John Pilger wrote of it, including Mohammed’s testimony:
“As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror.“
My friend has helped me to track down the house, as the sole phone number I had was wrong, and Mohammed Omer is a common name in Palestine. His family name is new to me, as I’ve not spent much time in Rafah. But in the region it is known, and finding his house is easy. As I chat with his family, my friend re-visits his neighbours: many of the people living in this area are in relatively newly built houses, replacing their Israeli-bulldozed or bombed home. This is the same story for Mohammed and his family.
His family is lovely, his niece adorable and shy. His mother serves kaik, ring-shaped date cookies popular at ‘Eid, describing how she made them and encouraging me to take more.
As I rode north to Gaza, the two young men and I began to talk. One, Maher, was returning from work in the tunnels. While for some tunnel work is lucrative and in their view worth the mortal risk, Maher called today his last day. He was working in a tunnel when the IOF warplanes bombed this morning. Fortunately for him, his tunnel was far enough away that he didn’t succumb to burial or being torn apart by the blasts. Two others reportedly did succumb, to a gas leak likely resulting from the bombings, Maan news reported.
But the 100 shekels Maher earns for roughly 11 hours in the tunnels isn’t enough to keep him down there. Not after this morning.
“Halas, 100 shekels mish nafer!,” which basically means 100 shekels isn’t worth it. He goes on to tell of his previous work, starting from age 13: “I worked in a coal factory in the north,” he says. If I understand him correctly, it’s a place for manufacturing the type of charcoal used for argila (water-pipes).
I learn Maher is mutual acquaintance, from the family of Hamza’s young wife Iman. And being from Beit Lahiya in the north, he also knew the martyred Arafa Abd al Dayem (alayerham). Arafa was shredded by a dart bomb the Israeli army fired upon him and civilians during the massacre.
“He was a good man,” Maher says, and I say.
There’s a spill on the road-side, and our taxi slows to cross into the opposite lane, avoiding the mess. A brief discussion ensues over what the fruit is –apples, peaches—and it’s decided there are both scattered on the ground. A shame, and all the more so knowing that this has come in via Israel and is precious indeed, having endured long waits at the crossing (assuming normal Israeli crossing standards) and potentially delays in being permitted to cross in the first place.
We rattle past one of the heaps of crushed cars. Before the siege, scrap cars were exported to Israeli junkyards. Now piles sit all over Gaza, growing and rusting.
In Gaza, I hop out of the taxi and walk through a neighbourhood where a new restaurant-resort has opened. Apparently years ago it was used as a rather exclusive hotel resort, then went dormant for a number of years. Now a family has bought the property and got it going again. It is all trees, a rarity in Gaza city or the Strip itself, and lovely at night with lanterns and soft lights.
It’s that time of night when the sun has set but the sky holds a vibrant light, rendering wonderful silhouettes, particularly those trees unique to this type of climate.