Wednesday, May 12, 2010

“A Prisoner Never Dies from Hunger”

In Gaza,

On a Thursday night, four beautiful 2-4 year-old girls sitting in the backseat of a car driving alongside the Mediterranean sing their favorite Fayrouz songs. Their innocent, young voices sing, “habeebi bado el amar” (my lover wants the moon) and “amara ya amara” (little beauty, you little beauty). They mix up the few lyrics they know with snippets from the other conversation in the car, and the song suddenly becomes, “habeebi bado el ma’abar” (my lover wants the crossing).

People of all backgrounds greatly respect their social commitments, and never miss out on a chance to enjoy good tunes with friends and family. Go to a wedding, an engagement party, a “congratulations” party, a birthday party, or any gathering where music is involved. Don’t worry about not finding a seat, because everyone will be up dancing. This summer’s major hit is Fares Karam’s “El Ghurbeh” (An Arabic word which means living away from one’s country, home and family). People dance to, sing and curse elghurbeh at the top of their lungs, and end the song with, “badi erka’a boos trabah, hal ard el hanooneh” (I want to kneel down and kiss the sand of this gracious land).
Many people live right next to the Mediterranean Sea, while others live a few kilometers away. Yet, everyone craves a simple sardine meal. In a movie called “West Beirut”, which takes place mostly during 1982’s Lebanon (the Civil War), the main actor and his family have to eat sardines at least three times a week because the father is jobless and the mother barely gets paid. In 2010’s Gaza, and because of the naval blockade, poor and rich alike crave the phosphoric taste and smell of sardines. Mind you, Palestinians crave and deserve only one source of phosphorus: seafood.
A soccer/football mania is always the surge. In one of the city’s schools, a 9-year-old boy who lost his leg in the war and got one replaced by surgery enjoys playing soccer with his classmates. A few kilometers away, in the city’s main football stadium, loud dabka tunes and 16 different national anthems mark the commencement of the World Cup. There, you can see the Palestinian flag waving in the air next to the American, Egyptian, Algerian and 12 other flags in harmony. Just in case people in Gaza are spending too much money on tourism and traveling, the Gaza World Cup saves them the money they would’ve spent in South Africa. It also reassures that it is every person in Gaza’s right to “enjoy living in Gaza in peace”, according to the championship’s anthem.
Jobless friends gather around a campfire and talk about life. One of them finally reveals to his friends what his biggest problem with the siege is. “Before the siege, Egypt used to allow sending jokes to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. But the tunnels don’t transfer jokes! Jokes freeze in the tunnels like gas.” The man goes on to play his violin, and sing rhythms of dalouna with his jobless friends.
A beautiful orange flower blooms from a round cactus plant. Next to it, another round cactus gives birth to a pink flower. Blessed are these plants, for they endure life in a blazing atmosphere and require little water or care. If you try to harm them, their thorns will get you first. If you leave them in peace, watch them grow, prosper and bloom. Try translating “cactus” to Arabic: sabbar, a word that derives from Arabic for “patience.” In Gaza, the growth rate of a cactus plant is directly related to the patience, beauty, and spaciousness of the city’s residents.
Art students rush to paint a Greek amphora, Roman column, or Islamic vase. Children playing on the beach are enthralled by an ancient bronze coin or old piece of pottery that they stepped on. Palestine’s only museum welcomes people with a banner reading Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, “On this Earth is what makes life worth living.” On this Earth, the people vow, is a glorious history and an infinite beauty that needs to be restored.
On this land. On this land. And nowhere but on this land, this gracious land, this beautiful land by the name of Gaza.
And then I wondered, “if we are not being starved to death, and life is going on, then how is the permanence of the siege affecting us?”
“A prisoner never dies from hunger,” I was told.

Published in:
"This Week in Palestine":