Monday, 26 January 2009

a story among many

Majeda Al Saqqa, January 10th
Majeda Al Saqqa, 2009-01-10

Virtual Gaza

Logic is my key for today.
I want to apologize to all the musicians in the world for calling the sounds of bombing an orchestra.
After a horrific night of tank shelling, bombardment by F16s, maybe an Apache too, the drone and, most scary of all, the smell of phosphorus gas reaching the edge of our neighborhood, today, I want to apologize to all musicians.
No, war sounds are far more frightening and ugly.
Today I will not joke.
I will think logic and talk logic.
Not enough food at home.
Children frustrated, wanting out of this prison.
It's not going to end today.
It might last for much longer.
Demands are increasing at all levels and from every side.
So, best is to act.
No safe place in Gaza Strip.
If my own bed is not safe,
then the market is not safe.
But it might be safer than, or at least as safe as my bed could be....
So, I'm up early.
I call the children: "Come we'll all go to the vegetable market."
"Is the war over?" screams Arslan, my 5-year-old nephew happily.
"No, but there will be a ceasefire, a 'safe corridor' from 1 to 3 pm," I tell him.
"Is it 1 pm?" Arslan asks.
"What's a ceasefire?" Wael asks my sister Najat, at the same time.
"Is a safe corridor like the one we use next to our bathroom?"
Najat is exhausted. She hasn't slept for two nights now. She looks at Wael and breaks
out in laughter: "Similar.... it's the shit in the pot!"
I answer Arslan: "It's 8 am now. We'll go now."
For me it seems safer to get out before the ceasefire because it doesn’t seem that there
really is one, or at least that it's observed....
I catch Arslan's eye: "Looks like there's movement in the streets, so we'll try to go
I haven't seen the children so happy. They don't wait for me to get the car out from the garage. Like birds escaping the cage, they all start singing and dancing on the door step of our house.

A woman in the street asks me if I can give her a lift.
"I came here because they are distributing vegetables to poor people," she tells me.
"I'm not at an UNRWA school, I'm with my sister's family. Nobody knows about us.
"We're not registered, we're not refuges, so no one wants to help us. This kind man living in your neighborhood asked me for my ID. I gave it to him yesterday. Today I came and he gave me some vegetables. I have no idea what we will do with them -- we have no wood, no gas and no electricity. We haven't even had water for the last four days."
I looked at her in the rearview mirror and say: "Sell it and buy canned food."
"Who will buy it?"
"Many people will," I assure her.
"Will you take me to the vegetable market?" she asks.
"I'm going there, I'll take you."
She looks out the car window and says to herself: "It's better like this, I'll sell it and
buy milk for the kids and some kerosene."
The market
I decide that I will only look in the mirror or straight in front of me.
I don't want to see anything around me.
I love Khan Younis.
I can't do anything for Khan Younis today but wait patiently and survive, so tomorrow we all can do something.
Halfway to the market, we're the only car in the street.
Wael is laughing and telling Arslan to look at the old man we've just passed.
"He's hiding behind the door and looking.
"But I saw him.
"Look at that woman too! I saw her!
"She's hiding behind the door, peeking out..."
Arslan is looking out on the other side of the road. He screams: "Hey look, our kindergarten! They destroyed the building near our garden!"
Majed, my 6-year-old nephew, asks me "Who did this?"
I answer, "The airplane."
"I know, but who is in the airplane?"
I look at the woman and say: "You can sell your vegetables here."
Majed repeats his question
"Who did this destruction?"
I look at him and say: "The Israelis. But don't ask me who they are now because if you look just in front of you, you'll see where we'll buy our stuff."
There was huge truck distributing flour to people.
We sat and waited until some families got their quota and then they sat in the sun and started selling half of what they'd received.
An old woman was sitting covering her face.
I went to her and asked if I could buy from her.
"Yes, please, I have to get back quickly. If my sons know I am here, they'll be upset with me. I came because we have nothing left at home. And we have twelve children at home who need to eat three times a day."
I asked her why she is selling the flour in this case.
"Because we got two bags from UNRWA, we'll use one and with the money of the other one we'll buy vegetables."
"Ok, then how much is this?"
"Why? It was 90, I say.
"Everyone in the market is selling at this price."
"Ok then, I will take it."
Some young men come and help me put it in the trunk.
When I switch the car on, Dima asks: "Why did you buy that sack of flour? It's got 'Not for Sale' written on it"
I look at her jokingly: "I bought it, I will not sell it, because it is not for sale."
What else do we need, Dima?"
She looks at the small paper where my mother has listed all her needs.
"We still need everything, you only bought one thing."
"Sugar, my grandmother said: 'don't forget sugar,'" Arslan offers.
We look everywhere but find nothing but vegetables.
So we buy what we like. And then what we don't like, just in case.
And we drive back, with my eyes staring only straight ahead.
I hear Wael, Arslan, Dima and Majed playing their new game "I see something different."
I'm not ready to look.
Shelling starts in Khan Younis.
Strikes somewhere not far, but far.
I drive quickly, passing down the main market road – a road I've not been able to drive down for the past 20 years because it's always so packed full of people and
Today I can drive as fast as I want.
It's totally empty.
Back home
We reach home and everyone's happy.
Finally, we've managed to get flour, which is most important.
Wael enters the house and announces to my mother:
We brought you flour.
But no sugar.
The toy shop is closed.
The supermarket is closed.
The woman who sells the flour doesn't have any chocolate.
She doesn’t sell cars or airplanes.
She is covering her face.
She didn't want us to know her.
The phone rings.
Wael runs to answer.
"Hello. Who is it?"
He's silent for a moment, then: "No, we don't have any..."
A few more seconds of silence.
"But we need sugar.
"And I want a car and an airplane with a remote control."
I run to pick up the second phone. This boy is out of control. He has to stop asking my friends to buy him things every time they call:
It's a recorded message from the Israeli military.
The message repeats:
"If you have guns at home you should get rid of them.
"If you are hiding any of the militias, report them at the following number...
"If you have information you want to share, call the following number…"
I look at Wael. He looks back at me, his eyes are asking my permission to request the caller to buy chocolate for his brothers too. I give him the Ok.
So he adds: "Bring some for Majed and Arslan and Dima too."
Precisely at 1pm, the cease fire starts.
I was right in my calculation and logic.
The military planes are back in the sky, performing their daily shock and awe show, complete with the sound and motion. But today they've added flying balloons and they're drawing lines across the sky with the smoke of the airplanes.
The chorus of kids crying their hearts out starts up across the neighborhood again.
I secretly congratulate myself -- going to the market before the ceasefire was a wise choice. But now it's time to go comfort and hug the kid.

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