Quarantined in besieged Gaza!

May 8, 2020

Shahd at home with her children; Omar and Lilian. Omar is playing with the same puzzle over and over again, while Lilian is reading her English class book.

“We miss the sea! The school and the streets.” Waking up daily to hear those sentences from my kids was frustrating enough to understand that this is another level of the prolonged blockade on Gaza. It was different in the past; “we want to travel; we want to visit Disney land.” The wishes got smaller, just like everything else in Gaza is shrinking on daily basis, except for poverty, unemployment and population that are rapidly increasing.

Some weeks ago, amid the Covid-19 outbreak around the world, and with the first cases being identified in the State of Palestine, a decision was made to close schools, universities and all locations with social gathering; while in Gaza, and since there were no cases identified, some organizations continued to work to deliver for people in need of support. Mothers and fathers still working while children are at home, doing everything to let time pass and waiting for the family to reunite for some chit-chat, a meal or even an exercise. In Gaza, parents are either part of the 49% of the unemployed population who try to get out of this circle with the help of organizations and private sector, or employed parents who do what they can to improve the living conditions in Gaza for themselves, their families and for the unemployed as well. It happens that I am part of the latter.

When cases were discovered in Gaza following a group arriving from abroad through Rafah crossing, for travellers coming back from Pakistan, an announcement was made at mid-night. A night I will never forget, as a mother, a worker and as Gazan women. Living in Gaza is not an easy thing, and not impossible as well. You get used to it till you believe you are a superman/woman. You think for a while, will I die because of a virus? And suddenly you remember the two intifadas you survived, the three wars you lived through and the daily struggle. You think for a moment: will I die because of a virus? And you don’t believe it for a second, you try to ignore it but it is there. The nature of this virus and how it is affecting every part around the world, Gaza is not an exception. It is even more fragile to any pandemic and it is easy to get affected.

I woke up the next morning to start working from home; not an easy mission, kids are playing around while the mother opens the laptop early to respond to emails and work on some stories from Gaza and other areas where my organization can respond to the current situation. An email pops up, a request comes, and then my daughter’s school sends papers to work on remotely in order to go ahead with the education process in Gaza. “Life should go on” I was telling myself this sentence every time I wanted to shut everything down and surrender. But then, I just take a breath, go wash my hands and continue.

Shahd taking a long walk by an empty seashore

While life goes on in this city, one visits the supermarket to purchase basic requirements in case of any curfew, thinking of all the people who cannot afford meetings these needs. While around 85% of the Gaza population are food aid dependent, it becomes critical that services in Gaza continue in such a situation for the people who are quarantined every day, with no access to basic services and no income.

It is true that this era of Covid-19 is not going to be short. I thought of the many memories we will have when growing up, the valuable family time, cooking together, playing, exercising and closing the door of my room when in a remote meeting while my son knocks the door asking for water to drink. And I thought also of memories my kids and I wanted to have, memories that are hard to be found and planned for. All what I wanted for this summer is a chance for them to travel and see the world from above for the first time. This mission was already impossible with the crossings and all the lists awaiting to travel. Now it is ironic how no one around the world will be able to do so, but at least some of them have these memories. But for us as Gazans, memories we will never have are the most painful ones, yet beautiful memories of us together will always last.

Shahd works as a communications associate at UNDP office in Gaza.