A fellow Palestinian blogger noted the other day on Twitter that none of us had written up a Ramadan post. Ramadan is a very special time as any Muslim will tell you. But it also brings with it its own unique set of challenges. It is spiritually uplifting, but it is also physically exhausting.
In Gaza, these challenges are multiplied tenfold. This Ramadan came amidst a merciless heat wave across Palestine. Ordinarily, one can find ways around this by staying indoors or cooling off in front of a fan of air conditioning. But no so in Gaza, where we were enduring continuous 9 hour electricity outages: 8 hours of electricity, 9 hours without, 8 hours of electricity, 9 hours without…and on and on. Since a fuel agreement was reached a few days ago, we are now privileged and get an average of 15-20 hours straight of power, then 12 hours without…not sure which is worse! But the Jerusalem Post reports today that Israel has “balked at a request” by Tony Blair to boost the amount of electricity it supplies to the Gaza.
Combine that with the blocked off urban construction, and you have your very own personal saunas.
Electricity aside, there is the issue of access to fresh foods. Few people buy “fresh” meat anymore, opting instead for lower grade imported frozen meat that sells for the half the price. Once again, it must be emphasized: the issue in Gaza is not availability of foods; it is accessibility. The flow of goods in Gaza waxes and wanes with each passing week, a perplexing combination of “premium” Israeli goods and a small amount of West Bank products; tunnel commodities (such as processed cheeses, but also Egyptian lemon-limes and cows); and other “foreign” goods, mainly from Turkey. This is not to mention that one cannot preserve fresh or even cooked foods more than a couple of days, given the lack of electricity to power refrigerators.
Yet, what I’ve increasingly noticed is that they here are finding ways to make ends meet, to “cope” if you will. Some food aid from here, some zakat from there, some relatives living abroad: many manage in a piecemeal fashion. But they resent being depicted as beggars or victims. Still, the situation takes its toll. You have to look for the signs.
We recently went to visit a friend of my mother’s, Um Rami, who is a widow and works as a seamstress in her spare time out of her Shati Refugee camp home. She was kind enough to let us photograph her cooking (and alter a heap of clothes for us).
I noticed her iftar consisted of the following: noodle soup (made with a bouillon cube); rice (from UNRWA food aid); tomato salad (dagga); and mulukhia-made with a couple of chicken wings.
She was beaming as she recounted traditional recipes passed down to her from her grandmother from their village of Beit jirja and sharing stories with us about her late father’s favorite foods. “The best gift my father-who lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time-confessed to ever receiving was some khubayza (Malvaccae, a member of the mallow family that grows in the wild, and whose leaves are cooked much in the way mulukhia would be) I brought him from Gaza”. Um Rami she wasn’t coming to my door begging or crying for handouts or even wailing in front of television cameras: I saw the hardship in her soup.
And so Ramadan here takes on a more solemn, persevering character. And it is the hospitality, the humor and the incredible resilience of the people that shines the most this month.