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Memoirs from Gaza: Shiny candy and biscuits of misery

Memoirs from Gaza: Shiny candy and biscuits of misery

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يوميات من غزة (6)... "أيها الطوفان، نرجوك ألا تحرق كل حلوى المدينة"


It seems to me that this war will carry on until someone comes and puts an end to it, declaring everyone victorious. And only the mothers, little girls, poets, and innocent lives that once aspired to experience life, not face the clutches of death, are defeated.

Until then, our language, contemplations, and capacity for reading are on hold until the final whistle blows. We shall continue to write pieces like this, which we could title: lamentations amidst looming danger.

Have we ever truly known suffering before?

It's hard to translate one specific idea into words, after hearing the hundreds of stories about people and war while standing in queues at phone charging stations, the only place a person can charge their phone battery in Gaza. I mention this in memory of all the lives taken in lines across Gaza, people killed while queuing for access to daily essentials.

How can any suffering compare to that of a child carrying his brother's severed arm, begging the doctor to reattach it to his brother's body? Or that of a mother trapped beneath the rubble of her home, listening to the final breaths of her children around her?

How absurd is one’s suffering when compared with that of the child carrying his brother's severed arm, pleading with the doctor to reattach it to his brother's body? Or that of the father unable to find a grave for his son's little body? Or that of the mother buried under the rubble of her own home, fighting death as she listens to the last breaths of her children buried around her, her heart exploding in fury? These are some of the horrors that Gaza has seen, and continues to see. These are not scenes from some surreal, bloody film, this is reality when reality is left in the hands of the powerful, and don't ask me how these people even reached positions of authority.

Great defeats and smaller ones too

Just as there are great defeats, and major massacres, there are also small defeats – small deadly ones that sneak up on you – like the sense of defeat you get in the face of your child asking for a piece of fruit or chocolate.

November 8, 2023 marked the 31st day of this conflict. The southern reaches of the Gaza Strip are home to many of the 1948 refugee camps. Just days ago, a new wave of displaced people, the refugees of 2023, joined them, and became part of this unfortunate reality. After hearing news of the impending war, both long-time refugees and the newly displaced scoured every available corner of the region in search of food, water, and electricity.

Refugees–old and new–stand in line for bread, electricity and groceries. By day 34 of the war, one is lucky to find half a carton of eggs or a torn bag of pasta. This is the beginning of a famine that will only take a few weeks to fully reveal itself

It's almost impossible to distinguish between long-time residents (the old refugees) and the newcomers (the newly-displaced). The sense of weariness and confusion has blended together in the bread lines, the water queues, the battery and phone charging spots, and in the aisles of grocery stores, which, if they are not bombed, are quickly emptied of their goods. All this shapes one singular image: the Nakba.All of this recalls one specific image: the Nakba. Why can’t Palestinians escape exhaustion, undiminished despite the passage of time? This question remains unanswered.

After 34 days of war, one is considered very lucky to find half a carton of eggs, a torn bag of pasta, or a handful of flour tucked away on a shelf in a corner of the grocery store. And one would be truly lucky to stumble into a shop with a functioning refrigerator, providing the possibility of a cold drink. Any drink will do, so long as it's cold, to cool the fire ignited by the daily quest for food. This is the beginning of a famine that will only take a few weeks to reveal its full extent.

As for the children of Gaza, or those of them still alive, all they have left of life pre-war are remnants of what my little Leila used to call "candy", in long-gone days when joy was within reach and Leila could sing her favorite song:

"Rain rain go away, come again another day, baby wants to play..."

The darker side of candy

Every evening, Leila and I would go on a nighttime stroll that always concluded with a purchase of some candy. For Leila, ‘candy’ came to mean anything sweet, shiny, and elegant. If anything of the sort caught her eye, she'd grasp my hand, point to it, and exclaim, "Candy!" It was an expression of her desire to taste something, and not necessarily just food items– ‘candy’ was once the neighbor's baby.

Leila and I used to go on a stroll every night that always concluded with purchasing some "candy", which, to Leila, meant anything that was sweet, shiny, and elegant.

Perhaps it was my mistake that I never told Leila about the darker side of candy, about the war, about Gaza, which could one night go to sleep, nice and shiny like candy, and wake up completely destroyed, drenched in blood overnight. Every time I bought Leila a chocolate, a sweet, or toy, I should have also quietly told her to keep her mind open, because not everything that shines or sparkles is candy.

Biscuits of misery

One evening, I mustered my courage, and I said to Leila, "Let's go for a walk", just like the old days. She agreed with uncharacteristic reluctance, as if she knew that all the loud, deafening sounds overhead weren't the cries of big birds, as her father had told her.

She also knew these weren’t the sounds of thunder, lightning, or rain, as her mother, quivering with fear, had previously assured her. That evening, Leila was not excited to walk outside, and I felt that she understood that wherever these sounds came from, something horrible was being done to the little world she called home.

It was as if she knew that all those deafening sounds weren't big birds, as her father had told her, or the sounds of thunder, as her trembling mother assured her. Leila knew that these sounds were doing something horrible to the little world she called home

As we walked, she inspected everything: the street, the lingering smell of gunpowder, the broken lampposts, the large orange cat outside, the shaking of my eyes, and the trembling of my hands. Leila seemed to know that something terrible was underway, and when we reached the shop, she made a beeline for the ‘candy shelves’, her little paradise, only to find them empty with the exception of boxes of plain biscuits, their red and white covers the definition of misery.

Even the shopkeeper, who once welcomed us with a big smile and a piece of candy, wasn't his usual self. Leila noticed this and saw him engaged in a heated argument with the store owner about the remaining quantity of lentils. What had happened? Where was the candy? This was a helpless and miserable question, much like the plain biscuit boxes themselves. To be honest, Leila showed more resilience than I did at that moment. She pulled my hand, pointed to the exit, before saying in a calm voice, "Bahh, no more candy".

With promise, or candy – anything that is sweet, shiny or nice – along with the dreams of our young ones and the hands of our surviving poets, we can rebuild our city, or maybe, at the very least, we can use it to rebuild ourselves..

We bought the plain biscuits, biscuits of misery, wrapped in their red wrapping. When we returned home, I told Halima, “The biscuits of misery, once again,” and we laughed a lot and cried too when Leila, before going to bed, said, “I want the misery baskoot” in her tender voice and immature pronunciation. Is there anything in this universe more devastating than hearing your child accept that her candy is now 'misery flavored'? And that the word ‘misery’ would be one of the first words she learns?

This is the same child who, not so long ago, refused to settle for anything less than the whole chocolate bar – one that she had to choose herself. As I opened the pack of plain biscuits for her, I thought that people should avoid having children, to prevent such heartbreaks, in Gaza and elsewhere, but soon came to a better realization: people should think twice when choosing their leaders. They must ask themselves, “Will this leader safeguard our land’s ‘candy’?”

Hello Storm, and greetings to the battle that had been inevitably coming. Will you leave some candy for Leila? Her definition of candy, "Everything that is sweet, shiny, and elegant". With promise, or candy, and the dreams of our young ones and the hands of our surviving poets, we can rebuild the city, or maybe, at the very least, we can use it to rebuild ourselves.



* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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