Every morning, and every now and then, my mother reminds us to decrease our use of water. To keep a pot in the sink to collect the used water after washing dishes for other purposes. Her favorite saying during the war is “we are better off than others!” I told my sister that I cut my hair. I justified that with the shortage of water and shampoo. How can I take care of it in such circumstances! But I know very well this is not the reason. It is said that witnessing the hardship of others relieves one’s own. But I see the losses of others and they come between me and everything. Every night I see the ceiling collapsing. I see dead bodies and body parts as my own. Still, my mother says time and again “we are better off than others." We are blessed by my grandmother having given us many aunts. We kept taking refuge in their houses one after the other. Until we reached Rafah. After that, I don't really know if we will still be “better off than others”? Or we will have touched the bottom of our new nakba?
But my mother and her favorite saying changed completely after being informed that our house, too, had been bombed. She no longer said much. A deep stillness took over her face. And whenever we insisted, she answered with very few words. My child reminded her, once, of safayih; pinwheel pastries made of minced meat and dough. I tried to stop him, but she insisted that she would make them in the few coming days. I tried to remind her that we have shortages of flour, fuel, and almost everything. I don't like to make promises to children. She gave me a deaf ear and bought the meat at double the price due to the chaos of war and its mongers. She prepared the dough and we started baking. Staring at nothingness, absentmindedly, she said: "our kitchen is gone!" and burst into tears. I couldn’t say a word to console her. I, too, was on the verge breaking down. We all cried in silence. My aunts too. Even though we had not cried when we first heard that our house was bombed, nor when my maternal aunt’s house had been bombed, nor when we heard that my other aunt’s house had been bombed. As if we had just realized that our lives and those days were gone forever.
Cooking is my mom’s best way of sharing love. She knows our favorite dishes and those of our relatives and friends, one by one. We always try to imitate her recipes, with their precision and exquisite taste, but never succeed. Before the war, I tried to talk her into cancelling our weekly lunch ritual when we visit. So much time and effort, I thought, was going into making all that food. But nothing could stop her. She could never understand my brother's commitment to his healthy diet, nor my own need of every minute to try to pursue a career and study while taking care of children. I couldn't add her maftoul, and ka’ak to my already hectic schedule. But she could never agree to welcome us with empty dishes.
This war, with its atrocities and inhumane conditions, rearranges everything. It separates families and reunites others as they try to find a safe place. It is an ongoing displacement to find refuge, piling collective agony. Families are dismembered as they withstand fear, bombing, and want. My sister, whose house was the first place to which we escaped, fled with us to the center of Gaza as we were ordered; Deir El-Balah, the allegedly “safe place” designated by the ethical IDF. Having dual nationality; my sister and her family made it to Egypt. We had shared a place, food, and so much sadness. It was an overwhelming and cruel goodbye; knowing that these might be our last minutes together. She emailed me after she got settled, explaining her feelings of guilt, as if she left us drowning and sailed on the only lifeboat.
We try to use as little solar energy as possible to be able to watch the news at night. Our neighborhood appeared behind a reporter on the news as he was walking and describing the destruction. We wanted to jump inside the screen. “If only the camera would go this or that way!” Despite the destruction erasing the features of the place, we felt some joy just seeing it. Our neighborhood is just an hour and a half away from us. But it is days, months, and many massacres and dead bodies away. I try to make sense of Biden's language and the Security Council’s long speeches. I can't understand expressions of triumph and defeat amid all this loss. I know that my child’s body is my homeland. Waiting for the news is waiting for hope, to tell us that a supernatural force will stop the war. That we will return to our houses, despite all the death and destruction. To what is left for us of our life.
[Translated from the Arabic by the author. The Arabic version was published in Romman Magazine]