Tweets from Projonmo Square—-four hours in the Tahrir of Dhaka, amidst a people’s revolution

Projonmo Square, around 150,000 protesters have been demonstrating here since February 6th without any recess.

Just walked into the #Shahbagh Square; people from all walks of life have gathered here since the past three days to stage their protest.

I was absolutely flabbergasted, overwhelmed and shocked by the huge crowd that lay ahead of me. Within a minute after I had entered, I was looking at virtually thousands of faces; faces emanating a jubilant feature you normally associate with patriotism and a vision for a better world.

Yet in those faces which had come from all sorts of diverse social backgrounds—-I saw a welcome to anyone willing to join them in this fight to serve the history. I had a momentary glimpse into the future of all ordinary, middle-class, patriotic Bangladeshis like me. I saw an insight into the glorious future that awaited my country, and the huge role that I can play in order to become a part of its history.

What a crowd! #Shahbagh, the Tahrir of Dhaka

Trust me when I say this: never before in my life have I felt a love for my country so subtle yet so overwhelming. At that point in time, even if someone had told me that my country required me to jump in the deepest crevices of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have taken the leap valiantly. It was a feeling that transcends almost all other subtleties in the universe. It was a discovery. A new discovery of patriotism.

Candle-light protests at night

Wherever I look, I find hope. Hope for a country where its nascent generations are as patriotic as the one that liberated it from the hyenas who once upon a time enslaved the masses.

For forty 42 years our land has waited; waited patiently for a blood and passion.

In 1971, in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a cost of 30 million lives and the rape of around 2 million women (In fact, the war is described as one of the few in history where the Pakistani army used rape of Bengali women as a powerful tactic to not only intimidate the people, but also to subsequently create a society filled with bitter truths.). During the war, a group of Bengalis and Biharis (immigrants from Pakistan into Bangladesh), in an attempt to please their Pakistani masters, collaborated with the Pakistani Army and participated in the mass genocide and rape undertaken by the military regime. The main Bangladeshi political party that betrayed their own people to form a paramilitary group with the army was the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Shibir.

The people’s revolution on the second day.

For forty years, none of those collaborators at the top had been handed down a death sentence. And moreover, they are now occupying powerful and wealthy positions in our society. How ironic for a nation! #Shahbagh

But today after all these 42 years, the soil of our land has once again cried the cry of freedom and justice. And it only took one verdict.

On 5th February, 2013 when Kader Mollah———infamously known as Mirpurer Koshai (the Butcher of Mirpur) for mass-slaughtering around 400 unarmed, innocent Bangladeshis and raping many young women in his area during the war; some with his own hands and others by direct orders to his disciples—-came out of the International Criminal Tribunal with a verdict of guilty and a lifetime imprisonment, the general public became more enraged than ever before to see the criminal’s smiling face and victory sign flashing out of all media outlets.

A huge candle-light vigil, with the map of Bangladesh illuminated in the center.

For 400 murders, a person gets a life sentence? Really?

And so the online community of Bangladesh, extremely angered with the judge not giving a death sentence to the accused, called for peaceful protests and demonstrations in the gigantic crossroads of Shahbagh, a bustling part of Dhaka which is almost always clogged with speedy traffic.

Although initially led by the Bangladeshi Blogger and Facebook Activists’ Group, the protest was soon joined in by thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who were discontented with the tribunal’s verdict.

It took barely a night for Shahbagh to become the center of the people’s revolution, and to represent a new call for justice and rule of law. Traffic was halted for at least a kilometer all around Shahbagh and security was tightened throughout the area.

But the most important part about the protests was the people’s unity. Students, teachers, clerics, liberals, leftists, right-wings, people regardless of their political and religious affiliations appeared hand in hand to lead a new uprising against the traitors, mass-murderers and rapists of 1971. Everyone promised to keep political speech out of everything, and asserted that the sole purpose of occupying Shahbagh was to ignite the spirit of 1971 into all the people of the country.

A revolution for the people by the people. Fourth consecutive day of the protests

It’s 2013. And our generation has now engulfed into a new war of liberation: ensuring justice for the souls who were murdered, raped and betrayed by these war criminals.

2013, 42 years after 1971, brought on a new war. A war that we, the new generation are entitled to fight.

On the third successive day of the protest, when I joined the crowd and chanted “Ekattorer haatiyaar gorje uthhuk arrekbar” (Let the weapons of 1971 be loaded once again this year) at the top of my voice, I knew that for the first time in my life, our land and our generation had a glorious future.

And I felt confident that this was where I wanted to be. That this was the city, this land of the 160 million and this vibrant vicinity was where I wanted to write the golden pages of my autobiography.

And after that day, time and again, I have strolled all the way from my home in Green Road to Shahbagh Square, recently renamed Projonmo Square (the Generation’s Square) in light of the recent events, simply to chant slogans and be a part of the crowd. I will do it tomorrow again, the day after as well, and also the day after that as long as the revolution exists and our demands for a death sentence for the mass murderers of 1971 are not met.

The entire country has but one verdict: the traitors must all be hanged for their mass-killings and rape during 1971.

I will be there as long as the blood underneath my body is hot and flowing through my veins. As long as my people, my nation does not get the justice it deserves.

I will chant ‘Joy Bangla’ (Long Live Bangladesh!) with my sore throat and never get exhausted because I have a feeling that this was what I always wanted to be a part of.

I will not stop, the blood of 30 million people that courses through me will not cease because I know that we are all united as a nation regardless of our religious or political divisions.

In 2013, although I am not in a battle-field, I am the freedom fighter. The new freedom fighter vying for the long-lost justice.

I might just be a speck of light in the huge crowd of #Shahbagh, but I know I am contributing towards sth far greater than any of us can ever dream about: towards building our great nation….

Joy Bangla!

 

 

 

Bangladesh ranked 11th happiest country

A facebook friend recently put up this extremely inspiring and well-put status:

 

Determination – The young women who starts at daybreak to reach the garments factory where she works to support her family.

 

Resilience – The young boy who starts selling newspaper at the stroke of dawn to pay for the medical expenses of his ailing mother.

 

Vision – The City Corporation worker who does odd jobs all day long so that he can build a better future for his son.

 

Indulgence – The pampered ‘Daddy’s Princess’ whose biggest worry is to look better than her friend.

Wasted – The arrogant rich brat whose life revolves from one hangout to the next.
Misguided – The self-made millionaire who is leaving all the wealth to his children but precious few values.
Stories of inspiration and moral decay running parallel in this city of ours.

Bangladesh, the 11th Happiest Country in the World; ahead of Pakistan, India and even the USA in happiness

For those of us who were brought up and have lived in new Dhaka during the economic boon, parallelism and contradictions in our society have been integral parts of our lives. In a country the size of Scotland, but a population of at least 160 million people, we live in a vastly unequal culture and society. According to Al-Jazeera English, 30 million people in Bangladesh make up the middle-income bracket, a number higher than those of the wealthier European states of Norway and Sweden, yet the country remains largely an underdeveloped state. Roughly 30% of the population live under the international poverty line, with around 3.5 million of them being children according to the UN, while 38% of the overall populace remains illiterate.
Life here is undoubtedly difficult for most of us. But although ‘living’ is the only keyword, we believe in little pleasures and happiness. With the traditional subcontinental familial and religious values we are desperately conservative about our culture and customs. And this is why despite all our hurdles everyday Bangladesh has been placed 11th out of 151 countries in the World’s Happiest Countries list by the Happy Planet Index 2012.
In sharp contrast to this placement is a list compiled by another survey of the World’s Most Unlivable Cities. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, ranks first on that list because of widespread social inequality, lack of resources, a faltering justice system and political turbulence. But as it turns out none of those materialistic values impede a nation that wants to be happy. The happiness index was based on three criteria: life-expectancy, well-being and ecological footprint. Costa Rica has been declared number one, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. The countries which have hit the bottom of the list constitute mainly the sub-Saharan ones.
What is more important on this list is the fact that materialistic values do not always constitute a happy nation. Spiritual and mental satisfaction, socialism and family-life are also imperative to be happy; and as the countless homeless people all across Bangladesh demonstrate through this list, a nation can still be happy despite being terribly bereft of resources. This aspect of happiness is strongly ingrained in the Bengali culture, in the Bangladeshi experience where familial and religious duties–regardless of which religion or ethnicity you belong to—- are integral constituents.
After all, where in the world will you find a nation that is terribly in love with its language? That has given up and will always be ready to give up lives when its language or land is denigrated and oppressed? Where in the world will you find a nation where secularism and equality of all religions is so much appreciated, where all religions, ethnicities and tribes live and socialize with each other harmoniously? Where will you find a country that is immersed in its music, folklore and traditional dance? Where will you find a nation that stays
awake all night to see its national cricket team win or lose matches and then celebrate any win or a good fight as if they have won the entire World Cup?
There are definitely a good many reasons that make Bangladesh different from the rest of the world. It is true that we are an underdeveloped, extremely unequal and exploited nation but even amidst our poisonous capitalistic system, we are a happy species.

Eccentricities in a Bangladeshi Gaa’ye Holud

Gaa’ye holud is an essential part of Bangladeshi marriage traditions. It is the first of the 4/3-day long celebrations carried out to celebrate the unity of two families through marriage. On this occasion, traditionally bride and bridegrooms used to be rubbed on the face with mustard paste by all sorts of people—sometimes on the same day and sometimes on separate days—–but in the past one decade or so, as Bangladesh became increasingly globalized and make up, gold, facebook photos and expensive imported dresses from Pakistan and India rapidly made it impossible to rub mustard paste on the faces of the bride and her groom, gaa’ye holuds began to use mustard paste as decoration items only. Nowadays it is more about wearing good clothes, going to the beauty salon and the DJ playing hard and fast dance beats to which everyone would dance around. At least that’s the picture in the urban cities now.

Photo credit: nudratowens.com

 

Although an indispensable part of the traditional 4-day long Bengali marriage ceremony, gaa’ye holud, in my opinion, is an event most ceremonies can easily do without. In fact, before the latest one I attended whose tales would soon ensue, I can’t even properly recall the last time I went to a gaa’ye holud invitation. To me, as an observer, the event seemed to waste a lot of money, time and other resources for no good reason at all, and the material side of me always sighed to think of all the expenditure going on behind the scenes of a lavish gaaye holud. And there was the philosophy of personal beliefs as well. Around two and a half years back when I turned into an Islamic fundamentalist——-courtesy of the Islamophobic blog-networks———and increasingly shifted towards a more pan-Islamic school of thought and belief system (although I do suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism and atheism as well), I began to find the style of dancing and singing in a gaa’ye holud absolutely abhorrent. And with these foundations for a thought-process, my penchant for skipping all sorts of gaa’ye holud grew in an unprecedented manner.

But the latest one was from a series of occasions I could have never refused. It happened to be a classmate-since-class-four’s elder brother’s holud, and my family and I were specifically invited by none other than the mother of the bridegroom herself. It was virtually impossible to escape this one unless and until there was a darn good reason to do so. And hence I had to accede to the request.

But since my mom couldn’t go because of her last minute health-constraints I was left alone. I put on some ironed cotton trousers and punjabi, showered with my new Moroccan rosewater flavored liquid soap and after climbing through an hour-long traffic in a route which would have taken me 20 minutes to reach my destination in anywhere other than the city of Dhaka on a normal Wednesday evening, I finally landed myself in Trust Milonayton on Mohakhali.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that this was going to be an occasion where the lazy Bengalis will finally decide to be punctual. So although the event was scheduled to be at 7:30 pm, when I entered the grandiloquent hall at around 8:30 pm, there was but a score of people sitting and whiling away their time. I slid myself through the slightly opened façade and was glared at by the cameraman when I almost tripped on his gargantuan wires. That’s nothing new though. I have this thing for slipping whenever I try to walk properly. I raised a hand and punched the air around me to show my disregard for the man’s glare. In a further effort to boost up my lost confidence, I even heaved up my chest and poised my breasts outwards in a malicious attempt to imitate the Bollywood actor Salman Khan. But in return I was met by more stares. And then immediately, just before that Salman Khan-ish feeling decided to leave me, I felt the need to set up a new facebook status through my phone: Letzz rockzz peoplezzz. Fromzz Salzzzmanzzz Khanzz.

Feeling weird, I strode on and scoured the place for anyone I knew. Unfortunately, there was none.

But fortunately, there was an unknown, gorgeous-looking girl sitting just in front the sofa I had taken refuge in; and like me she seemed to be all alone as well. My heart skipped a beat when she turned around and our gazes met, and I could perceive her beautiful multicolored sari draped elegantly over her maroon blouse, hiding her presumptuously poised out breasts in a manner too provocative and too feminine to lower my gaze.

দূর হতে আমি তারে সাধিবো
গোপনে বিরহ ডরে বাধিবো………………...

Kill me woman! Kill me! I thought to myself as she turned backwards again to see the people entering through the red carpet.

I chuckled as I noticed her lavishly made up face and the henna-designed hands. I wondered whether it would be deemed too inappropriate in a public place like that to start a nice little chat with her.

Preoccupied with this dilemma, and wondering whether I possessed enough charisma to charm up an unfamiliar girl, I suddenly noticed a middle-aged woman with her two young (and severely attractive!) post-teenage daughters approach my sofa. The woman sat beside my seat and shifted towards me with a forgive-me smile.

“Ami ki shore jaabo?” Complemented by a smile, in the most pleasant-hearing shuddho Bengali accent I possessed, I asked her whether I should change seats.

“It will be good for us,” the lady smiled back and then looked at her daughters. I changed seats and had to appease my back for shelter in a more uncomfortable chair. Weird. Aren’t these the same ladies calling for equal rights for both men and women? What kind of man would’ve asked the lady or her daughters to shift seats for the men’s convenience when there were many other seats available?

#Such-an-unequal-country!

And it was at that point when the lazy, fat and gluttonous Bengalis found food. A food corner had popped up and was offering the first of the two course meal of the event to the guests. I, being the typical food-loving Bengali, found the smell of jilapis and pakoras wafting through the hall as irresistible as the ladies around me. Very soon I had had stomached around 10 pakoras with chutney and a few incredibly tasty jilapis to counter the sour taste. I also took a plate of chotpoti from the fuchka-chotpoti corner. And then finally, when I had decided that it was enough, I finished off with a few glasses of hot coffee.

It was a further half-an-hour before the bride and her groom arrived. The DJ made a point of stopping all other sounds to play the song Ajib Aur Shaan Shahenshah as loudly as possibleto make the entrance sound as grand as that of Akbar in the Indian film Jodhaa-Akbar. But by then, my heart had skipped beats for several times as more and more beautiful young ladies filed onto the red carpet and took seats around me. I went to deposit my vacant chotpoti plate back to the food corner and then met my friend and host for the evening.

“Aaare doctor sahib. How do you do?”

As we hug slightly and look at each other, my friend has something to say.

“Let me show you an `angle`.” He whispered to my ears over the roar of the music.

“`Angle`?” I asked back, perplexed.

“Yes; an `angle`. The girl in the red sari, standing directly opposite to me over there on the food corner,” he used his eyes to indicate, “I have had a crush on that cousin since class five. Don’t point. Do you like her?”

I turned around 360 degrees to look at the hapless-looking, massively-foundationed and a-conspicuously-dark-shade-of-mascara-wearing girl. “Well. Pretty workable.” And then, as an afterthought I added, “You should see Vina Arsara*. The only girl I ever felt physically attracted to. She used to turn me on; trust me.”

“Oh you know what? I have a pretty-looking friend on facebook with that name.”

“Dude there could be a million other Vina Arsaras on facebook….”

“Yeah but she had a few mutual friends with me. So I guess she is the one.”

“Still it’s a pleasure to behold her. All the boys in Maths class used to run after her when the class ended. And she ran away from all of them.” This culminated in somewhat of a laughter. Even the people around us who were standing with prying ears smirked at our girl-watching conversation. But what exactly do you expect two adolescent males who have known each other for most of their lives to talk about in a place swarming with beautiful girls if not about the opposite sex and their fantasies?

“Oh come on,” my friend brought me back to my senses. “I will show you another `angle`. This cousin is at the bottom of my list though.”

As we walk he suddenly points to another absolutely ravishing, wealthily-dressed girl.

“Holy shit!” The words poured out from my mouth before I could stop them. “Dude, this one really, really is a bubbling piece of hot shit.”

My friend on the other hand grimaced a wide-toothed smile. On his face it was clearly written ‘I told you so’.

After all the ogling was over, when we had both become heavily sinned, and when I was confused whether gaa’ye holud should be renamed as girl-watching or not, it was time for dinner. Morog-polau complemented with Shammi Kebab and khashir rezala. I took a seat at an almost empty table, with only a few weird-looking people sitting around lazily.

But as soon as the waiter had arrived, everyone was filled with a vigor that multiplied by many folds as each plate began to be piled up with the multitude of items.

A middle-aged lady and one of her acquaintances was sitting across from me. On the other side of the woman was probably her maid servant. She piled up her servant’s plate with food and then after some time, all of a sudden, probably thinking that it was beneath her to sit with her servant for the victuals, she got up leaving her plate untouched. It was pretty obvious from the manner she left after thinking it through for sometime that she was affected by problems of class and castes in her decision. And my reasoning behind her eccentric demeanor was further substantiated by how she materialized minutes later at the table out of nowhere and then, instead of resuming her position, she tried to shower both her servant and the acquaintance she had left behind with food from the table. In her mind maybe, she knew that she had behaved unjustly. And thus out of that feeling of guilt, she was trying to make repercussions by being overly kind and entertaining to her servant who had been left behind feeling small and undignified at the mistress’ behavior.

I wondered how I would have behaved if I had been in the woman’s shoes. Surely I don’t mind sharing the same table with our servants or driver in a wedding party. But I reconsidered my mom; I was absolutely sure, given the high level of sobriety and demeanor she maintains, that my mom would have never sat on the same table with her helpers.

It’s a weird world indeed. The formation of Pakistan during the 1947 partition and Bangladesh during the 1971 war stemmed out precisely from class difference. Pakistan was formed to get rid of the Zamindar and landlord-based caste system. And then Bangladesh was shaped because of the class difference and discrimination between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But today in the modern-day parties of urbanized Dhaka, the issue has largely been scraped away from everyone’s mind.

When I returned back home my mom summoned me to her room.

“What the—?” she stopped in mid-speech as she looked at me.

“Yes?” I wondered how I had disapproved her now.

“Please don’t tell me you wore this simple-looking punjabi to the holud. Please don’t.”

“Well mom. I must disappoint you on that. Because this is the one I wore.”

My mom was ready to erupt. “Why is it that you have to earn my disapproval for your weird style of clothing during every single occasion? Can you never put on something decent?”

“Well you know, don’t you? Half the time I don’t even look at what I have put on. But this punjabi looks okay. Maybe a bit mismatched but workable nevertheless….”

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get provided enough to buy you a gorgeous punjabi? And I thought you have your own savings now. I am sure your host did not even look at you once throughout the holud. You are so un-presentable.”

“On the contrary I actually had quite a great time. And anyways, my friend wouldn’t have been my friend if he chose people through their outlook. So please: stop.”

With that I impudently left her room. I got undressed and switched off my bedroom lights to get some sleep. Reclining on my bed, I reflected back on the events of the evening.

So yes, if I am to end this write-up in the traditional SAT essay style, I should probably conclude that that was one fucking eccentric evening!

But then again, my life itself is an eccentric one. So I don’t really think I ought to complain about eccentricities in a Bangladeshi gaa’ye holud.

 

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*Names in this article have been changed in order to protect people’s privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes of Gaza II —-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the second part of Lauren Booth‘s chronicles in Gaza. For the uninitiated, the first part has been published already. Again, thanks a lot to My Bit for Change for sharing this. The last part of the series of three will be published the next day.

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I, a stranger here in Beit Hanoun, walk down this road at dusk. Every window with a face in offers me ‘Salam.’ The doorway of the sole shop has a family sitting in it, I wave.

Assalamu Alaykum’, they shout at me – cheerily. Yes cheerily, I feel the lump in my throat that I carry inside forming again. “Peace’ they offer to the stranger in their midst, as they bathe me in smiles of instant friendship. On the corner two young guys come over and greet me as if I am a long lost cousin. There welcome is so warm that I wonder for a moment if we have met on a previous visit to Gaza.

“Okay’ says the tallest brother, after introducing himself.
‘Nice to meet you now you come to our home to spend the evening, First tea, then you stay with us. Yalla come!’..

I laugh..

‘Why you laugh?’ asks the other boy in his late teens or early twenties.

‘We don’t joking – you come for tea now, really, Fadal.’

These boys are brimming with life. Their eyes have energy and hope in them that is utterly at odds with the grim landscape they live in. They are heroes of Gaza, the next generation of hope, the ones who will not be broken.

We can’t take tea with them and are eventually allowed to leave only with sincere promises to return to their home as soon as possible.

We have come to visit, amongst this needy populace, a family in dire need.

Through a broken wooden gate, behind a crumbling stone wall, my friend Yassir, silent and grim faced, points me into a cement building that has no right to be standing. It was once a PLO prison. Now it is ‘home’ to a family of one father, his two wives and their seventeen children. Before the second intifada the father used to work in Israel and he had enough money for his growing family. After the blockade, it stopped. So he worked as taxi driver. And that income was just enough to get by on for his growing family. Then the siege came. Food prices have shot up to parity with those in European nations whilst incomes here are Third World low. His car began to have small problems which he couldn’t afford to repair, which led to worse ones which killed it. I pass its rotting carcass and enter a large unplastered room with a cement floor. There is no furniture, no pictures, no adornments of any kind. Besides, two plastic chairs, the freezing space is utterly empty except for a small TV, on a crate in one corner. Children with hollow eyes, mill about, expressionless, wide eyed at the surprise visit of so many unknown faces. They look (and are) shell shocked.

One of the wives makes an attempt to smile. The husband in his shame at the poverty of his family mutters ‘salam’ and looks at the ground. Their sixteen year old son has a limp, I ask what the matter is, ‘has he hurt himself playing?’.

His trouser leg is pulled up and a large plaster ripped off revealing a fresh ten inch wound with stitches. His ankle is also bandaged. Two years earlier the boy (then 14) had been collecting rubble in the wasteland, once orchards that Israel has now stolen as its ‘buffer zone.’ His job was to sell the rock for whatever he could, to scavenge then, in the hope of some money for the hungry family. An Israeli sniper at a long distant shot him in his leg, shattering the bone. He has finally after years had the pins put in his shin. It is likely he will limp for the rest of his life.

A smaller boy of around ten is brought over. His dirty tracksuit bottoms are pulled above the knee to reveal strange white patches. White phosphorous, the napalm of the 21st century was blown across this area when Israel rained it, by the ton, onto one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

Another son of around seven, shoeless and silent clings to his father’s legs.
This boy’ he tells me, ‘has developed mental problems since the attack in 2009. The soldiers came many times into our home and wake the children up, shouting. Now he doesn’t talk and doesn’t act normally. Doctors can’t help him.

Cooking is being done in the kitchen i.e. an empty cement space with a fridge that is empty except for four cauliflowers of questionable age. Due to the ‘cuts’ – twelve hour electricity blackouts – no family can chill or freeze food anymore. Fridges are just storage cupboards in Gaza. There is nothing else in the room except on the dirty floor, a single, ancient electric ring on which, now, a pan of chips is cooking. Chips that are enough for perhaps three children in the UK would here feed a family of 20.

It is Salah (prayer) time. The smaller of the wives takes me to another empty room. This one is called a bedroom because it has blankets in it. She lays out a prayer mat for me.

As I pray, I can see my own home, my own happy, educated, well fed, daughters. All the luxuries of London flood my sight and tears come. Besides me the mother makes her prayer. Behind me one of her daughters hold a torch on me as the room has no lights and no electricity anyway. It’s not the poverty that gets me it’s the evil of humanity that pours agony on almost two million Gazans, year in year out for 63 years. It is so much worse here than when I came four years ago, that words can barely describe the new cruelties Israel has designed to torture the people in this vast concentration camp.

Habeebiti’ says the mother beside me. ‘Please don’t cry.’

Her concern for me makes me sob even more. I can’t speak with the weight of my grief. ‘Oh God’, I think to myself. ‘Don’t let her be kind to me, please, I can’t take it’.

But she is. Of course she is. She is Palestinian.

‘My dear, why do you cry? Are you alright?

I…I..hate this for you...’ is all I manage to utter.

She looks into my eyes. Mother to mother.

What? Don’t cry for us, it’s okay, you can stop now, shhh’.

Then, she says the words that almost break me, words that make me feel so humble. I fear, I may never stop crying. Tears that begin as frustration and sadness -become tears of love and respect.

We are so happy. We are Muslims, we know this is our test and we must be patient. We are happy, really sister, we are. Allah will reward us if we can just be patient’.

These are the exact words I have heard in EVERY home I have entered in Gaza at this terrible time.

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

Heroes of Gaza I—-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

Lauren Booth is a British broadcaster and journalist currently working for Iran’s 24 hour English news channel Press TV. A few months back she visited Gaza and chronicled the effects of Israel’s hegemonic policies on the people of Gaza. After reading it, I realized that it will be a sin on my part not to share with the world a message so important and powerful—–that elsewhere in the world people are constantly fighting hurdles and fighting for hope amidst all troubles. Here is the first of a series of three chronicles she has written about the visit. Thanks a lot to My Bit For Change for sharing this.

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I write this from a freezing, dark hostel room in the centre of Gaza. This area is now in a twelve hour blackout, so there will be no hot water to shower with this morning and no internet. After three days here, I feel, dirty, tired and emotionally wrung out. Yet, I know that in 48 hours, when the time comes to leave, I will not want to go. For Gaza’s incredible people have again overwhelmed a visitor with their warmth, their ability to offer friendship on a first meeting and their absolute resilience and faith in a Divine plan.

Yesterday, driving around was a stark reminder of just how serious the fuel shortage is here. At regular intervals the roadside becomes jammed with many hundreds of battered, near death, vehicles, stalled. Men sit at the wheels or smoke leaning against them, faces grim. They are locked into an 8 hour wait for just 100 shekels of fuel. Not enough for a quarter of a tank in the larger cars. When the fuel at the pumps becomes perilously low, each driver may buy just 50 shekels. As a result, cars are becoming if not quite a rarity, then certainly for a city with a population the size of Gaza – a luxury. Roads that were once jammed with the honking life typical of all major Middle Eastern cities are silent. The silence is not a blessing either; don’t think that for a moment! I remember when Diana died and cars were banned from the city centre for her funeral, what a beautiful day that was. Citizens could reclaim the streets and remember what it was to stroll in peaceful, bliss.

This is different. This silence is morbid and desperate. For alongside the near empty roads, are shops boarded up. And the pavements which you’d think would be jammed with people are empty too. There is simply no way to get to work – if you have it. Many shops simply close down due to the blackouts. This silence is the quiet of despair.

My bodyguard Mr Falafel (his nickname) and my friend Yassir, drive me to Beit Hanoun to visit a family living on the edge of one of Israel’s infamous and ever expanding buffer zones. On our way out of the main city, Yassir shouts,

Stop, Lauren let us get out and see this.’

It’s not clear what he wants me to see, As I get out there are men and boys milling everywhere, hundreds. There is shouting. Then I see them. A yellow, mountainscape of plastic containers piled four high in some places and stretching from one end of the road to the other. We follow the line of boys and are shocked to see the queue is the same length around the corner.

What is your name!?” shout boys of all ages. ‘How are you today?’
Where you come from?’

The foreign lady in the hijab provides a welcome distraction from their miserable duty and Yassir and I are quickly embroiled in a human maelstrom of faces and laughter. We squeeze away from the youngsters towards a father in his fifties who is near the front of the queue. I ask him what he needs.

Fuel for the generator. We have no light. No electricity. We can’t eat. The children are cold.

He has six children. That is a small family here. Looking at the thousands of containers waiting to be filled, each powering a generator that has become the only (ir) regular source of power for Gaza homes, I realise that each one represents a family of ten or more.

In a week, they say, even the fuel at these stations will run out. Then what?…

It is dusk, Maghrib prayer time, as we reach Beit Hanoun. An area that was, not too long ago, a place of farming. Of vast orchards stretching as far as the eye could see, where adults worked and children sheltered from the heat of the sun, playing the games that only children understand.

This evening the sun sets over what’s left; a sealed off scrubland of weeds and thorns.

We get out of the car. “Israel sent bulldozers and destroyed everything, all the trees; old trees, old orchards.’ I learnt.

Such is the sight to my right. To my left across the pot holed ‘road’ is Gaza’s frontline with Israel. The enemy that it fears so much are families in roughshod apartment blocks. No frills here. No trips to Ikea for little home touches. Here ‘home’ is a cement block low rise, half finished, slum. There are so many children here it’s hard to fathom for the first time visitor. Large families are the norm in Palestine and in Gaza, a pride. Each window of the hundreds I pass can represent easily five children within. Beside each and every window are dozens of Israeli bullet holes or the larger impact damage from shells of all variety. Hard to imagine the international reaction if a family suburb in Tel Aviv were attacked like Beit Hanoun is attacked by the IOF, over not just days, not even months – but years.

I remember once asking a very poor mother in Gaza why she had so many children.

We need atleast seven children to each family here’, she said

Why? Because atleast two will be killed by Israel. Two more, Israeli will take to prison for a long time or cripple with rockets. Two may (may) have a chance to get educated and they will leave Palestine and never return, which leaves just one child to look after us in our old age...

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well. The last two parts of her chronicles will also be published here on this blog.