I’ve always loved Fridays in Gaza. In the mornings, save for the lone garbage collector futilely sweeping the abandoned streets and Municipality park, littered with plastic cups, watermelon seeds, and strangled straws from the night before, the hustle and bustle of the city comes to a standstill.
It is a serene if lethargic time, an escape from the sea of chaos, uncertainty and violence that grips our lives each waking day and night. For a few hours, things seem ordinary in a place where ordinary is an illusion. And it doesn’t seem like anything can disrupt those moments, as if some force is saying to the madness that envelopes us: “come back another hour!”
Slowly, the streets come to life again as evening takes hold. This is Yousuf’s favorite time. He likes to go out to the balcony, as we did yesterday, and “people watch”-just take in the incongruent and cacophonous sites and sounds of another Friday in Gaza.
In the park in front of us, children boisterously played football, women licked ice cream cones and chatted, and wedding motorcades ( “zaffit sayyarat”), which, no matter what the season or situation, you can always except to hear on Thursday and Friday evenings like clockwork-made their way to beachside hotels and lounges. They tirelessly honked their horns in sync with live wedding dabke music, blaring out from portable speakers or played by live for-hire bands seated in the back of rented pick-up trucks decorated with carnations.
Boys and relatives clamored for a standing space in the back of the trucks, dancing and clapping feverishly along with the music. Young children chase them down the street to join in the fun. If the wind is just right, the sky becomes a showcase of homemade kites, dancing and flirting with each other, challenging the physical bounds imposed upon this battered area’s residents, reaching to places they can only dream about, allowing them to navigate freedom, no matter how purposeless, for just a little bit.
In the distance, the ubiquitous double-thuds of artillery fire could be heard exploding a few kilometers away, increasing in number and intensity, it seemed, as the evening progressed, only to be drowned out ever-so-slightly by the cacophonous symphony of Friday blitheness, as if to say-“not today! Today, you will not steal our moment.”
The evening passes, the clock strikes midnight, and suddenly, the carriage tranforms into a pumpkin again. The planes roar. The missiles fall. The magic dissipates. And 6 people are dead.
Just another Gaza Friday.
Laila El-Haddad “Journalist, mom, occupied Palestinian — all packed into one” is based in the Gaza Strip.