Worn out from Gaza’s war

Families do not have adequate clothing for Gaza’s winter. (Naaman Omar / APA Images) 

I’m living with my family in a rented apartment, the walls filled with asbestos. All 10 of my family members are packed into one 50-square-meter room, sharing one bathroom.

When we were displaced to Rafah in southern Gaza, this was the best place we could find.

Nearby explosions have caused the walls to crumble, so asbestos is dispersed throughout the room. We’ve covered the walls with plastic to keep the rain out.

However, the cold and the rain still seep through. I can feel the cold cut through my fingertips and my toes.

Our room isn’t equipped with a heating system or a water heater, so my mother and I went to the market in Rafah to find some winter clothes.

The pickings were slim. Everything was too small or too tight.

Summer clothing is available, unhelpfully. But winter clothing has sold out.

We searched for five hours in the market. When we had given up and were heading home, I found a new set of cozy pajamas and a warm jacket.

I snatched the items up, like a lion capturing its prey. I would have them, no matter the cost.

I felt like I owned the world when I purchased them.

Pity of strangers

Before the war started, I used to look at prices before making purchases. Now, I buy without asking.

I don’t care how much something costs because if I’m buying something, I need it now and there are no alternatives. Style, cost and quality are irrelevant.

But I have noticed that prices are no longer what they used to be. The cost of everything has tripled.

What last year cost me $13 now costs me $40.

I have never been more grateful for my savings. Though it’s not like I’m spending joyfully or even that often, as most of the shops are empty.

The Kerem Shalom checkpoint in the south has been mostly closed for two months, completely cutting off the flow of commercial goods to Gaza.

I’ve borrowed many essential clothing items from friends. My friend Nour loaned me a pair of jeans and shoes.

My shoes got torn up from our journey to Rafah. Without her, I’d still be wearing thin summer jeans and slippers.

My sister Samah, who works as a teacher at an UNRWA (UN agency for Palestine refugees) school, is still looking for winter clothes for her four kids, aged 3 months old to 10, but with little luck.

Ahmed, 10, had been wearing T-shirts and shorts until recently, when a neighbor saw him shivering from the cold. The neighbor rushed to her son’s closet and gave Ahmed some winter clothes.

My sister at first refused to take the clothes, despite her need. She hated the idea of receiving assistance from near strangers. She was concerned that her neighbor was taking pity on her.

In the end, Samah had no choice. Ahmed badly needed the clothing.

Shopping in Rafah

At the clothing shop in Rafah, after the shop owner rang up my total, I was shocked. I asked him to show me the itemized bill, to see the cost of everything.

“What’s wrong with the prices? Too expensive?” he asked.

“Unexpectedly expensive,” I said. “The prices tripled from usual.”

He was quiet for a while. Then, before I left the shop, he said, “I risked my life while moving to the south of Gaza.”

He had moved south, after packing all the items from his clothing shop in a truck, along Salah al-Din Road – Gaza’s main highway – under heavy Israeli bombings.

“The soul that I risked has a price,” he said. “Not any price. Because nothing is more precious than a soul. Isn’t that right? Isn’t it worth raising the cost?”

I nodded yes and paid the bill.

I asked another store owner why all the clothing was more expensive than usual.

He said that during times of war, items are more expensive because borders are closed. There is a finite amount of clothing available, and who knows when more shipments will be allowed in.

In turn, wholesale merchants raise their costs, too. He said he was just trying to get by, that he also had to provide for his family.

He had also bought many older items at soaring costs, just to barely break even.

“We are talking about a total paralysis of economic activity in Gaza,” the analyst Elhasan Bakr told Al Jazeera. “We need a minimum of five years just to go back to where we were before the war started.”

My friend Maha, who has two kids, is also struggling to purchase clothing. Her husband, a photojournalist in Gaza’s government, has not received his salary for two months.

They’ve lived off his savings, but they are dwindling.

She had to purchase used winter items at an UNRWA school in Rafah, where they had been forcibly displaced by Israeli attacks.

My sense of self

When I was forcibly displaced on 13 October from Gaza’s al-Karama neighborhood, I was only carrying a bag with some summer clothes and my most important documents.

I didn’t bring any winter clothes with me then, as I didn’t think the conflict would go on this long. I thought that I’d return home, our house and my closet intact.

I used to run a clothing store, and my clothing means a lot to me.

Each piece of clothing represents a memory to me, of where I was and who I was with. These memories are important in a Gaza where Israel has destroyed so much.

I used to be selective with my clothing. My wardrobe was made up of pieces that I took care in choosing.

I bought some special pieces of clothing in Turkey. And I would shop at boutiques in Gaza or at the Capital Mall in Gaza City.

Israel destroyed that mall in an airstrike.

It might seem not important to some, the clothing that we wear. But it is important to me.

I took pleasure and pride in my wardrobe. It was a part of my sense of self.

So, shopping for clothes for utility is difficult. It makes me miss my previous life.

Before the war, I would prepare for hours before I would go to work or out with friends. I enjoyed preening and grooming.

Such surface things were a joy of mine, down to the scent of my perfume.

I’m not in the mood to stand in front of a mirror these days. I’m not sure how I would look.

I’d see a different woman entirely, someone mentally and physically worn out.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.