It’s hard to imagine I have actually been in Gaza a year now. Last winter was much colder than this one but I have learned many cold weather tips, necessary, for survival in homes with little or no heat. Even when the temperature only gets down to the 40’s, it’s still like living in a refrigerator when you have no heat. And, heat here is NEVER central heating. All those chubby, healthy looking children I saw when I first came last winter, suddenly became all bones as soon as the weather got warm. Multiple layers of clothing are a big weapon against the cold. Showering in the morning is just NOT a warm idea. Nobody who has tried that wants to take off clothes they already have warmed inside to put on cold ones. A hot water bottle has really helped me warm my clothes and bed. I call it my “husband” because it keeps me warm at night—and makes a great joke among the women here. Sleeping between fuzzy blankets is a great idea since you get about as much cold from the bottom as you do from the top. Hats and scarves in the house are also great to help stay warm. The gloves with the fingertips cut off are another great addition to a cold house along with a hot cup of tea with Marameeah (sage). And they have Pharmacy “Doctors” here for those times when the cold just gets the best of you and tea doesn’t fix it. The pharmacists here give you antibiotics you would need a prescription for in America or Israel.
I have also come to understand the relationship between water and electricity. Without electricity you have no water because water has to be pumped to the tank on the roof so it can flow down. If you get your water from the municipality and, the water and electricity don’t come at the same time, you may have to go to the nearest stainless steel tank in your neighborhood to purchase sweet water (not to be confused with the salty water that comes from the municipality). In some areas it is so salty you can’t even stand to brush your teeth with it. Sure you can buy sweet water pretty cheap but then you have to CARRY it home—many times up many flights of stairs. That can be more limiting than the price of water.
Recipes from home require many new ways of doing things as well as substitutions. Take coffee for instance. My Australian friend, Jean, from my time at Shevet Achim, had a plastic coffee filter that she used for drip coffee. What a great change from instant coffee. And even better is that you can get the coffee ground with the cardamom for that Turkish coffee flavor without the sediment at the bottom. The American coffee commercial that’s says, “Good to the last drop” wouldn’t be good here because you would be drinking the grounds. In America I had a BUNN coffeemaker but here I treasure my 20 shekel filter and pray I can always find paper filters for it. Dairy products are limited in Gaza. I was VERY resistant to using powdered milk because in America it is skim (no fat) and not very tasty. Here it is Full fat milk powder and wonderful to have on the shelf. I have also learned to use the plastic coffee filter to drain water off the Shamainit (a high fat yogurt) and substitute it for Philadelphia Cream Cheese or use it with some Labonneh (salty & sour yogurt) in place of sour cream.
The food here is outrageously delicious! But the process women use in the meals they make is labor intensive. Most are cooking huge meals for big families on a two burner stove top sitting on their small counter and maybe a metal box like oven—if they are fortunate enough to have more than one balloon (bottle) of gas. There is no temperature gage on the ovens; you just regulate the gas from previous experience. Many cook the rice first and wrap the whole pot in a big thick blanket to keep it warm until the rest of the meal is ready to eat. (Not many homes have microwaves.) There is no ‘chop it all up and throw it in a pot’ even in the limited space and resources. Often I see someone go to the floor (for a lack of counter space) to crush the garlic and hot pepper together with salt and sometimes parsley before adding it to other ingredients. Many of the best dishes are a combination of many steps that often require participation of the entire family. Mealtime is not just something to eat, it is a family experience—especially on Friday. Families usually try to have meat or fish for this special meal (like Sunday Dinner in America) whether they can afford meat the rest of the week or not.
Transportation started out pretty scary for me, to be quite honest. Not because I was in Gaza, I was scared in Amman, Jordan, too. In America we teach our children to never get in a car with a stranger, but taxis are not supposed to feel like that—unless you can’t understand one another—then it really challenges you to trust God with your life. Who knows where the driver will take you and motion for you to get out! This actually happened to me once and I wasn’t where I was trying to go. I am sure it was a “lost in translation incident” but scary, none the less. I searched the neighborhood for someone who could speak English and shortly afterward was driven to my destination (without charge) via an ambulance—unharmed. That day I decided I needed to live within walking distance of the Deaf Society. So for three months I walked and walked, and, got lost again and again, and, learned to get a taxi home when I couldn’t walk anymore. When I moved into the “Penthouse” I was in the neighborhood of two Universities and many of the students in the taxi translated to the driver for me. The rule about “Don’t talk to strangers” is just plain stupid in a foreign country because EVERYONE is a stranger. Even the people who are residents here don’t teach their children that. They go out of their way to speak to you in what little bit of English they know and practically chase you down to shake your hand and make you welcome in their country.
I am finding many things I was taught as a child (and young adult) were for my protection and safety. It may have not been wrong at the time but things have to be re-evaluated as we mature—like the two examples of dealing with strangers. Here’s another one, “Proud to be an American”. How can I take PRIDE in something that I had nothing to do with? Are we PROUD to be a human? I am thankful I have had the privileges of being an American when so many people have so much less, but this has been at God’s hands. I wasn’t the one who decided where I would be born. When we hear ourselves speak through the way other people understand what we say, sometimes it ends up being so arrogant it is shameful.
If I had stayed in America in my own (‘Only WAY to see things’) kind of world, I wouldn’t have even known where Gaza is—much less anything about the people there. If I had come to Israel for a visit and to see the ‘places Jesus walked’ I would have never known the PEOPLE there. If I had never crossed into Jordan and experienced a sense of being able to breathe again, I would have not understood the choking of religiousness in Jerusalem.
It took so much more to get me investigating, thinking, researching and seeking Jesus. I have repented (changed my mind) about so many things on this journey that I can honestly say the woman from America who came to the Middle-East is dead. Forty plus years ago I was baptized (by immersion) “to bury the old man (woman) and rise and walk again in a newness of life”. Funny thing here, when trying to type newness, I typed newmess—it really was a new mess. I wasn’t a new person burying the old one, I was trying to DROWN the old one and I didn’t succeed. You can’t DROWN self-will, self-protection, self. . . . anything. You have to hand it over—one piece at a time—willingly (every time). Only as I let go of what I thought I knew, could I trust enough to hand it over. When a person thinks they know and they think they have found, they quit looking, thinking, researching and investigating.
May we never quit learning to see the world from other’s perspective. We can’t even pray effectively until we can identify with those we pray for and see them through the Love of God—(whose Name is Jesus). Sometimes life has to give us a lot of “fertilizer” before we really begin to grow. I am learning to accept ALL things (sweet and “fertilizer”) as something for my good from a God who loves me.