A Palestinian friend was sitting next to me and said: “Did you hear the news about the explosion at the Beirut port? It was colossal.” I was not interested in the word ‘explosion’ or the adjective describing it, but the word ‘Beirut’ felt closer to me. I logged onto the internet to search for news about Beirut and Lebanon. There were a number of news items with “Beirut” and “enormous explosion” in the title. Something stirred inside me, maybe an old explosion in the Gaza Strip caused resounding sympathy for Beirut; I felt that there was something fishy about this disaster. It was not the time for any more tragic events as we are facing a cunning virus that is colourless and faceless and has placed all our lives in doubt. “Will we still be here tomorrow?” “Am I alright?” The questions increase day after day and the worry grows like germs. It is not safe outside and it’s like a ticking time bomb inside. The world is waiting for the moment when all this will crumble around us, but we know that our future will be worse. However, even ‘the worse’ doesn’t want all this to happen. I left Gaza—or more appropriately I should use ‘survived leaving’, because it was not at all easy. We had to pay a sum higher than $1,000 to pass through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Then we had to think about what we would do afterwards. I don’t know who gets all this money. I paid the sum to the owner of the travel agency so that my name would be placed on the travellers’ list without too much effort or suffering, and despite that, I was stranded for over 30 hours in the Egyptian hall to have my passport stamped so that I could to enter Egypt. This is life’s comedy! I escaped annual wars because I am ill equipped and cannot fight planes, tanks and loud sounds—my body cannot bear it. This body sleeps sweaty because electricity has abandoned our city and it wakes up thirsty. There is no work or any desire to continue, no life. Our bodies sleep and wake up as if that is their only function. Then came the idea of escape to survive in a better place—a place that respects the human body and its needs, such as electricity, water, work and dignity.
It is not easy for a person who has left Gaza after those long and tedious battles, so that their body can rest, to ignore words like ‘explosion, victims, wounded, injuries, the dead, martyrs, a massacre, an aggression, shooting, fire, horror, missile, illness, war, darkness, displacement, dead bodies, hunger, poverty, rubble or the dead’ or hear them with unstirred emotion! They are still not used to forgetting such words as they are immersed in meaning in their daily lives. Movement to them seems horrifying; so do loud sounds or enclosed spaces, as they remind them of the past. The world in itself seems horrific and all we can do is to get used to the fear.
Fear of what? Fear of the repetition of an experience even when not part of the cause. For example, the terrible scenes from Beirut revived within me the war scenes, sounds and rapid movements that I experienced in my life and especially during the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip. I still suffer from these experiences to date. I call this a repetition of bitter moments. My sadness and fear was not connected to Lebanon: the fear was of the things that awakened within us. Fear controls the world—it is the solution and the problem, like wood and fire.
Today, after almost two-and-a-half years of trying to survive outside Gaza, I was stranded in Cairo. By coincidence or through necessity, I became another stranger in a city full of strangers. I was searching there for the usefulness of my life, which was resembling that of a lazy rabbit. I presented my papers several times for permission to leave, but there is an incomprehensible bureaucracy and any small mistake in the papers can keep you stuck in the same place forever. After a third attempt in which I was successful in obtaining a tourist visa, just before reaching the ‘gate of salvation’, the Coronavirus appeared and my plane ticket was transformed into a thing without value. In reality, we all lost our value and became like rusty wheels; we have nothing to offer and nothing to receive. Only harmful insects are running wild everywhere and now power was transferred to the dust. Even one touch has become lethal, even a wrong breath has become lethal—a kiss, a cigarette, matchsticks, air particles, strangers, the surfaces of desks, everything around you has been transformed and inanimate objects are ready to steal the minutes of your life.
After deciding to remain in Cairo until luck came once more to knock at my temporary door, I started to leave the house only once or twice a week. I wore a medical mask and went out to buy bread, water and some other food items to survive during this quarantine far away from the clamour of viruses and diseases lurking in the stones on the streets. After I bought everything, I would hurry back home and wash my hands according to the international ministry of health’s instructions, but I was not used to doing this before the Corona pandemic; then I would fall back into a state of boredom once more. Actually, I am one of those people who prefers to stay in my room for as long as possible. I do not like to go out unless I am obliged to or need to, so I was used to the idea of quarantine. I called it “running away from miserable faces.” However, people don’t like to follow orders imposed on them, so I started looking for any excuse to go out. This is human nature, we like to do things of our own accord, otherwise there is no real purpose for our existence and individuality. Therefore, we start wanting to compete with the virus imposing an unwanted boredom and the duties we don’t want to perform.
What can we do? Adaptation, here, could be desirable, but adaptation to what? Wearing a medical mask and spraying alcohol every few seconds while praying that your cough is not due to the virus playing cards inside your lungs?
The idea became undesirable after a time; all thoughts change in a single moment or they disappear.
Everyone now has something to be envied for, such as owning the sensitivity to absorb all that is happening, as not everyone can take the amount of bad news that we hear about on TV or through the internet. To own a piece of bread, a glass of water and have a ray of light is a great mercy, since many do not have them during this pandemic. Just consider the situation in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and other places, especially those categorised as being below the poverty line. What can we expect from them while they are facing a virus that does away with everything? One can expect nothing! I think of Gaza, which has felt the brunt of the virus. Gaza has suffered from diseases, wars, poverty, hunger, lack of electricity and water, unemployment and unfair treatment by the Arab and international communities: I think the virus will obliterate it without doubt.
What I want to say is that I am used to suffering and complications: as far as I am concerned, they have become laughable. I laugh because I don’t know what else to do, everything has become comedic. To become free from a prison to enter a wider prison—that does not mean Cairo is a prison—but places you enter and then can’t leave become a prison in the philosophical and scientific sense.
What are our houses, then? I think our houses mean that you can be clear-minded while living your last moments in a world that seems bored of its duty in the universe, and to find one address where you can register an appropriate residence. We who have no real or clear addresses, we are the children of erroneous times and spaces.