31 October 2005

Ramadan in Gaza

Celebrating the month of Ramadan is of course in some ways similiar to how we celbrate it in Sweden, but also in some ways very different. My experience of Ramadan in Gaza is of course depending on the traditions of my (husband's) family, but over all it seemes there are some general traditions.

In Sweden we invite or are invited for almost every iftar (the meal that breaks the fast), we eat dates and drink, then pray and eat soup and a simple meal. Here the tables are overwelmed by dish after dish. Each person actually get two plates to put food on beside from the soup-plate. At every iftar I'm under severe critic from my relatives beacuse I eat so "little", according to them. I guess swedish stumachs simply are smaller. It also seemes that it is not custom to invite other families for iftar.

In my opinion preparing so much food makes Ramadan all about eating, when it should be all about not eating. Ramadan is the month when you should try to evaluate your life and see what parts you perhaps need to improve, but I found that in general people here are satisfied with the level they're at. Which from one perspective is good - it's not healthy to never feel satisfaction I think, but on the other hand it leeds to stagnation - a stagnation that was one of the first things I noticed and disliked after arriving here. Not to say that I am better - I surely have my fair share of "things to deal with" but at least I'm holding on to the fact that I want to improve.

I join my family before iftar and help them with the preparations. At our table we are eight persons plus my three children. A few minutes before sunset we gather around the table, one of us stands by the window to hear the adhan (call for prayer) that signifies that the sun has set and we can all eat. After the iftar we (read the women) wash the dishes and then we drink arabic coffea and watch a syrian soapopera together.

30 October 2005

Let's be Frank...

After some emotionally exhausting months in Gaza I developped a new filosophy;

"Smile though your heart is aching,
smile even though it's breaking,
when there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrows,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you'll see the sun come shining through for you...

Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just smile..."

Starting kindergarten

My two dauhgter's are two and a half and three and a half years old, almost like twins. They are both very active little girls.

As I mentioned kindergartens here are more like schools. We went to see many different alternatives but none of them satisfied me, until we found a completely different one. Instead of chairs in the rooms they had colourful cushions and the owner said that they prefered to teach the children through playing. Rare. Very rare. Very rare here, that is. They had a big garden with hens in it (!) and a little pool. They also served lunch, which no one of the other kindergartens did. Of course it also was twice as expensive as the others...

The bus comes every morning to pick them up. They always leave being very happy and come back being very happy. One of few things that worked out very easily for us here.

Starting school

In Palestine the children start school at the age of six. Before that it is very common to go to pre-school, better know to the West as kindergarten, but here it is really PRE-SCHOOL. Therefore most children are already used and familiar with the letters and the numbers when they start school.

My son's arabic was not that strong when we first arrived. He could understand some and speak very little. Starting an arabic school would of course not be easy. After looking at different alternatives we choosed a private school close to our house.

The first week was difficult. Really difficult. We were new in this country, and not familiar with their ways everything seemd strange and different. Most of all I missed "the fun" of starting school. The first weeks were just chaotic. The first grader's were scared and many of them cried and cried.

I remember clearly how I felt when I started school. I too was scared. My father would come with me and sit beside me in the classroom until I felt comfortable, so that's what I did for my son. I stayed beside him. After some days he was ok. He was really so very brave and I admire any six year old who can manage a new enviorment, new language, new people and classmates in the way that he did. Of course we would meet many difficulties by time but at this point I at least got him to go to school.

29 October 2005

Garden of Gaza

A wonderful garden in the middle of Gaza City that belongs to a dear friend of mine.

Building our home

Our apartment in the area of Tal al Hawwa. We live on the fourth floor.

28 October 2005


After arriving to Gaza city we could finally start to enjoy our summerholliday. We would spend fridays on the beach together with our family. The children would play in the sand and swim in the sea. We would bring our own food and eat and drink tea together.

Sometimes we would take walks through the city, sit in a park or in a cafeteria. On occasion we would go to a nice restaurant. There's really not much else to do.

As for me the summertimes were difficult. Just some weeks after we arrived a car was hit by Israeli rockets not so far from our home and the noice of the blast scared us. The electricity was cut off. Some days after that the Swedish Foreign Department urged Swedish Citizen's to leave Gaza Strip a.s.a.p. After speaking to my Embassy, who explained that the warning concerned those visiting Gaza temporarily due to the fact that the border would be kept close for a long period of time, we decided to stay.

However I was going through some serious emotional difficulties, should we stay or should we not? Me and my husband discussed this subject everyday, but the only thing that could make our choice easier was time. And the summertime passed.

25 October 2005

First impressions

After three horrible days in Rafah any place seemes great, so even Gaza. In retrospect, I really don't remember how long it took before I realized where I was, but we are talking about days - not more than that. And by "where I was" I don't mean geographically. I mean into which kind of society I had come.

Coming to Gaza has turned my life upside down. Some might wonder if I am naive and simply stupid for even thinking of Gaza as The place to raise a family, and until now I'm not sure if I have any satisfying answer to that. Perhaps I was naive and stupid. By saying that the initiative was my husband's it really sounds as if I'm trying to blame him, and it wouldn't be the whole truth. Our family had reached a point where we needed a change. You know, some people move out from the city to the countryside, some climb mountains, some take a year off, some re-educate themselves. We moved to Gaza.

Being sensitive is a character of mine that I've always considered a blessing. The society and the people of Gaza are however anything else but sensitive. Some of the first impressions I had was how children are being mistreated here, and how children mistreat eachother. How donkeys are being beaten. How easily muslims throw trash on our precious Ard ur-Ribaat. How easily people lie and cheat. And how little they think to improve themselves.

I have given it a lot of thought on wether or not I should publish the above. I've come to the conclusion that I wouldn't do my ummah (community) any favour by being silent. Palestinians face many severe issues that need immediate attention and it is my opinion that you cannot solve a problem you don't recognize. This is of course a topic I'm sure I'll have many reasons to discuss further on this blog.

A palestinian friend of mine said the following;

"While it s true the occupation has played a large, if not exclusive, role in ripping apart our society and its family support network through imprisonments injuries humiliation etc., wich can have dire consquences for many years to come, but we still carry much of the burden - we should be better than this.

Of course poverty plays a big role too. There is an interesting article by the Gaza community mental health programme that I read that addresses this issue - that talks about how poverty (80%) confounded with stress and post traumatic disorders due to witnessing violent incidents (of which 95% of palestinans in Gaza experience) makes most people in Gaza very edgy, stressed out, and oftentimes violent towards their families, and animals, and schoolchildren.

We have to ask, as members of that society, and as muslims, where do we go from here? I feel we are facing a moral degredation in our society more dangerous than any political problem we will ever face, because it unravels the very underpinning of societal structure."

By now I've already spent close to four months in Gaza. There has been many struggles and I will share them with you here. However I have come to realize that the Gazans do love their Gaza. They even sometimes refer to it as "sweet Gaza". Many people live satisfying lives here. Even our lives has over the months developped a certain "sweetness" to it. One of the things that really has surprised me is that Gazans try to live normal lives inspite of the difficulties, they focus on the positive things rather than the negative. We've had sleepless nights beacuse of bombs being dropped at Gaza, but they still go to work in the morning.

For me and my children our stay in Gaza will of course be an incredible experience however difficult it may be at times. Learning their father's language and culture will be a great benefit for them in their lives God willing. What will happen to us after this "trial period" is yet to see.

24 October 2005


Living in Gaza is difficult, but coming to Gaza is even more difficult. Al Maabar, the Border, is an Arabic word that makes Gazans shiver. Me and my husband visited Gaza in 1999, so I already had a bad experience in the back of my mind when we arrived to Rafah. However, that experience would prove to be pleasant comparing to what was expecting us. This time we arrived with three small children and 8 bags in a politically very unstable time, the end of June 2005. It was already afternoon when we entered the border. We were met by a hall full of people and was told that the border had not yet opened that day. The first thing you have to do is get a visa from the Egyptian check point. In the middle of the hall is a little room in which the Egyptians sit and write on papers and applications, the tables are full with files and folders and there is not a single computer as far as your eyes reach. There is a long queue in front of the little window to the little room and once you’ve managed to leave your passport in their hands you have to wait… and wait and wait until your patience is all gone. Then you will confront them and ask what’s taking so long with your passport. That procedure is repeated about five till six times until you finally have your passport again with their stamp in it. Then you have to wait for the bus that is going to take you to the Israeli check point. Having European passports we were escorted trough the crowd that since the morning was waiting for the bus. A woman started shouting on us and my husband answered her that this is how the Arabs treat the Arabs. Our bags were stuffed into the bus. Then we sat outside under a tree and waited. It was hot and my children were tired and hungry. When the evening came they finally said that the Israeli check point wont open today, so we had to wait until tomorrow. The young woman sitting beside with a baby and a young son said “I will die if it’s like that!”. For the carriers of Palestinian passports (which was about 99% of the people) it meant spending the night at the check point. Due to our Swedish passports we managed to have our names written in a little notebook kept at the gate after canceling our visa, a process that took us many hours. At night we were finally able to come out and took a taxi back to the nearby city of Al Arish.

The next morning we woke up early and arrived at the Border at 07.00. This time the hall was more full than the day before. People sleeping on the stone floor, old people sitting on their bags, children crying. Now we had to renew our visa, a process of a few hours. Again we had to be escorted trough the crowd which was almost impossible due to all the people and their bags in front of the exit (to the buses). Again we sat under the tree. That day we had been able to bring some food with us. We had bought a bag of dates that we passed around to the people sitting beside us. We made friends with a Palestinian couple from Canada. My children slept in the grass. Sometimes they told us that the Israeli check point had opened and we better sit in the bus, but after sitting there a while we returned to sitting under the tree again. When evening arrived we realized that we wouldn’t cross the border even that day. Again we canceled our visa. Again we returned to Al Arish, this time in the company of our Canadian friends. That evening my children actually swam in the hotel pool (a great contrast to the chaos of Rafah) and my husband went out to buy them some new clothes (all our belongings were still inside the bus in Rafah) and we ate watermelon watching the sunset by the beach.

The next morning, after a hotel breakfast, we headed for the place of chaos again. This time we were met by a queue outside the border hall. Outside the gates was a large group of people, men, woman and children and their bags. They were all angry and frustrated. We managed to reach an Egyptian guard and explained to him that our names was in the little notebook, that our bags was already inside the bus and that we should be let in before these people because of that. The entrance was of course covered by the crowd so after some begging I was allowed by an Egyptian officer to let my oldest son and my youngest daughter and myself crawl under the fence. My husband however wasn’t allowed any shortcuts (however red his Swedish passport is, he is after all still an Arab) and our Canadian friend said to me “Leave one child in the hands of your husband otherwise they will never care to let him pass”. So my husband began to “climb” over the people who pushed him back. My daughter (who is only three) got scared and started to cry. I cried from the other side of the fence, tried to call out to her that everything would be ok. I begged the officer to try to help my husband but he pretended he didn’t hear me even though I pulled his clothes. When he finally arrived at the entrance the other Egyptian officers pushed him back and I started screaming that he was with me. At that point my husband also lost his temper and said a few well chosen words, something he could get away with due to our red coloured passports. Our Canadian friends also climbed trough the crowd following my husband. Somewhat chocked we could now continue to the hall, and of course it was more full than yesterday. Another visa process. By then the officers knew me by name, although that unfortunately didn’t speed up the process very much. Being escorted trough the crowd that day was horrible. The crowd started moving, some people fell and children and women were crying. Men were shouting. The pressure eventually became so heavy that the guards had to let them out. I shouted on the guards “How can you treat them this way? Are they animals?”. But they didn’t even look at me. Again we sat under the tree. Waited and waited.

Then the rumour spread. The Israeli check point was open! We took place in the bus. First I sat in a seat with another woman and my children, but as the bus filled up we were eventually five grown up women and my three children in one seat (which holds two sit places). After we had squeezed in ourselves far past our limit the somewhat sadistic buss driver said with a little smile on his face “And now the men will come on as well!”. Jippididoda. I cannot really estimate how many we actually were on that bus, but I can tell you that there was no air condition or even fan, my children almost fainted, my youngest 2-year old had a panic attack and screamed and screamed, my leg was pressed against the back of the chair in front of me (the pain lasted for almost a week) and soon even I started to feel faint. My stomach turned inside out, my whole body became cold, tears started to fall down my face. As a miracle my husband ended up just in front of my chair so he could lift up our daughter and put her on the top of the chair. Some other woman tried to hold her to calm her down, but she kept on screaming.

The passage that this bus is supposed to take us trough is approximately 200 m, between the Egyptian check point and the Israeli check point. After having clearance to pass, the bus started out but was stopped in the middle. Our bus stood still for close to an hour. I really don’t know how we survived that. But what choice did we have? And I really cannot find any other explanation for us being stopped than that the Israeli side prefers to make the Palestinian life really difficult. In that situation a man standing beside me actually made a clever joke, saying; “Ey balad hadhi?” Which country are we in?

Finally we arrived, shaking and crying. On the Israeli side we with non-Palestinian passports were the last ones to leave. One woman traveling alone was sent back, because of id-reasons, but in the end they let her pass. We reached Gaza Strip and our family that we hadn’t seen for six years was waiting for us.

There's no place like home...

A question that has followed me through out my whole life, and perhaps now more than ever, is where is ‘home’? Is ‘home’ simply where you were born, or is ‘home’ where your father or mother were born, or is it perhaps where your social life is, where your work is? Is it just a feeling so you can ‘feel at home’ anywhere so far you are happy and satisfied?

As I mentioned I already moved a lot within my own country, so I can feel a little bit at home all over… or is it that I don’t feel at home anywhere? Hmmm. My husband also moved a lot, but he moved all over the world and when he finally reached Sweden he have since then also lived in many different cities. It seems that once you leave your place of birth you are forever doomed to a rootless existence.

Most immigrants dream of returning to their country of origin. It’s a very strong feeling that perhaps cannot quite be understood until you lived it yourself. Even though I refused the idea of leaving my own country (I had just to look at my husband to see what that does to you) I realized that my husband wasn’t able to let go of his dream. Better let him live it. I also knew, by the stories of others, that the odds were against him. Very few people can actually manage to return. It’s not easy to start a “new” life once you’ve reached a certain age. For most people the hardest part is that once you’ve returned you cannot dream anymore. You suddenly wake up and often realize that the country you’ve dreamed of is not covered with a pink shimmer. As UmmYousef with a sense of humour put it; “after all, Gaza is not all what it’s cracked up to be…”

As we are both devoted muslims there was of course a religious reason behind our choice. At first we struggled with choosing another country than Palestine (it was after all an occupied area although it shimmers in pink). First Syria (but we were advised not to by too many people due to the treatment of Palestinian nationals), then Jordan (but my husband’s sister who lives there advised us not to because she said the people there cannot be trusted), then Emirates (my husband traveled there but in the end we felt that living there was too expensive for us), then Morocco (since my husband have a brother there he traveled but came home sure that it was not the country for us) then we started thinking of Malaysia (but although it is a well run Islamic country it is too far away and too different, aren’t the children already dealing with two cultures?), perhaps England (but even though the muslims there reached much further than in Sweden, did we really want to leave a non-islamic country for another non-islamic country?) or Lebanon (too expensive). Finally we came to the conclusion that Egypt would be best. After all it’s the neighbor of Gaza and similar in culture and dialect. We made all the arrangements, sold our house, sold the car, told family and friends which was not at all easy. The closer we got to traveling, the closer the disengagement of the settlements in Gaza came, until finally we started thinking why should we live anywhere else than there? So after only a short time in Egypt we traveled for Gaza.

22 October 2005

Can a blog be dedicated?

Can a blog be dedicated? If it can, this blog is dedicated to Judy. I was praying for God to bless me with anything to make my heart happy again after having spent a rough couple of months in Gaza. Then a mail came to me. From Judy. It encouraged me in a way I cannot describe and it convinced me that I have to continue to believe in myself and that my stay here in Gaza can have a meaning.

I already have a blog in swedish on the same topic, but that one is a polite version for family and friends. Judy is the reason why I started this English blog (and also UmmYousef who started using a online translator trying to understand my posts!). The attention my swedish blog got was mostly due to the photos (and any photographic skills of mine is due to my father, who is a proffesional photographer I'm very proud to say) and be shure that they will also appear here. It seemed that they showed 'another view on the palestinians'.


Welcome to my blog. It is meant to be the story of my stay in Gaza, and of course inevitably my thoughts and feelings about my life and life in general. First, let me introduce myself. My name means ‘Faith’ and I choosed that name for myself ten years ago, when I embraced Islam. Many people have over the years asked my ‘why’ I became a muslim, and there is of course a long and detailed story, which I’m gonna spare you all from, but in short it is because my parents raised me to be kind, honest and generous and when I came to a point in my life that I realized that there was “something out there” Islam seemed the most logical choice for me. The way Islam described God was really the way I already felt.

I am a Swedish woman, who was born and raised in Gothenburg, then at age thirteen moved to a smaller city called Trollhättan and after my graduation I flew out the nest and moved to my favorite city in the whole world; Stockholm. My whole family still live on the west coast, which is well know for it’s beautiful nature. I’ve just turned thirty and I love it. Can I finally be considered an adult now? Me and my husband just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary this summer and together we share three lovely and stubborn children.

Why are we now in Gaza? Well, this is of course my husband’s home country. Even though he left it by his own choice after his graduation, he have ever since then, more or less, been dreaming of returning one day. As you all know ‘dreaming’ is never done in a realistic manner. Returning to Gaza is the hardest thing we’ve ever done, as you will find out through this blog. The other reason is that we both wanted to raise our children in an Islamic environment, but that environment, in my opinion, does to my disappointment not exist here. At least not in the way that I was looking for.

As I’ve been “blogging around” I realize already at this point that this blog could be heavily commented upon and therefore I would like to make a few things clear from the beginning. Even though I consider this land to be ‘Palestine’ I do realize the complexity of the situation between Israel and Palestine. I don’t believe in black or white solutions. I don’t support Hamas or any one of the extremist groups. I also don’t support the way the State of Israel occupy and oppress the Palestinian people. I have come to learn first hand why Gaza is called the world’s largest prison. However, this blog is not meant to be political. I just want to share what it's like to live in Gaza City, from my point of view.