Our first meeting with the Abu Sharea-Abu Jasser family in Gaza

This week we have a lovely post from Katy Colley about their first ‘Family Matters’ meeting with our very own Raja’a.

A photo taken during the session by Alex

As I waited nervously with my family, all seated on the couch together, I wondered if this would work. Could we really connect with another family in Gaza – a place which has been under an illegal blockade for 13 years? Rajaa’s family from Al Sabra, East of Gaza City, seemed so warm and friendly in their video message to us but in real life we would never have had an opportunity to come together as they are not allowed to leave Gaza and we would not be able to get a permit to enter. But now, thanks to the Hands Up project and the amazing powers of the internet, we could meet each other, face to face, from the comfort of our own living rooms.

Suddenly the screen flickered to life and here they were! All seven, seated on their sofa in front of us – the three older girls Salma, 10, Alma, 8 and Judy, 6, twin boys Ahmed and Adam, dad Mohammad and mum Raja’a with her warm smile and perfect English, ready to help us all communicate with one another.

It was a fantastic meeting. We were keen to learn more about their lives and they told us they are currently under a partial lockdown because of Covid, with all the schools out, though Mohammed is still able to work part time. Meanwhile, the children keep themselves busy playing outside, riding bikes and drawing – just like ours. In fact, Raja’s eldest daughter Salma and my eldest Erin share a passion for art, exchanging pictures on Zoom.

‘They’re really good,’ Erin whispered to me on the couch, admiring Salma’s figurative drawings. ‘I’d like to draw like that.’

Since Raja’a is the most proficient English speaker she did most of the talking for her family, although Phil exchanged a few words of Arabic with her husband Mohammad and we found out a little bit more about them both. Raja’a is an English language school teacher and Mohammed an architect and accountant, though he has a PhD in Political Science. She too has an impressive educational background in civil engineering. They live in a duplex with Mohammed’s family in the same block and though the children enjoy going to the beach, they are not able to do this as much as they like right now because of the pandemic.

Likewise, we told them something about our lives in Brede, East Sussex, running a campsite and living in the countryside. I showed them one of Phil’s squashes that he grows on his vegetable patch and described some of the dishes we cook. Then, a revelation.

‘You’re vegetarians?’ Raja’a exclaimed. 

‘Yes,’ I laughed.

‘All of you?’

‘Yes. Are there any vegetarians in Gaza?’

‘No, I’ve never met any here.’

That was surprising. I was also stunned to learn that we were talking to the family during an electricity outage.

‘This is normal,’ said Raja’a. ‘It’s off now and we won’t have electricity for another seven hours.’ That was 4pm Gaza time – I tried to imagine living every day and night with no electricity, how difficult that would be. But Raja’a was philosophical: ‘We get used to it.’

Some of Erin’s artwork

Right now, they were running their computer off a battery and they open their curtains as wide as possible to make use of the natural light.

All the while Salma, Alma and Judy sat patiently beside their mother. Not the twins! Bored of sitting still, they had crawled off to other adventures – climbing on the windows, forcing Raja’a and Mohammad to jump up and retrieve them every now and then. Forty minutes flew by and before we knew it it was time to say goodbye.

‘We’ll film some more of our village and send it to you,’ I promised before we signed off.

‘Yes, us too,’ said Raja’a.  

I was elated and slightly sad after we switched off the computer. Did that just happen? I’ve spent many years learning about Gaza and about what is going on there. It felt amazing but also slightly surreal to form a connection with a family living in this besieged strip of land. And yet here we were, talking about swimming in the sea, drawing, vegetarians, cooking – ordinary stuff. I would love to meet Raja’a and her family in person one day but until then I know we will become firm friends from afar. And nothing can stand in our way.

Alex’s sand art
After the meeting Raja’a’s family wrote the names of Katy’s family in the sand on the beach in Gaza.

One thought on “Our first meeting with the Abu Sharea-Abu Jasser family in Gaza

  1. This was supposed to be a joint post by me and Katy. However, I am not really sure what to add up there, for Katy has written a unique heartfelt description of ourmeeting, in addition to that, we didn’t want it to be a very long article for you to read, so here’s my reflection of this wonderful experience as a comment here. I first knew about Katy’s family from Nick as he mentioned he had received an email from a lovely family living is Sussex in the UK wishing to connect with a family in Gaza. And this whole email was based on a talk Adrian Underhill had given about the Hands Up Project in an online event in the UK a few weeks earlier where he suggested ‘Families Link up’ as a way of families in the UK getting involved in the project.

    Katy also sent a very nice introductory video of her family showing Alex, her youngest 8, Erin, her eldest 10, and husband Phil. A family of four lovely people living in the countryside raising some animals and running a campsite in their place. I immediately felt connected already! I fell in love with those little girls, and the whole family seemed very friendly.

    Soon enough I created my own introductory video as well and sent it to Katy at once! A few hours later, I received a reply from her expressing how delighted she is to hear from us. We continued exchanging emails and agreed on having our first meeting on Saturday, 4:00 pm Palestine time, 2:00 pm UK time.

    We, finally, met ‘virtually’ for the first time. Katy, Phil, Erin, and Alex were there sitting on their couch and so were we. The meeting lasted for about 40 minutes which felt like 5 minutes to me! I am not going to go through what happened in the meeting because dear Katy said it all in a very captivating way in her blog post.

    In short, we knew a little more about each other, and although I did most of the talking, my family have enjoyed meeting a family outside of Gaza. Since then, we have been exchanging emails and sharing photos too.

    I still can’t believe that could actually happen! Neither can my daughters. In the very next day, they kept asking if they are meeting Katy’s family again. I have never seen them so excited about something as they are about this meeting.

    This intercultural exchange is all about sharing different ideas, traditions, and knowledge with people coming from a completely different background than your own. In this sense, I am very eager to continue these meetings as a way of exposing my family to the outer world, or at least a part of it!

    I want to seize this opportunity to thank The Hands Up Project for this unique and lovely opportunity and for connecting us together to establish a very strong bond which I hope will last forever.

    In conclusion, I really would like to encourage other families around the world to take our leads and connect their families together. It is a life changing experience! No doubt about it.

    Best, Raja’a

    Liked by 1 person

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