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