I have left all my books behind


pile of books.
Books left behind. Photo supplied by the author.

I am in my twentieth year, studying law, doing volunteer work. I dream about studying at Oxford University and becoming a professor. I’m obsessed with booksI was planning to create my own library.  Now I have left all my books behind.

Oct 9. On the second day of the Israeli aggression, specifically at 4:33 p.m., my family and I are chatting about the daily life of my twin brothers in high school while playing cards to forget the misery outside.  My dad’s phone rings to inform us that the next building will be bombed at any moment. I want to call one of my friends (Ameer) who was living there to check up on him, so I go back to my room to pick up my phone.  While standing in the middle of the room, the sky becomes the color of blood. I feel the shaking of our flat and then I find myself jumping out of the room trying to survive.

Even though I have lived all my life in Gaza, this is the first time I have experienced the feeling of being afraid to die or living alone without my beloved family and friends. I am overcome by the smell of all the dust and baroud (gunpowder) in my chest that passed through my open window (open as a way to prevent the windows from shattering). I wait for the civil defense car, but no one comes to put out the fire.

Oct. 11. This marks four days into the aggression.  The building next door has turned into a gray rubble. The fire is burning out with enormous amounts of toxic smoke that increase my allergies. My heart rate goes crazy and I feel like I’m suffocating. I’m trying to survive by moving from one room to another depending on the direction of the wind.

Oct. 13. Today is the sixth day of the aggression.

We and the rest of our neighbors receive Israeli reports, in the shape of messages or phone calls, to evacuate our houses in 24 hours, otherwise we could be attacked without any further alert.

“I will stay home and figure out my own affairs if any danger comes,” my dad says. “Go with your siblings to the south of Gaza where you can have a safer place to stay.”

Water distribution. Photo supplied by the author.

My sister starts weeping and refuses to go alone without him; at first I agree with her. The night comes with fitful sleep: I stare at nothing for hours.  I sense that we can’t bear all of the stress here; I begin searching for a place to stay in the south.  The decision to leave the house crushes me into pieces: being separated from members of my family, leaving my books and clothes.

After preparing our suitcases that included our formal identity papers, we call many taxis to take us out of Gaza to the south. But our attempts fail, as many families are similarly terrorized about staying home. Finally, my uncle reaches a friend with a car to drive us.

I get a slap on my face when I see so many people on the road carrying bags full of luggage, holding their pets, their eyes tearing up at the memories they are leaving behind and at the destruction of all of their efforts to build something over so many years. I see children with injured, muddy feet. Mothers running barefoot in the streets with their babies. An animal cart between a couple of cars.

Moving to the south of Gaza is a challenge for our immune systems. We struggle in queues to get bags of bread or we bake bread in firewood ovens because of the scarcity of gas. Having vegetables or eggs in the house is a luxury. We rely on canned or preserved food to stay alive. Possessing drinkable water now is like a dream; we hunt for unclean sources of water just to be hydrated. I found a small insect inside a bottle of water – I drank from it anyway; we don’t have any other options.

Oct. 19. Today is the twelfth day of this oppressive aggression. I’m still displaced in the south and forced to be away from my house and members of my family (my dad, stepmom, and little sisters) who stayed to guarantee that we could return home when the aggression is over. I can’t check up on them to know if they are still alive or not. I feel helpless when I hear any child screaming because I know that it might be my sister’s turn; she’s only two years old.

Two young girls.
Tala’s siblings. Photo supplied by the author.

Now, I wake up and go back to sleep with just one idea in my head, which is to pray that I can go back home, even if that means being killed. I want to read a story for my little sisters before they fall asleep. I want to see them growing up, going to school.

Nov. 3. I want all of this waiting to end. My uncle stands in queue from dawn to noon to get a bag of bread or just nothing. We wait for 10 days to get resupplied with water; it has been days since I’ve had a shower. I’m occupying another girl’s bedroom.

We find hardly any vegetables to cook. We only have bread and some leftovers from canned or preserved food. The electricity has been cut off since Oct. 9. I can’t reach out to my family who are still in Gaza City. I can’t check up on them, so I wait for a long time to catch any news.

I call my sister Taleen on the phone, and she tells me, “You know, I’m listening to the news on the radio with Dad all the time, and I know that the solar cells on our roof will be bombed at any moment.”

So many daily crises. I can hardly find the proper pads during my period. I’m obliged to buy myself the available, low-quality ones which cause blood leaks on my underwear, then I am stuck with a mountain of dirty clothes to be washed off manually. I think about pregnant women who need appropriate health care; there have been a huge number of miscarriages during this horrific aggression.

My battery is running out and I don’t know when I can recharge it.

I’ve been living in the south of Gaza after evacuating, but I’ve decided to go back to Gaza City, because I am helpless here. I can’t even be myself. I know it’s not the time to be myself while others are being killed each moment.  But at least I need to write for these people and for myself.

I’m on a roof under a navy blue sky, where the stars are bright enough to light any darkness. I enjoy noticing them until I realize that there is something abnormal about them: normal stars don’t move around or turn off. I’m puzzled, until I realize that my sky is full of unmanned warplanes and drones. They notice me continually looking at them, and I think they do not like that. I wish that one day I would be able to stare at real stars in the sky without being afraid of being bombed any second.

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