Sitting here reflecting on my time in Gaza is both challenging and bitter sweet. I met so many amazing people and did so many incredible things, that I know there will always be a special place in my heart for Gaza and its residents. The challenges faced as well, leave me feeling an odd sense of freedom and relaxation now that I’ve left though, and leave me wondering if I would have made it staying there for the long haul like I considered at one point. Perhaps if I’d been more consumed by an actual job it would have been a different feeling, but those moments of idleness and the inability to be fully myself, and fully independent, are what made it difficult.
Despite that, I will forever miss the beauty of the people and the simplicity of life, and don’t honestly think you can experience such warmth and openness elsewhere. My last few weeks in Gaza really stand out when I think about this and I think about the family I had the opportunity to share them with. They were beyond wonderful and welcomed me as soon as I walked in their door. At a point in my time in Gaza where the stress of daily life and some of the dramas that come from living in a place where society is closed off from the world by a siege, this family made me feel safe and secure…loved and cared for. I’m forever, forever, grateful for them, and that is what I will miss about Gaza. The countless cups of tea, the moments of laughter with those I was meeting with and those who welcomed me into their homes to share their stories and their lives.
Nothing about Gaza is easy. The electricity cuts, the airstrikes, the strain of feeling imprisoned by the siege, and at times the conservative society, the salty showers when all you wanted was a fresh cool shower to cleanse yourself of the dirt and stress of the day to day. The security concerns and the knowledge that someone was always watching your every move left me feeling like I had to retreat at times. But when I could let go of that, and do what I was there to do, life in Gaza was beautiful. I will never ever forget what I have seen and heard and am in awe of the strength and resilience of the people I met and those I didn’t even have the opportunity to meet. Their stories and their hopes and dreams are what I will share. I’m inspired by them all.
Gaza is so complex and it is going to take me weeks to truly reflect on all I’ve learned from it and to understand fully how it has impacted my life. Today, for the first time, I woke up from a nap in Cairo, and breathed in fully and relaxed with my independence restored. Now the thoughts are flowing into my mind and I’m trying to make sense of everything and completely see what my full purpose was, as I know my time there was just one step in a journey and one piece of what I now owe to Gaza and to the world. Some of life in Gaza was shared in my blog, and I can only hope it opened people’s minds and hearts to the reality of the situation they face and what we, as Americans, have done to create it. There is so much more, though, and by no means have I done all of what I need to do to repay Gaza, which welcomed me, and allowed me the chance to understand. My life will never be the same.