Untitled (Gaza, 1999-2006)/The sea

The sea

When I was a child, family outings to the sea were exceptional. My parents only took us there once or twice during the summer. I would have loved so much to go more often ! Once I was told : "you'd better sleep, sea is closed now". Then I started imagining an old man who "closed" the sea by putting a huge zinc surface on the horizon, up to the beach, and locked it with a big padlock before going home. For my brothers, my cousins and myself, these days along the sea were very festive. We were so excited that we couldn't sleep the night before. We spent the night preparing our belongings (swim suits, tyres). In the morning, we climbed into a bus that passed in our neighbourhood, in the west part of the city, and then we drove for about ten minutes up to the beach. On the way, I looked at people in the street and felt a certain pity for them as I thought : "poor people, they don't have the opportunity to go to the sea!". As soon as we caught sight of the blue line far away, at the end of the travel, we started shouting... What a moment of joy!

Between 12 and 15, we walked there with my cousins or the neighbour's children. We walked for an hour on our own. But we had to be very discreet because we were not allowed to go to the beach. We spent the morning swimming, playing and returned home before lunch time. On the way back, to avoid being punished, we had to be careful not to pass along my father's shop, then kept by one of my brothers on the main street that crosses the city from east to west up to the sea.

Part of the beach belonged to the Beach Club, reserved to Westerners who worked for the UN and other international organizations. We sometimes bathed just next to it or we went to stroll near the club to eye up the women who bathed in swimsuits...

Later, I often went alone to see the sea, not to bathe but just to be on my own. I even went there at night from time to time. Then, I would talk to the waves and tell the sea my secrets, my joys and anguishes. I would look at the horizon and try to imagine what the world might be like on the other side... This was the "perfect elsewhere" !

Between 1988 and 1994, I couldn't see the sea at night because of the curfew from sunrise to sunset except once, when Laura invited me at the Beach Club to celebrate her departure. On that night, a UN car came to pick me up at home and before the inquisitive and puzzled look of the neighbours, I got into the car that took me through empty and sad streets to the beach... During the celebration, I remained almost alone during the whole party, watching the sea!

After the Oslo agreements and the arrival of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the curfew was cancelled and almost all the people of Gaza used to meet on the beach at night. Some of them even brought their TVs not to miss the Egyptian serial they probably watched during the curfew years... We often met at night (and sometimes until early morning) with friends around a bottle or to drink coffee and smoke the nargileh, our feet in the water on the terraces, like mushrooms along the coast. The price of drinks was very low in those days... But unfortunately this impression of casualness didn't last long. This craze was only a misplaced joy, a lull between two storms.

Taysir Batniji, 2008