Journal from Rafah: "Pillar."

Published: Thu 2 Oct 2003 09:08 AM
Journal from Rafah: "Pillar."
Rafah - Gaza 1 Oct 03 Lora
The women were wearing the looks of subtle sarcasm which are their specialty, the cynicism of having seen everything mixed with the facetiousness of having survived intact, nursing babies and half-attempting to settle the children, for whom commands shrug off like cool water.
Voices exchanged in the air, traveling across the circle like a game of catch, pitches rising and falling as they navigated subject to subject like expert seamen midocean pushing through laundry, dirty floors, their husbands’ whims and their children’s demands, heaping hot bowls cooked just right three times a day, endless trips to the kitchen to serve tea, coffee, mango juice.
Summer was turning to winter and the room was almost cold at maghreb time, the imams were chanting the call to prayer in a hundred different melodies as the sun crept beneath the crowded skyline of camp streets. Om Essam rolled out a Feryal swept into the room, belly heavy and enormous at the end of pregnancy. She shed her sandals without slowing her step and arrived in the room, greeting her sisters-in-law as though she hadn’t seen them in years before collapsing in a woven chair by the lamp to deliver her news. \"Another month,\" she announced without introduction, with the authority that comes from knowing people are listening. A brief silence.
"That can’t be right, don’t listen to one word from that doctor, I told you she’s new," Hanan’s voice began a barrage of interrogation and speculation about Feryal’s pregnancy, which had been marked for one more week until this afternoon at the clinic, where Feryal’s favorite doctor, a soft and understanding woman from Canada, had been suddenly and inexplicably been replaced by a brash Ukranian woman with an angular face, bright pink lipstick, and red banks poking out of her mendeel, who for the fourth time this pregnancy changed the delivery date, before unceremoniously guiding Feryal’s pregnant back to the door, indicating by her clipped voice that Feryal was not the only woman demanding her attention in this crowded clinic, whose seats were full of women chatting to pass the hours as they counted down to their appointment like people in a Sunday morning bakery, ticket in hand.
That declaration condemned Feryal to three more weeks of hard, pregnant housework, her unceasing routine of cleaning cooking and schooling rendering her sick at the end of the day, unable to sleep for the gunfire at the border and her aching knees, pushing through the days despite every doctor’s advice because \"Who else is going to do it?\" and besides, she loved the fresh feeling of having shined the metal bowls and cleaned the floors with ammonia and sweet soap until they vibrated, and the security of knowing her family needed her to keep things running, needed her to prepare Mustafa’s nargila with coffee every morning and night, to praise Mohammed’s drawings and to wake Rula up when she fell asleep on the dinner mat, to mop everyday for Abla, whose missing leg prevented her from marrying and from sweeping the floors, like a pillar to which everyone was holding onto in the strugg Om Essam had finished praying and was holding a bullet in her hand for the investigation of the jury. She had found it on the roof that morning, after one of those nights sleepless through thunderstorms of gunfire, upon turning on her TV, which had lost reception, walking upstairs to the roof to see about it, and finding their satellite dish had new holes in it. The women were tss-tss-ing, \"ya’haram,\" how unjust to move from the border’s front line only to find bullets can still reach to your house. A bout of gunfire added an exclamation mark to the conversation, but none of the women looked suprised; only a few eyebrows raised up a little higher than usual, \"badri,\" noting the abnormally early start to the nightly barrage.
It was nighttime then and Feryal walked the long way home past the mosque where men were still congregating after prayer, despite Om Essam’s suggestion to get a taxi for the sake of everybody’s tired legs, following Mustafa’s advice, \"Just work the baby out,\" contrary to the opinions of doctors (\"Doctors! You don’t need Doctors to tell you when you’re ready to squat,\" Mustafa would declare over long intakes of apple tobacco in nighttime hours), who thought she should spend these days in bed. She turned on the fan in the living room, where \"Shob iDinya,\" the heat of the world, was condensing in the small enclosed rooms of their house, nothing like the memory of her old house, whose open rooms would circulate the nighttime air. For two minutes she paused to drink a class of mango juice before returning to the endless tasks of a woman holding an entire house up on the strength

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