New Internationalist

Live to Eat…

It’s 8.30pm, and I have just returned from lunch. I was at Hannah’s house; she is a friend and colleague, and she invited eight of us over for lunch after work today. Gazans love their food, and so they should; it’s a wonderfully succulent and sensual diet of vegetables, meat, fragrant rice, salads and fruit, laced with garlic, lemon and olive oil, and served on enormous, tempting platters. Hannah cooked enough to feed about 30 of us.

Her table was laden with warah  ainab, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, then steamed, and khudra, rice and lamb baked in large clay vessels; it’s a traditional Gazan dish, and the meat is so soft after being slowly baked for hours that it falls apart as you spoon it onto your plate. We had spare ribs, meat and rice fritters (kbah) and fresh salad. It was all home-made and divine. Afterwards, dozy and sated as big cats, we collapsed on the couches for coffee. Arabic coffee is sharp and strong and in Gaza is served without sugar. It works. Afterwards Hannah suggested we went down to her courtyard for dessert. ‘Dessert!’ We groaned collectively. ‘Please Hannah – we don’t need dessert!’

But she was having none of it; so we trooped downstairs to the courtyard, and sat amidst her roses, the rosemary, sage, and mint bushes, and the zaatar flowers so beloved of Palestinians. Gazans dry the zaatar flower seeds, then crumble them into olive oil to serve with bread. A while later dessert arrived: it was a huge tray of knaffah, a rich sweet cake made with white cheese, pastry, and a mass of sugar. ‘We don’t have much to enjoy in Gaza,’ said Hannah’s sister, Azrah. ‘But we have our hospitality.’  

Hospitality is a massive part of Gazan culture. People will invite you for lunch after knowing you for less than five minutes, and they want you to come. Gazans love their family and friends fiercely. But families are struggling amidst chronic poverty, depression, violence, and Hamas/Fatah political sectarianism that sometimes has fathers and brothers who live in the same street refusing to speak to each other. The divorce rate is increasing as more women find their home lives unbearable, and the majority of Gazans cannot afford to eat the kind of feast we were still enjoying. We slowly ate our knaffah, then a while later we shared fresh fruit, and afterwards we drank tea with mint leaves. We gossiped and laughed, and lingered as the sunset slowly blushed across the sky.

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  1. #1 beatriz 17 Jul 08

    total solar eklipse in tsengel

    hello louisa, we are from spain and we were planning to go to mongolia to see a total solar eklipse for 1st of agoust... We saw your book and bougth it, and how big coincidence the eklipse goes also in tsengel!! so we want to go there for sure...
    now in ulan bator, tomorrow local bus to hovd and then olgi and imshala tsengel. Maybe many people already with your book there, but we wanted to look for your friends and show it... maybe you go also...
    i hope you enjoy now i think in palestina, we where in 2006 (also eklipse in egypt)... hard the israeli, lovely palestinians!
    with love
    kike & beatriz

  2. #2 Helen 06 Mar 09

    Hello Louisa,

    Hope you receive this, I have been trying to contact you. Moved to Wales, have been reading with great interest your blogs, and wonder where you are now. Ordered your book and eagerly awaiting delivery.

    Miss you my friend.


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The Gaza Blog

The Gaza blog is a weekly dispatch from the Gaza Strip. Louisa Waugh lives and works in Gaza, and her blogs capture the complexities and challenges of daily life under siege, amidst the aftermath of Israel’s devastating recent offensive.

The Gaza Blog