“I am from here. I have memories” The words echo in my mind whenever I pass through those narrow streets, bothered by the crowd hitting me with each step I try to make into the probably most crowded street in Gaza with a simple grim upon my face, and a gaze that spins around the place as if checking whether everything is still the same or not in my lovely old part of the city.

Today is different. I am no longer one of the crowd. I am no longer the ordinary passerby whom no one cares about or is interested in, whom the sellers do not even come close to, knowing that I’m of no use to them, whom the eyes never pause to look at, nor the angry drivers, being in a hurry, stop to let pass.

The journey this time started very interesting and not as boring as it was just this morning. The car dropped me and the camera girl in Palestine square as usual. A Stranger, they considered her. A stranger I was, too. As strange as my companion, holding the camera in her hands and pausing at each little kid with a box of cigarettes, or balloons, or lighters, or a remote control hanging around his neck, and tightened by one hand while the other is moving in all directions and showing the goods he is simply marketing at his top pitch.

I was a stranger accompanying another stranger whose interest was not the children themselves but the misery of the pictures she would get out of those children. A good material, they’d be for the conventional stories of “Child labor”. I was a stranger who was getting no word of flattery this time while walking along the supposedly foreign new comer with her glasses lifting up her flying hair. How simple they might judge, sometimes, I naively thought. I was the stranger who was inquiring for the name, age, and social status of those people when only this morning, I did not care for any.

This morning as any other morning, I was familiar with almost all the faces, but never had the thought of penetrating that strange relationship that connects me to the place or its residents. I was one of them. That’s why their names, ages, or social status was of no importance to me. I was not interested in knowing such usual details. Knowing them does not mean I do know the people. I am satisfied with my familiarity with the place. I am familiar with their faces, with the way they sell their goods, with their tricks with the customers, with their words of flattery, with the smiles whenever I get close to that particular shop of nuts where the man pays me a smile and an inquiry upon my family whom he’s never met. I am familiar with each smell of the place, and with the millions of thoughts and memories each bring. The smell of the coffee from the most popular coffee seller in the place, the smell of Palestinian sweets, shawerma, nuts, cake, and perfume. They all mix in a perfect odorous combination. I am familiar with the kids. Those holding boxes of whatsoever. For years, a smile on the face of one of them could give me the strength to face the life with a persistent smile as that drawn in their faces in spite of the heavy burdens on their shoulders.

I was taking notes, mechanically. Not pretty interested in the details of the lives of those little children who have once been my every inspiration. I was simply doing my job. Name, age, family members, reason for working, school and income. Very dumb questions indeed. Does not the fact that the kid is not simply enjoying his time in the sea or in a camp or running effortlessly in the streets say it all? Will not the persistent looks and determined voice show how desperate this child might be? Would not the simple goods he sells say how much income, if he gets any, he enjoys?

I am still not interested in the details.

The event in itself was not the point. The very interesting thing about those children was their attitude towards the camera, the media in general. Every day, tens of cameramen come to take photos of the place.The children truly comprehend it all. They know better than you might think when you see them smiling to the camera and beg you to take a photo of them. They wouldn’t hesitate do every single motion they are asked to do while the cameraman is checking the right position.
Smiling to the camera in that miserable condition with the heavy box around his nick, his friend mocks him, saying “You’re happy they are making their wealth out of you!”. His words rang as bullets penetrating my already missed up thoughts of what exactly I’m doing here. I stop, stare at how little his figure is, and start rebuking myself on how stupid I am compared to that little child.

I go back home, thoughtful, open my note to start writing down an article on “Child Labour”, and feel shocked by the shallow information I took from the little children.

I vowed I would never come back to that place as a stranger. I am from here. I have memories. I will not make of the stories of those little children a sale. I will not deceive them. I open the notes, tear down the systematic information I found in there, and sigh. I did not write the article, and tomorrow, I’ll probably lose my job.

Today, I allowed myself to be the stranger, tomorrow I’ll run across the place as bored as ever.

Sameeha Elwan

31st July, 2010