Toothache in Gaza

Sameeha Elwan

31st March, 2010

I woke up with the same painful toothache. There is no other choice, then. I have to go for a dentist. I tried to avoid it, but it was too late. My father was supposed to make me a dentist appointment. Unluckily, I had to wait for three more days to get an appointment. That was out of question. There’s nothing more annoying in the world than having a toothache headache. It is just unbearable. Hearing my moaning cries of pain, my father’s voice came from a distance, “If you can’t handle the pain, then we can just go to the ….” I think I either did not hear what he said pretty clearly or I simply thought he was kidding. Facing him, I enquired again,” To go where?”. Clearing his throat, that fearful word came out of his mouth pretty clear now “El WEKALA” “UNRWA Health Center”. My heart sank, and shivers ran over my whole body. The image of the place was suddenly all what I saw. On my way to school every day, I have to pass over two buildings for UNRWA, one is a health center while the other is the Central Department of UNRWA, the one which was attacked in the last offensive over Gaza. I guess it was not the white and blue buildings with the blue Flag of UNRWA which has always caught my attention. It was rather the scene of the crowded people lining or trying to keep the lines up to reach that fenced window and the voice on the microphone calling for either names or numbers. I always couldn’t but feel sorry for the people who have to wait there in line under the Sun of the hottest Summer day or the heavy rain of the coldest days of Winter. I never imagined myself lining up for any reason before. Never have I thought I would be standing there waiting for my name to be called and struggling to get to that fenced window with the hope that I would be one of those who are lucky enough to be called upon and not to wait and wait in vain.
That psychological trauma I was passing through had to wait. With that unprecedented pain, I surrendered. The visit has to be made whether I like it or not. After all, how bad would it be to stand there in the lines amongst other people who would be most probably having all kinds of suffering? Exactly, my own misery is just not enough.
A sleepless night passed. When I went to my father the next day, I didn’t have to say a word. His gentle look was trying to smooth my panic He said he had to go to the center first so that he could get me a place before it gets crowded. How could a place get crowded at seven in the morning, I wondered!

The way to the center has brought me much agony as I was thinking of how inconsiderate I have always been towards my father. He is caught in the same situation once a month or every couple of months. He has to stand up in line to get us the UNRWA supplies as we were amongst the lucky Palestinians who enjoy the advantages of the UNRWA Card. My mother is considered a refugee. I don’t know why some people looked at that card as a kind of privilege and I wonder why some of them hold it with such a pride which contradicts with the so little they get in comparison to what they have really lost. Would a bag of wheat compensate for the land they have once had? Would a bag of sugar make up for the bitter misery those people have always felt after losing their sweet homes and having to live in tents, sometimes? Would the two bottles of oil make them forget their olive trees that have been mercilessly uprooted as they themselves were? Or maybe, it is simply a declaration that they are temporarily refugees who have once had the land which as long as this card is still in their hands would still be waiting for them to return.
When I arrived at the center, no people were lining outside. I guess that fear was because of my almost unexplainable phobia of dentists. I think I was only exaggerating. The white and blue building seems like a real nice quiet place. My favourite colours have given me some sort of relief which unfortunately didn’t last for long. The voices of people babbling got clearer the moment I entered the clinic. Moving my head around the laughably small clinic which technically was several small rooms where above the door of each was a panel illustrating different kinds of treatment provided by this health center. The General Clinic. The Oculist. The Dentist, and the major part was devoted for Internal Medicine.
So, if you don’t have anything to do with those diseases. Sorry, you have to search for another place that offers the treatment. Let’s hope you’re not diagnosed with something serious that not only the UNRWA doesn’t offer its services to cure, but the medicine needed for your treatment is not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. It is technically forbidden for some chemical and security reasons. Thank God, it is only a toothache, I thought.

My father found his way to me amongst the crowd. “Why were you so late? I got you a number. You were about to lose it”, he said. “No way, not the number, I can’t lose the number after all I had been through”, I thought. Sometimes, you have to forget about the fact that you are a human being and surrender to you being a number. I was no longer me. I was Seven. Seven was the only thing I wanted to hear at this moment. I sat down on the bench my father fetched me. Seeing the state I was in, he preferred to stand up like most of the people waiting for their numbers there. The slight difference was that it was not their choice. The five benches available at the room would by no means suffice the tens of women, children, men and old people crowdedly standing there. I got a glance at the woman beside me. My eyes caught the number on the card she held. I was shocked. For how long does she have to wait for number thirty six when I was number seven and not called yet? Not for long, I discovered later.
“Number six… Where is Number six…”
A little girl wearing the primary school green uniform stood up. Alone, she got into the room. I felt ashamed of myself. She is not as coward as to bring her father with her. She was holding her school bag when she got in. So, most probably, she’s heading to school after having her tooth removed. In two minutes, the door opened again. That little girl got out with the same look of defiance on her face as if declaring “I had finally got you out of my mouth, you stupid little tooth.” It was not the cotton that made her mouth so bulging that made me ponder. I was thinking of the time this little girl spent in there. Two minutes. Not even enough to give her any sort of anesthesia… What a relief.

For a moment, I thought about running away. My father dragged me in after the number seven was summoned, he literary held my hands while I was dragging myself in. The three doctors seemed very nice. At least, they asked me about my name. I had to lie on the chair, and in less than a minute, the doctor declared I need a surgical tooth removal, which, unsurprisingly, the UNRWA clinic does not offer. I forgot about the pain, all I wanted was to go out of that sterile room. I caught my breath no longer when I was out. I hurried for the exit of the place and with the same smile of that little girl, I looked into my father eyes, “See, they cannot help me, I told you.” My father laughed when he saw that my pale face has finally returned its usual colour. He raised the little pocket of medicine into my face, “At least, we got some pain killers”.
” Yes, pain killers”, thoughtfully, I smiled.