Melted birthday cake and the elusive dreams of Gaza

Some families in Gaza have been using old-style lamps during the recent energy crisis.

Mohammed Zaanoun

Sweat runs down my face. My pillow is soaked and I can’t sleep.

Although the whole house is completely dark, it is as hot as an oven.

After three hours of tossing and turning, I venture onto the balcony. Naked from the waist up, I lie down on the tiles, hoping they will be cool enough for me to rest.

But I still can’t sleep.

The fan is staring at me. It is motionless without electricity.

The fan seems to have a symbolic meaning.

We are all waiting for an upheaval in Gaza.

We do our best to lead “normal” lives as freedom seems more and more elusive.

Electricity crises have been recurring here since Israel bombed the only power plant in Gaza in 2006. Israel subsequently targeted the power plant several times.

I am 27. I have always lived in Gaza.

Not once did I manage to leave.

Still, I am privileged in some ways. I am privileged in the sense that our family’s house has not yet been destroyed by Israel.

We are not one of the families who have to protest outside the offices of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees.

Since our house was not destroyed, we did not need to rebuild it. We didn’t need to vent frustration at the slow pace of recovery after every major attack on Gaza.


The knowledge that others have it worse, that I am surrounded by misery and despair, does not bring me happiness.

Why should it be a privilege to store food for a few hours in the fridge, charge a mobile phone, turn on or off the lights?

I can’t imagine what it’s like to have electricity all day. Or even a third of that time.

Yet most people in Europe and North America probably cannot imagine what it’s like in Gaza, where we only have electricity for five or six hours a day. Power outages often last a full 12 hours.

Gauze needs more than 500 MW of electricity every day. Until recently we received less than 200MW – most of it was supplied from Israel, the rest was generated in our single plant.

Qatar has recently funded an increase in the amount generated, but this still falls short of our requirements.

No wonder people in Gaza are angry.

He is especially angry at Israel, which imposed a complete blockade on Gaza for 16 years. Many are angry with Hamas, which runs the internal administration.

There were street protests suppressed by the police working for this administration.

Many households rely on battery-powered lights during the hours of darkness.

There are some generators and solar panels. But families who cannot afford electricity from these sources or from batteries use candles, despite the danger of fire.

My family uses batteries. When the batteries die during a blackout, we gather on the balcony to try and get some fresh air.

Power outages affect all kinds of basic activities.

Many children have to do their homework by candlelight.

Mohammed Zaanoun

I teach English. More than 20 students attend my courses.

I stopped noticing the reactions of students when the power goes out. They concentrate as well as they can in circumstances that are not conducive to learning.

Students do what they can to adapt.

Some leave most of the lights in their house off so they will have at least one that is bright enough to study. Others get up at dawn to study.

Hospitals were forced to cut services.

Priority is given to intensive care. Operations are often delayed.


Planning social occasions is difficult.

My mother recently woke me up early one morning and asked when the electricity would be available next week. She needed those details to make arrangements when my aunt joined us for dinner.

My poor mom was so nervous that she asked me three times if I was sure there would be power on the day she wanted to host the dinner.

Power outages can happen at any time, and my mom—like everyone else—knows that. Still, she wanted to make sure everything was going to be okay.

My friends and I stopped calling each other’s houses. Instead, we meet in cafes that have generators or drink coffee on the beach.

Watching movies or playing computer games and anything else that requires electricity is a last resort.

Ahmed Dremly with his melted birthday cake. (Photo courtesy of Ahmed Dremly)

My family recently threw a surprise party for my birthday.

It would be nice if we could act out a classic scene from some American comedy. The scene where the guy comes home, flips the switch, and his whole family yells “surprise.”

Our scene was much sadder.

My sister Diana hurried to take the cake from the freezer. It melted into a gooey mess.

My name was written on the frosting. Now it was unrecognizable.

I tried my best to smile and look happy. Inside I felt confused and tired.

When I blew out the candles, I made a wish. My wish was that when I had my birthday next year, I would have a cake that would remain untouched until we started eating it.

Is it too much?

Ahmed Dremly is a journalist and translator from Gaza.


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