Somaya El Sousi

1 - Night, Net, Gaza

Here, in this city that resembles only itself, after you’ve finished working out what to do with your empty day in the usual way, you wash your face in a salty fluid which is not easy to reconcile with water’s own idea of itself at all. You begin tricking the city’s night and trying to entice it with ideas - the idea of the sea, for example. The sound of a plane comes at you from the grey horizon, whispering in your ear about a missile, or more than one; the scene is lubricated with dense rounds of shots, consolidating your intention to focus on one single thought of the sea, and use it to relax, to let go into your imaginary night. Then you drop the idea, give up on thinking, and look inside the television set for another space to flee in to, in your night which hasn’t yet begun. A crowd of dancers, male and female, loom over you, and you almost manage to listen to the voice of a singer. Or you are suddenly seized by a craving, by horror-film fever. Those films would get taught a real lesson if they lived your life for a day: their producers and directors would renounce their outdated film-making ideas and, earnestly and tenderly, they would implore you to let them film just one of your days. And then they would build a new tower of money on its foundations.

You turn the television off, grieving for the old days, long gone, of indescribable viewing pleasure, days when that one programme, those four or five channels, were your whole world: you were happy, in those days, weren’t you? You weren’t kept awake, back then, by the idea of the night, because it was normal, it would pass normally, and finish with the end of the last television broadcast of the night, and all the lights going out, and a silent sleep in the music of darkness.

When the thought of the internet lures you away, you boldly enter your virtual world, a place teeming with bored friends: of course they’re bored! Bored of their lives, and of their night. In a failing group effort you start trying to kill time together, trying to rid it of all the usual tasks, which you all loathe. You feel as if you have never left the confines of this room, which you know every detail of perfectly and which all the rest of them do too, because they are all in here with you. Sometimes one of them asks you why you moved you bed, wasn’t it better where it was before? This is, of course, once they’ve tired of asking you how you are, and how your day was, and once the familiar chain of electronic slander has spooled itself out all over you all, and you’ve used it to travel together all over the world, through Arab lands and foreign ones too.

The night is being given over to this underhandedness and artifice and so you make yourself invisible to them. You observe them all, so as to add new details of relationships that only you believe in to your imprecise and sparse memory. You begin keeping track of who enters when, connecting times and people, searching for what relationships (illusionary ones, of course) lie behind the green icons on the screen1. You are also here to discover whether one or other of your friends has taken advantage of your departure from the forum to start a slanderous new discussion thread, along with the other people there, of course, about you. You might even be thinking about deleting them from your contact list, for failure to uphold the Microsoft messenger terms of use - which no one ever signs.

In a truly rare moment of honesty you might think of shutting down this whole fantasy world, and suddenly engaging fully with yourself:
To discover how alone you are!
How far you are!
How many things you really are in need of!
And to start your real-life offline evening, in a city that resembles only itself.
And because this is the case,
You have no choice but to invent still other mechanisms besides these to trick time.
Are there any other suggestions?

Reading is certainly not advisable, because you have already got irritated by world culture and philosophy, which there is no longer any market here for. Then there’s writing: the brainwave of the insane, who dream of it being a magical solution.

Sleep? The indispensable arch-enemy awaiting you at the end of all this, who ensures that you wake up for work the next day with a splitting head-ache and an irrepressible, insurmountable desire to flee.

1. Chat-room icon showing when someone’s online

2 - The art of living in Gaza

To live in a dreamless city, a city abundant in its discontents and completely forgotten about, a city whoever enters is lost and whoever leaves is destined for a new life, you must learn a great many survival skills. Then, as an individual, you can become harmonised with the paradigm that rules everything in it.

The first of these skills is the ability to interact with time. I don’t mean that time is important, to such a great extent, in this city. On the contrary: in Gaza there is a great surplus of time, which you must know how to use up, how to get rid of, in every possible way, as there are no important appointments binding you to your schedule, and no particularly sacred or respected times. Everything is possible at any time, and it’s up to you to kill time as you see fit. So you either remain a prisoner in your own home, workplace, or wherever it is that you know and that knows you, or you think of other ways to kill time. Whatever you do will lead you to the same result in the end: you will make it as far as your pillow, at night, with a sense of absolute futility. You will be unable to find anything to think of other than fleeing from your self, the self that asks itself constantly until when? And what will you do tomorrow? And how are you going to spend the rest of your life?

The second skill is to forget the word ‘future,’ or to erase it completely from your vocabulary, because it doesn’t mean anything when it comes up against the reality you inhabit. You cannot contemplate what you’ll do in an hour’s time, because there are so many changes which you have no say in and which happen at lightning speed; so you could fall prey to a stray bullet which comes at you in your house or in the street, a bullet no one knows the source of. Bullets are so plentiful these days and they roam around with such an unprecedented freedom that your life could end with absolute simplicity and you could become just another number, the latest addition to the list of casualties of random firearm use. Maybe you’re thinking of going on some trip or other, and before you get ready for it the roads of the city are closed before you with stones, barricades, and burning tyres. You search for a logical reason for all that you see, asking the people around you, but no one has any answer, so you give up on your plan and make do with just staying where you are. As for if you were thinking, for example, of completing a project, well, you’ll find there are a very great many factors that will delay its completion - road blocks, a complete lack of commercial products, and even the absence of a potential market for your idea, so that it ends up back at square one like every other idea you’ve ever had, and you make do with your unaltered reality, exactly as it is, and don’t even consider changing anything at all.

One of the other skills that are obligatory, if you live in Gaza, is the ability to ignore things - to ignore everything. You must be able to feel no guilt or remorse at all about any scene that you are exposed to. So someone might get killed right in front of you, or a car might get blown up, a violent fight might break out between two families, or school children arguing on their way home might pull out their guns and wave them in each other’s faces. All of these scenes must pass before your eyes without your even thinking about them, about why they happened, or how, or who the victim is; you must fulfill your obligation to remain silent and calm, and content yourself with just muttering something that no one can understand a word of, and going back to wherever you came from, as if absolutely nothing at all had happened.

So many techniques that no one knows except you, you who live in this city, perfecting them every day, forfeiting your humanity, your self, your very substance. You get so skilled in this art that you turn into a number, or a tree. Or perhaps you have become a being with no relationship to anything else at all, a being obliged to just fill its day in whatever conceivable way it can, so that it can go on to start yet another day, ready to lose even more of everything.

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