21 Jul 2014

Among the women of Gaza as the violence continues

I am always struck, when coming to places in turmoil, by the kindness and welcome I receive from the mothers and daughters affected, writes Channel 4 News producer Anna-Lisa Fuglesang in Gaza.

They take me in, ask me questions about the world I am from and find time to make me feel looked after. I come away from these encounters with a reaffirmed belief in humanity.

It’s no secret that here in Gaza women, children and the elderly make up a staggering number of those killed in this conflict. Current estimates stand at around 40 per cent of the total deaths. A number that has the international community calling for a ceasefire.

The other day, in a momentary respite from the relenting violence and destruction all around us, we were invited to have coffee and relax. As a woman visiting a Muslim world. I am granted access to parts of people’s homes that men cannot go to.

I sat with a group of women in a room next to the kitchen. They were relaxed and removed their head scarfs.

Too good to resist

An opportunity to practise their English was too good to resist so the questions began, one after the other. They talked over each other.

“Are you married?”
“How old are you?”
“Where do you live?”
“What countries have you been to?”

In a place where women marry young, between 16 and 18, and have babies shortly after, they were amazed that I lived alone. I told them this was normal where I’m from, even though I’m in my early 30s. I tried my best to answer every question as honestly as I could.

I asked how they had learned to speak such good English. Niea’a, who is 20 and studying at the British Council in Gaza, said they needed to learn: “Speaking English will help us.”

Smiling and laughing

They smiled and laughed with me as we sat there. I came away feeling they had given me more in that short time than I had given them.

Just before I left, Ariej, 17, told me of the places she hopes to visit: “One day I would like to see Paris and go to Seoul.” In that moment I wanted nothing more than for, one day, that to be possible.