Eva Bartlett | In Gaza
“Bissa flora,” he said. “Taste it, it’s delicious!”
“It’s used for stomach ailments, and is extremely healthy. Has vitamins A, B, C and D,” Osama translated for me. The botanist sat by his tree, his bulldozed tree, and went on extolling its virtues.
“The fruit helps to regulate your pulse and is good for blood circulation,” he confided.
How did he have so much knowledge about this tree, I wondered, and asked.
“I’ve got a catalogue inside my… house,” he said, gesturing at the re-piled concrete blocks, a portion of those which had formerly made up his home. They now stood like a Lego house, stacked 4m by 4 m and just tall enough to stand within with a slight stoop.
Back to the trees.
“I introduced this tree in Gaza. I first saw it in Brazil and later found one in Israel, which I bought. I used to buy many trees in Israel, and I used to import many specialized trees for sale in Gaza,” he said.
“I’ve traveled in over 40 countries, you know. Before the siege, before it was impossible to leave Gaza.”
Why? For work? Other?
“I love to travel.”
Fair enough, so do I.
While the rest of the homeless in the el Amoudi area, in the Beit Lahia region, somewhere between Jabaliya and Attatra, were still working at making the most of their Lego shelter –cleaning up remaining rubble and rubbish, and keen to tell me about their new, completely inadequate shelters which stand roughly where larger, furniture and memory-filled homes stood until Israel’s war on Gaza –Abu Bassam was more interested in fostering my knowledge of the Bissa Flora tree.
He insisted on opening the remaining fruit for me to sample, cutting the rough outer skin pumpkin-style and scooping out an apricot-tasting pulp for me to sample. He was right, delicious.
Curious as to which block shelter was his, I finally coaxed him away from talk of trees. “He’s my husband, this is our house,” the woman who’d been patiently standing beside me, now and then trying to pry me away from Abu Bassam. And so we went to see their home. “It was 300 square metres before. There are 10 in our family, so it was a good size,” she said, pulling back a cloth serving as a door to reveal a few mattresses spread on the floor.
“I’m sleeping here with 3 of our kids. The others are still staying with family. We want to live here, but you see, it’s too small and not possible to cook here.”
Like the 25 other houses in the neighbourhood, Abu Bassam’s house was first hit by Apache and tank shelling, and then bulldozed, intentionally felled, his wife explained. “The UNRWA has promised to rebuild our houses, but we don’t know if or when that will happen. Right now, we’re just hoping for tents. The tents are terrible to live in, but we have nothing now. Nothing.”
Looking around the wasteland of rubble and Lego houses, it became apparent that this is true, and even that what Abu Bassam has been able to salvage for a block structure is larger than some of the others, some of which measure just 2m by 2 m, barely large enough for one person to lie down in, let alone a family.