After about a week of exploring the activities the Assri Center had to offer, it was time for the kids to have a fun break. A summer camp tradition in Gaza is to go on a field trip. I remember when I was in school we went on field trips to a maximum of two places: one main attraction and usually a place to eat. Apparently, “everything’s bigger” in Gaza. This field trip was to consist of FIVE stops! It’s only fair to mention we were warned that this was going to be a tiring trip, but I was up for it.
A couple of days before the trip I was collecting the field trip fees from the children. The fee was five shekels, which come out between $1 and $1.50. Some kids were ready with their 5 shekel coins, while others, not so much.
One girl stood out to me the most. “Maysaa,” I called and suddenly the smile on her face disappeared. “Auntie, I do not want to go,” Maysaa replied and turned around. I knew that was not the full truth, because I remember hearing how excited she was about the trip. I looked at Zahra, the mentor of the group, and she gave me an “I’ll-tell-you-later” gesture. So I went on with doing my work and collecting the rest of the fees.
At the end of the day, during the meeting, I asked the mentors about Maysaa and the other children who didn’t pay their fees. I could tell it was money that was the problem – not anything else. There I was informed that most of these kids’ parents worked as factory workers in Israel, and after the blockade and closing of the border crossings, they have been out of work. Therefore, they tell their kids they cannot afford it.
What surprised me and brought tears to my eyes was how strong the kids acted and how they never said they didn’t have money. The mentors were expecting this to happen and already had a backup plan. Since the mentors cannot afford to pay for all 120 kids, they see how many kids bring money, and the rest of the fees would be split among the four mentors. Mariam and I knew that adding two more people who could split the cost would be better and more affordable to each of the mentors, so we both decided to join in and pay for those who could not afford the trip. After all, a smile from a child having fun is worth every penny.
Finally it was the day of the trip. As we arrived at the Assri Center, there was a different mood in the air. The little street (which is the size of a sidewalk in Dallas) was engulfed with little kids. Some were in groups planning what they were going to do. Others were with their parents who were stuffing falafel sandwiches into their bags. “Make sure you eat and feed you siblings,” they would say.
We made our way upstairs and found the rest of the kids waiting in lines. Everyone was extremely excited. As I saw the mentors trying to get everyone to be quiet for only a minute so they can tell them the rules, it hit me. This is going to be a long day. One hundred and twenty excited kids, four mentors, three buses, two volunteers, one long day.
As we finally got everyone settled and into the buses we headed to our first stop: The Commonwealth Gaza War Cemetery, often referred to as the British War Cemetery. This is a cemetery made in honor of the fallen soldiers of the First World War. I was glad to know that the kids of Gaza were not placed in a box and were encouraged to learn about the outside world.
Next, we went to our second educational stop before the fun began: the Pasha’s Palace Museum. When we got to the Museum, Mariam and I went to a nearby market with one of the mentors in order to buy the kids some snacks. My sister and I chose to do this for many reasons, but mainly we remember as kids how going on field trips meant stocking up on our favorite snacks. Most of the kids at the Assri do not have the luxury of walking into the supermarket and picking all they want. So we both wanted to give the kids a little something that may brighten their day.
As we walked back to the buses with bags of chips and boxes of mango juice, you could see the kids’ faces instantly light up. We put the snacks on one of the buses, and I caught up with my group inside the Palace. Inside, the Museum was small but contained a few interesting artifacts ranging from old coins to pottery. It was to my surprise that Gaza even had a museum, so no matter what it had to offer, it was better than nothing.
The next stop was the local park, which may have been one of the only parks in Gaza. This is where the fun began. Here the groups sang, played, and laughed. The kids were so happy to the point we had people crowd around us as we sang. The rest of the day consisted of two more stops: Sinbad the “amusement park” (which is the equivalent of a carnival) and Andalus, a pool located on the beach. The Andalus was no doubt the most anticipated stop for the kids. They were thrilled to know they would get to cool off in the pool after a long day in the sun.
At the end of the day, exhaustion was an understatement. All I remember was getting home and sitting on the couch. Next thing you know, I woke up at 4 a.m.