Did You Hear That?

Life in Gaza

Last Tuesday night was a pleasant night in the big Midwest city I call home.  It was just about a perfect summer night, with pleasant temperatures and a light breeze.  You dream of nights like that.  On the other side of the world, it was more of a nightmare than anything else.  If you dreamed of anything, it was finding peace and perhaps a home somewhere, anywhere else in the world.

“Did you hear that?” he asked me in a quiet tone of voice.

“Yes, I hear it,” I told him.  It was the sounds of rockets landing nearby.  Gaza City was under siege by rocket attack.  It had been going on all night.  In the early hours before dawn in the Middle East, we talked by Skype.

I met my Palestinian friend a couple of years ago on a language learning site called Livemocha.  He was a student interested in languages and I was there continuing my feeble attempt to learn some French.   The site had a social media type component where language students could ask other language students to help with their lessons.  Through that method you could earn virtual currency you could then use to have teachers correct your lessons, rather than students.  Several asked for my help with English.  I would correct their lessons or listen to their voice lessons and comment back on their pronunciation and use of language.   It was all well structured then.  A couple of the students have kept in touch, one is a teenager in Brazil, the other is a young man in Gaza.

Gaza Strip

Gaza Strip

On Monday, when things were starting to fall apart in Gaza, I left a text message, “Write, tell me you are safe.  The news makes me sad, I want you to be somewhere safe.”  Later that morning he responded, “Hello! Thanks. I’m kinda okay.  The situation is not good at all but I’m still alive.”  By Monday night the tone of his message was a bit more somber: “Today was really terrible here. They rocketed us with more than 200 rockets.  I could not sleep all night long.”

On Tuesday night, I left another message at night.  I mentioned that we saw rockets landing on both sides.  “I wish you could get out of there right away,” I typed.  Then a file came across.  He sent me an English language article from a Turkish newspaper.  It said the three Israeli teenagers whose deaths may have led to this fighting were killed in an accident, and Israelis hid their bodies. Later they claimed Hamas had killed the boys.  I told him this is not the story the rest  of the world has and I sent him an article from my MSN home page.  I did admit Hamas did not take credit for the killing.

“Hamas said that they didn’t kill anyone. And they (Israel) want to start the war as usual. If Hamas rocketed 200, they rocketed more than 500 only for an hour.”  I told him I would be upset everyday until he could get away from there.  Then he called.

We spoke for 11 minutes and 04 seconds.  He explained the dangerous situation his family and friends find themselves in.  A few explosions were heard during the course of the call.  At the time we were finishing the call it was the early morning hour he might be getting up for prayers.  It is the holy month of Ramadan and the day begins early and the fasting lasts all day and well into the night.  I suspect there is little prayer and contemplation as homes are being destroyed and women and children killed.

Of course, I know there are rockets landing on the other side, but you will see that the other side has a comparative lack of casualties.  That’s because they have warning sirens, bomb shelters, missile defense systems.  In comparison, the average person in Gaza is defenseless against the constant bombardment that the other side brings against anything it might think could be Hamas, whether it is home or work, school or mosque, café or restaurant.  The proof that war is hell is everywhere in the poverty-stricken patch of the world called Gaza.

Wednesday began with some text messages as before.  He sent a video across and asked me to watch.  It was an explosion near his house.  Another video showed small children, injured and bloody being carried from a site of play by the looks of the background.  After a few exchanges about the videos, he called.  We talked about the situation in Gaza.  Odd to me is that people are not mad at Hamas.  He tries his best to explain that to me.  We talk of the sad history of Palestine.  He shows me a Wikipedia article to help get some time frames correct.  He also sends over a book whose merits I have yet to judge.  We also talk of other things.  In the midst of war, we can still dream of better times ahead for everyone.  He wishes to return to his studies and be a student of languages.  Now he is a prisoner, so to speak, in an overcrowded piece of land where most people are refugees from their own homes on land nearby.

I did not find him Thursday night online so I left a message.  I checked Friday morning before work and found him online.  We sent messages back and forth for a few minutes.  He told me it was much worse there.  I told him I would pray all day for peace, and I had to go so as not to be late for work.  “Okay. Have a good day,” he wrote.  In the midst of war he wishes me a good day.

That was the last message I had.  As I write this for you on Saturday night, I have nothing more.  He did like my status on facebook at some point on Friday.  I wrote, “Pray for peace.”

Note:  I have written many pieces of fiction for this space and another on Word Press.  This is the true story of a small part of my week.  I can not begin to imagine what it is like for my young friend in Gaza.  I can only recount for you some of his words and stories.

Enriching your life

Recently I was giving thought to all of the good friends in my life.  Actually, I think about it a lot.  So it seems to me now is a good time to rerun a column I did last summer about family and friends.  The number of people I know in foreign countries has increased since then, which helps to broaden my understanding of life around the world.  I am glad I can add to my list of friends. You can never have too many.


There is no over estimating the value of friends in your life. While you hope immediate family will always be there for you, in the mobile society in which we live they may not always be nearby. Your personal support network needs to include friends to whom you can turn in times of need. When I was younger and moved from apartment to apartment several years in a row, my friends were there to help me move. They were certainly pleased when I landed at my present location and stayed put. The important thing was their willingness to be there for me. It is a comfort to know that.
Having friends to listen at the right times is also of great importance. You may stubbornly think that you need to bear an emotional or spiritual burden on your own, but it does not need to be that way. Good friends will listen.  They will offer advice when asked. Those not willing to hear you may need to be categorized as acquaintances or casual friends. It is OK to have plenty of them in your social circles. Good friends will populate your close personal circles along with your immediate family. They become your “extended family” which is so important in today’s world
Internet friends can now comprise part of your personal life. It seems an interesting phenomenon to me to have such friends. While a great deal of caution must go into cultivating this sort of friendship, it can have its own rewards. You may meet people with whom you can can correspond on a personal level. They may be able to help at various intellectual levels as well. Right now I believe I have three people on my facebook that I only know through the internet. Two of them I have known for years and perhaps some day we will actually meet. All three live in different countries.
I have met someone I had known for years just through shared internet experiences, all good, and personal correspondence. When we met he came with his roommate to visit. I had told him years earlier not to meet a new person alone, so this was fine by me. It turns out they are great people and now good friends. I consider myself lucky to have met them, although I still feel this sort of thing, meeting internet friends and expanding the friendship, is more the exception and not the rule.
My former place of employment had given me the opportunity to meet students from other countries though their internship program. In addition to attending local sports events with many of them, I have been able to keep in touch with some via facebook. In fact I am currently in France visiting one of my best friends and a former intern following our Olympic tour this past week. Email, Skype and facebook have allowed us to keep in close touch even though we are thousands of miles apart.
“You have more friends than I know people,” my brother told me at our mother’s wake. That’s because the funeral home was filled with an absolute gaggle of our relatives and my friends. My brother had moved away decades earlier so he did not know a lot of these people. I have thought about his comments a number of times since then. I used to tell people, “I have friends from 18 to 80.” This was largely due to our parish, community groups and even the internet. I guess I am lucky in all this to have so many great people as friends. Be open to friendships as they enrich your life.

A castle in Orschwiller, Alsace, France