A melted birthday cake and Gaza’s elusive dreams

Ahmed Dremly

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 28, 2023

Sweat drips down my face. My pillow is soaked and I cannot sleep.

Although the whole house is completely dark, it is as hot as an oven.

After three hours tossing and turning, I venture out on the balcony. Naked from the waist up, I lie down on the tiles, hoping they will be cool enough for me to get some respite.

But I still cannot sleep.

A fan stares at me. Without electricity, it is motionless.

The fan seems to assume a symbolic significance.

We are all waiting for a jolt in Gaza.

We do our best to lead “normal” lives as freedom appears more and more elusive.

Electricity crises have been recurrent here, ever since Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant in 2006. Israel has subsequently targeted the plant a number of times.

I am 27. I have always lived in Gaza.

Never once have I been able to leave.

Yet in some ways I am privileged. I am privileged in the sense that our family’s home has not yet been destroyed by Israel.

We are not among the families who have to protest outside the offices of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees.

Because our house has not been destroyed, we have not needed to have it rebuilt. We have not needed to vent frustration with the slow pace of reconstruction following each major attack on Gaza.

Lucky ?

Knowing that others have it worse, that I am surrounded by misery and desperation, does not, however, make me feel lucky.

Why should it be a privilege to store food in a fridge for a few hours, to charge a mobile phone, to turn a light on or off ?

I cannot imagine what it is like to have electricity throughout the day. Or even a third of that time.

Yet most people in Europe and North America probably cannot imagine what it is like in Gaza, where we only have electricity for five or six hours per day. Power cuts often last for an entire 12 hours.

Gaza needs more than 500 MW of electricity each day. Until recently, we have received less than 200 MW – most delivered from Israel, the remainder generated in our only power plant.

Qatar has recently funded an increase in the amount generated but this still falls way below our requirements.

Not surprisingly, people in Gaza are angry.

They are mainly angry at Israel, which has imposed a complete blockade on Gaza for 16 years. Many are angry at Hamas, which runs the internal administration.

Street protests have been suppressed by police working for that administration.

Many households rely on battery-powered lights during the hours of darkness.

There are some generators and solar panels. But families who cannot afford electricity from these sources or from batteries use candles, despite how they are a fire hazard.

My family uses batteries. When batteries run out at times of power cuts, we gather on the balcony to try and get some fresh air.

Power cuts affect all kinds of basic activities.

I teach English. More than 20 students attend my classes.

I have ceased to notice the reactions of students when the power goes off. They concentrate as well as they can in circumstances that are not conducive to learning.

Students are doing what they can to adapt.

Some keep most lights in their home switched off so they will have at least one that is bright enough for them to study. Others are getting up at dawn so they can study then.

Hospitals have been forced to cut services.

Priority is given to intensive care. Operations often get postponed.


Planning for social occasions is difficult.

My mother woke me up early one recent morning and asked when power would be available the following week. She needed those details to work out when my aunt could join us for dinner.

My poor mom was so anxious that she asked me three times if I was sure there would be power on the day she wanted to host dinner.

Power outages can occur at any time, and my mom – like everyone else – knows this. She nonetheless wanted to convince herself that things would be okay.

My friends and I have ceased calling to each other’s homes. Instead, we meet in cafes that have generators, or we drink coffee on the beach.

Watching movies or playing computer games and anything else that requires electricity are a last resort.

My family recently threw a surprise party for my birthday.

It would have been nice if we could have enacted a classic scene from some American comedy. The scene where a guy comes home, flicks a light switch and all his family shout “surprise.”

Our scene was far sadder.

My sister Diana rushed to take a cake from the freezer. It had melted into a gooey mess.

My name had been written on the icing. Now, it was unrecognizable.

I did my best to smile and look happy. Inside, I felt confused and weary.

As I blew out the candles, I made a wish. My wish was that when my birthday comes around next year, I will have a cake that remains intact until we start eating it.

Is that too much to ask ?

Ahmed Dremly is a Gaza-based journalist and translator