‘I’ll never get used to the power cuts,’ tales from Gaza’s electricity shortage

Gaza shortages (Mohammed Talatene - APA Images)

Ghada Hania

Mondoweiss  /  November 24, 2021

In Gaza, electricity can disappear without a moment’s notice.

On a summer day, at noon, on my way home, after a long day at university, I stepped into the elevator and hit the button to the fifth floor. It was almost 2:30 p.m., the time when the power cuts off, a daily occurrence in Gaza for the past few years as there is not enough power to keep the grid on around the clock. I had forgotten about all of that. I was tired and thinking about the nap I planned to take. 

When I reached the third floor, the lights went dark and the lift came to a rumbling halt. At first, I thought the power had shorted but when I checked my cell phone, I began to feel my throat tightening. It was 2:26 p.m. The power would not turn back on for hours.

Blackouts in Gaza are more than just afternoon traumas on my way home from school. Most families have around 10 hours of electricity a day. Most families cannot refrigerate food and have great difficulty doing household chores, working, or attending school. 

I pressed the alarm button in the elevator. Nothing happened. My family was still at work. I was alone. Nobody could hear me. I told myself I had to call somebody. I started to dial my mom and noticed my battery was at 3%. The phone died before I finished dialing.  

Next, I decided to knock on the metal door. I vigorously pounded my fists for a few minutes until my hands were bruised. Then I screamed. I could hear the sound of kids playing, probably walking up the stairs and down the hallways to their homes after school.

I heard a voice call to me, “who are you?” 

“This is Ghada,” I said. 

They informed me that the elevator key, which can open the doors even during a power outage, was with one of our neighbors, a guy named Abu Muhammed. But, they told me, he was not at home. I’d have to wait.

I asked them to tell my family so they can find any solution. How unlucky I was at that day. I sat down and cried. I tried to stand up but fumbled. I was totally upset. My heart started racing, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My body tingled and my hands felt numb. The sweat on my forehead felt like a waterfall. I was having a panic attack. 

I imagined what can only be described as the smell of death and it hovered around me. I had flashes of memories that brought back good moments and bad ones. 

I wanted to hug my mom. I thought about my dreams, happiness, successes, and everything I pursued and believed they were crushing before me. At this point, I was hyperventilating. 

All of a sudden, I heard the sound of footsteps outside. Some young men were trying to force the door open. In a matter of 15 minutes, the doors were pried apart. I just stepped aside. To my surprise, my brother was there. I collapsed in his arms. I never felt such a feeling before. It was one of the toughest moments in my life.

Since that day, I don’t use elevators. 

Ghada Hania is an academic researcher, content writer, and translator who was raised in the UAE and is based in the Gaza Strip