The intricate patterns of the Cairo streetlights, laid out like living organ beneath the plane, signalled the start of our journey to the Gaza strip. After passing through the airport bureaucracy miraculously unhindered we piled onto a mini-bus and set off on the long road through the Sinai to the Rafah Crossing into Gaza. So began the Day from Hell.
After passing through countless roadblocks, populated with heavily armed Egyptian teenage soldiers, we arrived after 8 hours at Rafah. It was here we encountered our first trial, as the Egyptian border staff refused to grant us entry, claiming that our entry permits were ‘no longer valid: cue eight hours of phone calls to various contacts in a vain attempt to get us permission to cross, accompanied by the unrelenting harassment of the local children, who seemingly needed neither rest, home, or food, or any excuse to leave us in peace for more than five seconds.
However the delay soon became the least of our troubles, after an overzealous young soldier confiscated the camera memory cards of three of the group, before deciding to confiscate the cameras as well, in spite of our suggestions that it might be easier to simply delete any offending pictures.
Even this became a more trivial concern as two other members of the group were detained for four hours in the local military base as punishment for having the gall to politely ask for the return of our cameras. It later emerged, on their eventual return, that they had been blindfolded, ordered to stand still in the sun, and forced to sit and wait for hours on the floor by the toilet block of the base, all whilst being accused of spying against Egypt.
With our abducted comrades returned to us, the border long since closed, and still lacking a permit, we retreated back to El-Arish to seek shelter for the night, our optimism dented by the increasing possibility of not being able to enter Gaza at all.
The next day, however, after a second bout of desperate attempts fortune smiled on us as we eventually received two assurances that we would be able to cross into Gaza that day, and indeed, we glided into Rafah and straight through the gates, delayed only by a long wait at passport control, and what may be the shortest bus journey in existence, taking us all the way from the Egyptian side of the wall to the Palestinian side.
Finally, after all the drama, we were in Gaza, and immediately the friendliness and hospitality of the Palestinians stood in stark contrast with the hostility of our Egyptian friends. That 20m-bus journey took us from a world of an ailing border run by frustrated, angry soldiers with the least imaginable threshold of organization, to a world of warmth; smiley faces running a modern airport-like terminal crossing. It just felt like home.
After a short drive, we arrived at our hotel in Gaza, the Beach Hotel, receiving our first taste of Gaza infrastructure in the forms of the large and loud generators, and the commonplace power cuts in Gaza City, a city left by the Israeli siege with complete reliance on the petrol generators that can be seen outside nearly every building for all of it’s electricity.
Our second day just started, and we are looking forward to completing the journey that we have started with one purpose: staying human.