I Could Not Return to Gaza So I Spent My Ramadan in Kuala Lumpur

but I miss Palestinian food.

Home for Yousef Aljamal is in Al Nuseirat, the largest central Gaza Strip area where 85,000 families live in a tight squeeze of 9 square kilometres. This is also where Yousef grew up and the rest of his family of 5 brothers and 7 sisters still lives.

 

Yousef graduated from Islamic University of Gaza, with a Bachelor in English Language.

Yousef graduated from Islamic University of Gaza, with a Bachelor in English Language.

Going Out of Gaza is not a problem. Returning is.

In May 2013, Yousef received an invitation from Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM) to participate in the Kuala Lumpur book launch of The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag which he co-translated from Arabic into English. After travelling to New Zealand for a Palestinian conference, he returned to Gaza using the standard route of traveling to Rafah Crossing via Cairo with an approved visa from the Embassy.

Unfortunately, after 10 hours flight from Kuala Lumpur to Cairo, he was stopped by the Egyptian immigration officer and denied entry. Yousef and other Palestinian passengers were deported for 17 hours in Cairo International Airport. After waiting anxiously, they were forced to return back to the countries from which they had flown to Cairo. Despite having a valid visa, Yousef was forced to pay for his flight ticket and return to Kuala Lumpur.

“We had a valid visa, but we could not get pass Cairo. I had to return to Kuala Lumpur.”

According to Yousef, being denied to enter their homeland is pretty normal for all Palestinians but everyone is tired of waiting. Every month, thousands of Palestinians (mostly patients and students) have to wait anxiously for the Egyptian authorities to open Rafah Crossing, the only way in and out of Gaza. When the border is closed, many get stranded in Cairo including Palestinian pilgrims who are travelling to Makkah for Umrah.

Fortunately, when he arrived again in Kuala Lumpur, he manage to contact Azra Banu, a prominent social activist in Kuala Lumpur and was invited to stay with her family for two weeks.

“Ramadan is nice in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but…”

This was Yousef’s first Ramadan away from his family, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. During that period, he missed the festive atmosphere, especially the food, in Al Nusierat. It was also frustrating to constantly communicate with the Egyptian and Palestine embassies to confirm that he could return home.

In the end, he succeeded but he had to wait another two months at the Rafah Crossings to find out whether he could return to Kuala Lumpur to pursue his Masters Programme in University Malaya.

“…You can’t beat home-cooked food from your hometown.”

I asked him what were the special delicacies that were normally cooked during Ramadan.

“Qatayef,” he said proudly. “You can never get it here in Kuala Lumpur.”

 

Qatayef is a pancake filled with cream or nuts.

A dexterous young man flipping traditional cakes for qatayef off the skillet in Hebron's central marketplace. These cakes are traditionally used as part of the "iftar," or breaking of the fast, in the evening during Ramadan, the holy Islamic month of fasting.

A dexterous young man flipping traditional cakes for qatayef off the skillet in Hebron’s central marketplace. These cakes are traditionally used as part of the “iftar,” or breaking of the fast, in the evening during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Image Source: Flickr/ Justin Kenderes

For Iftar, most Palestinians will have juices of all kinds of fruits such as lemon, mango and strawberry.

Their national dish, “Maqlouba”, is an upside down rice dish is usually served with stuffed vine leaves.

 

#maqlouba #palestine #gaza #3ededelfetter A photo posted by taylormichellecheney@gmail.com (@ilovearabicfood) on

Warak Dawali is another popular rice dish during Ramadhan.

This is stuffed grape leaves with parsley rice and ground beef or lamb. There are also other dishes that have stuffed eggplant, squash, potatoes and tomatoes.


Typically for sahur, most Palestinians will have “Halawa”, bread with cheese and tea. He also mentioned “Qamar il Deen” another traditional Ramadan drink made from apricot fruit leather that is soaked in water. The drink is thick, rich and aromatic due to the addition of rosewater. The drink is refreshing after a long day and that is why it is usually served at the beginning of Iftar.

Yousef broke into a wide grin as he told me about his Ramadhan last year with his mother’s family in Jordan. He had not met them for 15 years. A few of his family members from Gaza managed to join him too.

He went on to tell me about losing his eldest brother, Omar in 2004. His brother was shot by Israeli soldiers while guarding the refugee camp.

His elder sister also passed away as she had difficulty getting out from Rafah Crossing to seek medical help. The following is an interview from 2013 of his family about the incident.

Yousef has his hands full, handling the translation of The Prisoners’ Diaries in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. He also wrote of losing his brother in Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers from Gaza, another book which was edited by Refaat Alareer.

Gaza Writes Back Speaking Tour 2014

Gaza Writes Back Speaking Tour 2014

 

Currently he is back in Gaza and because of his situation, he missed his graduation last year in University Malaya. Alhamdulillah, he successfully graduated with high scores in Masters of Strategic & Defence Studies and plans to pursue his Phd. Unfortunately, he is unable to earn a decent salary and winters are getting very cold because of frequent electricity disruption.

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