By Vittorio Arrigoni
(This article was originally published at Vittorio Arrigoni’s blog Guerrilla Radio. Translated by Daniela Loffreda.)
Her eyes are as deep as unexplored oceans and her movements are done with the grace of waterfowl, as when a marine creature submerges itself below the surface of the water. Even the heavy weight of her clothing and veil seem to vanish, because by tradition, she must wear them while she swims.
Her name is Madeleine Kulab, she’s 16 years old, and she is the first and only female fisherwoman in Gaza.
Her father Momahed became paralyzed ten years earlier and therefore was forced to hang up his fishing nets and now, it is his daughter who has taken his place at sea.
“We come from a family of fisherman, for whom the passion for fishing has been passed down from generation to generation.Fishing was our livelihood before we were forced to leave, in 1948, what is known today as the port city Ashkelon” explains the father.
Today this livelihood barely allows us to survive, since the siege and the sailing limit imposed by Israel (not beyond 3 nautical miles from the coast) has significantly impoverished the Gaza fisherman. According to a recent Red Cross report, 90 percent of the 4000 or so fisherman in the Gaza Strip are living below the poverty level and their situation continues to deteriorate.
The usual UN aid offered to the Kulab family was just no longer sufficient, and so for the last three years. Madeleine has been waking up at 6am, one hour before the start of her school lessons, pushing the oars of her tiny boat out into the waters to a place where can throw in her nets. The ritual repeats itself in the afternoon shortly after the end of the school day. Madeleine not only has books in her knapsack, but also a change of clothing so that she can get wet again.
Here, human needs must prevail over tradition and courage has created a new profession for survival. This is a paradigm to the region and to Madeleine. However, her new role has earned her the respect from other Gazawi women and even notoriety beyond the open air prison which is Gaza.
The daily catch never goes beyond the weight of 3 chilos, and most of it is made up of sardines and crab, a gain which is not comparable to the daily risks which she faces. The last fisherman killed by Israeli machine guns was last September 24 2010 and it was exactly in the same area where Madeleine goes, opposite Sudaniya beach.
When I went to meet her at the beach, there were two Arab TV broadcasters filming her while she prepared to embark on her fishing, but Madeleine doesn’t let this go to her head, she remains the down to earth girl that she always has been. Her dreams are the same as any other teenage girl.
“I will never leave the sea, it’s my natural element, but I want to become as fashion designer one day,” Madeleine says.
Who knows, maybe in the future these same hands, so skilled at unraveling nets and freeing small, insignificant shellfish that end up in a pan, will one day embroider fine cloth that will embody the memories and tell the stories of a life and a sea under siege.
Restiamo Umani – Stay Human
Vittorio Arrigoni from Gaza City.