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Waiting for water in Qalandia refugee camp

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First thing I do once I wake up in the morning – check the water tap. I do it before going to sleep too, but not even a drop falls. I close the tap and still unconvinced return to my room, where the plastic bottles with water supplies are aligned along the wall. I pick the closest one for my morning tea and a quick tooth brushing. And so my regular morning begins in the Qalandia refugee camp. Our water has been cut for more than two weeks now.

While tying my shoelaces, a thought comes to my mind- whether the Palestinian mothers also check their water taps every morning. And what if water comes at night? So quietly that nobody notices? I personally think that water should always ring a bell before coming and at least an hour in advance before leaving, in order for all of us be able to fill up our buckets. Yes, Mister Water, please ring the bell next time before you come and leave. Regardless of where you are: in refugee camps, the neighborhoods of Nablus or Jenin, Hebron or Jericho, Bethlehem or… Gaza.

I cross the street and the flow of traffic drowns me. I walk straight despite the waves of wind and traffic. It seems like a sand storm is approaching. Wind lifts everything which is found on the road, but not the Checkpoint. The DVDs boy is rubbing his itching eyes.

“DVD, sir?” he asks despite the itching.

I lower my head down trying to avoid the sand coming up from all directions. No, thank you, – I answer despite being called a sir.


First thing I do at work – I open the tap. No, no, I do not check my e-mails or chat with colleagues. I open the tap. And this is when I am taken to a different world, where water runs and my hands are not sticky, where I feel secure and this security is not only a two days illusion. I fill up a glass and drink thirstily. I fill up a second – one for later (still kept the habit) – and wash my face off all the dust and fears and insecurities. For seven more hours I am a proud owner of this glass of water and plenty more should I wish.

When you live in the Qalandia refugee camp, the best days of the week are Tuesdays and Thursdays. No, not because both of them start with T, but rather because our water comes (if it has not been cut) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By the end of my work on these days, I can barely sit calm in my office chair; my curiosity drives me home where our roof tanks might be filled up again. And if they are, it is just as exciting as Christmas; the only difference is that Christmas in Qalandia comes twice a week. Imagine, twice a week!

I sit on the bus going from Jerusalem to Qalandia all excited that today is probably a shower day and that tomorrow probably is too.

And I have to admit that when these moments come, I forget about a daily struggle of Palestinian people for water, would they live in the refugee camps, neighbourhoods of Hebron or villages in the Jordan Valley. The only thing I am shamefully thinking about is myself and the dust on my table enjoying the last minutes of its existence, that is, until the next sand storm, or the next water cut. More likely the latter than the former.

It is easy to forget about the others when your house stinks. When your hands are sticky and when what was white is not white anymore, these concerns go first even if they should not. But we also forget their struggle for water when our lawns are watered or when swimming. How come human beings have such a short memory?

The Checkpoint is busy, so I impatiently cross on foot. I am walking down the street as dusty myself as the tomatoes sold on the road. Pick up some, will make a plate of fresh salad after I do my dishes- all is planned already. The seller is trying to convince me to take some more and a watermelon – I just gesture to him that I have no time for a conversation, water is running! So am I.

I enter the house.

First thing I do – check the water tap.


As my mother told me not just once, one can wish for something as much as one can; it will not happen if it is not meant to. Just like Christmas – it never comes sooner even if my wish could climb the mountains. But, the worst part is a painful yet clear understanding that nothing depends on me even a single bit… I regret I was being blinded by Tuesday’s euphoria and did not fill my water bottle at work to bring some home.

I walk to my room where the bottles are aligned next the wall. I pick the closest one for my evening tea and a quick tooth brushing.

There is always a tomorrow. There always will be.


And first thing I do next morning – check the water tap. In solidarity with all the Palestinian mothers who, just as I, secretly know that water does not come today.

Jovita Sandaite
About Jovita Sandaite

Jovita Sandaite comes from Lithuania, but the last five years she has been working in several developing countries around the world. She is a writer who is currently residing in the Qalandia refugee camp in order to better understand the daily struggle of Palestinian refugees.

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4 Responses

  1. ritzl
    July 29, 2013, 12:13 pm

    Sorry, but I guess I have to ask because it’s in the “few really comprehend the extent of the humiliation, trying to get ‘them’ to leave” department, but how, or how often, do you flush the toilet? Or are we talking frontier facilities? How do you wash clothes and/or dishes? With the same water? How many buckets do you fill when the water is on? Do you have to actually pay [extra] for this “service?” I realize it’s most likely different across Palestine, but in Qalandia (just across the wall)?

    Maybe I’m just ignorant, but I think there are a lot of details, upsetting details, that are left to the imagination in the ongoing Palestinians water humiliation saga. Imagination, at least my western one, tends to slide in the direction of “how bad can it be, really if they/Palestinians aren’t going crazy angry?” But the corked bottle that is Palestinian existence in Palestine precludes that anger. The appreciation for their discipline and perseverance is heightened.

    Thanks for the street level, personal experience.

  2. bpm
    July 29, 2013, 12:50 pm

    Thank you. I wish I could do more than my feeble protests. They are unfit to govern a grain of sand.

  3. Citizen
    July 29, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Palestinians have as much chance of getting water and toothpaste for their teeth as hillbillies have in the USA. It’s just not in the current (political) ethnic/race cards.

  4. mcohen
    August 1, 2013, 6:18 pm

    Citizen says:
    July 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    “hillbillies in the usa” ………..what a lot of polly waffle


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