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Hani Almadhoun

Hani Almadhoun

Posted: September 8, 2009 11:27 AM

Smoothies in Gaza: In Defiance of Nature and the Siege


One of my favorite days of the month was going to Costco and buying a large bag of frozen fruits -- the ones you get for ten bucks, a bag of bananas for a dollar fifty, a case of Tropicana orange juice for eleven bucks, and frozen yogurt for five bucks. Take all these things and throw them in my nice blender ... and it's music to my ears. I am addicted to homemade smoothies and I have a combination of fruity mixes. For example, mango, bananas, and peaches with orange juice are a favorite. Or the berry mix with frozen yogurt, and strawberries. Now that I have been trapped in the Gaza Strip with nowhere to go, I am determined to make smoothies here in Gaza. As you know, people in Gaza lose their jobs, others lose loved ones and even their own lives in a matter of seconds, but that does not mean I have to lose my mojo. My quest in search of the perfect glass of smoothie was not as easy as I thought it would be. The siege on Gaza has thrown a wrench in my plans. But hey, I am not going to let an international embargo kill my smoothie buzz.

For starters, I had a hard time finding frozen fruits as they have not gone mainstream in Gaza. I am told that due to the embargo, the food sits for days on the crossings and it is costly to keep it frozen that long. Others blame the lack of frozen fruits on the shortage of fresh fruits. Whatever little they have, people buy and consume so no time to freeze them. Thus, I have started freezing my own, whatever seasonal fruits I can buy for cheap, I freeze. Mangos, plums, melons, grapes, guava are all in season and all make great smoothie fruits.

Now that we have solved the shortage of frozen fruit, we moved on to another problem of a different nature. As a result of the power shortages, electricity cuts off regularly, making it hard to keep food frozen. Three times a week, power cuts off for about six hours a day and I cannot get my fruits to freeze under such conditions, especially in such a hot summer. One way to deal with this challenge has been to place my fruits at nearby friends' homes who own a private power generator that ensures continuous power -- enough to keep the fruits frozen. Never mind that my relatives started robbing the fruits of my labor.

While on the subject of electricity, among the list of banned items to enter Gaza are electronic goods. Thanks to the tunnels a few Egyptian-made electronic appliances make it to the markets of Gaza. My search for a good Egyptian-made blender has been fruitless. The blenders they have in Gaza are all wimpy -- maybe to make Humus, but not meant to crush frozen fruits and ice. To overcome that problem, I resorted to chopping the fruits into small cubes and adding more liquid to the mix in order to make it easier for the blender to mix those delights. This gives me a slushier smoothie. By this time I was ready to give up my mission to create a glass of smoothies in Gaza, but since I really have nothing to do here but wait for the borders to open so I can get back to my job in DC, I went the distance.

Perhaps the toughest problem I had to face is finding fresh orange juice in a Gaza summer. As I came to learn, orange juice is all but banned in Gaza. Oranges are the fruits of winter, and even Gaza's fanciest restaurants cannot serve you a glass of orange juice. As part of the embargo, the Israelis have decided to no longer sell their orange juice in Gaza. They really made a statement with that one! But I am willing to giver them the benefit of the doubt and just say: they might not have enough oranges to meet their own market demand. The only orangey beverage in Gaza is a local Kool-Aid like drink called "Tropica." In order to get the sour flavor of oranges, I resorted to using fresh limes, a summer harvest. A rare commodity, but for two dollars you can score a kilo. I also learned that I can buy industrial-strength orange concentrate from Gaza's only citrus packing factory.

It's not smoothies until you add the frozen yogurt! A few stores in downtown Gaza sell that delight, pricey but comes in all fruity flavors and actually some of it is comparable to what we buy at the local Safeway. The challenge, however, is in transporting a pound of frozen yogurt from downtown Gaza to my town of Beit Lahia, a 20 minutes ride and five minutes walk in the blazing sun. The solution to this problem is easy: buy the frozen yogurt late at night and enjoy them then. Or I can just make my smoothies at a relative's house that lives near the area where I can buy the frozen yogurt.

The last challenge came as a logistical one: mom wouldn't let me use the kitchen. It is her "territory" and she won't let others cramp her style and use her kitchenware. In order to get permission to use the kitchen, I offered to wash the dishes and clean up after myself -- she accepted my offer.

By this process I overcame the acts of politics and nature that would keep me away from enjoying my all-time favorite refreshment in Gaza. Making one gallon of smoothies in Gaza costs an arm and a leg, but drinking it with loved ones in Gaza is priceless.

As it turns out, the little things in embargoed Gaza like making smoothies requires knowledge of the latest round of political development. I did have it easier in the States where my biggest challenge was to find a ride of the store, but in Gaza I have to worry about many unknowns such as "Will I have electricity today?", or "Will I be able to find orange juice?" Such circumstances remind me to be grateful for all the things that I took for granted. Every day in Gaza I witness people manifesting the saying, "Where there is a will, there is a way". Under siege they are, helpless they are not.