Wednesday, May 6

Falling in love in Gaza

Feature: Syrian refugee Wareef Hamido and Gaza journalist Maha Abdulkaas met for an interview, fell in love, and haven't looked back.

Wareef Hamido is a Syrian refugee and Maha Abulkaas is a young Palestinian journalist.

The two met when Abulkaas was looking into a story about a number of Syrians who had fled the war and found refuge in Gaza.

When she interviewed Hamido, who was living in Gaza, she knew that she had found her soulmate.

In recent years, Gaza and Syria have both experienced devastating wars that have made many homeless.

In Gaza, there are 28 Syrian refugee families, and very few have found work. There are about 200 other Palestinian-Syrian families, who live in slightly better conditions.

Hamido fled the war in Syria for Turkey in December 2012.

His trip from Aleppo was especially risky, and Hamido made the last 6km on foot, under heavy shelling. What should have taken 45 minutes took two days.

Once safely inside Turkey, he stayed for 20 days before moving to Egypt, where he lived without any income for eight months.

"I met my cousin in Egypt, and he offered me a job in a restaurant back in Gaza. I was hesitant at first, as I had already fled the war in Syria and I didn't want to move to another war zone," Hamido said.

"I had two choices - either board a boat to Europe and perhaps die in the middle of the Mediterranean, or go to Gaza. I chose Gaza."

He arrived in April 2013, and the place seemed almost like home.

"It felt very familiar, almost similar to my homeland. I decided to stay and started work as a chef in a restaurant. I worked almost 16 hours a day for about a year and a half," he added.
    I had two choices - either board a boat to Europe and perhaps die in the middle of the Mediterranean, or  go to Gaza. I chose Gaza.

Although Hamido studied mechanical engineering, he has worked for a chef for almost 15 years.

"Many journalists interviewed me during my stay in Gaza as a Syrian refugee, until a young beautiful one came to my restaurant for a report," he said.

"I then remembered the famous saying - love at first sight."

Abulkaas has worked as a reporter for Palestine TV and France 24 for the past six years.

Her reporting is sometimes controversial, and she has had life threatened more than once while reporting.

Happy union

Abdulkaas' other talent is drawing, and some of her paintings decorate her husband's restaurant.

"I was asked to make a report about the Syrian refugees in Gaza, and I had heard about Wareef. So, I visited him in the restaurant.

"He was very confident, proud, and honest. He does not accept any kind of pity and I simply liked his personality," said Abdulkaas.

When he proposed, rather than sticking to Syrian tradition, he did the Gazan way.

"The thing I liked the most was when he called my mother 'mum'. He used to call me 'mum' as well; he was eager to start a family, and to settle down," she said.

She said she is proud to be married to a Syrian man, and likes being known in their town as the wife of the Syrian refugee.

"He helps me in my work, he chooses my articles, my clothes, and every detail of my work. His criticism helps me improve."

War broke out in Gaza a month into their marriage.

Abdulkaas was asked to leave her flat, and stay at Adam Hotel where other journalists had gathered to report on the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Hamido accompanied his wife throughout the 51 days of the war.

He opened his own restaurant in Gaza in January, and named it Soriana, or 'Our Syria'.

He also started an association with other Syrians in Gaza to provide them with support.

"Palestinian-Syrian refugees have more rights and privileges than the Syrians. My Syrian passport has expired, and I cannot issue another one since there is no Syrian embassy in Gaza."

Despite Hamido's love for Palestine, he says he will return to Syria with his wife when the war ends.
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