Survival in times of despair


I thought this article was interesting.  A couple of good things to learn from.  I posted the article first with what I think is the marrow of the story bolded.  Then a summary at the end so we can learn from others’ experiences.

War strains Gazans’ survival skills

Bombardment has badly disrupted flow of electricity and water
The Associated Press
updated 7:52 p.m. ET, Mon., Jan. 12, 2009

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – In 17 days of war, Hisham Abu Ramadan has fallen into a new routine.

He gets up before dawn and goes to his mosque, not just to pray, but to charge his cell phone, since it’s the only place in the neighborhood with a generator. After prayers, he gets in line at a nearby bakery, where as many as 150 people are already waiting to buy bread.54d3920e-2f88-4003-b006-9ffdf1b06e33widec

“We’ve gotten accustomed to this life,” said Abu Ramadan, 37.

Others face a tougher time.

In Khaled al-Dali’s two-room shack in the Shati refugee camp, 21 people — half of them relatives who fled the fighting — take turns sleeping because there aren’t enough mattresses to go around. Without fuel, the family cooks on fires made from trash. He has sold most of his furniture to buy food.

Gazans have become adept at coping with conflict, including curfews, street clashes and, most recently, severe shortages created by an 18-month border blockade by Israel and Egypt.

But Israel’s unprecedented assault on Gaza’s Hamas rulers — with nearly 900 people killed, some 3,400 wounded and tens of thousands displaced — has strained even their survival skills.

The massive bombardment has badly disrupted the flow of electricity and water, already stop-and-go before the start of the war. Israel has cut Gaza in half, cutting north and south off from each other.

Scarce goods
During the short daylight hours, shoppers crowd the few open stores and outdoor markets in a hunt for scarce goods, from diapers to dairy. At dusk, streets quickly become deserted as civilians retreat indoors, for fear of being mistaken for militants by Israel’s military.

“Everything is difficult now — eating, drinking, moving,” said Mohammed Saleimeh, 26. When electricity comes on in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, the women in his 20-member family rush to bake bread. When water comes on, they wash the cloth diapers they now use instead of disposable ones.

In southern Israel, Hamas rocket barrages have also severely disrupted life, sending people rushing into shelters when air raid sirens go off. Many businesses have closed and classes have been suspended, but residents have adequate supplies of food, electricity and fuel.

In Gaza, the ability to cope largely depends on how much of a buffer, in food and cash, families had going into the war, and in part on their ties to Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Mohammed Awad, a senior Hamas official, told the movement’s Al Aqsa TV on Sunday that 25,000 people on the Hamas payroll, from police to civil servants, have received their December salaries.

Hamas members said the money is being paid in cash, with Hamas activists making the rounds to distribute it. A man with a trimmed beard was seen handing out money from a suitcase in the hallway of a building in one Gaza City neighborhood, then asking employees to sign a receipt.

Abu Ramadan is a former member of the security forces ousted during Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, and still draws his salary from Hamas’ rival, the West Bank government of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He can still afford to buy drinking water and fill up the tank on the roof of his high-rise in the Sheik Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City.

Electricity outages
But electricity outages are constant — power came on Sunday for the first time in eight days. So he heads to the mosque each morning to charge his cell phone, instead of praying at home as he did before the war.

His family of five eats lentils, beans and canned foods. Tomatoes are available, but have tripled in price, to 75 cents a pound. Only 20 of 47 bakeries are operating, according to the bakers’ union, explaining the long lines for bread.

In the Shati camp, al-Dali, 33, was already broke at the start of the fighting, struggling to feed his wife and seven children, ages 5 through 14. A few days ago, he took in his sister, her husband and 10 children, who fled shelling outside their home close to the border with Israel.

Escaped with just clothes on their backs
They escaped with just the clothes on their backs. On Monday, al-Dali’s sister Salwa, 42, was stirring a pot of lentils and rice on a fire of paper, cardboard cartons and other debris. The refrigerator was empty, except for a few onions and tomatoes.

Salwa said she added extra salt to the cooking water in the belief that it would help rid it of germs. Many Gazans have taken to boiling drinking water too, since local water authorities warned of deteriorating quality last week. She said she tries to feed the kids as late in the day as possible so they don’t go to bed hungry.

Al-Dali said the food will last until Tuesday, and he doesn’t know where the next meal will come from. “I have no other business but to secure something to eat, water to drink and some wood and paper to warm them during the night,” he said. “I feel ashamed of myself. I can do nothing for them.”

In Zahra City, a complex of high-rises south of Gaza City, school teacher Jihan Sarsawi said she now washes in a bucket because running water is scarce — but only if there’s no shelling.

“I’m afraid they’ll shell the building and I’ll be undressed, which would be really embarrassing, so last night I slept in my clothes, without bathing,” she said.

Sarsawi also abstains from food and drink from sunrise to sunset every Monday and Thursday. “It lengthens out the food rations,” she said.

Supply shipments disrupted
Israel has allowed some humanitarian aid convoys to enter, but the shipments and distribution are often disrupted by fighting. As many 88 percent of Gaza’s residents now require food aid, and the three-hour lull in fighting that Israel allows for humanitarian aid to move around Gaza is not sufficient, said Helene Gayle, president of the international aid agency CARE.

Gaza economist Omar Shaban, who lives in the town of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, said his house gets six hours of electricity a day and running water twice a week, for about eight hours.

He has a small garden where he occasionally plays football with his sons, ages 10 and 16. Central Gaza has suffered less destruction than Gaza City, and Shaban said his family manages to get out of the house almost every day, for trips to the market or relatives in town. Most shops are closed, he said.

Supermarket owner Zaher Abdel Hadi in Gaza City said he’s selling mostly on credit now because people are broke or can’t get their money out of the bank because of a long-standing cash shortage.

“No one is leaving empty-handed,” he said of his customers. “We have to be brothers in this war.”


  • If the power is out and you have a generator you best expect to share your power with others.
  • Those who had stocks and supplies going into the war are best positioned now.
  • Even in the total chaos that is Gaza there isn’t apparently a lot of Zombie hunting going on.  Sorry guys you’re gonna have to put away all of your tactical, molle and BDU crap.  Firearms are apparently very low on the actual survival list.
  • Most shops are closed.
  • Canned goods are key.
  • Tens of thousands bugged out.  I wonder to where.  Do you have family/friends located somewhere else that you can bug out to?
  • The safety of drinking water is now a concern.  Do you have filters, purifiers or a way to boil lots of water?
  • With spotty electric service candles, batteries, lamps and lanterns are needed.
  • Have a bucket to wash in?
  • You’ll sell your furniture or whatever else to get what you need.
  • Cell phone service is still available.
  • There isn’t widespread looting.  Doesn’t seem like you have to worry about the Golden Horde coming for your stuff.
  • Survival becomes a 24/7 occupation.  Like seagulls you are constantly scavenging for what you need to eat, to stay warm or to drink.  It never ends.  It never stops.  You never relax.
  • There is a psychological element, especially for men who feel they need to provide for their families and parents who have kids to care for.
  • You shouldn’t have seven kids (any kids) unless you can take care of them.
  • Banks are closed.  Do you have cash, precious metals, jewelry or skills to trade?
  • Being close to the PTB makes a difference.  If you know those in power you get better treatment.  Do you have a government job?

At least in Gaza, urban survival in times of warfare seems more about being a seagull or a pack rat than about being a soldier.  What this means is that you have to lose the mindset, ‘what do I need’ or ‘what can I use’ and start looking for things of intrinsic value.  In other words even though you may not need it, it may be worth grabbing because you can trade it for something else.   Start thinking like a trashpicker and less like gunner.

Git outside-

ws10Time to spread the manure.  The farmer is racing to get it down before it snows.   Boy does this smell.

ws31This is one of the ways up.  It’s no ski lift.  This is really steep.  Too steep to ski up.  We remove our skis and hoof it up this hill.


10 Responses to “Survival in times of despair”

  1. Survivalist News » Abraham’s Blog: Survival in times of despair Says:

    […] Survival in times of despair « Abraham’s Blog I thought this article was interesting. A couple of good things to learn from. I posted the article first with what I think is the marrow of the story bolded. Then a summary at the end so we can learn from others’ experiences. […]

  2. Mike Says:

    I liked this article, but I don’t know if you can really compare as much to what might happen here. Cell service isn’t down there, but that doesn’t mean we can hope that it will stay up in the US if there were ever a domestic war. The nations in question are so small, and not all of their problems will scale up to the continental US. In landmass and population this is like Massachusetts declaring war on Rhode Island. Gaza city is not the same as a major American city. Culturally and technologically different in unpredictable ways. There may not be any rioting, but New York or LA won’t exactly react that passively to food shortages. The population of Gaza has none of the believes of entitlement and invincibility that is the core of the world view of so many Americans.

    Notice some of the other differences. “when the power comes on, the women rush to bake bread.”
    If one in ten Americans know how to make bread, I would be impressed. Go do a survey in any major american city and see how many people even know any of the key ingredients. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people think wheat is only something added to ‘Wheat Bread’ and think flour comes from a flower.

    There may not be much humanitarian aid, but it all comes from industrialized nations. If industrialized nations fail, who sends them food?

    A major collapse in the US would be orders of magnitude larger, more violent, and more chaotic than anything seen in Gaza.

    For local collapses, Katrina would be a better thing to compare to than Gaza.

    Americans don’t “rush to bake bread”, they sit on the curb and wait for someone to come help them.

  3. Abraham Says:

    Yeah, I was real surprised about the cell phone service. I’m surprised Israel doesn’t shut it down or block it. I know that I would.

    In general though I do think that we over emphasize the danger that other humans pose to us. We’re more fearful of others than we need to be.

  4. Mike Says:

    I do agree with that entirely. I guess I was making the same point in another way. The biggest threat to most Americans is not their neighbors, it’s themselves. It’s short-sightedness and denial that make us keep acting like tomorrow will be the same or better than today was.

    However, I don’t want to discount the the threat of street violence entirely. Based on the beautiful pictures you post every day, I can only imagine you live in a safer more rural area that won’t have to worry as much about looting. But violent crime is a serious and on-going problem in parts of the cities even in the best of times. In a long-term crisis, I can see it getting very very bad indeed. For short term disasters, the Opposite is true. During the big blackout a few years back, New York was calmer than it has ever been since it’s founding. After 9/11 for a brief time, people were too shocked to do very much at all. During Katrina, most people seems to just hang around waiting for someone to fix everything. But give people too little (or no) food, and enough time to absorb the concept that god really helps those who help themselves, people may turn quite nasty.

    Of course, this is all conjecture, so plan for the worst and ask god for the best.

  5. Abraham Says:

    Good comments.

    No, I live in a major suburb of a major American city. There are millions within a 10 mile radius of me. There’s beauty to be found everywhere.

    I guess it is tough to figure out what will happen. You look at the blackout that you mention and everyone behaved great, but look at people fighting over gas and water during a hurricane.

    Barring some huge disaster I think we just continue a slow slide – more of us working part-time, more of us living together, more stores closing, foraging and trash picking, always looking for ways to earn money, bartering, going hungry, no such thing as retirement or vacations for the vast majority of us.

    BTW check back in a day or two or three I’m working on an entry about risks and danger.

  6. Mike Says:

    I stand corrected.

    Some sort of TEOTWAWKI event is unlikely. Not impossible, but not as likely as a general decline. All this debt and finance problems speaks to the sort of ‘bread and circuses’ mentality that doomed Rome. We consume more than we produce and pay for it with money we don’t have on credit that we can’t pay off. The bailouts are basically vote-buying delaying tactics and are the same as the ones used by roman emperors. With no barbarian hordes to storm the gates (today they are non-violent and we call them illegal immigrants) we can expect a general decline. We may manage to recover, after drastic action, or just enough time. But I promise that the country and our daily lives will be almost unrecognizable within ten or fifteen years.

  7. Abraham Says:

    “…the country and our daily lives will be almost unrecognizable within ten or fifteen years.”

    That is the one thing I feel almost certain about.

    The thing is I was talking with someone today about computers, The Internets and The Google. Just 15 years ago we really had none of these things. I remember my first time getting a PC with a mouse. I was like, ‘I can’t learn this stuff.’

    If we experience a another leap of technology like what computers brought maybe our futures won’t look so ….so….diminished.

  8. Mike Says:

    “If we experience a another leap”

    Not if, When. Cell phones are another thing like that. The adoption rates of new technologies are accelerating.

    This graph shows how quickly this is accelerating. Every new level of tech is built on the last generation. Making things more complicated, more interconnected, and more vulnerable to failure.

    My current job didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

  9. Abraham Says:


    That is a great graph. I wonder if the acceleration of acceptance has to do with mass marketing or simple leapfrogging or both. Cool graph.

  10. What’s Buzzing? » Blog Archive » Hamas Stole From the Un and the Palestinian People « Islamophobes … Says:

    […] Survival in times of despair […]

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