July 17, 2024

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Deir el-Balah, Gaza Strip – The tantalising smell of burning firewood and freshly baked bread fills the air.

Fifty-three-year-old Inshirah Salem al-Aqra will swear to anyone who will listen that food cooked in a wood-fired taboon is just so much richer in flavour.

She has been building these traditional clay ovens for whoever wants them for a long time. Made from clay, animal dung and straw, the oven is moulded into shape by hand and left to dry in the sun.

“People make mandi [slow-cooked chicken] in these ovens or bake bread,” the mother of 10 said.

“In this war, everything is so hard. People need the taboons even to make a coffee or tea,” she added.

Fuel and electricity blackouts across much of the Gaza Strip have pushed Palestinians back to tradition as they seek al-Aqra out as the one woman who can make them a taboon.

This is now the only source of income for her family after Israeli forces burned her husband’s fishing boat last month.

She has made and sold five ovens since last week, ranging in width from 50cm to 90cm (20 to 35 inches), more than she would have made in a month in the past.

She has kept her old prices, explaining: “I don’t want to take advantage of people, especially during these times.”

The smallest oven goes for 80 shekels ($21) and the largest for 150 ($40).

The Gaza Strip’s only mill is unable to grind wheat due to fuel shortages after Israel imposed a total siege on the territory.

Al-Aqra has opened her home to displaced women sheltering in nearby schools.

“They bring me flour, so I can bake bread for them,” she said. “If I have clean water, I fill up their jerry cans too.”

She hopes the war, which has killed 13,000 Palestinians and devastated the Gaza Strip, ends soon.

“Enough,” she said.

“We’ve lost so much. Enough already.”

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