RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It has been almost eight months since the war between Israel and Hamas, which left thousands of homes in Gaza completely destroyed. And while the UN has been leading reconstruction efforts, fixing up houses that suffered minor damage in the fighting, many families are frustrated by the slow pace of rebuilding. So instead of continuing to wait, NPR's Emily Harris reports that some of these families have decided to move back into what's left of their bombed-out homes.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Something smells delicious as we enter the ruins of the Otaish family home in Shejaiya, one of the neighborhoods decimated by Israeli bombardments last summer. Lunch is cooking. We duck under the fabric the family has hung at street level for privacy, pass the rubble mound of the completely flattened house next door, step through a broken concrete wall and head upstairs.
OLAH OTAISH: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: Olah Otaish, in her 20s, says after seven months in a cousin's apartment, much of the family returned here.
O. OTAISH: (Through interpreter) Our cousin needed it back so we had to come home, fix up a few rooms.
HARRIS: The family received several thousand dollars in a one-time rent subsidy from the UN. But with just one family member employed, they decided to use the money for repairs instead of rent. In this makeshift kitchen, concrete blocks hold a board where the counter once was. The window is covered in plastic. Electric cords snake through holes in the walls. This building used to have more than 30 rooms divided into five apartments for the extended family. Only half a dozen rooms are livable. As Olah's sister Hiba Otaish stirs rice for lunch, she says family members are getting on each other's nerves.
HIBA OTAISH: (Through interpreter) I feel so sad when I see our house this way. There's no stability, no safety, no tranquility.
HARRIS: The shrill squawk of a street vendor drowns her out. With most walls gone, it's sort of like living outside. Little things bother Olah Otaish - clothes stuffed in bags, no proper glasses for guests.
O. OTAISH: (Through interpreter) Everything is so out of order. We're thinking about the next Ramadan holiday when we are all supposed to break the fast together, but there's no room.
HARRIS: Most of this home is still strewn with big chunks of concrete, twisted metal and broken furniture. The destroyed social fabric is harder to see. Mother Hadia Otaish cries over the apartments built here for her sons.
HADIA OTAISH: (Through interpreter) The ones who are already married had their apartments here destroyed. The two who should marry now didn't even have a chance to enjoy the apartments we had just finished for them.
HARRIS: One son, Samer Otaish, lost $40,000 of inventory for his clothing import business. He's starting over raising rabbits for meat. If this venture doesn't work, he says, who knows?
SAMER OTAISH: (Through interpreter) I'm afraid of the word tomorrow. Tomorrow terrifies me. It's been months since the war, but there's been no real change on the ground.
HARRIS: There has been some change. Across the street, two homes are mostly rebuilt. One owner says he borrowed money from friends to buy concrete and new machines for the juice business he ran out of his home. The Otaish family says they don't know how long it will take to rebuild what they had before. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza City.
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