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A beautician in Gaza was about to open her dream salon. The war destroyed it

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Gaza looks nothing like it did on October 7 when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking hostages. Since then, Israel's military response has killed more than 25,000 people, according to Gaza health officials. And the U.N. says millions have been displaced. NPR's Aya Batrawy has this report on what one woman has lost.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Tahreer Tayseer al-Madani sits in a tent in the southern Tal al-Sultan area of Gaza. But in al-Madani's tent isn't quite like the others. NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, describes how the tent catches his eye.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: Very yellow color - the walls are garnished with some flowers. You can smell a very nice smell here. It's a perfume, a women perfume.

BATRAWY: And al-Madani's fragrant yellow flower-garnished tent reflects her personality and her attention to detail, even in war. She's a makeup artist and licensed esthetician. Her specialties include...

TAHREER TAYSEER AL-MALDANI: Laser hydrafacial, tattoo, micro...

BATRAWY: In the beauty world, that means she was your go-to gal in Gaza for skin rejuvenation and that perfect brow. The 34-year-old explains what her days looked like before the war.

AL-MADANI: (Through interpreter) For months, I would leave the house at 8 a.m. and come back at 11 p.m., working and taking courses and giving courses. My whole life was like that.

BATRAWY: Al-Madani had taken out a loan to open her own beauty salon in Nuseirat in central Gaza. It was just 22 days shy of its grand opening. Israeli airstrikes have reduced much of Nuseirat, like other parts of Gaza, to rubble. Like countless others in Gaza, she says all of her effort and time went into building a dream that's now gone.

AL-MADANI: (Through interpreter) But if you ask me what hurts most, you'll be surprised when I tell you it's my bedroom.

BATRAWY: Her bedroom - it was perfect, she says.

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: She says she'd come home after a long, exhausting day of work and throw herself on her bed. Al-Madani recalls every detail of that room in her family's multi-story home. Its pink hues...

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: ...The mirror, the sofa, the designs of trees on the rug.

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: As an esthetician, she had a table full of products, of creams and face wash. She left it all behind - her certificates and licenses and her laptop, where she kept her family photos. She's just one of 2 million people in Gaza who fled their homes during the war and haven't been back since.

BABA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Al-Madani tells NPR producer Anas Baba that after her divorce, her room in her parents' house became her private sanctuary. Privacy is now a luxury in Gaza that no one has. More than half of Gaza's population are living in overcrowded, U.N.-run schools. Others are living with extended family, in cramped apartments or on the streets and in tents, like al-Madani. It's really hard, she says, to even talk about how she only showers every few days at the hospital when she takes her mom in for dialysis.

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: She tries to buy the best shampoo she can find to wash her hair with. Other times, she's using bottled water and face wash. Except, she says, we just fool ourselves by calling it face wash. It's not really.

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: And it's at the hospitals, where she's sheltered and showered, that she's met women who, like her, are still trying to maintain their sense of identity and femininity.

AL-MADANI: (Through interpreter) When I go to hospitals, women would say, 2, 3 shekels - just do it for me, please. What self-care is that?

BATRAWY: She's talking here about women asking her if she can pluck here and there for less than a dollar.

AL-MADANI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: She still can't believe she's living in a tent atop a patch of sand, that this is her life now. Al-Madani is trying to stay recognizable to the woman she once was before this war - a woman who ate out at restaurants, relished her morning coffee, had a skincare routine and a warm bed.

AL-MADANI: (Through interpreter) I know we're in a war, and I'm still going. There are things I could buy, but I know the situation I'm in. I looked everywhere to buy a small mirror to keep it here with me. Here - these are my things.

BATRAWY: At the end of their conversation, she tells my colleague in Gaza, "I asked if you have a packet of Nescafe, and you told me you do. So I agreed to talk," she says half-jokingly. Instant coffee - a morning ritual in a life that no longer exists in Gaza.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Tel Aviv, with producer Anas Baba in Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.