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This Gaza bakery is making cakes for Palestinians trying celebrate life amid war

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Cake in Gaza - a professional bakery is back in business in the city of Rafah, which is a surprising sight considering the city is swollen with Palestinians displaced by war, living in tents and waiting hours in bread lines. It's a city that Israel is threatening to invade for a final battle against Hamas. So what does cake have to do with war? NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, sent this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPATULA SCRAPING)

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: Maybe I'm one of the most luckiest - to be watching the master chef himself while he's doing his magic of making cakes.

Mr. Ibrahim is garnishing the cake with all of the cream. It's the peanut butter cream with coconut and some sprinkles. When he wants just, like, to assemble the cake, he transfer it like he's dealing with a little infant - with much care.

IBRAHIM ABUHANI: (Speaking in Arabic).

BABA: Ibrahim Abuhani is a professional baker with shops across Gaza, but he did not plan on making cakes during this war. He had to flee his home, like most people in Gaza, and opened his cake shop just to the people in order to charge their phones. And it was for free. There is no electricity now in Gaza, and his bakery runs on solar power. But a month ago, a man walked into the shop and asked for a cake.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: The man said that his own son got injured in the war. And when he woke up from the anesthesia, he said, where is the birthday cake you promised me? The baker hesitated but agreed to take his order. As he was baking the cake, someone else walked in. He said his little daughter was scared by the war, and he wanted to throw her a little party. Little by little, Abuhani was baking again, and he was shocked by the demand for cake.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: One man came in as Abuhani was closing the bakery. The man said he was getting married that very night. He begged, it's the night of my life, and I'm living in a tent. The baker couldn't resist. He made him a cake.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: The baker says, two hours ago, someone called me and said, I'm embarrassed to come to the shop. I'm in a shelter. Ever since we passed by your shop, my child has been asking for a cake. He couldn't afford a whole cake and asked for a smaller one. The baker told him to pay whatever he could.

Some people and customers come in and ask for a bag that is not see-through so the other people in their tent camp do not get jealous of their cake.

(SOUNDBITE OF INGREDIENTS BEING MIXED)

BABA: Abuhani struggles to find ingredients. Supplies are so low in Gaza, sugar and eggs cost a fortune, so he's not making a profit. He says he feels bad buying flour on the black market - flour that belongs to the United Nations to give away as aid - but he says it's worth it to see the joy in his customers' eyes.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: He can't find the cream he used to buy. He has butter cream, but he says Gazans don't like it. They like lighter cream, so he's trying to re-create it from scratch. And he closes the bakery whenever he needs to test a new recipe. That's the thing about Abuhani. He doesn't want to sell something that's not first-rate. He says that the people of Gaza deserve it. Even in their war's desperation, they have standards, and he has standards. The war has not changed that.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: He says, "we are not a garbage dump. We are not a place where people will eat just anything. People in Gaza have very refined taste."

It might sound shocking - a cake shop in Rafah when, elsewhere in Gaza, especially in the north, Gaza people are suffering extreme hunger. But Abuhani says Gazans buy cake because they choose happiness.

ABUHANI: (Speaking Arabic).

BABA: He says, "we Gazans love life. People are pushing themselves to hope because there are no other options."

(SOUNDBITE OF CAKE SIZZLING)

BABA: I'm still watching Mr. Ibrahim while he's making his cakes, and I'm very overwhelmed with that. Seeing that - after 140 days of war, someone in Gaza who just, like, wants to share all of the love and happiness by making some cakes - is making me, myself, happy.

For NPR News, I'm Anas Baba in Rafah, 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.

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