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Gaza’s lonely lifeguard

The buoy in the tower may have “Baywatch” written on it, but even on its best days, and certainly not after seven long weeks of war, Gaza’s beaches hardly reflect the glitz and glam of the classic 90s TV show.

However neither war nor a lack of salary has kept 21-year-old lifeguard Mohammed Bar from showing up for his job every time he got a chance, whether the ceasefire was days or hours long. “I only love two things in my life: rescue work and people,” he says. “I have lots of good memories with the sea. It is my whole life, it is my friend, my brother, my family, it is everything for me.”

He became a lifeguard when he was 16 after watching his neighbour, Nasser, drown in the sea. He decided it would never happen again and has been the only lifeguard in Gaza to patrol the beaches during every ceasefire through the most recent round of fighting in Gaza.

Mohammed Bar, a Palestinian man who works as a lifeguard along the beach in Gaza City gestures instructions to swimmers in sea on August 18, 2014. (photo credit:  AFP/ ROBERTO SCHMIDT)
Mohammed Bar, a Palestinian man who works as a lifeguard along the beach in Gaza City gestures instructions to swimmers in sea on August 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/ ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

“In a normal situation there should be seven guards but now I’m the only one on the beach,” he tells AFP from his rickety perch. “They don’t come because of the security situation. The war has swallowed up the summer and people are scared.”

People may be scared, but “the sea is the only place in Gaza where people can breathe,” Bar says, so even during the fighting some would take a trip to the sea. His last rescue was just a few days ago while the fighting still raged.

“I was on my motorbike on the road when I saw a group of people drowning. If I hadn’t been coming then by chance, I wouldn’t have seen them and they would have died,” he says.

While Bar kept working during the war, he hardly came through unscathed. His home in Zeitun in southeastern Gaza City was destroyed in the fighting and he is staying at an uncle’s house.

He says two of his friends, both civilians, were killed and that he’s grown out his bushy beard as a mark of respect for their loss.

— AFP

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