Computer programming is hard enough. Imagine having to use an alphabet completely different from your native one. Imagine doing it from, what is essentially, a war zone. Imagine you have never even seen the device you are programming for first-hand, nevermind tested your programs on one. This is the story of Mohammed, a 22 year old Palestinian living in Gaza and programming for Android.
The city of Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history that can be traced back 5000 years. Located on the Mediterranean Sea where the African and Asian continents meet, it was an important stopover for spice traders as well as a key military point in the past. It is no wonder then that the city has been attacked and conquered by many different civilizations in it’s long history including the Egyptians, Romans, Ottomans and even for a short while the French Army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Jump to modern times. Since 1967, when Israel defeated the Egyptian army in the Six Day War, Gaza has been under an Israeli embargo. The embargo only intensified in 2007 when Hamas, a group classified by the United States, European Union, and several other countries as a terrorist organization, won local elections. Under the tightened embargo, only very basic items are allowed in and “virtually no exports permitted, paralyzing the economy” according to the BBC. Despite all this, the people of Gaza live, work, and learn as best they can.
Mohammad Yahya Al Musaddar is 22 and is set to graduate soon from the Islamic University of Gaza with a degree in Computer Engineering. His interest is in the Android platform despite never having seen or held an Android device in person. He says in Gaza there are mostly Symbian phones and a few iPhones, but no Android devices. Because of this he works 100% in the emulator, learning from examples and books. One added challenge Mohammed faced was the fact that programming for Android is done using the English alphabet and his native language is Arabic. That’s like you or I learning to program in Cyrillic. Despite all this, he has managed to create a small, simple and clean currency converter while studying for his degree.
I talked to Mohammad through email while he prepared for his Senior Graduation Project Presentation this coming Saturday. While he has every right to complain and be bitter about his situation, he is upbeat and hopeful about the future: “…you may think life here is dark as night but also we have joy and hope and good people. We challenge our life to be happy.”
There is an irony that someone so closed in and contained would learn to program for what is essentially one of the most open and free platforms. Or maybe it is just fitting for someone so optimistic.
Mohammad is eager to meet and talk with other Android developers. You can reach him via email, Twitter or Facebook. His website is mussadar.com. We all here at Android And Me wish him the best of luck this Saturday during his Senior Graduation Project Presentation.