In the chaotic city around him, rockets poured out of the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks rumbled by and people rioted as food, cooking oil and jobs ran short.
For four months, until late June, Yaser Wishah was stuck, simply trying to return home to Olathe.
When he escaped, it was an anticlimax of bus rides, shouting matches and, finally, a pass out of the Middle East.
Wishah had waited three months simply to get into his birthplace to see his ailing father. A planned two-month visit took nine.
Once a Palestinian, it seems, always treated by Egypt, Jordan and Israel as a potentially dangerous Palestinian.
“If I was born in America and my last name was Jackson, do you think they would do this to me?” Wishah asked.
In a spotless split-level home in an Olathe subdivision, Wishah could hardly be further from his roots.
His backyard sits next to a cornfield. His small front lawn reaches out to a quiet suburban street where SUVs crawl by. Young parents push toddlers in strollers.
If he wants, Wishah can climb into his car and drive thousands of miles in any direction. He can move pretty much anywhere he can afford to live. He can reasonably expect to find work.
Not so in the crowded neighborhood on the Gaza Strip, where he spent four months this year simply waiting to leave — with U.S. passport in hand.
He returned to the territory early this year while it was in violent flux. Hamas had seized control of the Palestinian National Authority from Fatah in 2006, which led to the United States and the European Union pulling their aid and Israel refusing to turn over taxes it had collected on the Palestinians’ behalf.
Gaza was caught up in infighting between Hamas and Fatah. Israel had blockaded Gaza. Supplies of all kinds ran short.
“Everything there is harder,” Wishah said.
For much of his life, Wishah was restricted to the Gaza Strip.
In an area about the size of Kansas City, with its 450,000 people, Gaza packs more than 1.3 million mostly poor Palestinians. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are really in control.
Even Wishah grew up throwing rocks at passing Israeli military caravans, in a setting that got increasingly tense after the intifada Palestinian uprising in 1987.
Once, when his mother stole out of their crowded home in the early morning in violation of a curfew to dump garbage in a bin, Israeli troops chased her into the family’s living room and pinned her to the floor. Wishah said he came down to protect her and ended up in jail for 10 months.
Then he grew up. In his early 20s, he taught elementary pupils at a school run by the United Nations, though he earned little.
At 23, he turned to the United States as a path to a better life. He obtained a student visa to study languages in Houston — something he can’t imagine happening in this post-Sept. 11 age — and he gradually made himself into an American.
He eventually ran out of money for school and found work buying, selling and repairing cars. Wishah married an American woman and divorced. In 2002, a friend enticed him to move to the Kansas City area to run a gas station and repair shop while they bought and sold cars on the side.
Fluent in English and increasingly American, Wishah still has family ties to Gaza. Traveling back and forth, though, has always been difficult, even after he became a U.S. citizen in May 2007.
Last year, after his father fell ill, Wishah had to wait three months in a tiny apartment in Egypt before he could enter Gaza.