TODAY: I dedicate this blog entry to the release of colleague, Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and human rights defender working in the Gaza Strip, who was kidnapped by Salafists, members of a very small extremist group in Gaza.
UPDATE: He’s been murdered, allegedly by members of a Palestinian Islamic splinter group in Gaza. However, questions remain: who benefits from his death, why was he killed hours before the deadline, and why Vittorio?
Vittorio on the right, with Adie Mormech of the International Solidarity Movement, during a meeting with farmers in the eastern buffer zone
Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.
The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”
December 7, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal
Yesterday people were very late to the photo workshop, #4 in the 8 part series, despite our new policy [We look only at the photos of those who show up first. Late? Too bad, can’t review your photos.]. 10 AM, start time, no one there. I looked out the window and saw one young man languidly entering the lower entryway, slowly making his way to class. He arrived at about 10:10. He was not one of those with adequate English. This could be a problem. Let’s start, I said, what do you have to show us? Student #2 walked in at about 10:15, another without much English. Luckily student #1 had some good photos from our trip last week to the crafts village, but wished to show us something else, some location, also very good architectural photos. I commented but without translation so there is no knowing how much came or went thru.
~~There were to be 2 more paragraphs continuing this story but MS Word froze, as it’s been doing off and on during this trip. I lost the paragraphs. Are they recoverable thru my personal memory? Let’s give it a whirl. But remember: save more often!~~
By 10:30 all of the 7 of the regulars (out of the initial 12) eventually appeared. Including Ahmed and M, 2 of the more involved and vocal students, along with R. No H today: can’t make it in, sorry, he texted me.
Despite the upsetting beginning—I had begun ruminating, has the workshop collapsed? How are we to make the movie about me teaching if I have no students?—the session turned out very well indeed. R said later, this session was amazing. We discussed beauty along with beauty and horror mixed, depth of focus (only a beginning, more on this next time), backlighting (ditto), showing one’s political and social reality, independent projects, portraiture (the main theme of the morning), exemplary portraits from Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother with the story of Dorothea’s persistence which resulted in making her fine iconic photo—which none present had ever seen or heard about, a completely different cultural context) and W. Eugene Smith (from his Minimata series, mother and daughter in a tub, resembling the pieta which also was new to my students), and other related matters. Much energy this morning, I felt, even tho all were tardy.
Later from Islam I learned about cases of absentees—Sharek Youth Forum closed by Hamas, schedule conflicts, illness, without anyone admitting the workshop was not to their tastes, or too hard, or too soft, or just not right thing at the right moment. This is the first time I’ve gotten such feedback. And it is because of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program’s IT officer Islam’s devotion to the program. A stellar man.
To the mina, or port, which seemed to excite everyone. Rain had fallen that morning, the first rain of the season. I’d tried photographing and videoing it outside on the my home plaza. Stills failed, motion worked. And I showed both to the students, with the challenge of how can you show rain with stills, and, beyond that, show the first rain of the season? Key questions, I believe, that shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the photographic medium. These themes, water, rain, challenges, might have helped inspire the field trip. 2 exercises (or 3 if I count the awareness exercise): cardinal direction awareness, in place, one of the 4 directions at a time, scan from low to high, repeat; followed by find a location, make at least 10 different photos from that one spot (I chose the new construction, showing lots of cement and a crane, very unusual for Gaza), and one frame, multiple moments for an emphasis on time (I chose flapping fabric as an illustration, doing this in 2 different locations).
New fishers’ shacks
The sky added to the thrill of the trip, large, roiling, scurrying clouds covered the entire sky. And receded as we worked, always varied, always wondrous. We were well positioned—coastal—to view the entire sky.
We concluded at the breakwater where other students had discovered the huge breaking waves. Here we romped, as if kids, playing, having fun, dodging the water (several were doused). We photographed each other photographing each other and the sea. The port is archetypal for Gazans—its freedom primarily, and the blockage of freedom, knowing the fishing industry, once thriving, is for now dormant, ruined. A complex mixture of joy and sorrow.
Skip Schiel, photo by Mesleh Al Ashram
A personal gain was discovering two men in one of the fisher shacks. I’d noticed a cat eating the remains of a fish dinner. Thinking I was alone—I’d seen no one else in this extensive series of shacks, thought they were all abandoned, perhaps people waiting for the opening of a new set which I also photographed—I spoke gently to the cat. Then I heard soft talking from the other side of the wall. Someone was there. They probably heard me. I looked around, said marhaba, continued on, heard one man say, chai?
Initially I declined, walked on, then thought, hey guy, this is an invite, not only for tea but possibly for photos. So I sat with them a while, drank the tea (la sukkar-no sugar), and was surprised when the host pointed at his friend and my camera, indicating, make a photo of him. Friend demurred, so, miming, I asked the host if he’d allow a photo of himself and off we went. Merrily along with the fishers.
At the end of this session I felt relieved, energized, happy. Truly mubsut-happy. If only they’d show up on time, if only everyone would attend, if only they’d do the assignments, if only, if only. Why worry, revel in the moment instead.
A powerful update from Y about life in Oakland, filled with trauma—and I thought I had a hard life in Gaza!—and the beginning of winter. Plus one dream that I can recall, in a night of solid dreaming:
I was lecturing a group of Gazans, young adults, maybe in a university setting. Our main theme was cross cultural differences, or intercultural understanding. I used the idea of meals as a reference point, breakfast in particular. I joked with them about the words in English and Arabic that describe the same items. The lecture was extremely interactive. It was going well until I noticed a young man, resembling Ibrahem G who in real life I’d met a few days ago while walking to the souk (market), who’s been incessantly phoning me and then because of our language differences discovers I am not very communicative with him, nor warm to meeting him again. He asks me, in the most broken English, where are you, at the katiba (parade grounds)? Where are you!? I tell him I’m home working and busy. I am sure he wants to meet—but to what point? I hate being so distant but it reflects our painful reality. I believe my dream last night reflects my dilemma about Ibrahem, wishing to be close, finding it impossible. Unless of course one of us studied the language of the other.
So an “Ibrahem” type character was in my dream, joking with a male friend, and visibly not paying attention to the lecture and dialog. He was rattling me, distracting me from the event. I just wish you’d go away, is what I thought—and didn’t utter.
Despite his interruption, I carried on. The dream ended as we produced a form of chorus, not using words, but sighs. All together now, sigh.
~~Power off. Kaput. Just off. Computer continues for awhile on battery power, but because my battery is old and feeble I doubt if I have even 2 hours remaining. Plus Internet is gone, since the router is off and there is no neighborhood network I can access. Woe is me. Let’s see how long until power resumes. It is now 7:12 AM. I will open my shutters and let in the faint light of the cloudy morning. Yesterday at the office power was also out. But the generator worked immediately this time and my workshop was not impeded.~~
TO BE CONTINUED
As an example of the work done by people such as Vittorio Arrigoni and other International Solidarity Movement workers under the direction of local Palestinian leaders, my blog about a buffer zone demonstration in Gaza