Again no dreams recalled. I’m sensing that I dream but they quietly unfold as if under thick blankets, moving this way and that slowly—or rapidly—their outlines or bulges only, not their details. In the morning all I can remember are the curious folds in the blanket, not what made them. So for virtually my entire 3 weeks in Gaza I’ve not had the benefit of sharply recalled dreams. Do they operate anyway? Leaving imprints on my being, adjusting my photography and teaching, guiding me silently and hidden?
The major event recently was a trip with a Palestinian Hydrology Group water engineer, Bashar Ashour, to the north of the Gaza Strip, Beit Lahiya and the sewage lagoons (lagoon sounds so pleasant, romantic—where canoes with lovers comport during the evening light, kissing and promising marriage). I’d asked for this tour because of the flooding I’d read about last spring when one of the pools burst, killing and injuring many. When I was here in May 2006 with Amani and Melodie we discussed what might happen if such an event occurred. It occurred, but not where the PHG expected, not one of the largest ponds discharging into main population centers. It was a smaller makeshift pool. Its walls rent, the victims were Bedouin.
Bashar walked me nearly to the breached wall, advising me to go no further because this was a danger zone. Fighters launch homemade rockets into Israel from here, Israel lobs artillery shells back. Could happen at any moment. He believed that any damage caused by shelling to the ponds is not deliberate, contradicting what engineers claimed on my last trip. Curiously enough, again, I didn’t feel much fear walking here, assuming Bashar would guide us prudently—he’d said earlier how frightened he was when in this area generally, how he avoids it.
Despite the danger (and demonstrating the desperation and lack of options) people live here, some in the small Bedouin village of Umm Nasser in homes made of concrete blocks, some still in tents (the catastrophe occurred in March 2007), and some even on the other side of the breach, nearer Israel.
The flowing dunes, the animal and human tracks in the sand, the open sky, the relatively mild breezes all brought to mind an outing on a beach, say Gloucester with LL, wandering thru the dunes searching for a spot to put down our blanket, eat lunch, sip wine, make love. I hope my photos convey this contradictory impression: beauty and serenity at a spot of horror, actual and potential.
Walking thru the village was equally strange. People were friendly, Bashar stopped to chat with several. One elderly man guided us, explaining what happened where, showing us the height of flood mark, about 1.5 meters, the place where a girl drowned (the photo showing Bashar’s hand pointing to wall inscriptions which says, “Here a girl died in the flood” or similar). We dropped by the local “saloon,” (misspelled regularly in Palestine) a crude barbershop with 3 young men. The customer was having his haircut in what I assume is the latest style—almost bald near the neck, longer higher. Both were eager to be photographed, as were most of the men, some of the kids, none of the women, few of the girls. An assortment of gorgeous welcoming people. Looking at my set later I noticed that two boys who’d insisted on posing both had dribbling noses, one a rash on his face, perhaps a consequence of the sewage all around them.
I’d asked Bashar about the medical effects. He’s worried most about chronic problems that are yet to be studied. Unfortunately the clinic was closed—this was the day of mourning for the shaheed (martyrs) of Gaza City, the 18 or so Israel killed in a raid on Shati/Beach refugee camp, mourning throughout the West Bank and Gaza, many stores closed, all schools and government offices closed, how much of the world would bother to mourn or even notice?—so we didn’t get good information about this. Maybe later when I write this to the blog and I’ve done my research.
One of the main virtues of returning to topics and regions is gaining opportunities to follow up. One and one half years ago I first visited this site, 8 months ago something happened here that I learned about, yesterday I was on site exploring the details and ramifications. Next year who knows, I might stay overnight with a family whose home and lives were devastated by the event.
When the walls broke the water ripped out, racing down hill without warning, peaking at about 2 meters high—pounding raw sewage. Five dead, 25 injured, 250 homes destroyed. Worse than river water, worse than ocean tsunami, hurling turds and other waste and toxins straight for your home, you. Walls disappeared, roofs collapsed, roads were wiped out. Walking thru later I saw much of the ruination. It has not been rebuilt. Reason: the siege. The UN Relief and Works Administration provided funding but because of Israeli closures the villagers can’t buy cement and other building materials. They use the money to rent in town, higher up. We noticed a cart piled with bedding, pulled by a donkey. The family was returning from where they’d stayed temporarily to what I gather is a more permanent residence. Some were still living in tents near the place of wall collapse.
Bashar is a young man, perhaps in his early 30s, slender, dark haired, well spoken, with 2 kids living in the south of Gaza City. Trained in Syria, living most of his life there, returning to Gaza because of family ties (grand dad and great grand dad from the destroyed arab village before Ashkelon was founded, they’d been forced out in 1948, to Gaza), he seemed sensitive to water issues. He offered to take me to the south of the Strip, Rafah, on another day to visit similar waste ponds. One in particular he wanted to explore and show me, a small pond designed to collect storm water. Because residents make illegal hookups from their indoor toilets to the storm sewer line—cheaper than a septic tank which needs expensive periodic cleaning—the system is overloaded. There is no treatment for the waste. It is collected in a pond, the pond is stressed, it could overflow or the walls could breach as happened in Beit Lahiya. I may have visited this site last year with Amani and the Palestinian Water Authority where I made what some regard to be a beautiful water photo: a lake of poisons near homes.
Before setting out Bashar gave me an overview of the water situation in the Strip. He is a very good explainer, I’m sorry I didn’t have this orientation earlier. It was the equivalent of the International Solidarity Movement training I received in my first week on this trip. He used a map that showed various layers of elements, such as the main roads, side roads, water wells, settlement blocks, and sewage treatment plants existing and proposed. He also gave me a set of photos of the flooding, some made during the first hours by an engineer with a mobile phone camera thus low resolution, the rest made by him. I intend to blend these with my own images to flesh out the full story.
This was a profound experience for me, witnessing another effect of water. Water the purifier, water the sustainer, water the killer.