Gaza, January 2008
Dinner at Ibrahem’s—Mosab, grilling shishkabob
Recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day. All photos in this post are from my presentations.
This dream, while lying on a thin mattress on the floor in the apartment of Mohamed S: I was presenting a major portion of the story from the book, The Lemon Tree, to a public of some sort, a large crowd. I was reading from a script and came to the part about the Jewish woman from Bulgaria who took over or was given the house in Ramle. I dropped the script to improvise the story. I became emotional and wept.
Doing the Dabka, Palestinian traditional dance
The Gaza show last night at the University of North Carolina Charlotte was among the most powerful I’ve given to date. Not so much because of the show itself but because of the audience: many Palestinians, including the phenomenal Said M, a young man from Beit Lahiya in Gaza. He’d met me at the train station, shepherded me thru the day, helped me set up for the show, brought me to 2 museums, and then introduced me. Along the way I learned part of his story:
He’d lived 7 years in the States with his family here, possibly while his father completed his PhD. They returned to Gaza because bringing up girls in the States, for a traditional Muslim family, was difficult. Said completed undergrad studies at the Islamic University in Gaza, the same one Israel bombed during the recent assault or massacre. He taught in rooms he learned had been destroyed in the recent violence. In 2006 he qualified for a Fulbright scholarship to study in the States and here begins one of the most dramatic portions of his story, which I’ve encouraged him to write.
Every day he’d go the long bumpy 25-mile or so road from Beit Lahiya to the Rafah border hoping for passage into Egypt where he’d procure a visa for the USA. Each day he’d wait, and for some 10 days, 3 or so trips per week, he’d fail and return home. Finally, unexpectedly, he learned that the UN had provided a bus that would expedite passage thru the border for selected students leaving Gaza for higher education elsewhere. His father drove him at breakneck speed along the coastal road, arriving at the border just in time to board the bus.
Here I doubt I can recover all the details. Suffice to say, thru a series of passages, thru a series of gates, using the imprimatur of the UN, they finally passed thru. At some point his finger was injured because he was squashed between fences, 1000s of fellow Gazans also trying to pass. He lost his luggage. And then when confronted by the Egyptians who apparently are devoted to making life very tough for Gazans entering Egypt, he had more hassles. Finally, days into this proceeding, he succeeded in entering the States.
He earned his master’s degree in information and security technology—I joked with him that when looking for a job in security he might consider Israel—at the Lacrosse campus of the University of Wisconsin, and now he is in his first year of PhD work in the same field at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
In Gaza he’d been married, had one child, and left when his wife was pregnant with their second. He’d intended to extract his family to share his life in the US. This proved impossible. Eventually he and wife divorced, she left their two children with his folks who are raising them along with some 10 other offspring of their own. His father is a professor at a Gaza university, they are relatively well off for Gazans, they are originally from Gaza (Said estimates some 40% of Gazans are originally from Gaza), and he is uncertain about how and when to return home. He is determined to return.
He is short, has a somewhat high shrill voice, his round face slightly stubbled, and his head is balding. He’s affable, articulate, speaks in virtually unaccented English. He tells his story well, both to me personally and to the group last evening, mostly college students, during the discussion period. I mark meeting him one of the most significant moments of my last 5 years.
Skip Schiel (left) with friends
Besides Said at the show last night, drawing some 50-60 people, was a man whose family home is opposite the upper Ramallah Friends School; his mother still lives there and I might visit her on my next trip. She is 90. His son read the Yusef and Belal portions of the show last night. Also attending the show: a man from Haifa, outspoken in his analysis of the injustice, and a woman who I believe said she was raised in Lebanon but is Palestinian. Plus a group that conversed together after the show in Arabic. They helped themselves to many of my mail-in political postcards. Folks contributed nearly $200 in sales and donations.
I’ve winnowed the show down to about 50 minutes, dropping the hospital, Bureij funeral, and all but the Beit Lahiya portions of hydropolitics. Too bad, good sections, but including everything taxes the audience and dilutes the effect. I’ve also deleted, for now, the few photos I had of greenhouses and importation of gas—not enough to make a scene, too distracting to include.
Last night I forgot to set the presentation mode for notes on my laptop, presentation on the big screen, so the two views were identical and I couldn’t see my notes. This might have worked better, I needed to improvise the captions.
So I thank my muses, once again, for coming thru. Thank god, the show is finally evolving into a strong presentation.
Later, partly in celebration, Mohamed brought Said and me to a Mid East restaurant, the Jerusalem. We joked that now at last Said can visit Jerusalem. A heap of food, most of which I couldn’t finish, included fried breaded fish, yellow rice, tahini sauce, salad, olives, cukes, flat bread, tabouli, hummus, olive oil of course, tomatoes, and baklava. Mohamed also treated me to snacks for the road: a huge box of Arabic sweets.
M wrote a most cryptic but loving and caring note. This always buoys me. I was careful to write in kind, just short enough, hopefully packing a love punch, but not gushing. Louise, in comparison, wrote a relatively long letter about her recent trip to Maine, giving a dynamite workshop, loving the train and bus. Such a contrast: 2 flames, one burning bright, one casting an enduring glow.
Mohamed S, a professor of information and security technology, originally from Egypt, living in the Emirates for a spell where much of his family is now, is hosting me in his decidedly bachelor apartment. We are situated in a large strip mall. This morning, before sunrise, I looked out his rear window on the parking lot. Snow fell during the night, about 1/2 inch, and grandly covered the tamarack. Various lights shedding various colors richly illuminated the scene. Reaching for my Nikon with its beloved wide-angle lens I couldn’t find it. Oh shit, where is it? Said’s car? Mohamed’s car? Did I lose it? I’m confident I’ll retrieve it soon. So I improvised with the Canon, not the same effect at all. Perhaps this is a sign to wean myself from the wide-angle lens.
Mohamed and I met last December at the Charlotte showing of Bethlehem thru the Presbyterian Church. On short notice he agreed to host me for this trip. Last night after the show various people implored me to return soon, maybe on my way back from Jacksonville. This is a new phenomenon for me—my shows so sought. Similarly, I found in my email last night (up late, after an overly exciting evening) that Dave had booked me into Birmingham this Sunday. To do this I’d have to leave Atlanta shortly after the show at the Quaker meeting, fly a few hours to Birmingham, give a show at 7 pm, reside overnight and leave early the next morning by air to return to Atlanta. I wrote Dave, Sorry old guy, this is too complicated and too taxing on my system. Please cancel, thank them for their interest and effort, tell them perhaps another time.
As celebrityhood might creep up on me, riches also, both undesired, popularity could swamp me and turn me into a robotic presenter and a puffed up pedant. Do I really want to scamper about the world accepting all invitations to give shows? Maybe it’s like someone hungry for love who can’t stay with one person long enough to fully comprehend the other—and the self in the other. Flit flit never settle.
This morning I’m not sure when my driver will appear, when I’ll leave for Columbus, how long I’ll have to wander around the neighborhood mall and parking lots, who the driver will be.
—February 4, 2009, Wednesday, Charlotte, NC