At home in Cambridge Massachusetts I am now recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day.
While in the area south of Gaza City we heard shooting, Awni rightly concluded this was from a funeral. He’d heard Israelis had recently invaded Al Bureij refugee camp, some Palestinians killed, and guessed the funeral was in Al Bureij. We reached the camp moments later to join a huge throng of men of all ages—women don’t attend these events unless immediate family in which case as either they with the family lead the parade to the cemetery or ride in cars to join the mourners for the burial—and eventually Awni dropped me off with Adham to join the marchers. More
As if a rampaging dream factory, my mind last night seemed totally focused on Gaza. Each time I awoke to pee, every 2 hours or so, I dipped into yet another dream about Gaza. All were benign, none violent, some ominous. In one I was helping decide how a group could get into Gaza. In another, Ibrahem appeared. I do not remember any of them in detail, not even my feeling state.
A pleasant uneventful train ride from Greenville SC to Atlanta (later, checking my notes from July 2007, I confirmed my suspicion that I’d departed from Greenville for Boston, the end of my first southern tour in 2007), about 3 hours, $30, sleeping part of the way, reading, writing, arriving to meet B and drive to his home, meeting his wife K, who heads the local library system, settling in with a light breakfast of grape juice, oatmeal with raisins, and hot cocoa. Then Atlanta Friends meeting which I could barely remain awake for. Despite what some commentators thought was a gathered meeting, I found it tepid and boring, with the usual platitudes. Only one message remains for me, a song sung by an extremely obese woman with tears in her eyes—about what I do not recall.
Then my turn: the Gaza show to about 10-15 listless souls, one of the dreariest presentations yet. Maybe my sleepiness, maybe their disinterest, maybe my condemnatory attitude about Quaker silence. Perhaps I stifled them with my introduction: berating friends for their silence. But I did extol or try to redeem Quakers by mentioning our Cambridge meeting deciding to sign the Interfaith Peace Declaration and donate $10,000 to the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. The press of time weighed on me as well, B informing me earlier, several times, that 1-hour is about the upper limit.
A question from audiences that repeats is how much support does Hamas get by Gazans? And I have to honestly answer, I’m not sure (nor is anyone probably). Hamas was elected because it’s honest and helps people and may be more effective that their rival, Fatah, in ending the occupation, not because of their platform that calls for the end of Israel by violence. Chagrin at their tactics, extra judicial executions for one. Waxing and waning depending. Now I’m not sure. Hamas claimed victory because it survived the recent vicious assault, Israel claimed victory because of how much of Hamas it destroyed.
Later at the community dinner, I chatted with J and A, who I know from 1999 when, on a small pilgrimage I’d designed in the south after I’d skipped out of the Middle Passage Pilgrimage , I’d visited them in their home, using their computer. They were both curious about Israel-Palestine history, A asking me to sit with him to lay it out. Before I got very far others sat with us and the conversation shifted.
Does your community ever have programs about Israel-Palestine? I asked A.
No, too controversial. And we have many Jews here. Instead we talk about where to put the compost pile. And similar topics.
I thought, Here I am, an unusual resource, why not persuade me to give an informal show?
Well, the food was good, the conversation engaging, and the wifi worked so I arrived early for the community dinner, stayed late.
The setting is a co-housing project, very large, some 60 households. Folks formed it I believe it in the early 1970s, with significant help from Atlanta Friends meeting (Quakers do education and housing very well, political work poorly, in my view.) Sited in a mixed income, mixed race neighborhood (Eastlake), with few Quakers now living in the co-housing, it has turned into a gated community. B explained that to gain financing the funders required gates. Pioneers thought they would accommodate the funders and then remove the gates. Too late—others moving in demanded the gates remain. Residents have not reached a compromise about when the gates might remain open, like on evenings and weekends. So we have a gated community.
Surrounding this community the homes tend to be rougher, smaller, and crime is a significant factor. People like B, who has retired from what I think was a job with the state to become a full time activist, have not been able to effectively link with key elements of the surrounding community, such as churches.
While sitting on the porch of the community center I noticed a few Blacks, and while walking to the center, more African American children, but very oddly, none appeared at the meal, except for a Black woman I’d seen at meeting, who seems to be a guest.
B and Kathy have a relatively small home, 2 levels, downstairs with the guest room where I stay, my own toilet, a sitting and dining area, and a small kitchen with minimal counter space. Upstairs they have at least 2 bedrooms, another toilet and maybe either a 3rd level or another room. They did not raise their kids here, 2 sons and 1 daughter. (Their screen saver is a photo of one son with his wife, each looking longingly lovingly into the eyes of the other.)
The immediate neighborhood is fenced in, access controlled by the gate and a locked door. Houses conjoin and cluster. Kids abound, playing safely throughout the acreage. There is a small pond, a stream, a field which they rent out to organic gardeners, other garden space, woods, and surrounding this, the scary (to some) neighborhood that is excluded.
With B’s advice I walked the area. A long walk, more than 3 miles, till my knees ached and my left foot began a rare blister thru my sandals. Around the golf course, past elegant and expensive homes, and into the dreaded neighborhood of relative shacks. Rich and poor, nearly side by side. White and black, neighboring unhappily.
My plans for the next few days are set for shows, but not for transport and hosting. I wrote Dave and local hosts last night, hoping for some clarification this morning before too long. How do I get to the next site, Georgia State University, and then to Kennesaw State tonight? And tomorrow’s sites? All this—I’m sure, I’m certain, I have faith—will become clear later.
Appearances at universities and colleges sound good, but occasionally this means a student in a shriveled organization has booked a small room, done minimal publicity, able to draw only a tiny audience, which may or may not be receptive and eager. I shouldn’t be too dire: occasionally many attend and the reception is solid. I have yet to garner a major official booking at a university or college. Oddly enough, if I were to generalize, so far the most enthusiastic and engaged audiences have been elders at retirement communities. Are they among the few populations that have the time—and energy—for difficult topics?
I’d been curious about Jimmy Carter’s book tour: what is the book, and why the tour? What is his primary message? I found an interview with him that revealed: he is hopeful, with the Obama administration and what he knows of current Israeli politics, that peace is possible and could arrive soon. I am skeptical. And said so in a posting I sent last evening to my lists, linking to his interview, questioning his assumption that the 2 state solution is the most viable plan and the most accepted. I added a note about my tour.
Not mentioned in the interview was the upcoming election in Israel. Signs are not sanguine. An extreme right wing government might assume power, led by Bibi Netanyahu and with the extreme right wing Lieberman in the cabinet.
B and K seem to be a happy couple. They range around each other in love and admiration and understanding. They are yet another model of success as a married team. They look approvingly at each other, fill in blanks left in stories told by the other without interrupting or contradicting. They are a team, a 2-some, a unit. As I’ve felt only piecemeal with my 2 main partners, X and Y. So again I wonder—why does this seemingly universal knack for couplehood appear to be absent from me?
Planning to review and download all my photos from this trip, mainly from the mountain waterfall walk with David, I discovered an error message: Card is not formatted. I couldn’t access the files. Something electronic snapped, maybe a directory. I’d just been photographing yesterday on the local walk and all seemed to work well. Can I retrieve files with special techniques and software? I should have followed my discipline and downloaded more frequently. I plan to do a web search today when I get access. And save the card till I return home. This could be a blow, but not a serious blow—I’ve done little significant photography on this journey.
As I write, 7:20 AM, the sky is glowing bright orange. Squirrels and birds forage. The temperature is mild. Sunset is dramatically later than Boston at this time, and sunrise also. We are further west. The moon has been full. I’ve greeted my dear mother Pearl regularly. I hope she is proud of her son and forgives me all my many transgressions.
—February 9, 2009, Monday, Atlanta, with B and K