Bureij refugee camp, Gaza Strip, May 2006
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.
Now that Fida [director of the AFSC youth program in the West Bank] has taught me the characteristics of a refugee camp I can pick out the vertical construction, narrow passageways, poverty, and preponderance of kids. I’ve not yet seen raw sewage in the streets, one of the conventional images of the camp, nor piles of garbage. Thanks to Ragdha’s brother, Mohanad and younger brother whose name I’ve forgotten, I saw more of the camp, street life and family life. We visited the family of 2 brothers in a different family, 1 of which had been shot 3 times during the various intifadas. He proudly showed us his photo album of images made while recovering in hospitals in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Mohanad explained that sort of international support has dried up. Someone shot now earns little outside help. More
After a long, nearly long lost and losing drive from Athens Georgia to Aiken SC, about 4 hours driving in the dark, under a full moon, thru the empty countryside, thanks to wrong directions derived from Google maps by 3 young women of the Georgia State University-Athens. Pulling in at 1 AM, C hosting me but now long asleep, me waking 5 hours later feeling fully refreshed. But will I crash mid show today or tonight, falling sleep at my computer switch?
Went like this, yesterday: show at Emory, the Candler School of Theology, the show Bethlehem, slotted into a 50 minute lunch period. Hate that. I just started the show and quit it at the time-defined moment but it felt not only abruptly truncated but deflated somehow, with minimal energy—the part definitely not standing for the whole. Students were more or less mute. Beth, my host, confided that the student body tends to conservatism, and that there is a strong presence of Christian Zionists. She explained that she’d hoped I’d help light a little fire. I doubt I did, if anything I smothered whatever embers might have been aglow.
The woman introducing me, who’d picked me up from K and B’s, a poet, told me about her recent experience in Palestine/Israel and the general region. In Palestine don’t drink the tap water. Enter Israel, drink the tap water. Enter Bethlehem, don’t drink the tap water. I asked her to read her poem during her intro. Encapsulating, the part standing for the whole, one of the main points of my work on Palestine-Israel, this might have been the major “take away” of the event.
Later, Beth Corrie—Corrie? Are you related to Rachel? She’s my cousin, first cousin, 8 years my junior—explained to me that the student population, all graduate students, are new to activism, or haven’t yet reached that stage. Also activism waxes and wanes in Atlanta, is slowly recovering after a recent peak.
I pumped her for data and stories about Rachel and here’s what I learned: Rachel had been precocious in art, able to write a better poem at age 4 than Beth could as an adult. She danced, made puppets, drew, wrote. Thus, Beth thought, she had an inordinate level of compassion and sensitivity. Her mother, Cindy, started an alternative grade school that Rachel attended, and in this context Rachel attended the conference about poverty that she spoke at—age 10.
Cindy and Craig, her parents, quit all they were doing after she died, Cindy her various jobs, Craig his insurance business, to devote full time to circulating Rachel’s story. Each family member was affected by Rachel’s death, each moved slightly or dramatically forward in social activism.
Beth is on the faculty of Candler, working with high school youth bringing them on campus for an early experience in seminary, and teaching a college course that is something about conflict resolution, I believe. She has her PhD and must be now about in her mid 30s. She hosted me. She chose an 11 by 14 photo of kids playing in Beit Lahiya, because, she said, It feels hopeful. She offered me the going price, $20—I gave her the photo, both to thank her for her hosting and to honor her for her relationship with Rachel (and all the information she gave me).
Too bad my Bethlehem show was so weak, and the discussion vapid. No one stayed later to discuss, even tho we offered pizza. I had to whisk out of the room so another group could use it.
The evening show went better, Gaza to about 30 mostly students at Georgia State University in Athens, a huge campus of 30,000 students, the campus reverberating with the din of construction. Here I was hosted by S, Palestine-American, part of a student activist group about the Mid East. She was most gracious and thoughtful, picking me up from the half way point that Beth dropped me at, treating me to Thai food in the lazy college town with many bars, then driving me thru the night to meet Dave in Washington Georgia. I’m so sorry, she said, when realizing someone had made a huge mistake in directions, and she was not carrying a map.
S’s family, with roots in Palestine, is more immediately from Jordan. She returns there regularly. Never to Palestine. Her friend, the ever laughing and rasping, A, is also Palestinian, but her family is from Syria. They had many in-jokes to share as we drove and ate, laughing regularly. One stream of jokes was about their over attentive parents. When telling these jokes, they would feign an Arabic accent. One joke was about the word crackers, the name of S’s dog. Why crackers, daddy? It was the first word I learned in English.
They were very worried driving with me thru the night, and not happy about driving back without a white male in the car. One wore a hijab, S is dark skinned. Thus the worry.
Riding with them to meet Dave I received the feeling what hanging out with a young woman that age—S is 21—might mean. As socially engaged as they are, S at least, they talked endlessly about food, shops, styles, etc, a step, a small step, from high school banter. Not for me.
Some of the more vexing questions from the shows: one state vs. two states, inside information about Hamas, election (yesterday it happened in Israel, outcome unknown to me at this point, I’ll soon check), action ideas, Boycott-Divest-Sanction campaign, local campaigns, but nothing about Rachel, nothing about me personally. At a recent show one young man later asked me privately how to prepare for a career in photojournalism like mine. Answer: practice photography incessantly and learn all you can about your area of concern.
I met JM at the Athens show, an older man wearing a suit, but very astute about the Israel-Palestine issues. And active. He bought a photo, snatched much literature, talked to me at length later about links with his church community, the Presbyterian mission group that I think I heard about in December on the tour south.
It’s all about networks.
Y wrote a long loving letter about her recent medical issues. She mentioned in her letter not trusting me with confidential information like this. She wrote about my grand daughter E’s love and hate of certain words, and how this drives her mom K nuts. But, Y, the writer, said: not to worry, it indicates that E is thinking about words. Maybe you and I could make a list of words with the feelings attached. Y would have made a fine parent, and, given certain adjustments on both our parts, a fine life partner.
Driving to Aiken last night with Dave, he was excited about tour prospects, namely Florida and other regions of the south. He suggested cuts I could make in Bethlehem, apologized for squeezing me into a narrow time slot for today’s show at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, and for spotting me in such widely distant regions, like Aiken. Confessing, I wanted you here in Aiken. He also suggested we make a DVD of some of my shows, maybe like Anna Baltzer’s, or maybe like Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. I lean toward that general idea if it can be more than me sitting calmly like Anna presenting a tepid show. Something with chutzpah.
One of my biggest fears on this tour is forgetting to pack something vital when I shift locations, such as my computer or the adapter or my wallet or my notebook. So far, nothing of note left behind. But, ejecting from the car yesterday afternoon, between B and S, I must have left my Popular Achievement cap in B’s car. Then arriving in my room last night, as if in a dream, there was a pair of what I think is my underwear, left here from my first tour in summer 2007. An equal exchange? The cap is no problem. I borrowed a replacement from Dave and have multiple Popular Achievement caps at home. So far I believe I have my computer, adapter, wallet, and notebook.
—February 11, 2009, Wednesday, Aiken SC, with Dave’s friend C