Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
June 27, 2009, Saturday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem
A remarkable set of dreams about ME: I saw her from a distance, she was as usual lovely and irresistible, but this time she sat next to a young man about her age, resembling her. Might have been her brother but more likely I thought it might be her beau. The setting was a Quaker meeting, I’m not sure she noticed me.
The scene shifted abruptly. We were together; I was peering into her face, drawn irrevocably to her beauty and tenderness. I loved her fully and wished to join with her carnally. I’m not sure about her reaction.
In the meeting there was much talk just in the introductory section. A few windbags went on and on. ME sat in on all this. When my turn came I had only 2 words to express my being: joy and despair. I added that joy was multi colored and despair was a dull shade of gray. I threw in a rant about people talking too much. ME faded in importance in this part of the dream.
Next I was with family at some sort of military demonstration. The soldiers may have been US or Israeli. They shot thru a metal door, making a loud noise. And then everything turned into a festival for African tribal kings in their regalia. I brought my grandson into the massive toilet facility to pee. My credit card and other important papers fell from my pockets, and in the confusion picking them up I lost him. So when I joined with his mother later in her broken down truck I realized, no C.
In panic mode I told J we didn’t have C and we turned around. Night had fallen. We were lost. I was to meet ME for dinner at a place and time we’d not yet decided. I had no way to contact her, or her me. My only thought was she might try to reach me at my home phone but I wouldn’t be home. I was out of the country. Oh shit, disaster, a chance to link with ME and I’d blown it.
J seemed relatively unperturbed, whereas I was close to falling apart.
Yesterday, being Friday, was a day off. I wrote and downloaded, then edited my photos for most of the morning. The facilities are decent at the Al Rowwad Center, Ahmed installed Photoshop CS 4 so I could work with my raw files, I installed software from Nikon so I could review thumbnails of the raw files. I’m pleased with what I’ve done here so far. Contrasting with the urbanity and pleasantries of Ramallah, these photos show scenes that are gritty, confined, dusty, horrible, yet with their own beauty—the refugee camp that is, and the little I’ve photographed so far.
I read, at times having little else to do (without my personal computer and not having easy access to the Center’s computer center). So far: an excellent book about Maha Ghosananda, Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia, which brings back much of my Cambodian experience of 1995, Jean Zaru’s powerful book, Occupied with Nonviolence, summarizing and giving spiritual context for resistance and survival, and now a book I found in my room by Edward Said, Peace and its Discontents, mostly about the Oslo period. He is a true visionary, way out in front of his peers and excoriated for it by all parties. Now Palestinians and many others revere him. I hope to emulate him.
Poster to Palestinian martyrs
How? By declaring the two state option dead, by advocating a one state option, by portraying facts on the ground honestly, by chiding all parties when needed, including my own movement at home, and by pushing for international accountability for all actors in this tragedy-comedy.
After the computer work yesterday, and reading at home, eating late lunch of yet more delicious falafel (costing about 2 NIS each, 50 cents), I rested and then set out around 5 pm for Bethlehem. I am much more confident now about finding my way thru the camp, out to the wider Bethlehem, and around parts of the small city. I discovered that the camp, northwest of the main city, is relatively near the nativity church. Stopping inside an entryway to a home to quell the noise of the street so I could phone Yusef in Jenin, 2 young men and a boy invited me to stay for tea. This is common, the traditional Arab hospitality, with the added lure of This is a foreigner, let’s find out about him and tell him about our situation. I rarely feel endangered by these overtures.
(However, yesterday afternoon, leaving the camp for Beth, 2 girls aged about 10 years grabbed my arms and led me into a house where another girl, slightly older, maybe 12, harangued me in Arabic. I thought she might have been high on drugs or insane; I felt threatened and hassled; I pulled my arm from someone’s grasp and fled.)
One young man is in the security force of the Palestinian Authority, protecting the president, Abu Mazen. He works and lives at the Muqata presidential compound in Ramallah for about 2 weeks and then is home for 1 week. His cousin, Awad Abu Shaereh, works for a sort of counseling agency, Connect-Middle East. Because of the language differences, my lousy, virtually nonexistent Arabic, and their limited English, nuances were lost. I understand that they told me that Hamas is definitely bad, wishes to kill Palestinians, and works with Israel because Israel also wishes to kill Palestinians. Trying to learn what they felt about the Gaza invasion, I could only elicit more of this attitude.
The young men live in separate flats in a large building housing their extended family. Their parents are related in different ways—brothers, sisters, cousins. I understand that there might be a great deal of close family relations leading to in grown marriages. (Although this might be a faulty conclusion.)
Walking further I bumped into a handsome boy who pointed out to me a kitten near a pylon base, to photograph it. Then him. For some reason I never thought of photographing the cousins. Is this failure on my part, or just responding to my muses?
This morning early I decided to walk around the camp, hoping I could find my way home. No problem: up past the Center, and out to the Apartheid Wall and back. I like this time of day for photographing—cool air, soft light, no one out other than a boy and his father moving a bed frame. And a few wandering sauntering women covered head to foot in the Muslim costume.
I discovered a huge Italian Franciscan church and convent, heavily walled in, a sort palace in the midst of poverty. Not a good showing for the Catholic Church. Not exactly one with the people. But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they are very linked to camp life. Their site is opposite the wall, which I leisurely photographed this morning. The graffiti is spectacular: a supine male figure, stretching out over about 20 cement panels; a docile looking bulbous face; steps leading up and over; 2 African American boxers, one maybe Mohammed Ali; and a portrait of Mickey Mouse with the words, This is Not Disney Land; among a few.
This morning also I found an email about the Al Rowwad tour coming to Boston in mid July. I added some words about being in Bethlehem now with Al Rowwad and photographing the rehearsal yesterday and then forwarded to the list and my own Boston list.
Photographing the rehearsal I noticed the children seemed fully engaged, very expert, lively, having fun, whereas Abed, the director and possibly the author of the play, looked sorrowful, not having much fun, distracted, worried. Perhaps he’s thinking, These kids are not ready for an international tour. They’ll embarrass me and the Center. Or worried about funding for the Center. He confided to me that space is an issue—not enough.
And finally a very personal note: yesterday morning trying to fit the pot lid into the pot I accidentally pushed it thru and spilled boiling water on my left hand, scalding myself. Luckily this is not serious. I don’t even show a scar. Moreover, I’ve had migraines on both mornings here, this morning as I prepared to leave the house, that vibrating pattern that sometimes occurs, and yesterday, a fuzzy center of my vision. In both cases, I found a place to rest, closed my eyes, meditated, and within 15 minutes all that remained was a headache.
The coach for this session