Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
July 1, 2009, Wednesday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:
One scant dream, about watching M perform in a play. I was sitting with P, I knew something special was about to happen with M, and sure enough, bare-chested (or maybe entirely nude)—I noted to myself that this was the first time I’d seen her breasts—she flew off, over the stage and above the audience, on wires. P also discovered that M practiced yoga, she could tell from her performance.
Otherwise the calmest quietest coolest (yet hot) most comfortable night yet in the camp. Sleeping in the front room, subject to street sounds, there were only a few. The grating sound that woke me yesterday morning, I discovered by noticing all the water hoses lying about and pumps running, was indeed, as suspected, a water pump filling the roof tanks. Not even the muezzin seemed to disturb me. Roosters crowed at the appropriate moment but these are lilting sounds, lulling sounds, reminding me of farms. No problem here.
Yesterday began calmly enough until Ahmed came by to tell me, Can you be ready to go in a few minutes, you can come with us to set up for the festivities. I still wasn’t sure where and what the festivities were, imagining something joyous, outside, and based on hands on work with kids, maybe art and performance activities. This I gleaned from the brochure Samira had given me. So I rapidly put away my journal writing (when Ahmed arrived I was bare bottomed, but luckily I’d left my key in the lock so he couldn’t immediately enter, I had time to put on my shorts, look decent.) did my toilet, packed my gear, and set off…to wait.
How typical—and this is not meant as criticism of the Center’s practices, I encounter it regularly while on the road: hurry up and wait. Plans change. I’ve become much more patient and understanding about this, I carry a book, snacks, water, and I always have my camera, so I can entertain myself if needed. I waited one hour for a bus to arrive, boarded it with many kids and a few staff and then rode thru town to a social center. More waiting as staff set up chairs, kids flowed in. By the coordinator’s reckoning they totaled 700, some 150 for each of 5 sites, mostly refugee camps in the area, I think I heard as far away as Hebron. Kids were young, between about 5 and 12 years old, most wore the white t-shirts of Al-Rowwad, some wore the tan caps of the Center. This is a program called Mobile Beautiful Resistance which I think consists mainly of art and culture training at various sites. It is funded by “Her Highness Shekha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al-Qasimi, wife of the Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasim, member of the Higher Council and Ruler of Sharjah.” Never heard of any of it, might be an oil-based Arab kingdom.
Lots of noise, lots of waiting—the show finally began around 10:30—and lousy light. I’d brought the wrong equipment, no external flash which I left in Ramallah, and no fast lens which I didn’t think I’d need if we were to be outside. I did bring the Canon camera and so could use its telephoto function. Otherwise, looking at the photos later I was disappointed—reddish, blotchy, too many too wide, not enough concentration on single kids, little action, too much sitting around. Yuck!
Debke, Palestinian national dance
The early events—a bunch of talks by elders, including Abed—did not exactly ignite the audience. Children were restive, noisy, playful, but respectful. Only when children themselves took the stage, giving readings, singing, and finally the ultimate: the debke, did the children pay much attention. Watching debke, kids in the back stood on chairs, clapped wildly. I hope I show some of this excitement.
During a pause I noticed a startlingly gorgeous—how else describe her classic beauty?—young Western woman sitting with a small child, the child snuggling up to the woman. I was attracted as much by her beauty as by the meaning of this singular event, the touch between younger and older. Unfortunately a head intervened and blocked a clear view of the scene. I tried, but the scene had ended by the time I found a good position. Plus I did not want to be noticed gawking.
Samira pleaded with me to download all the photos immediately into one of their computers, not to wait the one day I’d requested so I could select and process (Hurry and wait) because “the TV stations need them.” I did this, noting to Murad that most of the photos are in Raw file format and therefore not easily useable. He seemed undaunted, claimed to know what to do with them. After downloading into my computer so I could work on them at home, I put them on the Center’s computer, leaving the card and reader downloading while I left for home, thoroughly fatigued.
Working late last night, they now do not seem half bad, but oh, so much better had I thought to ask more about the event, bring the proper equipment. Lesson learned: ask first, discover enough about the photo session to anticipate all needs.
I should finally download a noise reduction plug-in to see if it makes a difference. This is a continually vexing problem for me, low light, blotchy reddish images. I can remove the red, not the blotches.
Then on the other side of the event—I’m still not sure what they call it, festivity, celebration, commencement, opening?—more waiting. By now I was exhausted, spent, depleted, had had enough kids, enough tumult, enough cacophony and chaos. Our Aida camp group was among the last to leave. Buses came, went, returned. However as I lingered I might have made some of my best photos of the entire day: the drumming and singing, kids hanging on adults, the balloon breaking game. Staff seemed very resourceful in finding activities while waiting. While someone was face painting next to me, she spilled yellow paint on my bag. I have this as a souvenir. Also, while photographing the drumming, a staff member, a rotund smiling friendly guy, asked to borrow my camera and photographed me clapping my hands in time with the drumming and singing—a cameo appearance of the photographer.
M commented on my taxi video, observing that the objects dangling from the rear view mirror showed the taxi’s motion. I’d not noticed this, either in the taxi or the video, but it helps portray the speed and curviness and danger of the ride. The video had reminded her of a similar ride on narrow roads in Pakistan with her sister, the same terror. I asked if she’d been chanting Namu myoho renge kyo then and wrote how it helped save me.
I contacted Robin T and set up an appointment tomorrow at his office. I hope he gives me many water leads. I may be strongly reminded of ME since I assume this is where she worked when here 3 years ago interning.
Today: computer work at the Center, maybe more work on yesterday’s photos with Murad, for sure give him a set of altered photos from last night, dinner with Ramzi at his house tonight, maybe a walk around town. Oh yes, the Freedom and Justice Crier, let’s see if I can finish it today. Plus backup everything made to date in Bethlehem.