Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.
October 24, 2009, Saturday, Savannah GA, Amtrak station:
Stuck here in the Savannah train station for more than 2 hours, train delayed because of the usual problems (behind freights) plus an accident, due in at 6:45 this morning, now expected at 9. So: write in my journal for the first time since Tuesday, perhaps the longest hiatus in recent memory, a severe departure from my usual every other day routine while at home and my every day pattern when in Israel-Palestine.
Since Tuesday and Raleigh NC: Hydro for a class at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Gaza at the Church of the Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, Gaza in Charlotte NC at the University of North Carolina, Gaza in Columbia SC at a university, yesterday Hydro to a class at Armstrong Atlantic State University and last night Gaza in Savannah at the university hosted by the exemplary JT and AS for what may have been my best showing of Gaza yet.
Gaza’s been too long and too wordy so I’ve been savagely cutting the length and the verbiage. While driving from Columbia to Savannah yesterday morning with Dave I edited in the car, one of the many blessings of digital technology. I’m also learning the show, what follows what, and how to speak to and from the images, how better to insert my personal emotions. Unfortunately I’ve had to jump over major sections like Rafah and Beit Hanoun to get to the final scene, Sderot. I think this is a more suitable ending than student workshop photos.
I tried that several times and because the photos do not sufficiently show the reality of siege and post assault trauma they are not an effective ending. I’m also beginning to question just how good they are and how worthy of wider distribution. They look too much like the reasonably competent photos seen around the world from most any location.
A few profiles: JT, at Armstrong Atlantic in Savannah, young, vibrant, vivacious, with a beard, living 2 years in Israel while studying at a small Jerusalem college. He knew about Gamla, knew that Jews had been long in the Golan, raised Christian by a minister father and wife, married possibly to a Jew (he said his step father had brought back a satellite map of the region), completing studies in ancient and recent history, with a specialty of 2nd temple Israel, he gave one of my best intros so far. What a difference this makes to a performance— warming up the audience, establishing the tone. He is also gracious and loving, a dear, in short, and recommended by some of his students for the award of advisor of the year.
He told me and then later, at my urging, the story of his editing a book about the Mid East, which included what he regards to be a fair minded chapter about Palestine/Israel. The publisher said no. No negotiation, no revision, a solid no, no to anything referring to Israel-Palestine.
His student counterpart at Armstrong, AS, short, slightly pudgy, jolly, energetic, committed, is the chair of the local chapter of a humanitarian organization. With JT they’ve been able to inspire students toward activism. She concurred with his observation that campus activism is on the rise. Her wish is for a career in rehabilitation. She has never traveled much further than her home in Savannah.
ZK, living in Charlotte, runs a check cashing business. His family is from Gaza, originally from Al Majdal near Ashkelon. After I’d given him teeksa’s site address I observed him downloading images from my site. We discussed where he was from, how his family had been displaced, and his current economic situation which is not sanguine. His business is housed in a relatively small space in a strip mall shared with two other businesses, mobile phone and travel. While I hung out in his tiny office no customers appeared. Likewise many of the malls are now empty, a result of the deteriorating national and international economy.
Hank, at Carol Woods retirement community, as I’ve mentioned, is irrepressible, a voluble, happy, fit fellow, who is a joy to work with. Unerringly attentive to my needs, he is also becoming a soul mate. We talked about love, eternal devotion, growing old together, etc, all my favorite topics. Man to man. He is 72, 5 years my senior, moving into Carol Woods when 68 with his wife Nancy. He retired from a career in family planning; her career had been as a guidance counselor in the lower Bronx. He now aims at prison ministry, the Alternatives to Violence Program in particular, and she toward local politics.
As I sat or wandered around Carol Woods, often in the common room with my computer work, I noticed the various forms of mobility impairment. People glided by in electric chairs, or hobbled awkwardly with walkers and canes. Who might I become, what will I look like as I continue to deteriorate? Hank is robust, walks fast and straight, as I can—for now.
Hank works with Elders for Peace. He reads for my shows, an inimitable, distinctive, loud, oddly paced locution.
MLS, activist and organizer with the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions North America and the Coalition for Peace with Justice. A very able host, she arranged many of the presentations, and in her soft voice gave a low key and engaging intro to me. With numerous connections, and a sharp awareness of the situation in Palestine/Israel, she is a valuable asset to the struggle for Palestine rights.
She said of me, after I’d asked her to say something personal in her intro, that I am an engaged person and a good listener. This was a result of the classroom appearance when I and my Hydro show were at our best. At that show, Sarah Shields, the instructor confided to me later, the students asked the appropriate questions, beginning with who am I and how do I know?
October 25, 2009, Sunday, Jacksonville Florida, Y and D’s home, front room off the kitchen:
The train delay turned out to be about 5 hours, from an expected departure time from Savannah of 7 AM to an actual departure around noon. Reason as far as I could learn was that the northbound train had hit an empty car parked on the tracks. Delayed as the tracks were cleared. Then the southbound train, mine, encountered another car parked on the tracks, also empty (one attendant speculated this is done for insurance money), requiring a tow truck, requiring time. Then the system of signal lights delayed further, because the train was off schedule. I plan to write a letter to Amtrak asking for a refund. Or not—$23 and it is not exactly Amtrak’s fault.
Sitting in the relatively comfortable Amtrak Savannah station I now had time to catch up on my journal writing, website management, and even to prepare a new blog entry. I miss this work. On the tour I have no time for it, but this gap in my schedule benefited me unexpectedly. Thank you Amtrak. (The station man offered us all free coffee, a gracious gift, easing the problem considerably. How important hospitality is at moments like this.)
One of my hosts in Jacksonville, Y, explained how he’s affected by the economic situation: as a cardiologist performing a standard stint (I remember) procedure, expecting that some 10% of is patients will be unable to pay, the uninsured, that number has risen to about 20%. His overhead is heavy and consistent, for assistants, supplies, equipment, rent or lease, and malpractice insurance. So, altho he says, we have a cushion, he is affected. How this influences his largess is a question, especially concerning the video project.
We discussed this last evening after my show of Gaza Steadfast at the University of North Florida to a relatively small crowd, about 60 people. He has some good suggestions about revising the show which I’ve recorded in my notes about the show. For the DVD we are tending to a composite show that incorporates Steadfast and Eyewitness Gaza; it might also include elements of my first Gaza show, Gaza Scorched and Squeezed.
Last night’s show went well enough, not quite as exciting as the evening before in Savannah. One criticism was that they already knew what I was showing them, that most of the audience, being Muslim, Arab and even Palestinian (from Jaffa, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem) was the choir. A frequent question—how to broaden the audience? I suspect some had seen the Eyewitness show which I brought here in February 2009 and might have felt Steadfast was too much a repeat of that show. Despite this criticism, many lauded the show, and thanked me for it and my mission. So I felt well appreciated and heard and seen.
Many children were in the audience. At first noticing them I thought this might be a problem because of the violence I include. It wasn’t. Most apparently are very familiar with such scenes. One of the last remarks came from a girl about 7 years old: I loved seeing the children with hijabs [Muslim head coverings] and wearing long gowns and worshipping Allah. Which led to my remark—I hope I was fair and balanced and respectful—that radical Islam, much in evidence in Gaza, might be part of the problem. I told the story of the extremist group that tried to declare a separate zone in Gaza, attacked by Hamas, 25 killed.
The projected image looked soft and pale to me, despite the venue being the art center with a massive projector. I noted this to the center’s director who was helping with the setup but we decided not to try adjustments. At the Savannah venue I’d also noticed a deficient image and we were able to decrease the projector’s intensity. This dramatically improved the image. I find this attention to detail crucial for a good show, as important as the manner of the introducer. Last night Y, good-natured and well meaning as he is, does not yet have a strong stage presence. Makes a huge difference in how people receive the show.
Rather than try to catch up on my days of not writing, I’m simply going to add notes below for possible later expansion.
I’m trying to also catch up on my website and blog maintenance, putting up a new site about the last days of my Israel-Palestine summer trip, and about ready to upload a new blog related to it. The topic is the Kalandia closure on Ramadan that I was caught in. Reviewing and expressing my experiences from the summer creates a time warp. This might actually add power to my editing because it allows germination, gestation, digestion, that might be missing if I edit too soon after the experience.
Of my many correspondents, C proves to be one of the most reliable. He wrote me a few hours ago from Armenia, announcing that P had arrived, met his friends, site saw, and he included some photos. 20 years ago I might have been viciously jealous and hurt of this man with my former wife. Now? Not a wisp of that feeling that I’m aware of. Rather: a good feeling that she is happy, content, becoming well traveled thanks to her good husband and my good friend, C. With a tad of envy that C has P while I, for the moment, have no one—other than whatever audience might be vicariously sharing my adventures.
So be it. This might change. This might not change. Is it a major factor in my life? How much suffering does it cause me? Am I more effective as a solo worker?
I’ve not heard from X since last Thursday when she wrote with gratitude and admiration. M has once again dropped from view, nothing substantial since about mid summer.
October 26, 2009, Monday, New Smyrna Florida, D and D’s home, open back porch:
“In the cool cool cool of the morning, tell her I’ll be there…” On the back porch in the quiet darkness at 7 AM, a slight brightening of the sky as we lurch toward winter solstice, I write. Y and D’s older daughter stood next to me yesterday morning as I wrote my journal, prepared my blog, asked what I was doing. I explained, then asked her, do you like to write? I love to write. Ever considered writing a blog? What’s a blog? I explained. On my next visit, perhaps next fall, she might tell me she now has a blog.
Another decent show last evening, Gaza again, in New Smyrna, to a crowd of about 60, including many Muslims. The imam, WA, originally from Jerusalem, had spread the word thru his mosque and Islamic center of Daytona Beach. And I think most of the audience was pleased with the show. Donations were down but enthusiasm was high, including from that of a man with his two sons who spoke with me after the show. One son had presented a report to his high school class about Gaza, saying, they told me we never knew.
One common theme of the discussion was just this, we never knew. That is, resembling the holocaust in some ways: an ignorant or denying world, egregious violations of human rights, impunity of the perpetrator of the injustice, who used methods at times resembling those of the Nazis. I’m pleased I chose to include ports of the Israeli leaders responsible for Cast Lead [the vicious and probably criminal assault on Gaza last December and January]. Reading the once again I believe prescient Uri Avnery, he outlines possible responses Israel might make to the Goldstone report’s recommendation that Israel and Hamas conduct credible investigations into their acts during Cast (avnery calls it Molten) Lead, and failing that bring the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. In doing this he fingers some of the same people as responsible parties that I do. How prescient am I?
Since the United Church of Christ church had quoted Martin’s favorite song, “Precious Lord,” I began my performance bysinging a short rendition of the song, explaining that this indicated how fearful he was at times, thus how human, and that it tied to the theme of my show, hope and hopelessness. This prelude may have significantly aided the audience reaction. I might use it more often.
I’m not only finally reaching a fairly good edit of this show but as important I’m learning it. I can better anticipate timing, where to linger, where to gallop thru, I can anticipate slides, I repeat myself less but just enough for emphasis, I believe I’ve found a reasonable way to end early, including Beit Hanoun, but the ending still seems weak.
I’m not sure about ending with Sderot. Y raised the possibility of not ending with Sderot because he feels an audience remembers best what it sees last, but with Rachel Corrie. Currently Rachel is a postscript, a coda; perhaps she should once again be the main culminating scene, as in the previous version. A question to struggle with.
About my writing, I found a perfect lesson from Rilke about how to write, it bears directly on my approach in my blog, namely,
Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty. Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.
I miss not be sharing daily or near daily reflections about writing, photographing, and love with someone—at this point, X. No word yet from her since more than one week ago. I also miss the intense dialog M and I had for a few months about one year ago. And the daily arrows of love, passion and disgust between LL and me 2 years ago. As much as I might long for a partner, a lover, I believe I also long for a consistent correspondent. Anne R at times is this. Dan at times is this but never with more than short notes. Y might have been at one time but not recently. Daughters aren’t, one is known for her pithiness. MVB periodically offers deep reflections, as she did recently in her blog about her father.
So be it. I carry on, soldier on, virtually alone.
DH, my host, is a whirlwind, a firebrand, and I think an effective activist. Like me and Anne R she is a one-issue person, Israel-Palestine, and works thru a small local peace organization. She picked me up yesterday in Jacksonville, driving 1.5 hours each way, chatting with me almost the entire way to New Smyrna. She’s been twice to Palestine/Israel, most recently during Cast Lead when she was in Bethlehem and noticed how little noticed the assault seemed to be by the Bethlehemites. She is short, about 46 years old, with D her husband and suffers from an illness that depletes her energy—watching her you’d never guess.
Since I had nearly 2 hours before the show last night and we were all set up (her husband engaging with her passion, helping her, so laudable)I went for one of my rare walks. And discovered: a historic site, where a so-called palace had been attempted by one of the leaders of the earliest manifestation of whites in the area. They built on a shell mound, a midden, perhaps more than rubbish heap, possibly a sacred site to the native people. Apparently dislodged by the local Indians in about 1777, the colony did not last long enough for the palace to be finished, so the site, now sporting a massive foundation that I thought at first might be that of a church, became a fortification and a home. American Indians burned a structure here, and eventually it was abandoned as a living site and now is a tourist site. (Y would be interested, because of her concern for American Indians and shell mounds.)
Walking further, the water, not the beach but a river or estuary system. I plan to examine the area thru Google Earth later. And during this walk I made the first photos of the trip, vegetation mostly, a boat, the historic site, nothing of much importance, just a warm-up.
As before, the K family, Y, his sister Lin, his wife D, were extraordinarily hospitable and generous to me. Like my brother in law, Y gave me a batch of clothing, one blue striped short sleeved shirt in particular which I wore last night for the first time publicly. He also donated generously, and his friend D who attended both the Gaza show and the private Bethlehem show in the K home was also generous. This assures me that I’ll have enough money until I begin earning more in January thru teaching.
About 6 friends of the K’s attended the private show of Bethlehem. All were Palestinian. The lawyer, E, apparently known for his ability to sue, questioned me loudly during the show, objecting for instance to my inclusion thru a quote that some Muslims hate some Christians in Bethlehem. Y and I asked him to hold his remarks till the end. And then during the discussion his point seemed lost or forgotten. Y had said earlier that E might be a major contributor to the DVD project. Perhaps because of my reproval of him during the show, he gave no indication of willingness to support the project. Did I speak too harshly, too soon? Have I driven away a potential contributor?
“Focusing on Ft. Hood Killer’s Beliefs Is an Easy Out to Avoid the Deeper Reasons for the Massacre”
By Mark Ames
Nov 6, 2009