Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)
November 12, 2009, Thursday, Baton Rouge LA, home of J & M, in their living room:
Several breakthrough dreams last night, in the sense of being vivid, memorable, and possibly important. In the least dramatic but most intriguing—and hard to recall, describe and interpret—either I or someone else was explaining that we’d recently discovered or uncovered a remnant of an earlier people, foot prints encased in resin. These footprints were somehow connected with our early loves. If only we could detect presence in the footprints we’d have access to these earlier loves. Vague, I know, but when dreaming it I felt deeply moved.
The second was an intense sexual encounter with someone I didn’t know. Then the scene suddenly shifted to outside, a group of people lining a walkway saying, give them room, let them breathe.
So much for my dream life, what about my real life?
Well, photographically speaking much is happening. Last night, showing Gaza at the local Islamic center to about 20 tired-looking folks after evening prayer, one man from Gaza came to me later to complain about me showing Sderot [the small Israeli town 1 mile from Gaza that has suffered many of the rocket attacks] as if the suffering was equivalent, Sderot and Gaza. This felt to me like the same argument some Jews might use when someone places an experience of deep suffering beside the Nazi holocaust of the Jews: can’t compare them, the Jew might say, completely different. Has the Gaza massacre, for Palestinians, become the New Holocaust, Palestinian style? Sacred, inviolable, incomparable? And eventually used to justify subsequent acts of injustice and brutality?
The man was angry, tho polite, thanking me for my efforts, but clearly feeling wronged, slighted, misunderstood. What could I answer? I offered at least 2 reasons for including Sderot, maybe 3: it’s a strategic method to build an audience; I’m curious about life there, especially trauma; and to show the boomeranging effects of the rockets, how they’ve increased the oppression rather than decreased it. To do this I should be clearer that many in Sderot have become radicalized, more extreme against the Gazan. And world attention suddenly focused on the plight of Sderot, deflecting attention from what happened to the Gazan. His remarks confirm to me the correctness of my choice—ending the slide show with Sderot. Or so I pray.
Otherwise the show and audience seemed lacking something, not with my usual energy. Partly reacting to the poor turnout and my host, M’s, disappointment. Many more were at prayer, choosing not to remain. M takes this seriously, this lack of awareness and action among his fellow Muslims. His wife, J, also seemed to feel it. Compared with the only other mosque appearance I’ve made, this one clearly failed. But the photos looked good, the audio sounded good, and I didn’t miss many of my lines.
Other than the evening show, followed by dinner at their favorite Mid East restaurant, Almazar (the diamond), not much to narrate. I accompanied M as he did some chores. We discussed prostate problems and remedies. He suggested Flomax and Finasteride, both prescription drugs, and J added saw palmetto. I believe it’s time for me to do something about my noxious little problem.
I worked at home—this was Vet’s Day—to finish the next entry for my blog, about M and S, S especially because of the day. This entry has been one of the trickiest to edit: how much to disclose about both, especially him? I removed major portions of my story about him and his wife, trying hard to conceal their identity, protecting them: fewer weapons, virtually nothing about their free-flowing love lives. I chose not to send the initial blog version to him for checking, mainly because of the deadline, also the supposition that he’ll never see it and that I’ve done a sufficient job concealing him.
M was easier, not too much to hide. And since I do not link the photos directly with the writing, tracing who’s who will be harder. I linked to the latest photo set, and the video about McDonalds, hoping they both show something vital about my experiences in Florida.
Calling Dave yesterday to sort out the remaining schedule was helpful. Our plan now is for me to train from New Orleans to Atlanta in the next few days, depending on how much hospitalility I can find in New Orleans. Then join the School of the Americas Watch pilgrimage organized by Sister Denise and Brother Utsumi, drive with Dave back to Birmingham for that gig, and end at the SOA. The last weeks are coming together, slowly, but unless magic happens with New Orleans housing—an ironic twist on the Katrina story: Skip without housing in the Crescent City—I’ll not have much free time to explore.
My walk this morning was glorious—sunny and cool, clear sky, flat terrain, much to watch, especially the live oaks, many paths to take, no rush, and inspiring my hosts to begin a walking regimen. I miss such walking.
November 13, 2009, Friday, New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Training, Rehabilitation, and Assistance Center, guest room:
On a sunny cool morning, living alone for a change, with an open day for New Orleans exploration. The Gaza show last night, sponsored by a newly formed chapter of Amnesty International and the General Union of Palestinian Students, to about 20 students and one off campus man, Joe.
M graciously drove me all the way into New Orleans, with our usual animated conversation about political events, plus news about his precarious economic position requiring him to continue working in his civil engineering business. I experienced a big loss recently, he said, not giving details, which keeps me working. Altho he is generous and compassionate, I detect a note of deep suffering, frustration, impatience. He is often highly critical of others, using the word disaster frequently. Yet he and his wife are exemplary hosts, inviting me back for further shows. I wonder if he’d prefer being in S’s position, free from the need for paying work, able to devote full time to organizing.
On long bridges we soared over swamps,. This is a water rich area, one that if I ever finish my Palestine/Israel project I might concentrate on for its water theme. The title might be, Water in New Orleans.
The group heartened me last night, many of them young activists, attentive to my show, with many questions later. I found myself disclosing personal information to an extent unusual even for me, in particular about consequences of my secondary trauma—weeping, love, love, love, and sex. I told the story of photographing the burning mother in Nepal, occasionally glancing at Jason who is Nepali, how I noticed cattle fucking near the cremation ghats. I regarded this as a sign of the intimate connection between death and sex, or between suffering and love. That was in response to a question about how I dealt with witnessing suffering.
A related question—and I worry at times that I’m too much about me, not about others—was about how children respond to suffering: attending programs like Popular Achievement in Gaza, university enrollment, graduate education, sports, religion, sometimes extreme forms of religion as with Hamas and even more radical Islamic groups, and of course despair, caving. Which may be more prevalent than I observed because I was with a select group of Gazans.
At the show at Louisiana State University I’d seen a display about hidden people and decided to use this theme in my intro. Forgot. Forgot also at the mosque show but last night I remembered and opened with that. I asked, after explaining how I came to this idea, what are some hidden populations of humans that you know about? Only a few responses. (Of course, being hidden they might not be apparent.) I listed the Katrina population, especially people of color. Paradoxically there was great attention to Katrina itself, as a catastrophe, and some attention to the victims, of all types. But because of how blacks living in poverty were portrayed—criminals, rioters, killers, monsters in short—they were rendered invisible: their true selves were hidden. They were not rendered as human beings. Ditto for American Indians. And for the Vietnamese during the war, the gooks, and the Iraqis, and the same for the Gazans—who we are taught are all terrorists. This proved a useful frame for the show.
Also I now use the 2 images from Newsweek, Vice President Joe Biden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, contrasting them: man in suit with American flag lapel pin, smiling vs. a scowling bearded Arab. This to the point of why I do my work: to balance the big picture by portraying Palestinians as human beings.
I encouraged questions about photography, so from what equipment do you use to how are you regarded when photographing in Gaza were tossed at me. I’d said earlier to a young man who had professed interest in photography, please don’t hesitate to ask me about photography, few do, and I love those questions.
In the few hours I had between drop off and show time, I searched for internet access, found none, concluding this is one of the tightest campuses yet for internet security; walked to Lake Pontchartrain and made a panoramic photograph from a levee; bought and snagged food for later consumption (some of it I’m afraid is from the stash of the resident assistants); and pondered what to do about New Orleans, how long and where stay?
I feel cut off without Internet access. I’ve had it fairly reliably on this trip, especially during the last days in Baton Rouge, and at home since I signed up for Verizon. Without internet I am blind to new developments about trip planning, can’t get local info, can’t book my Amtrak ride (I could over the phone), won’t know if any personal messages arrived, and can’t add web material to the slide shows. Perhaps I’ll find temporary access today in my travels. A library perhaps.
Jason, my host, is from Nepal. He informed me that the campus suffered greatly during Katrina, under 18 feet, yes FEET, of water, but suffered more from the vandalism and looting inflicted by evacuees who’d been temporarily housed here. I’m not sure how true this is, perhaps a projection upon others?
He also cleared up for me the use and meaning of the term teeksa. Not pronounced teek-sa, but thik cha, 2 syllables, the Nepali pronounciation of th not available in English. And Nepali has a word for thank you, contradicting what I’d learned when in Napal in 1979, but at least I was correct in guessing that thik cha means ok, fine, why not, etc. So I’ve mauled the word, yet correctly interpreted it. End result: I’ll make no change. I’ll continue to use it for my photography passion, but not explain it as the Nepali equivalent of thanks because the language lacks that word.