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.)
(Please see links at the end of this post for more information about the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina)
November 22, 2009, Sunday, Columbus Georgia, home of N and J, bed of my bedroom:
A grand finale to my southern tour yesterday: march to the gates of Fort Benning with Nipponzan Myohoji [the Japanese Buddhist order building peace pagodas and conducting pilgrimages, socially engaged Buddhism] drumming, along a big highway, many honks in support; a rally at the gates, enclosed by multiple fences, some with razor wire, numerous security personnel (what does all this cost the various governments? How useful or useless is it?); the rally attended by 1000s, many of them very young, nearly all white, same as and different from the US Social Forum in 2007 when I first met my tour coordinator Dave; literature, clothing, crafts, books, videos, and people from a wide variety of organizations, many of them for indigenous rights (including Guatemalans), many of them with religious bases (saw nothing Quaker); loud music (Charlie King, Emma’s Revolution, etc) and frenetic speakers blasting from many loudspeakers to the point of me wearing my ear plugs; a brief meeting with Kathy Kelly who told me some group in upper New York state has been following my work; tabling with Dave, trying to sell my photos (1, of Bethlehem, for $5, not exactly a killing); wandering around trying to photograph some of this activity; and suffering a minor migraine that twice had me dizzy and experiencing partial loss of vision. All in a day’s work.
Then my Gaza Steadfast show to a packed room of about 80 people. I’d wondered how many would show up since the regional focus of SOA Watch is on Latin America. One of the best shows I’ve given—most stayed for a rich discussion, entered in at the last minute (coming late) by Medea Benjamin and (former colonel) Ann Wright (friend of my family in Juneau Alaska when she stayed with them). Several people offered venues, Dave had magically appeared and seemed enthused (important to keep him happy), and I felt gratified.
Housing on these last 2 days has been more than expected. N and J hosted “the boys,” Jim, Jules, John, (the 3 J’s), Dave, Bob, Skip. In my own room, a comfortable bed, some privacy, near the toilet, with fast Internet, I could not be much happier—unless in my own home.
Y wrote and I phoned back while walking to the rally, giving the phone to Jim so they could say hi. She was rushing out for a meeting. She writes that her housing quest is going well.
November 23, 2009, Monday, nearing DC, on the train, in the café car:
Yes, on the train, the long awaited train ride home after 5 weeks on the road with my photos from Palestine/Israel. Not the most restful night on a train but good enough. These dreams then:
The first, now disappeared into oblivion, at least proved to me that I was sleeping. And then one in which I was playing catch with a man by throwing tomatoes back and forth. When he tried to catch mine, they splattered, shattered. A large bird, perhaps a duck, either flew between us or one of us caught it and threw it to the other. It hit a tree, seemed dead. When a child attempted to touch it, it opened its eyes.
Now my purported reality: on the train I slept beside a middle aged Black woman, in a car full of mostly Black people, the larger share of them overweight and old, some feeble. My companion spoke what sounded like an African language on the phone, plus fluent English. She seemed worried about her belongings and kept her 3 large bags under her seat, squishing her in. She slept under a blanket, a very clever way to produce privacy. I coughed repeatedly, maybe an allergy, maybe my postnasal drip exacerbated by my upright position. I told her as I left the seat this morning, I’m going to the café car, you can spread out.
The car attendant assigned seats, she wanted a window, and altho I usually prefer windows, for this night, thinking I might have to pee many times, I offered her my seat. Later during the night (on my only pee break, unusual), in an exploratory mood, I went into the next car and found it empty. Why not, thought I, bed down here? Within minutes an attendant asked me to leave—Why? Car out of service. Doesn’t make much sense to have an empty car when most of us are squeezed together.
I sit now in the chilly café car, a stream of hungry morning risers buying food. It is raining outside, cloudy, foggy, typical late November weather, early winter, even here, south of DC. And from the water in the car linkages, I assume rain has been falling on this entire trip. It rained at the School of the Americas event, it rained driving to Atlanta. And it was cold, sometimes windy.
I am inordinately happy—mubsut!—about completing this journey. On a very personal level, it ended well, the finale at SOA Watch with my Gaza Steadfast show, and then yesterday, the funeral procession with the puppetistas, placing the crosses at the gate (which I missed, as I did placing the Palestinian flags at the gate, an initiative by Dave, missing this because I’d forgotten about it and was cold, tired and hungry—therefore distracted, I forgot the lesson from Dorothea Lange that I often convey to my students: never assume you’re too fatigued to do more; diligence pays off.)
However I did photograph the procession, the lifting of crosses at each name and presente, the puppets, some speeches (especially by Kathy Kelly framed against a huge image of a fallen Central American woman), many individuals, and assorted other images. I continue to find myself oscillating between still and motion, wondering if this is a leading in the bud: do I return to video-film making?
And do I kick myself for missing the gate scenes? Or think, others were there (a multitude of media, mostly not the commercial media, as far as I could determine), they’ll show it, and I’ll borrow if needed. Plus my aim was not complete coverage, but seat of the pants spontaneous photography, as spirit leads. Spirit did not lead me to the gate. On this particular day—it had the day before.
2 processions on the train that leap out, if I could video them: in the middle of the night, me walking by the sleepers in their various postures, some of them with heads hanging into the aisle, others—the lucky ones with no seat partners—splayed across 2 seats, one elderly obese woman with her cane jutting half way into the aisle, and some sitting upright as if corpses. Perhaps one or 2 open their eyes and notice an apparition of the night passing them.
The 2nd procession is occurring now, on the way into the café car: lining up for food. Most look dazed, sad, depressed, some sick. Often with blank expressions. In sharp contrast with our pilgrimage group processional to the food table: smiling, happy, greeting all.
~~The train races north. Just now thru Orange Virginia. Two hours to DC~~
Some catch-up items:
There were 3 newly formed couples on the pilgrimage, all devoting one year to the service program run by Anton in LaGrange. Zack and Margarita, always holding hands, she relatively quiet, both loving; Ben and Monica, both with foot problems; and another whose names I don’t remember. How sweet, thought I, how will they be 3 decades down the road?
Years ago Y and I might once have resembled them, an older version, especially on the first walk we made together, the 1992 Columbian Quincentennary, or before that, the Bigfoot Ride to Wounded Knee. How did we appear to others?
Or P and me, when we met in 1960 during a YMCA-YWCA conference in Cedar Rapids Iowa, holding hands while strolling thru the night.
M wrote, with another of her cryptic but attentive messages, some concerning the Namu Myoho Renge Kyo chant:
A poignant video (yours). [referring to the Miami settlement video] The only thing I could hear, above the breeze (or was it the sound of the ocean) was your question, Who are the workers? Great video!
Whether one says na’mu myoho renge kyo or the informal “nam…” the benefits are the same. I’m delighted and over joyed that you spend “hours” chanting the wonderful sound!
IAF, the Black Muslim from Birmingham also wrote, to me directly and on his blog about me. A new friend, thanks to the Birmingham Alabama mosque appearance and the blog:
I spoke to you briefly in Birmingham Alabama a couple of nights ago. I was the tall black guy (crude description I know, but how else am I going make sure you remember me?)
I wrote up a little post on my blog about your visit.
You gave a very good presentation the other day. You’ve taught me a lot, and that’s good ’cause I usually think I know it all.
Please keep up the good work. You are doing something very important that not many people have the opportunity to do.
Peace (and I mean that in every sense of the word),
And from his blog:
I had the chance to see something not too many people see: astonishing Gaza photos of the destruction caused by the Israeli siege earlier this year.
At the Birmingham Islamic Center in Hoover, Alabama, photographer Skip Schiel showcased his photos of the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas. He gave a pretty balanced presentation as he also displayed photos of the damage caused by Hamas rockets into Israel.
But there was no comparison. The damage caused by Israel’s barrage made the difficult situation in Gaza even worse. I can’t even begin to explain or describe everything he talked about. All I can say is, whatever I thought I knew about the situation was only just a glimmer of how life really is.
I’ve heard people call Gaza the world’s largest refugee camp. Gaza is roughly the size of Manhattan, and has roughly the same population (about 1 million). But Gaza doesn’t have high rises, skyscrapers, Central Park, Madison Square Garden, or a subway system.
Actually, Gaza has little of anything. An economic blockade prevents medicine and construction materials (but not guns). The infrastructure has been destroyed so the modern necessity of electricity is rare. And Israel destroyed many hospitals and schools in Gaza during the war.
There is a little hope. Skip’s photos showed Gazan (is that a real word) residents engaging in learning activities, leadership classes, and he himself gave them a photography class.
But as optimistic as I am (I’m a Mets and Knicks fan. Now that’s optimism) even I must admit that hope seems to be diminishing for the Gaza as well.
Please visit Skip’s blog, and like I had to do…deepen your understanding.
Also visit Skip’s photojournal for more pictures of Gaza.
One regret: no contact with J and S of Birmingham. I realize they are busy, her with her illness and her mother, him with his radio interviews and Dallas speaking engagement, but the end result disturbs me: didn’t attend my show, didn’t meet, and didn’t follow up with a phone call or email. How would I have responded if he or she came to town for a performance? Do I now cross them off my list of friends? Or am I being precipitous, as is my pattern?
Marie-Renée Le Grand, a French woman associated with the March died on Wednesday of a heart attack. She was not present at any of the demonstrations, according to an organizer of the French delegation, Yasser Hassan.
publié le jeudi 31 décembre 2009
In Memory of Marie Renee, by Alice Kast (posted on gazafreedommarch-boston and used with permission)
Marie visited me this morning. She didn’t tell me her own story of why she had come all the way to Gaza. I don’t know her statistics–how old, what city, whether she had a family, or if she came alone. In fact, she did not speak at all. She was a presence. It was obvious to me that her heart was breaking.
The whole city of Cairo was a prison but she came anyway. A woman willing to witness to love and solidarity. They were not allowed on busses or in taxis to get to the border where they wanted to let the people of Gaza know that they were not alone. Their representatives at the Embassy would not speak with them. Some were barricaded in their hotels. Some were followed around the city and made unwelcome even in stores. It made no difference to Marie that she wasn’t literally enclosed in the pen with the other French witnesses when she died. The whole city was throbbing with the tension which could explode at any minute. The riot police, the red water cannons were all reminders to her of what could happen at any moment.
She died because she knew that to bring into being a world where everyone has a place to live, she would have to place herself in danger. Thank you, Marie. You knew there was the possibility of beatings or arrest and you were willing to pay the ultimate price for the children and families living in the concentration camp that is Gaza. And thank you for visiting me this morning. I will never forget you and welcome your presence in my life.
It was a mixed blessing for anyone to be there in Gaza at all and those who had come from all over the world received mixed greetings. People witnessing to the inhumanity of what is being done in our name are not always welcomed. I just say thank you that there are still some in the world whose sense of humanity includes all people. Genocide is not something “good” people should do.
Thank you to all of you who went because it was the right thing to do. Can’t wait to have you back.
Love in solidarity with the one family of humankind.