Ban Al Ghussain
Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Robert Bly
December 4, 2010, Saturday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal
That day again, when I contemplate my origins in my father (a tradition I learned from Japanese friends, honoring one’s parents and other ancestors), my mother, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my earliest friends and teachers—all to whom I owe my life, character, history, destiny, meaning, problems, not entirely but mostly. I begin my 8th decade, my 70th year, looking and usually feeling maybe 15 years younger. Feeling my age and beyond only when ill, even slightly ill as I seem to have been a few days ago, perhaps with flu. Now I am sturdy.
What are my worries, what keeps me from deep sleep thru the night (as happened again last night from 4 until I arose at 5:15)?
the photo workshop, students dropping out, not liking it, feeling they’re not learning enough to continue
losing my flash memory device and wondering about possible consequences because of my disclosures concerning my hidden sexual proclivities
mushies, i.e., shits
dying in my sleep
never finding another true love
broken or lost or malfunctioning equipment
doing a lousy job making photos and the movie
for a few of many.
Islam Madhoun & Ban
(betrothed after meeting thru one of my photo workshops in 2009)
What sustains me, helps me sleep despite the occasional short hours, keeps me fresh thru the day, cheerful despite the odds against me?
prospects for love and understanding gradually more and more about vexing thrilling topic
excitement at being in Gaza
playing with computer-based tools like software and the internet
my illustrious circle of honorable elders
hopes for when I return home.
But let’s not forget last night’s dreams, once again profuse:
With others I was either actually on or watching others on a high narrow rope ladder cross a raging river. A man fell in. I could see beneath the water, magically, that he was quickly dropping to the bottom. Another man decided to rescue him. He tore off his shoes, his pants, stating, my clothing would drown me. He dove or dropped in. I again saw beneath the water as he dove deep and grabbed the victim.
Another: talking with a man who understood about the Wounded Knee Massacre and the commemorative ride in 1990 that I participated in. He quizzed me, how did you gain the trust of the riders? referring to my photography of the ride and location. To answer I elaborated about my father, claiming he was an expert printer of flyers, posters, booklets and the like. How this related to the question escaped me but in the dream it seemed relevant. As I explained my close relations with native people, I experienced again being with them—I was actually with them. One American Indian demonstrated shooting a rifle, as if at the Wounded Knee Massacre 100 years ago himself, or at the siege in 1972 or 1973.
These dreams seem unique, unlike previous dreams altho some themes, like Wounded Knee and photography, recur . I suspect one reason I’m dreaming and remembering dreams so well is that I awaken early with my Hour of the Wolf Syndrome [insomnia for about one hour when my thought governor takes a break and numerous streams of thought, memory, strategy, reverie all mix crazily together, a notion based on a Swedish belief in the Hour of the Wolf when magic and tragedy ensue.] This usually damnable periodic sleeplessness might be turning into a gift.
The outing yesterday to the quay or pier or boat area or port or mina—with Hesham and Rana from the current photo workshop, Ban and Sharif from last year’s workshop, and Islam. We quickly agreed this is the place to go, safer they felt. [I’m uncertain about why they felt this way, perhaps safe from Israeli incursions and shelling, safe from factional violence, and safe from the watching waiting eyes of Hamas.] Islam drove us out to the point where I’d never been before. Someone found a boat and driver for us to wildly ride in. And after about 1.5 hours of photography they were ready to declare, we’re finished. I replied, Oh, I feel we are just beginning. Well, some have Muslim prayers, Sharif claimed.
Language plays a major role in my teaching in Gaza. In a separate workshop that I teach thru the American Friends Service Committee, we are finding adequate translation nearly impossible to do. It requires extra time, a large vocabulary about technology and esthetics, and patience on everyone’s part. One consequence of not having English fluency is not being able or willing to press me for further exercises or lessons. For instance, yesterday at El mina with my group, after one exercise (design with the principle of light on dark, dark on light), Hesham asked me for a more advanced exercise. I offered him the backlight challenge. Choose a subject brightly lit from behind. Use flash to fill in the shadows. Without English he might not have asked me, nor have understood me when I gave it to him. Similarly, Ban asked for instruction in Adobe’s photo software, Lightroom.
I discovered another group of photo students who wanted to have their photos made with me surrounded by the students. They all had single lens reflex cameras; one man was one of my students, either former or current; they seemed to be playing rather than laboring, photographing each other mostly. They delighted in showing me their photos on their camera screens. They asked to join our group and did for a fraction of a second.
I also discovered a family eating along the pier. I snuck a few photos before asking permission. Father said no, waved his finger and smiled. I nodded ok, turned to walk away when he called me back to join them for hummus and fuul, the delicious Middle Eastern fava bean, lemon juice, and garlic dish. No photos but plenty of good food.
Our group agreed to meet again on Wednesday at 1 PM after my workshop to see results. Ban and Sharif will present their work to the workshop group that morning. All this is intended to foster a photographic team that persists after I’ve departed. Good plan, now let’s see if it works. [It seems to not have.]
TO BE CONTINUED