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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos:

Qattan Centre for the Child

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

August 7 & 11, 2009, Friday & Tuesday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

I dreamt I was to meet Alice Rothschild, the physician (and in fact I’m to meet Dr Mona al-Farra today, with Mohammed). Alice had a problem with her car; it needed a new motor or a serious repair of the motor. She told me to wait. I felt very close to her. [Later, meeting Dr. Mona, as she’s lovingly called, she told me as we hailed a taxi,  my car is being repaired, something seriously wrong with the engine. Auspicious?]

My dreams seem strangled, still born, they evaporate rapidly. I’m working with the theory that this is because life is so energized here, and unpredictable, I have so many simultaneous concerns that the leisure needed to let the dreams survive long enough once born to be remembered does not exist. Thus the feeling that I’m not dreaming.

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A fortuitous meeting yesterday when I accompanied the Popular Achievement team including Issam who I’ve not seen until yesterday and Grace to a commemoration of the life of Mahmoud darwish. He died one year ago of heart problems, and died auspiciously in a Texas hospital, the home state of GW Bush, the failed president. He was approximately my age. The meeting was in the Qattan Centre for the Child, an elegant spacious well-lighted building. After about one hour of this—poetry readings, songs and oud, discussion between audience and a poet-critic, all officiated by our own Ibrahem, and of course all in Arabic, no translation—I decided to explore the Centre. And then the 2nd meeting, with the director, the equally elegant and affecting Reem Abu Jaber. I made some photos of her and pray I’ve shown at least a hint of her goodness, generosity, energetic spirit.

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Reem Abu Jaber

The Centre looks and functions much more like a library. It is dedicated to encouraging the love of reading. And I had a sense of its effectiveness while I photographed. Ordinarily kids either hide from my camera or flock to it. In either case, they present a challenge. Here they tended to notice but not concentrate on me so I had much more latitude photographing. For instance, after showing the architecture and lighting I began showing children and parents using the facility. I discovered a boy of about 8 years old peering thru books with his mother. I placed myself opposite them and photographed thru the book stacks. This might be perfect, if it worked. No reaction from the woman who wore a headscarf.

A long tour with Reem—and I could have gone for hours with her, she is so radiant and loveable—with photos along the way. Extensive computer facility, outdoor reading area, small auditorium, sections divided by ages of children, all coordinated spatially by a long hallway connecting the sectors, arches above the corridor, everything open. Reem explained to me that this corridor is intended to mirror the old city of Jerusalem. All is light, airy, colorful.

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Entering the Centre from the cluttered, busy, chaotic, often dirty and noisy streets of the city is like passing thru Alice’s rabbit hole: another world entirely, a magical world where bombs are forbidden, rockets blocked in mid air, white phosphorus shells burst into voluminous, gorgeous cumulus clouds. Books galore, new worlds in a new world.

However I’m not sure I understand Reem’s position about controversy. The Darwish convocation itself expresses controversy, reflecting him, his positions, the fact that he loved an Israeli woman, for instance, a hot topic of discussion. But when I asked her whether they’d host a presentation that is political, using myself as an example, she seemed to say no. She explained this by focusing on how painful the discord between Fatah and Hamas is, that this colors all controversy. She seemed to tell me that the Centre removes itself entirely from anything political or religious. Which might be an error, but who am I to judge?

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After teaching the photo workshop group at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program I called Atfaluna, the center training deaf people, mostly children, in crafts production. Jan H had asked me to bring in cotton since their supply chain is virtually non-existent. They were overjoyed to receive the goods, and meet me personally. I met first Suad, the administrative manager, and then Nabil el Sharif, the executive director.  He gave me permission to tour the facilities and photograph. This might develop further or be only once.

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Nabil is short, lean, wore a white shirt with a hint of black elements in its design. He seems to have boundless energy. His smile is gracious and authentic, compassion radiates from him. He explained to me their current dilemma. During a recent period of many visitors, “war tourism” he imaginatively named it, many people came thru the center and purchased. People like Code Pink delegations. But because of the paucity of raw materials like the cotton I delivered, they are forced to curtail production. They worry that this might worsen and require staff layoffs. Likewise, usually, on the output end, there are few customers. So paradoxically the violence added to one part of their operation.

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The center is clean, well organized, and, being a center for deaf people, very very quiet. I told another staff member, Ibrahem, who toured me that Ramallah is very very noisy, all the time, so this is a sharp contrast. The hour was 3 pm, their closing time, people were preparing to leave for home, so I was not able to show all that might be shown. Whether I return or not depends on the quality of what I’ve made and my other priorities. Children are on vacation thru the end of this month so I will have to miss that aspect.

I wrote Jan later with the good news. And found a letter from her asking me to ask Amal about taxi prices, since when Jan returns in the fall she ‘d like to book Awni for an entire day of touring the strip. What a gal, I love her. And she’s Jewish, a practicing Jew.

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How can life for me ever be boring in Gaza? To the contrary, at times: too exciting, too jammed, and not with enough Skip time, my private down time—to process and use my photos. To fulfill the many promises I’ve made about emailing photos to those I’ve photographed. Like the CD Reem made me promise to send to the Centre, and the photos I’m to email to the young men I photographed on the beach. I need days, weeks, for this.

The electricity was off in my neighborhood during the day for the first time that I’d noticed. So I relied on computer battery power for a few hours of work. And I finally found a minimum quantity of toilet paper (rather than the huge packages of about 20 rolls) so I’m happy once again.

Also for the first time on this visit, the drones [that Israel uses to patrol and sometime attack from—they are a world leader in such lethal technology, soldiers in Tel Aviv targeting people who could be me]. Several of them flew overheard, out of sight, for about one hour yesterday in my neighborhood.

Today is the coolest yet. Nearly chilly, not in my flat which does not have good circulation, but out on the veranda where I presently sit writing this. Yesterday was one of the hottest, nearing 100. The air is now drier.

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LINKS:

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

Qattan Centre for the Child

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