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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

—Chinese proverb

PHOTOS (from another neighborhood near mine)

June 12, 2017, Monday, Detroit

First phase 

The water conference is over. Now I need to develop my own contacts and find my own people to photograph. I can’t rely on intrinsic contacts that the conference provided—the speakers. Today [June 12, 2017] I plan to contact We the People of Detroit, trying Kate first, then Monica, then Kim Sherrobi. This could prove difficult.

Kim Sherobbi

Kim Sherobbi, 2017

Weaving into this photo process, the house process. K., the generous owner of the house I borrow,  texted yesterday evening that she expects to arrive here today “b4 12,” using the language of texting. During a long phone conversation earlier, we had discussed the grass, bushes, plumbing, fans, cleaning materials to buy, etc. The grass remains uncut, the bathroom plumbing is clogged, I repaired one large floor fan by attaching an electric plug, and discovered a loose fan blade on the other floor fan that had caused the rattling. I haven’t found a way to fix that.

I attempt a delicate balance between photography and house, between my Detroit mission and my Detroit residence. The latter demonstrates for me life in Detroit, a comparatively privileged life albeit, but touching lightly on matters many Detroiters face regularly with more severity.

I began my first Lightroom (LR) post production work last night, on the first conference batch of photos. Quickly I realized I apparently hadn’t remembered to reinstall the LR catalog to my portable drive. So I use the old one on the laptop. K.’s phone call interrupted me but I returned to the process. Even tho late in the evening, tired, I managed to import about 25 photos into LR for work today.

As expected, Internet speeds vary greatly depending on location. Near the school, it is upwards of 10 MB/S (megabytes per second). Near my house, about 5. On my porch about 2. Inside the house about 1. So for some purposes I might sit on the porch for Internet.

Logistics and friends

Since yesterday was so hot and an ozone alert was in effect—plus I needed to give my crotch some healing time and I felt lazy—I did not once ride my bike. Not even tempted. W. arranged to deliver her car here tomorrow; I can use it thru Friday. My central hope: get to Flint. Best if thru contacts, but even without I plan to drive the 70 or so miles and roam the city looking for elements of the water crisis. What might be visible? The Flint River, for one.

To check water use I read the water meter yesterday, after my first week here, giving me two more weeks to monitor water use. It reads 134.91, units mysterious.

I also checked the yards for possible seed planting. No luck, also no garden tools. So I scratch that idea. Instead, I’ll tend the tea roses, cutting two sprigs and bring them inside to grace my dwelling.

Washburn House_6392

My Washburn Street house, Northwest Detroit, 2017

For the first time in this trip I walked this morning around the Noble School grounds, about four blocks away, and maybe one half mile around. I recall other walks when I first thought decided to meet the principal and ask permission to photograph. This process so far has been fruitless. I recall walking in November with snow on the ground. I recall photographing the old dying tree that I photographed again this morning, this time against the rising sun.

C. finally returned my email, writing that he’s been busy with work, family, and house, but he’d like to take me out for lunch, maybe with one of his kids, but he wrote nothing about our movie and photo projects. I suppose I can conclude that they are all off. At least our friendship seems to continue.

Today I promised K. I’d talk with Gloria and Johnny about who can mow my lawn. Who might they recommend? Johnny keeps his lawn well shorn, as does Gloria. I reiterated to K. who sounded desperate last night that by not living here (she grew up in this house when it was an all-white neighborhood), not having someone as caretaker or reliable tenant, increases the burden. She constantly complains about the high cost of maintenance. Altho she has done remarkably well improving and maintaining it—storm windows, fridge, washer, sun room doors, (my favorite room, where I love to sleep on the floor, pilgrim style), and most recently the wooden flooring—she is often despondent about the value of the investment. She also seems to do little to rent it. Only twice in my 7 years, Jimmy, and then some students at a local college.

Neighborhood_4145

Outside my window, Buena Vista Street, November 2014

How would I house myself if not for K.? Or what even with K.’s place available might be better housing? Share with Barbara H.? Ask others? Rent? Buy? Squat?

My neighbor Gloria and local stories

After I’d settled on the porch for lunch, Gloria, my neighbor across the street, sat with me yesterday. She told me the following: young kids have torched the corner house across from mine three times. Johnny once owned it. Her water bill varies between $25-50 depending on whether she is alone or joined by her daughter who has heart problems and her grand daughter. She has cared for a handicapped man who recently bought a house down Washburn across Buena Vista. For 6 months he lived there without water and I presume heat. She brought him food, water, and used clothing. A woman with kids and a mother squatted in a house on our block. They used the backyard to crap, creating a fierce odor that disturbed neighbors who had them evicted. The streets have not been cleaned in recent memory, despite city-installed signs that declare street cleaning is imminent. Trash goes out Monday evenings, tonight, for pickup tomorrow morning. Large stuff pickup is bi-weekly on Wednesdays. The city might fine folks who put out containers too soon. She didn’t know of a plumber to call after I’d mentioned my clogged pipes.

Gloria-Detroit_portrait_9202

Gloria, 2011

Gloria is a good source of local info and a reliable and helpful neighbor. I would formally interview her except her style is not suited for an official interview, too giggly and repetitive.

Aerial Washburn Bunena Vista far SM

General area of my neighborhood in northwest Detroit, 2017

Aerial Washburn Bunena Vista close-marked SM

My neighborhood closer, my house marked with a pin, 2017

LINKS

“In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years,” by Melissa Anders (September 2017)

“2 shot, killed in northwest Detroit June 2017,” by James David Dickson (June 2017)

“Requests For Proposals for northwest Detroit neighborhood include 100 houses, 257 vacant lots,” by Kirk Pinho (July 2016)

Statistics for my NW Detroit zip code (2015)

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A special interlude as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant

With heart-felt thanks to ifixit and J at the office, a true wizard.

There is a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.

― Dalai Lama XIV

My saga in Bethlehem, Occupied Palestinian Territories began about one week into my 10-week photographic journey to this troubled region. I noticed my computer, groaning toward its 6th year anniversary, slow down, crawl, and then emit grinding noises. I tried rebooting which didn’t help. And when I tried once more to restart, it refused—it had comatosely quit. I suspected a broken hard drive. I tell this story because of what it might reveal about living in a region illegally and unjustly occupied by a foreign power while most of the international community, especially governments, do nothing.

First question and step of this saga: what is the problem? J at the office offered to put the computer thru some sort of diagnostic. Couldn’t do it, computer wouldn’t run, no surprise. I considered some options (short of calling my entire project a bust and go home early, 9 weeks out the window):

  1. Replace the hard drive, J would install new software, all that I needed for my photographic work, and conceivably I’d have an improved computer. Software could be expensive and my entire investment in the initial software would be lost. What about pirated software?
  2. Rent a laptop, probably a Windows since I’m in Windows land. This was JV’s recommendation. He doesn’t condone software theft. I located a basic level PC in Ramallah with all the software I needed for $100 monthly, not bad I suppose.
  3. Buy a new computer here, either Mac or Windows, either new or used. However the markup in Israel and Palestine is about 1.7 because of taxes and shipping. I priced a few at the new Mac store in Ramallah, sorely tempted but why waste my money?
  4. Ask M to buy and ship a new MacBook, or as she suggested buy one thru Amazon or some other company that ships internationally. But the same probable extra costs as indicated in #3 holds. I am grateful that she was willing to do this and regularly asks how the resurrection is going.
  5. Do without, use whatever computers I can scrounge where I work. The office has offered me superb facilities. But after that ends what?

Maybe there were more options, I forget. I have followed option #1 because I’m curious about whether I can resurrect the computer, and I look forward to my old buddy with a new outlook on life. My friend and neighbor Johnny is impressed with my sumud (steadfastness, a characteristic of many Palestinians) in the face of disaster—the will to survive, even succeed, fortitude, doggedness.

I backed up everything before I left home, I have a new iMac waiting for me upon my return (once I successfully migrate everything, altho now there is probably nothing to migrate, except maybe off my backup drive.)

And what about data retrieval? J tried that and failed.

Inspired by the Dalai Lama’s legendary love for taking stuff apart to see if he can fix it (I’m not sure he’s applied his acumen to a laptop), here’s my story:

All repair images courtesy of ifixit, others from the internet

1. buy a hard drive. best if in Israel because of availability and price, so I ordered one from BUG, an electronics chain in Jewish Jerusalem. J had advised a different place but I couldn’t find it. Gilat helped me locate this one, everyone was helpful and efficient. Price was 500 NIS or roughly $120 for a 500 gig Seagate. This required 2 Sunday trips, one to order and one to pick up, but since I was in Ramallah anyway for Quaker activities, Jerusalem was not hard to reach.2. to install it I needed a special tool to remove special screws. The tool is called star or torx, pronounced torks. Following various leads from various people I finally found one at a Bethlehem hardware store, thanks to J and B. Cost 24 NIS (about $6)

3. remove the old hard drive from its holder plate by removing the torx screws, only to discover the new hard drive wouldn’t go all the way in. Research this online and learn often such a problem is caused by rubber gaskets slipping out of position and jamming the hard drive.

4. bring a flashlight to the office to confirm this hunch. It’s confirmed. Decide after more research that I need to remove the entire upper case to reach the gasket.

5. to remove the case I need to remove the tiny Phillips head screws. Can’t find a tool for this in the office, despite the preponderance of video equipment and corresponding tools. Try one large hardware store in Bethlehem on my way home. No luck.

6. scout Bethlehem hardware stores, first the store that had the torx driver (on the way to the Israeli checkpoint which I might try to reach anyway so I can walk from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, reversing the walk I made 5 years ago). Hope they have a tiny enough Phillips screwdriver, #00. No luck again.

7. Ask Johnny if he knows where I might find one to borrow in Bethlehem, maybe a jeweler or mobile phone repairer or computer repairer in Bethlehem, anyone dealing with tiny screws.

When I told Johnny about my current phase of computer repair he lambasted me for not purchasing a new computer before I began this trip. He said, Look Skip, Im a craftsman, I use the latest tools even if I have to borrow money to buy them. It pays off. You’re a craftsman and need the best tools, the latest. I explained to him that before I left home I’d considered a new laptop but decided not to buy one because carrying such expensive equipment would make me nervous about loss or breakage, plus I wanted to use my Harvard discount so M could save a little money buying hers (only one per year).

And later when I told Johnny about my current obstacle—the tiny Phillips head screws I need so I can remove the rubber gasket—he said, no problem Skip, me or my brother Robert can find the tool. Bring your computer home tomorrow, we’ll fix it. He was adamant about this, laid it on me as a mandate. Bring your computer to us and we’ll see that it’s fixed!

8. Finally I found the tool in a southern suburb of Jerusalem to which I walked from Bethlehem. I removed the screws (one seems stripped), opened the case, refitted the rubber lining that blocks the hard drive, inserted the new hard drive, closed everything up, tested it—ureka!—and now wonder how to install the new operating system and software.

Ideally I’ll have the essential portion of my computer back. Not the original files which I can live without on this trip. Assuming proper installation of software, I’ll still have to reconfigure the system—install passwords and other data to make software like Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Office, iMovie, Lightroom, and the like work.

I am very grateful for my iPad which has not (yet) failed me, despite a scare with the battery that for a moment wouldn’t charge. I swore at my iPad, it began charging (since kissing and thanking my laptop shortly before it quit proved useless, I thought I’d try a different technique). With the iPad I write my journal, do basic email and web work, check my blogs and do some limited work on them, make videos, Skype (very important), and otherwise, in conjunction with the desktop computer at the office, I manage. I’ve also been forced to more fully explore the iPad, see what apps are available, experiment.

I could have survived without my laptop, merely limp along and improvise, if needed. All because of a little piece of hardware. Ruminating on this problem I wonder if I’d have been smart to install a new hard drive at home. The other one experienced years of rough service. Maybe, who knows? Or bought the new MacBook before leaving, which would have denied M her chance at a computer with my discount, and I’d fear breaking or losing my new $1300 plus piece of gear.

Coming soon, how people who live in a poverty-stricken, imprisoned zone such as Palestine can acquire software.

If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.

― Dalai Lama XIV

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