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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.)

PHOTOS

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.

LINKS:

Gaza Freedom March

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Stolen Beauty, a selective boycott campaign against an Israeli product, Ahava, promising “Beauty Secrets from the Dead Sea”

Israeli Apartheid Video Contest

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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.)

PHOTOS

November 8, 2009, Sunday, Slidell LA, home of L, in the dining room:

Some confusion about the remaining big plan: which of the few remaining gigs are confirmed, where will I stay at night, what will be the transport? Last night’s show scheduled for a church in Biloxi MS had to be shifted to the home of one of the organizers, G, because someone had slipped and not actually booked the church—so we couldn’t get in. The afternoon Hydropolitics show was in a classroom on a nearly empty campus—so few attended. In short: dismal times.

Partly this seems to reflect the political climate here, sodden, conservative, quiet, at least in the region of the Gulf Coast other than New Orleans itself (which is said to be highly politically active). As one man said, the Egyptian at my Gaza Satori coffee house show (which was well attended), there is no one to argue with here, dead.

I respond: so what? One of the main reasons Dave and I chose to move into this zone was exactly its relative backwardness compared with other parts of the country. Backward only in the sense of awareness and involvement in progressive politics.

Surprisingly I’m not worried. I trust that good things will eventually happen. Church locked? Use someone’s home. Few upcoming gigs? Use the time to explore New Orleans and Birmingham. No housing around the time of Birmingham? Use Couch Surfers and Hospitality Club [2on line systems for finding hospitality worldwide, I used it in Israel] to find alternative housing in that area. Worst case is perhaps shift to Atlanta and reside in the Japanese Buddhist dojo and join the immigrants’ rights march, or ship myself home early. I have choices.

At the end of this road is the prospect of a full month of relaxation and concentrated photo work. December: enjoy the onset of winter, plunge into processing the photos from the summer, maintain blog and website, visit family, perhaps establish a deeper friendship with a few good souls, put together a New England tour, and photograph in New England.

About hurricane damage, the aftermath of Katrina, I’ve noticed open land where buildings once stood, foundations, building relics, and other markers of habitation. The Long Beach Mississippi University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Campus for instance. Driving in past boarded up buildings my impression was of dereliction. Abandonment. Loss and no recovery. Driving further, following signs for “Event parking,” we entered the renovated part of the campus. I learned from an English prof there that the university is slowly rebuilding, from the back of the campus to the front, in part using insurance money.

Casinos seem to have been rapidly rebuilt, altho some construction was frozen because of the economic crunch. Workers have removed the tons of sand blown in by the storm. In places they were distributing new sand to reconstitute the beaches. Oddly, in most parts of the beach we drove along between Ocean Springs and Gulfport few people were on the beach, only one or 2 in the water.

Our Middle Passage Pilgrimage in November 1998, about this time of year, had walked along this stretch. I believe I spotted the Lutheran church were we resided, and I noticed the beach area where we’d stopped for prayer in a circle, which I’d photographed. Later I’d like to check my records to determine the exact route, and to read what I may have written about my experience on the way to New Orleans and eventual departure from the pilgrimage to construct my own.

My Slidell Louisiana host, L, is the only person that I’ve queried about knowing about the Middle Passage Pilgrimage that actually remembers it. She attended a church event on the topic, but did not herself participate. She thinks we headquartered in the Unitarian Universalist church in New Orleans. I might check that when I’m there.

To meet the threats posed by violent storms, buildings now must be built on stilts, at least the residential buildings. I’m not sure what changes in building codes have been instituted for large buildings. Sitting square and huge along the water I muse about their vulnerability.

Slidell Louisiana

Unfortunately photographing this is tough. In a car, whisked from spot to post, by friendly hosts, I’m not able to walk, find vantage points, consider the light, and make decent photos. And since so much seems viewable from ground level, I float the thought that to photograph this topic well—aftermath of Katrina—a helicopter might be a useful tool.

About the folks hosting me: D and D, exceptionally kind and thoughtful, my every need considered, jewels of humanity. Initially meeting in high school, they now seem utterly compatible. They’ve strewn their tables with unfinished projects. D showed me his garage with wood tools he’s not used in 3 years. His computer books are all out of date. Before retirement he worked as a chemist, she a secretary. I love them and hope to know them better on my next trip. They appreciated my work, invited me back.

My main host, G, aging, falling asleep at odd moments (said to fall asleep while on the internet), hunched over because of back problems, lost his wife recently, her 4th marriage (widowed twice). Dave thinks he’s a good organizer but judging from the turnout maybe not.

Another host, L, about my age, speaking very slowly with a southern accent, lives alone with her cat in a house that resembles that of someone living inches above the poverty line in the early 20th century—lace, old fashioned furniture, thin rugs, spare kitchen. But she rallied, met me in Gulfport, drove me to her home, is hosting me for 2 nights. Her part time job is shelving books and she complained about once being married to the “world’s worst husband.’

No wireless Internet where I’m staying in Slidell with L, but I can use her computer. Once again I’m handicapped—but not for long

November 9, 2009, Monday, Slidell LA, home of L, in the dining room:

I found this powerful poem that I’m now using as my footer.

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.

—Yuelin Shiguan

Being close to the traditional Veterans’ day, which I thought was either the first or second Tues in November (the first was election day, does this replace Vets’ day?) yesterday, a Sunday, I happened upon a parade thru the center of Slidell which included lots of vets, lots of Junior ROTC marchers, and one armored personnel carrier manufactured locally at Textron. I’d been out walking, surveying this somewhat dismal town—observing the Amtrak station (which if I’m lucky I might pass while on an Amtrak bound for Birmingham), noticing a small internet café at the station that I might have used had I known about it, the town’s center and in it a church with a huge attendance, L’s neighborhood consisting mostly of one story, flat housing, much of it looking ramshackle, hardly able to stand up against floods and winds, a park along a bayou, missing trees in its midsection (L explained that Katrina had destroyed many trees and most would probably not be replaced), another park with a name like Hound or Pig Hollow, many small closed antique and boutique shops, a few other people out walking, plenty of cars, and a few other points of interest.

I photographed houses set about 8 ft up on stilts, learned from L that many of them have been raised to offer some protection from flooding. A few abandoned houses. Not much to photograph. Until finding the parade. Then, how to show it compassionately? The announcer repeatedly called for the crowd to “put your hands together and honor…,” a Korean war vet, a major who’d made some contribution, performing cheer leaders, a marching band, etc. All American, and I’m on the outside. I don’t hate this exhibition of militaristic fervor but I find it repellant. To the point of imagining a conversation between me and someone who’d noticed I wasn’t “putting my hands together.”

I might respond: I’m with you on honoring courage and dedication, trying to act effectively for what one believes. I have to question the belief, the objective of the action. Is using violence to resolve conflict smart? How many innocents are injured and killed when military action is taken, what is the long-term achievement of using the military, and what are the hidden costs such as post traumatic stress disorder?

The person might pop me one as a weakling or supporter of terrorism, or might say, well, I’ve never thought about that. Let’s go somewhere after the parade for coffee and conversation.

I discovered the Ali Baba café, serving Mideast food. Tasty but slow, a gracious overworked owner, very dark skinned with a wide smile. The shelves were spotted with a few Mideast foods but empty space predominated over filled space, lending the appearance of either a start up business or one that is not exactly thriving.

Sunday was an off day, I hope not one in a growing string of off days—no gigs. I had time to edit and post on YouTube my first video of the tour, made while cruising thru a hilly golf course on my comfort bike in Miami while talking to myself, barely hearable over the wind noise. I’m curious about responses to this video, whether some might find it stupid and pointless, others innovative and courageous. Is it deep or is it a trifle? It surely was fun to make and about as fun to post.

Looking at my YouTube viewing numbers I discovered that a Walk Around Ramallah was most viewed, with over 1500 or so viewings, while some others like the workout in Portland gathered only about 60 or so views. The ratings, when people stopped to rate, were generally good.

A few more observations about my host, L. She seems to live alone, not only in her house, but in her community, rarely referring to anyone or any community. She has habits like every morning eating instant oatmeal, eating while sitting on a beach chair at the dining room table with her legs up reading the morning paper and cuddling her cat. She is very helpful and thoughtful, which I appreciate, and she likes my photos, to the extent that she volunteered to put some on her Facebook page. This may be her true community, Facebook.

I gave her a 5 by 7 of her choice, she had sharply observed remarks to make about some that almost made the cut (I’d offered one free), asked me to photograph her for Facebook, asked if I’d be her friend on Facebook, and is now trying to find me housing in New Orleans thru a friend.

Anne R is circulating a doc entitled GLOBAL ACTIONS TO END ISRAEL’S OCCUPATION, which has her mark on it. It lists various organizations and other initiatives that suggest the efficacy of Boycott-Divest-Sanction, BDS High on the list is Veolia Transportation, the company that presumably pulled out from its contract proving light rail service to Israeli settlements, running thru Palestinian territory. I’ll have to thank her for this and I’ll consider sending it to my list.

Hurricane Ida is approaching, how will this effect my plans, and what will it do to the land and people?

November 11, 2009, Wednesday, Baton Rouge LA, home of Joey and M, in their living room:

Mississippi River, Baton Rouge Louisiana

A tour of Baton Rouge with the ever hospitable M, dinner with him and his wife at home, a minor revision of Gaza, and finally contacting my New Orleans host—that about makes up my day yesterday. Not the most exciting day of the trip, but adequate.

The Mississippi river runs thru Baton Rouge (red stick, supposedly from a red stick that native people placed along the river to designate the spot), and because of the levee the river is hard to see unless one is on the levee or a bridge. A railroad line runs along the levee, past a station converted to a museum. The city built a walkway, much used at sunset yesterday when m and I promenaded along the levee and tracks. Here I made a panoramic of setting sun, opposite shore, bridge, and perhaps a few walkers. We tried gaining perspective for photos by driving as slowly as possible across the new and the old bridges, without much luck. I believe I was able to show some of the numerous refineries along the river. I believe this stretch of the river is called Chemical Alley because of all refineries.

On the Baton Rouge levee (click for an enlargement)

We also visited the government complex along the lake, centered on a tall building of about 30 stories built in the 1930s by Huey Long. He was assassinated in the main hall. The lake was gorgeous, and the grounds included an Indian mound thought to be a sacred or leadership site, a rose garden with odorless depleted roses, egrets, and the old powder magazine left over from a fort. Inside the magazine a museum explaining the history of Baton Rouge and exactly what a powder magazine is.

We cruised thru various sorts of neighborhoods, including ones inhabited by black Americans. These are spotted throughout the city and are remnants of pockets of Blacks who lived near plantations, if I understand M correctly. There is also a larger concentration of Black people elsewhere. Unlike Slidell, there has not been a permanent immigration of Katrina survivors. Some moved here temporarily and then returned to New Orleans or moved elsewhere.

M treated me to a catfish lunch at a well-known restaurant opened by a former football player, now a sort of chain in Louisiana. Good food but obsequious service. The aging “server,” Desiree, used most of the endearment terms in the book: dear, hon, honey, sweetie, love, baby… and we’d just met! M quipped that such terms in English often relate to sweet food, whereas in Arabic, the multipurpose word habibi, the terms are more focused on relationship. Habibi can range from dearest one to friend, and might even be a sort of imperative, as in HABIBI, come here!

The downtown, altho initially appearing decayed to me, is in fact, M explained, being rejuvenated. This is due to a governmental initiative to relocate government offices to the central city. as Chicago reawaked its downtown by siting colleges there, thus drawing ancillary service organizations and people, Baton Rouge appears to have done this thru legislation—a mark of good government?

Weather was warm and moist, with manifold sky creatures zooming about, mostly cumulous. M complained about the year-round heat and mosquitoes, using this to explain his lack of exercise.

The remark about Sderot from someone in the audience at the Baton Rouge show prompted a slight revision of Gaza. Indeed, I learned that Sderot is built on Palestinian land, the cleansed village of Nadj in 1951, and might have been founded to define Israel territory—another fact on the ground. It also housed refugees from North Africa, Kurdistan, Persian and other regions, so it is a town of immigrants. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any visuals to illustrate the idea of worldwide Jewish and Christian attention to the town when attacked by Gazan rockets, contrasting with the minimal attention to Gaza itself and the suffering Israel caused.

J and M have lived in this house more than 30 years, raising all their children here for at least part of the children’s lives. M and J speak of moving to Damascus, his original home, claiming that at least one child wishes to move with them. But as J, from the US, added, he’s been talking about this for 40 years. I note that I am one of the few people I know not beset by bi-regionalism. With no desire to return to the Chicago area, my original home. Perfectly content to live out my remaining hours, days, weeks, months, years in New England, if not the Boston area, if not Cambridge, if not 9 Sacramento St.

Refinery, Baton Rouge

And my New Orleans host, JS, finally emailed me, claiming he’d had the flu and was busy. He assures me of hospitality for one night, I remain presently an artist without a home for the remaining few days in New Orleans. Ditto for Birmingham. Slouching toward Atlanta where in about 12 days I board the train home. Can’t wait, not so much for this journey to finish but to be home and in my expanded December zone of work work work, with family, friends, Quakers, land all mixed in.

H wrote in response to my first video, about bicycling around a fancy South Miami golf course:

The subject says it all… this is surreal… a contrast to Gaza perhaps?… maybe an ‘opposite sketch’?… maybe you are……… ???

And from me:

all [of what you wrote] seems correct: surreal, Gaza, “opposite sketch,” and … mainly just having fun, playing, momentarily in the land of the rich. you are very perceptive.

LINKS:

Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage: “The Modern Dance of Imperialism,” by Teresa Williams

A Spirit People: One View of the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, photos of the pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

Global Actions to End Israeli’s Occupation (mostly using Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions, BDS—thanks to Anne Remley and QuakerPI.org)

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