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Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PHOTOS

Click for interactive map

Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

First the nuts and bolts about my recent 5 week tour of my photos from Israel-Palestine to the southern regions of the United States:

approximately 30 showings in almost as many venues to about 1200 people, in colleges and universities, mosques and churches, and seniors’ residential centers. Mainly the photo presentation Gaza Steadfast, but also Quakers in Palestine/Israel, Bethlehem the Holy, and The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel.

Jenin, West Bank, Palestine, July 2009

Beginning in the triangle area of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), south to Miami, across the Gulf Coast to New Orleans, northeast to Birmingham Alabama, and concluding in Columbus Georgia at the School of the Americas Watch vigil and procession to the gates of Fort Benning.

Residing mostly in homes, also a few hotels and motels, traveling by rides provided by hosts, along with the train and bus.

Detailed itinerary

After viewing an exhibit about hidden people at one of my university venues I began introducing my shows with the frame of hidden or obscured people. Examples would include American Indians, people worldwide  living in poverty, victims of color in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, indigenous Mayans in Guatemala—and of course, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, and especially Gazans. Hidden in a subtle way: not overtly hidden but disguised, distorted, transformed, their true humanity masked by being turned into savages (indigenous people), criminals (black residents of New Orleans), and the notorious terrorists firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

Indeed, Gaza militants fire rockets into southern Israel, probably a war crime, but this does not define all Gazans. Who are they, how do they live, what is their fundamental nature? Gaza Steadfast!

Legislative building, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, August 2009

I also used a second frame: the rise of the international court system and its application to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the rocket fire from Gaza. This development in Gaza is unprecedented, a significant step in the history of Israel-Palestine but also for humanity. Despite the Obama administration and US House rejecting the report, the recommendation to take the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague is a significant step. (At this writing, the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have endorsed the report and the Security Council is poised to consider it—with a US veto expected.)

Gaza City, out the window of Dr. Mona Al-Farra, August 2009

First aid workshop, Popular Achievement, American Friends Service Committee, Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

Raghda Al-Jedeli, Bureij refugee camp, Gaza, August 2009

A few impressions from the tour:

For the first time in my 4 tours to the south, more Muslim-Arab groups organized shows, both students and adults; more individuals from these populations attended; and I noticed somewhat more activism among this population at mosques and higher education institutions.

The tour was in the shadow of the Richard Goldstone report about Gaza commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, with the shameful responses by the Obama White House and the House of Representatives, both denying the validity of the exhaustive and fair-minded report. The latter, HR 867, was voted on while I was in Florida, the home state of the representative authoring the resolution, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen. I feature the Goldstone report in my Gaza Steadfast show. Much rich discussion about the report and responses followed each show.

Audience response was usually warm. No hostility, no incivility, little sharp criticism—with a few exceptions. On occasion after the public discussion individuals expressed opposition to some of my claims and perspectives. Among them: I’ve not seriously regarded Israeli justifications for their policies and actions (these remarks usually from supporters of Israel), I’ve not fully acknowledged the right of an oppressed population to resist by any means available (usually supporters of Palestine, and often Muslim Arab).

Mangroves, Tampa, Florida—Click for enlargement

One highlight was showing at mosques. In most cases this was in a community room, but in Birmingham Alabama, they hosted me in the mosque itself. A gorgeous spacious cavernous room, once a Christian church, elegantly transformed into the simple space of Islamic worship. I felt honored. And here I was most seriously questioned about including the suffering of Jews in relation to that of Palestinians. My Gaza show ends with a depiction of life under the Gaza rockets—the Israeli town of Sderot, just one mile from the northern strip. I’m still not sure about this ending, I need to digest my experiences using it.

From a young man at the mosque, Abu Ibrahim Ismail:

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.

He also stated on 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…

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…

In front of the Dove Outreach Church, Gainesville, Florida

Since my home community and primary practice is Quaker, I was impressed with Quakers in Miami who hosted my Quakers in Palestine/Israel show. They told me about their recent opening of a Quaker Peace Center. Good to learn about such rare meeting-wide Quaker activism.

Quoting co-clerk Warren Hoskins from the meeting:

…I’m already thinking about your next visit… you tapped on the doors of many people, and I truly expect far more to open in the future.

…you were the first speaker brought to South Florida by the Quaker Peace Center of Miami Friends Meeting. As such, you set a suitably high standard for future guests to bring talks, published books or other writings, multimedia programs and projects and other works for peace and social justice to South Florida. Thank you so much for that, too…

Much of the region I covered is little visited by people like me—it is fresh territory for artists and activists, cultural workers and witnesses. Which might partly explain why finding venues was so difficult. Student organizers cancelled at two venues when they failed to follow up on commitments. During the last 2 weeks there were many blank days which in the north might have been more easily filled. However, on several campuses student chapters of Amnesty International and Students for a Democratic Society co-sponsored shows. Despite my disappointment and thanks to the good work of my organizer, David Matos, we intend to try again next year, deepening our penetration in the Deep South and Mississippi Delta.

We ended by joining a Buddhist-led walk for immigration rights and to close the School of the Americas, AKA, The School of the Assassins (SOA).

This controversial facility at Fort Benning Georgia trains military from Central and South American countries often implicated in death squads and assassination teams.

The tour finale was a presentation of Gaza Steadfast during the workshop period of the SOA activities. To an enthusiastic crowd of about 70 people. The number and degree of participation surprised me because the SOA event concentrates on Latin America. Two organizers of the Gaza Freedom March slated to begin in late December of 2009, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, attended the discussion and added details about the daring and dramatic trip to Gaza organized by Code Pink and others.

Altho my primary purpose for this trip was to show photos I also learned about the region, especially southern Florida with its ethnic diversity and huge gap between wealth levels, and the lingering damage along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina more than 4 years ago. I photographed and videoed what I could, periodically posting on my website and blog.

From Anne Remley:

A very “telling” account… you’ve chosen a difficult path, sharing your experience of Gaza and Israel, helping at a distance those loved folks like your Raghda, but as a consequence having less sharing of love-at-hand, of the kind of deeper active connections one may feel with family.  (Though of course one can be lonely in the midst of family, too.)

… this is quite a saga, from the discomfort with lavish but distant hosts to the warm accounts of presentations that aroused good probing and reactions from people who clearly much needed to learn and think about the Palestinians’ life of virtual enslavement, as I think of it.

(How can our country support and enable the enslavement, degradation, and harassment of so many thousands of human beings — in the name of “friendship” for Israel and military strategy, as well– though so mistaken — since our support for this daily enslavement creates military enemies against us and hazards for us every day that we continue this special “friendship.”)

Slidell Louisiana

… yes,  you’ve had a distant Anner friend here reading and traveling with you, appreciating the journey, resonating to the traveler’s times of loneliness (maybe an existential human condition we all share — but especially felt by One Who Journeys).

Thanks for taking your words and images and knowledge to the far reaches of Florida.  This is a form of living love for R and the rest.

Earlier, about photos from Palestine/Israel:

How do you DO it, Skip. Your photos are full of surprises. Like little gift packages with unexpected, unexpectable little presents…

Such gifts are these.

“Veteran’s Celebrate Freedom,” the Sunday before Veterans’ Day, Slidell Louisiana

For our next tour Dave and I are concocting a dream journey: for 1 – 2 months. We visualize a trip beginning in Washington DC, heading southwest along the Amtrak route (so I can more easily move between venues by train) to New Orleans (on Amtrak’s Crescent), north thru the Mississippi Delta and along the river (using the legendary City of New Orleans train), with a major stop in Chicago (my hometown), and then head thru the hinterland home to Boston (on the Lake Shore Limited). A dream tour indeed. We hope this journey will happen in the fall of 2010. (If you live in that area or know people who do, you might want to contact David Matos for more information, aiken (underscore) peace (at) yahoo.com, 803-215-3263.)

My touring in the United States is the antipodal end of my yearly travel to Israel-Palestine. There I learn and make the photos, here I learn and show the photos. Both are needed.

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

—Vaclav Havel

LINKS:

“Report back from Stewart Detention Center Protest by SOA Watch”

A video: a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants

School of the Americas Watch

Example of my videos: Deering Golf Course, Miami Florida

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Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). 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

VIDEOS: Crossing Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans North + a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants

November 5, 2009, Thursday, Tallahassee Florida, in a motel room:

Sitting at a small desk in a spacious motel room just around the corner from Florida State University in Tallahassee (I think I’ve finally learned how to spell it, now what does it mean?), the morning open until I board yet another bus for Pensacola (learned to spell that as well), I now write with some distraction.

One long relatively vivid dream last night, shortly before awakening: I was swimming in a fast moving stream with a woman; we were bucking the current and doing well. We bobbed up and down, for long moments underwater. Foam capped the water. I could see into the water. We approached a bridge. She called out, I’ve lost my … something, maybe glasses, a sad moment but not a tragedy.

Scene shifted. I and not her was with a family near the stream looking out on the water. A dog had gobbled something up which was prohibited and the dog now pretended to be asleep, feigning innocence.

An interpretation of the first part seems obvious, so much so that it might be inaccurate: in my life I swim against the current.

I dreaded the long bus ride between Miami and Tallahassee but it turned out to be pleasant, relaxing, meditative, allowing me to work on my computer enroute (composing advanced info for the winter session at Cambridge Center for Adult Education, remove the guns from S’s images by alteration, skillfully if I do admit myself), write my journal, all while battery charge is plummeting (no AC hookup on Greyhound), and observe the terrain along the split 4 lane highway (mostly forests of new growth and uncultivated fields, a few small towns).

Amnesty International and the local campus Mid East studies group sponsored my Gaza presentation last evening. The small auditorium was filled, close to 100 people, mostly students, but a smattering of people who’d seen it advertised either on Facebook or in the local paper (incorrectly, so we fixed that). The US House voted yesterday to support Resolution 867 rejecting the Goldstone report—a sad moment in US history—and this provided my entry point for the intro. Earlier Samah, who I’d met at lunch (along with 8 or so others, mostly students and the Arabic prof, Zeina Schlenoff {a name I failed to remember so I couldn’t refer to her directly in my gratitude expression}), gave the intro. She read from my website and I told the audience that was the first time I’d heard those words spoken aloud. They embarrass me yet cause me to feel proud. They are apt, even if possibly overblown.

I’ve worked in the words from Eric Yellin and Nomika Zion from Sderot and the general theme there of trauma and their courage in speaking out, also the radical Islamist group that Hamas apparently destroyed while I was there, and HR 867, but not yet the vote’s outcome.

The show seemed well received, with hearty applause, most remaining thru what is now 60 minutes (skipping one sequence about the Popular Achievement program), and about 2/3s remained for the conversation. Only a few walked out. The discussion wasn’t as rich as the night before, partly because of the space: spread out. And the level of awareness seemed lower. (I can access this by asking during the show who knows such and such, like about the USS Liberty or the Goldstone report, and by the remarks.)  After the discussion a young woman approached me with the words, you asked whether there were any Jews in the audience, there was one, me, and relayed to me and a small group her experience participating in Birthright, the free tour program for American Jews to imbibe the conventional narrative about Israel. She abhorred the racism expressed by others in the group—and their drinking. I wish she had spoken this to the audience. I sold a few photos for a change.

About 6 stayed to talk with me—one wanted to record all my links and organizations, another wished to know the composer’s name, others had questions about the issues, such as what role does religion play in the conflict? (My answer: a vital part of the fabric of discord, at times crucial, other times, minor. Land and resources a big part of the conflict, also differing interpretations of history, and then there is fear and hatred.)

There are snags in the upcoming schedule: empty slots mostly, and long distances between venues, exacerbated by the fact (which Dave informed me about weeks ago) that the Amtrak line between Orlando and New Orleans is closed—sorry, Katrina did it. (And 4 years later not restored, a mark of the nation’s valuation of passenger rail.) So I bus or find rides. Dave suggested I take the early morning bus from Tallahassee to Pensacola but I demurred, opting for the later 1:30 PM bus bringing me there 6 hours later. Now to arrange a ride to my accommodations, maybe a taxi.

Y is on her way west. She wrote how appreciative she was about my phone call, and how she wishes to remain connected.

I replied immediately, hoping she reads it before departing. She was on her way south, to Hartford CT to visit B, and then head west.

I am trying to put into practice a declaration I made recently that I would wean myself from my absurd dependency for attention from others, especially women, especially the current woman of my dreams. I resolve to be more independent, solitary, free, to the point of relishing being incognito.

I am not doing well. I’m grateful that Y remains actively in my life, not only writing me but participating with my family, as with Ella and Kate. Will I ever achieve the goal I’ve set for myself, and what exactly is that goal, and why has it become important to me?

I realize that in the sphere of love I might never grow up. I may be fated to remain forever an adolescent.

Should I begin blogging about this southern tour, or simply send links to photo sets with minor comment? I really don’t have the time to blog. Maybe later during my down time on tour, or when I return.

November 6, 2009, Friday, Pensacola Florida, home of L and SS, in a chilly back room:

Another fairly long bus ride (6 hours, $30) from Tallahassee to Pensacola, about half of it along the Gulf Coast. Large tall elegant housing (10 stories or more, no doubt vulnerable to hurricanes), palm trees, shopping malls, a divided 4 lane highway, and then long stretches of sand. Looking for the RR tracks that no longer carry passengers between Orlando and points west, finding none, I learned later that probably Amtrak has no plans to reconstitute that line. I learned also that a hurricane preceding Katrina by a few years destroyed stretches of track. However, the tracks now function and carry freight. So much for the renewal of passenger trains in this area.

On the bus mostly black men, a few women, some small children, a few Euros like me, the bus again only about 1/3 full allowing relative spaciousness. And tho the legroom and thus the maneuvering room for operating my computer were minimal I managed to do a fair amount of work: maintain my website, prepare the first blog entry of this tour, and sundry. Too bad I couldn’t connect to the Internet at my home stay site, a signal but no connection.

Checking my email on the house computer I found a short note from X, announcing that she is leaving Monday for one month in Central America, wants to hear how the tour is going, and mentioned that a friend active on Palestinian rights is disappointed that I’m not coming to his city, Baltimore. Her words, tho brief and not particularly warm, elicit my adolescent urges. I ponder how to respond: copiously as is my habit, pithily to match her incoming message, delay till after she leaves, or not at all. My tendency is the second option—wait a few days, write something brief. She also promised to write again before beginning her trip.

Here’s what I wrote to my Levant list:

Photos—maybe a blog eventually—from my southern tour with photos from last summer’s 3 months in Palestine and Israel. Itinerary below in the footer.

http://teeksaphoto.org/RecentPhotos/2009/Florida_tour_11_3_09/index.html

So far some 20 shows in about 12 locations from North Carolina to southern Florida, mostly of Gaza Steadfast, to audiences at churches, colleges, and universities. Many Arab-Muslims attending, including a sizable proportion of people from the West Bank and Gaza. I notice that Arab-Muslim activism is on the rise. And I am horrified—I hope you are also—by the recent US House resolution passed overwhelmingly that opposes the Goldstone report about war crimes in Gaza.

We have some open dates so if you check the itinerary and can suggest local organizers to book shows, please help.

From Tallahassee Florida on my way west, eventually New Orleans, ending in Columbus Georgia for the School of the Americas Watch,

In contrast, KA directly referred to the photos, calling some of them “intense.” I sent her the originals of S with weapons, to compare with what I posted showing no guns. Is what I long for from women what I might have longed for when my mother, Pearl, was alive: validation as a competent person, a photographer?

KA:

Those anti-Muslim signs and effigies by the church in Gainesville were pretty intense.  And that entrance to the University of Southern Florida was a bit tense as well.  Yikes!  About as much fun as going to I/P talks at the Newton Public Library.

Me:

right you are: intense. life here is intense. tends to be very conservative, yet miami is distinguished by its diversity. this is precisely where i’d like to be.

however, audiences are usually cordial, never hostile, and not as challenging as i’d expected (to my chagrin—i love a fight, certain sorts of fights. after all, i am from chicago, the southside.)

more intense yet was my host in gainsville, sc, combat vet from vietnam, 2 confirmed kills, many others unconfirmed, and staunch peace and justice advocate—up to a point. i share with you in strict confidence 2 photos of him that i didn’t post, at his request. i altered them for the website. originals attached.

if i ever get to blogging my tour i will have a tortured time deciding what to share publicly about s, others as well, a recurring challenge when blogging.

from the deep south, cool weather at last,

KA:

Wow, those photos really do give one pause.  It becomes so hard to characterize people with all their complexities.

I also struggle with what not to post publicly, particularly since the victims in Palestine have their own faults.  It makes it hard to put that halo on them sometimes.  🙂

No show last night in Pensacola because the students who were to have arranged it thru the university didn’t. So a night off, perhaps one in a long line of remaining nights. Not many bookings. One tonight in Mobile Alabama at a coffee house, then 2 on Saturday, followed by many open dates. I’m trying to arrange a long stay in Birmingham, best if with S and J, but if not perhaps thru one of their friends or by way of Couch Surfers and Hospitality Club—to which I’ve written.

Yesterday morning was mostly working in the motel room with its strong fast reliable connection, and a short walk around a gorgeous University of Florida-Pensacola campus. The weather has cooled, partly because of a new air mass but also from coastal geography.

I’ve started making videos again, inspired by what I did in what I’m calling an upscale Miami housing settlement, then the golf course, and yesterday two more: in a McDonalds when I found myself with the right light, the right position, the right moment. I simply turned the camera on, set it on a high counter facing the main counter, and let it observe. Later as the sun was setting, a second—but too late for anything useful, I deleted it—the coast thru trees. Might have been brilliant had I thought of it about 30 minutes earlier.

November 7, 2009, Saturday, Ocean Springs MS, home of D and D, in his study:

One dream, and some important news from X.

The dream was clearly about her, yet in the dream the woman playing the part did not look like her. I simply knew this was X. We had joined tighter publicly in the sense that as we sat outdoors sharing a computer, looking lovingly into each others eyes, sitting close, talking softly to each other, others noticed and commented—oh, you two have joined together. Judging from the timing of her next email to me the dream might have coincided with her writing.

I have to admire her, I feel gratified and gifted by her presence in my life, I believe she is a truly extraordinary person, I love her, and yet I’m disturbed that her path now takes her away, far away. Our paths diverge even more: hers toward further studies and research, Central America, Spanish, poetry, and mine photography, Israel-Palestine, family, Quakers. Not much common ground. We’ll see: long distance relation between elder and younger, one fairly set, one emerging?

Last night I performed at the Satori (meaning enlightenment) coffee house, and performed might not be such an inapt word. The coffee house usually hosts bands; I’m a one-man band (as I wrote spontaneously to X). More people than I expected showed up (none from the crowd of youth playing cards and sipping java in the adjoining room), about 30. The Gaza show went well, most remained for a heated discussion, including a young man from Gaza who remembered how easy a family drive from Gaza to Tel Aviv was, another young Palestinian man, and a Muslim woman with family from Haifa. One woman spoke of the wavering, leisurely, lazy Arabs, while a man from Egypt referred to all Jews as greedy. I did not try to counter their claims, hoping others might (no one did).

My Pensacola hosts, S and L, were exemplary, S driving me to Mobile for the café show, after treating me to a delicious Indian buffet in the newly opened restaurant in Pensacola. I also took a short (2 hour) hike around Pensacola, mainly to the water and downtown historic district. No photos but I learned later from S that the area had suffered hurricane damage, destroying many buildings, leaving some areas shorn, others newly built upon. But with the crashed economy most of this new construction lies empty. A ghost town in the making?

I’m now in Ocean Springs Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, learning that Katrina took down some trees in D and D’s back yard, and inundated some of the neighboring buildings that were lower lying than theirs. One theme emerging in my travels is hurricane effects. Not much to photograph, but much to write about.

2 other news items: Michael C of Friends Meeting at Cambridge wrote saying the Peace and Social Concerns committee agreed to sponsor one of my slide shows at FMC. And from Warren Hoskins, co-clerk of Miami Friends meeting, a testimonial that I shamelessly sent to the Israel-Palestine group at FMC, along with Anne R, and Dave:

Skip, it [a photo of Jerusalem’s old city]  is beautiful. Thank you so much. And I’m already thinking about your next visit, so please don’t let me forget–this time, you tapped on the doors of many people, and I truly expect far more to open in the future.

Before I forget, you are also now always able to say that you were the first speaker brought to South Florida by the Quaker Peace Center of Miami Friends Meeting. As such, you set a suitably high standard for future guests to bring talks, published books or other writings, multimedia programs and projects and other works for peace and social justice to South Florida. Thank you so much for that, too. And for the Woolman quotes–by any chance do you have your excerpts in a file you could share? Very helpful to Quaker sensibilities.

LINKS:

Gulf Coast and New Orleans damage from Hurricane Katrina

Recovery along the Gulf Coast

Israeli attack on the USS Liberty

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Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.

PHOTOS

VIDEO: South Miami Settlement

November 2, 2009, Monday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y

In one dream I was tending a child about 4 years old who seemed a conglomerate of Cid and Ella. The child, androgynous, was difficult, aggressive, and most noticeably feigned vomiting each time I tried to guide or discipline it. The suggestion was it hated me and would resist any order or suggestion from me. Its mother was present, resembling Katy, and she just seemed to sigh and express resignation.

During the night, in real life, as I moved the second pillow that elevated my head too high, I knocked over my night drinking glass filled with cold tea. It shattered, making further sleep a problem.

The nights are very warm and sticky, reminding me of Gaza.

Providentially I made my Quakers in Palestine/Israel presentation on the day beginning the 50th anniversary of the building used by Miami Friends Meeting. Mine was during the meeting for learning, in which I learned that Mustafa Bourghoti’s daughter graduated from the Ramallah Friends School and may have influenced her parents toward non-violence. I’m told a relatively large group attended my session, probably because of the anniversary celebration, and I believe the show went very well. I’m learning that show intimately. Makes all the difference.

Meeting itself drew about 35 (maybe 25 attended my show), which also was said to be a large number, and most importantly it was lively and hearty with strong messages. One ended in a robust sung solo. Andrew’s girl friend/partner gave an odd message that ended in what I thought was the statement, afraid to be happy. I was prepared to add to it about people in Gaza afraid to be happy. I didn’t. And later asked her what she meant. She corrected my hearing by declaring, I said “dare to be happy.” I might have crafted a message around that assertion. Other messages were about loss, a husband, a sister, the sister endlessly suffering, as do many I’m afraid. No way out other than dying.

Meeting for worship was followed by meeting for eating and schmoozing, always fun. I was confirmed in observing that this meeting is highly politically active, compared with some. They recently opened a Quaker peace center across the street, essentially one room. From its budget they gave me a very generous honorarium, more than I’d expected (expectation = zero). Warren told me as he handed over the check, you may not receive anything from the other Miami venues (2 university shows sponsored by student groups). Before meeting several discussed the case of a woman who might be deported back to Central America, how they might help. This reminds us of the sanctuary movement in the early 1980s, protecting Central and South Americans from deportation.

Miami is ethnically diverse: not only Cubans, but many from the other Americas make this their home. And some have become affluent. For a photographer concerned about subcultures, as was someone I met in Miami, this is Mecca. It also sprawls, and has lousy public transportation. But at least one good public school which is what brought my host here initially.

I passed a milestone: last blog and subsite entries from the Palestine/Israel summer trip posted. Now what? Photos and writing from this trip?

Daughters Kate and Joey both wrote about Halloween with the weenie ones, Cid as a pirate with a red headpiece (was it?) and Ella as a pink pig. Rex took a pass for this year. There is now discussion about a family Thanksgiving in NYC, maybe renting an apartment for the 3 families, Kate and family, Lynn and Chuck, me. Elaine also wrote with a brief update. And I’ve been in touch by phone with my cousin Bob Schiel who now is a prisoners’ advocate in an institution, reporting that he loves his job. Y leaves for her cross-country drive on Wednesday, I must write her today.

November 3, 2009, Tuesday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y

Nearly a nightmare situation last night finding the venue at the Florida Atlantic University, and finding my home site later. The ride there, coordinating with Andrew and Mohammed, took about 3 hours, passing at least 3 accidents, and returning required a cool 3.5 hrs. Admittedly the first journey was during rush hour, 3:45 to 7, but the 2nd began at 10 pm.

Partly this is my fault for assuming Mohammed who’d set up the gig knew where I’m residing (he had had a phone discussion with one of my hosts), and partly his seemingly native ignorance of travel and directions. He couldn’t find his car, twice, aimed at the wrong Old Cutler Road, but luckily he and I remained calm, trying our best to laugh this ballooning debacle away. Net result was we arrived at the last minute for the show and I crawled into bed at 1:30 AM.

I resist writing details of this painful journey so I can move to the veggies of the evening: a family of 7 Palestinian women and girls attended, learning about it on Facebook at the last minute (I must remember to learn how to use Facebook more effectively for announcements.) Some had rich backgrounds, others seemed less knowledgeable but equally eager to learn. The family has roots in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, knows Al Rowwad Cultural Center, knows Abed, the director, but the children had attended another summer camp in Aida, which I promised to research to see if I might volunteer someday.

Otherwise the audience was miniscule, some 5 others, in a hard to find conference room, which Susan Koppelman recently used to make a presentation about Lifesource.

A highlight of the day was biking. Aas I mentioned to my host yesterday that I was going for a walk in the nearby park, he responded: why don’t you borrow one of our bikes.

Great idea. I landed what he calls a “Comfort Bike,” large with a high seat and high handlebars, effective shock absorbers, many gears, and wide tires. The machine hums along. It brought me for a ride thru a golf course, something I’ve never done before, up and down rolling hills on a path used by the carts. No one shooed me away. Other than the maintenance personnel, I was alone—no golfers. Periodically I spotted white signs stuck in to the green announcing a certain synagogue along with what I presume are supporters of the golf course or an event that happened on it recently. Also a marina, apartment or condo complexes, waterways, a myriad of Florida-specific landforms that present the traditional Florida face. They challenged me to show it in some slightly or dramatically different way. Have I succeeded?

I later tried 2 other branching roads. One led me to a horticultural research station exploring sub tropical plants. Told to leave. Another to a park past a recycling center and ball field into a construction site. Told to leave. But I’d managed to choose the right path first, the golf course.

Taking advantage of the phone rate structure which does not differentiate between local and long distance calls, I phoned Y on a lark to wish her goodbye (she leaves tomorrow to drive cross country.) and Katy to just drop in. Ella said a robust hello grandpa, lighting my day considerably. At this moment Ella is really the only person intimate physically with me, an irony—and intimate only in the sense of holding hands, sitting on my lap, the sort of intimacy that is a major part of what I miss while single.

Returning from the bike ride I swam, another highlight of this 3-day drop in to South Miami. I don’t recall being in any city with more highways, more private vehicles, a more convoluted and spread out landscape. We drove endlessly yesterday and nearly always on 8 lane highways past malls. What could be uglier? Mohammed who can’t be more than 35 years old told me he remembers when one of the roads we drove on, Rt 1, the main road south, going to the Florida Keys, was mostly farms. (Is this the road Jack Kerouac took when traveling south, later to write about it in On the Road?)

A bright spot in all the driving is conversation. And since relationships are one of my favorite topics, I turned to A to ask him more about his relationship with S who sat next to him at meeting, the two of them caressing each other during the silence. Knowing each other for 10 years, sort of partners for 7, he initially suggested marriage, she demurred, saying where would we live, how would we share? She is reasonably content where she is, he where he is, not only the physical arrangements but the life styles. Which is what Y and I faced when considering living together and marrying: too different, too set. So A and S co-exist, share overnights, have a sort of commitment (again like Y and me) with a big difference about extra partner sex. One favors, one does not.

November 4, 2009, Wednesday, Orlando Florida, on the bus between Miami and Tallahassee

I begin this after an 80-minute layover in Orlando. It is now 6:30 AM.

Having slept most of the first leg of this 12 hour bus journey (which began at midnight in Miami), I am now poised for a journey across the first part of my Gulf Coast route to New Orleans. On the bus with me are about 20 others (about 1/4 full), mostly black, mostly young, a few with small children. Legroom is ample, service is decent, air is cold (I wear my mid weight fall jacket). Cost is $45, station facilities adequate (altho they closed the café within 15 minutes of me sitting down to drink my coffee and eat my yogurt with banana). I saw virtually nothing on the first portion, sailing thru the night under a full moon.

The Gaza show last evening to a class in the sociology of the Middle East (Florida International University in Miami) went exceptionally well, judging by the length and intensity of the discussion. It continued for more than one hour, with many questions, none of them hostile, most thoughtful and well articulated. Besides the usual issues raised, I learned of 2 other countries that are now united after decades of division, or once were —Germany and Yugoslavia. Another vexing question that recurs is what explains the pattern of oppressed people turning into oppressors? One answer given by the prof is that while individuals may possess historical memory, societies don’t—there is no societal memory. Evidence for this is how as nations we usually learn little from history. Vietnam into Afghanistan, Johnson into Obama. Otherwise humanity would have evolved much further than it has. So he claims.

This was a mixed crowd of about 40, standing room only (small room), mostly the class’s students, but some from outside, including about 5 young Muslim women. At the last minute (one of the virtues of slide shows) I’d inserted a photo of the local federal representative, Ileana somebody, a Cuban exile with right wings tendencies (common among that class) who’d authored House Resolution 867 opposing the Goldstone report on Gaza. It had been voted on yesterday, the day of the show. I’ve not yet heard the results. [overwhelmingly approved, meaning the US House overwhelmingly condemns the report]

I’m learning the show intimately; I’ve tailored what I say. I have nearly memorized some of the narration, and I can anticipate much better the slide sequence. A problem remains: how vividly do the visuals alone, sans words, show the politics of the issue? I’d referred to this problem while introducing the show and a young man, the only Jew present, asked me specifically about how can photography better express politics. Which launched me into a discussion about the relationship between words and pix. I believe I fail to brilliantly utilize visuals; here I need to learn technique, maybe by closer observation of the work of masters such as Smith, Lange, Selgado, and younger photographers.

To try to answer that young man I mentioned my use of portraits, photos of things only, not people, and sequence. I used the portrait of Raghda as an example, stating, some (thinking of X’s heartening response to the photo) might find this evocative of Raghda’s true nature, her suffering and struggle, while others might see merely a beautiful woman, or an exotic woman, or a Palestinian, or nothing at all. (Not stated was do you see my love for her?) Later at dinner (delicious Japanese, a treat from Mohammed to Carlos and me) I admitted my love for her. She is among the most important ties I have with Gazans, one of my dearest connections.

One way to improve my Gaza show is to deepen the portraits, concentrate on key people: Raghda, Ibrahem, Amal, Yusef, Belal, Reem, Adham, and if only I had better photos of Mohammed, how he suffers.

Who is Carlos, mentioned earlier? A young man with Venezuelan roots who we drove to the show, friend of Mohammed’s, and part of the organizing team for a group of immigrant rights’ workers who plan to walk from Miami to DC between January 1 and May 1. We discussed this extraordinary effort in the car driving to the university—and I invited him to outline the walk during the discussion. The group of 3 key organizers has contacts in national organizations, seem very knowledgeable, are all students who are going on leave for one semester. They have some financial backing, Mohammed promised to help with resources from his organization, the Islamic Council, and they risk arrest and deportation. This walk is more daring than any I’ve undertaken. I hope to stay connected, having offered Carlos the Atlanta Buddhist dojo Nipponzan Myohoji contact.

Carlos seems astute, articulate, committed, and brave, I hope I’m fair to consider him a fellow traveler. Once again, a side benefit, an important benefit of this tour, unpredictable but expected, is meeting such as Mohammed and Carlos.

I had my second bike ride, on that special bike, the Comfort bike, generously lent me by R. This time to an upscale housing development where I made videos while biking, one of my favorite modes of making visuals. I was stimulated while observing the construction of a mammoth house. Then I headed back to the Deering Bay complex and biked along the cart trail in the gulf course making video. Humming and talking to myself, I spontaneously narrated the video, much fun. This time I was warned that biking is not allowed—warned by a woman with skinny legs—in a golf course. The paradox of bikes forbidden, carts OK, once again speaks to the ethics of this country, our priorities.

Following the bike ride, a swim, following the swim, lunch, following lunch, a nap, following my nap, cottage cleanup and packing, following that, more computer work.

I struggle to recalibrate my system, one aspect of my essential being: less dependent on attention from women (or anyone), and more independent while working and traveling. In a practical sense this means less disappointment when no one corresponds with me, or the correspondence is fragmentary, sporadic, pithy to the point of being formulaic, and more appreciation for my solitary state of being. Why moan about loneliness and miss the pleasure and privilege of roaming the earth out of eyesight of others? Why not revel in my isolated existence? Why not more fully engage the mystery of being alone? Why not cultivate being incognito? How about becoming a present day Ambrose Bierce, who vanished from the earth and in vanishing became more visible?

It is now 7:08 AM, and I am northwest of Orlando, heading to Gainesville and then Tallahassee. This route revisits some of my earlier sites on this tour.

I inquire: am I the sort of grandpa that my father was to me, always traveling, not fulfilling family duties, missing the growing up phase of my youngers?

LINKS:

“Culture and language: for more than half a century cultural diversity has been a hallmark of Greater Miami. Today its population mix is a mirror of the Americas”

Deering Bay Yacht and Country Club

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Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.

PHOTOS

October 30, 2009, Friday, Tampa Florida, home of MU, side room by kitchen

Dream: I was in Palestine with a group of western supporters of Palestinians. We were riding in a car up a steep hill, going to some sort of event. Our host told us very few visitors ever stood on this hill. Entering a tall apartment building we rode an elevator that not only rose but tilted sideways. Many others rode with us, much excitement in the air, anticipation.

And then we were marching outside, night fell, we stopped, gathered for a rally, and I might have begun photographing. Nothing much seemed to be happening so I departed, and ran into Stan. When we met I was digging out leftovers for dinner and then felt, reluctantly, I had to share them with him.

The Gaza show last night at the University of Southern Florida in Tamp had a special quality: the university is where Sami Al-Arian, the computer prof who’s suffered for his alleged funding of some Hamas organization. He is a cause celeb and I forgot to say in my intro how honored I felt by the invitation to present there. This was the site of the request for a preview of the show. The local organizations, reps of the Arab Muslim student association, thought there’d be over 400 attending, many from the local Muslim community outside the campus. They didn’t show up, so the number stood at about 80, mostly students.

The show went OK, not as exciting as on other occasions, with a very good large bright image (once we’d adjusted the resolution), and decent timing. The discussion was tough because people were spread out. The sponsoring organizations seemed pleased with the show and asked if I might return in March and present again during a 3 day long conference they plan to title, Demystifying Israel-Palestine. Of course, especially if they pay and I have the time.

MU and L brought me to a local park with boardwalks thru a swamp along a river. We spotted an alligator slowly gliding thru the still waters. A foggy morning, not the best for photography, but I tried. I finally had a chance to show L in a portrait. Later I photographed him drawing for his USS Liberty commission.

I’d like to finish this soon and speed off a letter to Y who wrote a long letter to me about her end game in Cambridge, preparing for the big move west.

October 31, 2009, Saturday, Orlando Florida, home of AC and AB, in the main room

For some reason on this tour with few exceptions I notice myself dreaming but I’m usually unable to recall much more than fragments, nothing sustained or vivid. As if thru a fogged mirror.

Orlando, with Muslim Arab students at the University of Central Florida, residing overnight with 2 young men, one the vibrant humorous gregarious AC, the other the shy quiet cute AB, and overseen by the 21 year old married soft voiced heavily black bearded YA. He and I chatted in the car yesterday after MU had delivered me to him halfway between Tampa and Orlando. I detect in YA a tendency to rightness, realness, trueness. As in the one true Muslim path. I called him on this, he said this is exactly what I’m talking about, what I’m critical of, meaning others declaring themselves the bearers of the one true way. No, YA, what I mean is that you sometimes sound like that, declaring you know the one true proper way.

He’d been discussing how the first 3 generations of Islam were somehow the most true, pure, right, and there had been an incident recently when young Muslims learned about a book written 100 or so years ago that professed to be the true Muslim path. They followed it, and were wrong in doing this. He feels many new to Islam fall into this trap, as do the fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden, acclaimed but with little knowledge of Islam.

The phrase, that is not the true path, strikes me as fundamentalist, one side professing to have special knowledge that renders their interpretation correct, all others wrong.

The Bethlehem show last night played before about 25 students, all Muslim, and 4 older folks who admitted to being parents of the youngsters. YA had chosen Bethlehem partly to appeal to Christian students. He invited various Christian groups and then was surprised that no one attended. We discussed the age-old practice of beginning planning with the disparate groups so all are invested, rather than inviting them after the planning is done.

Discussion was fairly rich with the inimitable AC, tall and handsome, quick and funny, giving me a witty intro (now let’s hear it for the hip Skip Schiel!), and later in discussion observing that one reason Christians (and others) might not wish to know what is happening to Christians in Bethlehem (and others) is because they realize they should do something about it—they are complicit.

I winced showing Bethlehem last night, because I now see many ways to simplify and shorten it, beginning with the transitions. So many of them insert black between images. Why did I do this?

YA walked me around the neighboring research park, a relatively open, untrafficed country site with winding paths. Otherwise I reside in a huge apartment condo complex near the university, near a highway endlessly streaming with traffic. Florida is marked by its heavy use of vehicles and its corresponding lack of good public transport.

Belal wrote a very short note this morning that he’d escaped Gaza. I replied and then he was off line. This is the first writing from him since he left Gaza for Turkey and advanced education, his dream of many years.

My fantasies of someone joining me for part of this tour produce some laughable scenes. Suppose Y were to join me for a few days in Orlando, to see how the tour is going. She’d probably have to sleep on the floor beside me on the bed of this bachelor pad. Or suppose X had dropped by in Tampa on her way to her assignment—the bed, together perhaps, sealing a relationship (or ruining it)?

Endless possibilities, all in my aging head. I ache in the places where I used to play, so sang the gracefully aging Leonard Cohen.

Tonight? Where will I be tonight? Miami is about all I know, riding the train there for 6 hours, spanning the width of the state.

I learned more about a recent hosting family: the mystery man and she were once married and now choose to share the house partly for economic reasons and partly out of friendship. They seem very close. They have not divorced even tho they behave as a divorced couple. This is primarily for economic reasons and to avoid deciding how to split the property like their jointly owned house. What if P and I had made a similar decision, living together in the Center Street house? I’m not sure this would have worked. And then what happens when one of us meets another intimate? As I did Y.

MU graciously toured me thru the old Cuban-Italian district of Tampa, with its cigar stores, cafes (we drank iced tea at the Columbia), bars, and perhaps a few galleries. It is called Ybor and has a light rail system connecting it with downtown. (Altho we saw no trains actually running)

Today is Halloween, I might celebrate it in a solitary secret manner. While I think about Ella, Cid, and Rex enjoying the event as kids usually do.

November 1, 2009, Sunday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of R and RL

Ensconced for several days in a guest house consisting of bedroom, toilet, small narrow kitchen, living-dining room, and entry room. Behind the main house, not yet meeting my hosts since I came in last night around 10:30 pm, Halloween, I have ultimate privacy. The neighborhood rang with singing, shouting, music. Cars littered the roadway. Children called out. It is Halloween, and I celebrate in my own manner: with delightful erotic fantasies.

The train carrying me here from Orlando was 3.5 hours late. Either it was once again stuck behind freights, explanation no. 1 from Amtrak personnel, or the train collided with something near DC, requiring replacement of the engine, explanation no. 2. No further details. Expecting a train crew in costume and masked, I was disappointed to discover no apparent celebration aboard the Silver Meteor (a laggardly meteor), train no. 97, limping south to its final destination, Miami. I can now proudly claim: I’ve ridden Amtrak between its 2 main north-south destinations on the east coast, Boston and Miami (ignoring Portland ME).

On board for some 5 hours (for a distance of about 160 miles, drive time might be 3-4 hours) I accomplished much: adding to yesterday’s journal, refining the Special Sources application, revising Gaza, Bethlehem, and Quakers (the latter I show this morning at the Miami meeting), examining the new blog entry before posting, and reading Scott’s report of his 1990 Palestine/Israel trip. Plus limited photography of the sunset spreading over a sandy plain. Florida is flat, sandy, and of course, where I am now, hot.

I know I dreamt regularly thru the night but I have no shred of memory of any dreams. I’m fairly convinced that this is because my new environment is so novel. There is much to explore, much to imagine, much to understand. Who are my hosts, what is their house like, what neighborhood am I in, who are my neighbors, can I drink the water, what exactly does my host do in the adjoining room filled with mat cutting tools, etc.

Presently the water question is a serious focus. When I arrived last night I saw no signs about water—DO NOT DRINK THE WATER!— or alternate water, so I filled my cup with tap water, drank from it during the night. This morning showering, I noticed a putrid odor to the water, then thought, oh shit, not again, am I going to get sick from the water? This morning I discovered a large opened bottle of water which I used for my coffee and I will soon meet my host and ask her, hoping she replies, no problem, it’s safe, drink away.

Since the train was delayed I mostly stayed in the Orlando house shared with AC and AB, joking mostly with the former. I worked, preparing another subsite, the last of the summer Israel-Palestine trip, along with a blog entry which I’ve yet to upload. I resisted certain temptations borne to me via the Internet—does the devil now visit us from cyberspace when we open the computer? The connection was among the fastest of this trip.

A few more details about AC: he’s from Hawarra, but he did not know his geography. This was telling: he thought he grew up in Israel. Reason? The occupation was so pervasive, soldiers everywhere, that he assumed this. His father had and has businesses, laundromat for one, gas station another, and AC worked in some of them. He lived in Palestine from the age of 4 to 14 or so, leaving in 2000 just before 2nd intifada. He studies civil engineering, thinking it will assure him a job, but he also expects not to feel satisfied by this job and seemed interested in how I’ve organized my life for supreme personal satisfaction (with some big gaps).

We debated individualism, relying only on oneself. He argued that this way no one would cheat or disappoint him. I spoke of my experience changing from much that same perspective and life mode to one that acknowledges the value of community, striving to participate fully in various communities, relying on others, and realizing they will rely on me.

He showed me a YouTube video of his brother’s summer wedding in Brooklyn, featuring dabka. I had to confess: I’m sick of dabka. And he confessed that he is a clumsy dabka dancer.

Islamic morality came up, especially concerning college “girls.” I’d inquired about a note on the fridge that said in essence, your bike is sweet, it’s like mine, we should get together and make sweet love. With name and phone number. Someone left it on AC’s big balloon tire bike. The college girls here are very loose, he claimed, always flirting. I flirt back but stop before anything further happens except for …

And here I wondered if he referred to masturbation. I muse: do devout Muslims masturbate? Is this considered against the moral code? Certainly coitus before marriage is prohibited and my sense from discussion with AC is that many observe this. But jerking off? Watching porn? I’m not sure and I’m hesitant to ask because he might then ask me, do you masturbate, do you use porn? I might equivocate, dodge the question, say something like, this is too personal for me to answer.

So I kept my big mouth shut and live without an answer.

YA brought me to the train station, we had about 30 minutes for walk and talk. (I recognized the station, remembered that I’ve arrived-departed here at least once before, once boarding a bus.) He proved himself very knowledgeable about Islam. Here’s what I learned concerning 2 big questions I’ve had: about the night journey of the prophet to Jerusalem and then lifting off to visit deities, and the connection between Ishmael and Islam. In note form:

Most believe the journey was not a death scene, nor a dream, but an actual event. Evidence? In speaking about his journey Mohamed describes in detail the environment of that day—which then correlates with historical facts.

Ishmael to Islam by way of Abraham leads Hagar (she is royalty, a gift of the pharaoh, but served as a maid) west to desert, stopped when ordered by god. She ran back and forth between hilltops looking for people. Ishmael the baby crying, kicking, uncovers water source, laughs. This is where the kaaba was built. The local people are Arabized (original Arabs were from Yemen).

Abraham almost sacrificed Ishmael in Arabia, at Arafat, not Mt Moriah in Jerusalem, tempted by devils who wished Abraham would sacrifice, which is parallel to Christ tempted by devils 3 times.

Oh, I don’t know. How much of this is historically true? How much is mythically true? How much contains stories about how to live? How much is true true, ultimately true, pointing to a truth of the universe?

LINKS:

Sami Al-Arian

Miami Friends Meeting

Quaker Center for Peace, Education and Social Justice

Ybor City (Tampa)

Islam and masturbation

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