Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 21, Day 52 of Net Loss 352

So far this has been easy and painless. I’ve had to figure out what my rules mean in some unusual circumstances, such as the boot that were returned to me yesterday, they are mine, but I have not seen them since December 24th. I can’t decide if they are a new item and I should balance that out by getting rid of something more or not… probably should since all I’ve done so far is clean out my closet!

There is a telephone pole right beside my driveway. We’ve been putting our stuff out there for yea s, we tack a sign to the post that says “free” and away it goes. So far only unemployed daughter Elizabeth has been a known recipient of any of my stuff. I have had several really interesting suggestions on what to do with my give away stuff, and I really like the one from Charlsie the best, she made some deep comments about our society and how much stuff have that we don’t need, so giving it away here does not really get it out of our consumer stream. But I am going to stick with my free pole, Watsonville is a town with hunger and a big population undocumented homeless people, I have a feeling that whomever is taking the stuff is either using it or selling it for stuff they really need.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Net Loss 352, Day 38

This past week during our morning math intervention at Mission Hill Middle School students were asked to come up with a question they could ask 25 people and get numerical answers to in order to do a mean, medium, and mode study. One of the girls in my class decided her question was “How many pairs of shoes do you have?” I was surprised to find that my students think 30 is a shocking amount of shoes for one person.

Later, in the afternoon I counted 42, which is really ridiculous, I only have 2 feet and not that many places to go.

I have heard the saying, “less is more”, and I’ve read accounts of people who feel a great relief when they give away lots of stuff.

I’ve decided to make this one of my projects. For the year 2010 I will give away one thing a day. Rules for myself:
• Has to be stuff someone else would want, trash does not count
• I have to take a photo of each item (which means that the leather coat I gave away on Wednesday can’t count)
• I’m giving this away, if I get money for the object it does not count.
• I want a net loss of 352 things, so if something new comes into the house I have to get rid of an extra item to off set the new item. (Bill is ordering new curtains right now…)
• Consumables like food and cleaning supplies, home repair things and art supplies are the exception to the net gain rule above.

I had some catching up to do as I began this process on the 6th of February, so far, finding 37 items has not been so difficult, I wonder at what month this will start to get painful… I bet I will need to revisit my shoe collection and the coat closet again before this is over.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There’s No Place Like Home

The Mural got up, we got home, and I’m feeling recovered enough to reflect on the whole trip now. Let me begin by thanking each and every one of you who followed the blog with love and good intentions for us. Looking back it is kind of amazing that I was never afraid for my safety. We had this idea that the worst thing that could happen to us would be arrest and deportation; both of us were OK with those consequences. This last week reading the news about the violence faced by the Viva Palestina Convoy has been especially disturbing, I now believe that we were really lucky.

The mural is up. Rejoice in that. Was it worth it? I don’t know, I want to think so...
Basic Intention:
1. I was bringing a community made mural
2. to a community of women
3. in Gaza
4. for the purpose of making connections with people
5. on a personal level,
6. to let them know that there are people out there (Santa Cruzans Specifically) who know and care about their situation.

What Happened when we met up with Reality:
1. YES, I brought a community made mural
2. NO, there was no access to the community of women
3. YES, Wow, it is in Gaza!
4. YES, I made connections with people
5. YES, I made some profound personal connections
6. yes, I think so… The people who helped me, and the UN officials know my intent, they have the book of photos, and they have promised a plaque to let the public know. So eventually this will be a big YES

When looked at objectively this way, we were able to fulfill our basic intention.

Then there are side consequences to look at. How was the mural co-opted for other people’s purposes, and do those purposes align with ours? CODEPINK, and Medea Benjamin specifically were the initiators of the project; it was always going to be fine for them to use the Mural in publicity and to further their message/cause. There has been some criticism that my going was going to benefit Hamas. Hamas officials wanted the mural on one of their buildings. It went on a UN building, so they did not win that battle. The only international press the mural has received has been through CODEPINK, so I don’t believe it has benefited Hamas for the mural in any international press. The mural was well received by the local people even though it depicts some western women in western dress and some Palestinian looking women in non-traditional dress. In that it is in direct opposition to Hamas policies. I think that this one fact alone makes it all worthwhile. The mural will be there for a long time, speaking to the local women, it is reminder, a glimmer of hope for return to a day when fundamentalists ideals were not being forced upon individuals by their elected officials. And it is a gift from us, we know about their suffering, we are thinking about them, and we are working on their behalf 1/2 way around the world.

Back here, 1/2 the way around the world in Santa Cruz. Birthplace of Hippies and the Peace movement, and now I get to feel more hate and unease than I did on my 14-day adventure. The phone calls from Arabic speakers who want to reconnect with me at 2 in the morning, while difficult to deal with are sweet. The 4,5 and 6 a.m. hang-ups are just mean. Free speech in the on-line forums of the newspaper allows people to post hate anonymously. Anonymity allows people to send hate mail in the mail with no signature and no return address. This turns my stomach more than squaring my shoulders, keeping my head high and walking through a line of secret police intent on preventing me from leaving. At least the not-so-secret police were people, I could look in their eyes and smile with my eyes, and we could reach an understanding without words.

“We do not agree, but we do not hate each other”

“We do not agree, but I understand that you feel strongly about your position, and I am going to push against that”

“We do not agree, but we are human, more than that, we do not agree, but we are brother and sister, I cannot hate you”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Nearing the End, Exhaustion and Bad Moods

January 2nd 2010
Up early again, packing, grabbing a quick bite, by passing security again in order to get to the mural for a final interview, and then to the Commodore hotel to catch the bus back to Cairo. Stop. There is a mess going there again, talking talking talking, discussing discussing and arguing again. Some want to stay behind. Hamas wants us out. Egypt says we can stay. Hamas wants us out; Hamas says they will close the border to all, even Palestinians even if Egypt let it be open unless we all leave. Still some want to stay. They do not even have the good sense to go to their hotel rooms and stay quite, to just get out of view somewhere.

Our bus sat there full of people waiting to leave while Hamas argued and tried to get these people on the bus. Finally we leave, an hour later than we wanted to.

The Raffah crossing, hurry up! Wait, wait, ok now, we move foreword, oh, no not yet, sit down again we must wait, have patience. Ok let’s move! Now stand in this line, now fill out this form, Ok turn in your passport, on, no wait, you did not pay for you visa, go stand in that line and bring me the receipt. Ok, now you wait again. You might be bringing back swine flu, we cannot have that, now you must all line up so that we can take your temperature, you seem healthy, good go sit over there. Yes, yes your passport is clear head towards that door there, we walk down this very long hall there is sun light streaming in the doors at the end, I am almost out the door, I can see my bus, the one that will take me to the airport, No. Stop, you must pay another fee. Ok, now y9ou can go. Opps you got on the wrong bus, go over there. Finally on the road, never mind that we go only 500 feet before we stop again at a check point, slowly move through security, we will move again soon, I hope. And so we do.

For awhile we are moving. 5 French women on the bus that needs to go quickly to the airport (for me and Bill we have the earliest flight out) really want to go back to Gaza. Why didn’t they just stay? Th4ey want to get off at the Swiss Inn in El Arish, take the very long way around the town, we miss El Arish all together, they are not going to get off at the Swiss Inn. This does not suit them so one of them pretends to be having a severe asthma attack. She is doing a very good job with this act; I know it is an act because she has told us that this is what she plans to do if they do not get off t the Swiss Inn. She is so convincing she has the guards very alarmed. We stop at the next check point, she swoons out of the bus and her friends follow her carrying all of their luggage. A scene is about to start, I am so tired and so angry I flee to the back of the bus crying because what I really want to do it fly out the door of the bus and tell these selfish women to get back on the bus.

The pretender gets hauled away in an ambulance an hour after she starts her act. All of us on the bus except the French are angry with her. We all hope that she gets charged a lot of money for her ambulance ride to the hospital. The French are laughing, Tighe has had it and explodes telling them that no one else thinks it is funny and that if we miss our flights he is going to make them get off the bus at the airport and find their own taxi back in to Cairo. They laugh at that too.

Sitting at the back of the bus turns out to be a good thing, we get to chat with some people we did into spend any time with on the trip. It is not really that surprising that we don’t know too many people, we’ve been at the mural site the whole time and making friends of the Gazans. Lots of time to draw sleeping people, which is a challenge on a fats moving bus, but now I have an excuse for funny drawings.

We’re at the Cairo Airport now, it’s the 3rd of January, but it will still be the 3rd when we get home. Can’t wait to get there!

Really Just Survival

January 1st 2010
The UN guards were waiting for us with smiles and assistance. Our Hamas keepers figuring we were safe with the UN and not likely to go anywhere left us alone to work. I was about to go hysterical when I realize that the thin set was not there, it was 10:30 already and I had been promised that it would be there by 9:30. Just then a car came barreling around the corner towards us at an alarming speed; it was my smiling faced UN security guard with my bag of thin set. When I asked to pay for it he refused, saying it was a gift. I reciprocated by pulling bracelets out of my bag and giving him one for each of his four daughters and one for his wife.
We had 3 tedious and long tasks to complete before the mural would be completed and it looked like we would never get it done with all the socializing that was going on. Thankfully Kit form Codepink arrived with some others, Kit got to work beside me and Bill and we let all the other foreign nationals do the socializing. Rae brought us a fantastic lunch at mid day which later made Bill ill. Later in the afternoon Hannar arrived which was a blessing because she is bi-lingual and was better able to answer all the questions of our local observers, finally women and girls started to come with the lack of Hamas and Hannar bravely standing there being an ambassador, she insisted on working on it for a bit even though she was wearing a very beautiful; black gown with silver and gold beading..
We finished early enough to have dinner with Hannar much to her delight, as we were cleaning up and making dinner decisions our Hamas security force showed up again. They were not at all happy that we were going to go off with Hannar and Yosef; we were able to go by exchanging cell phone numbers. Hannar’s sister insisted that we go to her house for dinner, which I did not fully understand until we got there.

Hannar’s sister’s name is Brook when translated. She and her husband and three kids live out on the border with Israel in a town called Khanjunas.

Brooke is in a horrible marriage, her husband is verbally abusive, she lives way out on the border with out access to transportation, or the internet. She is an educated woman who speaks English and has and industrial design degree. Her husband will not allow her to speak English in the house and she will probably get in a lot of trouble for our visit. When we arrived he was surprised, she had not told him we3 were coming, she wanted us all to eat together, but he insisted the women eat in the kitchen separate form the men. This turned out to be quite fun for me, we did lots of girl talk after our more serious conversations about her marriage her nightly prayer that god will take her husband because she could leave him but he would get to keep the children and she could not bear to leave her babies. We talked about the difficult of life when the water has to be treated before you can use it and how simple things like baby clothes are scares and very expensive. The sisters made me put on some traditional outfits and take photos; we laughed and had a lovely time together. Meanwhile Bill was stuck with the men who were smoking and speaking only Arabic, luckily for him the children found him to be amusing and he held them him lap and played games with them.
Our Hamas keepers kept calling and finally urged us to come back to the hotel. We met up with ‘Abd at the hotel, he had been waiting for us for a couple of hours, and on top of that we were his guests which h meant that we could not pay for any of the drinks we needed to have to sit in the there and talk with each other. ‘Abd\is the high school English teacher we met in the march. Both of his parents are university professors, he is bright and articulate and so interesting to talk with. After an hour or so of chit chat and talking about family and passing back and forth pictures we got to some more meaty subjects. We talked about prejudice and racism, and how now it is ok to have mixed marriage and that in the past it was forbidden and taboo, and while it is now OK in Gaza it is very unusual and he does not understand why a white woman would marry a black man, I must have looked aghast, because he became thoughtful; and he said, yet I know that we have talked about all of us being brothers and I am sure that there are black ,men that have good hearts so if a white woman agrees to marry a black man it must be for love of his heart. We ended up talking about the gay marriage fight in the USA and he said that there were no homosexuals at all in Gaza, we looked at him skeptically and he said that well maybe there were some but of there were they were in hiding because they would be killed for it. Eventually we got the Israel Palestine problem and I have to say it was sobering and depressing, what he feels would be a reasonable solution to the problem is so far off form what any Isreali Jew would ever accept. I asked if he could make an estimate of the people in Gaza who hold similar beliefs to him, what percentage would be willing to compromise more and what percentage less. The end result of that conversation was that I was depressed. The road to peace in the region feeling impossibly long.

As so I remind myself that I came here to offer love, Friendship, beauty and hope. I carry back the message that 1.5 million people are being held in an open air prison without the ability to take care of themselves, they are reliant on the charity of others to survive and it is really just survival, it is not a life. This prison is bordered by Israel and Egypt. It is also very heavily funded by the USA. I am culpable.

From One Police State to Another

December 31st
We missed the bus to the Commodore hotel this morning where most of the delegates are staying and a meeting about our schedule and coordination is taking place. We were stopped by the Hamas security forces when we tried to catch a taxi. A dark windowed SUV was provided complete with machine guns to take us to the Commodore hotel. Shades of El Arish all over again.
The meeting at the Commodore was still going on and it looked like nothing had been accomplished. Finally it was determined that even though Hamas had co-opted the Gaza Freedom March we would all go to and either march or watch. We felt very ambivalent about participating, after all we really wanted to meet the women from the women’s center where the mural was supposed to be installed and we only had 2 days to install. We were assured the all would be fine over and over again that the supplies were ready and that the march would be short and it would happen.

The March was not short. We were the only women in the march. It was a very small crowd of men and teenage boys; I think that there were 5-6 of them for every one of us, which would put the March attendance at between 600-700 not the 6,000 that has been reported.

Bill and I were fortunate to run into a High School English teacher, we walked slowly and had some very interesting and sweet conversations; he stayed with us and did a lot of translating so that we were able to speak with many people in the crowd. At the end of the parade there were any speeches in both Arabic and English, as expected, the government used it as a media event, and while we tried to contain the message we did a miserable job of it. Unfortunately I wandered too close to a live TV interview and got roped into being in the background when Tighe Barry on live Aljezerra made an incomprehensible statement contradicting all the peaceful efforts we had worked towards.

On return to the Commodore hotel we learned that in actuality they had not procured the supplies we needed to make the mural. In addition the woman I had been working with on the mural project was not going to be able to meet with me. The Commodore hotel was a big mess, the organizers had thought we would go out into the neighbor hood and get lunch for ourselves and then meet back in the afternoon for tours, Bill and I were to go to the site and get going on the mural. El Arish all over again, the Hamas security was insisting that we all eat at the hotel and they were not allowing anyone past the gates of the hotel. We had been given the services of Mond, a local young man who spoke English, but it would do us no good if we could not get out of the hotel. We convinced Mond that the only action was for Bill and us to just walk through the wall of security men and keep going, to ignore their protests and calls to stop and to just keep going. His job would be to hail a local taxi and come pick up us. It was tense, they did try to detain us, but we had had experience in El Arish and just went.

Mond was able to move us around Gaza City, we purchased the supplies needed and headed off to the site, which is when I found out that it was not going on a women’s center wall after all. The new site was the wall right outside the UN Relief Agency and across the street from the Muslim University. While not happy about this new turn of events there was not time to argue. The director the GAZA UN Relief Agency was very happy to meet me and excited about the mural. Bill and I set to work to the amusement of all the males watching. We had Hamas guard, UN security guards and a whole host of local boys watching. At one point in the process they had a lot of advice to give, but we did not understand what they were trying to convey, eventually they got frustrated with my ineptitude and took the tools from me and took over the job of thin setting the sections to the wall. In the mean time we discovered that all of my Arabic translation were incorrect, we decided to remove the Arabic all together and just go with a short Arabic Statement of “Free Gaza”. So 20 of the 25 sections were attached to the wall, the other five were going back to the hotel with me to get repaired. We had used up all of the thin set we had purchased, when I found out that the next day was the Holy day and that no stores would be open I could not help myself, I burst into tears. The UN agency workers who had been helping us were so moved by my distress that three of them whipped out cell phones and began calling to try to find some for me. This show of empathy and support was such an unexpected kindness that the tears turned to joy instead of anguish. But they could not tell the difference and were still in distress that I was crying. We were promised that the thin set would be there at 9:30 in the morning.

Our Hamas guards took us to our hotel where we changed clothes and boarded a bus for a New Year’s Eve party being held in our honor. The mood was one of excitement and joy; we had a great time mingling with the locals. At one point Bill and I left the party with a young woman named Hannar and her husband Yosef to walk the 2 blocks to the mural. I was amazed that we were able to leave with out the guards, the four of us walked arm in arm together chatting as we went, the moon was full, the air was warm, and the company was delightful.

We left the New Year’s Eve party right after walking Hannar and Yoself back with a promise to see each other again the next night. Bill went right to bed and I set myself up to go to work on fixing the panels that had incorrect Arabic writing on them, we even forgot to wish each other Happy New Year. I worked on the corrections until 3 a.m. I was joined by Hamas guards. They sat at my table with me drank tea and joked with each other, sporadically they practiced their English, I had the Mural book with me which they enjoyed looking through, asking the ages and availability of the women pictured in it. My daughter Liz was a big hit; they want me to bring her back to Gaza as she would make a very good wife. The later it got the more often they asked me when I was going to go to sleep, always it was when I finish! I later learned that they were not able to go to bed themselves until all of internationals went to bed. I finally finished at 3 a.m. apparently one of my compatriots got up at 5 a.m. I don’t feel too bad about this lack of sleep our Hamas keepers suffered; their presence has cost me many many new grey hairs!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Conflict Splinters the Group and a Late Night Bus Ride

I Got a call from Ann Write at 1 a.m. letting me know that I was on the list of 100 to go in, and that Bill was not. Asked about the Costellanos and the other people on the front line and was appalled to learn that I was the only one of the 55 of us out here, alone, on our own, making it up as we go and generally grinding ourselves into the ground with lack of sleep. Ann herself was as shocked and up set about this oversight and said she’d work on it. She called back 10 minutes later and said that they would stop in El Arish and pick up 10 of us, one for each nationality and three Costellanos since they were the largest group here and had spearheaded most of the action.

I tried to contact the hotel in town to reach anyone who was still awake to let them know. The list of 100 had been published and I really did not want them to see the news without the knowledge that 10 of the El Arish group would get to go in. I had no luck contacting them and no ability to get there as our resident police officer was not letting us out after dark. The Britts had a conference and the three young ones unanimously voted to let Peter go because he is trying to bring in art supplies for an art therapy group. There were a lot of tears shed over this turn of events, we all want to go. I am in disbelief that I will go without Bill.

I woke Manuel at 7:30 to let him know, he said that even before the list was published they had decided as a group that it was all 1300 marchers or none of the marchers. OK, I said and left since I had escaped my shadow-er I had some shopping to do. I loved shopping without him, people talked/signed with me and were so friendly and warm; when Mohammad shadowed us everyone averted their eyes and were very perfunctory. We delivered bracelet gifts to all the people who had helped us, they were so grateful and their eyes lit up with surprise and joy especially after I explained that these were not form me, but from my friends who could not come.

A call from Ann Write again another turn in events, now ALL the delegates in El Arish who wanted to go could get on the buses that were going to be stopping to pick me and the 10 up! This was fantastic news since Bill and I had just talked with the Hassidic Jews and had decided that if Bill got a spot he would give it up to one of them so that they could travel in a pair instead of alone. We had no idea what was going on in Cairo and why all of a sudden there was room for all of us. A quick word to the Brits, out the back door to the beautiful beach a small lie to Mohammed and 5 minutes later were we in a taxi to give the news to the other delegates.

Good! They announced the buses must be almost empty! I was shocked to hear this, and learned of all the conflict and trouble in Cairo over the compromise agreement. We had a lengthy ad heated discussion; apparently I am an ignorant traitor because I still think it is important for us to go. I explained about Madame Mumbarak’s pervious role in helping get CodePINK into Gaza and hoped to persuade them that this was a process, that we never really expected that the gates would miraculously open and Gazans would be free to come and go as they pleased and to buy the goods and procure the services they needed without having to resort to smuggling for the most basic needs. One step at a time, and that we are doing great work by all of the press we are generating around the world and finally in the US. The Egyptian Foreign minister is furious with Madame Mumbarak for overstepping her place going above him and making this agreement. If we were to reject her offer we would be cutting the legs out form under the only ally we have in the fight for human rights in Gaza. Sadly we were also getting conflicting messages form Gaza. The Castellanos had a message form someone there asking us to reject the deal, and we were getting other people on the phone begging us to come.

I am so tired of this place where things move so slowly and then the big important things change in the wink of an eye with no time to plan or react rationally. It still worries me that I am an ignorant traitor, that I have been the pawn for the Egyptian Government not for the Peace Movement.

The Castellanos we were with are louder, they have more resources and access to the Net than we did and they dominated group meetings demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of consensus building. I did not mind any of this too much up until today, I was enjoying the cultural differences and considerations when working with people whose thought process were so alien to mine. It got ugly today, we had aggressive people in our faces shouting at us and telling us how stupid we were being. Please let them be wrong.

They made it difficult to get on the buses, and they were able to persuade many of our group not to go. In the end only 20 of the 55 of us from the border frontier got on the buses. 84 of us had some very joyful moments as the bus crossed over into Gaza in the dead of night. Of the 20 only 6 of us had been in town the whole time, the others came in form having been part of the Underground Railroad system of support up there just in time to catch the busses. They kept track of goings on through email and twitter only so when they came out of the darkness to the bus stop it was a surprise and delight to see them. The Castellanos persuaded about ½ of them not to go. Alex, a complete cutie turned 21 on the bus tonight. One of his friends decided not to go along after talking with the Castellanos, he is worried about the other one, they lost him somewhere along route to the bus stop.

We delegates had a most wonderful time with each other on the bus and in the processing center getting to know one another and sharing stories of our adventures during these quiet wait times. It was great to get first hand accounts of the Cairo actions.

The Gazans greeted us warmly and we could not refuse the lavish spread they put out for us at 12:15 in the morning. I was too tired to visit with any of them, but I look forward to doing so tomorrow. Tomorrow we march, and then I have 2 days to get the mural up.