25 July 2011

Granny Goes to Gaza - part 2

Granny goes to Gaza continued

Tricky inwards journey, smiles in Gaza, equally tricky outward journey. But consider having a cancer that needs surgery outside Palestine, and being Palestinian.

I am probably going to bore you rigid now. However writing all this down has helped me.

Saturday 30th April 9.00am

We have had two working days here. One with Nihad (our representative in Gaza) in the Dove and Dolphin office and later in the Optics Centre. I had my eyes tested for glasses to replace those stolen. The next day - the Aljazeera Sports Club for disabled athletes where we were treated like royalty. Photos and presentations but best of all was seeing the members in action – javelin, martial arts, self defence, discus, shot put, long jump and more. We felt it was a very worthwhile project to support especially as it brought disabled folk into contact with the able bodied socially whereas some had been confined to their homes for years. Some of the stars had won medals in international competitions. The scary thing was watching a blind man throwing a javelin – you couldn't help ducking!

The club depends on voluntary contributions and the director, Ali Al Nasri, invited us to lunch in his beautiful home. He has optometry businesses in Gaza. A huge turkey was the centrepiece of the meal which we shared with his wife, mother-in-law and four children who were keen to practice their english. A very happy atmophere.

Later Saturday evening -

This was our day at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) where D was asked to give two lectures to medical students. The medical school is spacious, very clean and bustling. We managed a brief appearance on a video link with a medical school in Cairo! This is one place where I am asked to cover my head. I cannot tell how many staff I shook hands with! Later in the day Jihad Hammad (Assistant Professor) who has stayed with us at Haytor, took us for a sightseeing trip down the coast. Sandy beaches all the way but 'scruffy'. Inland are several large luxurious villas interspersed with refugee camps. Standing out in my mind are the women, men and boys, bending their backs as they gathered concrete rubble buried in the desert sand. Bucket by bucket this is loaded onto donkey carts to be taken away for crushing and recycling. Very little ballast/cement is allowed in by 'Israel'.

We invited Mona El Farra and daughter to supper at El Deira. Mona is a doctor who lives in Gaza and has wide connections with many charities, and abroad.

Monday 2nd May

Yesterday was Labour Day so schools were closed and many people were out and about enjoying themselves. We visited Turathona (our culture). We have given financial support to this charity in the past and they are now looking for funds to finish a swimming pool for a very poor area in Jabalia. We visited the empty and generous pool. Around $15,000 is required to get the project up and running. We thought the plans were 'broad' and in need of tying down.

Our next visit was to Baladna, a well organized charity where little girls were performing traditional dances, singing and reciting poetry. They also have their own recording studio where we listened to young men singing and rapping. Baladna is almost self supporting as the groups perform for parties, weddings and special occasions.

Nihad took us to his home for lunch. His wife Safad had prepared a huge spread and as in our previous visit to Gaza numerous brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews came by to say hello. We moved from lunch to supper with the Baroud family. We have known them for sometime since Mahmoud spent three years in Exeter reading for his PhD at the university. He is now Associate Professor in English Literature at the IUG. Mona, his wife, sent us off with a box full of home made cakes for our journey back to Cairo the next day.

Today was our last full day in Gaza and we returned to the D& D office to meet scholars we have been supporting. Some had very sad stories to tell but I think without exception they all had ambition. We think it has been our most worthwhile project.

Driving through Gaza the streets were noticeably cleaner following a two day campaign to 'clean up' by 100,000 volunteers. However we fear the plastic (bottles and bags) will soon return. Back at our hotel I look down on the beach and would love to go for a paddle but the sound of F16s overhead remind us to stay in safe surroundings. Persistent fisherman standing thigh deep in the sea continue to cast wide nets into the waves.

I feel we have done as much as we can on this trip – our poor old brains can't take in any more. Our final evening we spent with Dr Khamis who regards D as his father figure. Khamis is a great comedian and he is devout. His wife remained in the kitchen/living room while we ate supper with Khamis, his six year old son and Dr Mofeed, Dean of the Medical School. I had to draw the line when it came to dessert on the floor cushions as I knew I would never get up. I did go and sit with the ladies and children in the living room for a while but communication was hard work and mostly done with pictures or mime.

Tuesday 3rd May

An early start for our return to Cairo but on our way back to Rafah we had a most interesting hour visiting fruit and horticultural farms part owned by the government. They are managed by charities and our host Mr Abd firstly toured the 100 acres of newly planted fruit trees – apple, fig, citrus, date and olive and then the 150 acres of horticultural land which was developed on previous Israeli settlements. All the glass houses were glassless and the buildings ransacked but quantities of fruit and veg were being cultivated. I came away with a bagful of vine leaves for dolmades. A nice little touch was when we sat under a plastic awning and a young man lit a small fire with twigs to brew us a cup of tea.

Once again in the VIP lounge on the Palestinian side of Rafah where we were plied with dates, juice and tea but after two hours this became more than tedious. The message from the Egyptian side was that we were REFUSED EXIT. Urgent calls were made to Kamal Kalloub in the British consular office in Gaza. More stomach churning until eventually we proceeded 'at our own risk'. The next hurdle awaited us in a huge hall of milling people waiting for permission to pass through the gate.

Here we met up again with a Norwegian/expat Palestinian and his sister who had been having the same difficulties as us on the way in. They had been attending a family gathering following the death of their brother but unlike us they had been waiting two days to get out. More form filling, fees paid until at 3.00pm we were 'let out'. We were aware that our taxi driver had been waiting since 10.00am and of course we had been wondering whether he would have given up. Zuheer's smiling face made me want to hug him – what a wonderful chap.

We sped across the Sinai dessert, over the Suez canal and on to Cairo only to meet with a mega traffic jam which is a daily occurence apparently. We felt we were being crushed between huge lorries and hooting vehicles across a six lane highway. The view from the window was of lorry chasses or frustrated drivers and I dread to think what we were breathing in. Zuheer took us directly to the home of Hal's mother. She is ninety one and lives with a companion in an apartment overlooking the Nile. Finally after another feast Hal took us to his own home for a short night's rest before our flight home - inshallah.