Thursday, November 13, 2014

PartOne of Gaza Reflections

Sitting in the tranquil beautiful stone patio garden of St George's Guesthouse in East Jerusalem now.  This is the first moment to stop and write some thoughts.  We've had quite a full schedule.

Just to catch up--we left Gaza on Monday.   Since then we have been on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  So many highlights, so I'll just start in no particular order--just whatever comes up first. I think this will come in several installments.

Gaza is immense.  Strange to say that for a place which is smaller in size than the Metro Portland area.  But immense in the sense of the palpable layers of poverty, built-up energy, tension, stress, garbage, traffic, people, chaotic sense of the suspension of daring to think future or hope or plan, or to know what/when/if another war or more strangulation or greater suffering will come.  It is like trying to hold onto sand in your hand.  You can hold it only to a certain amount--hold your family who you love, hold sending your children off to school  daily in perfectly pressed striped UNRWA uniforms and combed hair (I wondered how families managed that perfectly washed and ironed uniform until I was told that UNRWA provides that for each child--another example of how a perfectly capable and able society has been forced into "aid dependence") , hold onto that part that is so infinitely gracious and generous and warm to us--the strangers-- hold onto a sense of justice--that this place is "our land, it is our ancestors of generations, we will not be defeated."   And yet, after the slow breaking down by the years of occupation, ramped up by the siege of now 8 years AND 3 devastating wars over the past 7 years, the sand slips through the cracks between the fingers--there is not really a convincing sense of hope.  How could there possibly be--especially now?   Dr. Sammy said that there is a difference between losing hope and losing determination.  It may seem that they are one in the same, but it is clear they are not.  Hope--hard to come by.  This summer really took out the bottom.   How could it be otherwise?  They ask, "Where is the international outcry?' "Where are the leaders--why are they not coming to see what is happening to us?"  And yet, when you marvel at some part of life that is going on--like nursing education, or the questions about best technique for intramuscular medication administration, or therapy for autistic children, or treatment for scabies (widespread from the crowded conditions of the displaced families)--you fall into the conversations that solidify that the people of Gaza, despite all the tons of bombs and all the constriction/strangulation of the siege are NOT GIVING UP.  They are trying to the absolute lengths and stretching of all ability to at least keep it going, and even to learn, grow and improve-- that human quality where we all want to do our best.  They all ask, "Why will the world just not let us live in peace?  That is all we want."    It is a paradox beyond comprehension at times.  And we can talk about both aspects of it.  See the shear destruction and poverty and despair that everyone has after this past summer then you seamlessly move into a classroom in a clinic or hospital or specialty treatment center and the conversation moves to "evidence based practices" and how can we improve how we do this or that.  You are with colleagues.  You talk about their work, you share, you hear of their trauma, their stress (immense and pervasive)-- you put your hand to your heart and TRY to convey from the depths of that heart that you are there as a friend of Gaza.  That you take so seriously your role as an emissary who will take this message out to TRY and tell it to the deaf ears of the US Congress and anyone else who you might light a fire under to listen.  You cannot make promises anymore.  The people of Gaza know of US complicity.  You hug, declare in all our hearts of our deep friendship.   How many times were we told , "You are our family--once you come to our home, you are family!" You take a deep breath, hold back that crushing feeling inside and then you leave.  It is both figurative and real--a piece of the heart stays behind in Gaza.  With every family with saw living in some make-shift lean-to structure next to their bombed out house, with every nursing student who, despite knowing that their chances of a job post-graduation in the stagnant economy of Gaza are pretty much 0%, with every working nurse who is doing so without earning a salary (the nurses work and often do not get paid for 6-8, or even more,  months due to no money coming in).  A piece of your heart stays with the staff and children at the Rantisi Pediatric Specialty Hospital in Gaza City.  (Named for Dr. Rantisi, who we learn about as a "Hamas terrorist"  and when you dig in you learn he was the Dr. Spock of Gaza--a gentle pediatrician, fierce for liberation--you think of Che, you think of his dedication to the children of Gaza.  He said once, "We will all die.  It can be from a heart attack or an Apache attack.  I will take the Apache attack."   That's what happened). 

A piece of your heart stays with all the friends we met and laughed/talked with over many meals.  The families who so graciously invited us over for meals and tea and just to meet us.  One such person, Emad, a wonderful nursing supervisor at Al Rantisi Hospital invited Ned and me over to his home.  We spent a lovely time with his family.  They had never had such visitors--Americans, foreigners--ever before.  His children showed us their school work, their needlepoint, their Facebook pages.  We were so grateful for this little human glimpse of one another.  Emad told us his children cried when we left.  Me too.

It is really hard to capture the multiple levels of destruction and disintegration that one sees in Gaza.  The immediate and most striking thing is, of course the outright and totally horrific destruction from the recent war.  Truly beyond all description--neighborhoods leveled, piles of cement and rebar rubble that look like (these are the analogies I've heard used) Hiroshima, Dresden, a massive earthquake.  You see the occasional glimpses of personal belongings that still remain--a torn blanket, the head of a doll, some plastic kitchenware, a shoe, a broken piece of a toy.  Enough to remind that these piles of rubble that, in Sheyaiya and Kuza'a and several other communities we visited and that go on for blocks and blocks so you are immersed in it, were once the foundation and substance of peoples' lives.  I think the most harsh to see are the houses that collapsed with a total layer still intact.  Now, what was once the floor of one of the upper layers of the house is propped, very precariously at an angle--maybe supported by some cement pillars.  Precarious or not, often we saw people rummaging through the rubble beneath the suspended upper level, or children playing in the "debris" (I have a hard time using the term debris--it was once a home--representing all the hard work, love, family dynamics, births, deaths--all that make up the hive of life).

My writing in Gaza kind of stopped in mid-stream because I was just so busy and in the evenings lacked writing energy--kind of got to the room and crashed.  Except for Friday evening when I stayed up late to work on my Saturday lecture for a community health nursing class at Islamic University.

 Islamic University School of Nursing.  I have lectured there on each of my Gaza visits.  As I said  at past visits, it is such an honor and an amazement to be at the Islamic Univ of Gaza School of Nursing.  Yet another paradox of Gaza. The faculty I have met are amazing academics.  Dr. Yousef is the Chair of the Dept of Community Health Nursing.  Seeing him again was like greeting an old friend.  He asked me to lecture on Primary Health Care--contrast between the US and Gaza.  I told him I could do the lecture about primary health care, but was not familiar enough by any means with the structure in Gaza, so could not really compare and contrast.  He said, "Do the lecture on the theory and the US system, and let the students make the comparison to Gaza."  What a great idea and it added the interactive part.  So, once again, equipped with Powerpoint in hand, I proceeded and was totally amazed at the capability and understanding of the students.  The lecture structure is fairly formal, the esteemed professors sitting in the front.  But the students interacted with me with ease and with a self confidence that showed they know their material. The nursing education and the practice of nursing I saw in the hospitals and clinics was once again amazing with regard to quality and commitment.  Lacking are the resources to update, keep supplies stocked, get their salaries and compensation for work.  This is a photo of the nursing students. Usually classes at Islamic U are not co-ed, but it was done specially for our lectures on that day (mine on Primary Care and then tow doctors of our group lectured and led a workshop on Advanced Cardiac Life Support for nursing and medical students).

The bombing of Islamic University Administration Building just a short walk across campus from the School of Nursing.  This was a beautiful building that was brand new on my first trip--housed the univ administrative offices.  Fortunately, nobody was in the building when it was bombed this summer-- so no casualties.  The building was so severely destroyed that it is not at all useable now.  A large Palestinian flag is hanging over the side of the building that was completed blown out.  The other part of the building has much structural damage that is not so apparent in the photo.  Several nearby university buildings sustained significant damage from the magnitude of the blast. 

I am going to stop for this posting or it will never get online.  There is much more to come.  Like I said, I will do installations.

To those in the States reading this--please know of the importance of the solidarity work we are all doing.  It is Gaza's life-line and we cannot stop.  To friends in Gaza reading this, I hope I am telling your stories well enough and with the dignity and intensity with which you told us.  We can only hope to be your friends and do all we can to walk with you and to represent you "on the outside" as prisoners often refer to the outside world.  You know it well that they can build a prison, but they cannot make you prisoners.  Your determination shows us that.

With love to all.

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