Friday, September 28, 2012

Stepsister's Lament

Serves me right for flaunting the page views on my free blog...I've been getting attacked by ads all day! It's one of those things I didn't read when I "agreed" to the Terms and Conditions. Really though, girls in bikinis??

I've thought about changing websites. Why don't I do something easier to remember like, or even change the Filisteen to the more recognized spelling, Falasteen? I Googled both of them, Falasteen is three times more common. When I started this thing three years ago I think I just didn't like the sound of "fala," like it was vulgar or something. That was before I ever had to say the word "falasteen." Who cares about the spelling of a translation, anyway? To me, "falasteenola" sounds like a mouthful, a kind of vulgar one at that. At this point, though, I just want to stick it out. I like my URL, it's like...mah bebe. 

Anyways, there's still a lot of organizing to do, between the Palestine and New Orleans parts of this blog. A few articles to write, a film to make. Now I'm just capturing essence...will these entries turn into some bigger? Maybe, maybe...

I'm sitting at Peet's Coffee in downtown Menlo Park, this is like Bay Area Tully's, and it has a good vibe. I'm sitting by the door to keep an eye on my bike, which is leaning against a tree on the sidewalk. There are always folks chatting on the bench facing the coffeeshop, which is really nice to see. The other night, an old man said, "dohhh, I was gonna take that bike home with me!" and we struck up a conversation. He said he'd give me a bike light next time he saw me. I can't remember what he looks like. Maybe he's out there now.

Still uploading footage to YouTube in every setting imaginable. Watching high school volleyball players walk home with their parents, software engineers walk around town after work. I feel so invisible here. Like I can't make up my mind about trying to be a part of this community. How does one meet people in Menlo Park, anyway? Biking home one night past all the nice restaurants, I briefly considered doing But for such a short stint, that just sound cruel and not the point of it. I might as well do "casual encounters" on Craigslist. Then I made myself snort with laughter and might have startled this one woman walking down the sidewalk.

This kid next-table just asked his mama, "is this gonna be our DINNER?!"

And...just now, a man just went up to be and asked me what the back of my shirt said. "Palestine Writing Workshop," like the front of it. It's the 5K Run/Walk t-shirt, like I wore back at Tully's. The man was like, oh, ok. He seemed like a very pleasant fellow.

"I just got back from there, I'm actually working on some videos right now to show people what it was like."

"Do you have any buzz words so I can look for them on Youtube?"

I got his e-mail address so I could send him the link when I was done.

"Seems like we need a little more...peace over there. I still hear about the bombardments coming over from the Palestinian side."

I told him I was in the West Bank for about a year, and most of my Israeli and Palestinian friends were on the liberal side, and were doing a lot of work together against what the Israeli military is doing. Like if he and I went over to Afghanistan to work with Afghanis in the middle of own military occupation.

"Well....that would be pretty dangerous."

"I know some Christian Peacemakers who did it..."

He said something about Rachel Maddow not talking about "the conflict" very much, and I said she's still very cautious. He asked if I recommend any other news sites, and I said Rachel Maddow is probably the farthest left we go, since we don't have Al Jazeera, but Mondoweiss was a good site for I/P news.

He asked me if I had a lot of these conversations when I wear this shirt, and I said just one time, with a barista. But I wasn't so much part of this community yet. He recommended Kepler's books across the street, they have readings and discussions a lot, and the seminars at Stanford are great.

I really appreciated that, and told him my name was Morgan, and said I'd e-mail him soon, and he left the coffeeshop.


I was thinking about this song as I biked into town today. It was in the Musical songbook on the piano at Carin's house, and I remembered the song from when I spotlighted the Rogers & Hammerstein's review at Whitman. The two wicked stepsisters are singing about the prince falling for the mystery woman, Cinderella. I started questioning their wickedness...

If I write a musical someday, my characters will be hella complex.

Oh, why would a fella wanna girl like her, a girl who's merely lovely,
Why can't a fella ever once prefer a girl who's merely me?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Since the Flag Counter was installed, FilisteeNola has had over 1,000 American visitors!

Not to ignore those other countries, but a 4-digit number just looks so good!

I re-read a post from Al Aqaba, one that my mom liked. It made me smile. A fine day in Palestine. 
Nature walks, bedouins and rainbows


I've embarked on a great and grueling adventure....learning Adobe Premiere Pro CS6.

I've waited so long for this software, and now it's finally at my fingertips. All those videos that sat unmade, or got made in Ulead (*shudder*) will finally be born, or re-born in all their glory.....

Like any language, it takes time to learn. After this long, I've gotten so impatient. One thing you can't BS your way through is export settings. CS6 gives you over 100 choices, thanks to all these Android, , iPod, TiVo, Vimeo, and YouTube specifications we have now. I should pick YouTube, right? But there's no YouTube choice for 720 SD, should I try HD? Should I go up to 1080? What are my frames per second? 25, or 23.9508645968456? Why is that such a crazy number?

Turns out there are different rates for European and American cameras. I bought mine in Ramallah, therefore it is PAL, not NTSC. That's why I have a rate of 25, not that "standard" American number....

There are two PAL settings on CS6, one regular and one wide-screen. Neither of them look good. I've re-uploaded the same four videos to YouTube several times, and I've come to terms with the fact that my camera is poop, but I'd really better not lessen the quality, if that's the case. For some videos it's ok, but when you're walking around Ramallah at night people tend to move around like these psychadelic smears and I swear Ramallah wasn't that fun.

I joined the Adobe help forum, and posed my challenge, why is there no help for SD PAL files going to YouTube? Now it says I've had 11 views, but no replies. I'm getting a little fed up with trial-and-error, I'd much rather someone tell me what to do at this point. 

Initially I said I bought the camera in Ramallah, then I changed it to Jerusalem. I actually wondered if someone would choose not to help me or give me bad advice if they saw "Ramallah." At the same time now the people on the forum won't have heard of that poster who bought their camera in Ramallah, and Ramallah won't get that "normal" mention it deserves.

And so it goes. Expediency and paranoia win again.

This is another Twin Shadow song, it's been in my head for the last few days.....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I started reading Alif the Unseen today. I hadn't picked up a fiction book for a few months. For some reason I reached for it, and not my laptop, like I always do when I get home. I read the first 100 pages, and every few pages I had to put it down and just breathe.

"Every time I read a book, it makes me want to fall in love."

I was agreeing with something I didn't want to remember. 

He posted that a few months after dropping the L-bomb...on me. Now who was he saying that for?

And when I got quiet and passive, he said this:

"Come onn, speak, speak...."

Yallaa, ihki, ihki....

Flying my Colors

I was talking to Donna about the fundraiser and the tour, and she mentioned that's it's so hard to...something or order. And I was feeling particularly optimistic then, and I replied, "it's the hard...that makes it great!" to quote one of my favorite movies. She laughed and said that she'd just watched it for the first time the day before and totally knew what I meant.

I'm optimistic because I'm doing what I love, writing and film-making and advocating, setting the stage, as it were. Even though at the moment I'm feeling a bit isolated and anti-social and way too "plugged-in." Ahhhh, I'll go out later.

I'm thoroughly enjoying getting to know the Bay Area. This is a place I could see myself living in someday. 

This song popped into my head at the office. Definitely a Bach family favorite. That went on the list of "movies to buy on DVD for the grand-kids because our kids loved the shit out of those VHS's." I still don't think I'm over the VHS. That heated plastic smell...hmmm.

Monday, September 24, 2012

When the Movie's Over

Today I went to a party with lots of Lutheran ministers. Khader had invited me to go with him and Danielle, he said some of the ministers might know my great-grandfather, who taught at a seminary in St. Louis way back in the day. In any case, I like Lutherans and parties and Khader and Danielle, so I was looking forward to it.

Khader picked me up in Menlo Park and drove me to meet Danielle in San Mateo. We talked about his sermons and Palestine and the Lutheran Church. He told me some people introduced him as a minister from Bethlehem, Israel. And he reminded them, "no, I come from Palestine." And they'd say, "yes, yes, well, we have to be sensitive about this." Oooh, that makes me cringe. It also made me appreciate the position that Khader is in, as one of the sole representatives of the Palestinian Christian community in the American Lutheran church. That he is constantly making those corrections, and connecting our talk of the Holy Land to the present-day reality, and fighting off evangelists who think he's Muslim. It must be exhausting, but dang, do I respect it.

The shindig was in a nice apartment in Belmont, eight stories up with a good view of the Bay....through the trees, anyway!The host, Kemp, welcomed us into into his "tree house" and invited us to eat, drink and be merry. Then he made us go around and do introductions, which I was grateful for, because it made it easier for me to meet people afterward.

"Hi, I'm Morgan, and my last congregation was the Redeemer Church in Jerusalem, and I know Khader and Danielle through the place I'm working in San Mateo, and in general, my family is from Leavenworth, Washington, and the Grunewald Guild." Khader chimed in, "and her great-grandfather taught at Seminex."

Sounds of recognition went all around. Kemp said that he was glad Khader had brought me, and gave me another warm welcome. After we dispersed, an older gentleman sitting on the sofa caught my arm and asked me my great grandfather's name. I said, "Richard Caemmerer Sr."

Bob smiled and said, "he was my homiletics professor."

He told me some stories about Doc Caemmerer, how he kept an office in a corner tower in the center of campus, and published a weekly column in the paper called "Eye on the Quad." While he talked I just looked at this dear man whose eyes were shining and my heart just liquified. He wasn't the only one who talked about Doc today. Two others, a woman and a man had also studied with him, and only had wonderful things to say. "Everyone loved Doc."

Several people had also heard of Holden Village and the Grunewald Guild. I talked about my grandparents and how they started the Guild, and that they're still making art up in Washington.

I spent a bit of time catching up with Danielle while we hovered over the veggies and dip. A lot of people wanted to know how she had met Khader, and how they knew me, and there was quite a bit of talk about the Holy Land stemming from that.

"I've been to Israel about five times now," one woman repeated, "and the last time we went to Bethlehem, oh my goodness, we saw the wall, and it was reminded me of East Berlin."

A German-American pastor named Christian was in the circle, and he had grown up in West Germany, and agreed about the wall. He was also very candid with Danielle and I about his experiences in Palestine. "The last time I went, I got to stay with Khader's family in Beit Jala, and they were so wonderful, and hospitable, and hearing their personal stories was just heart-breaking. I really...felt more welcomed in the West Bank than I did in Israel." I nodded, having heard it and felt it constantly. I think it's important to say, to give some credit to the Palestinians, but a very unproductive statement on its own. There are a lot of reasons, Israel is a more Westernized culture, so it's more individualistic, but foreigners in the West Bank are received so well in part because any visitor there is seen as a supporter of the people under occupation.

"Coming from Germany, I can definitely say that there's still a lot of guilt there. I work with a German Christian-Jewish partnership group, so we dialogue about our relationship, but on the topic of Israel, the conversation stops." Danielle said she'd heard that sentiment a lot among her German friends studying in Israel, so he's not alone. I asked him if he knew that Germany has the fastest growing Jewish population in the world? He jumped up and said, "Yes, yes! In Berlin! We're very proud of this, can I say that? After everything that happened, we are working very hard to repair this relationship."

I thought of the German Lutherans like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who opposed the Nazi regime, and what role this legacy could have in Palestine. Can it be reclaimed to help the victims, as well as the victims of the victims?

Christian been to Israel and Palestine many times. Danielle asked him if he'd consider writing about his experience, because she could help him edit and publish it. He said yes, absolutely! He really was great to converse with. I told him I was collecting stories from foreigners in Palestine, and he gave me his card. I want to drop into his church, I can tell there's good atmosphere there if he leads it :) He also brought his partner to the party, which I thought was rad.

Another young pastor told a story where he was called up in 2005, and the Bishop told him, "we're going to Israel in two months, and you're coming!" So he and a group of pastors and a bishop or two went to Israel, and met with Shimon Peres.

I was like, "huh?" Something about that seemed so normal yet so wrong, and he continued, "yeah, it was this highly political, highly publicized trip." Apparently the Presbyterians had mentioned something about divestment from Israel that year, and the Rabbinical something or other went into PR mode and organized a trip of "sensible Christian leaders to hear the Israeli side of the story."

He said he'd never been handled so well in his life. They were put up in a brand new hotel in Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City, and it was the nicest hotel he'd ever been in, there was free champagne with a note saying "Welcome Reverend!" I asked him if he'd ever considered writing this story down. He was like, "not really." Obviously didn't share my enthusiasm. I found it fascinating.

Somewhere in the middle of the party I checked my phone, and my Lutheran volunteer friend from Palestine had sent me a message saying I probably shouldn't include in my video the part where she names her volunteer program, or the church, or the fact that she lived in Ramallah. It's sensitive. I looked around at all these Lutherans and wondered how long it will take for stated values to trump sensitivity. Do you know how much amazing work is being done by Lutherans in Jerusalem and the West Bank? You have to seek that information out, heaven knows it's too sensitive to be advertised! I went back to the party, feeling a little disheartened.

Before we ate, we gathered around the couches to sing grace. I kind of wanted to suggest "Praise God from whom all blessing flow," which was a favorite at the Guild, but I was curious to see if Kemp would pick one that I knew. It was "Be present at our table, Lord," which has exactly the same melody, and the same 4, or 5, or 6 part harmony that was inevitably sung. Can't really compete with the Guild, but it was still like buttah. 

Over barbecued chicken and Khader's tabouleh, I told the table about last Christmas day, when I walked up the Mount of Olives alone in a rainstorm and opened the door to my new pastor's place to find fifty Lutherans from all over the world singing carols in perfect harmony around the dinner tables. It was probably the warmest moment of my life. We had a good conversation. 

Later on, I sat down with a group of women and one of them asked, "now, how did you get so tanned?"

"Oh, " and I looked this nice lady straight in the eye, "Burning Man!"

She cracked up, and asked me what my favorite part was. So I told them I loved the art cars, and some other stories from Burning Man, and one of the women mentioned that the Decompression party for San Francisco is two weekends from now, at the same time as the sailing festival, the Blue Angels flying, two cruise ships being docked, a 49ers game, a Giants game, and, as I knew already, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. And something else.

That is going to be the best weekend ever. 

All in all, it was a good day, a wonderful day. One worthy of a long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

This is a band that is getting big now. My friend played them for me on the way to Vashon Island this summer, and I liked the 80's-ness. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Leave the guns...

Today I went into San Francisco with my cousin Jesse, and my brother's friend Duffy showed us Dolores Park, which we got a big kick out of. It was to me quintessential San Francisco, but I kind of assumed that that San Francisco was a thing of the past. Hundreds of people sitting on the grass, drinking, smoking, one guy was walking around with a tupperware of brownies saying, "edibles? edibles?" and another kid was walking around asking "anyone wanna buy some shrooms? anyone?" I just cracked up. I understood how this city spawned Burning Man. But there was way less enforcement here in the real world....strange.

Jesse and Duffy and I went up to Coit Tower to see the view of the city, then we made our way down to Little Italy and got some pizza, and coffee, and desserts. The tiramisu and chocolate mousse were divine, but Jesse said the ricotta in the cannoli wasn't fresh. Kid knows his cannoli. Going into your junior year of college having already been a professional chef, must be...well, I envy his dorm-mates.

Want good cannoli in San Francisco? Look here: Cannoli San Francisco

Southern Cross

Today I worked for a few hours labeling bottles of olive oil at the Rebuilding Alliance office with Megan, the Fair Trade Coordinator. It was great hanging out with Megan, but it was unfortunate that the people who signed up to volunteer didn't we got done what we could.

Megan, who's a few years younger than me, got interested in Palestine years before I'd even heard of it, because she grew up in a community where it was a central issue. Her town in Connecticut was very well-to-do, and very Jewish, so Jewish traditions, holidays, mitzvah's, and trips to Israel were the norm for her. In middle school she became best friends with an Egyptian Muslim girl, and she would go over to her house and watch their satellite TV, with stations we don't normally get. After 9/11, when every channel seemed to be fixed on the man in the cave, she was seeing bombs hitting Palestinian villages and refugee camps. So she had been interested in Palestine for a long time, but she didn't think there was anything she could about it. That her college friend from Palo Alto recommended a job with her mother's organization, which builds homes in Palestine, was just right. And the weather was better :)

How do you get high schoolers and college kids interested in social justice? The shop next-door sells peace-related things, like this book called "The World Needs Your Kid," on how to raise your kids with a social justice mindset.

"It brings the family together too," said the shop-owner. The book next to it was "Go the F%&k to Sleep" (which I didn't know was also a YouTube sensation).

We talked about sororities. I think there's a lot of unused potential there. I was going to say untapped, but that just sounds wrong. Well, there I said it. Anyways, we did a lot of philanthropy, and leadership trainings, and that was great, but it still felt a little insulated. Then again, at that age I didn't know what my cause would be, did many of us? Maybe if that book mentioned above had been out when we were born, we would've figured it out sooner.

(I remember running from my house to the Kappa section lounge on election night 2008, and it was such an emotional moment. Really a blue and blue moment, in the middle of Walla Walla County, no less :)

Anyways, I would love to go to high schools and colleges and talk about doing national service like AmeriCorps, or running off to Palestine to live in a village. What kinds of connections would kids make to their own lives? At least it makes for a good story, and maybe some expanded paths?

John Halcyon made a short film about our Burning Man camp, and the part that stuck with me was when he first really looked at the people around him and how many different places they came from, and how many different lifestyles they'd embraced, and how many times they'd changed direction. Where he had always seen life as a bunch of paths you have to choose from, he realized that hey, there's no path, it's a whole lake! People discover this so late in life, and some never discover it at all. I've realized how important it is to tell our stories to younger generations. I'd love to go around and share this lake idea.

Song of the Day:

I was sitting on the Caltrain platform, playing this out of my phone, just grinning. If there's music like this, how can life not be good?

Think about how many times I have fallen,
Spirits are usin me, larger voices callin,
What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten

I have been around the world,
Looking for that woman/girl,
Who knows love can endure,
And you know it will...

Gangnam Style

"It's like Korean LMFAO" -my friend, 3 days ago, baffled that I had never seen this video. Past 200 million hits, I guess I concede, I do live under a rock. I like the combination of LMFAO with K-Pop, which is like J-Pop, which carries some nostalgia...(See We Were Angels and Yuuki 100% for some anime theme examples) I'm sure a few million people just stared at their screens wondering, "how did he know what the people want?!"

Friday, September 21, 2012

One more sleep til Friday, Friday...

Sorry to all the holiday sticklers for jumping the gun.

Donna and I were leaving the office at 7 today, packing up and shutting off the lights, when that song popped into my head. As I grabbed my bike from the courtyard and headed through the shop, the shop owner said to me, "everything's good when you leave work humming." "I was humming?" "Pretty sure!" Then I really did leave work in good spirits. Strangely enough, the trailer is more nostalgic than the movie. I must've been like, 3 when I saw it for the first time and it looked so. freakin. magical.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The General's Son

Last night I realized that my friend Tom was still at UC Berkeley. Well, he's my friend's friend. More specifically, he's the Israeli activist with Students for Justice in Palestine that made enough of an impact on the Israel rep (shaliach) at the Berkeley Hillel that she did a 180 on Zionism and ended up volunteering alongside me in the West Bank.

When she and I attended a protest against the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem, I got to meet Tom, and only realized we were again in the same city last night. I made a plan to come up to Berkeley this weekend, then my first e-mail from Tom's SJP list told me that Miko Peled was speaking there tonight.

Could I get myself all the way to Berkeley? It sounded far. I checked my 511Transit trip planner, and it said it would take 2 hours, and cost $9-11. Woof. I decided to go anyways.


On my way to work today, I stopped by Draeger's grocery, because I'd heard they had goat's milk ice cream (that Carin was really excited about because Al Aqaba had so many goats!) and a great lunch option.

Well, one option turned out to be two hundred options, it was the most overwhelming and awesome grocery store I've ever been in. First off, they played Modern Love and Sussudio and Rich Girl in direct succession. And everything from the soup to the salads to the pastries to the meat to the fish to the cheese was top-notch, and I just.....needed to get myself out of there. I settled on salmon chowder with dipping bread, which made for a great Caltrain platform snack.

I worked with Donna and Rudy at Rebuilding Alliance until five, then Donna dropped me off at the Millbrae BART station, without my bike, which I kind of knew was going to be a problem later, but I decided not to think about it, since the bike wasn't going to fit in the Prius.

I spent my ride on the BART looking up song lyrics to post in my Stuff I Like section. It's more fun when the lyrics come to you, but I couldn't resist the temptation to click through ABBA and Allison Krauss and Ben Folds. I think I made it to Dan Fogleberg before rolling into Berkeley.

Berkeley City College was only a block or two away, so I didn't see much of the town, but it seemed like a really pleasant place. Hopefully I get to come back this weekend...

The lobby of BCC was really nice. People were starting to gather and buy tickets and collect fliers from the Middle East Children's Alliance and Jewish Voice for Peace table, and as I approached the bottleneck, I had this uneasy feeling that almost made me laugh. People looked at me, and it made me really paranoid. At events like these, there's a good chance that someone with an opposing viewpoint will show up and cause a scene. Since I obviously wasn't Palestinian, I could be a trouble-maker. I wondered if any of the Jewish attendees felt this anxiety, like "I totally agree with your cause, don't label me!" There was the more extreme paranoia, that someone would actually fear a security threat. I felt awkward fumbling around my computer bag, and generally being alone.
The event: Miko wrote a book called The General's Son, telling his story as a member of a prominent Israeli military family. His father had fought in the War of Independence in 1948, and served as a general during the 1967 war that landed the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights under Israeli control. After the war General Peled turned to peace activism, though I never got to that part of the book, but I'll get to that...

In 1997, his sister's daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, and the press treated the incident with cynicism.....what good was the peace activism of general Peled, if it didn't keep his own family safe from terrorism?

The next news story was Nurit Peled-Elhanan's response. She publicly announced that she put the blame for her daughter's death on her own government, for pushing those Palestinians to the point of such despair that they turned to killing themselves and others.

Miko said it was a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue group in California that got him to challenge the myths about Israel that he'd been raised with. It took him years to make the transformation, but both him and Nurit are now prominent activists against Zionism, and are both currently on book tour. Miko's book is about his family history and his activism with the Palestinian cause, and Nurit's is about systematic racism in Israeli schoolbooks.

Like Maureen's presentation at Rebuilding Alliance, Miko was definitely preaching to the choir. And this was a gratifying choir. There were a lot of head nods, and mm-hmmm's, and mmm's of indignation (or Palestinian tongue clicks), and laughter, and of course, clapping. I was hyper aware of all this response because I wondered if Miko found it gratifying. Of course, it's nice to have support, and know that your message resonates with people, but where were the adversaries? I saw that questions were to be taken on index cards, so there would most likely be no confrontations. The only evidence I saw of displeasure was when Miko answered a question related to AIPAC, and said that J-Street was more dangerous than AIPAC because it was the "fig leaf" that legitimized it. Two people in front of me just shook their heads and started whispering amongst themselves. I'm fairly new to this scene, but J-Street is really feeling the friction at events like these....

Oh, I forgot to mention, I saw Alice Walker. She was sitting in the second row. She wrote the intro to The General's Son. I wanted to go up to her and say I loved her work and appreciated her advocacy and could I get a picture? I decided to try afterwards.

Afterwards, I decided to buy a book, mostly because I couldn't see any other way to engage with Miko (and give him the Al Aqaba Charette booklet that Donna had passed on to me). I really wasn't planning on buying one, since our store next to Rebuilding Alliance sells the book already. But I figured it was a cause worth supporting, and I had a $20 in my pocket. I went up and told Miko that I'd just been in Palestine, and said thanks for reinforcing the work I'm doing. Because someone had asked him, "how can we change these minds?" and he just responded, "we can't." As soon as someone tries to justify dropping a bomb on a civilian population and killing a child, the conversation is over. It's not that they don't know it's happening, it's that they think it's ok, and it's justified. That's where the conversation ends. I've only recently learned that it's not doing me any good to engage in Facebook arguments with people like that. What's it's done for me is taken up time and energy that I could be spending on more productive work, and it's also gotten me sucked into this moral slip 'n slide where I argue little details and then realize that I'm actually arguing within someone else's racist framework, and legitimizing it. At one point I laid it out and said, "you know what? I don't care about your comfort level," which they took to mean I don't care if they get killed, so, yeah......

I don't lose friends, and I can't get over it when I do. I still think of Davey, who I saw on the sidewalk while I was at the JNF protest in Jerusalem, and Becca, who I considered might be at the event tonight, since she studies law at Berkeley. Though I figured it unlikely that she'd spend $10 to see Miko. Two people I often wonder about. Will our paths cross again? Will our relationship change in 20, 30 years? I can't but help see our lives as movies sometimes. 

Then there are the Zionists who still talk to me, but that's not nearly as intriguing. Just draining.

After I got Miko to sign my book (To Morgan, Peace! Miko Peled, September 2012) I talked to a couple people in the lobby about our shared love for Israeli passport stamps, then realized that Alice had left, then I went to catch a BART, any BART...somehow I was confident that everything would work out alright, even without a bike...

Sadly, I only pulled out my book when my phone was certifiably dead. I never make time to read books anymore, but this was a good chance to nestle in and get more into the Peled story. The lights were tinny, the train was loud, and there were interesting people all around me, but I managed to tune it all out. I learned about Miko's grandmothers in Jerusalem, and his parents, and the first chapter was just...endearing. It was a good choice in his part, not to intermingle his present-day opinions with his memories of family and childhood.

I thought of the Shabbat dinner I had at my friend Alon's house (oh crap, I realized, he's from San Francisco! What's his last name again? Check CouchSurfing! anyways..) and how warm the family was, and how good the food was, and how for so many Zionism means warmth, and love, and family, and potential for peace, if only it weren't for the elephant in the room. I didn't realize my own presence was provocative until Alon's mother initiated a conversation on the conflict, and how "it's a religious thing." I just nodded, half-heartedly. Earlier her son had asked me if really it's possible to enter the West Bank without being ID'd, and I found that encouraging enough.

At Millbrae I had to wait 30 minutes for the Caltrain, so I sat down and read some more. I wondered if I should keep the book vertical so people can see that I'm reading this awesome book about an "Israeli peace activist in Palestine"

An express Caltrain hurtled by at lightening speed. I think it left us all trembling in its wake...

It was really cold outside. I was in a little hoodie, a long flowy skirt, and leather Jerusalem sandals. I couldn't feel my feet.

Finally the 11:04 came, nearly full up. I was a little mystified by that, until I noticed that half the people were wearing Giants hats. The game had just finished! I settled into a seat in the back of the car, and nestled in again to read. The kids in front of me were comparing Auto Corrections on their phones and cracking up. Miko was talking about his father's term as military governor of Gaza after the 1956 war, and how it motivated him to study Arabic. Talking to the refugees, he realized they weren't bent on violence, rather they just wanted to be free and get on with their lives. He published a well-known report on it. I wanted to ask Miko during the lecture how a report like this could lead to his father getting promoted, I guess I underestimated the diversity of the dialogue in those earlier years...

"Tomorrow I'm gotta sign up for Birthright...." the words carried over from the seat in front of me. I looked up. Hmm. I started reading again, this time with the book in front of my face. After a minute, I thought, this is ridiculous. I started flipping through the rest of the book, gathering some butterflies in my stomach. Not unusually, I thought of my friend Jen, who is the most spontaneously social person I know. Jen also happened to have just gotten back from her Birthright trip.

Before we hit my stop, I interrupted the conversation in front of me.
"Hi, umm, you said you're going on Birthright?"
He looked up at me, "umm, yeah."
"Hey, well, I just saw this guy.....I just got back from there...a few months ago, and I just saw this guy speak in Berkeley and bought his book."
They were checking it out.
"Anyways, I kind of know what it's about already, so I thought you might have better use for it." I offered it to him. 
"You could read it, pass it on, whatever...have you heard of Miko Peled?"
"Him? No, I haven't...thanks!"
"I'm Morgan, by the way."
"Hey, I'm...Dan"
I sat back in my seat, twiddling my thumbs for the last two minutes of the ride. I heard the girl next to Dan say, "ooh, Alice Walker..."
As I got up and walked past them, Dan flashed me this grin and said "hey, thanks again!" I smiled and said, "have a good trip..." and got off the train.

I considered the fact that he might get home, Google Miko Peled, and throw the book in the trash. Or a family member would recognize the name and shut it down. Or he would take it to heart and walk into a very confusing shitstorm. That kind of fed into my insecurity about lurking behind strangers and giving them presents.

What can you do. I walked two miles home, and thought Miko might like to know that his book ended up outside the choir tonight....

Quarterly Review

Yesterday was a pretty chill birthday. Donna and I dropped by a Japanese grocery store, because she knew I loved that stuff, and we picked up sembei and juice and pound cake and something that really made my day, a Crunky bar. I hadn't even seen a Crunky bar at Uwajimaya in Seattle, which is the king of all Japanese markets. Needless to say, I wolfed that thing down and I have half a mind to stock up tomorrow...

I stopped swimming already. Night late computer time has made me prioritize sleep over exercise.

It's really strange going to work and doing the same things at work that I normally do in my free time. A little more focused, but still. Trying to sum up my last year in Palestine is something I've been struggling at all summer, and now there's this real sense of urgency to it, if we're going to launch the fundraiser and plan the speaking tour. This can only be a good thing. I know there's an end in sight, that if I get my stories and photos and videos organized I will have set myself up to do something really effective. I've been saying this for the last four months go, and it's finally go time.

That's why I published the menu on this blog. I'm not even finished with the bio yet, but I have to start throwing things out there. Like Ze Frank would do...

Anyways, so birthday. I had this moment while I was writing the intro to this fundraising pitch, and checking Facebook simultaneously to see people writing on my wall, and it made me feel really isolated. Also very grateful for the amazing people I've known, but I have this notion in my head that after this work is done I'm going to re-emerge. My friend Christie actually showed me a Birthday Book while we were eating pizza the other night and she made me read my birthday page aloud, and it talked about my tendency to isolate myself in long-term projects and well...that was a little strange, the day before my birthday....

Long story short, I need to explore this city. My friend from New Orleans is in town for the week, and he mentioned a Roller Derby on Friday...
Oh, Quarterly Review suggests that I'm going to review my life. I think I've done pretty well so far.

Maureen's presentation

Maureen from Christian Peacemakers gave a presentation to the Rebuilding Alliance team on Monday night.

The slideshow was geared toward beginners in the I/P conflict, so the information wasn't new to most of us, but I found it interesting to see someone else's format and I made some mental notes for my speaking tour. The hardest lesson an activist/advocate has to learn is how to convey hope, and offer tools for action. It takes a real deliberate effort not to get stuck in the doldrums of the occupation. If you talk about daily life and just tell stories, it becomes apparent how big the occupation, and you don't have to suck all the color out of the room to make a real impact. 

Maureen has this gentle Scottish accent (like Mrs. Doubtfire) and a flair for storytelling. One of her photos was of a group of Palestinian boys in Hebron playing volleyball and using an army roadblock gate as a net. She said she took a bunch of photos to make sure the ball was visible. Many of her photos reflected the absurdity of the situation in Hebron, and the sad necessity of an international presence there.

I was fascinated by her experience in Baghdad, which we didn't discuss very much. I keep relating the Israeli occupation to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that Americans aren't willing to go check out our occupied territory because it's on the other side of the globe, but the Palestinian territories border Israel, so the chance to physically confront one's own military policy was right there.

That thought was a little more black and white before I had heard the story of Anne Montgomery and Plowshares. There are Americans who are confronting our military policy at home...daily.

And now here was Maureen, who had actually flown to Iraq to bear witness to the situation there. I asked how the soldiers treating her team. She told me that most of them were just dumbstruck to see them. Most of them were tired, many of them were scared. One man told them that he was a God-fearing Baptist and he would pray for them every day.

The soldiers had guns, and the Christian Peacemakers did not. They left with very different relationships with Iraqi people, and that's the connection I was interested in making. To say that you know a place, and a people, but only with a gun in between....

I have great admiration for CPT, and also EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompanier Program in Palestine/Israel), which is where Maureen will be serving next. I met a lot of EAPPI's while I was over there. They usually serve a 3-month stint, so whenever I met a new people, they'd give me their card and it would be the same phone number as the person before them. So Elsa from France would be the new Pedro from Brazil, who took over for Inga from Sweden. The folks serving in Yanoun, and witnessing the encroachment of settlers there, often came up to Al Aqaba to catch up with Haj Sami and see how the village was doing. They considered putting an EAPPI house next to Al Aqaba. Goodness knows the Tubas area needs it, but currently the settler situation in Nablus is more dire. I know Maureen will do amazing work, and I hope to see her, if I make it back in the next four months....

EAPPI's visiting the demolished road with Haj Sami in Al Aqaba

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

San Fran Weekend update

After Sister Anne's funeral, I went to San Mateo to have dinner with a Rebuilding Alliance board member and his wife. I can't use those words anymore, because now they're my friends Khader and Danielle. Khader is a Lutheran minister from Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, and Danielle is from Chicago, half-Christian, half-Jewish. They met at a reconciliation meeting :) It was a hoot hearing their stories about their in-laws and grandmotherly suspicions. Basically, we talked non-stop for five hours and I love them. Danielle told me about how she used to teach karate in Ramallah on her roof, before her land-lady put her foot down. I talked to her about my on-line storytelling venture, and she's interested in contributing her stories from Palestine. sweeeeet.

Being a newbie in town, it was nice to accumulate such gems as they.

Yesterday (Sunday) was even better. I met my brother's friend Duffy in San Francisco for the first time, and we went with his friends to a beer festival in Marin. It involved a 45-minute hike. Thank goodness I didn't wear a dress and sandals like I was planning to. Spandex and sneakers were the thing.

It's like a Bavarian-style tourist club up in the hills. We did some German dancing, drank a plethora of pitchers, and ate weiners with kraut. The ladies sang Sound of Music all the way down the mountain...

When we got back into the city, I took off on my bike to meet my friend Christie from college. We played guitar and made pizza and had a great time.

But getting home wasn't as easy as I thought. I made it halfway to the Caltrain station, and realized the last mile was way too hilly and I wasn't going to make the last train. I was standing halfway up a steep hill with my bike, panting, looking down on the freeway, wondering, how on earth do I get home? Did I have to call Donna and get picked up 45 minutes away?

Bart station. I saw a Bart station. Try that.

So I made it underground, and found out I could probably get myself to Millbrae, which was half the battle. Did I have to call Donna and get picked up 20 minutes away?

There must be something post-Bart!

The nice folks on the platform couldn't help me, but totally eminated love, anyway. Most of them were from Spain, except for this one dude with fiery red hair who spoke like a brahh until he busted out this perfect Spanish. He kept high fiving me and saying how I looked like a happy person. True that. They seemed like Burners.

Apparently in the Bay Area many people say "t-real," like true-real. Haven't heard any evidence.

With the last of my phone battery, I found that SamTransit was still operating at this hour on a Sunday night. alhamdulillah! I found myself (and my bike) sitting in an empty Transit center outside the Bart Station. Cal, Bart, and Sam, I am impressed. 

SamTransit was great. Meaning it was prompt, and had a bike rack, and took me all the way to Menlo Park, within biking distance of home. But lordy was it slow. I kept nodding off, and this dude near me kept asking, hey, hey, hey, you tired too? mmm-hmmmm.....

Bed was heaven. Needless to say, I didn't make it to swim practice. But two days plus a hike translated into something that resembles abdominal muscles.

I remembered this quote from Philadelphia Story the other day: "you have a disciplined body that does what you tell it to..." Today I am grateful for that.

Today I am 25.

For Anne Montgomery

 Last Saturday I went to a funeral, and had the most unexpectedly inspiring experience.

For about a week I was aware that Rebuilding Alliance was helping to host a visitor from Scotland, a former member of the Christian Peacemaker teams in Hebron. She was traveling all the way to the Bay Area to attend the funeral of a friend, who had also been a Christian Peacemaker, and a well-known peace activist. Donna suggested I attend, and I thought it would be nice to meet some fellow activists. 

The senior center where the memorial service was held was in the middle of a very nice Catholic school compound in Atherton, CA, just a few minutes from where I'm staying. Donna and our visitor Maureen and I went in, and people were congregating in the chapel. We perused the tables full of Sister Anne's pictures and memories from her travels. Seeing her passport sitting on the table gave me a bit of a pang. She had lived in Palestine, so she must have Israeli stamps in there. I could think of a few experiences we'd shared...I wonder how she'd handled the border crossing.

I hadn't done my homework, otherwise I would have been aware of the importance of Sister Anne. After the first ten minutes of the service I'd learned that some of her dear friends couldn't make it to the service because they were still in jail for their last act of civil disobedience.

She was a Plowshares activist. Even though I had never met her, or heard of a Plowshares action, I knew generally what this meant.

I flashed back to my first demonstration.

One weekend in New Orleans my friend Dan explained to me what the School of Americas was, and why it was important to know about. It's a U.S. military school that trains Central and South American military units in "security work." Essentially it's a school in how to sequester, interrogate, torture and oppress civilians. I was very curious to know more, so a week later I hopped in a car with Dan and Sister Kitty, a local nun, and headed to Fort Benning, Georgia for the annual School of Americas protest.

It was an experience I'll never forget. I learned that there were so many Catholics and Jesuits there because this protest was a commemoration of the murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, by militia men trained in Fort Benning. Outside of the Fort gates, and in a large conference center that night, the event was more like a human rights...well, conference. Whether it was abolishing the death penalty, or workers rights, or veganism, or sustainable development, or wouldn'tcha know it, Gaza, there was a cause or three for everyone.

I made it to three events that night, and all three blew me away. The first was a performance by a man who had been taken in Columbia. He enacted his arrest, and torture, and release, and loss of family, and everyone was spellbound, because it was sad and comedic and heart wrenching all at once. This was a truly beautiful and talented man. The second event I went to was Skip Shiel's presentation of photos from Gaza. The room was packed and the audience was already very in tune with what Skip was saying. He announced the March to Gaza on New Years, and I was so inspired by the outpouring of support I saw for that venture to break the siege in Gaza. The third event was about legal counsel, should anyone get arrested at the protest the next morning. That was a little unnerving for me. It was the first time I'd ever contemplated doing something that might get me in trouble with the law. Of course I'd studied Martin Luther King Jr. and civil disobedience, but I'd never really contemplated that that was something I would want to do.

Towards the end of the Q & A, one older women shot up her hand and asked, "what if you're on parole in Washington D.C.?" I don't remember the answer to that, but that was the first moment I thought, "wow. that nun is intense."

The day of the protest blew my mind all over again. Thousands of people marching slowly towards the area where there was no marching permit, with gigantic 30-feet high puppets representing the six Jesuits towering over us...a woman was singing out names and ages like "Antonio Alvarez, twenty-two years old!" and everyone would respond in a minor key: "Pre-sen-te!" They are present.


So I was harkening back to that experience through much of the service, as I realized I was in a room with many Catholic activist octogenarians. The man who lead the service was clad in a pastor's robe and Chacos. He described his last Plowshares act with Anne, how they and three others cut through the fences at a nuclear storage facility in Tacoma, Washington and walked as far as they could get get into the base before they were apprehended.

He recalled that one time they were camping on Guantanamo Bay and they'd brought a tent with no bottom, and the winds were about to lift the tent off the ground, and Sister Anne reached up and grabbed the top and kept it from flying away. 

He talked about her work in Harlem, and Baghdad, and Hebron, and I noticed that the word Palestine felt at home in that space. The word is usually heated, for better or for worse, and it here it washed over me like water. A few people shared stories about traveling with her in Palestine, and how at home they felt there, and how the Palestinians living in "Area H2" knew and loved Anne.

This was a wonderful group of people. Me and someone's granddaughter were the youngest there by decades, but I told people that I knew the causes close to Anne's heart, and hearing I'd been in Palestine, everyone just beamed.

I had this serious wish, listening to all the testimonies after the service, to record and translate them into Arabic. Especially given the recent upheaval over the latest Muhammad video, I wanted my friends in Palestine to know that they have allies here.

 A little footage from the post-service story-telling...

I'll leave off this post with some links about Anne, should you wish to know more about her:

Peace Activist Sister Anne Montgomery Dies at 85
Counterpunch-Parting with Sister Anne Montgomery
Daily Gazette- In heaven there are no nuclear weapons, so rest in peace, Sr. Anne!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fire....hits the wire?

A morning party at Burning Man this year. I didn't do enough day dancing.

Today I got to meet my cousin and uncle down at Santa Clara University, where my cousin is starting classes on Monday. He's taking a ton of Poli-Sci classes, and I kinda want to sneak in and audit :) His girlfriend is in Middle East studies, and will most likely be in the Middle East next fall. I told my cuz I'd look out for her, haha. So awesome, though. We walked around a swanky outdoor shopping center and ate some pasta, then I headed back to Menlo Park for some shut-eye.

I like riding the CalTrain. You can take your bike on and bungee it to a rack and go up to the second level and keep an eye on it (or get immersed in your smart phone and almost miss the stop...repeatedly)

Tonight on the way back to Menlo Park on the Caltrain, I heard "True Colors" playing softly, and thought, "aw, great song." It was probably coming out of the CalTrain speakers, or out of someone's earphones. I went back to Instagraming.

A few minutes later, I heard "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and it sounded a little tinnny, like it was coming out of someone's phone. Kind of a weird song to be listening to on a train, I thought. I just went back to Instagraming.

Five minutes later, I realized my Cyndi Lauper Pandora station had been re-activated, and I was the one gracing the whole car with "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

 I mumbled, "Ohhh, didn't know that was me."
 Lady across: "Really?"

 hahhahaha. it had to be that song.

Biggest Part of Me

I remember coming out of the Israeli Police Station outside the Old City of Jerusalem. This was the edge of East Jerusalem, which is home to most of the city's Palestinian Arab population.

It was almost Christmastime, I was coming down with the flu, I was having some boy troubles back in Ramallah, and I'd just gotten my camera stolen from my purse by a postcard salesman. The day wasn't going well.

All the guys I talked to on the street tried to be helpful, but in the end, I was referred to the Israeli Police Station. They might put it in the record and the man might be found. I at least wanted to get the theft reported, even though I knew I probably wouldn't see my camera again. All my photos from Sebastia were in there, beautiful children from Jenin frolicking in the meadows...that was good stuff!

I went to the police station, got my bags checked by the soldiers outside, and once inside I couldn't find anyone to talk to. I left the station and walked down the street again, looking for help, like I could find the underground stolen camera ring, but I was referred again to the Police Station. Again, I couldn't find anyone to talk to. I threw in the towel, and decided to head back to Ramallah and sleep off the encroaching body aches. It was cold. I was probably wearing my AmeriCorps sweatshirt, over three layers.

"Free Sheikh Jerrah!" I turned around, knowing the soldier was calling out to me. He and three other soldiers, who guarded the station, were laughing amongst themselves.

I got that he was mocking me. Sheikh Jerrah, the Arab neighborhood where Israeli activists and Palestinians demonstrate together against the army-protected Jewish settlements, was just a mile down the road. I'd never actually been there, but a blonde girl walking around in an Arab neighborhood must be a sympathizer, right?

Truth be told, I was an activist, I just stuck to the other side of the wall.

I squinted my eyes and said, "what?" The soldiers kept chuckling, but didn't respond, so I turned around and headed back to the bus station.

I've already told this story, but today I was reminded because I saw this trailer for My Neighborhood, a new Just Vision Film. This one is about Sheikh Jerrah, and the joint struggle there. It was months later that I finally found myself in that neighborhood, in the middle of an Orthodox Jewish festival. Hanging out with the Arab residents and their Israeli supporters, while the settlers were having this loud, raging party with bonfires was...well, there were a lot of emotions felt. Hopefully this film will inspire, and get the attention it deserves.

This song popped into my head at the Rebuilding Alliance office yesterday. I thought it must be Billy Joel? Apparently was stuck in my head all day and all through swim practice today!

It made me miss my neighbor from New Orleans. We used to listen to his records and watch Burt Sugarman DVD's...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If it Were Up to Me

Now I've done it. I've joined a Masters swim that practices at 5:45 in the morning. The women I'm staying with is now out of town for two weeks, and her husband is big on Masters swimming. It sounded like a good kickstart to a healthy routine.

We arrived at the pool today and I was able to purchase a suit, goggles, and two caps at the pool store. Talk about swank. I tried to imagine the Northshore pool in Bothell with a store...come to think of it, the last time I drove past it the doors were all boarded up. Awww man!

I bought a size 34 suit, and stood in front of the mirror for a while. It was tight. I moved my arms up and down, and remembered that suits stretch, and ripped the tag off. Here goes...

Professionals of all ages come to these morning classes, and many of them, like Phil, compete in local, regional and national meets. Our coach was a svelt blonde lady with a Czech accent. She asked me if I had any experience, I said a little in college, but it had been a while. She put me in a middle lane with four people, easy enough. They were doing sculling drills with breast stroke and freestyle. Phil had told me that was on the agenda for today, much to his chagrin, and I was like, yessss.

The set was a perfect re-introduction. Not much distance, not much fly. It was a bromine pool, which must be a California thing because the only other one I swam in was at Claremont McKenna. It tastes saltier than chlorine, and sticks on you a little stronger. I wondered who these people were that I was sharing a lane with. Where did they live? What did they do? What a strange way to meet people, bobbing in the water with rubber heads...the girl in front of me seemed my age. I wondered if she swam in college. Judging by the ankle-length fleece-lined jackets people were busting out of their cars, it seemed like a lot of people had.

I didn't have a song in my head during practice. I was mostly thinking about how awesome and terrible swimming is. The full body work-out....great. The oxygen deprivation...not so much. I got really indignant about that toward the end of my swimming days. Runners get to breathe all the damn time, but swimmers have to train themselves to breathe as little as possible, while pushing their bodies to the max, it's downright masochistic! I think competitive instincts will keep your head under long enough during a race, I just don't want to practice it, ugh! I did have a song in my head as I woke up at 5:20, and it was so perky and overplayed that I shut it out. It was a song I wrote, and maybe I'll be able to post a music video to someday. I'll leave this post music-less in hopes of that.

This healthy routine was supposed to involve me going to bed at 10 every night. oops.

Home by the Sea

My first morning in Menlo Park I decided to go for a run around the neighborhood. Unfortunately one of my ear buds was busted, so I could only hear Phil Collins in my left ear, but the street and the trees and the houses were beautiful. I slowed down in front of one houses that had amazing roses, and wondered immediately if someone inside could see me and maybe they think I'm snooping, or spying, and then I realized, dammit, I just wanted to admire the roses, and maybe smell them, isn't that why they put them out there in the first place?

I thought about drawing a cartoon where this guy steps out of his house with a shotgun and says, "stop sniffin my roses boy..." It sounded absurd, and poignant.

That shit wouldn't happen at Burning Man...then I smiled and kept on runnin.

Three days in SF, Three Palestine Events

Someone call it, she's on fire!

I've finally started to work for Rebuilding Alliance, the organization that made it possible for me to get to Al Aqaba last year. These events have been great networking opportunities. Now if I only had an instinct for that kind of thing...

Night 1: Fundraising Dinner for AROC (Arab Resource and Organizing Center). It was a lot like the dinner I went to in New Orleans for the Muslim Legal Fund. The group is also committed to providing legal counsel for Muslim individuals and communities that are targeted. Pro-Palestine activists are seeing themselves occupying a much larger percentage of the FBI watch-list than before, with raids and arrests and deportations. AROC was raising money for legal costs and awareness campaigns. I'd almost forgotten that Pamela Gellar's racist bus ads were placed on Bay Area MUNI buses, so there were a few references to that "savage" accusation.  

It was really cool to see what a community effort this really was. Kids and teens were volunteering and  the performing for the event, and of course, the family feel. It was great to hear Arabic again. 

I expected the event to be drier than it was, (ok, maybe Arabic parties aren't my cup of shai) but this was a pretty hip crowd. There was a young singer-songwriter who performed an original and an Arabic folk song on her little electric acoustic guitar, and her voice was gorgeous and sassy, and I wish I remembered what her name was. Then there was an oud player and a traditional singer, but when everyone gets clapping it's fun, especially now that recognizing Arabic feels like this crowning achievement.

The book reading also surprised me. The author, Suha, read a few pages from a book she just published, and it actually got me a little emotional. She was in Palestine in 2003 with a olive harvest delegation, and after setting the scene on the terraced hills, she described how one American Jewish man who had joined the group with Rabbis for Human Rights, leaned over and asked her if she was Palestinian. She said yes, Palestinian-American. Then grinning, he asked a fairly common question: "so, what do you think is the solution? One state? Two states?"  

She was a good storyteller, and she had chosen a good story. I thought for a second that I knew how she felt because I remembered the agitation, but as a foreigner I could never really understand what it's like to be the target of that smile. I'd only been on the sidelines of this conversation, and the memory still made me simmer.

She just wanted to be left alone, but answered roughly, "I find it hard to talk about solutions when so many have failed to recognize the problem." 

The smile disappeared from his face. He had only come to help, after all. He asked defensively, "what...would you the problem?"

Again, she didn't want to continue the conversation. But she ended up talking about the theft of her land and the suffering of her people and started to cry with anger. What did she want? "I want an apology. I want someone to say they're sorry for what happened, and maybe when I'm satisfied that this apology is sincere I'll feel like talking to you about solutions." 

The visitor didn't respond. After a few moments a man emerged from behind the tree and said, "I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, and I know what we did to your people, and I'm sorry. This is the only home I have ever known, and I have nowhere else to go. I know it won't make up for what has happened, but I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." 

She went numb, and after a minute of holding back burning tears, her legs started to move, and she was carried across the olive grove, down the street, and into a yellow service taxi. 

I felt heavy as she recounted the experience, and I realized why it had never struck me to tell that story, although it was so familiar. Those questions, and the smiles and leisurely banter, had never hurt me that much.

Event #2: Palestine Culture Day at Golden Gate Park. The woman I'm staying with, Carin, drove down with me and we both helped Marc man the Rebuilding Alliance booth, which was selling Fair Trade olive oil from Canaan Fair Trade in Jenin. Almost everyone at the event, which went from noon to seven, was Palestinian. There was a table for Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian advocacy group, people selling t-shirts, jewelry, more olive oil, and local businesses were handling the food. So much food: shawarma, chicken, dawali, those spinach pocket things, mujadara, salads, and most importantly, knafe. For my first 48 hours in town I wasn't doing too shabby.

I took my phone around and filmed the booths and went slowly through the crowds so I could pick up some family and friend interaction. It wasn't hard to find an endearing moment, given this kind of community, and I wanted to capture it. I did get self-conscious at times, remembering that some of the people here may be politically active and wary of random cameras (flashback to the night before). That was a feeling I had a lot in Palestine, where people were very candid about their suspicions. One kid at a demonstration told his friends, "hey, the secret police is filming" because I seemed to be more interested in them than in the soldiers, which was true. But I forgot that if I was the secret police filming them throwing stones, they could expect a very unpleasant visit that night.

I kept turning my camera to a father and his toddler son on his shoulders. It was the cutest thing ever. 

It was fun to man the booth, and go around talking to people and seeing where they're from. Palestine is so small, it's easy to recognize villages and family names. Towards the end there was a whole family waiting in line for the henna lady, and we got to talk to the kids about Al Aqaba, and they asked the greatest questions. One 10-year-old boy was like, "so...why olive oil? I think you guys should do something...really, like, symbolic. Like a stuffed camel." Then his mom got pissed at him for getting henna'd because he had a Nickelodeon audition the next day.

Third event: World Social Forum delegates came to speak at a community center-thing (it reminded me of the Zeitgeist theater in New Orleans) about the meaning of joint struggle with the Free Palestine movement. The delegates represented a number of causes, equality for women, blacks, Latinos, queers, there was someone speaking about Palestinian youth movements, about the Black Panther party and Cointelpro, and there was a women representing the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. I think I'd seen her speak in New Orleans, with Hajo Mayer, a Holocaust Survivor and peace activist. It was really interesting hearing about their experiences with social justice movements and why that connects them to the issue of Palestine. I so wanted to jump on their invitation to attend the World Social Forum in Brazil, which is where they're headed in two months!

Strange coincidence, the last person to stand up and give a comment was an Israeli activist, he was very sleepy because he'd just gotten off the plane, and I wondered if I'd seen him before. I went up to him afterwards and it turns out I did know him. Gila and I met him at the office of Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, just before going to a protest in front of the Jewish National Fund building. I remember him being very supportive of the Al Aqaba Guest House and putting a flier up above his desk. And here we are in San Francisco.

I like this town.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Burnin For You

At some point in the day I thought, "last night was spiraly kinda night." It happens when I'm really tired and learning new things about Palestine. It's always a bit more candid, a bit more emotional. A blessing and a curse...

Right now I feel really good. I have a very comfortable bed, and the Doogie Howser theme is running through my head. I thought of making that my post video, but I might just have something better.

A brief update on the last few days:

Steph and Teo and Carlo and I got back to Santa Barbara from Burning Man on Tuesday night. We slept in Reno, ate a big breakfast at Peg's Glorified Ham and Eggs (where half the people there will still billowing dust like Pig Pen), and stopped for lunch at Gatsby's Burgers in Sacramento. During the drive we started to compile all the stuff we should have brought to BM this year, and would remember to bring next year. More socks and a tin for bacon grease....that's all I remember now. Carlo had been given a mix CD that we listened to. Every song had the words "burn" or "fire" in them. We tried to come up with our own compilation but the songs kept getting worse and worse. Blue Oyster Cult had to make a second appearance.

Home in the vallay
Home in the citay
Home isn't prettay
Home I'll never be

The whole drive back I just floated on the surface of this question: "where have I just been?" It was like heaven and hell mixed into one. There was so much wonder and excitement and exhaustion and weirdness that I....officially give up on explaining because I've been staring off into space for five minutes. Anyway, there was no doubt in my mind that I'd go back. I looked up "distance between Seattle and Gerlach, Nevada" and found a how-to guide for Seattle Burners. I went to the Burning Man website and it said "361 until the man burns!" and that was enough for me. San Francisco has a Decompression event on October 7th. Chances are, I'll be there!

The most useful post-Burn thing I did was watch the documentary that Teo rented for us, on the history of the event and the organization. It's called "Dust and Illusions" and it talks about the very first man burn, on a beach in San Francisco, and the group called Cacophony that invited the burners out to the desert to continue burning without getting in trouble. From there it morphed from a little camping trip to a booze binge to a moving shooting range to an art community, to something that just got bigger and bigger...anyways, I breathed a sigh of relief after watching that, because it expelled the notion that I had to have my experience figured out. If some guys went out there to pump a little stuffed Barney full of bullets, and some people went to create wind chimes over a creek, and later some people showed up to rave, and later some people showed up for a week-long tailgate, then you can jump in wherever you damn well please, or create a totally different experience.

One year the man was set on fire four days early, and the "arsonist" was thrown in jail, but most of the organizers were glad for it, because they were afraid that the experience was getting too predictable, too centered on the man, too it's own religion...I understand that. I think the guy's still in prison though...

After unpacking and detoxing for two days, I said goodbye to my extended family in Santa Barbara and hopped on a train to San Jose. I felt really cool going up to the window at the train station fifteen minutes before the train arrived and saying "one way ticket to San Jose, please." I felt like I was in a movie, making some life-changing decision. I wish the Amtrak looked a little more epic.

On the eight hour ride I did a lot of research. I could've caught up with my Truman book. He's about to get elected Senator and we're only about 200 pages away from the whole Palestine fiasco.

(aside) Reading a presidential biography while riding a train feels very poetic. Not the part where Missouri and Kansas descended into a bloodbath where roving gangs hacked off people's limbs because they supported a free state or a slave state, that was disturbing. But the part where Harry had to run his family's farm, and was awkwardly courting this girl named Bess, and finding his stride in public service, and the sun was setting over Oregon with a new adventure waiting....I felt this connection, a timelessness. I was inspired to do great things. I think that was the most patriotic three hours of my life.

Whereas watching the Olympics again reminded me of how arbitrary nations are, and why are we buying into this circus? Anyways....

I didn't feel like reading  then because I was really interested in chemistry. Coming out of Burning Man, fancy that! About an hour into my wiki-binge on MDMA, mephadrone, and other entactogens (!!), I realized that I'd never, ever taken an interest in chemistry. One of the things I regularly tell people (especially scientific people) about myself is that 10th grade Bio-Chem is the only class that has ever made me cry. Now I was dead set on learning about neurobiology and chemicals and spirituality and ended up Netflixing a documentary called DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which Carlo recommended. I loved learning about the controversy of psychadelics as an academic study, and the study that was finally pulled off with volunteers in a hospital bed, on DMT. I wondered if anyone passing by caught a glimpse of my Droid, where this film was trying to illustrate the testimony of these former subjects, talking about floating backwards along their DNA and out into the universe. Parts of it looked like an Electric Sheep screen-saver, and I thought, oh my god, that's what inspired my screensaver?

After that I watched a documentary that my friend Darek had recommended. Netflix too, apparently, thought I should see it, and it was amazing. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I hope to shoot a documentary like that someday, and if it's successful, I hope to afford a meal at that restaurant someday.

I liked what Jiro said in the beginning, it was very simple....."You should never complain about your work." For him, work is everything. Our philosophy seems to be the opposite, like if you're not complaining about work, something is wrong with your vent.

Finally, I watched the pilot of The Wonder Years, which was one of the few English shows we got in Japan. I thought it would be lame now that I was older, but I actually liked it. I think I might watch another episode tonight.

You know what's wrong with not blogging every night? Your blog entries end up freaking ENORMOUS.

So now I've been in Menlo Park for three days, and that'll be the topic of my next entry.

Video for today:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nariman Tamimi arrested in Nabi Saleh, 8-24

Nariman Tamimi is arrested at Nabi Saleh's weekly demonstration while she and her children protest the seizure of their land.

The segment is from 2:30-7:30. Before she's arrested, Nariman says, "if this is a closed military zone, then why are the settlers there?"


Afterwards the daughters are talking to the soldiers and I think they're saying, "what would your father and your mother say?" One of the daughters is blonde. Might that look wrong to some people?


Coming back from Palestine means living with some fucked up certainties. One is the increasing frequency of the gasp moment, finding out something bad has just happened to someone you know. You can be on your way out the door, or reading an e-mail at lunch, or going to bed and checking Facebook, when you learn that someone has just been arrested, or has their house torn down, or raided in the middle of the night.

I just saw this video, and I don't know what has happened to Nariman, if she's been freed, or if she's still sitting in a cell somewhere.

I went to Nabi Saleh three times, and met Nariman twice. The first time was with a group of about 20 Israelis and Palestinians, from the Crossing Borders group in Jerusalem. The children served us juice and tea and cookies (probably chocolate wafers, those were big there) and worked on their homework while Nariman talked to us about her husband's detention. Bassem had been detained for almost a year at that point, and the group wanted to know how they could help. Most of the senior members knew Bassem. He was the organizer of Nabi Saleh's protests against the confiscation of their land and water by Israeli settlers. He was arrested by Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night, at home, and detained for a renewable sixth month term, i.e. indefinitely.

 I had never met Bassem, but it was a strange feeling, being in a Palestinian household without the father figure, and that absence being so...heavy.

So Nariman conducted the meeting on her own, with footage from past demonstrations and night raids playing on the TV. It seemed she had been at the forefront of most of them. I was transfixed on the footage for a while, but it mirrored what had happened in Bil'in so I knew it, and it was depressing. Boys being rustled out of bed to have their photos taken, tear gas and sound bombs being thrown into houses, half-dressed boys being hauled into the back of a jeep while mothers cry and the holder of the camera is threatened with a gun.

The second time I saw Nariman was at a Nabi Saleh demonstration, my first and last. She greeted me, but I don't think she remembered me, there are enough blonde activists coming through the village. Bassem still hadn't been released. I got a lot of footage, but I decided not to go back because there was ammunition fired and it scared the crap out of me. I remember my friend Hamdi laughing as I ran away saying, "oh shit, oh shit...." Even with a twisted sense of humor, I don't know how someone can live like this.

Nariman went on a speaking tour in Europe soon after that, and Bassem was released a few months later. On Nakba Day, I arrived in Zamn Cafe in Ramallah, and he was sitting on the couch, with my friends, who knew him from prison back in the day. They were joking and laughing as they normally were, Bassem seemed like a much-loved brother. We had a good conversation, and he let me do a video interview about his detention. We walked to the Nabka Day demonstration in Arafat Square (aka Times Circle) and parted ways there.

I know a handful of people who would know for sure if Nariman has been released. Just waiting to find out...

 This is a shorter segment that was aired on Palestinian News...

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Burn Pt. 1

Today is a day of gratitude. Trying to explain the last two weeks has been really overwhelming, but the task has alerted me to something: that I know this feeling well. I know the feeling of wanting to communicate a place, a community, an experience so badly, and that's not a cause for anxiety. I simply know that I struck gold again. Since my college graduation, I've gone from New Orleans to Palestine to Burning Man, and to accumulate three places, communities, experiences that you can carry around so an enormous gift. I actually considered working the Burning man symbol into my fleur-de-lis key tattoo: the fleur-de-lis for New Orleans, the key for Palestine, and the shaft of the key as a )'( man.

Damn, I was finicky about the design as it was :P

This much is true, that I'm grateful for Burning Man, and I think it'll be an important part of my life in a way I can't see yet. When a place only exists for one week out of the year, it's hard to predict. Like a less intense version of an Olympian training four years for one 9.86 second race. Fortunately, the bigger BM gets, the more it exists in the "default world." That terminology sounds kind of douch-ey, huh? I guess what I'm trying to say is, over time Burning Man is becoming more default and default is becoming more Burning Man. The trick it to keep the intensity, and momentum, and love, and everything people go to Black Rock City to find. That I have a role to play in that future is also overwhelming....and exciting.

So here goes. An attempt to explain. My next entry will be a transcription of my physical 6-day journal, which is a funny, pathetic, bizarre, pee-in-your-pants kind of read.


"I'm not a virgin anymore!!"

That's what a first-timer yells as they bang a stick against a bell at the entrance to Black Rock City.

There is a ritual, and it goes something like this: your veteran car-mates make a point to yell "virgin burner!" at the volunteer greeters at the gate, effectively blowing your cover and setting the ritual in motion. You are then pulled out of the car, given lots of hugs and "welcome home"s. Then you get down and dirty. Literally, you make dust angels on the ground. Then the banging of the bell, and the self-outing, and you're released from greeter custody and set free to roam the Playa uninhibited for the next week (or 11 days, in my case). If you're smart, you tuck your car keys, phone, and money in a secure place because chances are, you won't be bothering with them for a while.

We got to BRC two days before the gates officially opened, to help our camp set up. The city was about 15% populated with theme camp-devotees. For the next two days the city grew horizontally and vertically as crews worked around the clock to set up geodesic domes, shade structures, hexayurts, giant art installations, lounges, kitchens, stages, arenas that would hold thousands of ravers, and the 2012 temple that would burn the day after the man. There weren't a lot of individual tents at this point. Those folks would start arriving on Sunday at 6pm.

For one week out of the year, Black Rock City is the 4th largest city in Nevada. The citizens of BRC hail from Reno, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, New Orleans, Boston, London, Oslo....I tried to imagine what Burning Man felt like to a non-American...."yeah, there's this cool thing that happens in the desert in Nevada...and I spent thousands of dollars to get here and set up a theme camp!" I learned about some of the festivals in Europe, and the feeling I got was that they still don't hold a candle.

That was Eurotache camp, formally Euro-Trash. It was run by Condor and Ingi, who live in Oslo, and it's a red-curtained bar and lounge where people can roll the dice to perform European rites of passage like Beer Clogging and the Martache (marmite mustache). I got my early admission pass through Condor, in exchange for some set-up labor. We had the structure assembled and decorated in three days. On the second day I asked Ingi if she'd ever heard of a show called Twin  Peaks. She smiled and said, "well yeah, the Black Lodge is the inspiration for the curtains." I was ecstatic, and suddenly aware that I had no cell service or social media within reach to tell my brother and the world that I had found kindred spirits. Condor came in and added that he had always wanted to get the black and white zig-zag carpet, and a white Greek statue, and once they met a very tall guy who could've been The Giant. Sadly, he declined.

Pink Heart was the camp where I officially camped. Stephanie and Teo had been with them for a few years, and I liked the idea of being part of a large, legitimate camp. Maybe in the future I could hack the solo camping, but I didn't know a thing thus far! I hadn't even googled Burning Man, or watched any videos except for the three Steph and Teo showed me (posted in the last entry). I almost wanted to plug my ears and sing "la la la laaa" because I wanted to be STUNNED.

Funny thing is, I could have done my homework and then some, and still wouldn't have come close to understanding what it's like to walk down the Playa on the first night after gates open.

Let me take a whack at it.

You're standing in a desert. You're wearing a dress and fishnets and boots, covered by a dense knee-length fur coat. You are seriously ensconced in fur and feeling great about it, because the air is cold, and there's a light breeze. You are slightly jangly with a string of purple heart lights around your neck, and a purple Glow-B clipped on your head, like a little strand of lit-up hair extension. You glance at it every once and a while because it's pretty. You don't want to be a "dark-wad," because dark-wads might get hit by bikes or cars. Everyone around you has a colorful glow-in-the-dark thingy on their head, or their neck, or their hands, or ankles, or belts, and these thousands of little tromping lights seem to take on a life of their own, until you connect them with a shape, or a face, or a laugh. As you start to walk, you feel the cold air start to seep in through your coat, but the walking keeps you warm.There are thirty different songs within earshot, mostly electronica, coming from sound camp stages, theme camp speakers, and art cars that are roaming past you shaped like pirahnas, cats, submarines, pirate ships, coat hangers, flower pots, and 2-story victorian houses. You start to understand Lewis Carrol. It makes you want to jump up and down, and run, and hug people, because they have the same looks of amazement on their faces. You can run and jump onto any art car, and some of them double as bars and clubs, with seventy people dancing on the top deck. Maybe for now you're content to just wander. When you get to the center of the Playa it hits you. You're in the middle of the circle. In almost a mile diameter around you is Black Rock City. Every theme camp, sound stage, art car, bike and person is lit up and multi-colored and MOVING.

This is the thing you that makes your eyes go wide and say "holy shit." Wherein the veterans go, "right???"

And this is where I throw in the towel. Following are some pictures I borrowed from friends or Google images, and the next entry is a transcription/photos of my journal and a list of things that gave me goosebumps.

This year's man.

A Smartphone map of all the camps (red) and art installations (blue)

It was like 10 Fourth of July finales back to back.


Death. Star. Art. Car.

yeah that happened.

Parachuters were comin down every day!

Was this 2012? Didn't see the car with the slide...

Shipwreck coming out of the Playa, with a pier stretching out

This looks like Burn night, it felt like the Wonderful World of Oz...

The Houston Core group, doing some night construction on their piece, ReinCOWnation.

Rhino car!

Submarine car!
The temple lit up at night. Absoutely incredible.

Messages and objects that people leave to burn with the temple.

One of my favorite installations. You can climb up the sides and hang out on cushions up top.

An aerial view of Black Rock City

This would fondly be known as a "tripper trap." The colors changes and moved around. I called it the DONUT!!!

An art car with a 2-story Victorian-style house on top