Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wuthering Heights

Three times in the last 24 hours I've felt compelled to think, "wow, I'm surrounded by awesome people." There's something to be grateful for.

Last night I drove to Stanford to attend the first meeting of their SPER- Student for Palestinian Equal Rights club. I was excited to go to Stanford. I'm living within biking distance of campus, and now I'm convinced I need to be a proper townie.

It kinda freaked me out, actually, driving into Stanford. I have a few friends that went there, but the name, it's so illustrious, and I'm just not used to being in places like that. I can't even really explain it. I've been to dozens of university campuses. Tulane, and Northwestern, and the University of Chicago were very impressive. My school was miniature, but still the same kind of nice. 

This was something else. I kept craning around to look at the buildings and dorms and tennis courts, I was afraid I would actually knock down a Stanford student! It was a strange feeling, seeing all these younger people around, and wondering if they actually "had something" on me. I just did two years of AmeriCorps and spent a year in Palestine, dangit, I have something to say! I remembered how much time I spent in college wrapped up in things that don't matter, and thinking mostly of myself.

It was the spring break trip to New Orleans that made a huge difference. It made me feel like I had a unique message. Was that selfish too? Does it matter, if it inspires and educates and helps people?

Those thoughts tie in to the second batch of wonderful people, the two men who own the store I've been working out of. More about them in a minute.

So, Stanford. I drove as far inward as I could, and miraculously found a parking space outside the Old Union building. As soon as I entered I saw the glass-walled conference room. Looking back, I don't know if it was natural confidence, or the fact that Room 121 had to be on the 1st floor (in America), or the ethnic diversity that told me this was a Palestine meeting. But I went in, 15 minutes late, and tip-toed to the back of the room and sat on a table.

There were about 25 people in there, a few faculty members including the founder, who was sitting next to me. When I introduced myself and said I'd just been in Palestine, and worked for a non-profit in San Mateo, he already knew Rebuilding Alliance and Donna. So that was cool.

The members of the club were going over the history of the group, their programs, the BDS movement, and the conflict for some of the prospective members. They said that they'd made great friends here, and really found their niche in a social justice/activism sense. I couldn't help but compare to my experience at Whitman. Did we even have an activist community? Did I even look? All I remembered was the flyer I was handed when Aayan Hirsi Ali came to speak, a campus group wanted the audience members to have some basic information about Islam before they heard Ali's message, which was very anti-Islam.

I just e-mailed my Middle East history professor from college, I've been thinking a lot lately about the impact her teaching had on me. I wasn't a very serious scholar back then. I was pretty much in the shallow end, motivation-wise. Now I'm wondering what kind of graduate student I would make. After three years of service out in the field, could I hit the books again? I would definitely take myself and my professors more seriously, and learn a thing or two about collaborating. 

Enough of this lone wolf nonsense. I'm a little sick of it.

But the fundraising page and the video are almost finished, and I'll be going on a short speaking tour soon. Only good things. Again today I felt grateful to be doing things I really care about.

So the Stanford group was great, and I almost wanted to take a picture just to capture that they were together, and doing something. But then I felt that old familiar feeling that I'm an intruder and probably from StandWithUs, or the Mossad.

Or it just wasn't a good moment to photograph a meeting I just wandered into.

One of the organizers said there was a Palestinian lawyer coming to speak on Thursday, she led the Freedom Ride that happened earlier this year, when six Palestinians boarded an Egged settler bus in the West Bank and got arrested at the checkpoint going into Israel. I asked, "Huwaida Arraf?" She said yes, one and the same.

I told Donna today that Huwaida was coming to speak at Stanford, and it turns out Donna's known her for a long time, so she contacted Samer at Stanford, the guy who was sitting next to me, and got me lined up to sell our fair trade olive oil at the event. I'm actually really looking forward to that! And meeting Huwaida, I've heard a lot about her.

I looked at the Stanford website when I got home. They have documentary and film studies, but to my knowledge no Middle Eastern Studies degree. Other schools would give me more focus, but there would be some amazing professors to study with at Stanford. many classes devoted to theory.....ugh.

I feel like watching Orange County now :)

The second time I was surrounded by awesome people was today at the office/shop. The two guys who run the Peace book/games shop invited us to join them for tiramisu and sparkling lemonade. They were celebrating their colleague's 100th shift. While we stood around and ate some bomb tiramisu, the guys told us about some of their upcoming events. Every third Wednesday of the month they host the local writer's club, which is part of the larger California writer's club tradition began by Jack London. You can go and share your work, or just listen...I've never been to something like that before. I'll go in a few weeks, and maybe I'll have something to share! :)

They also told us they were raising money to send to the school district to coordinate free trips for middle schoolers to see the film Bullied in theaters. They were almost up to $500. I thought that was so cool.

The shop is also hosting a Halloween party for families, with a few local authors and illustrators, including the one for Horrible Hauntings. He busted out the book, and said, "this is a new kind of book that I think is going to get really big..." I thought, how could a children's book surprise you anymore? They've done texture, they've done pop-ups, they've done recordings...what else is there?

Well, I wasn't thinking of holograms....that's still in the works. But this surprised me. What you do is you download a Smart phone app, then hover your phone over the pictures in the book, and your phone recognizes the border of the picture as code, and produces a moving image over the scene. So there's an empty staircase in the book, and a ghost moving down the staircase on your phone. It blew my mind!!

They said it's so hard to get kids to sit down and read a book because everyone has a cooler gadget these days, so this was a way to combine the two. It's a little sad, but I've been so impressed, after nannying a two-year-old, how amazing some of these new toys and shows are at getting kids to read! That kid had the alphabet down!

Finally, they were talking about a new initiative they're fundraising for on a kickstarter account, to connect students to the issue of homelessness. They have alliances with various organizations that deal with the homeless, and there's a simulated online character that answers kids' questions about being homeless, and they can earn points for locating a shelter or soup kitchen near them, or writing a report, or doing a multimedia project, or submitting something to a sounds amazing, getting kids to learn more about their communities. That's what made me think of my lack of involvement in my younger days. I really hope their fundraiser succeeds! 

Anyway, so that was the second "these people are awesome" moment. It made me want to make a short film about them. The line of films on my list is getting pretty backed up, though. I'm looking forward to getting into a comfortable routine with a camera and software and being able to crank out a video like THAT.


The third moment was during the Fundraising committee meeting for Rebuilding Alliance. Carin was there, and Jose, a veterinarian who carves wooden goats, and Amal, an enthusiastic young volunteer, and Rudy, our Global Giving coordinator, and Fidaa, on Skype (her name means redemption, I remember it from the Palestinian national anthem every morning, Fidaaaaa'i! Fidaaaaaa'i!)

The energy and creativity was just zooming. We talked about goat's milk ice cream factories, sandwich-boarding on Market Street, throwing a party for the fundraising competition, contacting celebrities? Everything was centered around Al Aqaba, and everyone brought something different.

I'm excited to table at the Stanford event tomorrow, and meet even more amazing people.


I couldn't think of a song for today, so I'm posting this, an old fav! 

I started writing a song in my head today, but I didn't hum it into my phone recorder so I'm having trouble remembering the melody. It was peppy and upbeat, but it came out of a ridiculous Facebook conversation about Rachel Corrie. I think I'll have a full album of Palestine-inspired music before long...