Windchime Walker's Journal 69 Archive
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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2005
I'm at a loss to explain how the 2000th death of an American soldier in Iraq could possibly have come on the same day that Ann Arbor's Michigan Peaceworks was scheduled to hold their long-planned Roundtable discussion on Iraq War Exit Strategies. The timing was enough to make me a believer.
Of course that's 2000 Americans. No one knows how many Iraqis have died, but estimates range from tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand.
We began the evening with a candlelight vigil in front of the University of Michigan building where the panel discussion was to be held (photos #1, #2, #3 & #4). It was an appropriately chilly night.
Phillis Engelbert, the director of Michigan Peaceworks, moderated the discussion which began at 7 PM. And what a panel she and her group had gathered! Juan Cole, an international expert on the U.S. war on Iraq, author of one of the most widely-read blogs on the web--"Informed Comment"--and a University of Michigan professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history. Ismat Hamid, a retired professor from the University of Baghdad, College of Pharmacy, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. Deb Regal, a nationally-known member of Military Families Speak Out and mother of a U.S. Marine currently serving in Iraq. Nazih Hassan, Michigan Peaceworks board vice president, former president of the Muslim Community Association, and, coincidentially, a dear friend of Rabih Haddad whom I will be visiting in Beirut in two weeks.
The format allowed each panelist to speak for five minutes. After each of the four had spoken, they were then given six more minutes to finish their thoughts and/or respond to what other panelists had said. Phillis's timer kept them on task. The evening concluded with questions/comments from the floor, to which the panelists responded.
What made this discussion fascinating were the different opinions expressed by these four thoughtful, well-informed individuals. But first I must say, they all agreed that the U.S. ground forces MUST get out of Iraq. Where they differed was in how and when this could be accomplished, and what might happen in Iraq after those troops had left.
I'm going to do my best to give you some idea of what each of the panelists said. Please remember this is how I heard and noted it in my journal, but that doesn't mean I got it exactly right. It's times like this that I wish I'd learned shorthand!
In his discussion, Juan Cole reminded us that we've got three more years of President Bush and since he seems to have an obsession with Iraq that means our ideas about exit strategies will probably not make a lot of difference to the outcome.
Prof. Cole laid out two tasks that have fallen to the U.S. troops: 1) Protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad, including the Iraqi government leaders whom the occupying army have helped come into power; 2) Attack the Sunni Arab resistance fighters and anyone else who gets in their way. It is the latter that Prof. Cole decries. He called the U.S. counter-insurgency strategy "the worst in history." He denounced the vindictive ways in which the U.S. troops are being used by the Bush administration.
Where Juan Cole stood alone on this panel was in his insistence that the troop withdrawal must be gradual. He repeated several times that we must guard against the worse possible case scenerio, which, in his view, would be the almost certain massacre of the Iraqi government officials if we left them unprotected, and the likelihood that if a civil war broke out, it would become regional if not global. He worries about "rosy pictures" of how, once the occupiers were gone, the Shiites and Sunnis would get along fine. He said, "Political identities are subterranean and can change quickly." He gave Kosovo as an example, where the Serbs and Croatians had gotten along fine for generations but turned on one another in the 90s. He doesn't want to see that kind of genocide happen in Iraq, but fears it could. Even though he believes the U.S. ground troops must be removed, he is afraid that we're probably looking at 10-15 years of some kind of U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Prof. Cole made a most interesting statement during the questions/comments. He said, after making the disclaimer that he was speaking totally for himself and not for the university, that he believed we should be calling for the impeachment of Vice-President Cheney. Cheney is obviously behind the outing of CIA undercover operative, Valerie Plame, to his subordinates, and even though they all had the security clearance to hear this information, the question is, why did Cheney tell them? Juan Cole thinks his doing so was a form of treason. To read more about this, you can go to Juan's "Informed Comment" blog entry for Tuesday, October 25.
Deb Regal, who had pasted a picture of her son to the table in front of her, told us of his email home on his 26th birthday last week in which he wrote, "Don't worry about me; worry about THEM." Deb worries that we are dehumanizing our troops so that they can kill Iraqis and not feel bad about it. She went on to remind us that the military is not a democracy, even though it protects our democracy. She told of our troops shooting and killing Iraqis simply because they don't understand their language. Deb wants the U.S. out now and the UN brought in. She feels the UN peacekeepers would be better trained to understand the Arab culture, language and religions. She also believes our Congress must be held accountable, and that Governor Granholm could and should recall the Michigan National Guard from Iraq.
Dr. Ismat Hamid was the third to speak. He agrees that the U.S. must get out of Iraq, and the UN must be asked to come in. Dr. Hamid shared with us the history of peaceful coexistence between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis. He held up a copy of the new constitution that the Iraqis have just approved and called it a "disaster." What it would do is divide the country into as few as four states or as many as twelve. He said that is Washington's plan, to "divide and conquer." He asked why Iraq needed a new constitution. "The constitution we had from 1920 was excellent." Dr. Hamid described how the new constitution "injects religion" into the government, and takes freedom away from 50% of the population, the women. He told us of the 14 permanent military bases and the largest American embassy in the world that the U.S. has recently built in Iraq. He made it clear that as a culture, Iraqis HATE occupation. As far as he's concerned, democracy and occupation are incompatible.
Nazih Hassan was the final panelist to speak. He brought up the need to understand Iraq. He said that, yes there was a history of tension between the Shiites and Sunnis, but not strife; Saddam Hussein had oppressed both. Actually, only Saddam's family and other loyalists were safe from oppression during his regime. Now the U.S. is doing everything it can to set Shiite against Sunni. Nazih does not believe there will be civil war if the occupiers leave. And he feels strongly that the U.S. must get out of Iraq as soon as possible. When he looks at the guerrilla resistance, he sees not one group but MANY groups. They are not consistent with one another, and, in fact, 95% of the Iraqi people support the resistance. With that kind of support, they cannot be defeated. Nazih believes the U.S. would do well to start peace negotiations with the resistance groups. He said an alternative process must be tried. Iran needs to be brought into it, and maybe the current Arab League Initiative would be a good place to start. But however it's accomplished, the Americans must give a timetable for withdrawal and then do it.
When you read this brief synopsis, don't you see why I was willing to drive 55 miles each way to hear this discussion? My deepest gratitude to Phillis and the Michigan Peaceworks team for creating such an opportunity for dialogue, and to the panelists for their honest analyses of what can seem an impossible subject.
Now I've just stayed up until almost 4 AM writing this entry, but it felt too important to put it off until tomorrow. I hope you agree.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2005
Marla was right: every single person on this planet deserves to be remembered by name. Especially if they are innocent victims in a war that had nothing to do with them. We can hear all the numbers in the world--2000 American soldiers dead, 20 or 30 or 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead--and it means little to us. Yes, we mourn their deaths, we feel sad or angry or outraged, but we don't KNOW them. They have no flesh and bones, no story, no real meaning to us. If we hear, or even better, speak their names out loud, know how old they were when they died, what killed them, where and when they died, then we know them. They are real to us. And their loss is felt in our depths.
Marla Ruzicka knew this when she began her work of going house-to-house in cities and towns all over Iraq asking the people who in their family had been killed since this war had started on March 19, 2003. And she didn't wait until the so-called cease fire either. No, Marla and co-workers like Raed Jarrer started knocking on those doors as bombs were being dropped, missiles fired, tanks were targeting homes, bullets piercing hearts and lungs and livers at military checkpoints, scrapnel was flying into the tender bodies of children...ALL of it was still going on around them. Some called them foolish, many of us called them courageous. Marla simply said she was doing what needed to be done.
She stayed faithful to this work when funds from her homeland, America, dried up, when volunteers dropped out, when it got so dangerous that she was one of a handful of unarmed individuals on the streets of these wartorn cities and towns. Yes, Marla stayed faithful to her work of collecting names, stories and details of the civilian deaths that no one was counting...that is, until she became a victim herself, one of too many innocent individuals killed on what had become known as that deadly Baghdad Airport Road. She and her colleague, Faiz Al Salaam, dead on April 16, 2005 at the ages of 28 and 43.
In an article published on April 21, 2005, John Nichols of The Capitol Times, Wisconsin, wrote (in part):
The global justice movement, at least in its current incarnation, is a young cause. Rooted in the anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s and thrust onto the world stage by the Seattle anti-WTO protests of 1999, the movement remains overwhelmingly youthful in composition, leadership and spirit.
As such, it has experienced few deaths of comrades - particularly among the legions of activists in the United States. Until now.
Marla Ruzicka, the 28-year-old head of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), which worked to aid civilian victims of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, was killed Saturday on the road from Baghdad to that city's airport when her car was apparently caught between a suicide car bomber and a U.S. military convoy.
A veteran campaigner with Global Exchange, one of the most prominent groups in the global justice movement, Marla was one of many young activists who turned their attention from sweatshops and trade agreements to questions of war and peace after Sept. 11, 2001. But she took that attention further than most.
Marla traveled to Afghanistan and later to Iraq as part of Global Exchange's noble and necessary efforts to draw attention to civilian casualties of the U.S. invasions and occupations of those countries. Marla's work provoked an international outcry in 2002, after she exposed the fact that U.S. air strikes had killed hundreds of Afghan civilians during a six-month period when the major fighting was supposed to be done.
Traveling to Iraq after the U.S. invasion, Marla began the arduous work of seeking an accurate count of civilian casualties in that country. She went door-to-door in bomb-ravaged neighborhoods, collecting information and often serving as a shoulder to cry on.
When the United Nations and groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross began to abandon on-the-ground operations in Iraq because of the continuing violence, Marla stepped in. The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), which she started, provided Iraqi families with information - and a smart, aggressive English-speaking ally - as they pursued claims for compensation from the U.S. military when they were injured and family members were killed.
That compensation was made possible, at least in part, because of Marla's work with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who responded to the young woman's lobbying by inserting language into an appropriations bill to provide civilian aid worth $10 million in Afghanistan and $20 million in Iraq.
Leahy hailed Marla as "an exceptionally determined, energetic and brave young woman who has traveled to the front lines to focus attention on an issue that too often gets ignored," adding that "civilians bear the brunt of the suffering in wars today, but there is no policy to help them. Marla and her organization have helped put a human face on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by identifying the victims and their needs, and by lobbying for assistance."
And a human face is what Marla and her CIVIC workers put on the untold numbers of Iraqi war victims yesterday, today and tomorrow for volunteers in over 100 cities across our country who are participating in "A Commemoration of 100,000 Iraqis Killed in the War," a national campaign initiated by Voices For Creative Nonviolence and another courageous worker for peace, Kathy Kelly.
This afternoon as I sat in my scooter first beside Nancy, then Pat, Willie, and Suzanne on Woodward Avenue across the street from where we'd held our 21-day Camp Casey Detroit peace encampment on much warmer days and nights, and heard the bell rung once every minute by my companions, and then read aloud each name, age, gender, cause of death, where and when this person had been killed, from a list compiled by Marla, Raed, Faiz and the CIVIC workers in Iraq, I finally knew what this war really means. This, added to Tuesday night's candlelight vigil for the 2000 American soldiers dead in this war, was almost too much to bear.
For us, and I'm sure for all who participated in this campaign, it was the children who broke our hearts. Maged Agel Gber, an 11 year-old boy dead in a tank attack at Alngef -Alhedrea on March 23, 2003 (Remember "Shock & Awe"?). Mahdey Abed Al-Atheem, an 18 month-old baby boy killed by a missile in Al-Baseer Q on the same date. Nermeen Kasem Mohamed, a 9 year-old girl killed by a missile in Hay Al-Hareth Al-Saray, also on March 23, 2003. Noor Rameem Ywsif, a 12 year-old boy killed by a missile at Alsharkya H3/S9/Q108, same date. Ogal Gwad Kathem Alasbae, a 6 year-old girl burned to death at Alzawea on March 23, 2003. To name just a few.
Before arriving downtown at 4 PM, I'd spent the day at an East Dearborn K-5 public school with girls and boys aged 5 to 10--many of them from Iraq--so the names I read had faces attached to them, with stories and lives holding the promise of what they were born to do. The names I read from that list were MY children, the kids I sit with every week, make art with, laugh with, listen to and occasionally are driven crazy by. There was nothing hypothetical about the deaths of these Iraqi children...and their parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. All of these precious people were on that list of names.
It's not often that I let myself feel the true cost of this war. Today I did, and, believe me, it feels awful. It's much easier to wax sarcastic about Bush's war, or gather facts, critically analyze them, and marshall my arguments. But to see the dead children, to feel their loss? That, my friends, is unbearable.
But we must. We must allow ourselves to feel the pain of what is really happening in that U.S-created hellhole that used to be the beautiful country of Iraq, and once we do, we will never be the same again. When we know in our gut what it's like to lose a child like Cindy Sheehan did, and like the parents--if they're still alive--of Maged, Mahdey, Nermeen, Noor and Ogal did, then we will work for peace with a passion that will not be stopped or denied.
I invite you to go to the web site, "In Memoriam: Names of Iraq War and Occupation's Dead," and read at least 20 names out loud. If you have a candle, light it. If you have a bell, ring it. But please take time to remember, to see the innocent victims of war.
I wish I could find the link for the pictures, names, ages and hometowns that the New York Times printed on Wednesday of the second 1000 American soldiers to be killed in the war on Iraq. I would send you there too and ask you to look into their faces and read their names out loud.
We must never lose sight of what this war truly costs.
You can read Detroit News reporter Kim Kozlowski's excellent article about our vigil--"Bells ring for Iraqi civilian deaths"--that was published in the Detroit News, Friday, October 28, 2005.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2005
I really think we're onto something..."we" being Matt LaCroix, my trainer at the gym, JoLynn Schneider, my massage therapist who also works at the gym, and me. In the three weeks since I began following my twice-weekly workouts with a massage, my strength and endurance has improved at least 20%, according to Matt, an experienced trainer who is not prone to exaggeration.
Nothing else has changed in these three weeks, not my diet, sleep patterns, exercise schedule or life stresses. The only change has been adding massage to my normal routine. And that massage--anywhere from 30-60 minute sessions--coming IMMEDIATELY after I've worked for 50-60 minutes at Matt's direction on exercise machines, doing free-standing leg exercises, arm lifts with weights, and the abdominal exercises we've been doing since we started working together in March 2004. The improvement is, in Matt's words, "dramatic!"
Now I must interpose a significant fact here, and that is WHO is doing my massages. JoLynn Schneider is not your ordinary massage therapist. She is a world-class athlete (woman's basketball) whose knowledge of how the body works, its anatomical structure with special emphasis on the muscular system, and the connection between massage and exercise, is unique. If there's a subspecialty called "sports massage"--and I'm sure there is--Jo is one of its expert practitioners.
So here I have an instrument--my body--that may now be considered "disabled," but in its day was a double-jointed tumbler for the high school marching band, a natural swimmer and diver, often the top person on a Cypress Garden-type pyramid of teenaged waterskiers, youthful arm-wrestler who could take down fellows twice her size, marathon runner who completed 26.2 miles at a 7.5 minute-mile pace, agile modern dancer, long-distance (200 miles in two days) biker, and never-sit-down rock music dancer (still). This body also went from not being able to swim a stroke in June 2000 (after having been diagnosed with MS in 1988 and basically giving up all exercise) to swimming a half mile of the crawl twice a week, summer and winter.
Add to that a licensed personal trainer (Matt LaCroix) who changes my routine every time we meet (twice a week), has studied with sports medicine physicians, is now so interested in expanding his work with the disabled (I was his second disabled client) that he makes weekly training visits to the home of another woman diagnosed with MS, and spends his off time researching our medical condition(s) online and at the medical school library. Matt pushes me to the Nth but listens to my body's messages and immediately responds if/when I experience pain or unusual discomfort. I see him as combination symphony composer, conductor, instrumentalist and appreciative member of the audience. I wouldn't be where I am without him.
And now, as of three weeks ago, a massage therapist extraordinaire (JoLynn Schneider) has come onto the team. I wrote earlier in this entry about her special expertise in relation to sports and anatomy, but I'd like to add to that, her intuitive knowing of what is going on within the body upon which she's working. Jo is a complete professional who keeps a written record of what she finds and does, and shares that information with her clients. She also keeps Matt well informed so we're all working together.
Is it any wonder that I am feeling strong, healthy and fit? How fortunate I am to have this bulldog of a body that NEVER gives up, and such exceptional companions at my side. Jo said she dreamed of me last night and in her dream I was walking. Hey, who knows. I'm beginning to think ANYTHING is possible.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2005
Yesterday and today have been those kind of autumn days you recall in January with feelings of nostalgia and disbelief. You ask yourself how in the world could it be warm enough to walk, run, bike or scoot outside without a coat/boots/muffler/knit hat/gloves. You ask yourself what color looks like, be it leaves on trees, flowers in bloom, or green grass and bushes. It all seems like the dream of a child. Impossible, you tell yourself!
But today was that dream day. Leaves only just beginning to fall from the trees, many of which are still clothed in their green summer garments but enough are showing off their colorful autumn garb to make you catch your breath in wonder. And temperatures mild enough for a light sweater or even a long-sleeved cotton shirt to suffice. Please remind me of this day next January.
As I said, yesterday was equally lovely, and my women's community was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon and evening out at Casey and Jeanne's home in the country. Our reason for gathering was to celebrate both Jeanne's 70th birthday and Samhain (the Celtic New Year) with a delicious potluck supper, followed by a ritual around the firepit where we shared stories of our ancesters, and helped to decorate the Old Wild Crone found-art piece that stood in a place of honor in our circle. We concluded the evening by sitting around the living room singing Gaia songs, goddess chants and old songs from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I know I've said this numerous times in the past but belonging to this particular women's community is one of the greatest gifts of my life.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2005
This is the Good Witch...at least that's what I told the kids today at school. They seemed to believe me. Now I'd like to hear George W. Bush tell us that his nomination of 3rd Circuit Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's place on the U.S. Supreme Court was just a Halloween gag, because, my friends, that man--whose appointment prompted George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley to say, "There will be no one to the right of Sam Alito on this Court."--is scarier than Dracula! At least Dracula drinks blood to stay alive. From what I've read and heard of Judge Alito since this morning's announcement, he drinks blood to stay dead, dead to the rights promised Americans in our Constitution.
Let's hope the Democrats wake up and fight this disastrous nomination. A few of them have already weighed in but we're going to need ALL not just a few to stop this potential assault on our freedoms. I had a feeling if Harriet Miers dropped out, we'd wish she hadn't. Incompetent crony though she was, at least she wasn't so far to the right that she was off the radar screen, like Alito obviously is.
Of course, politically this was JUST what Bush had to do: #1, restore his good standing among his Christian Right base of supporters; and #2, try to distract the attention of Congress, the media and the American people from the mess he's made of the presidency, ie., (to name just a few), the Iraq War, the indictment and ongoing investigation of top officials in his administration, and the continuing nightmare for the victims of Katrina. It'll be interesting to see if he succeeds.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2005
My preparations for the journey to Lebanon are pretty much in place; now all I have to do is pack. But today and tomorrow I'm putting my trip on the back burner; this is the time to honor Rosa Parks, the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," who died on Monday evening, October 24, at the age of 92. Today I went to pay my respects as she lay in state in the rotunda of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History here in Detroit, the city she'd lived in and loved for 50 years. Well, we love her too.
When Rosa's body returned home to Detroit from Washington, DC at 8 PM last night (Monday), there were already 200 people waiting in line to pay their respects. By the time the museum doors opened, the line stretched a quarter mile, according to newspaper reports. And those lines did not stop throughout the night, all day today--there must have been 1000 in line (photos #1, #2 & #3) when Sharon and I got there about 12:30 PM--and I'm sure the lines will continue through tonight until the viewing ends at 5 AM tomorrow. In addition to seeing Rosa Parks--her casket was open here at home--we also saw the bus on which she'd refused to give up her seat. It was parked in front of the museum.
My old friend Inez Jenkins and I plan to attend her funeral tomorrow morning. I know it will be mobbed but we'll just get there two hours early and trust we'll get in. If it's anything like today at the museum, we disabled folks will be well taken care of.
As I said, there were about 1000 people in line when we arrived at the museum today but because I was in a scooter, Sharon and I were sent straight to the front of the line. We even had our own entrance. What surprised me were the tears that came to my eyes when I saw the large poster-size photos of Rosa immediately inside the door. By the time I saw this beautiful woman lying in her mahogany casket, I was sobbing...and I'm not usually a crier. As I've always found in the African-American community, kindness was built into the plans and a dear woman was there at my side handing me a tissue. I think what made me cry was that this was the first time I'd ever seen Rosa Parks without a smile on her face. How we will miss her.
This quiet unassuming woman changed history by staying true to herself in the face of oppressive laws and attitudes that tried to say she--and all persons of color--were "less than" their white sisters and brothers. It wasn't that she was tired and wanted to remain seated that fateful December day in 1955; it was that she was sick and tired of being treated in such unjust ways. So she--with the support of the NAACP community she'd been part of for twelve years--risked everything to confront the system that needed to be changed. But we must never forget that this was not an INDIVIDUAL decision, but rather a decision made within the context of a courageous, determined, well-prepared community. She couldn't have done it alone, for if she had, it wouldn't have birthed a movement. All those at her side must be honored too. That's what Rosa always tried to tell people who wanted to idealize her.
And now it's up to us to carry on the work, each in her or his own way...always remembering that individuals do not create change, communities do. As I read recently, the civil rights movement is over; we are now part of a worldwide struggle for HUMAN rights. The laws may be in place but how we live them is what matters. And we have a long way to go before we see each and every person, no matter where they live, what their religion or ethnicity, color of their skin or class, be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
On this day of honoring Rosa Parks, I ask to be worthy of the torch she is passing on. May I know when it is my time to stay seated or to stand up for justice. With her witness we see that change is possible if each of us does what is ours to do.
And, after Sharon and I had taken our turn viewing Rosa's body, I had the privilege of meeting two people who are doing just that--creating change by doing what is theirs to do.
I first saw this young white man and woman standing in the crowd of folks milling around the bus. What made them remarkable were the signs they wore on their shirts: they said, "Talk to me." When I asked what they meant, they simply asked how I felt being here today. After I'd shared my feelings--which were unexpectedly emotional--I asked them why they were here and how it was for them. That's when their story spilled out.
For the past year, this woman and man--Liz Barry and Bill Wetzel--have been traveling around the country on their bikes. And their reason for doing so? To LISTEN to people! They said that after 9/11, they'd started going around with these signs on them, inviting the people of their city, New York, to talk to them. All Liz and Bill did was listen. They did this for a number of years. After listening, they'd invite the people to come to Central Park on a particular date for a gathering of everyone they'd met during the year. Liz said they'd gotten tired of the anonymity of their city and had decided to do something about it.
They'd happened to be in Detroit the night Rosa Parks had died, and even though they needed to go to Toledo over the weekend, they'd returned--all by bike--for the viewing of her body at the museum and tomorrow's funeral.
Don't you think Rosa Parks would have LOVED them?!
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2005
I'm like the little girl who cries "Wolf!" So often have I called an experience "extraordinary" that when that adjective REALLY fits, I don't have any words left to use.
How can I do justice to what I saw, heard, felt and was part of at Rosa Parks' funeral today? Will you belive me when I say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience? When I say that I will never be the same again? When I say that when I look back on my life, this day will be somewere very near the top?
I'm now so tired that I'm not going to try to tell you about it in any detail--that will have to wait for another day--but I do want to give you a few snapshot images to hold onto.
When my friend Inez and I got to Telegraph and Seven Mile Rd. in Detroit at 8:30 AM this morning--the funeral was to begin at 11 AM--the street was blocked off by dozens of police and the line to get into the Greater Grace Temple was a mile long and four persons deep. Inez is 80, has bad arthritis, uses a cane and would not have been able to stand in that line. So we walk/scooted (slowly) the mile to the church, and because of a kind minister named Sandra--who had been waiting there all night--Inez and I were let into line near the front door. Most of the folks around us had been there since midnight! And the first man in line had come all the way from Hawaii.
When they opened the doors at 9:30 AM, Inez and I were among the first ones in. We followed the crowd into the largest worship space I've ever seen in my life--4000 seats--and set ourselves up in the front row of the disabled section. Next to us was Larry, a Detroit photographer whom I've seen for years at Detroit's many free music festivals but had never before met. We hit it off immediately. Soon we were joined by Dorothy, a beautiful spirit whose body has many challenges, among them needing oxygen, being on dialysis and using a walker. But that hadn't kept Dorothy and her daughter from leaving their home in Pittsburgh last night at 11 PM, driving through the night to Detroit, arriving at the church by 6 AM, and standing in line for three and a half hours before having been let in. Dorothy said she'd met the man from Hawaii, a woman from Denver and another woman from Portland, Oregon while waiting in the line.
The main sanctuary's 4000 seats were quickly filled...and this doesn't even count the extra chairs they set up in the aisles and the 300 dignitaries and choir members seated on the altar. They'd also put 1000 chairs with a closed circuit TV screen in the community hall, and these were soon filled as well. That left 100s of adults and children waiting outside and on the route to the cemetery who wanted to pay their respects as the horse-drawn caisson carrying Mother Parks' coffin would pass by after the funeral. They waited over seven and a half hours!
The service started at 11 AM and was not over until 6:30 PM, at which time the family and close friends still had to go to Woodlawn Cemetery to bury their beloved auntie, cousin and friend. After Inez and I had had a delicious dinner in a Ferndale restaurant, we tried to take Woodward Avenue back to Inez's home near West Grand Blvd. and 14th Street, only to find that Woodward Avenue--Detroit's main street--was closed because the burial was still going on at the cemetery. This was 9 PM! I can't begin to imagine how exhausted Rosa's friends and family members must be. Not only had they had a HUGE day today, but many of them had also traveled with Rosa's body to Montgomery, Alabama and Washington, DC where there were days of viewing and memorial services in both cities. And I think I'm tired!
I'm going to wait until tomorrow to tell you who was at today's "homecoming" (funeral) and what they said and/or sang. But let me end tonight's entry with Jesse Jackson's admonition that if we were there for a sentimental funeral service, we should have stayed home. This, he said in forceful terms, was a "Freedom Rally" and if it weren't "we'd be desecrating the memory of Mother Parks, the freedom fighter!" Well, my friends, there was NOTHING sentimental about this funeral. My friend Larry called it the Rosa Parks Revolution Day, and he's right. Anyone who was not changed would have had to be much deader than Rosa!
The New York Times November 3rd edition has photos and an article, "In Detroit, a Day to Honor Rosa Parks and Rest From a Bitter Election" that you might find interesting.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2005
I literally pinched myself (Ouch!) in the night to see if I was dreaming yesterday's mountaintop experience at Rosa Parks' funeral. I still can't believe it.
How have I, a white woman whose southern ancesters owned slaves, managed to find myself not only accepted but often loved like a sister by descendents of the very people my people treated so cruelly and unjustly? And it isn't just my ancesters either; I still have extended relatives in the south whom I understand use the "n" word and think nothing of it. I've not heard it myself but the daughter of one of my cousins told me her Dad is like that.
I myself was part of the oppression--not by choice, but nonetheless--by being raised from the age of six months to two years (1942-44) by a black woman we called "Mammy." When I think of her, as I often have of late, I cringe at the realization that I don't even know her last name--her given name was Fanny--or if she had children of her own that she had had to leave in order to come north to Virginia to raise me and my older sister. This is my shame. But, paradoxically, it is a shame mixed with gratitude, for I can never think of this dark-skinned woman with her bandana-wrapped head without recalling the love that she lavished on me, much more love than my own mother was capable of giving. I can't help but think it is because of her that I grew up to feel more at home in the black community than the white, and to be a natural gospel singer without knowing why.
So when the magnificent gospel choir yesterday sang of healing, I felt it in my cells, bones and being. It was as if Mother Parks herself were holding me, forgiving and healing me. I wonder how many of the 4000 people in that huge room, the 1000 who were watching it on closed circuit TV in the church community hall, and the 100s more who waited outside the church and on the route to the cemetery until after 7:30 PM that night also experienced her healing, forgiveness and love? I sensed Rosa was busier in death than she'd been in life, and that's really saying something!
Her hand also was seen in what came out of the mouths of our federal elected officials, two planeloads of whom had traveled to Greater Grace Temple on Detroit's northwest side from their positions of power in the U.S. Congress. Former President Bill Clinton, his wife NY Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, the sole African-American U.S. Senator, Barack Obama, Congressional Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, Detroit area Congresspersons John Conyers, Jr. (a former employer and close friend of Rosa Parks), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and John Dingell each spoke directly from the heart and with such profound reverence for Rosa Parks' contribution to our world that my political cynicism was replaced by a more balanced view of the humanity of these people. Another healing.
I also underwent a change of attitude towards religion, its place in people's lives and the power of those who truly live its creeds. Rosa Parks was such a person but so were some of the women and men who preached at this celebration of the triumph of life over death. They even had me screaming and waving my hands overhead at different times during those seven and a half hours...especially the Rev. Charles Adams, pastor of Hartford Memorial Church in Detroit, whose preaching/prayer/call to action also had the usually-sedate Jesse Jackson on his feet, bouncing around, grinning and nodding his head energetically. This was church at its best!
I'd say the theme of the day was don't stop now, don't eulogize Mother Parks in words without commemorating her life in action. As the Rev. Al Sharpton, another empassioned preacher, cried, "You need to make a Rosa resolution to correct what you see." An idea came into my head that has been cropping up regularly of late. I intend to pursue it when I return home from Lebanon. By the way, it is not a work I want to do, but know I NEED to do. That, for me, is often the sign that I'm on the right track.
I'd like to close this reflection by sharing the following article that appeared in today's Detroit Free Press:
What they said
By Joe Swickard
Published in the Detroit Free Press, Thursday, November 3, 2005
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois:
"The woman we honored today held no public office, she wasn't a wealthy woman, didn't appear in the society pages. And yet when the history of this country is written, it is this small, quiet woman whose name will be remembered long after the names of senators and presidents have been forgotten."
Former President Bill Clinton:
"Let us never forget in that simple act and a lifetime of grace and dignity she showed us every single day what it means to be free."
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan:
"It is a sweet victory that the actual bus on which Rosa Parks made her stand is now in Dearborn. ... In Rosa Parks, God made a powerful tool to work his will."
Robert Ficano, Wayne County Executive:
"When you met Rosa Parks, you knew you were in the presence of a woman who stopped America in her tracks."
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan:
"Yes, Mrs. Parks became Mother Parks, but she didn't just give birth and leave the baby. She nurtured the baby the rest of her life."
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick:
"Thank you for sacrificing for us. Thank you for praying when we were too cool and too cute to pray for ourselves. ... Thank you for allowing us to step on your mighty shoulders."
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm:
"Her greatness lay in doing what everybody could do but doesn't. She was unexpected. She was untitled ... an improbable warrior that was leading an unlikely army of waitresses and street sweepers and shopkeepers and auto mechanics."
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York:
"We all need to remember we all can have our own Rosa Parks moments. ... Those quiet Rosa Parks moments will ripple out from each of us and change the world."
Rev. Bernice King, speaking for her mother, Coretta Scott King:
"She sparked a prairie fire that still burns. ... A beautiful example of the power of one."
Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam:
"My sister and the mother of this movement sat down that we might stand. ... Her spirit was a spirit of defiance against an unjust law and unjust social system."
Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader:
"You need to make a Rosa resolution to correct what you see."
Rev. Charles Adams, pastor of Hartford Memorial Church in Detroit:
"She moved the entire universe closer to love and peace. ... Do, Lord, put her mountain of courage on our shoulders."
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts:
"The life of Rosa Parks demands deeds not epitaphs."
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit:
"Take your souls to the polls."
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn:
"Betsy Ross ... she put together the flag. ... Rosa Parks lent meaning to that flag."
Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas:
"I wish to God that we would get together while people live ... write more checks and make less speeches."
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., congressional minority leader:
"We will have a statue of Rosa Parks in the Capitol of the United States, and you're all invited to the ceremony. All we have to do is get it done."
Bruce Gordon, president of the NAACP:
"I believe Rosa Parks still lives."
Dr. Johnnie Carr, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and schoolmate of Rosa Parks:
"As many things started in many places, there is nothing started like the fire Rosa Parks started. ... A woman sat down and the world turned around. ... If Rosa Parks is looking down from the balcony of glory, she'd say, 'Don't stop now, there's still work to be done.' "
Aretha Franklin, who sang during the funeral:
"Say amen, somebody."
Thomas Gottschalk, executive vice president of General Motors Corporation:
"Rosa Parks made the world stop and consider injustice."
Marc Morial, president of National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor:
"We must tell her story over and over and over again, so that every child will understand that a simple act can change history."
Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference:
"Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard such greatness merged with such humility."
36th District Judge Adam Shakoor of Detroit:
"Her actions for the betterment of society continued throughout the remainder of her life."
Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader:
"Rosa Parks, our morning star ... when it's real dark, a little light will do you."
Bill Ford, chairman and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company:
"By refusing to move, she moved the world."
To read the articles, columns and see the photos and videos that made up today's 8-page section on Rosa Parks that appeared in the Detroit Free Press, click on "Mother Parks, take your rest."
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2005
In a few minutes Ed will return home from playing tennis and I've agreed to accompany him to the party that follows. I don't usually do this, but I just want to be with him since our time together is precious. I leave for Lebanon on Tuesday and will be gone for two weeks.
Except for a good hard workout with Matt at the gym yesterday--my last one before the trip--and the hour-long massage (marvelous) with Jo that followed, I've been totally focused on last-minute preparations and packing. Among the preparations was time spent with Donte, my Apple techie, installing much-needed additional memory to my iBook, an Airport Card (so I can use wireless internet at internet cafes & the airports) and Power Point (so I can make presentations of the photos I take in Lebanon). I'm taking my iBook so I can keep up with my photos and journal entries, but am not promising that I'll be able to post anything while I'm away. If I can, I will, but that is very uncertain.
My clothes are already packed in one medium-sized soft-sided suitcase and I intend to carry my iBook, electrical transformer & scooter charger in the backpack that fits on the back of my scooter seat. I will also need to carry my fold-up walker. The suitcase and scooter will be checked through baggage, and I'll use the walker to get on the plane, and to the washroom onboard. I plan to carry my backpack onboard. It will also have my books and a battery-operated CD player. I've bought an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask and earplugs for sleeping on the plane. I've also rented a global cell phone so I can stay in close touch with my sweetie. SO many details to work out!
Ed's home now so I need to go.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2005
I'm going to be a pretty boring journal-writer until I leave on Tuesday. As you can imagine, all my attention is devoted to preparing for my upcoming journey to Lebanon. Monday (tomorrow) night will be my last entry until I return home on Tuesday, November 22...that is, unless I find access to the internet on my trip. I hope I will but I'm not counting on it.
In an hour our niece Carolyn from New Jersey is coming over to visit and spend the night, so I want to put up today's entry early. I'm now off to finish some more packing.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2005
Well, my friends, it's time for me to say "So long"...for now anyway. Tomorrow I'm off on what promises to be the adventure of my life. A solitary journey from Detroit to London, an overnight stay in London, then on to Beirut, Lebanon where I'm scheduled to arrive at 9 PM (Lebanese Time) on Thursday, November 10. I'm visiting my dear friends--more like family--Rabih Haddad, Sulaima Al-Rushaid and their five children. I'll be staying with them until Monday, November 21, when I'll retrace my steps, including another overnight in London. I arrive home in Detroit at 4:30 PM EST on Tuesday, November 22.
I'm not going to belabor the point, but I hope this adventure I'm undertaking will encourage other folks who consider themselves challenged in any way to "reach for the moon." I truly believe we can do whatever we know is ours to do. For some it might be a journey, but for others it might be as simple as planting a garden, taking a class, joining an organization, or even venturing out of your home and going downtown. Don't let fear stop you from exploring this rich, wondrous world in which we live. Each moment is too precious.
I'm taking both my digital camera and my iBook so you can expect detailed journal entries and lots of photos when I return. As I've said before, if I find access to the internet, I'll try to post something while I'm there, but please don't count on it. I plan to go with the flow and let the Universe present me with experiences for which I wouldn't even know enough to ask. May I leave all my agendas behind and receive the gifts of each moment.
If you want to follow me interactively, you can go to the web site for the Lancaster Hall Hotel where I'll be staying for my two overnights in London. My dear friend Jeff Golden in California recommended it, and it seems like the perfect place to stay--wheelchair accessible and only four blocks from the Paddington Station where the Heathrow Express train will let me off from the airport. I'm even going to have the delightful opportunity to get together with Marianne Barlow, a wonderful woman I've gotten to know at several of the WoMaMu music camps I've attended in Northern California.
And then Lebanon! Every single solitary child and adult I've ever met who has visited, lived in or been born in that country they call the Switzerland of the Middle East, ADORES it. And I anticipate feeling exactly the same way. Imagine...sunsets over the Mediterranean Sea (that I will see from Rabih and Sulaima's apartment balcony), mountains less than an hour away, the extremely cosmopolitan city of Beirut, places of history so ancient I can't even imagine them, and, in my humble opinion, the best food on the planet. If you want to follow the weather I'll be encountering in Beirut, simply click here.
But I'd say, for me, the most heartwarming part of this trip is the opportunity to FINALLY meet the man I call my brother. If you recall, Rabih and I have only known one another through letters and phone calls. I never even saw him at the one immigration court hearing where they finally allowed him to be present. There were too few seats available and too many people who needed/wanted/deserved to be in that room, so I waited downstairs and offered what support I could to Rabih's brothers, Sulaima and the children. I do remember having a nice long talk that particular day with Sami, their eldest son who was then 10. That was when I discovered that he adores history and is a regular encyclopedia of information. This helped Ed and me choose what gift to bring him.
Speaking of gifts makes me think of my baggage. I'd intended to bring only one medium-sized bag, but when I'd packed my major gifts to the family and my clothes, I saw I'd need another bag. For what, you ask? Diapers and candy! That is all I have in my second suitcase. Granted, it's pretty small, but it's packed to the gills. When I'd asked the kids what they'd like from the U.S., American candy was the hands-down winner. In particular, Jolly Ranchers and Peanut M&Ms. With my trip coming after Halloween, I was able to buy large bags of these and other candies 50% off. So here I go, taking Halloween to Beirut!
Well, it's after 11 PM and it's time for me to go to bed. Soon I'm going to be in countries where my Eastern Time Zone inner clock will be turned upside down, so I'd do well to go to bed earlier rather than later. Fortunately, tomorrow's flight doesn't leave until 6:30 PM EST. But they want me there three hours early so they can deal with my scooter. And my dear sweet husband has offered to sit and wait with me at the airport until I have to go through security. How I love that man.
Take care and we'll be back in touch in a couple of weeks.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2005
High above the Atlantic Ocean on a British Airways 777 sometime in the early morning hours UK time...
Now I know what it's like to be rich. Well, maybe not so much rich as pampered. Of course, I know that already. My Eddie spoils me rotten. But this is different. This means having people at your beck and call, simply wanting to make everything easy, safe and comfortable for you. This was not what I'd expected, but that was what I meant when I wrote yesterday about allowing the Universe to gift me in whatever unexpectedly wonderful ways it wanted on this journey.
The magic began when Ed and I went to the British Airways desk to check in. We were feeling a little unsettled because I'd taken us to the wrong terminal. That's what comes of making assumptions. You're flying out of the country so you go to the International Terminal, right? Not necessarily. After parking in the short-term lot, and schlepping my stuff into the Berry Terminal we discovered that British Airways was in the McNamara Terminal not the Berry. Luckily we'd allowed plenty of time so it wasn't a big deal, just a little unsettling, as I said.
But if we'd gone directly to the McNamara Terminal in the first place, would Mary Wilson and Mariam have been there to ease our way? More than that...Mary Wilson, who is obviously a big honcho at British Airways, came out from behind the counter to compliment my scooter, my handknit Equadoran poncho, and finally my Michigan Womyn's Music Festival tie-dye socks. She then proceeded to change my life.
"Let's move you to Club Class. I can get you a seat right by the washroom." I didn't know what "Club Class" meant, but I certainly did know what being close to a washroom meant. Seating had been one of my concerns, especially in relation to being close to the WC.
Mariam, who processed my e-ticket and checked my bags, was most interested to hear I was going to Lebanon. Her parents were born there and, coincidentally, her nephews went to the school where I help out in East Dearborn.
I felt very well taken care of and I hadn't even gotten on the plane yet! And my sweetie stayed by my side until it was time for me to go through security and go to the gate. That was a great comfort.
We did have a little anxiety as we waited and waited for a wheelchair to come for me, but Chris finally showed up. And he too was a delight.
My next, most scary, moment came as I was undergoing the pat-down by a very nice woman in security. The fellow who had taken my backpack to examine it, came back with the bad news that I wasn't allowed to bring an electrical transformer--what I need to charge my scooter in London and Beirut--in my carry-on luggage. I'd seen nothing about this in all my research so was taken aback. And especially so when he said I'd have to go back to the British Airways desk and check my transformer. Not only did I have no box or bag in which to put it, but this would mean having to go through security all over again. Time was a definite consideration.
When I shared my concerns with him, this young man replied, "Wait here. Let me see what I can do." Within five minutes he was back with the extremely welcome news that I could go ahead. Whew! Thank you, Adnan.
Once we got to the gate, my chair-pusher Chris and I only had to wait ten minutes before it was time for me to pre-board. At the door to the plane I had the unhappy surprise of seeing a huge step I'd have to take to get onboard. No way could I manage it. But that didn't phase the flight attendants who greeted me at the door. They got the aisle chair--a small wheelchair that can be used in the narrow aisles of a plane--and lifted me up into the plane.
Well, the Universe was not done giving gifts this day. Roberto, the captain of the flight attendants, wheeled me into the galley and asked if I'd mind waiting a few minutes; he wanted to try to get me a better seat, one that was even closer to the washroom. And he did.
That’s why I'm sitting in this particular seat right now, working at my laptop that Jill so graciously got down from the overhead compartment where my backpack was stored. This is after having had a delicious gourmet dinner with one of the best salads I've ever put in my mouth, and a parmesian pasta that was so rich I could only eat a little bit. If I were a drinker, I would have loved this Club Class because all drinksincluding champagneare complimentary. And they'll be serving a continental breakfast an hour an half before we land in London at 6:30 AM.
But food and drink aside, it's the attendants who make this journey so pleasant. I've never encountered such kind, considerate, helpful attendants in my life. They can't do enough to help me. Thank you Roberto, Jill, Mark and Jason.
OK, now I've got to tell you about this seat. Maybe you've seen something like it, but not I. It is shaped like an S lying on its side, so the two people who would normally be seated shoulder-to-shoulder, instead are beside one another, one looking forward and the other, back. And, at the touch of a button, the seats lower to become a flat bed. This is not to mention your own private TV with a choice of seven first-run movies, and audio channels playing whatever music you might enjoy. Like WOW!
As I said earlier, I don't know what time it is, but I'm beginning to think it's time for a little shut-eye. Everyone else in this class has been asleep for hours, and I tried but my legs kept twitching. So I stood up for awhile, and have now been writing this journal entry. But it's time. Sleep is calling.
I'll check in again when I can. So far so GREAT!
Sitting at the table in my hotel room in London after a VERY full day...
It's only 8:15 PM London Time and my body says it's very very sleepy. But I'm going to try to stay awake another hour so I can go to bed more on London Time. Beirut is still two hours ahead of London but I know from experience (Detroit to San Francisco and back) that the best way to fight jet lag is to stay awake the first day/night and try to recalibrate your inner clock as soon as possible.
When I'd finished the journal entry on the plane, I discovered it was 5 AM London Time (midnight Detroit Time) and they were starting to serve breakfast, so I didn't try to sleep. That meant that when I got to my room here at the Lancaster Hall Hotel at 10:30 AM, I'd been awake for over 24 hours. But a two-hour nap refreshed me enough so I could set off to explore the city.
Before I share those adventures, I'd like to acknowledge Susie and Raj at Heathrow Airport, both of whom went the extra mile (kilometer?) to make going through the Passport Check, getting my scooter--which was fine!--and checked bags from the baggage area, storing those two bags at Heathrow until I return for tomorrow's flight, getting change for the big English pound bills my bank had given me, and getting me safely settled on the Heathrow Express Train to Paddington Station, easy, pleasant and anxiety-free.
My, but I'm encountering wonderful people on this journey! Even at the mammoth, terribly-busy Paddington Station this morning at the height of rush hour. I had stopped in the middle of everything to find my hotel confirmation which was buried deep in my purse. A woman came up and asked if I needed any help; she didn't work there, she was just a commuter like most of the others. I asked if she knew where Praed Street was. She said "No, but I'll go find out for you." Before I could say "Please don't bother", she was off. In a few minutes she returned with a woman station attendant in tow. Then my unknown helper disappeared before I could properly thank her.
This sense of being taken care of continued when I arrived here at the hotel (a German-run YMCA) called the Lancaster Hall Hotel. Hamid at the desk not only let me have a free continental breakfast, but managed to have my room ready in fifteen minutes. What other hotel can you imagine letting you check in at 10:30 AM? He also came upstairs to help me open the door--I'm terrible at turning keys--and stayed to set up my laptop and the transformer so I could charge my scooter while I napped.
Anyone who worried about my being in a foreign country on my own had best put their worries to rest. No one could be better cared for than I. Thank you everyone.
Now for the story of my post-nap scooter ride.
I'd seen on the map online that my hotel was not far from Hyde Park and Kensington Park. As it turned out, I am only three blocks from the entrance to Hyde Park. What a lovely large piece of land! It has trees, still-green grass, ponds, statues and fountains. I met two men and a little girl who spoke not English but the language of love and generosity. They shared a piece of bread with me so I could feed the swans as the men were doing. Yipes! Those birds are huge and quite aggressive when they think you've got food for them.
After that adventure I kept scooting west and "happened" on Kensington Palace. There are formal gardens--which I scooted through--and it's possible to pay to look inside the palace where Princess Margaret lived until her death in 2002, and the State Apartments where Princess Diana had lived as well. But the ticket-taker told me it wouldn't be worth my while as there are many stairs with no lift, and only a few of the downstairs' rooms are open as they're preparing to mount a huge exhibition devoted to Princess Diana.
As I scooted through one of the gardens on my way to exiting the palace grounds, a woman who was walking near me remarked on how sad the rooms upstairs had looked, the rooms where Princess Margaret had lived her life. Well, we were soon engaged in such an interesting conversation that I suggested we find a place to have a cup of tea.
Talk about kindred souls! Bett and I could have sat at that pub--the only place we could find that didn't have at least one step up into the entrance--sipping our cuppas and talking about our lives, views, adventures, feelings, beliefs, world events, family, etc. until who-knows-when if I hadn't needed to get back to my hotel for my supper date with Marianne Barlow, my WoMaMu buddy from California.
And you think I'm adventuresome! Bett left her home near Melbourne, Australia--a B&B she and her husband ran until his death five years ago--six weeks ago, with one overnight bag, a few tour reservations around various parts of Europe and the UK, and the willingness to just let things happen. And, of course, they have. She had wonderful stories to tell, and was a great listener as well. She especially wanted to hear my opinions about what is going on with George W. Bush with whom, she's ashamed to say, her Aussie Prime Minister is "in bed." Our views about religion, politics and life in general could not have been more similar...and we're four months apart in age!
After that lovely encounter, I came back to the hotel for yet another. Marianne, whom I have loved since I first met her at least seven years ago, is an amazing woman. A gifted singer/songwriter, she sang and played (on her guitar) her latest songs with me here in my room after we'd shared a "take-away" East Indian dinner. She teaches grade one here in London which, believe it or not, is composed of 30 youngsters who had turned 5 in August or before. I can't imagine! Our time together was rich but short as Marianne had to get to a singing group by 8 PM.
Well, I've done it! It's now 9:20 PM and I can go to bed. Tomorrow is going to be quite a day, the day I will first see my brother Rabih and again be with my beloved Sana, Sami and Rami. Of course I can't forget little Ibrahim.
By the way, I had a wonderful phone conversation with my Eddie this morning. We sounded like we were next door. Let's hear it for World Roam cell phones!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2005
Maybe 2:30 PM London Time, waiting for the BMED (British Mediterranean) plane to take off from London to Beirut...
I DO NOT LIKE BEING AT THE MERCY OF OTHER PEOPLE!!!!
Here I'd gotten to the airport (Heathrow) 3 hours ahead of time so there'd be no snafus. And all went well at the start. Yvonne, my wheelchair pusher, was a wonderful helper as I retrieved my bags from "Left Luggage" where I'd stowed them overnight, checked in and left my scooter and bags at the BMED counter, got through security with little hassle, bought an egg salad sandwich and a bottle of apple juice at a cafe, took me to a wheelchair-accessible WC (water closet or toilet to us Americans), and got me set up in what they call the "Serenity Lounge" where unassisted children and any soliary travelers who need special assistance are supposed to wait.
And it was serene, that is until I heard the woman in charge say to me in passing, "And yes, you're on your way to Copenhagen, aren't you." "No," I said with a sense of panic, "I'm going to Beirut!" Flustered, she just said, "Oh, someone must have written your name in the wrong slot."
It was then that I began to wonder just how "serene" this lounge really was. Yvonne had assured me they would take care of everything--they had my boarding pass, would get a wheelchair in plenty of time to get me to the gate; I could just sit back and relax. At least that's what Yvonne had said. But if they'd thought I was going to Copenhagen instead of Beirut? Hmmmm...
So I'm having an excellent discussion about the horrors of the Iraq War and the Bush administration with an English-born woman who has lived in Wellesley, MA for decades, when I had a call of nature. Oh yes, I'd just asked her what time it was and she'd answered, "1:30 PM." My plane was to leave at 2:15 PM. My new friend said, "Oh, they'll be picking you up soon now."
As I was being wheeled to the WC, I heard over the PA that my flight to Beirut was starting to board. What happened after that, I don't even want to write about. The excuse, repeated ad infinitum, that "We're at the mercy of the wheelchair people. Don't worry, we'll get you on your flight." did little to comfort me, especially when I saw 3 empty wheelchairs wheeled away while I waited. The woman in charge just kept saying, "We have to wait for the chair assigned to you."
When I'm on my own, I get to the gate at least an hour before departure. I despise feeling rushed. Besides, wheelchair travelers are supposed to pre-board. So here I am, listening to the second PA announcement about my flight to Beirut, this one informing all passengers to report to the gate for the final boarding. I'm so frustrated I almost cry. But instead I just keep hammering at the woman in charge, begging her to bend the rules, to do whatever she can to get me to my gate. She just keeps assuring me everything's going to be all right. Talk about a living nightmare!
By the time the wheelchair pusher assigned to me finally appears, I'm in such a state I can't even answer his inane attempts to make conversation. I had to say, "I'm sorry but I'm too upset to talk." I see a clock on the way to the gate. It's 1:56 PM, less than 20 minutes to take off.
When we finally get there, the person taking the boarding passes smiles and says, "Here she is!"
From then on everything went smoothly. The flight attendants were kind and helpful, which I appreciated because I was going to need special help getting to the WC during the flight. Since my seat was five rows away from the WC, I'd have to ask them to push me there in the aisle chair (a small wheeled chair narrow enough to get through the aisles) every time I'd have a call of nature. And knowing me, that would surely be more than once.
But I was still so upset by all that had transpired that I was having trouble getting in the peaceful frame of mind I'd hoped to be in as I prepared to see my dear friends in Beirut. That's why I'm writing this--to get it out so I can leave it behind.
Begone anxiety and upsetness. Come in peace and calm. Breathe in, breathe out. All shall be well. All is as it is to be. Life is good. And I am on my way to Rabih, Sulaima, Sana, Sami, Rami, Oussama and Ibrahim. Yes, I am blessed.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2005
I was too excited to sleep. But I'm glad because it meant I heard the call to dawn prayers wafting on the breeze. A man's voice singing over a loudspeaker. Hauntingly beautiful. Rabih had said last night he'd definitely be going this morning because he needed to get his shoes back. Someone had taken his by mistake at dawn prayers yesterday. If he did go, he certainly was quiet. I didn't hear a thing even though I think I was awake.
It was very emotional seeing Rabih and Sulaima at the airport last night. And quite touching to hear Sulaima say as she hugged me, "I'm hugging you for Rabih too." I'd wondered about that, but Rabih and I had never talked about it. Apparently he was reluctant to mention it ahead of time for fear it might put a damper on our meeting. But I understood. As Rabih explained when we were having a late dinner last night, Muslim men can only touch their wives and female members of their immediate family.
He looks as I'd expected, only more distinguished. I was surpised to see him dressed in a windbreaker and jeans. When Ann Mullen had come to Beirut to interview Rabih for an article in the Detroit Metro Times, all her photos had shown him in his white Muslim robe. Actually that's what he changed into as soon as we got home from the airport.
I was greeted at the door by a hand-colored banner that said, "Welcome Aunt Patricia." I certainly did feel welcome...especially when 15 year-old Sana and 11 year-old Rami opened the door and greeted me with big hugs and kisses. Even 17 month-old Ibrahim was there, grinning and running around. Their child of freedom. Sami, 13, and Oussama, 7 1/2, had tried to stay up--I got in at 10:30 PM--but didn't quite make it.
Actually I'd expected the boys to be up by now--it's 8 AM--but I'm the only one stirring. I think I'll go back to bed now for a little more shut-eye.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2005
On Rabih and Sulaima's balcony in the morning...
The sounds and sight of a plane--white with blue accents--rising to the south in front of me. Traffic sounds on the highway below. The blue sea stretching from side-to-side just beyond the highway. A car alarm going off nearby. Rippling calm water with the horizon only a few shades lighter. Knowing this very highway would take me into Palestine in two hours time. Colorful laundry strung on clotheslines on the top of the highrise apartment building next door. Ivory-colored apartment buildings as far as the eye can see, what Rabih calls a "concrete jungle." All with balconies, but some balconies filled with plants and chairs, clotheslines and children's toys...others completely curtained for privacy. The white light here, warm sun on my bare arm. The gift of these Indian Summer days and mild nights. The abandoned Syrian army bunker between the two highways. The Beirut skyline peeking from between two apartment buildings to my right. First Sulaima and then Sana coming to the open sliding-glass door onto the balcony and asking if I would like juice or if I need anything. Seventeen-month-old Ibrahim ("Braheem" for short) toddling out to say "Hi", fresh and clean from his bath. Feeling fresh and clean myself after a most welcome shower. Braheem coming outside holding in two hands a tin can with his beloved popcorn in it. Holding out some popcorns to me and putting them gently in my mouth...twice. Then smiling as I make up and sing a popcorn song to him. He turns and drops the can on the white marble balcony floor and kneels down to try to pick up his spilled treasure. Mommy comes out to the rescue with her broom and after sweeping it up, they go back inside. But I can still hear his happy voice from inside the open door. Feeling so at home. Knowing I truly am with family. Loving each of these wonderfully unique individuals for who they are, needing no more in life than to be where and who I am at this moment. Being overcome by gratitude.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2005
On the sunny warm balcony overlooking the placid blue Mediterranean...
Will I ever believe that I, Patricia Lay-Dorsey, am really here in Lebanon? Not simply in Lebanon either, but staying with a family who has welcomed me as one of their own. What I'm experiencing is so different from visiting Beirut--or any country--as a tourist.
The noon call to prayer (Adhan) has begun. A rich deep voice chants over a loudspeaker from the nearby mosque, transforming even the traffic sounds into something sacred. Five times a day starting before dawn (around 4:30 AM) and ending about 6:30 PM at night, you hear this hauntingly beautiful sound wherever you go in Lebanon. And the people stop whatever they're doing and either go to the mosque as Rabih usually does, or pray where they are as does Sulaima. The three eldest boys sometimes accompany Rabih and other times stay home and pray with their mother. Since they go to an Islamic school, I'm sure they pray there. Believe me, I am seeing from the inside that being a follower of the Prophet Mohammed is a total commitment. It makes me feel the practice of Christianity, even the evangelical arm of the religion with its Wednesday night prayer meetings and all-day Sunday services, seem mild in comparison. This is as strenuous and time-consuming as being a monk or a cloistered nun...more so because you're also expected to make a living, raise children, go to school, and attend to the needs of your extended family and community at the same time. Religion is truly the fabric of your life. Yet I have not heard a word of religious proselytizing from any member of the family. They accept me as I am, a non-religious person who has found her own spiritual path.
We had a wonderful weekend with lots of laid-back family time and a special excursion each day.
After the boys got home from school on Saturday--their Islamic school takes Fridays off because that is the most holy day of the week.
--Mirvette, Sulaima's American friend, just came by for a brief visit. What a gift that Sulaima met Sandy who then introduced her to her circle of American women friends. They all understand the special challenges women face when they move from America to Lebanon. Life in each country is quite different.--
To continue my narrative...
Sana goes to an American high school that has Saturday and Sunday off, and Rabih goes to his office (about three blocks away) every day except Sunday. That is the only day that everyone is home, so it is their family day.
But getting back to Saturday, Sana, who is 15 going on 16, had a date with a school friend who lives in Beirut. Since we are 15 minutes south of the city via expressway, her father needed to drive her there. I was invited along so I could see the city. Sulaima and 17 month-old Ibrahim came too. To make it less onerous for Rabih, I used my walker instead of my scooter. That also gave me some exercise going from the apartment, down the elevator and to the car. It was good to get back on my feet again. Of course I took my camera.
What an adventure! I'd been forewarned about the crazy drivers in Beirut, but on the expressway going into town they didn't seem any crazier than Detroit drivers on our expressways--fast, aggressively changing lanes, obviously trying to get where they were going as quickly as possible. But once we got into the bowels of the city, in the actual neighborhoods where people live, then I saw what they'd meant!
First of all, the streets were so narrow that barely one car could fit. And then there were so many people on the sidewalks, not to mention the cars that were parked ON not beside the sidewalks, that people had to walk in the streets. LOTS of people. Everything in this city of one million people is built UP, so seeing the sun, at least in this part of town, is next to impossible, which made visibility quite iffy. Beirut drivers use their horns like we use turn signals. It's a special form of communication. Of course when you're driving down incredibly narrow streets with hairpin turns, no traffic lights, few stop signs and pedestrians walking in the street, I guess your horn is a form of self- and other-preservation. As I say, this was quite an adventure...but an adventure Rabih not only took in stride but seemed to relish. I now see why Sulaima and Sana are not interested in driving in Lebanon.
We parked--up on the sidewalk like everyone else--on a narrow (they ALL were) street and, thanks to the ever-present cell phone, Rabih was able to tell Sana's friend that we were downstairs. Within minutes, Sana saw her at the corner, opened our car door very carefully, promised to be careful and took off into the crowd. We then made our way back to the main street and headed north toward downtown Beirut. Rabih wanted to take me on a tour of the city.
Words are hard to come by to describe all I saw and felt as Rabih negotiated traffic jams, rude drivers and unexpected barricades. Hopefully my photos will give you some sense of it all.
We passed by the modern United Nations building and the metal barricades and check-point prohibiting traffic from driving near it that have been in place since the Prime Minisiter Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination on February 14, 2005. Farther along we actually passed by the place where he is buried and the St. Georges Hotel where the suicide bomber blew up and killed the Prime Minister and nineteen of his aides and security guards on that tragic day. Much of the rubble is still uncleared and the yellow crime tape still surrounds the site. After I took my photograph, Rabih sped up saying, "The police didn't like that. They started rushing towards our car; I'm sure they got our license plate number." That didn't make me very comfortable but it didn't seem to bother Rabih at all. I guess after what he lived through in the United States, nothing about the police phases him anymore.
In the middle of downtown--which is elegant and cosmopolitan with broad boulevards--we saw a stage being put up and wondered what was going on. The sidewalks were also lined with metal barricades. Sulaima figured it out. The next day was the Beirut marathon and the city was preparing for it.
As I'd been told by many people back in the States, Beirut has the strange juxtaposition of beautiful buildings--old and new--and buildings riddled with bullet holes and bombed-out sections. Reminders of this country's 17 year-long civil war. I gather before the war, Beirut was known as the "Paris of the Middle East." To my eyes, it is still lovely.
Churches and mosques are everywhere, evidence of Lebanon's long history of religious tolerance and diversity. Some mosques are huge and others--like this 600 year old mosque--remain almost hidden. One mosque I found particularly attractive ended up being where Rabih stopped to pray after we'd heard the sunset call to prayer. While parked, I was able to take some photos I particularly like.
After prayer, we continued our tour, now following the shore of the Mediterranean Sea where people were strolling beside the sandy beach. We went by blocks and blocks and blocks of the American University on our left, the new lighthouse (that I couldn't photograph because the flash was reflecting in the front window), and the ferris wheel at Luna Park, a favorite of the Lebanese children I know from school. As we turned the bend in the road, the buildings and neighborhoods got more and more sumptuous, Soon we were in the true "high rent" district of Beirut. There were elegant apartment houses, fancy hotels--like the Sheraton where I could see American-looking folks standing outside--restaurants, shoppes, and all the things wealthy people seem to favor. This was when I felt so deeply grateful that I wasn't a tourist in Beirut. If this was all I saw of the city, I would have no idea who really lived here and what their lives were like. Such a privileged position I have here, and how grateful I am to Rabih, Sulaima and the kids for allowing me to enter their lives so intimately. How did I ever become so fortunate?
The sun had just set over the sea and to our right the sky was a rich orange hue. We passed by the beach called White Sands where people love to swim. I bet this was the beach the kids at school were telling me about. Directly across from us--here the land was carved into a half-moon shape--we could see the glistening lights of the city, and farther south were the brighter yellow lights framing the runways at Beirut International Airport, just minutes from where we live. I felt like a princess in a fairy tale.
After I'd returned home and we'd had another in a never-ending parade of delicious meals, I started working with the 80 photos I'd taken on our tour; at my side was Rami, their 11 year-old son. He really got into it, and became quite proficient at knowing the process I was using. In fact, Rami quickly became my resizing expert. He had an eye for exactly what percentage to make my photos, even after I'd cropped them. After we'd been working on this for at least an hour, he turned to me with an impish grin and said, "I'm getting addicted to this!"
The 2:20 PM call to prayer is just sounding--
When Sana had returned from her visit--Rabih and Sulaima went to pick her up--she joined me here beside my laptop and told me all about it. She and I have had wonderful opportunities for heart-to-hearts. Actually I've been able to have marvelous one-to-one conversations with each member of the family--non-verbal ones with little Ibrahim--in the three days and nights I've been here so far.
When I write that, it surprises me. Have I really only been here for three days and nights? My goodness, it feels more like a month. So much has happened and we've made such deep connections. This dear family makes me feel like one of them. In fact, I was greeted on Friday night by a hand-colored banner on the front door saying, "Welcome, Aunt Patricia!"
I've got to stop for now. I've been writing for hours and the kids will soon be home from school. By the way, it must now be close to 80 degrees F. I'm sitting at my laptop in front of an open sliding-glass door in my sunny bedroom. There is a lovely breeze and it feels like summer in Michigan. Yes, Indian Summer comes to Beirut too! How fortunate I am to be here now.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2005
Another sunny day, but for the first time there are some clouds. Maybe we'll soon see the rain that has been predicted. It doesn't bother me; I want to see Lebanon in all its faces. And I'd especially love to see the Mediterranean Sea show me how it can whip up waves. So far all I've seen is its placid face.
So where was I? Oh yes, I was going to tell you about Sunday's drive into the mountains, Mount Lebanon to be exact.
Rabih's grandfather started the first iron metal factory in the Middle East back at the turn of the last century. When he'd accumulated some money he began to buy land. Then he started buying and selling this land. Apparently he was gifted in this way. One of the places where he especially liked to buy land was up on Mount Lebanon, to the east of Beirut. There was a town he was particularly fond of called Hammana. In that town he built three houses--more like villas--that are still in the family. Rabih's father inherited one of them after his father died, and now this villa has come to Rabih, his two brothers and his mother since Rabih's father's death two years ago. Rabih, Sulaima and the children spend their summers there. On Sunday we drove up there--5000 feet above sea level--to check on how the house had fared after a weekend of storms before I'd arrived, and so I could see this place that is so dear to everyone in the family.
You know, I'm out on the balcony with my laptop operating on battery-power. In the 15-20 minutes I've been sitting here, the temperature has dropped and now the sun is obscured by clouds. It's still comfortable but I am going to go get my neck scarf and a cotton jacket. I've also just heard the fruit man's voice over his loudspeaker as his brightly-painted open-backed truck passed on the street under our building. But, just to let you know that Lebanon is not all that different from the States, before he'd passed by, I'd heard the "thump-thump-thump" of a CD rising out of an SUV. And as I look over at the expressway going into Beirut, I see the traffic slowed and a crowd of people standing next to three vehicles that obviously just had an accident. Yes, life is not all that different here. And now the sun has returned and its warmer again.
Hammana is only a 45-minute drive from Rabih and Sulaima's apartment, and we started going UP almost immediately. The drive was magnificent with views of mountains and valleys and the charming old villages we passed through on our way. But even up here was evidence of the war that had consumed this country during the 1970s and 80s. You'd see buildings with bullet holes or even sections that were completely bombed out. But for the most part, it was simply lovely.
When we reached Hammana, we first drove by Sulaima's father's villa. It was there that Rabih and Sulaima first met in the summer of 1979, he a 19 year-old young man who was on his way to Nebraska where he wanted to go to university (and his family wanted him safely out of a country at war), and she a 14 year-old daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador who had lived in India, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon and Zaire.
There is now a great sadness about this house. A top general in the Syrian army took over Sulaima's father's home and turned it into his headquarters up on Mount Lebanon. Not only did he and his men destroy much of the beauty of the building through their crude ways of living, but they also turned at least two of the bedrooms--one of them Sulaima's--into torture chambers. After the Syrian army left Lebanon in May 2005 after a 27 year-occupation, the Lebanese government restored this house to Sulaima's father. Sulaima described the tears of her and her family when they came to see the villa they had all loved. Her father has put it up for sale because it has been ruined for him and his family.
Rabih's father's villa is just blocks from Sulaima's. On our way there we passed two other homes that Rabih said are Haddad houses. They now belong to his uncles and cousins, and all exist because of his grandfather's wise decisions to purchase land in Hammana.
I was deeply moved to see my brother's beloved home. It was here that Rabih went to begin to heal from his terrible time in U.S. jails. It was this villa that he prepared for his wife and children as he awaited their being together again after more than 19 months apart. It was the garden in which I sat that had been his father's pride and joy, Rabih's dear father who had died while my brother was being held without charges, without bail in the Monroe County Jail in Michigan. One of his father's roses was still in bloom although the rose season was long past up at this high altitude. I felt it was his father greeting me with love.
The children, Sulaima and Rabih obviously adore this place...and I can see why. Although there were too many stairs for me to be able to go inside, I'd seen enough family videos of it, and Sulaima took enough pictures with my camera for me to feel I was there. But it was his father's garden that I'd most wanted to experience, the garden that his wife--Rabih's mother--told me yesterday that her husband had worked in from 5-11 AM every morning and then from 3-5 PM every afternoon...and they'd even had a gardener to help! I felt the garden was the heart of the house.
After maybe an hour and a lot of photos--even a family portrait that I like but Sami doesn't because he's too faded out by the sun--we continued our drive up the mountain. We passed a hill of cedars on which Rabih said was raised the Lebanese flag for the first time. I tried to take a picture of the flagpole with that beautiful flag flying but, alas, there was no wind so it was hanging limp against the pole. We saw terraced farm and orchard lands, and finally drove above the timber-line onto a pasture that was brown. Up here was more land that still belonged to the Haddad family.
It is now 11:25 AM and I'm hearing the call to prayer.
Up on this barren-looking land we also saw the largest bottled water plant in the Middle East. I have a bottle of Sohat water here at my side and it is delicious. Up on Mount Lebanon flow many underground natural springs. In fact, people come from Beirut--we saw several of them--to fill up large containers of water at the water stations that are seen on the side of many roads up there. We stopped and filled our large water bottle just so I could taste it. Talk about cold...and good!
We also saw the gibbous--Sami told us what it was called--moon rising over one of the sand-colored hills. Rabih took this photo and it is one of my favorites of the day. And our adventure wasn't done yet. Rabih wanted me to see the "breadbasket of Lebanon," the valley that runs between the two mountain ranges that run north and south in this country. On the other side of the far range is Syria. But first we had to make our way through a checkpoint. My first ever! Even though the Lebanese soldiers just waved us on without stopping us, I must admit it kind of freaked me out, especially since I'd forgotten to bring my passport. Rabih said with a sardonic smile that it was good I'd brought my wallet--which I had--because that can be more valuable in cases like this than a passport!
By now it was time to think about food and we decided to go to a restaurant--Valley View--in Hammana that Rabih and Sulaima love. The children were delighted because they'd never been there. Well, so was I when I saw this absolutely gorgeous restaurant overlooking Hammana with the sun almost ready to set over the nearest mountain. Wow! And talk about good food! This place did things with traditional Lebanese food that you could not imagine. Oh my gosh, forgive me if my mouth waters as I write. I am getting SO spoiled here!
On our drive back down the mountain we experienced a magical family milestone--little Ibrahim said his first word, at least the first word we could understand. And guess what it was...PIZZA! We were saying "Pizza, pizza, pizza" to him in a singsong voice and he mimicked us perfectly. Then he said, "Baba" (Daddy) and I thought Rabih was going to go off the road. What a treat to share such a moment with this family who now feel like my own.
Well, friends, I'm tired of writing...and a little hungry. Time to go raid the refrigerator.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2005
In a couple of hours it will have been one week since I arrived in Lebanon. So much has happened that it feels more like a year. And when I write that I'm not just referring to activities and sights, but to inner changes--seismic shifts--that have transformed me in ways I'm only beginning to see. For as wondrous as it is to be in a country that is so different from my own, with its unusual tastes, sounds, smells, sights and physical experiences, what is touching me most deeply is the privilege of living day-to-day as a beloved member of Rabih and Sulaima's family. Nothing could have prepared me for this. And when I go home, nothing can prepare me for how much I will miss them, each one in his and her own way.
These past two days have been full of surprises. The first came yesterday morning when Sulaima awakened me to ask if I would write a biographical blurb and a title for a presentation Rabih has arranged for me to give on Saturday afternoon at The Muntada, a center for dialogue between Christians and Muslims near the American University of Beirut downtown. We'd talked about this possibility a few days ago, but to be honest, I'd doubted it would happen, mainly because there was so little time to arrange it. But Rabih is a close friend of the director and after telling him about me and what I'd done for Rabih during his imprisonment in the States, the director said he thought it would be valuable for people to hear what I have to say. Although their schedule was quite full, he said he'd do his best to work me in. And he did.
I'm calling my presentation, "Not In My Name: An American Anti-War Activist Speaks." I sat right down and wrote it as soon as Sulaima told me it would be happening. I've now read my first draft out loud to Rabih and Sulaima, 15 year-old Sana, 13 year-old Sami and 11 year-old Rami. They all liked it very much; Sami, Rami and Sana's responses were especially gratifying. "Wow! Whew! That's amazing!", said Rami. "Awesome!", said Sami, "Did you really write that yourself?!!". Sana said, "You said JUST what the people in Lebanon need to hear!" These kids sure know how to make their Aunt Patricia feel good. To me, the most interesting part of the whole event will be the opportunity for dialogue that is being built into the program. I can't wait to hear people's comments and questions.
But Saturday isn't the only opportunity I'm encountering to enter into dialogue about world events with the people of Lebanon.
Last night, after a very successful shopping spree on Beirut's Hamra Street (Rabih's old "hood"), we went to visit his grandfather, uncle, mother and aunt. At 95 years old, Abdullah Kobersi may have lost his sight and most of his hearing, but this lawyer, poet, philosopher, author still has a sharp mind, quick wit and global consciousness. He speaks Arabic, Spanish, French and English fluently and has visited and lived all over the world. He said if he were to move to the United States, he'd want to live in Boston. I think he was there as recently as 1993.
Then today Sulaima invited her women friends to come meet me. All of them have lived at least part of their lives in the United States and she felt they'd be interested in hearing my perspective on what is happening there during the Bush era. What an interesting diiscussion we had! Not only have these women lived in America but they are true citizens of the world. One is originally from Nicaragua and another from Greece. Two of the women brought their 18-19 year-old daughters. All these women are interested in and informed about world events. Sulaima says they were surprised to meet an American who is so critical of her government. Of course we already knew they were seeing nothing about people like me on CNN, the only American news station they get here. At every opportunity I'm trying to let people know that there is strong active resistance to George W. Bush and his policies in the United States. This feels like an important part of what I can bring to Lebanon during my time here.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2005
Beirut-Rafiq al-Hariri International Airport, Gate 5, about 8:30 AM...
I wait beside a Kuwaiti woman named Anna. She is dressed in black with two gold crucifixes and one gold metal on a chain around her neck. Her grey hair is slicked tightly back in a bun. Her face with its rivers of wrinkles, is beautiful but her eyes are sad. She has wept twice so far, dabbing her eyes with a white tissue. She speaks only Arabic but has managed to tell me that two of her sons have been killed by gunshot.
When I looked on her with sympathy as she wept the first time, she pointed to her black coat and, even thought most of the women I've met in Lebanon wear black, I understood that she was in mourning. I simply laid my hand on her sleeve and she knew I understood. Then she rummaged in her well-worn black handbag and pulled out a plastic billfold container of small photographs. She showed me two pictures, each of handsome young man with dark hair and mustache perhaps in his 20s. She pointed to each picture and raised her hand to her head, cocked her thumb like it was a gun and fired. All I could do was shake my head and say I was so sorry.
This dear woman stayed beside me--even though there were lots of empty seats around us--until it was time for us to board our BMED (British Mediterranean) flight to London. I felt she did so just in case I needed any help.
This airport in Beirut is the only one that has allowed me to drive my scooter right to the door of the aircraft. All the others have made me check Ona at baggage and be transferred to an airport wheelchair, which as I know from past experience, has its challenges. It changes everything for me to be allowed to be responsible for myself and to retain my independence.
It's now 5:33 PM London time and I'm sitting in my hotel room waiting for Marianne to come for a short visit.
The journey from Beirut to London went fine, a few minor snafus but nothing serious. OK, so they disconnected my scooter batteries wrong in Beirut and stored one of them in my scooter basket. It was so heavy that it broke one of my two basket holders. Putting everything back together again at the Heathrow baggage area took the help of three people, but, hey, my scooter is running now and that's all that matters.
Traveling a quarter of the way around the world like this helps you keep things in perspective. Nothing goes exactly according to plan--sometimes better, other times worse--but if you arrive safely with your baggage intact, and for me, my scooter still running properly, you're satisfied. So far so good. Just one more leg of the journey to go--London to Detroit tomorrow.
I just called my family in Beirut and was saddened to hear that everyone except Rabih and Sana is sick! Oussama was the first to come down with something on Saturday. He felt hot to Sulaima's touch, but went with us anyway to my presentation at The Mutada in Beirut. Later he seemed to be feeling better. Then Sami and Rami started getting sick last night but we thought their symptoms--puffy eyes and trouble breathing--was due to allergic reactions to the Siamese kitten a friend of Sulaima's had brought over for a "trial period." This morning, Sami, Rami and Oussama felt bad enough that Sulaima kept them home from school. By then their heads were stuffed up like they had bad colds. On the way to the airport, Sulaima got so nauseous she looked like she might throw up. After she and Rabih got back home after seeing me off, 17 month-old Ibrahim woke up feeling hot as an oven. He started vomiting but didn't know what was happening and began to run around the living room upchucking everyplace before they could catch him. I don't know if it's merely a sympathetic reaction but I'm beginning to have a scratchy throat myself. Hey, I told you I'm part of the family!
And what a family. Imagine if you will, 13 and 11 year-old boys hugging, kissing and telling a woman who isn't even (biologically) related to them, that they love her. Frequently. And a 15 year-old girl sharing her innermost self in conversations that go in amazing directions. When all the kids would get home from school, I'd get as many hugs and kisses as their mum.
Speaking of kisses, I LOVE the way people from the Gulf countries kiss--three kisses, each on alternating cheeks. I'm bringing this back to Michigan.
And now Marianne has come and gone, and I'm feeling as though I want to go to bed. So I am. Time zones be hanged. It's 9:15 PM Beirut time, 7:15 PM London time, and 2:15 PM Detroit time. Is my inner clock going to be confused or what!
Tomorrow I see my sweetie. Yippee!!!
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2005
2 PM or thereabouts, on a British Airways plane waiting for them to remove my scooter from the hold...
This day couldn't have gone better, I was saying to myself as we taxied to the runway. I hadn't had to go to the so-called Serenity Lounge at Heathrow Airport, the place where I'd experienced the worse half hour of my entire trip--story yet to be told--on my way from London to Beirut on Thursday, November 10. I'd even been able to personally supervise the baggage handlers as they disconnected my scooter's batteries and prepared her for the flight. And to top it all off, I'd been there to see and advise the security folks as they lifted Ona onto the oversized x-ray machine for her security check. Lucia, the security chief, had developed such a relationship with my special friend that she accompanied Ona (my scooter) down to the aircraft hold herself.
Another bright spot had been the delightful wheelchair-pusher who was assigned to me. I'd waited at the British Airways check-in counter for 40 minutes for her to appear, but she was worth the wait. Besides, I figured every minute I spent at that counter was one more minute I wouldn't have to spend in the Serenity Lounge. That was a definite plus.
I can't remember the name of my wheelchair-pusher--it started with a "J"--but I do recall what she told me about her life.
She was born in Afghanistan and she and her family had escaped their country during the war against the Soviets. She was only 3 when they fled. She'd grown up in Germany and her family still lives there. Last summer she'd visited Afghanistan for the first time since they'd left. She said it was a beautiful land with all the mountains covered in wildflowers. If it weren't for the war, it would be perfect. I apologized--as I've done so many times on this trip--for what my country has done to her country. I also told her about the large and active peace movement we have here in the U.S. Everywhere I go, people are surprised and gratified to hear this. I tell everyone I meet.
It is now about 3 PM London Time and we are finally in the air. We were scheduled for a 12:45 PM departure. So what happened you ask? We were delayed by my scooter Ona, Security Threat #1!
We were on schedule and had already taxied to the runway where we were waiting for take-off. That's when the captain's voice came over the PA announcing that he'd just received word that we'd been instructed to turn around and return to the landing dock. He had not been informed why but as soon as he heard anything, he'd let us know.
I was in the WC when the announcement came through that we were returning for security reasons--there was an electric wheelchair on board that had not been properly gone over by security. I knew it must be mine. And it was.
For the next hour and a half I was visited by a flight attendant four times and the captain once. I told them about my having seen my scooter being x-rayed over an hour before we'd taken off. I even gave them the name of the woman who had supervised the x-ray, and the name of the security area where she worked. After havng relayed this information to the authorities inside the airport, the flight attendant came back to report that the x-ray hadn't been enough--there was more they should have done to make sure my wheelchair was secure.
Next came word that my scooter was to be removed and would not be traveling with us on this plane. It would be sent on to Detroit tomorrow. Did I want to stay with my scooter overnight in London, or continue on this flight and get my scooter a day late? I didn't even have to consider my answer. I want to go home today. Ona can follow tomorrow if need be.
In between all these visits, I was calling Ed on my cell phone to let him know what was happening. And the captain--who had come personally to apologize to me for the snafu--kept giving updates over the PA. One of the final ones explained that this was taking so long because the wheelchair was in a remote hold that was hard to reach.
At 2:45 PM came the announcement that we would be taking off in 5-10 minutes. At the same time the flight attendant came to tell me that my wheelchair had been returned to the aircraft and would arrive with me today in Detroit. I made my final call to Ed to tell him not to bother bringing my Sassy scooter with him to pick me up, as we'd previously arranged.
So, you may ask yourself, why did all this happen? I've taken my scooter onboard a good number of planes since September 11th, and never before has she been seen as such a potential threat to security.
Another flight attendant gave me a possible answer. We were chatting during the delay and I happened to mention that I'd been in Lebanon. "You mean you just came from Beirut?", she asked. "Well, yes, but I spent last night in London." "That doesn't matter," she said, "if you were coming from Beirut; THAT was the problem!"
I wrote the above while onboard my London to Detroit flight. After we'd landed two hours late in Detroit and I was waiting an exceptionally long time for my scooter to show up in baggage, one of the obviously-higher-up British Airways workers there said she'd heard the problem was that there'd been a shift change at Security in Heathrow and the paperwork had not been completed properly. My question is, if I'd come from someplace besides the Middle East, would this have caused such a big to-do?
Sitting at my laptop upstairs...
It's now 9:10 PM Detroit time and I'm home!!!! Of course that's 2:10 AM London time (where I was last night) and 4:10 AM Beirut time (where I've spent the last ten days). My body says, "Put me to bed...NOW!" and I plan to comply.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2005
Being part of a family means different things to different people. To me right now it means getting the same cold/flu bug the boys and Sulaima came down with on Monday. It means sleeping for 15 hours last night and waking up with a stuffy head, hoarse voice and feeling weak as a kitten. But it also means being grateful my symptoms didn't show up until after I'd gotten back home.
And it means my photos and journal entres from Lebanon will be going online at a slower pace than I'd expected. But show up they will. That is certain.
I sure hope my journal readers have been keeping up with my blog. When I could go online, which wasn't very often, the blog was the only place I could post entries and photos. I must admit, using dial-up internet in Lebanon is an exercise in patience. Now I understand why Rabih rarely emails me.
I'm going to try to put up my two (so far) PowerPoint presentations. I originally thought it would only work for those who have PowerPoint software on their computers, but, thanks to Thomas, a faithful reader of my blog, I now know you can download a Microsoft PowerPoint viewer for free. If you use a PC, click HERE, and if you use a Mac, click HERE. Hope it works well for you!
The first is a slide show of our drive into and through Beirut on Saturday, November 12. The second is Part One of our drive up Mount Lebanon from Rabih and Sulaima's apartment in Aramoud up into Hammana, where Rabih's family has a home. This was on Sunday, November 13, 2005. By the way, these presentations might take awhile to download--the first has 57 slides (5 seconds for each), and second has 55 slides (also 5 seconds for each).
You will also find a couple entries here that haven't made it to my blog...at least not yet
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2005
Thanks to my faithful reader Thomas, ever a fount of useful information, I've just learned that you can download a Microsoft PowerPoint viewer for free! For PC users, click HERE to do so; for Mac users, click HERE. Now anyone who wants to see my PowerPoint slide shows from Lebanon can do so. YIPPEE!!!
I spent much of today typing up handwritten journal entries that I wrote during my time in Lebanon and on the trips coming and going...and I'm not done yet. I've also tried to see that both my blog and journal have the same entries. I'm not worrying about photos yet. That will come.
By the way, I'm very relieved that anyone who wants to can see my PowerPoint slide shows. Since I took about 450 photos, if I had to prepare them in my usual way I'd be tearing out what little hair I have. I will present some of them as links to my entries, but not all by any means. And that will come later. My priority is to get the written entries posted while they're fresh.
So if you're interested, I advise you to scroll down the entries to see if there are any you haven't read yet.
Yesterday I submitted to commondreams.org, alternet.org, and truthout.org, this copy of the speech I gave at The Muntada in Beirut last Saturday:
NOT IN MY NAME:
An American Anti-War Activist Speaks
by Patricia Lay-Dorsey
I come as one woman who hopes to speak for millions of Americans whose voices are not being heard in America or worldwide.
We are those who say "Not In Our Name" when the president of our country, George W. Bush, makes war on countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, takes the oil and other natural resources that rightfully belong to other countries, captures and tortures prisoners--many of them innocent--in his so-called War On Terror, unjustly detains Moslem men of Arab descent in U.S. jails with no charges and no recourse to due process of law...yet continues to say he is "making the world safe for democracy."
We say if what you stand for is democracy, Mr. Bush, then we want no part of it.
We say that you, George W. Bush, do NOT speak for us.
We say your imperialistic and aggressive actions, attitudes and words do not reflect what we believe America can and should be.
We say by our words, actions and attitudes that peace is possible, and it can only come when America takes its proper place as an equal among equals in the world community.
As long as George W. Bush, and people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and Condoleezza Rice continue to act as if America is the "boss of the world," we will fight them--nonviolently--with every breath we take.
We are not giving up or giving in to their destructive decisions. We are not going to sit back and let them ruin our nation and the world. We are strong, we are angry and our numbers are growing every day.
Yes, we know there are Americans who support George W. Bush, and his government. Americans who believe his lies and propaganda. Americans who unwisely voted him back into office in 2004.
But we also know that many of them now regret that vote, now see that the war against and occupation of Iraq is a disaster. A disaster that is killing not only our young people--over 2000 of whom have now died in this war--but hundreds of thousands of Iraqi innocents. These former supporters of Bush's war now say, Bring Our Troops Home Now!
I personally met some of these people on September 24th on the streets of our nation's capitol when over half a million people--young and old, black and white, Christian, Jewish and Muslim--came together for a huge march and rally organized by a coalition of national peace groups. It was called "End the War On Iraq!" I have never before felt such power and commitment in a gathering like this. And it was my seventh such march on Washington, DC over the past decade.
Something has shifted in America. It is as if the sleeping majority has awakened and they don't like what they see. Recent polls show that less than 37% of the American people believe Bush is leading our country in the right direction, by far the lowest approval rating for any U. S. president in history. He is losing his grip. Finally.
But we still have three more years of George W. Bush in the White House. Three more years of fighting for justice, for freedom, for accountability, for peace.
And I want you to know we WILL be fighting. We are not giving up. Even if the media never shows you our faces or reports on our words and actions, please know we are there, working together, forming coalitions, traveling to places like Palestine to offer our solidarity to oppressed peoples, coming up with creative solutions to what can seem like unsolvable problems.
And we are not just working for justice and peace; we are working for the life and health of our planet. We are trying to develop sustainable ways of living that do not damage the land, water, air and species that share this, our home.
We are in solidarity with you, our neighbors in Lebanon, as you try to find the truth behind tragedies like the assassination of your beloved Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. As you try to find new ways to be in respectful relationships with your neighbors to the north and to the south. As you do all you can to help peace come to the Middle East.
We are together in these struggles. We are one people, no matter what our nationality, our religion, our language. We are one because we share the same home--Earth--and because we all want the same things: to live in peace, dignity and freedom. We want our children and our children's children to have all they need, to share what they have, and to live together in peace.
May it be so.
Patricia Lay-Dorsey, Detroit anti-war activist, presented this speech on Saturday, November 19, 2005 at The Muntada, a center for dialogue between Christians and Musims located near the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Approximately 60-70 predominantly Muslim men and women attended, even though there had only been three days advance notice. They were respectful and attentive throughout our two hours together.
During the question and answer period, everyone expressed surprise and gratitude that there are people in the United States who feel the way I do about George W. Bush and, especially about his war on and occupation of Iraq. What follows are some of their questions:
1) What is your goal, your motivation? What would you like to see the world become?
2) What tangible steps are you in the peace movement taking to change things?
3) How do Americans in general feel about 9/11?
4) You're calling for the removal of George W. Bush but what if a worse president comes around?
5) How do you see the future in Iraq?
6) You said that you were working to overthrow the system but what if an "ideal" president was elected? What then?
7) The U.S. is spending millions to improve their image in the Middle East, with propaganda-loaded radio stations and newspapers. What is your advice to us in the face of that?
8) You criticize the capitalistic system. Is this the general mood in the U.S.? What system would you prefer?
© 2005 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.
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