Tuesday, February 3, 2009

AID Director letter from Gaza 29-1-09

A Letter to Gaza
CARE country director sees devastation firsthand


Martha Myers is the country director for CARE in the West Bank and Gaza. CARE has 18 staff living and working in Gaza. They continued to distribute emergency aid throughout the fighting. Myers was the first non-Gazan from CARE to access Gaza since the conflict began. The following is her message to CARE staff in the West Bank and Gaza.

January 29, 2009

Dear All,

As most of you know, I finally got to go to Gaza on Tuesday — and immediately got stuck there. The borders were closed due to the fighting that broke out, so I got to spend overnight in Shejaiya. I was glad to be there.

It is hard to say anything about Gaza. Either you just feel the words stuck someplace in the middle of your chest, unable to come out, or you feel like you are murmuring platitudes — hackneyed phrases. None of these words stuck in my chest are nice words. Grief, sorrow, pain, suffering, devastation, destruction, malice, cruelty.

War is simply brutal. It can't be prettied up, no matter how many laurels of civilization you attempt to lay around its throat.

Beit Hanoun

I was sad. On the left in the fields as you walk from Erez to Khamsa there had been two or three farmhouses. I had often wondered at their aspect of peace and quiet there in the midst of crops and grasses right under the miasma of Erez. They aren't there anymore. Heaps of rubble. Where are the boys I used to see trotting their donkeys up the lane towards home? Where are the women I used to see working in the fields?
Everything is full of bullet holes. Not little bullet holes. Bullet holes that you could easily put a tennis ball through. It is clear that areas, buildings, shops, were just sprayed with bullets. I wonder, what do you do and how do you feel as those lines of bullets come punching through the walls of your living room and your bedroom? Everywhere I go, people make sounds imitating the different kinds of munitions. Recounting the near misses and coloring the stories with onomatopoeic embellishments seems to help.

Hollowed-out people

The buildings are shocking — the shattered parliament building, the minarets blown off mosques, the mosques themselves, the children's play parks — all shocking. But what arrested me was the people. On one hand the stalwart Gazans, out in the streets, going to school, sitting in front of open shops, walking with briefcases, carrying shopping bags — it all looked so deceptively normal in a sense. But when you look closely, as I studied faces, people looked hollow with fatigue, shock, stress, and fear. Many looked almost catatonic.
And then the CARE staff. Can I be personal here? Hamdallah, you were the first person I saw in the office and although you looked as neat and handsome as ever, your polite smile never reached your eyes. I saw that tight control, and the shuttered eyes, again and again during that day in so many people, including Najwan, Eid and Rizek. Mamduh, you looked familiar since I have seen you in pictures almost every single day, but the fatigue has chiseled down to the bones of your face. Again, a look I saw echoed again and again everywhere I went.

Mohammed Elwan, I was humbled by the depth of your concern, sorrow and care for Mohammed Samouni (editor's note: Mohammed Samouni, who worked for CARE's Fresh Food distribution project, was killed in an attack on January 5) and your determination that his widow not be lost in the shuffle. Although you are thin and sad, what did you want to talk about? You wanted to talk about how we can help potato farmers stand up again. You give definition to the word selfless.

Jawad, how do you do it? Your face is lined with care and yet you still make us laugh with your ironic humor.

Naema, you are so strong and you radiate firmness, control, and resolution — but I have wanted to cry ever since we talked about you losing your best friend. Your best friend and your house. We can help you with your house — but to have an old friend that you talked to on the phone one minute and who was gone the next — how does one assimilate that?

Ola, we know you are still frightened, but you should know that you are surrounded by friends.

You all are the best of Gaza and you embody it.

Izbet Abedrabbo

I have to say that it was Izbet Abedrabbo that stopped me in my tracks. Look around you and there are heaps of concrete that used to be homes, contorted cars, uprooted trees and ground that has been roiled into an impassible sea of mud by the tanks going back and forth.
No single thing has been left intact or standing. No blade of grass or tree. Everything stinks of sewage and rot. Sitting in front of the contorted heaps of concrete and steel are entire families, some warming their hands at fires. Just sitting and waiting. Of course, what else could they do? What else would they do? In Gaza there is no cement, steel, glass, glue, wood, pipes, paint wires. So even were one lucky enough to be able to purchase materials to start putting things together again, there is nothing to do that with. Most aren't lucky anyway.

So they sit and wait.

I try to imagine how it feels to sit in front of your vaporized home in the middle of a choppy sea of mud. It is too painful to bring this in close and in focus, so I take the cowardly route and don't allow my imagination to run away with me.

Golden Curtains

And then there were the gold curtains. I know, curtains are expensive and you need to chose them carefully or they will take over your whole life. These were nice curtains and I am sure that someone chose them very carefully — an investment meant to last a lifetime - and then hung and cared for them with pride. Somehow, the house had collapsed into a shattered heap and the curtains had flown out the window and were draped, neat, clean, perfectly pressed over the front of the rubble.
Would the owner come and try to extract the curtains from the pinch of concrete and steel? And then what would she do with them? If it were me I would sit with them bundled in my arms and smell them — inhaling the smell of home and the smell of my lost world. The curtains bothered me too because something private and interior was just splayed there on the street — a violation of regard for the home as private, protected space.

Leaving Gaza

At the Erez border crossing, feeling guilty and heart-sick as I always do — why can I just walk out of here and others can't? What stupid accident of birth confers this unbelievable privilege on me? I ended up in line behind a dozen or more journalists. Things were going very slowly because of all their cameras and gear. For them, the story is over and they are moving on to the next flash point. This is their job, and I respect them enormously and appreciate the role they play. Nonetheless, it made me feel angry and disillusioned to see this symbol of diverted attention. It isn't over. In fact, it is only just beginning in Gaza.
Yes, it is just beginning, but Gaza is not abandoned and you, Ghazazwa, are not abandoned. We will walk down this path together.

With affection and regard,

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