The night before my group departed from Gaza in June 2009, I talked about not being ready to leave. And I wasn't.
It took me another two months after I got back to pull out of my "Gaza Haze" and begin to function again. I met with my Congressman's Director of Outreach, and he advised me to talk, talk, talk about my experience in Gaza. A year ago I put together a presentation and began speaking before groups.
I thought about Gaza numerous times throughout the day, and still do. The devastation in Gaza was a shock. I wasn't prepared for how total the destruction was. I continue to wonder how the people of Gaza manage with so much loss: jobs, homes, farms, schools, hospitals, fire stations, police stations, play grounds, stores...and most difficult loss of all, people-- family, friends, neighbors.
In this way, Gaza changed my life. The Susan who went to Gaza in May 2009 was not the Susan who returned to Doylestown in June. It's a good thing; I like the new Susan.
I began talking about returning as soon as I boarded the plane bound for JFK. First it was going to be September 2009, then January 2010, then May 2010. Well now it seems I really am returning. I will leave on August 24 and return October 6.
Six weeks is a long time. I'm aware family and friends are not thrilled or convinced this is something I should be doing. I don't expect them to be.
They are entitled to their own opinion about my journey, I'm not trying to convince anyone they should understand or agree with my plans. I want support, I need support; but if they can't give it to me or it's given conditionally....with strings attached ... then I will do without. I understand their concerns, worries, etc. but this is something I have to do and I accept the risks. So I'm energized but peaceful about my decision. I feel no need to explain or defend this to others. I suppose that sounds selfish; it isn't meant to be.
Before 2004 I knew little about Palestine. I became involved in such an amazing way...if I believed in divine intervention this would be the #1 example. Traveling to the West Bank woke me up; kindled my interest in the Israel/Palestine conflict and Gaza.
Why do I want to return? I wish I could answer that clearly. One afternoon in Gaza I was terribly overloaded... emotionally spent, unable to process another story. We were headed into a tent city with many people and many stories. I was on the verge of tears when I noticed a group of children making kites. I edged myself away from our group and towards the children and watched as they created amazing kites from scraps, aluminum foil, newspaper, yarn, cloth, you name it. One child brought his kite to me, encouraging me to fly it. After many lessons and much laughter...the kite was in the sky, sailing along. For the first time in my life I was able to fly a kite!
As we were leaving the tent city a child tapped me on the arm, motioning for me to follow him, which I did. He took me to a beaming young couple who led me to their tent, opened the flap and there on the ground on top of a small oriental carpet was a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket...sound asleep. His parents were so proud, so full of love and hope for their child. I used hands motions, thanking them for sharing their beautiful baby with me. .......and the three of them are surrounded by chaos, destruction, fear....I hope they are safe. Those encounters accompanied me for the remainder of the trip...they are with me still...
If I close my eyes I can replay the scenes perfectly. And so, this silver-haired Gram returns to Gaza with plans to volunteer at Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons) in the N Refugee Camp and The Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City. I'll be involved with conversational English Groups, arts and crafts, psychological support activities, student English Clubs...that's for starters. Hopefully the children will enjoy teaching me Arabic. These new experiences with the Gaza's children offers an opportunity for fun, laughter, understanding...and by getting to know each other, even for a short time, they'll have an American to remember, and I hope those memories are positive in many ways.