1. The Birthday arrives:
The very best way to herald in an uninspiring birthday number is to be somewhere incredibly unlikely doing something inspiring with lots of people you don’t know. Then make them all sorry for you by being pathetically unwell and weepy the day before. Come the birthday morning after..Boom! I now find myself wrapped up in a big, cosy, group huggy blanket of birthday love and appreciation. This was my breakfast experience. Loads a middle aged Christians being effusive in their delight to see me looking well again. Birthday wishes were heaped upon my head and genuine (I like to think so anyway) accompanying gasps of polite disbelief when I revealed how old I was. Now of course, these strangers I find myself with are super nice, peace and justice, walk in Jesus’s shoes, middle class, intellectual, mature types and are hardly going to be rude to my pickled face, but nonetheless I am somewhat encouraged by their generous response.
A couple of rounds of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ – once in English then again in Arabic – was led by our ever enthusiastic Palestinian friend through the tourist bus’s microphone and we are off. This next visit is the one I have been looking forward to the most. But we have to get there first…
2. Just another day in Palestine
We drive towards our destination windingly around rocky twists and turns – being diverted from Israeli State roads and by passing military check points – all heaving with soldiers in response to yesterday’s ‘intervention’ at a funeral of a 22 year old who became critically ill while in prison. He had been released to die at home and the volatile atmosphere at the funeral was ignited by soldiers showing up in an uninvited fashion. Something happened, something kicked off and the soldiers responded to the crowds outrage by shooting into the mourners, injuring seven people badly and killing the dead boy’s cousin before finally dispersing everyone with tear gas.
All this occurred in a small village fairly close to the site where we are working on the house. A few of our volunteers who were still working at that time had been urgently hurried off the hill at the outbreak of trouble. Their eyes, even from such a distance, smarting from whiffs of tear gas, they were driven swiftly out of the area on a white knuckle ‘three wheels on my wagon’ journey home. A couple of our good gentlemen were a bit shaken by such an abrupt end to their work that day.
The tension in the air the next day is palpable. ‘There will be many nights of raids in the refugee camp now’ explains our Palestinian project friend. I wondered which side set it all off, but in a way it doesn’t really matter. Hate is too entrenched.
I cannot begin to comprehend how the mothers of those two young men are coping. But the boys are now both ‘martyrs’ and will be revered, their families well cared for.
3. My destination:
I am on my way to meet an inspirational social entrepreneur and community leader who studied medical engineering in France before coming home to Palestine to set up the most amazing arts project in one of Palestine’s biggest refugee camps. This project unashamedly promotes pride and worth in Palestinian children instead of the hopelessness and negative stereotyping played out in the worlds media. The project builds hope.
I have – since being told the story of this place by Martin Joseph in his Aberdour fundraiser concert last year for the Cookie Foundation- known that I am going to have a relationship with this project. I just don’t know quite in what way as yet… But it’s coming.