Thursday, 4 November 2010

End Notes, Apologies, Excuses and Future Blogs

The Egyptians refused to let the convoy in at the Libyan/Egyptian border, informing us we could come in only by air (!) or boat. This meant that ferry arrangements had to be made with the Libyans, and these had to include the Libyans providing the ferry free, since chartering a ferry from Tobruk (close to the border) or back at Tripoli (far, far from the border) would be prohibitively expensive. Estimating the time this might take plus the time it would take at the Egyptian port, it appeared that another three to four weeks would be, if anything, an optimistic estimate of  how long it would take to enter Gaza. Since I could only spend a total of four weeks away, I, with some others, left the convoy at the border, flew from Tobruk to Tripoli, and after a night there flew back to England.
Reading through my earlier blogs, I find I have to apologise for some very slovenly mistakes such as missed letters, incorrect letters, extgra letters and the like in the writing. My main exscuse is that many of these, written in transit through Libya, were written on Turkish keyboards, via wi-fi that was too temperamental to allow any time for editing. I'm very tempted to add that any poor essays were due to the pc being eaten by feral Libyan dogs, but I won't as I guess you wouldn't believe it.
I'd also like to explain that I've avoided blogging about internal and external problems the convoy, like any convoy, encountered, since I didn't want those who aren't friends of humanitarian convoys to Gaza to have lanything they could use to try to stop this aid. The problems were, of course, personal and political.
Finally, I'd like to sing the praises of two people: of Kieran, the convoy leader, a young man of great human intelligence and of the great strength of persistent patience necessary to lead such a mixed group through such mixed territories. And, though he won't much like it, of my rock-like driving partner Rich, always ready to drive more than his share when I wasn't up to it and never complaining that anything was too hard to do, except to waste time. To end on the truly exotic: Rich in his non-convoy life is a magician, and has been a circus horse rider and lion tamer, though he prefers the term 'lion presenter' since for him nothing could be tamer than his lions.
I'll blog the future details of the convoy as I learn them You can also follow on the Road to Hope Convoy to Gaza blog.
Thanks to Sue and Judith for keeping the home fires burning, the central heating lit.


Sunday, 31 October 2010


Benghazi is a wealthy city on a series of bays. Across the water, through the palms of the youth hostel we're staying at, the city looks much like Miami seen from Miami Beach, an economic dirrerence being that Benghazi's skyline is fueled by oil while Miami's is high on cocaine.
Next morning, a sand storm begins and Benghazi appears miasmic across the bay. By ten, only a boat moored midway can be made out. By noon, when we leave, we can't see the bay at all, though it's no more than fifty yards away.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Desert Growth: A Motion Picture

The land along the road east from Tripoli to Misratah might be anywhere along the French or Italian rivieras; dry green hills going back into mountains, palms and mimosas planted on the coast. But from Miratah the road turns south and the lush coastal planting disappears. The hills still carry bush and pines, though between them more red earth is visible and erosion channels snake around the trees. The channels grow wider. Several hundred kilometers further south, there's as much red showing as green. By Sirte. where the road turns east again along the Sirte Gulf, the sparser trees and bushes stand on ilslets one to ten feet high out from the red rocky earth/ Small dunes of fine red sand are banked against the root mounds and also lie along the edge of the road, blown across with the wind or blown back with the wind off the convoy. Over the next huyndred kilometers or so, the islets of trees disappear and bush gows sparse up on round red plinths as if displayed as rare specimens. Some of the dunes have bleached to pale gold. Well before Ajdabiya, the land goes flat, Only occasional low scrub appears from the earth, now a pale gray-yellow. Larger dunes appear, pale yellow, sand c0oloured, in fact. In fact, sand. We're driving the Sahara.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Very Like a Camel

Driving down the coast from Mizartan, Rich and I begin seeing triangualr road signs with camels on them. These are terrific signs with a big black camel on a yellow background. Terrific, I suppose, in a campy, kitschy way. But anyhow, we both decide we have to gets photos of these signs. Not so easy to do. For one thing, we're travelling in convoy and can't just slow down, nor can we just pull off into the road shoulder since that's made of soft Saharan sand. Then there's the problem of judging the distance so that we get as close-up a photo as possible but don't wait too long and miss the sign completely. And the signs come up at random intervals. We fail and fail and fil, but figure we'll go on trying, since what's mobile phone photography for if not to catch the passing moment no matter how fast it's passing? My photos at worst contain not a trace of the sign; at best, there's a blur of sign that looks something like a camel, or maybe a whale. Then out the window, I see them, a long brown caravan of camels, and I take their photograph. Then there's another caravan, this one loaded with goods. I look at the photos of real camels which are very like camels.


To the Gaza Station

Where would we be without the police of North Africa? A long way back from where we are.They direct non-convoy traffice to the side of the road, they block the traffic at crossroads so that we can roar by, honking horns and waiving Palestinian as well as, in our case, Welsh flags (Rich lives in Snowdonia.) In towns, they help us run all the red lights and take left turns against the traffic flow. They are smartly dressed, well-mannered and, at least to us, patient.
Moreover, they lead us into service stations where we fill up at their governments; expense, and into restaurants where we nver pick up the tabs. At night, they park us safely for our stay in government guesthouses which may be spartan, but are generally clean.
Yet all their whining sirens and flashing blue lights don't fool us. Though we average fifty miles an hour and the convoy can stretch out over several miles, we understand that this is internment in our vans to keep us from the people of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, because these governments fear the people. They can't keep us completely away, of course, and then we see the people look casually at us, then look with curiosity, and then, on understanding, break into big smiles and lift their hands thumbs up or in V signs as we go by. These are the countries that pay lip service to Palestine by paying to disappear the convoy through their landscapes. They don't really much like Palestine. They wish it would go away so that they could get on with whatever buying and selling and business as usual they're up to..
It's only when we come into Libya where the business of the government and police is to present us to as many of the people as possible that we understand we have until then been in that rather comfortable sealed train from Zurich.


A Night in Tunisia

We;re driving from the Algerian-Tunisian border through Tunisia at night. We're being mucked about by the police, hidden from sight, whixked through the white, silent towns. I don't cre. I hum the tune and hang my head out the passenger window looking at the moon through the date palms. Our CB radio streams complaints from the convoy. I don't care. I bring my head back in, dizzy from watching the stars.


Deep in the Heart of Taxas

The convoy was stopped for a service break in Morocco, on the way to Fes. A young security guard smiled and asked, 'Where you are from?' I said I was American. 'Where you are from there?' When I told him Boston asnd saw nothing register on his face, I said I was from near New York. 'Ah,' he said, 'Nueva York,' with little feeling. Then he said, 'I like Texas. Cowboy films very good.' Then he drew his fingers from imaginary holsters and went, Bam! Bam! and laughed like a small boy. It struck me that one of his imaginary holsters was real.
Two days later, we were driving through north eastern Algeria. Rolling hillsides of semi-arid red earth were stuck with low bushes and clumps of small pines which grew like neat green bowls. I told Rich, who was driving, that the landscape looked a bit like West Texas, plateau oopening out after plateau. About ten minutes later, we came across cattle grazing both sides of the unfenced road, as if on cue. A few minutes later, a sign informed us that we were entering the Algerian municipality of Taxas. All it lacked was some cowboys out of Central Casting.