Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Letter to Gaza - Martha Myers, CARE International

CARE International, January 29, 2009 - Martha Myers is the Country Director for CARE International in the West Bank and Gaza. CARE has 18 staff living and working in Gaza, who continued to distribute emergency aid throughout the fighting. Myers was the first non-Gazan CARE staff to access Gaza since the conflict began. The following are passages of her message to CARE staff in the West Bank and Gaza.

....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....

The Refrigerator

There are small images that stick with you. I don’t have to tell you all that Palestinian housewives do not take a back seat to anyone. Generally, the Palestinian home, however humble, is spotlessly clean. In one of the houses in Izbet Abedrabbo, the bottom of a refrigerator protruded from the crush of concrete, contorted and tortured, but recognizable. It was on a rack with wheels so its owner could safely mop the floor with plenty of soapy water without fear of a shock and so she could move it to clean under it. Looking at it, I wondered if there was food still in it. And again, the demon of imagination refusing to go away, I wondered how I would feel if I was looking at the legs of my refrigerator sticking out of the rubble of my home – how would I feel?

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....

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