Gaza is a man-made disaster, eyewitness account

During the recent Gaza Freedom March, I became good friends with Nitin Sawhney, a research affiliate at MIT.

He’s currently in Gaza and writing a fascinating blog about his experiences. There’s much to digest but here’s something from the latest post:

The devastating events of the recent earthquake in Haiti linger in my mind as I write this note today. My hopes and prayers are with the people of Haiti and all who are trying to assist with emergency relief work there… it feels odd being in the serenity of Gaza amidst all this.

Walking back home at midnight after a spicy falafel and creamy gelato from my favorite street vendors, I feel a strange sense of familiarity in the dim-lit streets of Gaza City. I’ve come to feel more comfortable walking alone at night exploring the neighborhoods and getting to know the city better, even though I lose my way home regularly, getting back on track only moments later (through the familiar sights and sounds); oddly it feels far safer than most North American cities I’ve lived in, perhaps due to the constant security presence and the warmth of everyday people here.

Even with my video camera in hand, I simply smile at onlookers making eye contact gracefully, and introduce myself during the shoot to make them comfortable around me. I try to disarm any suspicions with my hilarious command of broken Arabic and their imagined curiosity of my bollywood roots. Shopkeepers, cooks, waiters, and men smoking sheesha while watching Real Madrid vs. Barcelona playing football on TV, often invite me into their street side cafes urging me to come back and visit the next day”¦ so is the spirit and hospitality of this place.

Mond and I visited Mustafa, the 9-year old in Bait Hanoun again to the delight of his grandmother and friends. We spoke to his father about his eye surgery and tried to arrange a meeting with his local doctor to gain more details on his possible treatment abroad. I remembered to bring my small digital video camera and proceeded to show Mustafa how to use it. We were immediately surrounded by all the kids and elders in his neighborhood; its not easy teaching with everyone else giving their own instructions on where to shoot. Mustafa gradually warmed upto the challenge and started mastering the complex controls on this little device, learning to frame his shots, zoom and capture photos and videos of children playing marbles along the roadside. I showed a few other kids how to use the camera, but asked Mustafa to be their trainer from here onwards. He took on that responsibility easily despite his shyness.

The next day I took Mustafa along with me to one of my meetings at the Al-Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City. He was quite shy to come alone with me without his father, so we let him accompany us on this trip. I met with some of the directors of the center and arranged to have a workshop there the following day. They took us around on a tour of the gleaming new center, completed… in late 2005… after many years of delays due to the blockade. The center provides a rich library, educational programs, and outreach services to kids and parents in Gaza. It’s a rare place for children to come in Gaza, a miracle that it even exists. As Mustafa and I walked along modern multi-colored spaces in the naturally-lit center full of curious kids engaged in play, Mustafa took my lead in capturing video as our guide showed us around. Mustafa would often get distracted with children watching cartoons or making paper montages, while I continued to interview staff at the center. In the end, I was trying to get Mustafa to learn video techniques simply by working along with me, choosing bright locations and angles and keeping up a good pace of recording crucial moments. I think Mustafa would make for a good co-producer and budding cameraman as he gets better after his surgery.