Underground and invisible

Tukul Crafts, one of the small business projects that I am trying to support through Micah68 (click http://www.micah6-8.org.uk/micah-projects/egypt/tukul-crafts/ for more details), lives underground and is almost invisible.The business is housed in a small and rather chaotic set of two rooms under the Episcopal Cathedral in Cairo, which contains tricking running water, a large quantity of random pots of paint, endless bits of cloth, sewing machines, a steamer, and a battered computer. Three wonderful Sudanese guys, Justin, Wilson and Kasiano work down there as screen printers and tailors, and relate to each other in English due to the separate tribal languages they bring from their homeland – a place they fled from as refugees many years ago. They set up Tukul Crafts to use their skills, and try and make some money. No-one seems to want their goods at the moment, but they try and keep working – underground and invisible. Life is a struggle, and theirs is just a small story in the thousands of Sudanese refugees who are operating underground and invisible in Cairo. In turn their refugee story is turning out to be a small story when put against the huge number of Syrian refugees who continue to pour into Cairo in the latest refugee crisis. It was building up over two years ago, gathered pace enough that last year the UNHCR set up a full processing centre next to the Cathedral, and now the queues are down the street, with two entrances for registration and the UNHCR needing an additional church hall within the Cathedral compound to process the names. A couple of days ago over 2,000 new refugees were processed. Underground, and invisible. That’s how most people would want the refugee problems of the world…buried and out of sight. It’s hard to avoid when you have to walk in the street because the queues fill the pavements, but still we bury them, and look away. The Church in Egypt remembers that the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus arrived as refugees, escaping persecution at home, many years ago. I wonder which one of the refugees I saw today under the Cathedral, or on the street was Jesus?


Enough is enough

When is enough actually enough?

One of the few Arabic words I know well, and hear a great deal in the streets is ‘khalas’, one of the words for ‘enough’. You hear is shouted everywhere, especially within families! But if you ask an Arabic speaker what the word for ‘enough’ is, they give you a list of alternatives, and ask whether you mean ‘enough’ in colloquial or formal Arabic. It’s a rich language, much more so than English.

The colloquial Arabic Khalas literally means Stop. When you hear khalas in the streets, it means Stop.

Given all that is happening between Israel and Gaza, with so far 1,336 deaths on the Gaza side, 74% of which are civilians and include 243 children and 131 women, against 59 deaths on the Israeli side, of which 5% are civilians (2 Israeli’s and 1 Thai worker), the rest being killed in active combat, surely for the sake of the overwhelming loss of civilian population of Gaza enough is enough.

In case we are confused, in international law, in the arena of war, such targeting of civilians is deemed a crime of war, and yet day by day the civilian death total rises in Gaza. (100 yesterday in case you happen to switch off for the day). Apparently these lives are merely collateral damage, human shields for a terrorist organisation which has to be defeated whatever the cost. It is a shame that some lives are lost, but I see little real concern. After all they aren’t real people – apparently insects to be crushed in the words of one leading Israeli politician. Some of them children sleeping next to parents in a school room within a UN compound which had sent out 17 messages to the Israeli Defence Force informing them of the presence of the new families who had had to relocate due to previous IDF bombing warnings. Surely enough is enough.

And this does not include the wounded, now into their many thousands, and soon heading towards 10,000 – not shipped to well equipped medical facilities, or the psychiatrist’s chair to talk through their stress related issues, but left in an effective prison increasingly without medicines, food, water or power. Left to slowly die of wounds, or disease which is on the increase. Surely enough is enough.

When is the world going to cry Stop? We are all degraded by this. Where’s our humanity? We are losing our souls as we try and legitimise this action, or effectively say this is nothing to do with us, or try to argue that this is an equal fight. If it is, why don’t the numbers add up? Surely enough is enough.

And who will win? No-one, because this is all about loss – of life, of respect, of dignity, of soul, of humanity. Peacemakers on both sides are being verbally and physically attacked. There is much talk about the rights of one side to defend itself from another. When shall we hear again the voice of responsibility for offering life and hope to both sides in this enduring conflict? Enough is enough….and you and I should do something about it.

Enough. Khalas. Stop this massacre.

Stink bomb streets

There’s a new tactic on the streets of Jerusalem. When faced with stone throwing Arab youths, let’s call them ‘rioters’, as well as firing warning shots in the air, and tear gas into the ground, get the cannon out, and spray the crowd with ….. stink bombs with essence of raw sewage.

Sewage. The smell clings to the ground, to the streets, the pavements, the trees, cars, and of course to the people…..for days. Pilgrims on the Mount of Olives could smell it days later, as I did today, and I guess it takes some scrubbing off, and out of clothing, out of hair and off body, and property.

Sewage. It marks an area, and it guess for a while marks a rioter. This area stinks, this person stinks. Literally, we produce the dirty Arabs. And they riot, why? Because they see the body parts not in our media, the colour red on the ground our eyes need shielding from, the footage from the hospitals with the painful screaming that we must not hear, of people they identify with, are linked to, are their family. And so they ‘riot’, as the body count goes up, and no-one seems to speak out for Gaza with the word ‘enough’. And from a great height essence of sewage is sent their way.

So what are we saying here when we spray someone with a stink bomb of sewage, with essence of their own waste, and the waste of others. They deserve it?

Meanwhile we watch our adverts for lemon fresh kitchen cleaning products, lavender deodorants, and vanilla air sprays and breathe in the perfumed air, easily and sweetly.

In the Valley

Dedicated to the amazing Christian work of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf; Salt, the Jofeh & Kreimeh Rehabilitation Community Centers; Jordan  Valley as they work with deaf, disabled and disadvantaged people.

In the valley of burning heat,
his life limps along
in the dust.
Out of sight,
out of mind,
a shame,
a burden.
Unheard of and not hearing,
the crack of rock,
song of bird,
howl of dog.

She even less.
Wheelchair bound,
in the family,
a burden,
a shame.
No ramps up,
or down,
Just stuck in the back,

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…..

They who have ears to hear, let them hear…..


Groundhog Day

One of my guilty favourite films is Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, Andie McDowell, and of course the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. All focussed on Feb 2nd, Bill’s character Phil Connors gets stuck in that day on a seemingly endless repeat, until having learnt some kind of inner and cosmic lesson he moves into Feb 3rd. Much hilarity as he tries to change things within the ever repeating Feb 2nd, then, totally trapped by it, he tries all kinds of ways to escape until as he re-assesses his life priorities, he pleads to move onto the new day of Feb 3rd. The film ends, as all good Hollywood does, with his prayers answered, the snow falling, the girl by his side, and Feb 3rd arriving.

I have been regularly visiting and walking in the lands, and praying for and working alongside the peoples of the Middle East for nearly 20 years, although I first visited Israel/Palestine as a pilgrim/tourist in 1988. Here I am again in Israel/Palestine, in a region seemingly stuck in Groundhog Day. The TV today is an endless loop of clips on repeat looking at potential threat, or actual destruction, depending on your channel. Trained on the sky the cameras follow a rocket smoke plume above a Jewish town, and on the ground in Gaza we see individuals picking through the rubble of their houses and pointing to blood on the ground. Again and again the same clips, compounding the storyline. There is no other news, and the warning sirens keep wailing out. Commentators from both sides shout and point the finger in languages I still do not understand. But the meanings are plain, ‘they’ are to blame, ‘they’ started it, ‘they’ must be punished. Fire rains down, and further walls are built as more stories to overcome in the future are told. A seemingly perpetual loop. At least we have defaulted to the usual status quo – I mean, God forbid that we get to Feb 3rd and a new day. To do that would have meant reassessing our priorities, and wishing for a new day for everyone.

Israel/Palestine caught in Groundhog Day. But this isn’t remotely a comedy, and it doesn’t feel like Hollywood. Feb 3rd is still possible. It must be. Shalom / Salaam from Nazareth.