For days, I have been attempting to write about a memorable afternoon in Gaza. I have been struggling to find the words to describe the remarkable Women of Rafah who greeted four fortunate foreigners from the Code Pink Delegation. I want to share with others (with the World, actually) just how important this day was for me. I need to find the words and the tone to communicate the warmth and love of those special hours, with those gentle women. Usually words come easily to me. But no, not this time. Because this experience, for me, was transformational! Too big for easy words!
FALLING IN LOVE IN RAFAH
In a matter of minutes, upon entering a compound in Rafah, Gaza on International Women's Day, I fell in love. First, I fell in love with a dozen women who sat in the sand around a fire making bread and showing me how to make bread the Gazan way. I tried my hand at the technique. It was not as easy as it looked. (It's all in the wrist and in the timing!) Next, I fell in love with the seventy-five women (+/-) in the community room---who greeted me with applause and smiles and then with embraces and kisses. I fell in love with the day, with the palpable joy in the air and with the immediate sense of sisterhood that filled the room and filled my heart. In that place, I experienced a kind of loving friendship that (frankly, sadly) I had never experienced before. Not in any family gatherings. Not in any long ago middle school girls' groups. Not in any of my various workplaces. Not in dance classes. Not in consciousness-raising groups. Never! Nowhere! I don't ever recall experiencing the instantaneous, magical love that I experienced in Rafah, on Sunday, March 8th 2009.
Later that day, in the lobby of the Gaza City hotel, I wrote in my journal: "This day was worth the whole trip."
In the all-purpose room, of the local center, in a shabby part of the prison that is the Gaza Strip, in the company of Muslim women of all ages, I found a true and complete sense of sisterhood. In the happy company of scores of women in all manner of dress---from the fully veiled consevative abayas some women wore to the stylish contemporary outfits of many of the younger women----I experienced a deep feeling of belonging. Renewal. Truth. Connection. Love.
On impulse, I gave a short speech that one of the Palestinian women translated for me. It went something like this: "On this special day, dedicated to the honor of women everywhere in the world, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your kind invitation and to acknowledge the warm bond of understanding among us that has been clearly evident from the moment we got off the bus and entered this place. As daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and grandmothers, (and I have been all of those) we dedicate ourselves to the never-ending responsibility and opportunity of bestowing our love and nurturing on our families, neighbors and communities. I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate all that we are and all that we share and all that we want for our families. We want simple things: safety, shelter, nourishing food, clean water, health care, access to information and education and the opportunity to worship and celebrate in our chosen ways. I'm sure I speak for my Code Pink colleagues when I say, 'Shokron, shokron!' We are thankful for your warm and welcoming hospitality! Happy International Women's Day!"
The Women of Gaza have lost so much. They have suffered for so long. Their homes have been damaged or destroyed. Their husbands, brothers and children have been killed. Supplies for the basics of life are difficult to obtain. Unemployment is at 80%...
One of the high points in an afternoon of high points, was watching the play that the women had created and rehearsed to present to us on International Women's Day. Their unknown audience was a group of Code Pink Women who, as they were told, might or might not succeed in getting across the closed border with Egypt and who might or might not be able to share the day with them. The women were hopeful, prepared and enthusiastic. Just four members of the fifty-eight person Delegation (facilitated by the United Nations Relief Workers Agency) had the privilege, the honor and the remarkable opportunity of being part of that audience--part of that laughing, dancing example of feminie solidarity.
I am imagining a reverse situation---a situation in which several women from Gaza come to my city---guests of a women's organization in my town. I imagine the courteous cordiality, the little cookies, the polite greetings, the proffered gift, the pleasant curiosity...But I can't imagine an outpouring of love from typical club women in this country. I can't imagine the sincere embraces and the kisses, kisses, kisses...
Why? Where are we hiding our capacity for grace and our willingness to approach others with our hearts fully open and our guards down? Is it these current and challenging days of ours that shrink our genuine openness? Have we closed down our main conduits for true connection with others? Connections to those deep and true places of love? Have I? I have. Perhaps, somewhere along the many years I've spent in this body, in my on-going experience as a woman of a certain age (and social and political persuasions) perhaps I shut down--or never opened to certain kinds of love...But now...now things are different. The Women of Gaza have connected me to a part of myself that I want to value, celebrate and cherish.
Yes, Cherish is the word!