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On the road to Gaza: Day four

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It is Saturday, May 23, and at 10 am we will leave for the Rafah border and as Ann Wright says: knock on the doors at Rafah and tell them we are here.  There is a group of medics who are on a hunger strike at the border now.  If we can’t get in – we would like to support them by staying with them and joining their hunger strike – perhaps a few of us at a time.

Songs of peace are in my head – Codepink loves to sing, I love to sing and I am determined that we will arrive at the border – pink and singing.  I wish I could remember the song we sang so often in March.  I liked but I don’t see it in the Codepink Song book.  Yup we have a songbook and I was given a copy in March. I am not feeling too well this morning as the stomach problems continue.  Had a bit of a cry this morning – for me, for the situation and for the people who are prisoners in Gaza.  Now my eyes are burning, itchy and swollen.  Lovely!!!

I have had 4 hours sleep.  I will rest for a while longer – breakfast is at 9. 615 am.  I just got a call from Tighe Berry.  He is at the Isis Hotel now with Mohamed Ali.  I have thought of Tighe so much since I got here.  I knew he worked hard in March when he helped organize the group of 60 – but I have such a new appreciation.  Tighe bought the baskets and all the goods to go in it for 1000 gift baskets.  He found food for our trip and it seemed there was always something to eat.  I have been trying to role model him since coming to Egypt.  I am feeling good to know that now we have a seasoned Codepink organizer on the ground in Egypt.  I have a knew go to person.  This is good especially without internet access.

9pm Al Arish –we didn’t get in.  It has been a long day.  I am sitting in the restaurant/lounge of the Sinai Star Hotel.  I am going to attempt to use their internet tonight but the front desk where I will have to sit is very busy – a delegation of Italians have arrived at the hotel.  Every room is full.  We are fortunate to have a room tonight.  Other hotels are full as well.   The tourist business in Al Arish thrives on the delegations to Gaza.

The bus didn’t come this morning until 11pm.  The police escort shortly after.  I tried calling the Red Crescent and our other contacts – finally it is Ayman who arranges everything – he is very well connected and it is in our favour.  It is a short drive to Rafah border with 3 checkpoints that you cannot pass without a police escort.  We arrive, we give them our information and we wait.  In fact, we waited until 4pm.  At that time we were told we could not go in.  They told us we need a letter from the Canadian embassy saying that they support our mission.  They also told us we have not been given clearance by the National Security.  I am certain that there is no magic paper that would have got us in.

At one point we were asked if we were with the United Nations.  Nabil explained that we had been invited by the United Nations – the official said – so you with the United Nations and he left. Different officials came and went throughout the day asking us questions – asking for our papers – the letters from Unrwa and our MP’s.  Nabil is the one they come to Doctor, they call out.  He has explained that he has been sent on a fact finding mission by a member of Parliament.  Nabil tells them that I am in charge but they do not speak to me – it could be my lack of Arabic but it is more obvious that they would prefer to deal with a man than a woman.  I am present at each communication and often Nabil looks at me for answer just to let them know that I am in charge and this is a Codepink delegation.  I am wearing my new bright pink purse and a large pink shawl.  All the female delegates bought pink shawls last night and are wearing them.

We spent most of the day on the bus waiting – it is cooler on the bus with the air blowing through the windows and the sun is not shining directly on us. We spent time talking to the 2 doctors at the border who are on a hunger strike – they are drinking but not eating.  They are sleeping out at the border. The facilities are deplorable.  The bathrooms are Arab toilets and they are beyond filthy.  There is inches of water on the floor, feces all over the toilet (like a sink in the floor) and someone obviously has diarrhea.  I am gagging and choking but there is no other choice.  Tomorrow I will drink even less – we have some food with us, buns and cheese left from breakfast – some fruit and nuts and we bought a few drinks.  The time seemed to pass quickly – I received several phones throughout the day and I also called UNRWA to see if they have any pull. Jacquelin Paul tells me to call tomorrow and she will put me in touch with the person who organizes passage for UNRWA staff.  So far no one has been able to help us – not UNRWA, not the Red Crescent……we are determined not to give up.
A huge Italian delegation is in the hotel.  I must go with Nabil to talk with them.  So much more to tell but time is short.  We are well, we are determined and we will get in tomorrow, insha’allah.

Peace,

Sandra

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