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On the road to Gaza: Day three

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It is Friday 6:45 pm and we have had a very full day – a day of adventures and blessings.  We have reached Al Arish- our prayers are being answered.  I want to say that I can feel the support of all you. You are making the difference for us. I believe that It is all our positive energy and visualization that is the success of all our efforts.

I wrote this morning about our day yesterday and I lost it all when I saved it.  I guess that is what happens on 2 hours sleep at 3 a.m.  I will not try to recreate it.  Too much has happened today and I have so much to tell you.  I do not have internet access at the Sinai Stars Hotel.  We will try to find internet tonight.

Yesterday we received a call from the bus company that we had booked with – they had been told by the government that they could not take us to Al Arish – we already had been told they could not take us to Rafah.  When I was here in March, I met a business man in Cairo and he is connected with a hotel and a tour company.  I called him and he found us a bus – 15 passengers, air conditioned that would take us to Al Arish for 800 Egyptian Pounds.  This is a good price.  We ordered the bus for 5:30 a.m.  I spoke to the owner of the company at 10pm last night and he promised that we had no problem to go to Al Arish. 

The trip went smoothly- driving at a safe 90km/hr. We stopped after 2 hours for a short break and continued down and across the Suez canal.  Now I knew we had to prepare for the checkpoints.  The first one was nothing but a nod and we were on our way.  The second checkpoint they took our passports and got on a cell phone.  We decided that we had got through the first one by laughing and telling jokes and we told the same jokes…we all were laughing.  After about 10 minutes the passports were returned to us.  We were then questioned as to our occupations. I recently completed my contract as the program coordinator at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.  Nabil was translating for us – I said I work in an office –what kind of office – a place for people who drink too much alcohol – I am the secretary.  At this point Nabil said he was getting nervous of what I might say next – maybe I am the janitor.  Cathy did not want to identify as television film maker so she said she was a film editor for a company.  Whatever we said worked and now we had a police escort to Al Arish – we had made it through.  There were 3 more checkpoints – we stopped at each for a change of guard – a new police escort.

We arrived at the hotel and were warmly greeted and assigned to our rooms. The rooms are 75 Egyptian pounds per night.  Clean and cooled by large fans.  2 beds in each room – a big tiled bathroom. I am happy to be back in Al Arish.  I told the police we were going to the Sinai Star.  They insisted there was no Sinai Star but that it was Sinai Sun.  At each stop the police insisted that I was wrong and that it was the Sinai Sun.  Ayman, the general manager at the hotel was not answering his cell phone.  After a while even I suspected I was wrong.  We arrived at the Sinai Sun – I looked around….it wasn’t the hotel that I remembered.  And….I was right!!!  There is a Sinai Stars.

It is 12:30am – I have had 2 hours sleep last night and another hour this afternoon.  I am exhausted and I will soon sleep but I have to finish documenting the day.  Too much happens each day for me to remember.  When we got to the hotel we met with Ahmed – a representative of an organization in Al Arish. He told us about a French delegation – they are at the Sinai Sun – they would like to go to Rafah with us tomorrow.  The first order of business is to get food for everyone and then for Mohammed and Nabil to attend the Friday prayers. We can hear the sounds from the mosques while we eat our lunch.  We are putting money into a pool and Mohammed is managing it for us.

I found out the hotel has no internet – I am not sure where an internet café might be and everything is closed now because it is Friday. I started blogging, tried to nap.  I got a call from Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright from Codepink.  They are working to help our group get in – they know our problem and will contact the MPs who are supporting us to have them contact the Egyptian embassies to show their support for our mission.  Medea asks me if I contacted the head of the Red Crescent in Cairo – I told them about calling the day before and how I asked the director Dr. Magda to please tell Madame Suzanne Mubarak that we are not being allowed to go to Rafah and on to Gaza.  I didn’t get much support on that phone call.  Medea suggests I contact the head of the Red Crescent in Al Arish.  I asked Nabil to help me find the number and perhaps make the call – I am constantly relying on him and Mohammed to translate and help me to make decisions.  Kim Elliott from rabble.ca has prepared our press release.  Last night I asked Smadar Carmon in Toronto and Kim Elliott in Ottawa to get the press release out to the media – make sure people knew we were being told we can’t even travel by bus to Al Arish.

What is happening with our delegates – Taylor is not feeling well and has slept all day.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better for her.  Cathy showed signs of swelling and later developed a rash – some sort of allergic reaction.  Nabil went to the pharmacy and got her an anti histamine.  I went out with Beth to find something that she could eat – we had no luck.  The trip is trying for us all.  The days are long and we don’t know what each day will bring.  I have a “stomach thing” same as the trip before but…..we are all just pushing on.  I went out with Kenana, Peige and Ashley – they need to get more pounds.  I tell the police that we are going and therefore he will need to come with us.  We walk to the money changer and then ask about an ATM.  No one speaks English so I make a little pantomime of an ATM machine.  I don’t even think about Kenana speaking Arabic.  When we leave the office for the bank (about 10 minutes away) kenana says that the policeman said to the money changer, I have been with these people all day walking everywhere I am working very hard.  The man gave him money.  Hmmmm….file this detail away.

Tonight we have dinner booked at the Al Waha Restaurant – a Bedouin restaurant with Bedouin tents outside.  We have fresh fish (2 each) with rice and potato chips – salad, tahini and bread start the meal.  Shortly after we arrive – the French delegation come to meet us.  We will eat and then gather to talk after.  So we stretch out in the Bedouin Tent on the floor on the mats and cushions under the night sky and talk about our delegations.  Cathy is our translator – her French is wonderful and we are able to communicate.  Ahmed has brought a statement that his group want each organization to support.  A statement against the Israeli siege on Gaza, the occupation and the complicity of the world.  It is is a good statement and we have no problems to support it.  Later tonight we discussed the possibility of having groups from all over the world sign this one statement  - a statement that would have to get government attention because it would have the support of many, many groups aroung the world.  Nabil is excited about the endless possibilities that could be created.

At the restaurant, we are met by a member of the Red Crescent.  He tells us that we will be meeting with Dr. Saraj Sassy at his office.  We went at 10pm.  The French delegation shared the bus back.  The police are still with us.  Mohammed spoke to the policeman and told him that since the evening was very nice – we would like to go back to the hotel and just walk around – alone without an escort.  The policeman said that would be fine – he would escort us to the hotel and with a generous tip – we were free for the evening.  We need to arrange buses for tomorrow, the police escort, and everything else to go to Rafah.  Suddenly it is all being organized with the help of the Red Crescent.  I found out from Dr. Sassy that he went with us in March to the Rafah border.  He remembered with me how we sang there.  He said that Codepink is the most respected group that has come to the border – the most educated, the most polite..the most……Mohammed and Nabil and Ahmed are with me – we discuss our plans for tomorrow, we give him copies of the letter of invitation from UNRWA, the letter from Libby Davies and the letter from Irene Mathysson and the letter from Glen Pearson for Nabil Sultan to fact find for him in Gaza. 

We also have the letters and receipt for medical supplies from the Doctor’s syndicate in Cairo – he has the 14 page document of all the interviews etc. by members of Codepink who went to Gaza in March and a list of everyone on the delegations this week. 

Another gentleman comes in and we are told he will accompany us to the border tomorrow.  Then he says we cannot get in without the security clearance from the Secret Service.  I assure him that they Secret Service has been given our names and that we were just waiting for that clearance.  All the materials are now shared with him.  It is midnight – the French group arrive.  There papers are not like ours – they do not have invitations or letters of support.  They tell that they are waiting for a recommendation from the French Embassy but that it hasn’t come yet.  We need copies of everyone’s passports so we head back to the hotel.  Mohammed goes up to get them from the hotel.  Nabil and Ahmed and I wait downstairs. 

We are so tired.  Nabil gets a call – I have forgotten my phone at the Red Crescent. We head back to give them the passport copies and get my phone.  The evening is over.  Another day will begin soon…….tomorrow, insha’allah in Gaza.


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