Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Letter to My Sons: Clowning Around

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

I’m sitting in a restaurant by the beach. The orange glow of the sun is fading and poised to sink into the Mediterranean. A few moments ago there were a couple of kites shaped like snakes flying high in the breeze above the laughter and screams of joy from children splashing in the sea. The music is playing, couples are taking photos of each other next to the sunset. Many of the women are smoking their shisha pipes, something that wouldn’t be considered appropriate just a short distance away on the other side of the street. The mood could only be described as festive. There’s even a man dressed in a saggy dog costume with a Santa hat on his head hugging children and having their parents take pictures.

This place could be any seaside restaurant, but it isn’t. For those who come here, it’s a refuge from the reality on the other side of the restaurant’s walls. The roads are filthy and in disrepair, trampled upon by scraggy donkeys pulling wooden carts and sad-looking battered cars with broken mirrors, dented fenders, and hanging exhaust pipes. The shops that were open when I drove into Gaza City earlier today sold a smattering of dust-covered cheap toys and clothes imported from China – Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob, and Spider-Man are on countless schoolbags, sandals, and t-shirts at every street corner. The occasional dirt-covered shop window yields a passing glimpse of the promise of a better future: delicately embroidered wedding gowns hugging old mannequins. Posters of gun-toting men at every roundabout are a severe reminder that any foreseeable future is likely to be guided by violence.

Go ahead, make a change in someone's life, even if it's only a smile.
I want to believe that the conditions most people are suffering through in Gaza are not the result of their own actions. I want to believe that their poverty is not a consequence of their hatred but of longstanding circumstances shaped by people in power on all sides of the conflict. The average Gazans sitting next to me at these tables tonight are happy; they are enjoying each other’s company as they sit with friends and family under a warm summer evening sky. They are like other Gazans I have met in past journeys: their conversations are lively and spirited, their smiles genuine. The only really mean looking people I’ve ever seen were the guys on the posters holding guns up to the sky.

I asked a friend of mine the other day whether or not he thought there would be peace in Palestine during his lifetime. He didn’t hesitate to say no. Having worked with people here for many years, I unfortunately agree with him. However, my fatalism should never be an excuse not to attempt to create a change that can make things better, at least a little bit. 

A clown just showed up honking a horn and being chased by a group of young children. He’s got the right idea, that clown.

Je t'aime Alexandre, je t'aime Sam, Daddy

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