The Love of a Mother

Time Travel Tuesday~ Originally published in August 2007

Tucked away on the Mount of Olives lives Ibrahim. His home is open to anyone, for any reason. He embraces travelers, spiritual pilgrims, volunteers, students (and a multitude of stray cats) regardless of their race, religion or nationality. This is my home for the next two weeks.

Inside the Holy Church of the Sepluchure.

My housemates vary each day but their stories are nothing short of fascinating. Currently, this dwelling is home to a French gardener, a nun, two French travelers, one British peacemaker, a Belgian volunteer and ten college students from the United States (5 of whom are fellow Tar heels).

Ibrahim believes that no one should want for food or shelter and spends many hours cooking for all his house guests. Large batches of rice and lentils, hummus and pita, pasta and potatoes decorate the large table which occupies much of the kitchen and the guests eat in small packs. We gather around to share stories, debate politics and listen to Ibrahim tell stories of traveling the world to spread his message of peace.

He works with religious and spiritual leaders from all religions and they gather often to work towards mending the divide that grows each day within the borders of Israel/Palestine.

His approach is simple.

‘If the money used to make walls and wars were given to the people in need, there would be no more fighting. If I have food and I don’t have to make work, I’m happy, I won’t fight you; what would we fight about? Why should one man make one million in a day when another man makes less than a dollar?’

Some may argue the economics and simplicity of this approach towards world peace, but at its roots, the theory makes a good deal of sense. If a man can provide for his family and has the ability to do so without interference from an occupying force or his own government, there remains little reason to fight. When young men are given a chance at a hopeful future and are allowed to engage in productive activities and are given a purpose and a means to support themselves, they have little reason to bear arms and engage in violence to achieve what they believe is a viable future.

Starve the youth of their future, force a man to watch his family face famine, separate a community with walls and check points, dehumanize the identity of a citizen in their homeland, withhold the ability to seek knowledge, deny the freedom of speech and dialogue and you will see violence, you will see conflict and you will see bloodshed.

A young Palestinian boy delivers bread to the baker inside the Old City.

Mother’s will see their children die for the glimmer of hope that a revolution may provide. Families will watch their loved ones die violently because a community is filled with hatred and misunderstanding. Children will be orphaned because the leaders of another country want to possess and control a resource within their lands. Wives will bury their husbands because their government wants to gain a profit from the military machine.

Ibrahim points to the younger listeners at the dinner table, ‘So it is up to you, the young people, to change these things. To stop this war, to stop the violence. It is up to the mothers to stand up to their leaders and say ‘don’t send my child so far away from me. Don’t send my son to a distant land to die.’ Soldiers should protect borders of countries; they should not go far away to a land where they do not know the language or the people and fight. It’s up to you, the young people, the mothers.’

And yes, it is up to us. We will carry the burden of correcting the faults of our leadership. The dangerous foreign policies that our governments implement will be ours to repair and we will have to answer for the pain and suffering our governments are causing throughout the world. And maybe it is time for the women of the world to stand up and say stop killing our children.

Maybe the women of the world do bear the burden of repairing the damage done by the powerful men of leadership. For, as my host pointed out, every man has a connection to a women, they see them as their mother, as the nurturer as the one that provided both life and love.

Is it possible that the strong men of power can be reached through the gentle yet reinforcing hand of the mother?

Artwork inside the Holy Church of the Seplechure.

We are all Citizens

Originally published in July 2007

After a day of sightseeing, my new Jordanian friend invited me into her home for coffee and a traditional lunch. The den was a welcome change from the hotel and possessed the personal touches which make a dwelling a home. Pictures of family decorate the tabletops, paintings occupy the wall and treasures passed about from generation to generation and carefully placed throughout the home.

A little American grafiti on the streets of Madaba, Jordan.

While sharing coffee my host’s sister, who lives in the Gulf, and her nieces stopped over to say hello. Her husband, a local doctor, also came home for a long lunch break. The young daughters speak perfect English and luckily for me, prefer to communicate in this language. My host’s sister also speaks perfect English, yet she, my host and her brother-in-law communicate in Arabic intertwined with the occasional English phrase. The doctor prefers to speak only in Arabic

The den was alive with various dialects, laughter, sharing of You Tube video clips on cell phones, questions of each other’s homelands and comparisons of fashion trends between countries.

“We are all citizens,” says the doctor with a chuckle.

I glance about the room and each person here carries a US passport and has such a diverse and interesting story of living in the States. At that moment, the true value of my American passport hits me. Such a simple document has broadened the lives of every person in the room, including myself. I am often reminded of this as I enter a country and have no problems obtaining a Visa and never receive a second glance.

The next day I visit my friend again and her best friend joins us for coffee. She is a second generation Palestinian refugee whose parents fled the 1947 conflict into Jordan and are not able to return to their homeland. Traveling to Israel for her family is difficult and due to her refugee status, she has no passport of any kind. She has applied for Visas to enter her homeland to visit her sister but the 2 hour journey is not a possibility as Israel will not allow her to return. Nor will the United States permit her to enter for a visit.

She shrugs and smiles, “I’d just like to go see my sister, she lives just over there,” and she points towards Israel. I feel a pang of guilt for leaving tomorrow for Jerusalem. “But she comes to see me, so it is OK.”

Those living in exile face this problem often, no papers, no passport and no country to issue the necessary papers to travel freely. I met many Tibetans living in India last summer who have little opportunity, short of marrying a western tourist, to explore the world as they also have no passport.

As Americans we should embrace our abilities to travel, to obtain a passport with some simple paperwork, to step on a plane and land in a foreign country. If only for a few days, we should see the world which so many are denied access to because they were born in a certain country or were forced to flee their homeland. Ours is a luxury that is afforded to few and we should utilize this gift to its fullest.

A Stone’s Throw- from the Time Travel Tuesday Series

Originally published in July of 2007

A Stone’s Throw

After visiting some ancient ruins from the dawn of documented history, my friend and I drove throughout the hills surrounding Madaba. The vast openness reminds me of the Badlands in South Dakota, but the signs showing the baptism sight of Jesus and the spot where Moses saw the promise land quickly indicate the history of this landscape.

My new friend looks out over Mt. Nebo at the vast desert.

A boy picks up a stone as our car drives by and acts as though he’s going to throw the rock at his friend. He sees us approaching, turns to us and pulls his arm back. I see the stone; it’s large and would do quite a bit of damage. I hold my breath, curiously wondering if he will actually throw it.

As time slowed and I quickly assessed the situation the boy seemed to make eye contact and calculate the same assessment. He pulls back and my heart races as I wonder what would happen if he did it, if he just let that stone fly at our windshield. He stops at the last minute and laughs at his friend.

On the streets of Madaba.

I ask my Jordanian friend with the Chicago accent what would have happened if he had thrown the stone at us.

“I would have kicked his ass.” Though she said it with a quick laugh, I have no doubt that she would have done just that, done a quick 180 degree turn and hunted that boy down.

Where does the violence stem from? At what point does the action of causing destruction become inherent? We have all participated in some degree of violence during our lifetime, even mimicking the larger acts of war.

I remember spending hours playing war games in the woods behind my church as a child. At church! At what point does a society embrace violence as a means of problem solving and at what age does a child distinguish between the playful act of throwing a stone at his friend and hurling a rock at the windshield of a speeding vehicle?

What elements within that child’s environment cause him to act violently towards the presence of strangers? Is he taught by his elders; does he mimic the images seen on television; is violence emphasized during his religious interactions and education?

Post election day security.

Are the violent tendencies merely the ramifications of living in a certain type of environment, with little opportunity of advancement for a sustainable future?  

I pondered these questions as we drove through the Muslim villages outside Madaba and into the Christian sections of the town.

For centuries man has resorted to violent acts in the name of his god. Can religious communities continue to coexist in this era of emerging fundamentalism? Or will nationalism remain a stronger tie than religion to help keep peace between such differing religious communities? I will continue to revisit this theme throughout the project, as I search for a deeper understanding of the elements which make this ability to coexist possible, or not. I do not expect to find answers, merely a better understanding.

Inside Mt. Nebo.

Time Travel Tuesday- Election Day in Madaba, Jordan

This is the first in an ongoing series called Time Travel Tuesday.  I actually began blogging sporadically while working on documentary photography projects in 2006 & 2007.  Very few people know about these writings, so I feel they should see the light of day again, with a larger and more engaged audience. We’re traveling back to my work in Jordan and Palestine where I spent a month or so documenting everyday life in the occupied territories, mainly the West Bank and Ramallah.

Election posters on the streets of Madaba, Jordan.

We start in Jordan, in a small town about an hour from Amman.  Madaba was a wonderful little town where I met some amazing people (and caught the nastiest upper-respiratory infection- which kept me from shooting often and allowed me to explore more writing opportunities- easier to write about political issues than chase after stories when you can’t really breathe properly.)  Enjoy!

Originally Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Election Day

Quiet and calm nestle within the streets of Madaba as the town awakes for Election Day. The nation has a two day holiday, yes-two whole days off in order to vote, and Jordanians are approaching their duties with diligence and a degree of excitement. I wander the streets for the visitor’s center, hidden well from the visitors and after several failed attempts; I head back towards the haven of my hotel.

A car speeds by and honks repeatedly as an arm waves frantically from the window. I look around and realize the flailing arm and erratic horn serve to gain my attention. The car whips to the side of the road and my driver from the airport jumps out of the car and dodges the traffic to cross the street. He greets me with a warm smile and shakes my hand. His excitement is contagious and I can’t help but laugh with him for a moment.

“Today is very busy, very busy with election!” He exclaims. 

He clutches both cell phones in his hand and I point to the mobile devices. He says that the election is today and his cousin is involved. I am unsure if his cousin is running for office, or merely involved in the process, but after several more moments runs back across traffic to his car and drives off in a fury.

A billboard from the streets of Madaba.

As I head back to the hotel, I notice the streets are waking for the day. A soldier and a man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth are working to snap a deadlock on the exchange office, one on each arm of the massive bolt cutters, pushing furiously and laughing at one another. A van speeds by covered with election posters and the words freedom written on the windows.

While preparing for a trip to the pool, (I find it hard to avoid working on something, so I use jet lag as an excuse for engaging in the art of relaxation) I hear shouting, as though from a large group, coming from the window. I see nothing, and just assume it’s a common occurrence. 

Several hours later, a new friend from Jordan (complete with a Chicago accent) tells me of the demonstrations happening throughout the town due to the elections. Throughout the day we hear sirens and helicopters and I fight the journalistic urges to enter the streets and photograph the process.

We notice people on the rooftops pointing, so we also make our way to a higher vantage point to see tanks filled with soldiers making their way up the main street into the city. 

Here I am, one day in Jordan and riots and demonstrations are occurring just down the road. Do I photograph? Do I participate in this Election Day process?

The journalist in me says yes, the practical side-which weighs the calculated risks of such situations says no- much to my professor’s dismay, I’m sure. Not knowing the language, not knowing the climate of the local political and religious sects and simply not knowing my way around town make this an illogical choice.

The day after the election. Yes, this was shot from the hip b/c photographing tanks and soldiers in a foreign country just after a riot isn't always the smartest idea.

Curious, I ask my local friend what is the source of these demonstrations. She heard that the government was trying to interfere in the election process and many of the young men from the rural villages were protesting this interference. I pause and think of all the issues we have in America when it comes to voting- disenfranchisement, vote caging, unsecured electronic voting machines, etc., and how calm our streets remain on Election Day.

Should our streets be calm when the government interferes with our ability to vote? Should we cause a riot, make a scene, force the government to send in troops to quell the dissatisfaction at our own election process? I am not condoning rioting, but merely saying a strong voice of opposition is needed at times, particularly when our ability to vote is at stake.

Would this balance our democracy, help force more of our votes to count? Or should we engage in more active civil disobedience to achieve such means; particularly when our media is unable or unwilling to help us voice our dissent? Maybe civil disobedience would be effective if the people had a stronger voice. And where do we derive such strength in voice?

Amidst the chaos of the day, the evening returns the town of Madaba to normalcy. As the sun set and both the political and actual temperature cooled and the streets came back to life. A car pulled away from the hotel covered in flowers and carrying a bride and groom towards their celebration of union. Tourists entered the streets to dine at the local restaurants, people launched fireworks in honor of several weddings and an almost full moon rose over Madaba.

News on the election day in Jordan.

Why Write Your Plans in Stone When You’ve Got Water?

How often do we make plans, talk about them, stress about the details only to have the plans disintegrate.  Poof.  Gone. (Crystal Street)

A young traveler waits for her train to arrive. This image was taken on one of my "whim adventures."

Life gets in the way, shit happens and our plans fly right out the window with our daydreams.

And we’re left looking down upon ourselves for not following through.  We berate ourselves for not being able to “commit” or we feel like a shitty friend for not being able to bring our plans to life.

I am almost famous for this.  For all of it!  As a freelancer, nothing- and I mean nothing, is ever set in stone.  I plan for one thing, and the exact opposite happens. I try to plan a get away to visit friends and my client decides that after three months of procrastinating they want to shoot on the very weekend that my friends have arranged their schedules to accommodate my visit.  I gear up for an overseas walkabout, and a couple clients decide to not pay their invoices at net 30- maybe net 45 or net 60 is working for them.  And I wonder why my hair is going gray at 35.

A couple days ago, I caught up with a dear friend who I hadn’t spoken with in several months,  He’s one of my more brilliant friends, maybe one of the smartest folks I know, and he takes unconventional to the point of revolution- and I love it!  We were catching up on our plans and the last time we spoke, our fall/winter plans were drastically different.

I should have been in Italy by now and he should be on the road with his Airstream and hound dog writing the great american novel- or it’s ugly red-headed step child.  We laughed at our dramatically different realities than we anticipated and he made a profound statement that I believe I’m going to snag and implement from this point forward. (It’s OK, he snagged my Airstream/traveling artist thing- so we’re even).

“I started telling people my plans are written in water.”

Brilliant.  That is now my mantra.

On a whim, my uncle sent me over to the Ultra-Light tours and sent me up for my own little roller coaster ride at sunset. And my pilot actually designed the craft and was so excited to have someone under the age of 60 flying with him that he made it quite an adventure.

No longer will I write things in stone, all plans will be written in water.  Makes perfect sense.

At this point, you may be thinking, “damn, she just can’t commit to anything.” And I truly can’t stand it when people say that.  It’s not that I can not commit- it’s that I choose not to.  And yes, there is a distinct difference between those two statements.

Clarification- there are certain things I commit to, bridesmaids in weddings (luckily my friends don’t ask this too often) family/best friend’s weddings, professional commitments, the occasional holiday and a romantic relationship worth investing in.  That’s really about it.  I leave the rest of my time completely open.  At least my logical brain does.  The eclectic brain fills my calendar with exotic travels, insane “round the Middle East” tours and long months spent in cabins in remote locales writing my masterpiece or the next “Almost Sunny in Philadelphia”.

Here’s my catch, I dream out-loud. I plan my travels, vagabonding and city hopping out loud.  I don’t know why, I just feel the need to bounce my plans off of whomever asks.  Sometimes I just vomit at the mouth about elaborate travel itineraries and long-term road-tripping. Then, as the time approaches and my resources fail to appear or professional projects linger in the realm of never-to-finish, I start to panic that my plans aren’t coming to fruition.  I feel guilty for telling friends overseas that I’m not going to make it and as it turns out, I’m not.  I put my tail between my legs when people see me and ask- “where are you going now, thought you were traveling” and my ego takes a brutal blow.

And I feel like an ass. (Crystal Street)

Our train hit a car at a railroad crossing. Someone wasn't planning that little mistake.

So, while writing my plans in water may not make visiting with friends all that easy, I believe that’s the way I’m going to state my plans from this point forward.  I am famous for just showing up at people’s doorsteps on a couple days notice or just jumping on an Amtrak when the restless feet syndrome kicks in, so why not just man up to this idiosyncrasy about my self and stop making plans and setting them in stone.

Note to friends, those of you who know and love me- thanks for letting me pop in unannounced for all these years!  Now that most of you have babies though, I’ll be staying at the local hostel or guest houses- so scout one out for me and keep it on speed dial!  You never know when my shiny face will be on your doorstep!

So, how do you deal with broken plans?

Are you more apt to just let the Universe take over at some point or do you get cold sweats if your itinerary isn’t set three months in advance?

Are you writing your plans in stone or in water?

Amtrak on a Whim – Images by Crystal Street

The images in this article are from my journey on the Amtrak in 2003 and they were all taken on film and slides.  I was in Richmond, most of my winter plans had fallen through and I was talking with my Aunt about Quartzsite, where they own a trailer park.  It sounded like this strange little carnival and I was in need of some warm weather and odd people watching.  So, the next day, I bought a ticket on the Amtrak and went from Virginia to Arizona.  Took just under 4 days- and what an adventure!