DAY 11: 29 AUGUST 2011

All ready to move-Moulana Igsaan Hendriks

The excitement is bubbling. This morning very few choose to sleep, unable to cope with the rising anticipation. I do the same, but it is for more practical reasons, like trying against hope to get my freshly washed clothes to dry in a near impossible time so that I can pack up.

 

The morning of departure arrives, and participants assemble in the lobby of the hotel in all their glory. Shining in their bright yellow Africa 1 T Shirts, they embrace one another, snap away for the memories and spontaneously break out into Athkaar. On the outside of the hotel, I witness another picture. Buses idling-all surrounded by an intimidating array of security personnel, from police to the army and what could quite possibly be intelligence personnel as well. But there is no reason to fear. They are all here to facilitate smooth passage for the Convoy, the impressive result of many lenghthy negotiations. There are yet more negotiations this morning, wild number counts and then, the wheels begin to roll.

 

En route to Gaza

 

 

Traditional prayers for travelling kickstart the trip and it only gets more vibey as the journey continues. What is supposed to be a tiresome drive of upto 8 hours morphs into an enjoyable roadtrip peppered by many moments of laughter and joy. The great singing talent that the bus can showcase, plays a central role in all of this. Sheikh Adam Philander, the nightingale of Macassar wows the passengers with his passionate Athkaar. Rivalling him are a young group of Bahraini youth with the most beautiful and sublime voices. They expose the crew to a whole new genre’ of Anasheed with a unique Bahraini flair. One after the other, they keep the momentum going, every member making a contribution to the vocal revolution. It is an exchange of cultures that is most appreciated, but the Bahrainis really struggle to contain themselves when Capetonian Boeta Rashaad assumes heirship of th microphone. He launches into a fullblown Qadiriyya Zikr-body movements and all. The Bahrainis certainly haven’t seen any of this before and break out into laughter and giggles, all the while making sure they do not fail to capture any moment.

 

In testimony to the vibrant spirit, even the elderly Sheikh Abdul Gamiet Gabier graces us with his angelic voice.

The Nightingale of Macassar, sheikh Adam Philander

 

Such a spirit manages to shed off the weariness of the journey and I notice how rapidly the landscape around us is changing. From an urban setting, we rapidly move on to more sub-desert settings and then onward to lush greenery and farmland coupled with narrower roads. It all changes dramatically when we cross the collossal Suez Canal bridge into the Sinai. Here we enter into the harsh terrain of the Sinai desert bordered by the Meditteranean Sea. When we stop at the first army checkpoint, the Convoy undergoes an expansion resulting from the medical vehicles that had been awaiting the Convoy at this point.

 

Crossing the Suez Canal

 

 

We snake through the isolated desert pathways, with the idyllic Meditteranean appearing as a mirage. We reflect on the route and some of its famous wayfarers. These include the Prophet Moosa AS and the Children of Israel. Just to make sure, Moulana Igsaan reminds us that they did not have the luxury of travelling in airconditioned coaches.

 

As we steadily approach our destination, so does the momentum of Moulana’s encouragement pick-up. In vivid detail does he recount every step Umar bin al Khattab RA took in heading towards his conquest of the Holy Land. To assume that any other initiative towards liberating the Holy Land would be successful without proceeding in the same spirit, he says, would simply be foolhardy.

 

 

 

Mobile coverage is excellent throughout, even in this arid desert. Army escorts change regularly and soon we are in resort town of al Arish. Here the Convoy grows even longer, this time owing to trucks laden with medical supplies that join up at this point. The Rafah Border post is now almost a stones throw away, but a rumour that we may have to wait at this point for upto 4 hours for outstanding supplies almost quashes everyones spirits.

 

The Rafah border arrives and with it comes much trepidation. Outside, there is much chaos. Children swarm around us, begging and selling their wares. Taxi drivers are shouting out loudly trying to outdo their peers, and the Convoy’s many amateur photographers are all lining up to capture the iconic sight of the entire Convoy in formation.

Egyptian side of the Rafah border

 

With little fuss, we enter into the Rafah terminal. All cargo proceeds ahead of us unhindered, as it has been pre-approved. Passengers alight their buses and are greeted warmly by awaiting immigration officials who quickly usher them through X-Ray machines. Whilst we scramble for luggage and try to locate missing passports, a new sense of urgency arises. The border will be closing in just 30 minutes for the 3-day long Eid holiday and we urgently need to obtain clearance before that. Which comes to pass. Back onto buses it is, or for some of us the medical vehicles that are part of the convoy. With a Palestinian and South African flag waving on either side of the vehicle, it is a most harmonious sight. And it is most gratifying too, to contrast our uneventful stay at the border, with the many hiccups, extended delays and acrimonies that Convoy’s of times gone by experienced at the very same point, earning this place a particular notoriety. Most vivid in my memory still is the image of an Egyptian tank leading the Convoy right until the border and the many Egyptian soldiers along the route who not only waved but smiled as the Convoy rode past. Perhaps the day is coming, when they will muster the courage to proceed even beyond these artficial borders.

 

The transition between Egyptian Rafah and Gazan Rafah is quick and dramatic. A tall apartheid wall-looking structure is the first thing I notice. Next, there are microphones jutting though our open windows as awaiting journalists eagerly try to snap up a memorable soundbite. Inside the walls of the Gaza immigration compound, the first words that I hear are those of the Azaan. I also notice groves of palm trees silohetted against the Gazan dusk. And I am sure this is foreboding of a most Blessed experience.

Gaza at dusk

 

It is on the stroke of Maghrib on what could be the last day of Ramdan 1432. Immigration officials are waiting for us not behind their counters, but at the entrance to the building. They hug and embrace us and then take our passports. Totally unconventional, but charming.

 

Milk and dates are on the menu for Iftaar, not too far off from the biblical description of this land being one of milk and honey. More interviews and more photo opportunities, but rightfully at this stage we have not much to articulate but our limitless excitement. The warmth of the welcome however, totally blows us of our feet. Previously reserved individuals immediately find their tongues and express their emotions to me most passionately.

 

It does not take long to engage with the Gaza experience. The first reality that strikes is just how dark this territory is. So far, there are hardly any street lights and many houses in these initial areas appear to be running on generators. Our guide explains: Gaza’s electricity supply is highly unstable and districts could be without electricity for upto 6 hours at a time. It is Iftaar time and the streets are quite deserted. I do notice a group of children playing outside one of the shanties with candles in their hands. Every now and then too, young children run out of their homes waving and singing at the passing bus.

 

Then comes the news from our guide that Eid will be tomorrow. Could be ask for any better start. The situation develops fast. Next, we are informed that we are headed straight to the mosque of the Prime Minister, where he is eagerly awaiting to meet us. It is a most special honour.

 

The mosque is teeming with observers and security personnel outside and inside. They carry heavy ammunition but also have no qualms about shaking and embracing their bretheren. We walk straight into the welcoming reception. We all file past the Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and shake his hand. There are no formalities, nor burly security guards whisking you aside. The Prime Minister sits humbly on a chair in the crowded mosque. He is a remnant from the books of our glorious history-a true man of the people. Whilst we are waiting for the program to begin, even young children run up to him and he gladly smiles and offers them his hand.

 

I sit at his feet now and listen to him speak. Every now and then he glances down at me and my microphone and smiles gently. His soft eyes move slowly across the crowd. Moulana Igsaan Hendriks addresses the crowd too, whereupon the microphone is credited to Sheikh Adam Philander who lights up the Masjid with the Eid Takbeer. By special request, he also recites the Zikr of Ya Latheef, a formula taught to Dr Essam Abu Yusuf by his grandmother, to protect them from the harm of their enemies.

The smiling Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh

 

The Prime Minister also dedicates some time to adressing the females of the Convoy as well. We undertake to shake the hands of as many of these gifted people as possible. Some choose to even carry the little children who have come out to meet us on their shoulders. Tall and muscular, former policeman, Junaid van de Plank is one of these. Little is he prepared for it, when the young ones, by collective effort reciprocate and manage to lift his burly frame into the air!

 

The chorus of Takbeer at this Masjid tonight has been the most powerful I’ve heard thus far. We embark onto our buses and head to the transport ministry where we park of the medical vehicles that will be distributed to various charities over the coming days.

 

 

 

We call in at the well maintained Gaza International Hotel. Incidentally, as can be directly attributed to the siege, our group members are the only occupants. The room is fully functional with a clean bathroom, fully functional airconditioner and satellite television. Only the water is a bit salty. But I can live with that. All that matters is that I am in Gaza.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All Roads Lead to Gaza

The Big Day Has Arrived! Dressed in their bright yellow Africa 1 T-Shirts, assembled in the reception area of the Movenpick Resort and empowered with a mandate to break the siege, participants this morning are eagerly awaiting the start of the final leg of their epic journey towards Gaza.

Rafah here we come!

 

As I climb into the bus, the following kind words from a reader of this blog, will most certainly serve as a great inspiration on the journey:

“We may not be with the convoy, but you are all constantly in our minds and hearts, and you are all in our dua. You take with you into Gaza not just medical supplies and other aid, but the collective dua made by all of us for the liberation of Palestine from oppression. Looking forward to the blog that reads: “We are in Gaza”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

DAY 10: 28 AUGUST 2011

 

 

A brief nap after Fajr and I awake to a most sweet sound. In the Palm Cafe outside, one of the workers is busy removing litter from the picnic tables, while audibly humming to himself the most beautiful saluations upon Mohammed SAW. ‘Sallalahu ala Muhammad, Sallallahu alayhi wa Sallam,’ over and over again he recites. In his simplicity and gentle gait, there is certainly an exemplary contentment of heart.

 

Moulana Igsaan confirms to me that departure for Gaza would be early tomorrow morning. The demanding schedule of appointments in Gaza as outlined to me, will certainly afford participants a rich insight into all dimensions of this society.

 

I also inbox a Gazan to enquire about the availability of mobile connections in Gaza. She assures me that there is nothing to worry about and reiterated how eagerly they are waiting for the Convoy.

 

I make it a priority to make a stop at the room of Sheikh Abdul Gamiet Gabier for his reflections on the journey thus far. He has a special attachment to Egypt and it was here that he spent the prime of his youth and gained the bedrock of his education. When he says that he began his studies at Al Azhar in 1948, I just know that this is no ordinary story.

 

He has not been to Gaza before, but did visit refugee camps in Khan Yunus in 1957 whilst he still was a student. Now all these years later, he is back at a most exciting and uncertain time for the region. Egypt has embarked on an ambitious new journey and he finds this extremely gratifying. He does warn though of the sweetness of freedom, to which I add-Freedom is sweet, but without utilising it wisely it could give you diabetes!

 

Entering Gaza with the Convoy will be a major milestone for him and he again uses the opportunity to express his desire to enter a liberated al Quds-even if it be on a wheelchair.

 

Excitement of the imminent departure appears to be settling in. There are many lengthy calls back to South Africa reassuring family members that all is well and wishing them a joyous Eid. Many even give instructions to their spouses or children on how to distribute Eidie or gifts on Eid day.

 

On a stroll outside the hotel, a local Egyptian, Abdullah, takes me for a stroll through his Natural Oil enterprise. From flower farms to manufacturing the essence and distributing it worldwide, this business is deeply rooted in tradition and dates back centuries.

 

A dipping orange sun, with a backdrop of the ancient pyramids is symbolic that our stay in Egypt is nearing it end. The great people of this promising nation have hosted us well. Now we need to convey the same warmth to our hosts in Gaza.

 

Our legendary taxi driver, Ismail, had promised to pay us a visit prior to departure. And at 11pm he is waiting outside with a special gift. He hands over two large Papyrus rolls printed with Surah Ikhlaas and Surah Falaq. He hugs me tightly and asks me to promise that I’ll keep in touch. He has to go but not without first reminding me: ‘Don’t forget, you’ll always have a father in Egypt.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

DAY 9: 27 AUGUST 2011

 

 

The spiritual endurance of the evening demands that I take some serious rest. This is a day I sit transfixed to my computer screen and keyboard. The past few days have been highly eventful and the corresponding journal entries reflect this spirit. The symptoms of anxiety as predicted by Moulana Igsaan are apparent all across the group. It could be said that my room, 1201, sits at the crossroads to the Gaza. Since I share it with Shakir Baker, the national co-ordinator of the Al Quds Foundation, it inevitably recieves many visitors. They come armed with a barrage of questions on the journey ahead. By my association, it is sometimes assumed that I too should have the answers.

 

The finer preparations for the visit to Gaza are going well. After being assigned specific responsibilities yesterday, task groups are doing whatever advance planning that is needed for their assignments. One of the many knocks at 1201 this morning comes from Sisters Shenaaz Farret and Fatima Bhorat. They have come to see Shakir for some technical assistance on a powerpoint presentation they will be making to the women of Gaza on the extensive support women’s forums back in South Africa have tendered to the Palestinian course and the Convoy in specific. Filing through their photos, one is filled with a sense of pride for the inroads this convoy has managed to make.

 

With participants not yet sure whether the wheels of the Convoy will roll on Sunday or Monday, the suspense is thick. One bunch of clever blokes decide to lighten the mood. A knock is heard on the door and a group of convoy members who hail from Springs on the East Rand make a dramatic entry. They introduce us all to a certain South African they say they met whilst on a shopping errand in Cairo. He speaks up for himself saying that after having lost his passport he has not managed to leave Egypt and is thus making ends meet on the streets. He has a bandanna type hat, dreadlock type hair and decaying teeth. He surprises all of us by saying that he is aware of the presence of a Convoy to Gaza in Cairo. When pressed for clarity, he says” “You’ll be suprised how the word spreads.” But he does not stop there. He is a vagrant and he quite confidently calls his price. ‘I won’t leave this room without at least LE50,’ he says. He is persistant: ‘How can you be assisting the poor in Gaza, but not your own from South Africa.’ It strikes a nerve. Some in the room deny that we are ever going to Gaza, others tell him to speak to the leadership and yet others can be seen visibly shaken with sweaty palms. Sister Shenaaz suggests that Shakir give him $20. Shakir will hear none of it, but eventually digs into his bags to produce a LE5 note. Shenaaz even appears willing to hand over a $100 note. But the vagrant’s doting eyes still leave no one alone. He wants more and he even tries to play on my conscience. I have none of it, rudely brushing him aside. I know something is fishy about the whole setup. Who would be so naive to bring any stranger with you from town into the safety of your hotel room. Moreso, how did he manage to evade hotel security. He appears to be getting even more violent and even accuses us of wasting his time. The misery could have been prolonged, but totally unexpectedly he jerks his hand towards his cap and in a sharp motion pulls his hat off his head. His cover is blown. Dr Mohammed Patel of Springs appears to be having too much time on his hands. But he managed to pull wool over many of our eyes. And he walks away having being rewarded with a LE5 for his efforts. The room crashes in laughter. But he has already hit the road. The search for the next victim begins in earnest.

 

There are yet more visits throughout the day from individuals whose experiences in the university of life are truly enriching. One is Uncle Haroon from my hometown who has spent almost a month on the road with the land convoy. He is keenly looking forward to driving the special needs medical vehicles into Gaza. In all he says and does, he displays a total contentment with whatever comes his way and shows a liking for simplicity.

 

There is also Aunty Fatima(Tima) Robbertse who laments the effects of wealth on peoples character. They may be earning double digit salaries, she says, but many do not have the decency to call their parents or close family regularly. Which jolts me, another call home as we prepare to enter Gaza is certainly due.

 

Palm Cafe or ‘Palm Cafe Masjid’ as we refer to it is the hive of activity for the group. From meetings to Salaah, Zikr, Supper and Taraweeh-it all goes down here. This evening, Sheikh Ibrahim Gabriels bends my arm to lead the first 2 Rakaats of Taraweeh. He then asks me to perform another two. He goes even further and requests that I perform Witr and Qunoot. I chersish the opportunity. The senior Aalim from Mitchells Plain always tries to bring people back to the realities of the Hereafter. Once while in Palm Cafe, he made a dua that we all be reunited under the palms of Jannah. Today he reminds us that just as Ramadan will end, our lives will also end. But this ending will unlock the doors of eternity, which is what we should truly be aspiring towards.

Welcome to Palm Cafe'Inside Palm Cafe'

 

 

Delightful clusters of dates in Palm Cafe'

With the conclusion of Ramadan comes the festival of Eid and this year Insha Allah, we will be celebrating it in Gaza. Moulana Igsaan informs me of a major Eid party that the Convoy is planning for more than 2000 orphans in the territory, wherein they will be generously gifted as well. It promises to be an Eid like no other.

PS. The photos of the South African bandit aka Dr Mohammed Patel are still embargoed. He will only allow publishing once his begging quota has been met

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment