Saturday, August 30, 2008

Israel, Early 1972

These photos were taken in Israel during January of 1972 with a second-hand 35 mm camera. I have recently scanned and edited them for this blog entry. The following comments reflect aspects of my memories and thoughts related to my stay.

We were originally supposed to have left Addis Ababa, Ethiopia early in the morning, but there had been a bomb threat related to the El Al flight to Tel Aviv I was on. After checking in, we were kept at the airport in Addis Ababa for the scheduled duration of the flight without being told why. We later figured out that it was to see if the plane would explode. When it didn’t, we took off. (The technology of security measures was minimal in Ethiopia those days.) I have to admit that it was nerve-wracking to discover the reason for the delay while we were in flight. I vividly remember wondering if there had simply been a delay in the explosion or perhaps a miscalculation on the part of the supposed bomber. While nothing dangerous actually happened, my imagination ran wild until we landed. In any event, I arrived at Lod airport in Tel Aviv very much behind schedule but in one piece much to our collective relief.

The flight delay meant that we arrived in Israel on the Sabbath. The bus from the airport to the town was operating, but I seem to remember that little else that was. It was an interesting introduction to a new country, one of the many surprises that I would experience. Homeward bound after three years of teaching in Kenya, I eventually spent a month exploring a small part of Israel on what I now consider to be a superficial level in terms of gaining an understanding of the land and its peoples. .

In retrospect, I have to admit that I went into the experience with certain biases. As someone who had been raised as a Christian (although I claimed no religion in 1972), I had knowledge of Israel from a Biblical perspective. I had also read Leon Uris’s Exodus and other fictional works related to the establishment of the state of Israel. I had knowledge of the Holocaust. As a result of these biases, I went to spend time in Israel rather than Beirut, Lebanon where my Muslim Pakistani-Kenyan friend Peji suggested that I go so that I could develop what he suggested would be a more balanced view of the Middle East. In my youthful naïveté I saw the settlement of Israel from one point of view, one in which Israel could commit no wrong. (Today, I have a more balanced viewpoint and understand that all sides have legitimate claims and blame for what has happened to date.)

A good deal of my stay was spent in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, a city that was in some ways disturbed me. One of the first images that I had was armed men and women in uniform everywhere. While I had read about “Israel under attack”, to take a bus ride standing next to armed soldiers was both novel and threatening. Little did I realize that in a few months I would have a similar experience with armed soldiers in my own country on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin during the height of the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era. Those soldiers would seem even more threatening to me because I thought that it never happen in my own country.

Another impression that set me off kilter was one I had acquired while walking along the beach. I felt a strong sense of resentment from some of the older couples who sat bundled on the park benches. At first I thought that it might have been because I was a younger traveler and they had had to wait until they were older. Later, I thought that it might be my beard and longer hair, or even that I was young and healthy but not in uniform. Whatever the reason was, I told myself that I would take every chance to travel that I could and not wait until I could no longer comfortably appreciate travel.

Jerusalem- I had never been in a city quite like it before, but I felt much more comfortable there. My base was in a hostel in the old city and I wound my way through Jewish and Arab areas. I visited traditional historic sites and also had my first, but far from last, taste of falafel there. Under tight security, a visit to the site of the Wailing Wall resulted in the search of my travel bag-a normal occurrence in today’s post 9/11 world, but really bothered me at that time and place even though I understood the reason for it. More than anything else, that search experience later put the inconveniences of post-9/11 air travel in perspective for me. People in Israel have had to deal with more intrusive security measures for decades on a much greater scale than we have yet experienced, and hopefully never will.

Upon reflection, I enjoyed my visit to Israel, but felt that after a month I still only had a surface understanding of it. Today, I am amazed at the audacity of outsiders who have plans to “solve the problems of the Middle East”. To paraphrase Gandhi, any change is going to have to come from within.

Would I return? In some ways I feel that the changes in Israel have become more complex and dangerous and that they would prevent me from doing so. I respect what the survivors of the Holocaust have gone through. I also have a better understanding of the plight of the Arabs who call Palestine their home. I personally think that the cycle of reprisals serves as a barrier to the search for a solution that will equitable to both groups. It is a hope that I have that sometime in my lifetime there will be a peaceful resolution to the issues and that I will be able to return to learn further appreciation of the area.
As for my friend Peji and his request that I visit an Arab country to gain a different perspective-I did. Just three years later I went to live and teach in Morocco for a year. I will describe that experience another time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Which of These Does Not Belong?

What is the point of all of this? Perhaps after being serious about a lot of things in my life lately I'm trying Monty Python's, "And now for something completely different!." Or maybe it's Sesame Street's, "One of these is not like the other...." Or... do they all relate in some bizarre way?

Any thoughts on the grouping?

As usual feel free just to look, or comment as you wish.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kenya: An Amateur Photographer's Genesis

The photos in this post have been recently scanned and edited as part of a new project of mine. They were taken with either a Polaroid Instamatic or an unremembered brand 35 mm camera in 1969-1971, and mark my first real travels to a country other than my own. Other photos of Kenya, Israel, Greece, and Morocco will be part of later posts as my scanning/photo editing evolves. I will also continue to post more recent photos taken with my digital cameras.

Where It All Began

In October of 1969, I had graduated from college, applied to the Peace Corps, and was about to be inducted into the military at the height of the Vietnam War. I had also taken an exploratory trip into Canada. I was totally opposed to American military involvement in Southeast Asia and was confronted on all sides by the,” Love It or Leave It” mentality. As a nonviolent person, I was not about to promote the, “Change It or Lose It” message of the Students for Democratic Society or the Weathermen. On Friday the 13th I received a telephone call from Washington, D.C. asking me if I wanted to train to be a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in Kenya. As one of my friends in college had been a Kenyan, the posting seemed to be ideal. So, I went before my local draft board and asked for permission to defer my military service and enter the Peace Corps. I was granted permission to do so, and on January 1, 1969 after three months intensive training in Swahili and African Studies, our group left for Kenya. I lived and taught in Kenya for three years, until December of 1971. During those years, I met some very good people, traveled in Kenya and the neighboring countries of Uganda and Ethiopia, and took amazingly few photos.

I need to explain my mindset at the time that the photos I do have were taken. I was an American who was angry and disgusted by the actions that my government was taking in Southeast Asia. I had even had heated words with some of my friends and family members over the whole political situation. My goal in Kenya was to immerse myself completely in this new country and try to put my old country behind me for a while. I was at the point of even considering applying for Kenyan citizenship, and this was two years before the massacre of American students at Kent State University. Even though I was culturally an American and racially a Caucasian, my goal was to blend into Kenyan life to the greatest degree possible.

In terms of my photography, this had a very significant effect; I hardly took any photos during my three years in East Africa (I took more than 500 in my trip to Italy, Spain, and France in 2006). The reason that this happened is that I tried to avoid appearing to be a tourist. I wanted to be more like the wananchi (people of the country). Most of the few photos that I took were of the countryside when there were no other people around. The exception to this was when I went on a medical project in the Turkhana region on the western shores of Lake Rudolph with the World Heath Organization during a teaching holiday. Even then the photo of people was taken from afar. After all of these years, I’m, still trying to blend in as I travel and, while I more openly use my camera, am reluctant to photograph people in their daily lives. I still feel that the action is too intrusive and have discussed this at length in earlier posts.

The photos that I have included here are from two areas that I spent a lot of time in, and a third area which I can no longer identify but I like the photo. Amukura was a village in the Western Province of Kenya on the Kenya-Uganda border. I spent the first two years of my Kenyan stay and my teaching career in Amukura. The area was so remote that for the first year my mail was delivered to a box in Tororo, Uganda. Two of the other photos are of the island of Lamu, located off the Kenyan coast in the Indian Ocean. At the time, Lamu was an isolated, peaceful, Muslim community open to visitors and free of any motorized transportation; it was my favorite location in Kenya. I spent much of my long-term vacation time in Lamu and I have many fond memories of the town, long and unspoiled beaches, and its people. (One of my many post 9/11 regrets is that Lamu is said to be less welcoming to Americans.) The unidentified photo, the first in the series, appears to be an escarpment (possibly overlooking the Rift Valley).

In any case, this is where it all began. The Vietnam War era forced me into direct action in terms of travel. Had it not been for these circumstances, it is possible that I would have remained in Maine, USA most of my life. I certainly would not have felt as comfortable in new and culturally different settings. For this reason, I refer to my travel to Kenya as a genesis.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Direction of Travel/Lucca Revisited

When I think of places I like to travel to, I’m really torn between smaller urban areas and metropolitan areas. On one hand, I’ve enjoyed either visiting or getting to know places like Paris, London, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Tel Aviv, Athens, Montreal, and Chicago. On the other, some of my best travel experiences have been in places such as Collioure, Lucca, Boothbay Harbor, Lamu, and Ag. Nicholos. While metropolitan areas have a diverse potential in terms of kinds of experience, smaller urban areas can offer experiences of much more intimacy. I should qualify these statements a bit. I have to admit, I have sort of limited myself to either small urban areas or metropolitan areas because of accessibility. Outside of my own country I prefer to visit places I can either walk around and explore or combine walking with public transportation (I ended my hitchhiking days in the 1970’s when it became a less safe way to travel.). The only exception my avoidance of driving in other countries to date has been my years in Kenya when I owned assorted motorcycles and sometimes had challenging travel experiences.

Ultimately, I believe that one of the reasons that I like to travel is the chance to get a bit below the surface in a place and experience its day to day patterns. Admittedly, in order to do this in any depth you need to spend years in a location, and even then you are often still an outsider. Still, a few days, a couple of weeks, or even a month-long stay has the potential to create a situation in which you have better understanding in regards to life in a particular small urban area. What I am definitely NOT is a “If this is Tuesday, this must be ____________.” kind of traveler.

An example of a visit to a small urban area was our stay in Lucca, Italy which lasted slightly less than a week. We stayed within the walled city in a small hotel at the recommendation of friends who had been there repeatedly. Everything from the Duomo (cathedral), cafes, stores, the market place, historical sites, the train station, a laundromat, and restaurants were within walking distance. After a short time we became temporary “regulars” at a café for breakfast. It didn’t take long to become both familiar and comfortable with the city. In the end, we were reluctant to leave even though we had a feeling that the next stop of our trip, Collioure in southern France, would also be enjoyable.

The photos in this series were taken in Lucca. My intent was to have you to come away with a flavor of the city, maybe even be encouraged to visit it on your own. Lucca, with its history, scenery, and welcoming people is a place that I would like to revisit.


I just ordered a photo/slide scanner that I’ll be able to use on 35mm picts I took years ago in Kenya, Israel, Greece, and Morocco. I’m really looking forward to seeing what can be done with my pre digital camera efforts in terms of making them presentable for sharing. Will see what develops……(unintentional pun ).