Logging Off

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Stuff

During the glory days, a dear friend shared with me the excellent tip that a good turd before bed will considerably reduce the next day’s hangover. It really works. We used to call it logging off.

The fat Doc now intends to log off from this blog. I am not going to have a massive metaphorical turd, but I am preparing to go to sleep for a while.

I left Gaza a month back. After the kidnapping and the hanging, it didn’t feel safe anymore. I hung around for another week, shuttling in taxis between my tiny apartment and my office, but that is no way for a man to live. So I quit my job and got back out via Rafah.

There is a lot of bullshit in the NGO world. People mean well, but there is little incentive to be efficient. In fact, the opposite is true. Many employees have an interest in making their jobs seem more difficult, more time consuming, and more deserving of continued funding than they necessarily are. If you are too efficient, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

There is also a lot of bullshit in the mental health field. Many mental health concepts are nebulous anyway, and the majority of them are culturally loaded. To transfer these ideas from one culture to another is no easy task. Perhaps it is not even desirable.

So, when the world of NGOs and the mental health field meet, there is a bullshit interface. On top of the security situation, it was all too much for the fat Doc.

Sobriety has gone out the window, but I’m in a mood to celebrate the fact that I am alive and back in Europe and that summer is here. And a celebration without booze is a sad affair.

I may try sobriety again later in the year, in which case I will resurrect this blog. But for now I’m off to celebrate some more. I suggest you do the same.

NGO Drivel

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Stuff

The fat man has now been to quite a number of NGO meetings. The most recent one was chaired by UNICEF, with representatives from UNESCO, OCHA and UNWRA. This is the kind of drivel his is forced to endure:

On behalf of UNICEF, I’d like to thank you for coming to this meeting. If you look at your handouts (200 unnecessary pages) you will see that we are proposing a new inter-cluster response framework to follow up on the draft work plan template identifying the core issues raised by the focus group as response activators for the implementation of the training toolkit – adapted to context, of course. I suggest that we prioritize our action plan activities as a working group and review the coordination mechanism of the response matrix to help develop a chronic crisis contingency strategy based on psychosocial indicators and agency capacity. The focal point of our task force is the drafting of an initial policy protocol which is in line with accountability standards and codes of conduct. I’m happy to say that the Geneva cluster is giving us a lot of support right now. Er, yes, Doctor Shusinski?

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? STOP RAPING MY LANGUAGE!

Etc.

Does this actually mean anything? Maybe it does, and my poor brain, damaged by a lifetime of booze, is unable to grasp it. But given the astonishing stupidity of most  salaried professionals, I doubt that.

On a less depressing note, I was given a tour of a spectacular institution the other day – the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, right here in Gaza City. It is housed in an amazing building and was built with funds which appear to have been contributed by every nation under the sun, including a few of the yellow ones.

The services they provide are really cutting edge – an audiology clinic, speech-language pathology clinic, sign language training and vocational training for adults (carpentry, ceramics and weaving workshops), and full schooling for 270 deaf children.

I was shown around the school and into a number of classrooms and to the kindergarten playground. It was quite surreal – little kids running around everywhere at top speed and beaming from ear to ear and gawping at the fat man’s bulk, but all of them absolutely silent. Really a very pleasant experience.

I was then shown the room in which parents were supposed to be trained to interact with their deaf kids. The room was intended to resemble a family apartment, presumably so that the young children would feel at home in a familiar setting. And it does resemble an apartment – if you happen to live in a penthouse on 5th Avenue. An open plan kitchen with bar stools surrounding the black granite kitchen counter, trendy designer furniture – I can’t imagine anything less likely to make impoverished deaf Gazan kids feel at home. And it didn’t look as if it had ever been used, probably for that reason. Still, there are limits to even the fat Doc’s negativity – it may be naive, but in a good way.

And, also on a positive note, I have been impressed by the psychologists whom I have accompanied on school visits. They are young and female and competent (and, luckily, mostly veiled). Whereas the individuals higher up in the organisation are all male and mostly self-important and incompetent. It pains me a bit, but then I join them and we sit around the office smoking endless cigarettes and ordering coffee from the very professional office waiter and delegating to the secretaries, and the pain subsides.

Frogs

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Stuff

Last weekend was a very shitty weekend. In a lifetime of shitty weekends, that’s saying something.

People say that Gaza is an open air prison. Well, I can’t leave my apartment without  an escort (not that kind, sadly). So basically I am in my own prison, within another prison. There are power outages most days, and especially on weekends; I can’t even get youporn.

I tell you something, the not boozing/not getting high is a piece of cake compared to all this other shit.

I went to visit another school yesterday. A girl’s school. I was hoping to bank some material to make up for the power outages, but ended up having a what might have been a true noble thought, so I feel kind of guilty about the banking thought.

First I met the teacher in charge of discipline. I can see why they put her in charge of discipline – she was a scary old cow. Had a witch’s face and crooked brown teeth and a facial twitch and dressed in a bogey green coat and scarf – like something out of Roald Dahl. We met her because one of her students – a 14 year old girl – has stopped talking. Gone completely dumb. They call it aphonia. Apparently her house was shelled a lot during the war, and she’s shit scared of the green witch who is also her form mistress.

Well, the green witch told us how she left the silent girl alone and respected her space and all that, but you didn’t have to be a sleuth to work out that she was lying through her crooked teeth.

We then went to meet with the aphonic 14 year old. She was very tall and thin and cripplingly shy. Her handwriting was indecipherably minute. The psychologist I was with – the other (!) expert – chatted to her and made her smile a bit then laugh a bit and by the end of the session she had made some intelligible noises. But the poor girl was just so shit scared of everything.

The fat man wanted very much to look after her, and nothing else. This was the noble thought referred to above. Take note, future members of the jury/ parole board.

And then another weird thing. I’m lying in bed tonight, unable to sleep. It is very hot. Then I hear drumming on my roof. At first I think it is rain. Rain on a roof makes me think of dear Octavio Paz:

La tristeza es la lluvia en un tejado de zinc.

But no, it’s too heavy for rain. Is it hail? Surely it cannot be hail.

I go outside to look. It’s frogs! Hundreds and hundreds of tiny yellow fogs bouncing off my tin roof and landing on the stone floor, their limbs all twisted and deformed. They look like lots and lots of little half chewed bits of juicy fruit gum. Where the fuck do they come from?

La sorpresa son ranas en un tejado de estaño.

Out of sorts

Posted: April 15, 2011 in Stuff

The fat doc is out of sorts.

No longer does he just have to worry about the threat of Israeli airstrikes and getting caught in the crossfire, but now the  extremists are back to kidnapping foreigners for the first time since 2007. They kidnapped an Italian journalist yesterday – he was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and arrived on a boat bringing humanitarian aid in 2008. Pretty impeccable pro-Palestinian credentials. He was kidnapped yesterday and found hung this morning – fast even by extremist standards.

Fully alive one day and nonexistent the next. No matter how many times that has happened, or how many people have commented on it, it’s still bizarre.

Poor bugger.

And the other victims? Well, once again, who else but all the ordinary lovely Palestinians who are trying to build something out of all this mess.

As for the fat doc, he is keeping his head down.

Celebrity! Woo woo!

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Stuff

The fat doc is a frikkin’ celebrity! I’m serious.

I visited a school today where the organization I ‘work’ for has implemented a mediation program. As soon as we were through the school gates, I was surrounded by a crowd of excited teenagers. They were all shouting at once and everyone wanted to shake my hand.

Try telling that to the teachers and juvie officers who used to say to me, ‘Shusinski, you dumb piece of shit, you’re just going to end up a drunk and a smack addict and a petri dish for venereal disease!’

Yeah? Well today, here in Gaza City, I’m a goddam CELEBRITY!

The irony is that I’m probably the only person left in the world who thinks that being a celebrity is total fucking bullshit. But still, now I can think that and actually be one at the same time. That gives it more weight, and weight is a good thing.

So why am I celebrity here? I guess it’s because I’m the only non-Palestinian that anyone ever gets to see. There’s plenty of UN and NGO people in the city – in fact, Gaza couldn’t operate without them – but, like my friend B, the foreigners are not allowed outside  their offices and their apartments and their bullet proof vehicles. So no one ever actually sees them. In fact, since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a single other Westerner in the streets.

So what were the kids shouting?

Welcome welcome welcome welcome welcome welcome Manchester United Chelsea welcome welcome welcome!

My God he’s fat!

He must eat babies for breakfast!

Imagine the size of his balls!

Achmed, don’t say things like that or I’ll never hold your hand again in our charming non-gay Arab way.

Something like that, I imagine.

Then I was invited to join the discussion with the school counselor and the therapist who was responsible for training the mediators. The mediators are kids who are chosen to be trained in conflict resolution techniques in order to reduce aggression and violence among students. They get to wear vests with lots of pockets which look a bit like fishing jackets.

The school counselor turned to me:

Doctor Shusinski, do you have school mediators in America?

Um, yes, we do, but we don’t call them ‘mediators’.

What do you call them?

Ummm, Snitches. Collaborators. Cock-sucking teachers’ pets!

???

Don’t worry, they’re very technical terms.

Actually, on the subject of technical terms, I’m worried. I’m hearing a lot of them over here. HERE?! Like yesterday, I went to a meeting. Well, it wasn’t really a meeting, but rather a meeting to discuss having a meeting. And in that other meeting, the one we were meeting to discuss, the psycho-social mental health cluster would come up with a plan as to how to plan a new evidence-based intervention protocol, to replace the old intervention manual, which was insufficiently standardized across service providers, thereby protecting against human rights violations while also working to improve gender equality.

They love to pack in the buzzwords.

Can you blame the fat doc if he has started to wonder how much of this is genuine, and how much of it is prostitution for the UN dollar?

I had a long powwow with an embittered old Palestinian street vendor yesterday. He’d lived in Cleveland, Ohio, for twenty-five years.

I came back to Gaza two years ago, and it makes me sad. The young guys here, they have their tight t-shirts and their spiky hair and their trousers around their butts.

At that moment, 5 youths who precisely fitted that description walked past.

And they spend their time on facebook and in chat rooms. None of them know what Palestine is, what it stands for. I wouldn’t call any of them a man. When I was their age, I was living by myself in Ohio. In my area, the police wouldn’t come. There were black people dealing drugs in front of my store. One day I go out and I kick the shit out of the biggest of them, and I make sure everyone sees. From that day on, I never had any trouble.

Young Palestinians today, they’re like black people in America. They don’t want to work, they prefer to live off handouts. In America, they live off handouts from the government. Here, it’s from aid agencies and the UN.

I thought about pointing out that it’s not just black people in America who prefer to live off handouts. I’m white and have avoided work all my life. But when two angry old men come together, it’s best not to ruin the vibe.

And Hamas, they want to keep the war going because it benefits them. They stay in power and get rich. I’ve seen warehouses here full of medical aid that arrived after the war. They’re just waiting to sell it at the best price. Gaza is not what it used to be, I tell you.

Well, I walked home after that, but I was thoughtful. It’s disconcerting, and novel, to meet someone more cynical than I am.

Then I rounded the corner onto my street and saw the fat kid on the quad bike who lives a couple of blocks down. He’s constantly showing off on his damn quad bike. This evening he was cupping a bag of sweets in his hand, as if he needed them. You might think that I would show some solidarity to a fat kid, but you’d be wrong. There’s a big difference.

1. My fat is hard-earned and comes from years of heavy drinking.

2. I’m from the richest country in the world.

In fact, I don’t think I could ever fully trust a thin American, they’re either vain or mean, probably both.

But an obese kid on a quad bike, in one of the poorest places in the world… it makes you wonder.

Busy Night

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Stuff

Strange place, this.

Last night I was lying in bed and could hear the drones droning and the choppers chopping and lots of little pops and bangs which sounded like fireworks, except they were bombs and missiles and evil harbingers of death. A few people were killed during the night, so I’m told. The Israeli attack was in response to militants firing a rocket at a school bus, which was in response to the Israeli bombing of a house which killed a woman and her daughter, which was in response to Hamas smuggling weapons through tunnels, which was in response to etc etc etc truly ad nauseam. And, if I were anywhere else, ad bibendum.

Although you hear all this going on at night, the area I live in is really pretty nice. It’s called Rimal and locals refer to it as the ‘Beverley Hills’ of Gaza. I actually much prefer it to the vapid charmlessness of the real Beverley Hills. The fact that some areas not all that far away are being targeted in air strikes seems quite surreal.

View of Rimal from the roof

In the morning I climbed the six flights of stairs up to the roof. It was very peaceful and I meditated for an hour; a man’s got to get high somehow, right? When I opened my eyes, all I could see was white and blue, blue and white. The white glare off the tiles and the blue of the sky and the sea. So very pure, like mathematics for Wittgenstein, I like to think.

On the roof

Then I took a taxi to Faisal’s stables and rented a horse and galloped up and down the beach for an hour. The horse was strong and full of energy and quite unperturbed by the fat man’s bulk. The beach is long and the water is clear and we pounded up and down the hard bright sand until the horse was sweating and the fat man was sweating, and then into the clear water for the splashing waves to cool us. Then up and down the beach again and what a feeling, Rima the horse galloping for the love of it – the speed and the wind and the life pulsing through her – and the fat man laughing too.

Then I had to cross a main road to get back to the stables. Given the craziness of the driving here, this struck me as more dangerous than all the Israeli bombing. But my choice, at least.

Back at Faisal’s stables I spoke to the Captain, the head trainer I guess. A wonderful man and a true lover of horses. He held my hand in the non-gay way that Arabs do, which takes some getting used to but is charming too, then he showed me the horses in his stables and there were some very fine ones. We sat in the shade and talked but neither of us could really understand each other; all the same, it was better than all the hungover mornings of my life.

Gender Sensitivity Training

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Stuff

Jeez, guess I got punished for my last post. Yesterday morning, my organisation sent me as their representative on a day long gender sensitivity training course. Here in Gaza?!

The training was organised by UNICEF – they do something for kids out here, apparently. But I hope the poor kids never have to deal with the obnoxious militant Australian woman who conducts the training. She’s enough to put you off women, and Australians, for life.

Anyway, things started in good Arab fashion, almost an hour late. No one cares though. You just stand around drinking coffee and smoking. Finally everything was ready and we took our seats. We were given headphones so that the Arab speakers could listen to the real time translation of the lecture, and English speakers could understand questions posed in Arabic. The translator sat at the back of the room on a raised platform and reminded me of a dj, but a dj who actually does something impressive.

We were asked to introduce ourselves and a microphone was passed around. It seemed to me that the microphone wasn’t working, and yet everyone was dutifully holding it up to their mouths. When it got to the fat Doc, I decided to draw attention to the fact that it wasn’t working. I tapped the mic with my finger, at which point the dj-translator flung his hands to his ears to remove his headphones. Poor fucker.

But the fat Doc is used to looking a fool. That’s something alcoholism teaches you. Well, not alcoholism per se, but waking up in the gutter or pissing your trousers or in bed with your ex wife. Or taking a swing at someone but missing and hitting a wall and breaking two bones in your hand, which I’ve also done.

Anyway, to get the ball rolling, the militant Australian wanted to encourage us to distinguish between gender and sex.

‘You’re born with gender, you want to have sex?’ offered the fat doc. What did I care, I already looked like a fool.

‘No, that’s not right. Gender is a social construction, whereas sex…’ yadder yadder yadder.

I was the only non-Palestinian in an audience of about 40, which was split roughly half and half between men and women. People here are not shy about speaking their minds in public. When the issue is one as sensitive as gender, that can be quite amusing. However, it seemed to me that everyone else in the audience was having a tricky time getting their head around the difference between gender and sex, until it transpired that the dj-translator was translating both terms with the same Arabic word. The fat man enjoyed that.

However, after a while I began to feel that the militant Australian was bullying her audience. I mean, they all work for Palestinian organisations which are dependent on foreign money, and they know that, and she knew that, and I thought she was lording it over them a bit. She said some stupid stuff too, like telling us that it’s wrong for these organisations to use the word ‘children’. Apparently you have to say ‘boys and girls’. Why? Because, she told us, when she sees the word ‘children’, she assumes that it partakes of the historical global inequity and only refers to boys. Dumb cow.

For all her gender sensitivity, there really wasn’t a lot of cultural sensitivity to complement it. In fact, if I was even more obnoxious, I might have asked, ‘How would you respond to the suggestion that this training is a neo-colonial, cultural imperialist enterprise which arrogantly attempts to impose a Western value system on Palestinian society, in flagrant disregard of local sensitivities, and does so by dangling the carrot of aid donations before hungry Palestinian eyes?’

Instead, I said, very meekly, ‘I just have one question, and I would be grateful to hear from anyone: how does gender equality training relate to Islam?’

That really set the cat amongst the pigeons. Cue heated debates all round the room, and not a little friction. But after the obnoxious Australian, it was music to my ears. The fat doc sat back and placed his hands on his belly, well pleased with his work.

Damn French

Posted: April 4, 2011 in Stuff

There are a lot of things I like about Gaza. Surprisingly, the food is great. Not in a ‘jus of this drizzled with reduction of that’ sort of a way. No, just hearty and delicious. Shawarma and falafel and hummous and eggplant dripping with olive oil and pickled everything else, what more do you need?

Turns out my taxi driver in Egypt was the rule and not the exception; all taxi-drivers force you to smoke a cigarette with them when you get into their cab. Trying to insist that you don’t smoke really doesn’t make much difference.

In fact, there’s a weird tension between trying to rip you off as a foreigner, which occasionally happens (to the tune of maybe 50p), and insisting that you are not allowed to pay for anything. On a couple of occasions, I have ordered coffee and the waiter has refused to let me pay – welcome, welcome. A Gazan would not receive the same treatment in Starbucks.

Coffee is great here too – small shots, flavoured with cardamon, doesn’t make my palms clammy, and a good thick sludge in the bottom, perfect for tasseography (look it up).

Weirdly, I actually find this city quite beautiful. Sure it’s covered in rubbish, but I gotta say, I love walking on compacted sand rather than tarmac, and I love whitewashed walls and blue skies and bright sunlight. What’s not to like? Even the Arabic graffiti, which I can’t read, looks cool.

Yesterday evening I went to a picnic area by the beach with my boss and his three kids and two older Swiss psychodramatist ladies. In fact, I’ve been helping these two Swiss ladies with the English translations of their accounts of conducting psychodrama groups with traumatised Palestinians. Psychodrama sounds pretty horrific to me; as if the original trauma wasn’t bad enough, you have to act it all out a second time. Sure, it can be valuable to process painful material which has been repressed, but does it have to be through drama? Personally, I find acting pretty traumatising in itself. But apparently the Palestinians found it therapeutic.

So I shoveled in some more delicious spiced meats, then I kicked a football around with the boss’ three boys. Everyone has so many kids here. In part, it’s a form of resistance. Everything here is political. And that can give mundane things a certain poignancy. A flower pot placed in a patch of sunshine seems to mean something more here, to symbolize a people’s struggle for growth towards a brighter future. Or perhaps the pot had just been in someone’s way.

Here’s another weird thing. This is Gaza, where everything is supposed to be ultra-conservative and strict and so on. And in some ways, it is. But then everyone smokes in their offices, and when someone’s mobile goes off in a meeting they feel no shame in answering and chatting quite loudly, and people do u-turns where the hell they want and generally drive as if they were off their heads at sunrise in Ibiza.

My friend B was back from the West Bank where he goes to join his wife for the weekends. He works for the UN where he has a great job, but the funny thing is, he is not allowed to go anywhere unless he is in a bullet proof UN jeep. He’s been in Palestine for at least 5 years and he thinks these security measures are totally unnecessary, but he’d get in a lot of trouble if he didn’t obey them. He basically just gets ferried backwards and forwards from his office to his apartment. It’s funny because he is a wild one and we used to roam together in the glory days when he made the fat doc look like a lamb.

One night we were drinking a sweet blue spirit called aftershock. Next morning B came down while the fat man was washing up, with blue washing up liquid. I passed B a pint glass full of the stuff, somewhat diluted, and B, thinking it was aftershock, knocked it back as was his wont in the glory days. Then he looked sorry and ran up stairs and started vomiting into the loo and all the while the fat man running behind and chortling ha ha ha, and then B vomiting more and it was bubbles, just bubbles! Oh the glory days.

Anyway, the wind started to blow and I tired of kicking the soccer ball, so I said goodbye and left, just so. And that too is easily done. People here just come and go as they please. Now if that isn’t freedom.

Then I went to join B who was having dinner with his French wife in a hotel also nearby. But really it was a very fancy hotel, who’d have thought? The dining hall was enormous, maybe like on the Titanic. And I spotted B across the room – he is distinctive – and I waved, then I walked and walked and walked, and eventually got to his table. And I met his wife, only for the second time, and we talked a lot, but not about the glory days because wives do not like that.

All this time I had also been thinking how wonderful it is that there is no booze here, and no women. Well, there are women, but Palestinian women are all wrapped up and do not provide fodder for Onan, although maybe that’s because of the fear of decapitation. And the only other women I had seen were the two senior psychodramatists, and my friend’s wife. But it’s a wonderful thing, no booze or women, because the mind stays clear and calm always.

There were some women in the dining room of the Titanic, but it was not enough to destabilize, they were do-gooder women and probably hairy everywhere and rivaling the good Doctor in girth, at least some did. Now A, the wife of B, said, ‘Oh la la, there is the table of the French documentary team. They are here filming the children of Gaza for a week. We should say hello. You should meet the presenter of the film, she is so beautiful.’

Pah! thought the fat man and B, for B was eating a dish of melted cheese (which is his favourite), and I thought, ok, so maybe not as hairy and corpulent as toutes les autres, but, for onanistic purposes, the fat man likes pretty and petite and all the lovely things that he is not.

So, world weary and sagging of paunch, we trundle over to the table, and there I meet this:

Her name is Melissa Theuriau and yes, she is utterly ravishing. It made me so angry. What the fuck does she think she is doing here? Gaza is not a place for petite sexy French girls. And, goddammit, if she’s here filming a documentary about Gazan kids, she might even have a brain, maybe a heart? Perhaps she thinks about more than designer handbags? Sacré bleu! She has a husband too, as it turned out, but that didn’t help – the equanimity had been upset, and now I wanted a drink. Fortunately I couldn’t have one, so I left with A and B and was cheered up when they had to wait while THREE security guards coordinated the surveillance of the 200m stroll back to their apartment, and I walked freely in the night.

Then I got home and Onan the Barbarian was on tv.

Arab Spring

Posted: April 2, 2011 in Stuff

I’m lucky, I got here just in time for Gaza Fashion Week. The Arab Spring Collection is about to hit the catwalks. My friends at Gazan Vogue tell me that this year everyone will be wearing pink chiffon. It’s to die for.

In the meantime, some Gazan street art:

 

Finally

Posted: March 31, 2011 in Stuff

Right, so I have finally made it to Gaza.

In the end I came from Egypt, crossing at Rafah, in the Sinai desert. This was only possible thanks to Yasser at the Egyptian Embassy in London. I had spoken to him over the phone and explained my situation with the tiresome Israelis. He told me to fax him my passport and letter of invitation from the Gazan mental health agency, and that he would forward my request to Cairo. He said there was no reason why they shouldn’t let the good doctor into Gaza, although it could take up to two weeks to get permission, and therefore I should request to cross on Wednesday 30th June.

On Monday 28th I received a phone call from Yasser. He said that my request had been approved and that I had to be at the Rafah crossing in 48 hours. A little stressful. I booked the next flight to Cairo from London.

I arrived in Cairo the following afternoon. On arrival, I went to the tourist information office to ask how to get to Rafah. Three different people told me to go to three different bus terminals. In any case, there wouldn’t be any buses until the following morning, so I took a taxi to a hotel near one of the stations. The streets were full of cars but everything was eerily subdued, not at all as I remember Cairo. The taxi driver was nonplussed when I attempted to stretch the seat-belt around my paunch, then he insisted that I smoke one of his cigarettes. People here are certainly less concerned about longevity.

I spent the night in Caesar’s Palace Hotel – a shit hole with an empty but nevertheless blaring disco next to my bedroom.

The following morning, I asked the receptionist to call me a taxi to the first of the three bus stations. He told me it was too dangerous for me to go there; I should go to the second bus station on my list. Fine, I did. Then I took a 5 hour bus to Arish. The road passed beside miles of dunes and occasional camels and nomads. From Arish, I took a 45 minute taxi to the border at Rafah.

Rafah is not a nice place. A lot of hungry, angry people shouting in Arabic on the Egyptian side. They don’t like to see fat American men, and they don’t like it when fat American men prefer to roll their own suitcases rather than engage their services. I went up to the gatepost and handed the official my passport and my letter, in Arabic and English, from the Egyptian Embassy in London. He looked at them, then handed them back to me shaking his head. He said something in Arabic. I spoke to him in English. Mutual incomprehension.

Occasionally, Palestinians returning to Gaza passed by me. A few of them did speak English and asked me what I was waiting for. I showed them my letter. They read the Arabic and tried to reason with the Egyptian official. He wouldn’t budge. An old Palestinian lady really lost her temper with him, on my behalf. Her grandson said, these Egyptians, they are idiots.

After an while, a foreigner crossed from the Palestinian side. He was with a number of English speaking Palestinians. I asked one of them whether he could find out why they weren’t letting me cross. He took my letter and went to find a more senior officer. He spent a long time chatting to the officer, then he returned and told me that I didn’t have permission from the intelligence service. I would have to return to Cairo to get a letter from them.

The angry hungry people kept shouting and I did not relish the prospect of a 5 hour bus drive back to Cairo.

I phoned Yasser at the embassy in London. Thankfully he was at his desk. He said he would investigate and that he’d call me back in a few minutes.

I hung up and immediately received a text informing me that my UK pay-as-you-go phone was out of credit. More stress. I tried topping up by text and was astonished that it worked. A very fine service, for once.

Yasser called back two minutes later. He had spoken to Cairo, and Cairo was calling Rafah. That made me feel important. Yasser told me I should continue to wait outside the gate and someone would come out within minutes to get me. I thanked him, profusely.

Half an hour later, still nothing. I called Yasser again and told him that the good Doctor was beginning to worry. He said he would call Cairo once more but that, if I wasn’t let through that evening, I certainly would be on the following day.

I waited for another hour. I thought I would almost certainly have to run the gauntlet of the hungry angry people and find a place to stay in Arish. There was no longer anyone else crossing in either direction. I was about to give up when a self-important official materialised. He took my passport, disappeared, reappeared, and ushered me through, wordlessly.

I crossed an empty car park to a deserted arrivals hall. After passing my bags through an X-ray, I was led to a bus, then driven a few hundred metres to the Palestinian border. Here a bearded wrestler in a military black jumpsuit welcomed me with open arms. Wrestlers, a fine breed, the world over. He led me into a room full of Gazans returning home. I was immediately greeted in excellent English by four or five rather tall, handsome, efficient and friendly Palestinian officials. They asked me why I was coming to Gaza. I showed them my letter of invitation. They shook my hand again and insisted that I have tea with them while the paperwork was being completed and we waited in comfortable armchairs for my driver to arrive.

A tall, grizzled, powerfully built man poked his head into the room.

‘You journalist?’ he asked.

‘No, psychologist,’ I replied.

‘You come for help the Palestinian people? Oh welcome, welcome.’

The day had been stressful and uncertain, but that was a fine feeling. Alright, so I might not be quite the Doctor they imagine, but I haven’t come here to fuck the poor buggers over like everyone else in the last 100 years.

After a while, the driver arrived. The sun was setting as he drove me alongside the Mediterranean, past mounds of rubbish. Then into Gaza city. I met my boss who showed me my apartment, gave me a phone, found me a sim card and bought me some dinner, all within 30 minutes. Gaza may be a bit of a mess, but so far I have encountered nothing but efficiency and goodwill.

Last blow out.

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Stuff

Like I said in the ‘about’ bit (at the top), I just got this job for a mental health agency in Gaza. They think I’m a doctor but I’m not, I just changed my first name to Doctor. It was easily done.

I’m going to Gaza to dry out for a bit – it’s very conservative and hard to get booze – and because I want to see what’s really happening over there.

Anyway, the Israelis have already started to piss me off and I haven’t even got there yet. They haven’t approved my security clearance. I applied 10 weeks ago and it still hasn’t come through. Every time I phone they tell me to call back the next day. They’re polite though, I have to admit that.

They tell you it’s sufficient to apply for security clearance just 10 days before you want to travel, so I don’t know why it’s taking so long in my case. The  people who answer the phone at Erez – that’s the crossing – don’t have access to any information. They’re totally useless, but very apologetic.

Anyway, if clearance doesn’t come through soon, then I’m going to try to enter Gaza from Egypt, over the Rafah crossing. I would consider going through one of the tunnels, except I think I’m too fat and might get stuck.

Because of the delay, I’m still here in London. I went to a wedding on Saturday. I wore my old morning suit – the tails and the baby-egg blue waistcoat and the itchy trousers which have soaked up quite a few spilled drinks over the years and now smell like a pub. I ended up at a party in some trendy apartment near Old Street. There was a bath in the middle of the of the bedroom, just standing there by itself. During the glory days I’d have pissed in it, just for fun. But not now. Doctor Shusinksi doesn’t piss in a bath tub, freestanding or not.

Because I’m not in Gaza yet, my abstinence hasn’t officially started. Plus I needed to blow off some steam about the whole security clearance bullshit. I had a few drinks, then a few more. Then I tried to get some of the sweet brown, but there was none  at the party. So I left and found a homeless guy and told him that if he set it up I’d buy him a baggie too. We met his friend who was called Littl’un, then Littl’un made a call and then we walked for ever to a housing estate up by Kingsland Rd.

The dealer sent a minion down first, some skinny black kid in a wife-beater. He must’ve been really high, or on some Brazilian favela trip, because it was damn near freezing outside but he was just shooting the shit with us in his little wife-beater and not cold at all. Then the Boss-man came down and he was a sight: massive black dude, cornrows, wearing a black suit with a black overcoat with one of those fancy Astrakhan collars. And a lot a lot a lot of gold chains. He saw me in my morning suit which was really pretty out of place in that shitty estate, but he was a gentleman because he said, Sir, that is a very elegant suit, I do like to see a well-dressed man. And I said, Why thank you Sir, allow me to echo those sentiments. Then we shook hands and he slipped me three baggies and I gave one to Littl’un and his pal and we were all smiling because it was a job well done.

We left the estate and to celebrate Littl’un pulled three cans of Special Brew out of his backpack and I walked between the two of them. It was busy on Kingsland Road, being a Saturday night, and people stared at the fat man in the morning suit with the two tramps, all three of us sucking on Special Brew and grinning from ear to ear because we had the baggies in our pockets and knew we’d shortly be tasting the sweet brown sugar.

I went back to the trendy party and smoked the brown in the empty bathtub. It was good stuff and I ended up dreamy and itchy the way I like it, but that security clearance better come through soon.

Littl'un's buddy, I can't remember her name.