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?



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.


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.