There are times when a subject crops up often, and so soon after Dervla aired her views another view of Gaza is published. And when it comes from a prize-winning author, one whose writing a decade ago opened a whole new world of people and places, of writing, then a place had to be found on that old bedside table.
Louisa Waugh is the lady in question, though she’s added her middle initial, B, for this one. Meet Me In Gaza is her take on six years of living and writing, and loving.
Louisa came to Gaza after a period as an aid worker in Ramallah. She brought messages and kisses for the family of friends she had made in the West Bank; families that were unable to meet and pass on those kisses personally.
We are treated to all the angst of the border crossings, the searches and the tunnels. But more than that we are treated to life, to people and to humanity amongst the debris and detritus that oppression and occupation brings.
Her work began in late 2007, was interrupted for six weeks or so when she had to leave and renew visas, and again for what should have been a week but turned into a couple of months. Since the work ended she’s returned again, several times, to see friends and to witness the changes as Hamas exerts itself.
But the main change, as Dervla found too, was Cast Lead – that appalling period of death and destruction. Louisa Waugh had approached the crossing one night, with that stomach-churning foreboding we all get from time to time. Something was wrong. She was heading for Brussels, and a conference she didn’t want to attend, an absence of a week looming over her.
The crossings closed that night, and it was only after the Israelis withdrew, Cast Lead having destroyed the very fabric of life, ripped families to shreds, a couple of months later, that she was able to return, and to witness the death and the damage and the stoic refusal among the Gazans and the Bedouin, the farmers unable to plant their ancestral lands.
But return she did, back to work, back to friends and dinner invitations; back to the beach and the hammam.
She was there too when the Freedom Flotilla tied up at the port, the first foreign vessels in over 40 years. And she ventured out with the fisherman, hounded to a 6 mile limit of over fishing that decimated fish stocks and made an expensive luxury of a Mediterranean staple. 1993 it was that the Oslo Accord decreed a 20 mile limit. Bugger that, imposed the Israelis.
It is a book that will make you smile, that draws you in. It helps that Waugh immersed herself in work and culture, honed up her Arabic. After her stunning story of her year in Mongolia, in Hearing Birds Fly, I knew she would take me there. And I was not disappointed. She brings us a much lighter view of the Strip, without anger, without demands. She brings us life, from one of the world’s troubled spots.