Just a quick note to say I’ve been uploading images in the galleries here (see menu above) but also on my Flickr site. Please do have a look.
I’ve been in Gaza 36 hours but it feels like much longer and I am incredibly sad to be leaving tomorrow.
Yesterday I was numb I think, maybe even purposely. There are pieces of hope, but visiting families in their homes and seeing the squalor and lack was awful.
I’m not a development officer or a hardened photo journalist. I’ve not been doing this for years. I’ve never been anywhere like this before regardless of the fact there aren’t many places like this. I’m a woman who picked up a camera a few years ago, likes to mess around on the internet, likes to play with words and talk with people…and yet here I am. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to be here but I can’t shake that feeling someone is having me on.
But here I am. Today we visited Al Ahli hospital, run by Christians to serve all people, to see the Medical Mission project. The purpose of the project is to provide transport to bring people in from the refugee camps and other areas that were obliterated by the wars, especially the 2014 event and t give them a wide range of treatment and education. I haven’t been to their homes and won’t get to visit on this trip but I’ve seen pictures and spoken to people who live in what amount to shipping containers. They have no healthcare options at all in the area they live.
Again, I can’t really give away the stories of the people I met, but I am really, really proud of the difference Embrace supporters are making to these most vulnerable people.
I watched as a little boy had his burns bandages changed. I listened to a grandmother emotionally describe how her grandson really needs help because he isn’t growing; all they have to eat and drink is flatbread and tea. I listened to a mother being given advice as to how to feed one of her triplets whose health is waning. I talked to the head of the hospital about the hope they have to increase an oncology department bringing much needed education, diagnosis and treatment options to a population where breast cancer is still almost always a death sentence.
While I’m on the subject, my Embrace colleague and friend Su is running the Palestine half marathon in April to raise funds for Al Ahli. She has had treatment for breast cancer this past 12 months and is inspirational in her dedication to help others less fortunate when it comes to treatment options. Her Justgiving page is here.
After a few much needed hours of downtime, we visited Fr Mario at the Latin patriachate. Fr Mario is a Catholic priest in Gaza. We spoke at length about the Christian population in Gaza, what it is like to be a Christian here, what his job entails and much more. I will tell his story at length another time but I had to hold back tears repeatedly as he described the very real dangers he faces, the isolation he feels and the desperate situation the Christians he serves are in.
Embrace’s mission is to support Christians in the Middle East who are serving people here who are marginalised and vulnerable. Fr Mario provides a place and a ministry for those Christians to find support and solace with their brothers and sisters in Christ. With less than 1200 Christian in Gaza, which has a population of 1.8million (probably more), feeling part of the church, locally or more is almost impossible. I feel isolation tangibly as Fr Mario talks.
Fr Mario is originally from Brazil and has been via Rome (where he worked in the parish containing Mafiosa) and is in his 3rd year in Gaza. He talked of imprisonment, arson, having drugs planted in his car and what it was like to be heading back in to Gaza in 2014 as the war started while many others fled. I was floored by his humility and selflessness as he talks about himself and the people he serves. I was struggling to comprehend how he was still standing at all, when he described how he has asked to be transferred to Aleppo but didn’t expect to be allowed to go. He shrugged and said, “we must go to the places no one else wants to go.”
A lot of people didn’t want me to go to Gaza, they were understandably concerned. But I am very glad I came and I wish I could stay longer to see more, meet more people and talk with them. I haven’t felt unsafe, I haven’t felt threatened. Everyone looks at us because it’s relatively unusual to see a couple of pasty Brits walking around with notebook and cameras not blending in in the slightest, but they all say ‘hello, welcome, why are you here?’ When we explain we’re hoping to help people in the UK and beyond hear the stories of people in Gaza and the Middle East they start to talk and don’t stop.
Tomorrow we head back to Jerusalem for a few days to meet more partners. I’m excited about that too but I really do wish we could stay here a little more.
Rob and I have just returned from a week in Cornwall. It was his first trip but I’ve been many, many times as my grandparents lived there when I was young. Family holidays consisted of all 5 of us squishing into our red Rover and spending what seemed like half the week sat in traffic jams across the Tamar bridge then down the A30 as it took 8-10 hours to travel from Buckinghamshire to Falmouth. I have even more admiration for Mum and Dad who managed to take themselves, 3 kids and all our associated paraphanalia South West for a week or two every summer without totally losing their minds. These were the days pre-rear seat seatbelts so my brother used to sleep on the parcel shelf – I guess that freed up some space.
It seems times have changed and we made the trip in 4 and a half hours with a stop. It was a relevation: Cornwall is now do-able in a weekend! No more being dragged out of bed like that one time when we were woek at 3am to miss the traffic and be in Penryn in time for a fish n chip breakfast. I kid you not.
Here are some photos from the week with a few reviews of our favourite places and tips for money saving.
We booked The Tannery Loft through Cottages for You and used our Tesco Points to reduce the cost by £100. The Loft was in a little linear village called Grampound which was perfectly centrally located, no more than 45min-1hr to all the major hotspots and only 10minutes from St Austell and Truro for supplies.
We pre-booked out tickets for the incredible Eden Project 2 weeks ahead online. Picking a day saved us 20% but picking a window saves you 10%. If you pay full price, you can convert your ticket into an annual pass at no extra cost. If I lived closer it would be a no brainer. What a boon for locals! Plans are to do a separate blog on the Eden Project.
Truro Cathedral is a must see. It’s a very young building, the foundations were laid in the 1880s. Entry is free. Sweet gift shop and lovely cafe with homemade cakes.
Can the fact I asked people on Twitter what we should do on our last day and 2 people repsonded with the same answer mean I can call our activity CrowdSourced? Maybe? OK. We took the Falmouth to St Mawes ferry across the Carrick Roads, a 20 minute, blustery journey to a quintessential Cornish fishing village with a castle and shops to explore. Rob just loved the ferry ride – anything with a motor keeps him happy. The trip felt a bit pricey at £10 a head but that was return and you get glorious views of two castles, the working boatyard, harbour and if you’re lucky you can see seals and maybe even dolphins.
One of our favourite things to do on family trips to Cornwall was to disappear to the North Coast, to one of the seaside bay villages and eat our fish n chips off our laps in the car watching the sun go down from the car park. I’m sure we did sit on the beach to eat sometimes, but my memory is sitting in the car. We did the same in Perranporth and had probably the best fish n chips I’ve ever had from Haddock’s End chippy.
Mevagissy is the picture postcard fishing village you’ve probably see images of. It has the higgledy piggledy streets you’d expect and a plethora of great places to eat. I loved the fish of the day grill (4 types of fish and a fish cake) at the Wheelhouse and were entertained by the fusion of seafood and Americana at the Sharkfin.
I have to confess to not being dead keen on visiting the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at Gweek but it was top of Rob’s to do list. I was fighting memories of a cold, bleak, windy, fishy set of pools with nothing to see in them, a memory from way back when. So I was delighted to find a mouch more welcoming and informative animal sanctuary, with woods and wildflower meadows to stroll through as well as plenty of animals to watch and coo over. Oh yes, and tey have otters too before anyone queries the photo below! This is Starsky and Hutch, the resident otter pair. Discounts available online.
An absolute delight and unexpected highlight of the week were the Lost Gardens of Heligan. As the name suggests, these formal and informal gardens were left to ruin until the early 1990s when they were brought back to life. Visit the the pigs, look for natural sculptures and cross the rope bridge over the Jungle floor.
St Michael’s Mount was our first National Trust property and another boat ride. Look for the giant’s heart and steel yourselves if you’re not good with heights – the castle at the top is worth the climb but our nerves were certainly tested. We would have loved to have walked the causeway to and from the island but the tide times were against us.
Next National Trust was Trerice, a very small but sweet house and garden on the way to Padstow.
Last National Trust was another blast from my childhood past – Trellisick Gardens. A few weeks late for the rhodedenron blooms but bang on for the wisteria.
Other highlights and tips:
- Padstow and a walk from the centre to the war memorial overlooking the River Camel to Rock.
- Porthtowan, another north coast bay town with rough seas and great for surfing.
- Falmouth Town, a town of two halves, one the perfunctory high street with WH Smiths and the banks and another half full of gift shops, local artists and crafts, pasty and bakeries and cafes. We loved the tea and cake at Ragamuffins and had a feisty, cheap lunch at Cribbs, where you go for Caribbean food in the south!
- The App for Cornwall is useful, with links to vouchers and discount codes for entry.
So I’ve never been a big fan of Instagram – probably not the right thing to say to encourage people who are already fans to take a look. I don’t like some of their terms and conditions and I was a bit snobbish about how the filters made “all the photos look the same.” I’d been using some other similar sites but my fave recently stopped operating.
So I’m giving the Gram a go as heatherstanley_ and so far I have to sheepishly admit I’m enjoying it. I decided to make it an only positive expression of me – you can still follow my gripes and politics and soapbox issues on here and other SocMed outlets but in another mindfulness exercise Instagram is going to be about recording positive parts of me.
The photographer part of me needs to point out my phone camera is crap and I have no intention of neglecting my DSLR. A new phone is on its way shortly so hopefully I won’t be struggling with focus!