Saturday, 26 December 2009

Day 10-13, 16th -18th December Turkey

Day 10

8am meeting to move on to the border. Its not a long run to the border with Turkey. Its a drizzly day. At the border we first of all have to present our vehicle docs at the first pass, then have to obtain a visa for 15 euro which is a sticker in the passport, this then also has to be stamped in a separate booth. Next the vehicle manifest has to be brought to a further booth and this is associated with a passport and the document is then taken to another booth to be stamped. Then this is shown to the customs people and we are done. Just beyond the border gates we can see lots of flags waving and people and noise. As we pull out of the border there are cameras flashing, people shouting support and waving. We are given bags of fruit through the windows and cakes or bread. There are a lot of supporters from IHH a large international humanitarian relief organisation. Now we have to try to get to a reception in Istanbul.

The sun sets and we head towards the city gradually, our team seems to be progressing quite well although Richard's van still has no exhaust and the frame for keeping the caravan on the trailer desperately needs welding. We get to the outskirts of town and A5 and A7 Richard get separated from us and onto a different road. I am in contact with Kamahl on mobile anyway so this should not be a problem. As we draw along it appears that there are many many supporters for the convoy in Turkey. Along motorway junctions and in towns crowds of people are waiting for us cheering, shouting, waving Palestinian and IHH flags and when we stop are trying to give us things. The drive around and through the city is quite tough with attempts to keep the team and convoy together on the CB in the rush hour traffic certainly a challenge despite the convoy having guides, the police hold all other traffic at the lights and we travel over these junctions which makes life easier. We cross through toll gates with no charge and continue over the Bosphorous bridge. We first stop at a reception where dinner is provided for us is a hotel conference room. Table cloths, press, speeeches ensue. While popping to the loo I manage to drop my UK mobile and it disappears into the squat hole. Nitemare. I had heard from Corinna earlier on and really want to get in touch with her as she is in Istanbul. Anyway I have no choice but to stick my hand it to retrieve it and thankfully it is there. I give it a quick rinse and take it apart to dry it out. This is not our overnight stop so after the food, salad rice stew of some sort. We are spoken to by Kevin about the itnerary for tomorrow which is going to include press conference, drive through town and a demonstration in the evening. We head back to the vehicles and travel a short distance to the overnight which is a sports hall nearby. On further examination I find that somehow I have managed to lose the battery for the mobi. I can't worry about it now and need to sleep after a long day. We have separate room for female members to sleep in. The sports halls have showers which is excellent and suitable for a big group like us.

Day 11

Istanbul Feshane

In the morning need to take the vehicles to a location on European side of the Bosphorous for press reception. We are not coming back to the sports hall which is a bit of a suprise as we all thought we were getting a day in Istanbul. People are confused as to whether or not they can go and see some sights or not. The vehicles look spectacular on the bridge. Meanwhile I'm trying to get hold of Corinna, to do this I need to phone pals in London who have her number as I lost the battery last night from the phone that has hers in it. We all park up and spend some time in the car park while there are pictures and speeches made. I make a cup of tea and wait for Corinna as I have managed to text her my travel number. She is so organised she has printed off copies of our itinerary from the web so knows more about what we are due to than I do and has located where we are! Next thing we need to do is take part in a city tour. Because we have such large number of vehicles we are split into groups of two teams and given a guide. I cannot find A3 boys and this delays us setting off. I am quite stressed about this as I think Turkish people are due to be receiving us on the route. Also we have to leave Istanbul later on and I don't know where we will be congregating to do this. Eventually they turn up but we are late for our guide and when we set off on the drive in the traffic it is a bit chaotic due to the amount of traffic. We get onto the same wavelength as the other team we are with on CB so the lead vehicle can inform us of where we are going but despite this the vehicle in front of us manages to take a wrong turn and six vehicles are on the wrong route. Due to the late start, the getting lost and the fact I have found out the city tour is just a drive around and not meeting anyone I decide we can just ask one of our Turkish colleagues to guide us to the Blue Mosque which is where most people want to go anyway. We have a look in there, bump into some other convoy members and go for a coffee in a small cafe. Then head back to Feshane and park up as coaches are going to be taking us to Taksim Square where there is a demonstration this evening. It is cold and begins to drizzle. We get to the square and on disembarking the coach the reception is clamorous! I am surrounded by hijab wearing women who are asking questions about the convoy and about me. Also a white South African woman approaches me and takes down some notes about me and the convoy. I still need to get a mobile phone battery, Taksim Square us close to high street shops and Corinna and I manage to find one, yeay! And a map of Turkey which we may need for the next leg. I don't catch much of the demo although was in the crowd for the beginning and the end.

There is some confusion about the timings of transport back down to Feshane but eventually I manage to account for everyone in the team apart form Cedric. He is in the car park when we get there. We now have the Turkish vehicles from IHH with us. There have also been joiners from Istanbul, Richard T, Dejanka and Samia. There is also a contingent of Americans who are joining. They are hoping to drive vehicles that have been parked up in Egypt for six months following a failed attempt to drive them into Gaza previously. So the number of members is now growing. One of the Belgian vehicles has a problem with fuel injection which needs to be fixed before it gets worse - they can stay in Istanbul to do this together but will need to catch up with us the next day.

I have heard from Richard T and I know he would like to drive for a bit. I think he can do this tomorrow as it is late and we are going to be night driving with some difficult bits and he does not know the van. So we jump into the vehicles and set off towards a town on the route called Adapazari. I am driving, the distance is not far but we are leaving in some traffic and progress is slow. Also on the route the convoy in front of us takes a wrong turn and adds a further half hour to hour on to our timing. We get in at 5ish and park in a town square - then are bussed to a sports hall to sleep. Amazing warm reception yet again. Only two and a half hours to sleep before we have to get on the road as there are appointments to be kept tomorrow in Adana and Ankara.

Everytime we arrive somewhere we are being plied with food, a lot of breaded or pastry type items but also fruit, yoghurt, water.

Day 12

We grab breakfast which again is all laid on with bread, egg, tea. Bus back to the square in Konye outside the municipal bulidings and a press conference is held in front of all the vehicles. A local TV company wants to interview me so I despite the two hours sleep I somehow manage to explain that the van has specialised aid in it for taking to Gaza and how much support we have had in Turkey.

We get on the road to Ankara and Konya. Ram and Juana the Malaysian reps from Padana Peace Organisation are going on ahead to be part of a delegation at Ankara. We arrive at Ankara and I am completely blown away by an Ottoman marching band that is put on for us a reception in a large sports exhibition hall. There are balloons of Palestinian flag colours decorating. The trumpets and stomping continues with finale including indoor fireworks and exploding glitter. More food and tea pressed upon us then onwards to Konya for the night.

On the road out of Ankara Richard V's vehicle's headlights fail. They pull over and it appears their alternator has gone. As luck would have it they have an alternator but the tricky bit is going to be getting the old one out and the new one in as a bolt is worn out and can't be removed from the old one. I leave them in the hands of the deputy Muj as we have to get the rest of the team on for the night in Adana. When we get there the two Belgian vehicles have arrived. They had to drive for nine hours from Istanbul to catch up with us today.

The rest of the journey is quite painless apart from some difficulties with locating the next sports hall we are due to stay in. After some directions from a security guard and telephoning we get there. It is a large modern sports and exhibition centre and again has plenty of space for our group with men's and women's rooms separate. Richard V is still trying to get in with the van and cara. He has sent on Muj ahead as they have a Turkish guide. Unfortunately the Turkish guide also leaves him so when they get to town there is some difficulty in locating us. It is now very late and they resort to hiring a cab to follow. They say go to bed to me so I do but shortly after call wakes me up - still lost. Even cab does not seem to know the way so I am still waiting up at 3.30am. Eventually Hassan from Press TV and I are outside trying to guide them in - we spot them a few blocks away driving up and down. Its a new build area with lots of unfinished apartment blocks and space so it is comical seeing them in the distance on the wrong road stopping and starting.

Day 13
Two and a half hours sleep, another early start. Comfortable sleeping on the big crash mats in the gym spaces and we are provided with all meals by the local support. There is lots of bread, tea, eggs, cheese. There is a rally event in town. We have new team members in the A4 vehicle students Ian and Fiona, Muj is having some difficulty with his vehicle which is having trouble starting. Theywant help from a couple of lads who have been pretty handy with the engines of a number of vehicles. It turns out however that these lads are on some sort of probation and are not allowed to drive their vehicle. I have to speak to their team leader to get permission forthem to come out and meet Muj. Their team leader Shak has only had them for a day or two as they were moved from the previous one. He says if I take responsibility for them then he's ok with that. They sort out Muj's vehicle and we all get on the road together. I explain to them that they can't drive their vehicle for the time being but I will discuss it later with Amer convoy vehicle lead. They are not happy about this but accept a driver form Muj's vehicle reluctantly. Tonight is our last night in Turkey at Gazantiep. We arrive at a large exhibition centre eventually after terrible directions on text message fail to indicate which exit off the motorway we should take. So a significant detour later we get into town, this time with 25 vehicles following us. Due to being late we are going to miss the reception at one location. Luckily when we get into town some police officers know where the other final destination is and we are guided by them to another sports hall. We are early which is a bonus. Vehicles are parked up on the ground behind the building which is gravelly and muddy. There is a laundry room at this location so ao couple of the lads get straight in. I have a couple of driving complaints to deal with so I approach he Belgians who are one of the complainers and also Richard T. The Belgians are not happy about the allegations. I decide we will have a whole team meeting at 8.30. I find a room at the centre which is a presentation room and has plenty of seats we pull into a circle I have also invited team leader Kieran and experienced convoyer Abid to sit in to assist. Hassan from Press TV wants to film the proceedings. So after thanking the Belgians for their long drive and Richard V and Jerome for sorting out their breakdown I raise the driving issue. The fact the Belgians have not been staying in line and cutting people up sparks an exchange. It is clear that A5 Kamal is angry about the driving and says it is dangerous. One of the Belgian drivers is defensive and there are almost insults thrown. Mrs Warsi gets snapped at when she asks who are the new Australian. An innocent comment as we have new students but not taken well by Kamal. Kieran talks through the reasons for staying in line and principles of convoy driving. I don't get a chance to introduce Fiona and Ian in the end. After the meeting I go up to the car park and speak to Kamal, Richard V, Jerome, Juana and Ram we are just standing in the car park almost planning to go somewhere but in the end just end up joking and talking in the dark by the vehicles. Richard gets out a nip of whisky. Back late to bed again. One of the American contingent has cracked her leg.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Day 6-9, 11th to 14th December 09

Ring through to the lads stranded at the services without a key and they have found the key! Amazing. It was under the drivers seat down through the seat, they were in the process of taking the vehicle apart when it appeared. Much joy. So they head in to Ancona and rest of Alpha team and the main convoy all make their way to port. We have been told the ferry is leaving at 4pm. Short team meeting to explain to everyone the ferry booking process and the fact that we have some time to spare. Prices are going to be 90 euro for the vehicle, 30 euro per person then extra for a four person cabin. In our group the Malaysian contingent are planning to get a cabin and Kamahl from Oz as well. So with two cabins in the team we think we can deal. The idea is the rest of us can crash out wherever and grab a shower if necessary from one of the cabins. So convoy goes to to book their tickets. It rapidly becomes clear that our ferry company does not have a 4pm sailing but in fact we are all on 1.30pm departure. Action stations.

Onboard those without cabins are directed to the 10th floor of the ship. This is the deck area and the plastic benches are part exposed to the elements so this does not appear entirely suitable particularly for the grandparents couple in our team.

There are showers on the top deck though so I take the opportunity while everyone is running around the ship settling in to jump in. On wandering around I bump into Talat Group leader for Manchester – he says he would like me to try and get some sort of accommodation for him and a few others. Rumour has it that the captain can be consulted for negotiations on cabins. I wait my turn to speak to him and explain about Viva Palestina, the age of the couple and the students – they give us eight passes to the dormitories and two passes to reclining air seats for free. Sorted.

There is a team meeting for whole convoy on the top deck. Kevin thanks everyone for making it so far and explains that if all goes to plan then after Istanbul where we are to be supported by IHH international medical aid charity there could be upto 200 vehicles in convoy for Gaza.

At question time Saj and Muqtal say that they have some concerns over the organisation and communications as they are saying that if they had not rung their team leader they would not know that the ferry was leaving earlier. However the majority of people appear to want to say positive comments and thank convoy leaders and VP. A Muslim brother gives a motivational speech. Team leaders then get called to a team meeting – I haven't eaten yet and having ordered food before that cannot be taken into the lounge we are sitting in this is long. Anyway after this its a nice evening – couple of beers and chat.

Day 7

Ferry pulls into Igoumenitsa at 6am. We are then on a beautiful sweeping route to Thessaloniki through mountains, tunnels, valleys. Snow on the hills and fog make the journey quite steady but the road is fantastically easy, new and clear. I am able to copy and burn two discs worth of reggae from the hard drive onto cd so we have some different music.

We have one stop where we grab coffee and some people have breakfast.

We arrive in good time at the outskirts of the city receiving text message information from convoy leaders. We are with some vehicles from D team when the vehicle in front of us takes a wrong turn and we end up separated from convoy. However with nine vehicles we wait in a quiet road and call VP who send a Greek host to find us and guide us in by following his car. We manage this by putting Cedric on a wireless radio handset in the lead car. He directs us through a few traffic lights and eventually to the basket ball stadium which is where we are staying we have made it by 5pm. There are pre-pack sandwiches which no-one touches because they are ham and cheese, cups of tea or coffee are available and the end of a basket ball practice taking place. Cedric is concerned after chatting with the guide who said they had only heard from Viva Palestina a few days ago for assistance. I check with convoy leader Kevin about this and he says the support group in Thessaloniki did have short notice because the previous one let them down.

The ambulance in our team that had lost its keys is reporting some issues with losing power, Mohammed A2 is also reporting losing power. Minibus and caravan A7 exhaust has fallen off so driving through the tunnels sounds like a B52 is flying overhead. The stopping place is on top of a hill overlooking Thessaloniki and is quite exposed to the cold air. In the evening a local delegation including the local mayor and one or two others arrive and speak to us, it is hard to make out what they are saying as the words are translated and the translator is unfortunately quite quiet and does not have all the vocab to express what they are saying. After this food is brought in for us in the form of hard boiled eggs, bread, feta cheese, apples – enormous apples. After this I am wandering about bump into Richard V and ask if he would like to go for a wander down the hill.

Most of the younger convoy members take the opportunity to have a run about, play some ball games and do some exercise on the mats and with the weights. Muj and his team have made some tomato rice dinner and givec me some. I share it with Hassan who starts talking to me – he explains how important his Muslim beliefs are to him and I explain how I am not religious at all. The place is a short walk from a high street with a couple of taverna, shops and rumour has it an internet shop. There is a gaming shop, small independent retailers couple of bars. Richard V and I wander down with the students from our group an American lad and a French girl Ingrid who lives in Swansea. We go into a bar where a number of other convoyers are gathered. It is relaxed, low light dark wooden furniture and a number of Greek locals out on saturday evening, The bottles of beer are expensive at 4 euros each. One of the bar waiters tells us that there is a band playing tonight and this will cost 5 euros – we say we will probably not go for this and agree with each other to move on after this beer. The performance starts up and is quite amusing as the lead man looks a bit like Pete Doherty and is prancing and striding around. It seems to be mixture of drama and music as there is narration and singing and then the band – not songs as such. Also there are women in the audience who participate in interacting with the lead with additional lines or actions. Nevertheless some of us decide to move on this time with one of the Irish contingent from Cork. Walking back up we stick our heads into a taverna where we are seated in a cubby and order Amstel. The Irishman tells us about a Gaelic football initiative which will mean setting up a Gaelic football team in Gaza for young people. He has goal posts and materials and ground work has been done by one of his colleagues which will mean Gaza has an official Gaelic football team which is part of a global network. He explains how the game has a strong network and this will respond to the needs of any young person who takes part in the game. The taverna turns out to be run by a Russian man and he is friendly and gives us a pizza. The beer is much cheaper here than in the other place but we don't stay out for another one.

Back up the hill to crash in the warm sports hall after a hot shower, it is late and most people are crashed out over the basketball court in their sleeping bags as Iqbal describes them as caterpillars.

Day 8

We have a more structured day ahead and there is going to be a drive down to the sea front of the town with a police escort. We manage to get almost the whole convoy down through town in spectacular style with the lights flashing and sirens on.

Thessaloniki town has a long sea front and we snake along it and onto the promenade where there are then photo opportunities, some speaking by Kevin and some free time to spend before the evening to return as we wish to the basketball court.

Leah and I sit on a park bench and eat food we have been given by an Albanian supporter on the ferry – vegetable pancakes, olives, roast parsnips. Then need to find wifi – unfortunately the only available appears to be Starbucks on the sea front. We sit there for a while, Leah gets chatting to Nargis and Tariq who come in as well. I leave to get back up the hill, bump into Zuber another team leader on the way back to the van and follow him and Peter back to base – after getting significantly lost in a nearby suburb. There are a few ancient looking ruins in the town, lots of small high streets and the sea front is quite developed. Weather is cold.

After finding base Zuber and Peter suggest going to get some food. I have lots to do because convoy leaders need us to ensure that all the members in our teams have their indemnity forms signed and that vehicles are aware of the fact their customs manifest forms must be done.

Because we are stopped for another night and there is a high street nearby people are scattered about a bit. I'm worried because I can't find my UK mobile phone anywhere. We go to the Russian taverna where I check for the mobile – not there, we stay for food. First hurdle is ordering. The menu has no english script at all and the owner cannot speak a word. Zuber is vegetarian and we need to make sure he doesn't get any meat on his plate. I flag down a passerby and they ask someone else but it turns out Georghe not only doesn't speak English but he doesn't speak Greek either - in the end we have to resort to him phoning a friend who speaks English.

Despite the language barrier Georghe is very friendly and comes to join us for most of the evening talking all the time animatedly in Russian. He understands we are going to Gaza. We order Greek salad and sovlaki he recommends Georgian pasta dumplings to us. In addition to this Georghe also provides for us cheese pizza, mushroom pie, lamb stew and then the shots of Stolichnya come out. He carries on talking and laughing and plying Peter and I with vodka. I decide I need to check at the bar with the strange band. YES!! There it is, found on the floor and handed in – amazing. I offer to buy them a drink – unfortunately for me they choose tequila and insist I have one too. I bump into A4 Nidal on the way back up the hill and we return to the Russian taverna where merriment continues but not too late.

Day 9

Moving on towards the border with Turkey next stop a seaside town Alexandropoulis. The Belgian team want to catch us up later as they have a mechanical problem still. It is not a long drive to Alexandropoulis and the stopover is ideal - an off-season campsite.

It is cold. Ryan decides its time for a dip and runs into the sea like a mad person.

We have a team leader's meeting about 8pm in one of the organiser's vehicles. On the way out of Thessaloniki one of F team's vehicles has been crashed into from behind and is now a write-off. Other vehicles in their group managed to take the aid spread across their team but it will have to be moved now. I know we have some space in the ambulances so I ask A4, A5 and A6 to take the aid which is mainly wheelchairs and some boxes of medical supplies. This means that we have to prepare vehicle manifests for the customs. For now this can be written on some blank vehicle manifest forms, it is a bit of a job but eventually the aid is redistributed in Alpha team. Well done!

I am a bit annoyed about the two Belgian vehicles who have not let me know where they are and drove past Viva Palestina guides on the main road earlier, I don't know where they are. So I will try to have a word with them in the morning. Some people have lit fires to keep warm in the very bracing air but the campsite don't want us to have them so we have to go around and ask people to put them out which is a shame. It is disappointing to see that some people have used broken pallets and these are going to burn leaving the nails in the sand - not very social considering kids will be using the beach in the summer, I mention this to someone sitting there so hopefully they will do a bit of clearing up. Before crashing out in the tent I have a shower which is very hot water but freezing air. Then sit around a stove that Mustapha and Benkharmaz have got out and its a relaxed welcoming place with a few bods sitting around chatting. When the subject turns to the existence of God or not I decide its time for bed.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Day 2-5

Day 2, 7th December 2009:

Teams spend the morning checking and sorting – Richard and Jerome check the SWR ratings on the three CB radios we have for A1, A3 and A10. If we don't check the SWR the sets can get burned out. People are wandering around introducing if they don't know each other, sharing bread or sweeties. We have two more vehicles added to our group these are the Belgian contingent – so now we are 10. Team Leaders meeting sketches out where we are headed to. Mujj and I hold a team meeting to describe route to our destination, thank everyone for helping last night and outline how we want our group in convoy to work. Next stop
is in Germany, we will be going through Luxembourg.

The day's driving is going well when we stop at a service station just inside Luxembourg. Just about to depart when I notice there are nuts missing from the rear wheel we changed last night. This is not good. There are three remaining out of five nuts. I decide to send convoy on with Muj as lead vehicle, Muaz, Abdullah, Mujahid as deputies. Before leaving Richard and Jerome tighten the nuts up. I ring Sid convoy tyre man for advice who is travelling behind convoy to provide support. Unfortunately it turns out Sid and his vehicle have taken a different route and won't be passing us. Group F have been stopped at the services and provide advice. The question is whether or not to drive the vehicle as it is to Luxembourg or whether or not a tow is required. Group F leave us with their deputy Abid and another member Mustapha to stay with us. We get a call from Peter Finch who is a contemporary of another convoy member due to join us in Istanbul – he lives in Luxembourg and offers assistance. Unfortunately he does not know any mechanics or garages. In the services a helpful worker gets out the yellow pages and we look for garage numbers. It appears that there are no small independent garages in Luxembourg whatsoever. We decide to take up the offer of a bed for the night and opportunity to search for a mechanic in the morning – this involves carefully following Peter back to his home. He tells us Luxembourg is a wealthy country with green policies. We stay up around his kitchen table and Leah talks at some length about why she thinks a two state solution in Palestine would not be workable – partly due to the separation of West Bank and Gaza and the fracturing of the West Bank as it is now.

Day 3 & Day 4, 8th and 9th December 2009

Web searches for local garages prove fruitless. Corporate service is what's available in Luxembourg.

Peter writes a message on the van for Gaza.

We head for Mercedes first thing and get directed to the commercial vehicles workshop. This is reassuring as there are many buses and trucks around the yard. We speak to a service manager and show him the van wheel. As we know this will involve removing the wheel and checking for damage. We have to wait for a slot therefore this is going to be a day of waiting around. Mercedes is comfortable with coffee vouchers, soft seats etc. When the work has been done it is gone 4.30pm, they have found the wheel is knackered, the brake pads were thin and some parts relating to the wheels and brakes need replacing – all in all the price is over 1000 euro. I speak to the manager and he gives us a discount on the labour and one of the parts so it comes down to under 1000. An expensive puncture. However I am loaded with around £25,000 aid so this is a fraction – plus the vehicle wheels are now in shape for a long journey and Gaza will get a van that will be reliable.

So we have to catch up with the convoy now and they are a day and a half ahead. Abid and I have looked at the route and it looks like it is going to be better for us to head south through Germany, past Basel into Switzerland, into Italy and then re-contact the main convoy there. So a major overnight and day drive ahead. Its raining and windy but we make good progress on the autobahn until just before Basel when we hit a 13 km tailback. So a few hours sitting chatting with Leah and Cedric. Leah has a 25 year old daughter who is an actor and singer. Leah sings herself and Cedric has a good voice so they sing some songs e.g. Bandiera Rossa. Both Leah and Cedric are much more knowledgeable then me about Israel Palestinian history so it is fascinating to listen to them and ask questions.

We get into Switzerland at 3ish am and continue driving until 4. We stop at a service station and agree to have a power nap for an hour or two before heading on to Luzern. Switzerland is expensive e.g. .50 cent to use the loos. Abid's vehicle is having a power problem and loses power sometimes. We need to get this checked out at VW.

6am we head down into Luzern to look for VW. We have breakfast of instant noodles in the car park. The workshop say it will take until 4pm to get the analysis of what the problem is – from what they can see it would not kill the engine to carry on. Abid decides we should make up the time instead of wait. So off we go. Beautiful scenery through Switzerland and Italy.

We stop inside Italy around 2pm for a sit down and lunch. Trying to find a place involves walking around for half an hour – which is good after a long drive.

Heading on we find out the convoy is at Modena at a service station. While chatting to Cedric about his Palestinian exchange project in Switzerland we manage to miss the turning but its no drama, just adds another half an hour onto the journey. Joyous welcome when we catch up with everyone at Modena Auto Grill!. This is a funny place where they force you to walk through babylon of piled up products before you can exit the building on a one way system. However there are showers which is welcome after 24 hours on the road.

Day 5, 10th December 2009

Not a long journey from Modena to Ancona. However another drama is upon us after the student ambulance has lost their keys. Richard V entertains the troops and passing small children by swallowing a long balloon.

We get Alpha Team parked up at Ancona – this site is a large patch of concrete with a couple of scrubby patches of grass and no facilities. Anyway the priority is trying to find out if there's anything we can do about the missing key. Mercedes has an office in Ancona – Cedric and I go there and speak to them. Seven days to get a replacement, 200 euros. Oh dear. Decide to decide in the morning whether or not to buy the key.

Muzzakir and his lads have stayed with Ryan, Nidal and Mesrob as per deputy duties. They have been through the bins twice, asked the service station staff three times. Muj is knackered as he was up late mediating between some folks last night. One of his boys is also unwell so I say come back, leave the students at Modena (only 30km away).

Back at the site there's a bonfire going, weather is cold and we need to borrow blankets to supplement the sleeping bag and thermals.

6th December

Up at 8 to travel to south London to pick up Leah on the way to Clackett Lane services for the convoy meet up. No probs finding the place. Next few hours spent sorting out the numbering for the vehicles. Lost Ayeb to another vehicle as he is a driver and someone needs one, in his place comes Cedric from Switzerland. Now we have Leah, Cedric and me in my van. Lots of wandering about, last minute preps, meeting people, taking pics, swapping stickers and info. CB is in place and works.

Alpha Team Lead Vehicle
Muzzakir and his boys are in central London for press conference along with Richard V who has come from North Wales with a minibus and caravan. I have spoken to Richard before on the phone but not met yet. He has kindly agreed to accommodate two members from Istanbul. We move off to Folkestone for first water crossing. Its a beautiful evening and all the vehicles look spectacular in the evening sunlight – particularly the HGV from Bristol signed by people from Bristol.

Convoy at Folkestone

Painless 25 min journey under the channel. Sunday evening we are told our destination is a public ground in Brussels. The group pull out in Calais and it is tricky trying to find the initial route, we end up separated from some of A team and end up with three vehicles with us A2, A3, A4. In addition a four by four waves us over that is separated from its group. They are LPG and need to refuel. When we pull over they are Saj and Muqtar from Bradford – they are very friendly and give us a more detailed atlas of Europe than the one we have. Instructions are to head past Bruges and Gent into then take the Brussels ringroad and come off at junction 7b. Turns out there's no 7b but 7 and 7a. So we all miss the turning and end up almost in town. While attempting to rejoin the route back to camp our vehicle A1 has a blow out on the rear left tyre.

The other vehicles stop with us and assist in taking out some of the aid, we get the tyre changed and move on finally arriving 1.30am. The stopover is an exhibition ground, gravelly ground but nonetheless manage to get our two bed tent up and get heads down by 3am. At this stage we have A1 me, Leah, Cedric, A2 Mohammed, Iqbal, A3 Mujahid, Abdullah, Muazim, A4 Ryan, Nadal, Mesrob, A5 Kamahl, Hassan A6 Ram, Juana, Faith A7 Richard, Jerome, A8 Osman, Muzakkir, Mohammed, Subhani, Kefayet.

Unpacked aid to change tyre

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Behind Bars this weekend get down there..

Good news is the Behind Bars people's party is all set up and they are fundraising for Gaza on Saturday, hurrah!!


Been struggling with the combination of my brother's mac and new camcorder (Maplins I love you)... so here's a result...

{here will be a video when I've worked out how to do it}

Disappointed to find out that there is not going to be a Central London rally for send off this weekend. Instead we are gathering at service stations on Saturday and Sunday near or on M25. Shame as lots of people want to come down to support and they won't be able to get to a service station on the motorway.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Link to news...

here are some other people from other areas who are coming on the convoy...


Plenty of developments

This week I went to St Johns church Bethnal Green where Riaz runs his office from the crypt. He helped me to do printing and photocopying and lent me a laptop for chasing things up for VP convoy online. The Crypt at St Johns is pretty interesting - there are several organisations running from there including a chinese herbalist, ESOL and a second hand book dealer. Riaz introduced me to another person there called Sebastian who is involved with the building and church. I asked him if the VP group could congregate at the church on 5th December and he said that should be fine - it would be amazing if the convoy does leave from Victoria Park as it is very near and handy for the tube and high st. He said the church congregation would be very interested in the convoy and would want to support and contribute. Brilliant!

On Friday evening I was invited down to Resonance FM for Mining for Gold (thanks Johny Brown,, I spoke a little bit about the convoy and a poet was there Nina Zivancevic and she spoke about a theatre company who had performed their play with Palestinian actors in Israel and Israeli actors in Palestine - I need to check who this was. She recommended mention of Edward Said's book Orientalism - he was a Palestinian rights advocate, writer and philosopher, see link about him And then we all read her poems and played mashups of banging hardcore techno with Turkish folk, 80's pop, reggae and disco at the same time. Gold was mined.

Did I forget to mention I have the vehicle now? Yeay! Now to fill it up. I have picked up some educational books already from a teacher called Suzi. Need to get CB radio installed, a cab heater is required too as mine's not working too well.

Sunday, 22 November 2009


There have now been 3 fundraising dinners at my house and these have raised almost £300 so far - amazing.

Some people have offered to carry on the fun and have small parties of their own which is great.

Discussions at the table have of course included facts and history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. You might be interested in the following link where there is a timeline, history, maps and statistics of Palestine,

Also please check this Channel Four News report from Feb 3rd 2009

Friday, 20 November 2009

Viva Feva

The phone is hot! I think I'm going to need a back up handset. The laptop almost killed me this week when the power supply apparently stopped and the screen went dead with all info and half written emails awaiting. Twenty minutes later a different plug... revival, breathe.
The Viva team and Group 1 are amazing all focused on getting themselves and everyone onto the road and very supportive. I've learned how to use a googlegroup.

This afternoon I met up with a member of London Palestinian Rights Group he offered not only aid but space for collecting, space for meeting and financial support to individuals on convoy. Spent an hour speaking about the need to question, challenge and be curious -a place he attends is the Zionist Federation where he has met a diversity of people whom we need to speak with. For balance I'd like to link you to their website:

He also distributes Palestinian products by Zaytoun. I was donated some of these products by La Bouche in Broadway Market for a fundraising dinner. I have just had another one raising £65! Wow thank you so much folks.

The Zaytoun couscous was really fantastic see happy smiling faces above, hand rolled and sun-dried by a Palestinian women's co-operative,

I popped in on my new neighbours upstairs briefly and they seem lovely. A couple, he works for a charity called Muslim Hands, anyway we plan to catch up in January.

Countdown to leaving - today was vehicle registration deadline. Things are shaping up.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Lobby News...


Every November, for the past several years, there has been a lobby of Parliament in support of Palestinian self-determination. Hundreds of voters arrange to meet their MPs and impress upon them the popular support for the rights of the Palestinians to their own free nation state. Over the years we have seen how this has greatly improved the willingness of MPs to sign Early Day Motions (EDMs); raise parliamentary questions; write to ministers or join bodies like the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group.

Please see the continuation of this campaign news on link:

The Feeding of the Five

Just had the first fundraising dinner and I have to say a big thank you to my flat mate Nick who kept on top of the proceedings. And of course much gratitude to my guests who participated fantastically. I almost forgot to record the occasion. Anyway the discussions were lively and there was lots of laughing. Grilled goats cheese with warm tomato vinaigrette, chanterelle mushroom risotto with pan fried pork escalope, rocket and parmesan salad, wine, apple crumble, creme fraiche, ice cream. So we raised £40 and the Gaza Gastronomy starts. So now the guests have to host their own meal and invite their guests to make donations. A letter is sent to the guests which they can use to show shop or stall holders in their streets and with the donations they prepare a meal for guests who then repeat the process. I have to thank my mother for the idea! It must be how Tories have been fundraising for years (insider secret!). Thanks to Kat for her knowledge and eloquence. Lou for her ability to advocate for the devil. Nick for being the master of ceremonies and Sam and Simon for the humour.

Meanwhile plans have been continuing to take shape for the convoy. Main issue seems to be vehicles and the fact that a lot of people still have not organised them yet. I am intending to buy very soon. Getting to know the group and seeing things taking shape as well as the anxieties and concerns is good and exhilarating. Keeping up with the day job as well remotely logging in to check essential messages keeping me on my toes. Its going to happen though.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Group Leader

I've just found out I was selected to be a Group Leader on convoy - will be running a group of 12 vehicles. Lots of work to do now, great challenge.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Fantastic Food

Check out the items donated by Broadway Market stalls and shops today for use in fundraising dinner parties happening very soon!!! WOW!

The following stalls donated food:

Organic Chicken: Longwood Farm, Tuddenham St Mary, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP28 6TB. tel: 01638 717120,

Lamb chunks: Tidimans, 57 Broadway Market

Smoked Mackerel: Channel Fish, Victoria Ballington,

Mozzarella, Parma Ham and Miller Damsels Charcoal Wafers: Romeo Jones,

Organic Rocket and Salad leaves: Organic Food Shop

Balsamic vinegar: The Olive Oil Co.,

Palestinian Couscous, olive oil and almonds: La Bouche,

Santa Rosa Chenin Torrontes: MacBlack & Vine,

fuZion Tempranillo Malbec: MacBlack & Vine,

Brownies: Ion Patisserie handmade desserts, 0208 257 5019,

Flour, butter, brown sugar, cream, bottle of red. UMUT MARKET, grocery shop at the end near London Fields

Bramley cooking apples: Chegworth Valley,

Handmade Hot Apple Chutney: The Pickle Man, Chris Smith 00447973 687376,

Large loaf of bread: the bread man near the canal end

Mushrooms: the mushroom stall near the Cat and Mutton

Tomatoes: the tomatoes stall near the Cat and Mutton

Salami and mozzarella: the French man with salami and mozzarella at the end near Cat and Mutton who has no business cards!

The rest of the stalls were being manned by someone who wasn't the boss so couldn't give me stuff.

Apart from a joint stall of cakes and hot grilled sausage sandwiches who said it was owned by Israelis and giving anything to me was too contentious:

"We don't want to give money to Hezbollah. Its a shame they (the Palestinians) won't share the land 50:50"

[Incidentally Hezbollah originates in Lebanon not Gaza/ Palestine.]

I explained that the aid is humanitarian and consists of medical supplies, stationery, toys and the crisis has been caused by a blockade on Gaza borders but I was told the borders aren't closed. News to me! Perhaps they should read:

Great news

Party people Behind Bars have offered to donate 50% of their takings on 5th December party to me for the convoy!! I will send info on that party out later.

my NOCHEX account was closed down in mysterious circumstances - I will post up an alternative soon...I've taken off paypal I'm looking for a different one
thanks so much people who have already been extremely generous xx

Friday, 13 November 2009

Oh dear.. alternatively...

Oh dear, I had this email today from NOCHEX who have suspended my account for collecting donations, please see the text below:

Dear Account Holder,

After a recent company review process, a commercial decision has been taken by Nochex not to allow certain accounts, who are undertaking certain activities, to remain operational.

We have recently reviewed your account, and we regret to inform you that your account has been included within the parameters we have set for closure. Unfortunately, this means we now have now taken the action to close your Nochex account with immediate effect. Regrettably, we are unable to elaborate further on the specific details as to why this decision has been taken.

I'm a bit suspicious about this how about you

please donate via

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Interesting Week

(is this post too long? please let me know...)

This has been a fascinating week. I have just got back from the London wide meeting for those planning to go on the convoy. Sadly we could not get the projector to project. Typical, two laptops, a projector and a massive wall-hung TV and yet still a verbally delivered presentation. I'm not feeling so technical any more. I made some more contacts and was glad to hear about some useful potential vehicles someone has found (a man with 15 ex NHS ambulances!). Some views at the meeting were that Viva Palestina needed to get more info out quicker and some weren't clear on how donation/ vehicle-buying etc is to work. Personally I think they're doing a good job - people need to work to some degree autonomously and not expect directives on everything - they have produced a fair old amount of relevant info so far. The volunteers need to buck up and get their registration forms and documents in as requested before any complaints in my view.

On Tuesday evening I went to a book launch at Amnesty International (thanks 4 heads up Ez). 'Palestine in Pieces' was written by Kathy and Bill Christison and provides their accounts of places they have visited there in the occupied territories. One passage read from the book describes a village of settled Bedouin called Numan where 170 people live. It became part of Jerusalem in 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem and expanded the city limits. Most of its residents happen to have West Bank ID cards which did not particularly matter until 1993 when a system of closures was introduced restricting those without Jerusalem ID cards from entering Jerusalem. So the villagers are now technically illegally living in Jerusalem under Israeli occupation law and cannot physically move towards the North West. This might not have been completely difficult to live with because villagers used to be able to trade with their South East neighbours towards Bethlehem. However now there is the massive security Wall blocking their way. There is one exit and entry point to the village guarded by Israeli police at which there is a list of residents names. No-one else is allowed in. Five residents happen to have Jerusalem ID cards and these five are the only ones allowed to move a vehicle in or out. A weekly UN mobile medical clinic was barred. Any 50kg sacks e.g. of flour or feed, have to be decanted into smaller containers for inspection. Water and electricity supplies were cut off in the nineties. There is so much more to this story and that is one of many in the book. (No profit available from

The couple who wrote the book are quite elderly Americans and used to work for the CIA. They say that the Palestine-Israel issue in the States is just not yet in the conscious awareness of enough Americans and therefore not a priority politically. Perhaps this would be different if more Americans saw this website that I was forwarded this week:, check it out for data, figures, links, history and interesting stuff like that. No really check it out!

This morning I felt a bit reflective because I spoke to a contact at Merlin (international medical charity) who advised me to speak to another organisation called Medical Aid for Palestinians. I spoke to them and we spoke about the difficulty of taking aid which might be inappropriate e.g. wrong language, out of date, not able to be used etc. Apparently she said George Galloway's vehicle that he took previously is still not usable. I start to think about him and posturing and really hope that what we plan to do is really useful. Viva Palestina have some contacts for proper medical aid though so I'm reassured. Also the MAP lady did say that crayons, exercise books etc would be very useful so we need to try and find some of those.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Fundraising Fandango!

Hello! Well this is educational for me, setting up a Nochex account, starting a blog, trying to text 150 people (I'm going to need thumb surgery) I feel technical.

I can even copy this link in html into my page which enables people to pay money to me... oh no they can't my account was closed down in mysterious circumstances

But I am still collecting so please email me

So maybe you want to know a bit more about what the money is for. I'm raising cash to buy a vehicle and drive it to Gaza over land during December with a convoy of vehicles all taking aid and making some noise to the Gaza Strip. In December 08 - January 09 lots of people, more than 1400, were killed, loads more injured in Gaza, as well as some Israeli civilians. For more info see:

There have been crimes committed on both sides of the conflict. However the civilian Gaza population is under severe pressure due to the fact it is blockaded by land air and sea borders which are controlled by Israel. Gaza’s population of 1.5 million is currently facing hardships due to the Israeli blockade on Gaza’s few crossing points, destruction of Gaza’s only electric plant and Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax revenues, coupled with international donor aid cuts after the swearing-in of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in March 2006.

All this was before the conflict last year! See:

Also of interest is recent report by Amnesty International about the water supplies in Gaza:

In Gaza there is a need for medical humanitarian aid such as medical equipment, maternity and post natal supplies, school and educational stationary - crayons, paper, exercise books. I'm trying to collect any of this stuff so if you know anyone who could donate please get in touch.