Saturday, 29 May 2010

Another passenger, well 12

Yesterday we took on 12 more people who were on Challenger II that had mechanical difficulties. Amongst them is Anne Wright who is an ex US military colonel and ex diplomat who resigned over Iraq war, she said she got involved in campaigning for Gaza following the disproportionate use fo force used in bombing Gaza

We are anchored awaiting the other members of the group to join. People are playing chess, reading, studying, reporting. There is a live link area of the ship where satellite reports being made to various channels constantly. The press room is well equipped with around 20 internet enabled laptops. There is a restriction on press only on these machines and even accessing the room. We have three ships with us now we are awaiting three more.
We have onboard US citizen and Viva Palestina US team leader Fatima. She has brought with her a large suitcase of specialised medication for chemotherapy, respiratory illnesses and other conditions to the value of several thousand pounds.

Sleeping area

Friday, 28 May 2010

Violent comments

I'm not censoring the violent or hateful comments made on these pages. It only goes to expose the hateful desperate people who make them - anonymously. I wonder if you have any idea how well organised and determined the mission is. There are many peaceful yet yfearless people onboard - cowardly commentators and armed combatants against a humanitarian aid flotilla? You've lost already.

EU statement, UN call

European Union Brussels May 28 2010

Statement of the spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton on the flotilla saılıng to Gaza
The spokesperson of Hıgh Representative of the Unıon for Foreign Affaırs and Security Policy/Vıce President of the Commission Catherine Ashton issued the following statement today:
''We strongly urge that all involved act with a sense of restraint and responsibility and work for a constructive resolution. The EU remains gravely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.
We would like to reiterate the EU,s call for an immediate sustained and unconditional openimg of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.''
John Ging Director of United Nations Relief Work Agency on the situation in Gaza ın March 2010:
''I have no cement or steel or iron. We can't get in one bag of cement, one pane of glass 10 months later to actually begin the reconstruction''

Thursday, 27 May 2010

All at sea

Last night everyone got settled on the ship. Many people opted to sleep on deck. The tug boat took the ship to sea and she set off steadily and smoothly. We ate dinner from tinned meat and beans and people sat around talking or went to lie down. It has been a smooth and uneventful journey so far.

This morning coffee olives bread jam cheese and a stroll on deck and to visit the press suite where there are several laptops set up and connected via satellite. A journalist from Istanbul wrote a short piece on me and other flotilla members and he shows me the article and says it will be ok to put up some news on one of the laptops. I dont want to use up valuable bandwidth if media people are using it. The man in charge says its fine so here I am. On this keyboard I cant find the comma or the apostrophe so apologies!

A few details...

The IHH ship Mavi Marmara is setting sail with 563 passengers onboard.

In addition to the 369 Turkish participants there are 194 others from 31 different countries sharing the facilities on the converted passenger ship.

There are 31 British participants, 32 Algerian including 10 MPs, 32 Jordanian including 1 MP, 16 Kuwaitis including 1 MP, 11 Malaysian, 11 Indonesian, 5 Israel residents of 1948 land including one female MP, 5 Bahrainian including 1 MP, 5 Moroccan including 1 MP, 4 Yemeni including 3 MPs, 4 Lebanese, 3 Belgian, 3 Spanish, 3 Macedonian, 3 German, 3 Australian, 2 Swedish, 2 Palestinian, 2 Egyptian both MPs, 2 Canadian, 2 Syrian, 2 Pakistani, 2 Mauritanian, 2 USA, 1 Kosovan, 1 Greek, 1 Irish, 1 South African, 1 French. In addition there is a previous Archbishop of Jerusalem named Archbishop Ilarion Kaputce who was imprisoned in 1974 in Israel convicted of assisting Palestinan resistance and he currently lives in exile in the Vatican. He was given a 12 year sentence in 1974 but was released to Rome after the Pope’s intervention on condition he never returned to Palestine.

The following media are represented onboard (journalists/ reporters):

Al Jazeera Arabic x 2
Al Jazeera English x 3
Al Jazeera documentary team x 3
El Quds x 1
El Aqsa TV x 1
Venezuela-Telesur TV x 1
Kuwait News Agency x 2
Press TV UK x 1
South Africa Radio 786 x 1
Al Hiwar UK 1 + 1
Gulf News Agency x 1
Indonesia TV One x 1
Indonesia The Brunei Times x 2
Indonesia Islamic Magazine, Suara Hidayatullah x 1
Indonesia Al Jazeera x 1
Indonesia Eramuslim Group x 1
AJ TV Pakistan x 2
Malaysia x 5
Jordan x 1
Spain x 2

In terms of cargo onboard the 2 IHH cargo ships these have been listed as follows:

The Ship ‘Gaza’
Cement – 2104 tons
Iron bars – 600 tons (8-12-14-16 mm diameter, 150 tons each)

Ceramic tile adhesive – 50 tons

The Ship ‘Defne Y’
Iron – 150 tons (for use in building pontoons and floats)

Power Units (5 units of 85kws – 2 units of 145 kws – 6 of 150 kws – 3 of 165 kws – 1 of 100 kws and 1 of 35 kws)

Power Units (80 units of 1-2-5 kws)

Prefab homes – 50 units of 58m2 and 40 units of 12.5 m2

Childrens’ playgrounds – 16 units (combined sets, seesaws and slides)

Medical equipment – Ultrasound Scan device, Electric patient bed, dentistry unit, Doppler echocardiography devices, wheelchairs, disabled electric mobility scooters, stretchers, deambulators, autoclaves, mammography device, microscopes, haemodialysis machines, radiology monitors, crutches, ENT Units, operating beds, gynaecological couches.

Medicines (a container load of assorted medicines)

Construction supplies including tiles, timber, fibreboard, cage, plumbing supplies, electric equipment, plastic window frames, glass, steel cables, measuring tools, hand carts, nails, mountings, bathroom fittings, paint, power distribution units, ladders, isolation materials,

Hardware supplies: electric hand tools, machines, ovens)

Stationery items – pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, playdough, toys.

Textiles (towels, bedding, shoes, fabric, carpets, kitchenware, quilts, blamkets, couches and beds)

Food items (dried lima beans, chickpeas)

The largest cargo ship was bought by Algeria and the other by Kuwait.

Last day ashore - leaving tonight

I'm sitting on the Mavi Marmara now - internet connection is currently available via the port building.

This afternoon the entire group gathered in the sports hall in Kepez Antalya and final arrangements were made, lists finalised, people coming and going. Some have to go due to other commitments but there seem to be masses that are still very much coming and the mood is very relaxed. IHH have arranged regular food for the participants and when I get back from town where I have failed to get two laptops, there is chicken soup, rice, melon and sweet fried dumplings available.

I meet up with Shaza who I shared a room with last night. She is from Syria and is a journalist/ writer. We are both hot and have spotted the showers at the sports centre. Thankful to be able to get a wash and change after running about all day. A short time later we will be leaving and the next hour is spent having some tea, trying to get online and meeting people. There are lots of cameras and journalists and I get my picture taken by an IHH journalist.

Before we get ourselves and our bags onto the coaches the whole group gathers together to pay respects to the lost IHH members Faruk Aktas and Bahattin Yildiz . It is moving to see the whole crowd assembled while prayers are said.

Brother Bulent the leader and presidet of IHH also addressed the room but unfortunately not in English but I know it would have been reassuring and motivating!

A coach ride to the port and a chaotic walk through the waiting crowds, through passport control and baggage check and onto the ship. Having problems getting pictures up here just now.

Meeting a VIP

Last night I met a passenger - Archbishop Ilarion Kaputce. He is in charge of a church called Santa Maria in Rome and he lives in the Vatican. He was Archbishop in Jerusalem from 1964. In 1974 he was sentenced to 12 years in Israeli prison for the charge of helping the Palestinian resistance. He spent 4 years in prison in Israel. The Pope then intervened on his behalf and he was released to Rome. On arrival in Rome he discovered the condition of his release - he must never return to Palestine. He said if he had known this he would have rather stayed in prison.

He is coming on the ships to Gaza.

The archbishop is being looked after by a man called Nabil who I met and he introduced me. Nabil is instantly likeable with a sense of humour and lots of energy, he's been working on the upcoming Summer University of Palestine to be held in Lebanon in the last weekend of July.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Special mention

One person who has been a major part of the UK group's contribution to this trip has not been mentioned yet so I wanted to make sure she is. Rummanah is Imran's daughter, she is 13 years old and I met her when I went to Bolton to pick up the lorry 10 days ago. Imran and Babu work together on organising for the fundraising and aid in Bolton. While I was picking up the lorry she was making copies of the paperwork, typing up the manifest details and she made sure we had a Palestine flag with love for Palestine written on it to decorate the cab.

Imran tells me Rummanah was constantly asking him what she could do as she wanted to take part so much in work to support Gaza. Her dad was on the first land convoy with Viva Palestina and when he returned she baked him a cake in Palestinian flag colours. This time she has surpassed herself. Rummanah organised a dinner in Bolton the tickets for which sold out - the event itself ended up raising £5,500. The money has been used to buy the aid and support the journey.

Without you Rummanah we wouldn't be here! Thank you.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

To Antalya

At 5.30am Emine wakes me and we all share cheese,eggs, olives, jam, bread and tea together. Then Murat and his brother take us to the airport. Their care and concern for us is overwhelming. 'But you would look after us if we came to UK?' - I would hope I could get anywhere close to this hospitality.

We have a painless flight - apart from Mustafa is certainly sick and has stomach cramps now as well. I sleep in the seat for the hour. Landing in Antalya we go to the airport health centre to try to get some advice - the doctor there wants Mustafa to get some sleep - he then also wants to speaj with Mustafa about Middle East politics - hmmm very healing.

We get out of there and taxi to places to stay. Being a lady I have a separate hotel and the men have a sports hall - I fear Mustafa won't get much rest there. I bid farewell and get orientated. First thing to replace the phone I left in Biren's cab - I get a second hand Nokia, another sim and credit sorted for about £40. Then I get back to the hotel and have a rest - this turns into 3 hours sleep.

Up at 6pm and I make my way to the sports hall where the main group are. On the steps its great to see Kevin, Nicci and Zaher. Sadly Adnan from our group has to go back to UK and is on his way home. Inside the hall there's lots of activity - interviews with media, people on laptops, tea being handed round. Arrangements being made. I find Mustafa and he is still not well. Luckily Arief - Indonesian doctor has found him and is monitoring him. He advises get to a quiet place to rest. We all get a lift to a hotel near the ladies place and its a good clean ensuite for £20 - perfect. Hopefully by tomorrow with a good few hours sleep he will have a chance to recover.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Border control

Last night Mustafa and I drove from Istanbul to the border with Bulgaria. I need to get rid of the lorry from my passport otherwise I'll have a problem when I try to leave from Antalya port where we need to depart with the group. In order to do this in time to catch up with the group we had to book an internal flight from Istanbul to Antalya for tonight. I need to get to a lorry park just inside Bulgaria. At the moment we are sitting in the border cafe where there's free wifi. We are waiting while Customs try to arrange to get the deposit back I made when I came in with cargo. This is about £600, and its taken since 8am until now 12pm to get any sort of progress. Thankfully I have Mustafa who can speak Turkish. We have met with a lot of supportive individuals sympathetic with Palestine.

Last night we ended up sleeping in a beautiful masjid next to the border. It was totally empty and peaceful.

The rest of the group set off in coaches from Istanbul and have now reached Antalya. Before leaving we had an orientation meeting with IHH and signed our waiver forms.

IHH meeting

Later on...
By 9pm we still haven't left Turkey Bulgaria border to try to rejoin the team. It was a mistake coming to such a major border last night. There were lines of trucks and the staff who were on when we got there were not authorised to help with returning deposits so we had to wait until the morning. That seemed fine until it has now taken all day and significant physical exertion and still no deposit. Despite getting to the Turkish Custom Directors office in good time (before 9am) and a good start with him including tea, chat, agreements etc - by the end of the day all I have is a letter to take to a bank. The one good thing is that the lorry is off my passport and parked in Bulgaria safely. On the way to the border some lorry drivers there told us about a truck park 20km inside Bulgaria run by a Turkish man called Ilyas. It seemed straightforward but took hours. On the border ,which is large with many booth/ offices, we seemed to ping pong between people for the entire morning while everyone decided whether or not we could in fact get the money back here. A helpful lady in an upstairs office said yes of course we can get it here, however she did not herself pick up the telephone to the original customs office on the Greek border. Communications were duly sent off and fax confirmation received back. Then a letter had to be drafted up by grumpy men who didn't want to, multiple copies of these had to be made and signed by the Director, having completed everything we were told 30 minutes, then 20 then when we returned everyone disappeared for lunch! Because of time constraint we have to make the decision to make a break out of the Bulgarian side with the vehicle - to park it up and return for the deposit. Perhaps by then the paperwork will be done... First need to put a bit more diesel in. At the pumps in the middle of the border I try to fill but the man says these pumps are for full lorries. We have to move on. We get to Bulgarian Customs with nothing to declare. They want to have a look. Their approach is pretty casual, they tear off a piece of paper from a scrap in the cab, stamp it, ask me to write the reg plate down and join a queue, they don't take any money we are in EU now. Passing through the Bulgarian border vehicles are given a usb stick - with each check, weight, passport, customs more info is added and the final officer takes the stick back. When we get out into Bulgaria we stop at the diesel shop. When we try to put some fuel in I can see I've dropped the diesel tank lid somewhere in no-man's land, this is extremely annoying. I think it must be near the last station and think it might be worth going to have a look - the girls in the shop lend me a bike so I cycle back through the border much to the amusement of all the officers. No diesel lid. So we have to put a band over some plastic over the tank and leave. Luckily the Tomtom is working again now and the address the drivers gave us for parking comes up. The town is called Ljubimets and we struggle a little bit to find the place.

Eventually we find it and park up the small lorry amongst all the other big ones. I truck driver offers us a lift to the border. As we approach Turkey again the truck has to join a 3 km long queue - I have an hour to get back to the customs office so I leave Mustafa in the cab with the driver and strike out on foot.
Vodka doctor's shop in Bulgaria

I get back to the border and to the office in 50 minutes so manage to catch them before closing. However instead of the cash I have been given a letter for a bank where I'm told I now need to go to pick it up. Well this is great! five past five and no bank will be open and a 7.30am flight to catch to Antalya from Istanbul - useless. I speak to the cashier on the border but he can't help - why the cashier could not have been included in the process 5 hours ago I have no idea. So he says I can use the letter another time. Time to make a move to Istanbul.

Mustafa and I eat some fast food from the centre on the pavement next to the passport control. A taxi driver is trying to persuade us we need to get a ride to Edirne and catch a but from there - however I would prefer a lift if possible. By chance a driver with a large load of pieces of lorry is passing and he says he will take us - his name is Biren. We have an hour or so before setting off so I make the most of the showers available in the truck stop and get completely scrubbed and changed. I have been camping, running, walking and cycling today so this is completely needed. Mustafa is not well. He is dehydrated, has a cold, is fatigued and has walked across the border with our things himself. Biren gives us his cab keys while he sorts out customs paperwork - he is also very interested and supportive of the Freedom Flotilla and was curious when he saw me earlier cyling and wandering about the border looking crazy.
Biren's lorry that customs won't let through due to one letter on one machine not being correct

Customs have something up their sleeve for Biren as well - inspecting his vehicle they identify that one of the seven or so machines loaded onto his lorry has one letter wrong on the paperwork. One letter! They won't let him go. Despite this he calls a friend and by 11.30 he has swapped into a different cab and moves us with him. Mustafa can hear him in Turkish saying to the customs officer 'are you trying to kill me I need to get these people to the airport'. I can't believe how he is in fact more concerned about us than his cargo! Amazing. We hit the road and on the way stop at a truck stop for food along with his friend Zach - they both share place and work from Brussels and I can speak French with Zach. After the stop I go in Zach's cab and we can chat for a while - he then suggests I sleep on the cab bed for a bit - this is most welcome as the exertion has tired me out today.

During the day Murat from Istanbul phone shop has been in touch with Mustafa to check how things are going. He insists he and his brother are going to meet us when the trucks get into Istanbul and pick us up. True to his word he arranges a rendez vous point with Biren and at 2am I am woken from the cab and put into a car. We go to Murat's brother's home a wonderfully tidy spacious flat. Murat's sister in law Emine and nephew Ercan are up as well and we are given herbal tea with honey, lemon and biscuits, its clear Mustafa is under the weather and is suffering from a head cold as well as exhaustion. They put us to bed - out instantly.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Married to a lorry

It turns out that as I drove the vehicle in to Turkey as transit that I can't leave without it.. so I have to get the vehicle into a customs park or get it out of the country somehow before I will be able to leave. This means either driving it to Antalya port or back to Greece. Everyone is getting a coach tonight from Istanbul to Antalya to join the ship. I'm going to be assisted by Shakir (of Viva Palestina 3 enormous lorry fame) to sort something out about this lorry before catching up with the group.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Passenger ship launch from Istanbul

Passenger ship launched from Istanbul port today 22nd May. I got up and managed to rush through some breakfast sitting with the rest of UK group before we had to make our way to the port side for a press conference and ship launch. Getting closer to the location in a cab with Mustapha, Tox and Ibrahim it became clear that this event is large. There are families and people making their way along the road towards the ship. I can see bags of red white and green balloons strapped to the back of the vessel. Huge crowd, lots of press and cameras, Palestinian and IHH flags.

A variety of people make speeches which I cannot understand as they are in Arabic or Turkish.

Then Fatima and Julia from Belgium and I jump onto a small boat that is one of 25 bobbing about near the docked passenger ship. All the boats are full of people waving flags and shouting support and the dockside is also full. There are children onboard and we make conversation, eat bread and have a cup of coffee while waiting for the big ship to be released. Finally the Mavi Marmara is released and steams away from the port side accompanied by the smaller boats for a short distance. The atmosphere is excitable and the sheer number and sound of the crowd is awesome.

Friday, 21 May 2010

IHH, Istanbul,unloading, loading

Morning brings a meet up with our brothers Babu and Hassan at breakfast as we are all staying at the same place. The hotel is a short walk from IHH offices and we get up there before 10am. Nalan says there is a minibus going to the cargo port right now - only two spaces so Babu and I go immediately. Have to leave Darryl and Hassan. Darryl has a flight to catch from an airport that is advertised as Istanbul by Easyjet but turns out to be 60km away with no simple way of getting there. A little later I hear from Darryl to say he's got a coach to the airport. Well done and thank you so much Darryl for dropping everything for a random and exhausting journey.

So Babu and I get into the cargo port and join a line of 10 lorries (we're the smallest). During the day I see around 20. The ship is enormous and has two massive cargo holds. The scale of the operation being mounted by IHH is absolutely massive and hugely impressive. There is an enormous crane lifting items constantly into the cargo hold. There are huge industrial size brand new generators waiting on the port wrapped and ready to go. There are lorry loads of timber, tiles, cement, bed/ sofa sets lining up to be put on.

Babu moves the truck around so we are in a good location to unload and repack the cargo from UK. There are pallets that turn up eventually but before this we get the chance to have a look around the vessel and meet the captain. There are multiple volunteers working on the ship. During the day welders come to fix a platform onto the ship which they say will support the crane that needs to lift the goods out at the other end - as there is no viable port in Gaza yet. Everything seems to have been thought of and where there is a problem a practical solution will be found.

We need to get on with the job of repacking the donated items from UK. There is a mixture of things from 125 shoeboxes of small items such as toothpaste, socks, toys each suitable for a boy or girl. These have been put to gether by children in Bolton UK. Other larger items include a dental chair, a baby incubator, patient monitors, dialysis machine, hospital bed. There are also boxes of medical consumables surgical gloves etc. We get everything out onto pallets and wrap it in protective clingfilm. Only Babu and I are allowed into the cargo port because are with the vehicle, Hassan is not able to get in, so we are helped by various IHH workers who are in the port to load the other cargo. The main organiser brings IHH t shirts, cling film, protective gloves, big clear tape, trays of water bottles and at lunch time (ends up around 3pm..) sandwiches and pop. By 6pm we have repacked and labelled everything with Hayfa Medical Centre, Gaza Tofa and leave it on the side of the port to be winched into the ship.

At the end of the day we are knackered and I'm a bit sunburned but apart from that very satisfied.

Lorry to Launch final leg

As the ferry does not depart until 1.30pm its not a rush in the morning - lucky because we needed the 9 hours sleep to catch up. Its pretty easy to get the lorry on - just expensive - €590. The man is not negotiable on price - I try three times. So we get onto the lorry - I am driving and reversing it down the line nearly kills my left leg on the clutch. With freight tickets you automatically get a cabin and discount on food which is good (but thet least you'd expect for the price). Its a very comfortable ferry with wifi onboard, hot shower, sun deck etc. A truck driver chats to us and is very friendly and supportive of the trip - it seems he wants to talk and his wife asked him for a divorce 20 days ago. He's going to see a counsellor tomorrow. Its hard to advise really! He asks whether or not he should stop the phone calls and presents - I think definitely yes - take the pressure off - let her come to you if there's any chance.... but it sounds like it may be a bit far gone. What are the main arguments about - MONEY!! The driver is Greek and both he and one of the waiters mention the Greek financial crisis - its obviously made them worried.

I try to get some emails and updates done then make the most of having a cabin and get more sleep. Arriving in Greece we need to head for a service station - its a beautiful morning and there's a very friendly mongrel bitch with a puppy playing while we get some breakfast - enormous fresh bread cheese and coleslaw sandwiches and great coffee. Can't hang around too long so its onto the beautiful A2 road all the way across Greece to the Turkish border. Its very uneventful and easy - apart from a diversion for 30 minutes that takes us onto a very bendy road with hills and a small bridge that I really don't like the look of - but get over it.

At the Greece-Turkey border it seems there is some messing about to do. Greek customs take a copy of the medical invoice and stamp our export slip so that is no problem. Turkish customs want a bit more time and paperwork. We have to get visas, straightforward - then in order to get the van through I have to get some sort of transit paperwork completed which guarantees that we are taking the stuff straight through Turkey not stopping to sell it etc anywhere. This includes the vehicle which gets associated with my passport so I need to be with it empty at the next border in order to get back a large cash deposit they said I needed to make - in Turkish Lire the equivalent of almost £600. Finally we get away and on to Istanbul. Nearing the city I ring Nalan to find out where we need to go. She lets cargo workers from IHH know and they are going to meet us on one of the main roads into Turkey. She explains we need to be on the green road (there are two main roads into Istanbul the autobahn (toll) and the freeway (non-toll)) this sounds fine however one road is green on the map and the other blue, the road signs are the opposite colour scheme. We work out we need to be on the toll-road and finally meet the IHH contacts at the toll at around 10.30pm. They escort us to the port and the lorry is able to get parked in the cargo port.
We get dropped to sleep at a hotel in Fatih area of town and the paperwork and cargo will all be dealt with tomorrow. I text Babu to let him know the good news that we are safely at our destination. He rings and tells me he and Hassan have just landed in Istanbul so we are all going to be here tomorrow to work on the cargo.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Lorry to Launch...

It is my last day of work on Friday but I check my timesheet and it shows lots of hours owed to me therefore taking Friday off will not be a problem. It's just likely to be a bit of a sudden goodbye to my team. So on Thursday I go into work and let everyone know. I don't know how she does it but Caroline B somehow has organised to get my leaving card and present together a day early and everyone gets together in the kitchen so say good bye. Its a very strange feeling after four years, they are a lovely bunch and have been very generous and give me some cash, coffee and vouchers showing Oxfam donations they have made (what not Viva Palestina!!!!! ;) ) . During the afternoon I hear from Babu again, he now says he does not think they do want me to take the vehicle any more but he's waiting for one of his group to return who he wants to discuss it with. There's still a chance so I decide its best to continue as if I am going and get ready in case. There is quite a lot to do at work to finish things off so I end up staying in the office until almost ten in the evening. Luckily I'm there with Amy who is working late when we both leave and start to walk towards my car I first realise the car is now locked in the car park due to the hour and I also don't have my jacket or any keys. I must have either left them at Civic Centre offices where I went earlier in the day or in the boss's car who I got a lift with. Thankfully Amy invites me to crash at hers and we both get in knackered and share a beer, chocolate, crisps and a good chat before a welcome sleep (comfy sofa bed).
Friday's first mission is to try to find missing jacket and keys. I head to the Civic Centre in Enfield and up to the relevant floor - not there. I leave a message for the boss on his mobile. Then I have nothing much to do so I go to the Civic hotdesk area where I can still log on to the computers and make the most of it by putting my cv up on a website that recruits for Multi-Systemic Therapy programmes. At around 11.30 I am just finishing my cv when the alarm goes off in the Civic centre and the entire building has to evacuate. At the same time I hear from the boss - thankfully he has my jacket in his car and he is not far away from where I am so I can pick it up in an hour. It turns out the alarm at Civic is because there was a call made to the Youth Offending Service by someone claiming to have put an explosive device in YOS offices and Civic centre. Whilst evacuating I bump into Barbara A from our Panel and we go for a cup of coffee until the drama is over. During coffee time Babu calls again and says the mission is back on so this is great. By 1pm I have my jacket and keys back and head home to pack for the trip. I am a bit stuck for a co-driver as Joti would not be able to get back in time for work and other volunteers have had to pull out for various reasons. I text Darryl who is a friend who has supported Gaza campaign in the past and attended my Feb convoy event - I know he is self-employed and therefore may be able to be flexible. After around half an hour he confirms he's able to come - brilliant! Having been on convoy in December I know I will only need a few essentials - notepad, pens, torch, soap, toothbrush, light jacket, couple of t-shirts, socks, headtorch, passport, driving licence. Everything fits into a mini-backpack. Then to quickly catch up with nearest and dearest in London before set off tomorrow - meet Jess for a couple of small beers and an early night.
Saturday morning I have to get some keys cut and buy a Europe satnav which should make all the difference for the journey, with these accomplished I meet Jess for a bite to eat and then head to Euston to get train to Bolton to pick up the vehicle. I'm there by 5.30 and meet with Babu and Imran for final organising.

Babu shows me round the truck. They spent last night packing the items into the vehicle - because they were doing this outside his shop and it was late apparently someone called the police who came to investigate in case his shop was being burgled! At Imran's we make copies of the detailed customs manifest list, photocopies of essential documents like log book, passport etc.

We also try to work out how the tachometer works so I won't get a fine in Europe for not following the drivers' hours rules. By the time we have done this and gone for delicious hot food at a nearby restaurant it is 11pm and I need to get back to London so I can set off in the morning. I follow Babu and Imran to the motorway and wave off. As I go to change gear the gearstick comes off in my hand!! But it goes back on no problem. The vehicle has 6 gears so once travelling Ican stick it in the cruise gear quite comfortably. It does occasionally slip out of this gear it seems but it is nothing major. I will have to park the truck outside the low emission zone as it is over 10 years old 7.5 ton and this class is now banned in town. This shouldn't be a problem as I can park it next to the station in Cheshunt which is easily accessed by train from liverpool st. I realise I am not going to make it to London before 3am and by then I will have missed public transport into town. I ring Tufty and he is a star and says he will meet me - I have to meet him to make sure he gets into my flat to get his tools out as well. So at just gone 3am I make it to the empty car park meet Tufty and go home to pick up what he needs. It turns out I might be able to say hello and goodbye to a few people who are at a big birthday party in Dalston where he is going - so we both go there and I see lots of buddies for an hour. Then its time to go home and sleep for a few hours before setting off.

8am and two hours sleep later its time to get going. I meet Darry at Liverpool St station and we head to Cheshunt, jump into the cab and after filling up head towards Folkestone setting off at about 10 - using satnav for the first time is a novelty. What I have noticed this morning is that I haven't worked out the tachometer correctly - it has not registered my journey at all last night. It the services I ask a man who's just filled up a pick up if he knows any thing. He tries to explain but either he's telling me conflicting advice or its not sinking in. I try again with the tacho paper. Its really clear and its a smooth run until on M20 we are selected by police motorbike to take part in a VOSA spot check.

I am quite confident we should be ok as the vehicle has just been MOT'd and serviced - and I am a new expert on the tacho..... However when the inspectors have a look at the vehicle it seems there may be one or two problems. I show the inspectors the thick file of paperwork and explain to them what our trip is about and the deadline to get to Turkey. First the tachometer man has a look and sees that the paper has not been recording correctly, secondly the nearside inside tyre on the back seems to be punctured, thirdly we appear to be overweight from the weighbridge slip. Hmmmm. The tacho man goes off to consider, the tyre man issues me with a prohibition notice - until the tyre is fixed I'm not allowed to continue. As luck would have it there is a mechanic lurking around the car park - how convenient... and how busy he must find himself having to deal with the issues that may be arising in the car park on this sunny VOSA check afternoon. We get into the back of the vehicle where there is a tyre - however this one does not appear to be in excellent nick either and its not on a rim. He makes a call and checks with a colleague about wheels they have and goes off to pick one up. He also works out that the weighbridge slip appears to have recorded the overall weight twice therefore in fact we are not 16 tons we are 8 tons - which is fine. The tacho man comes back with some good news - because our vehicle and contents is 'humanitarian aid' we are exempt from all drivers' hours restrictions in the EU. This is great because it would have been really fiddly to have to try to use it on this journey - and it doesn't seem to be working either. They give us the piece of paper that explains that we are humanitarian aid and exempt from EU rules - fantastic. There is a slight panic when the tyre VOSA inspector says he is leaving at 3.30pm and the mechanic is not back. Then he offers to come and meet us to inspect after hours so we can get moving! Wow more fantastic.

While waiting for the fixing to get done I chat to the police officers who are sympathetic to the situation in Gaza. One of them has a daughter who is doing psychology so we talk about that and I suggest she might enjoy youth offending work. We also talk about The mechanic returns, the tyre gets changed and we are signed off. A couple of hours delay but it is good overall as otherwise we would have been fiddling with a tachometer all the way ax Europe plus if we had not detected the puncture we could have easily had another blow out in Europe but more seriously and with much more expense.

So on the road again we get to Folkestone and get into the freight office to buy a ticket - I ask about getting the invoice stamped for the medical hardware a charity in Bolton has bought so they can prove export and claim VAT back. It seems this cannot be done at the Channel Tunnel freight office but they advise we go to Dover if we really want the proof. It is worth it for the £700 or so they could reclaim so we go to Dover to a customs agent to process this piece of paper, getting charged £25 for the privilege.

Finally onto the Channel Tunnel freight train at around 6pm for the short dash across the sea.

It feels like we have not got very far in one day. I decide we are going to have to drive straight through to Ancona without stopping if we have any chance of making the ferry so we start off with me driving. The stereo doesn't work properly and we give up on that. We set the satnav and it gives us a route through Switzerland into Italy. The roads are clear and the satnav indicates we should get to Ancona port late morning. However as we drive along the eta is getting later and later obviously as we are slower due to size. It is going to be tight.

During the night Darryl and I swap shifts in driving and sleeping for two hours each and by 6.30 am we have reached Basel border with Switzerland. Due to being in a lorry we have to go through the freight section and we look pretty hilarious in a 10+ year old ex-refrigerated van which is only 6.5 m long amongst all the new Scania road trains. I have to take the paperwork into the offices on the border to explain the situation and find out what we have to do.

The Swiss customs man is very helpful but indicates there may be a problem on Italian border due to the Italian customs requiring a 'Transit Form' for any vehicle wishing to cross Switzerland without stopping because they are not in the EU. Therefore because I will have technically crossed out of EU then back into EU so apparently this is a problem. Anyway he helpfully stamps all of the paperwork in terms of the Customs manifest and sets us up to travel across Switzerland, he asks if it is all humanitarian and second hand which I confirm it is - therefore he says we should be ok. He also takes a deposit of £650 from my card and promises this will be refunded onto my card at the other end. The whole process takes about an hour and a half because we had to record mileage and register before crossing Switzerland. The Swiss customs guy maybe didn't know what the border security or services would be like.....but then again maybe he did because he had a little smile when he sent us through....

Everything is going smoothly until we try to leave Switzerland at Chiassi where we arrive at around 11am. We attempt to drive out of the exit for cars and empty vans. The security stop us and ask what we have in the van. I get out and explain that we have humanitarian aid destined for Palestine - the Italian customs lady will not hear my explanation that the load is non-commercial and they request us to go to the freight customs processing area. So duly we do this, when there it appears the Swiss customs man was right. I go from Swiss customs to Italian customs officers in the same building several times with our paperwork. The Swiss officer says he does not have a problem letting us through from Switzerland but it is the Italian customs that are requesting a 'Transit form'. The Italian customs say it is a Swiss problem because they are not in the EU but despite this they have allowed us through. We apparently need a Transit form to give to Italian customs. This should have been set up by an agent in UK or somewhere previously. There may be a company that can assist us in a building near the freight area. I go to investigate and after a considerable amount of messing about including being told the wrong floor, no boss being there and the assistant making a call I am told that the charge for doing the form here will be €350!! I thank them for the kind offer and decline. I return to Italian customs and explain the situation again, 1. We have paid to come through Switzerland, 2. Swiss customs have passed us through, 3. the cargo is all humanitarian and second-hand/ donated, 4. we have a ferry to catch, 5. we cannot afford €350. Finally they go away and discuss the situation for ten minutes. I am then advised that my best bet is to go and make my case at the head office of Italian customs at Chiassi. This is a 7 minute walk away so duly get there with paperwork and story in hand. I am met there with sympathetic ears and the man in charge asks me a bit about the vehicle - everyone has a good look at the customs manifest and he comes up with a plan. He will personally take us through a smaller crossing in the town, he says he is sorry but the original customs officers at the non-commercial crossing should have let us through, in future to avoid any issues he advises go to get something called a Carnet from an agent in London. By 2.30pm we are through the border and on the way to Ancona. We have missed all the ferry options by now though.

Its straight through to Ancona and we are in town by 8.45pm. Locate a youth hostel for €17 and park up the lorry in the dock area. We grab some very decent pizza before crashing out exhausted after what has been in effect a 36 hour journey so far.