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Turkish delights on the road to Damascus

23 December 2009

We arrived in Istanbul to the first of many royal welcomes. A banquet, a beautiful building, hugs, smiles and speeches. The nice surroundings made us feel decidedly scruffy, but nobody seemed to mind.

The president of IHH, Viva Palestina’s partner in Turkey, gave us a warm welcome, and his organisation continued to pull out all the stops as we made our progress across the country. As well as providing 60 vehicles full of aid, with drivers, IHH organised food, sports hall accommodation, city parades, receptions and press conferences in Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Konya and Gaziantep – five out of Turkey’s six main cities.

Everywhere we went, we met crowds of people, keen to demonstrate their support for the convoy and for Palestine, such as the women in Istanbul who took off their shawls and pressed us to give them to women in Gaza. And throughout the country, at all hours of the day and night, people were waiting at major road junctions or small towns along the route to wave the convoy past.

As well as getting plenty of national TV coverage, the convoy made the front page of at least one national daily paper, and a delegation was received by the Turkish parliament. More than that: a rally was held for us in Taksim Square, in the centre of Istanbul, addressed by George Galloway and others. It was the first time a demo of any kind had been allowed there for 30 years.

The parade through Adana was particularly vibrant, and one van full of sisters was so enthused that they ended up following us all the way to Gaziantep. That night, which was the convoy’s last in Turkey, our hosts were so keen to demonstrate their solidarity that a couple of dozen families ended up staying the night with us, children and all.

After such support and hospitality, we were decidedly sorry to leave Turkey, especially as we had no idea what to expect in Jordan. We needn’t have worried, though: an official reception, complete with Syrian TV cameras, was waiting for us at the border, where we aunties had some very interesting conversations with young Red Crescent volunteers about the low level of awareness and/or interest in the Palestinian cause in Britain, and the part the British media plays in keeping people ignorant of the true facts about occupation and resistance.

The drive to Damascus was punctuated with stops for several receptions and welcomes with Syrian officials. At each of these, speeches of support were made, and coffee and snacks offered. Gifts were also made to convoy volunteers, ranging from the decorative (flowers and scarves) to the practical (water and tissues).

After a week of camping in car parks, followed by a week of bunking down on sports hall floors, we were extremely grateful to find that the Syrian government had arranged accommodation for us at a lovely government-run hotel complex on the outskirts of the city, complete with much-in-demand laundry facilities!

A day off in Damascus was spent catching up on sleep and washing, and visiting the old city, before returning to the hotel for a militant rally and cultural celebration with Palestinian refugees, addressed by George Galloway and by leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian organisations. The Syrians also gave us another 45 tonnes of medical aid, which was distributed amongst the vehicles that still had space.

Access to internet has been a bit unpredictable recently, so more on our journey to Jordan will follow soon. In the meantime, I’m just about managig to update Twitter fairly regularly, so follow the story there.

Even more things we have learned:

1. There is no such thing as a reliable source of information on the convoy. Peace of mind is achieved by not asking questions. If you do accidentally ask a question, it is best not to listen to the answer.

2. Remain on a state of high alert; you may be leaving at any moment. On the other hand, you may not. This experience can be compared with that of having someone shout ‘Ready, steady … STOP!’ in your ear all day long.

3. Do not respond to food anxiety by hoarding all the bread, cheese, cakes and yoghurt (especially the yoghurt) that have been offered to you. The smells and general detritus will not enhance your travelling environment.

4. If you have ignored the above advice and accumulated large amounts of food, you may not want to leave your van parked all day in the sun with the windows shut. Expanding gases will eventually force your windscreen out. This may initially seem comical, but will almost certainly be inconvenient.

5. Not all roadside shops are service stations. Not all toilets are designated public conveniences. If a bemused man and his assistants are watching 20 convoy members queue through their shop for a single loo with no door, it is not polite to start complaining about the state of the facilities.

6. People are annoying. When thinking this, it is often a good idea to remember that you are one too.

7. People are more annoying when you are suffering from sleep deprivation. Stop talking to them and go to bed.

8. Contrary to popular opinion, debating powers are not at their peak at 3.00am. See no 7 above.

9. Despite this, it is probably better to debate at 3.00am than not at all. Plenty of strong tea will get you through the next day.

10. It is hard to write a blog entry on a small keyboard when you have been up all night and too much strong tea is giving you the shakes.

11. Cigarettes will not improve this situation.

12. The love of the people for the convoy knows no bounds. In this part of the world, we can really feel the truth of the slogan ‘We are ALL Palestinians’.

ps. Lots of lovely pics but no joy uploading them at the mo. Will sort when facilities allow.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 24 December 2009 10:39pm

    Hey jo-bo, all following your progress eagerly… did you get the photos /videos of india and the family from Tango?? text me and let me know rbx

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