Soup and bread forms my contract with avp. I meet my mentor, when needed or before too long, at the Egg café for soup and bread…’cept I often have chunky cheese on toast with salad while my mentor has soup and chunky cheese. We call our get together ‘Soup and Bread’. And we talk and catch up and that’s how it is. ‘…text messages?’ Yes, I do text messages to my mentor after every workshop. ‘Finished. On way home. Shattered and happy.’ Really, to tell her I’m still alive and breathing. Long may it continue. It matters to me having this contact. I still do it now, four years on, though I suppose I don’t really need to. I like it, though. It’s a connection.
‘O’ is for Odessa: Greetings from avpBritain to friends attempting under difficult circumstances to set up avp workshops in the Ukraine and Serbia and keep them going with very little money and lots of enthusiasm. We want you to know we are thinking of you and wish you all well.
About 40 people were gathered at the national avp event in Birmingham where I told a tale, a Taoist Tale, in one of the workshops. It’s about good things and bad things that happen to a farmer’s son. He loses his family’s only horse. And when the neighbours say what bad luck or good luck, when he finds it again, plus several other wild ones, the farmer asks them how do you know. And I retold the story of Portia Nelson’s lovely poem ‘An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’. It’s so hard to walk down another street but possible. I wonder if this isn’t an answer to the question I’m often asked in community workshops? ‘It’s ok for you, you can go home. You don’t have to live where I do.’ It sounds like an accusation.
And we sang of winter’s nights…
Are there occasions when or places where you feel included or excluded by others? Don’t we all experience this at times. Whether it’s real or not is another matter but it doesn’t make the feelings of hurt any less. But turn it round. When do you include or exclude someone? And straight away, I realised I do often make subtle judgements when meeting people, letting them in or keeping them out. I realised I was doing it now, listening to the person facing me. I’d felt before I wouldn’t really get on with this person. It was their manner of speech and their dress. Hard to say exactly but I wasn’t’ going to make much of an effort to communicate. It didn’t help the room was noisy and I’d only just finished one intense conversation. So, when she said to me, ‘Speak up, so I can hear you’, I felt irritated. I would keep my contribution brief. Yet what happened next surprised me. avp people are good listeners and know when you’re not. I’ll do what I can, I thought, and began to be drawn in. discovering here was someone with whom I had much in common and not at all like the person I’d judged her to be.
It’s not ‘hummus peace’, a phrase, meaning food shared between Palestinians and Israelis, which sums up superficial relations between two sides. Hummus peace is fine but don’t expect too many to practise it on the West Bank, and certainly not in Hebron. This is where we next went. Hummus peace may be a beginning but will come to nothing without deeper underlying changes in society, which provide freedom and equality. Would this lead towards both parties feeling safer and freer? Peace appears such a long way off. Yet, remember Ireland. Remember the Berlin Wall, glasnost and perestroika. Start talking, keep working for peace. Keep talking. How? Where? Who is with us? Who isn’t? And why?
A member of our group talked about her visit to Hebron to observe and support avp training for new Palestinian facilitators, made up of teachers and social workers. Hebron is a city the size of a small county. A big, bustling city of 180,000 people live in it, surrounded by fertile grounds; places like Haloul, where cool waters flow and science teachers wander to dream of lessons for their students and of peace.
Someone else remembered their own visit. ‘I can leave.’ she said. ‘The difference was I can leave.’ It brought back a memory of a young student, Elena, I’d met during a short study visit to Minsk when it was part of the Soviet Union. She’d told me she only ever felt able to talk freely when in the kitchen at home and with people she knew well and trusted.
‘We had fun there and lots of laughter. We played games like ‘Mime the Lie’. One of the men had made a flute out of a piece of piping. At the slightest excuse, he started playing and they would be off, singing and dancing.’ And what great hospitality!
The Palestinian, acting as their interpreter, failed to turn up one morning. When he did arrive, he told them that the young soldier, stationed outside his house, had stopped him from leaving. So, he rang his brother and invited him and his family to come round for tea, which they had…in the middle of the road, blocking all the traffic. The soldier gave in and let him leave. The Palestinians have a word they fond helpful for times like these, Simud. It means steadfastness, resourcefulness.
These are light and dark questions facing people every day, like soldiers raiding a corner shop as the local primary school lets out. What if, without thinking, a young boy picks up a rock? What do you do? How would you react? Throw it? Ask him not to..? Ignore it? Or cry ‘Drop it!’? You have to make quick decisions, thinking on your feet. Making the wrong one may be costly.
Next to the now almost deserted Suk, or market place, where 500 settlers live, guarded by 2000 Israeli soldiers. Those traders, who stay there, work under protective netting. It catches all kinds of unspeakable objects thrown from above. Fewer and fewer shoppers go there now. It’s dying.
In Palestinian avp workshops, they speak of the ‘Flower of Peace’ to represent the kind of world they would like to live in. On one petal, one of the new facilitators wished for ‘a world where money is not spent on weapons’. Another of them wrote, ‘I wish for a world where we give each other balloons with kind words written on them.’
There is a group of ex-soldiers in the Israeli army, called Breaking the Silence, which campaigns to raise awareness about what’s happening and the long term effects the conflict on young and old on both sides. I remembered reading that relatively few Israelis really appreciate the effect on ordinary Palestinian families of living on the other side of the Wall.
Reflecting on these stories helps me see more clearly the connections between living out my own peace testimony during avp community workshops (there are prison ones too). It’s a way of trying to live my life in a more peaceful way, facing up to and dealing with conflict when it happens – it just does – and connecting me in ways I’d never thought possible to the national and international scene by avp international’s contribution to peacework.
Peace really does ‘begin with me’.
…and we danced and we sang of the long time sun.
The Alternatives to Violence Project Britain (avp) organises workshops which empower people to lead nonviolent lives, based on respecting and caring for ourselves and others. Though Quaker in origins and ethos, it is composed of people of all faiths and none Website – http://avpbritain.org.uk/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AVPBritain?fref=ts
International Avpb website – https://avp.international/
WordPress blog – firstname.lastname@example.org
Breaking the Silence – http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/
Find out more about life in Hebron (in Arabic) – aman.org.ps