Today we almost literally “sailed” into Gaza. I say “sailed” because it was incredibly easy this time. We seemed to have pushed all the right buttons…with the Egyptian Embassy, State Department and Congressmen back home, and the Egyptian Embassy and Intelligence Service in Cairo. But I say “almost” because the two young Egyptian women -- one an artist who works with children and another who is a media coordinator in Alexandria’s Department of Culture -- who had tried to travel in with us were turned away as a “security” risk. We delayed the entry of the rest of the group for three hours trying to get them in…to no avail.
Our arrival in Gaza had a special joyousness to it for another reason as well: One of our delegates – Linda Todd of British Columbia – revealed the night before that upon crossing into Gaza, she planned to marry Hamoudi Gharib, a local correspondent for the Xinhua News Agency in China. Linda -- an administrative assistant for the Canadian federal government and a mother of five – had “met” him online eight years ago when she frequented a chat room that featured Arabic music as background (and thus made for a good “companion” while she worked on other projects). When she was asked by men if she wanted to be “friends,” she would politely respond by explaining that she didn’t speak Arabic, rather than just ignore them.. One of her “rejected” would-be friends passed her name to a companion who spoke English, saying she sounded like a nice woman. The rest is history. For eight years, she and Hamoudi chatted by Webcam and in April, now engaged, she jumped at the chance to join the May/June CODEPINK delegation to Gaza.
Once she leaked her secret, we couldn’t help but get involved. We accompanied her in Al Arish, the last town before the Gazan border, to purchase a beautiful Palestinian dress and scarf. When we finally rolled through the Rafah crossing, she found a restroom and transformed from ordinary mom to "Super Goddess."
I only wish we had been able to capture in a bottle the look of sheer happiness (and relief) that shone through when the two were united for the first time. What more fitting way to show one’s support for and faith in the people of Gaza? A wedding implies a future, after all.
P.S. Another example of Palestinian hospitality: My roommate and I were up late in our Gaza hotel room and tried to call room service at 1 a.m. We were starving! The night manager informed us that room service was closed, but invited us down into the basement kitchen and together, we raided the refrigerator. "Welcome," he kept repeating, "Welcome to my land, and all that I have."