[Part 2 is here]
Nicola and Greta
After 50 hours over 24 days and 150+ encounters with individuals, couples, families, friends and dogs i toiled up the hill to complete my 73rd kilometre lap and was duly presented with my certificate by the Mayor to the tuneful strains of the Tadhemon choir in the background.
Highlights of the last 4 days include Nicola and Greta, two nurses starting out on the Sheffield Round Walk, Nicola had been volunteering at the Refugee camp on Samos when covid sent her reluctantly home. She described conditions in a camp of 4500 meant for 600 and how refugees from Gaza were sidelined into a separate space because nobody knew what to do with them, since they didn’t have a country to be returned to. She couldn’t wait to go back and described the RESILIENCE, POSITIVITY and HOPE that kept the camp inhabitants going. “They need an endgame”.
We took pictures with the flag for her Palestinian friends before they continued on their way.
Mark asked lots of pertinent questions to make sure donations weren’t going into top-heavy ‘admin’. (£300 pays for a year’s scholarship and £24000 is the estimate for properly staffing and running the Childrens’ Healing Centre).
“I’ve not been spending much during covid and I don’t need much, so I’m glad to donate”.
Early on the Saturday of the spBR weekend I bumped into Tim on his 8k run for spBR, combining 5k to Waitrose to drop off his Tetrapak recycling and 3k in the park and gave a young couple a leaflet and when I met them again on my circult they informed me that they hadn’t stopped talking about it since!
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Between encounters I had plenty of time to reflect on what I was getting out of my DIY activity for spBR:
- A way of improving my physical and mental health by walking round the steep paths of this beautiful park, full of birds, squirrels, trees and stunning views
- A sense of pride in not giving into the ‘maybe I won’t bother today’ temptation.
- The interesting and random encounters and chats with local people of all backgrounds and ages, that might not have happened without my Friend the Flag – a bonus for someone living alone in Covid times. (Someone visiting their daughter assumed I kept meeting the same people on my rounds, but this was surprisingly rare,)
- An opportunity to learn and reflect including how lucky I am compared with so many in Palestinians
- A chance to make a difference, through raising awareness, raising funds and demonstrating solidarity to those in the community who may not expect it.
- A chance to share information and stories and be a listening ear…
- An opportunity to leave my usual social bubble and peep into others
- A further understanding of the importance of ‘Community’, remindere of our common humanity and appreciation of the Community I live in
- A timely reminder that a smile and hello go a long way between human being
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES!
This year there were many more folk of all ages who recognised the flag and its significance due to the recent News.
I was engaging with people at all points on the ‘awareness line’ and for those who were most aware, i needed to be specific about my mission to publicise the two projects supported by spBR, which offered a chance to make a real concrete difference within a much larger, complex issue.
This year (and for the first time) I came across angry opposition in the form of three separate encounters:
The elderly upright, possible ex- army officer:
What’s that flag?
It’s the Palestinian flag.
You’re a traitor!! These muslims cut off people’s heads! Mohamed forced conversions! This is a christian country. The queen is it’s head. You should be ashamed!”
The older man with a stick;
Him: It’s not Good
For you you mean?
No for you. Carrying that flag
Do you know why I’m carrying this flag?
Cos you’re an idiot!”
One of two men in their 30s
“Can I borrow your flag?
Cos I really feel like a shit
Do you know why I’m carrying this flag?”
Barrage of expletive deleteds
(I was relieved that they were on a separate path going in the opposite direction)
it was clear that these were people who could not be influenced easily and the last one in particular made me feel uneasy, unsafe and I thought of Jo Cox, but the Universe provided in each case with a subsequent deeply positive encounter to balance the books. The prevailing post-Brexit, post Trump political winds were wafting over Meersbrook but very much in the minority. Most people listened and engaged respectfully and thoughtfully and it was clear that the twin themes of children’s mental health and women’s education struck a chord
The issue of free speech came up in one conversation and I was reminded of the two older gentlemen named Mohamed and their view of ‘relatively tolerant’ Britain alongside the younger Udit who was uncompromising about British current and historical attitudes to race and colonialism. And then there was Mel whose Dad had passed on the positive resilience that got him and his generation through their experience of settling here. So many nuances and perspectives
So much food for thought, but some encounters over the 73k particularly resonated and gave me hope for the future.
All the small children who recognised the flag and its significance and wanted to engage
The group of young lads of mixed backgrounds, who, despite being high as kites from the teenage ‘pod’, understood the nuances and wanted to discuss the issues “It’s not all Jews and Israelis, it’s zionists, it’s the government”
Yasmine, in her hijab on her way to work at the primary school in my street . “I feel sorry for the Jews”. Why? “Because they don’t all agree with what’s going on, but people don’t understand that”
A young Gazan friend I met up with who’s best friend is Jewish and talked about the way his people were an inconvenience in the global power struggle, but he derives hope from apparent changes in attitudes among ordinary Jews, in Israel, in the US and elsewhere.
The neighbour who listened respectfully and took a leaflet. He explained that he struggled with what side to be on because he had Jewish friends, but wanted to understand more and so we will meet for a coffee sometime to talk.
And Michael, absorbed in a book with a keffyieh round his neck, living with autism and deeply thoughtful. He found organised activism too ‘divisive’ and explained his personal ‘Socratic’ philosophy of making a difference by living his beliefs and talking to people individually in the course of his daily life in the hope of shifting their thinking. We agreed that we can’t change the world alone except in small ways, and the importance of keeping HOPE alive..
I told him a story I’d heard Mark Tully tell on Radio 4 about the immensity of world poverty, which turned many away as it felt too overwhelming. A well-known writer came across a young man walking along a beach throwing starfish, marooned on the shoreline, back in the sea. “What’s the point?” he asked, “How can you make a difference when there are millions of starfish on millions of beaches”. The young man bent own and threw another star fish in the sea. “It made a difference to that one,” .he said, and Michael and I agreed.