Women in a Mediterranean travel

By Francesca IACONA

When I arrived in Middle East, I didn’t know exactly what expecting from this place. I went to live in Gaza Strip, Palestine, and I reach that place shipping the Mediterranean Sea and driving in Israel. Gaza is close to the Egyptian border: if you decide to go there, you must consider hat you need at least five days travelling no stop. No, it’s not an article for travellers, but only a way for focusing on the trip and not on destination.

Travelling you start meet the most different humanity, who follows your same route, maybe with different aims, but with the same wish of understanding. By instinct, I always noted more women than men, because women have very different moods and attitudes during a trip than men.

Everything started at Brindisi Port. To see two women with two cars full of EU stickers on, boarding on a ship going to Greece, it attracts a lot: 1) who are they? 2) where do they go? 3) two women! alone! 4) they are crazy. (Women) passengers approached my colleague and me: they started shooting questions, for understanding and not for sterile curiosity only. When we told them that we were going to Palestine for humanitarian aid support to the population, beh, someone of them shook our hands saying: if it was not for us (women!!!)….… The ‘sisterhood’ was starting…

On the ship going to Greece, first stop of the journey, we met a majority of European women: clothes, mobile phones, aggressive behaviour, let us understand that we were in western world. We realized this and slowly confused ourselves among all people of the boat.

In Greece, the situation changed. The cars focused the attention on and everybody thought we were going to Cyprus to help Turkish population. It was better for us to clarify our position starting from the lady who was serving us breakfast in Patrasso Port. We were breathing a different air: the religion was different, east was closed and looks were more penetrating. This was a population used to defend themselves and always ready to attack. Women are proud with amber skin. It allowed me to think that we dress the history on our skin, features and hands gesture.

Second part of the trip, from Patrasso to Cyprus. The ship was crowed, women and me from all over the world. Greeks mixed with Russians, Americans with Germans…. My colleague and I started asking us: where hell is going everybody in November?? The ship was a transporting boat not a cruise boat and nevertheless, women immediately started undressing on the boat deck for getting a tan, on improvised mat or directly on the hot metal ship. Chatting and smiling was normal in many languages, everybody was relaxed and the war noises were far from us.

Few Arabic women were on the boat, always surrounded by children and watchful husbands. They were covered by foulards for hiding hair: they stayed under the sun but they don’t sweat. I asked myself if there is something wrong in me…. In Cyprus, you could find everywhere signs in Russian language: restaurant, hotels, and advertising. I’m lucky because I read Cyrillic alphabet and in this way I can manage Greek and Russian inscription present in this part of the island: I’m very surprised when I discover that the most part of Cyprus properties and tourists are Russian from last 5/6 years. They are the owners of the Greek part of the island. I realize by simple worker/tourist who I am, that it’s no so difficult to discover the international money clean channels: it’s enough to travel with open eyes and mind.

We change ship again in Cyprus: next stop Haifa, Israel. Here the situation was more complicate. A second after our disembarkation, some aggressive and strong young ladies dressed with military suite and sub-machine gun, invited us to be checked – sorry, but I’m not so young and at that time I was still surprised to see women in military forces: now I overtook this trauma -. Military women mixed themselves, in a natural way, with their colleagues/men: anyway women are more severe and insidious respect to men. I saw them in Tel Aviv airport: you have no chances to escape from thousands questions. They don’t give you time for thinking. They search on you, check in your makeup materials one by one – in case you are trying to transport a bomb in a lipstick!!! – asking 101 times why…why ….why… And you cursed to be a woman and the women in general!! These are the same women, always with military suite, walking smoothing with their boyfriends, with sub-machine gun as well. A brown/green drop with two sub-machine guns walking. I ask what kind of love is.

Than we get inside the Arabic world. In Gaza Strip, panorama radically changed. Women were covered by foulard and long dresses, always with children. Kind, smiling, tired, full of hope, poor, patient, worker, fighting women. Palestinian women take care of families; they are focused on schools and kindergartens. They have to, because there is an Israeli law which forbidden to men to meet in public place if they are more than three people otherwise it’s considered a political and/or terroristic meeting. So women have to manage each training action, collegial meetings and talks with parents, student associations. All in women hands. Palestinian women slowly walk watching shops with paiettes shining dresses – western women would never buy this kind of dress! -. They stop in front of unprejudiced lingerie and go to the hairdresser to change colour continuously. You could ask: if they always dress a foulard and no one can see them, why? You are wrong, someone can see them: themselves in a mirror and their husbands. You can see them undress coats inside a beauty centre, a modest one, starting asking about all treatments!! I was a witness because I was inside that centre. I was there to cut my hair. I saw silent women coming inside, left on the doorstep by the husband/father/brother and liberated from the overcoat in few seconds, untied the long hair and starting to have a chat, laughing and telling everybody concerning themselves. I remained without breath. They were surprised because an Italian woman was inside, myself. In chaos of languages, we started asking and answering each other. In the mean time, they cut hair, change color, and have a manicure, pedicure, lacquer nails… And I felt coming inside my mind many questions about freedom: I make a comparison between their freedom and mine.

My colleague and I worked together with the kindergartens of the Strip: 52 kindergartens managed by 52 women and 30 associations/organizations, all in women hands. Graduated women for the most part. They studied abroad and that come back to Palestine for helping the local population. There is a strange mélange between the Arabic/Palestinian and Arabic/Palestinian/Jordan women. A high percentage of Jordan population is Palestinian – the Jordan Queen is Palestinian – but the local tradition wants the Jordan women more free and easy. There are a lot of women doctors in the hospitals and many of these have studied in France, Lebanon, and Great Britain. There still have strong links with old European countries, which were there few centuries ago. I didn’t affirm that Jordan is a democratic country, it could be crazy to say, but the democracy level of a country cross inside the space occupied by women in different sectors of the daily life. Jordan could be considered country in progress and still in evolution.

It happened from 1997 till 1999, when I definitely left Palestine. Everything is just memories. Now there is a daily war against the Palestinian population with chirurgic shelling and tanks invasion. Imagine a population of women and children who fight with stones and imagine the answer with bombs, sub-machine guns, houses destruction and building wall to divide. I want know now: who are the terrorists and who are the victims in this bloody war…..

I come back alone to Italy by car. Again, the same trip of the beginning. This time the astonishment was: a woman? alone? in a so long trip? don’t you are afraid?….and most of these stupid questions came by western women. I mean, if I was a man, I was a courageous and strong traveler. But I’m a woman, so I’m unbalanced. I was surprised because Greek, Italian and French women asked me these useless questions, people who must be more used to see a woman free and they showed me that they are more stupid. Who is free? Arabic woman or western woman? It’s difficult to decide because it’s important to put filters for judging. When I was in East Timor, I saw naked and dirty children running in the village, smiling and laughing. For me, they were poor, for them was normal, because they had food enough for eating.

Again another question for myself: what is poverty and it’s possible to decide that a person is ‘objectively’ poor. And more, is it possible to affirm that a woman is ‘objectively’ free?

This year, again, we squabbled the celebration of 8th March……I suppose that the next year will be the same, without a possibility to bypass it or trying to have it 365 days per year.

Only few words for women who are involved in war in this moment: Iraqi, Afghan, Kosovari, Pakistani, Serbian, Sudanese, Zimbabwean, Sierra Leone, Angolan, Kenyan, Chechnyan women, and other hundred forgotten wars, be strong. Don’t allowed to war to kill your ‘sisterhood’.

HELIOS Magazine

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