I’m relieved. No more visits to camps, or hospitals or having to photograph and video vulnerable people. My visit to Jerusalem has not been a quiet one, or a holiday by any means. Since we arrived in Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv, over a week ago, its been a daily grind of visits, tours and filming aid work, but today for the first day I’m sat in the lobby of the Holy Land hotel, and I don’t have anywhere I need to be.
I’m also relieved because after a flustering visit to Ramallah camp yesterday, the second and more hectic of the visits, I discovered that there are amongst us good people who have a strong moral and ethical grounding and sensitivity towards the vulnerable. It’s strange to say that, or even hear it, considering I work in the NGO sector, and yet I am surprised by others and especially at my own lack of empathy sometimes.
After we got back in the evening, I was casually asked about my purpose as a photographer and filmmaker, about the purpose of documenting poverty. As is my nature I replied sarcastically, how I often do when I neither have the time nor the energy to engage a genuine intellectual response. Plus I’d already written my previous blog and I wasn’t feeling great about the subject anyway. My interlocutor was genuinely interested in my answer though, and before long their frustration (like my own frustrations shared in my previous blog) became clear. Thankfully the frustration was not directed at me, I was merely the vent. But a necessary vent, I’ve known far too well the effect of keeping these types of things inside.
They had observed how other members of the group who also visited the camps in Ramallah displayed a frightening level of disregard to the dignity of the beneficiaries, many taking ‘selfies’ with random poverty stricken street children in an attempt to chart their aid efforts.
The angry feelings were reconciled with the group leader and with great admiration and pleasure I saw how the group leader was not able to douse the passions of this individual who felt very strongly about what they had to say. I’m young and at the same time far too cynical, and even apathetic (only out of laziness, not out of an unwillingness to care) so it was a good reminder for me, a boost in my view of people, that in every 10, or 100, there might be someone who opposes what my colleague and mentor Quinn calls ‘NGO tourism’.
In actions there should be a clear and pure intention. In theology this is very important, but even for the overall wellbeing of humanity, if we as people do not try to preserve the sanctity of why we do things and how we do things we risk selling our souls for ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on Facebook and twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I use twitter myself (follow me at https://twitter.com/SafiyyahsDad) but I seriously believe there is a severe psychological effect of prostituting our good deeds, on us and our friends.
This renewed faith in people came at a timely point in this trip. With 5 days left, it feels very close to the end. I spent the last few days worrying I had not made any kind of spiritual or even psycho/social progression. Most of my time here has been spent working, documenting, photographing, videoing, charging batteries, backing up memory cards, checking footage and sound etc. There was no time for reflection or contemplation in this ancient land. But after that conversation with a good and caring person, and having a moment or two to myself, I now feel a combined sense of spiritual presence and also hope. I’m looking out at the Dome of the Rock actually. It’s a stunning sight. Looking at that too gives me the exact same feeling.
Leaving this place will be difficult but I do feel I’ll leave here a better person than when I came. InshAllah.
Photo: Jubair Khan 2014, please credit if used.