I am home. Safe and well. My son is with me. Life is good. For the past few days my thoughts stray back to my time in Talitha Kumi, near Bethlehem in Palestine.
My friend and Storytelling brother, Arjen Barel, had beautifully facilitated a farewell for me. Many smiles with lots of tears. Some my own. I say many things to the amazing people I have spent 9 days with and who now surround me with love. I say that I don't leave fully. A piece of my heart remains in Palestine. This is true. A piece of my heart is there right now, it always will be. Using black words on a white digital page, it will be difficult to say, in a blog, why this is so. Arjen had invited me out to Palestine the first time back in January 2018. An easy yes! My time then had changed me, for the better. When he asked me again, it was a really eager easy yes! This time there was a slight tweak, in the title - Share To Connect. Simple. Brilliant. Incredibly deep. The first two days were a bit hazy for me. This is unusual but I was already tired from the heatwave back in the UK and my flight was a late one and we started first thing on Sunday 5th August and i wasn't sleeping well and… oh you get the picture. My heart was fully there yet my head strayed to different places at times. The program and one special person brought me fully present. Fouad Lakbir is a big presence. His immense energy is fun, playful, provocative and, so very focussed. He is wonderful to be around. I see him as a storytelling brother now too. With some brilliant fun proven exercises and games we brought the group together. Together with trust, love and connection. This is no wishy washy perspective. This is real. Our group was made up of some really cool diverse people; mostly Palestinian, mostly Muslim. A few Israeli folks and one Jewish and one slightly Jewish. To those in the West this wouldn't matter. But hey, we are in Palestine and Israel. It is our intention to be open to all who wish to grow as people and gain the skills to become Storytelling Workshop Facilitators. So you, you reading this, if you know of anyone, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise - please let them know of us. We really want to Share To Connect. Me, by the way, I don't align myself with any formal or traditional religion. I am from Glastonbury in England. My church, mosque and synagogue is nature, and I preach love by example. Hey, that's a work in progress. By the third day, only the third day, true connections had been forged. The group dived into games and exercises with utter joy. The work was fun, energetic and mad!! Pause. For us going to these ancient lands and connecting with young local people, this is truly wonderful. Coupled with beautiful views across to Bethlehem and delicious Palestinian food made with local ingredients. Add a sprinkle of deep friendships being made - this feels just like a holiday. Yeah, a working holiday. Pause again please. Why are young people drawn to do this with a bunch of strangers from across Europe? To gain new skills. To experience new things. To improve spoken English. All those yes. But also this: they live in Palestine, they live with a low level fear all the time. A fear that they, or their loved ones, will be taken, or shot, or beaten. I feel this deeply when I am there. The 2 or 3 weeks for these people IS a holiday. A necessary break from these almost constant fears. Also, a break from their families too. They are young and want to walk their own paths. Another crucial reason that we are there. They gain growing confidence by interacting and sharing and telling stories. Listening too. Listening is key. Let me give you an example. I could choose anyone from the group. I saw them all as flowers this time around. Full summer in this wholly land! All open or opening to the sun, as flowers naturally do. Lubna arrived on the second day with her sister Muna. Both seemingly shy with wide eyes and pretty smiles. Muna is 24 and Lubna is 21. Both had never done anything away from home before. Ever. Here they were, about to spend 2–3 weeks away from home with some folks from across Europe. Daunting I would imagine. To witness the petals of Lubna opening ever so slowly over the few days that I was there was enough for me. I told her so too. She was a flower, still closed at first, very natural and ready to bloom. And, yes with our guidance, did she bloom!! She opened fully to the sun, in such a short time. I told her so too. She also did something that I have never done and perhaps will never do. She told her story in another language to me and others, who speak English with little effort. Along with the others, a piece of Lubna is in my heart. After telling her story in a circle, outside under the pines, to the others, I told her that she was a beautiful flower, just like the others. She told me that she loved me, right there in front of everyone. She cried when I left. Share To Connect. Incredibly deep connections with people who were strangers to each other days before. This kind of confidence is transformational, often healing. It fills my soul. I am so lucky. Let me bring in Ronni at this point. We had picked him up at a bus stop somewhere between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At night. As he squeezed next to me in the car, I somehow sensed that ours would become a deep bond. Ronni was brought up in Manchester. It's grim up North - an in-joke in England. He was raised as part of a very religious Ultra Orthodox Jewish family. My best friend at Christmas time is Jewish; he is the boss of Rent A Santa in the UK. So, to me, he is my Head Elf and a brilliant Father Christmas! That, as they say, is another story. Back to Ronni. He is 52. He's 26 really yet has an older wisdom about him. Really bright and great fun. He has lived in Israel and now lives and studies in Sweden. Our silly English humour connected us together. On the trip to Hebron Ronni and I shared something so incredibly deep that I will cherish his stories and insights richly forever. To witness humanity in Hebron was one of the low lights and therefore highlights of my time in Palestine. I tweeted: "Have you ever seen exquisite beauty in the visceral ugliness of humanity? Yes. Today was that day. I witnessed it with such gorgeous souls too. Thank you my beautiful friends." Hebron is where some people from the group in January live. Some told me harrowing stories of Hebron, of how Palestinians live, and how they die. On our trip, I witnessed how Palestinian families live in constant fear and oppression from settler families. The Israeli settlers have closed roads and neighbourhoods with razor wire and barricades. Behind which are soldiers. For me, as an outsider, I couldn't blame anyone i saw in these surreal scenes. The soldiers are people, who have to serve by law. I talked with a couple of them. Eye contact, sharing a few words, connection. People in uniform. With guns. It is said that there are 400 settlers in Hebron, with 4,000 soldiers. Through my eyes, a huge menacing presence that pits neighbours against each other in the worst way possible for humanity. I haven't been to Gaza. The situation is truly appalling and yet I blame no one I met. I saw Palestinian children, offering us water and smiles. Up on a level, playing behind razor wire and fencing I saw Jewish children playing basket ball. Children. The innocents. Living right next to each other and yet being brought up as enemies. I wonder, I hope if anything that we are trying to do will achieve anything. A reprieve for some at the very least. This is why we would like to work with a more diverse group the next time. Sharing stories is one thing. Listening to them, well, that has the power to connect, reconnect. Transform lives. Heal wounds. I leave you with this insight. An insight which came to me when I collected my son from London. There were four of us giving the coaching. Four men. First, we want to bring in women to do this work too. From any and all backgrounds. Until we do, I see these chaps as my friends. My brothers. Arjen is the brain; he has the vision and will to set this all up and put it into action. Constantly amazing. Fouad is the mind; an incredible creative thinker and doer, so much fun! Ronni is the heart; his unique perspectives beat a beautiful, rich fresh blood in to all of us. Me, I am the soul; well, i'm old enough to know what my wisdom brings. We all bring wisdom, experience and insights. There is no hierarchy, imagine one of those elements missing? Together we all bring the spirit of Share To Connect. With two new guys out there now, Souf and Mark, I can only imagine more incredible growth, experiences and connection. And fun. There. Do please add, alter or edit as you wish. Thank you again brother. Thank you for writing Brother on a post-it note. I still have them all in the little plastic cup. Hope the rest of the time brings the magic of connection. May that be so. Give my love to alllovestu xx