Friday, 27 February 2009

Low loader arrives

Just been put on a low loader which is taking us as far as the border. What happens then we don't know. We need a new front wheel hub. There's no Leyland dealers. Maybe we can get the part flown out by my mate?

Lorry Trouble!

We're in trouble. Major breakdown. The convoy has left us behind in Gabes. The secret police want us out of her now. The mayor promised us a low loader to Tripoli, in Libya where we can hopefully get her fixed. But we have learnt to not believe a word that anyone says.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Still under Arrest

Still under arrest but now being moved towards convoy in Gabes. They even object if we need the toilet! There's a demonstration planned outside the Tunisian embassy today by stop the war coalition. Two women have been arrested and roughly treated.

Tunisian police stop Gaza aid convoy

Report from PressTV...

Tunisian police have stopped 'Viva Palestina', a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid convoy, arresting two human rights activists without charges.

The incident came upon the aid convoy's arrival in Tunisia from Algeria on late Wednesday, said Press TV's Yvonne Ridley who is accompanying 'Viva Palestina' on its journey to Gaza.

The convoy departed from London loaded with medicine, food, clothes and toys for the Gazans who are living under difficult conditions due to a 19-month Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

The UK police had earlier arrested three men from Burnley, Lancashire, on February 13 as they were driving on a motorway to leave Britain as part of the one-million-pound aid convoy, organized by former Labor lawmaker George Galloway.

Lancashire police had to drop the alleged terror-linked charges and release the three men almost a week later.

'Viva Palestina' comprises of more than 100 vehicles which left London and boarded ferries from Ramsgate in Kent, to Ostend, Belgium, en route to Gaza.

The convoy includes 12 ambulances and a fire engine, and carries medicine, tools, clothes, blankets and shoeboxes full of children's treats.

The convoy plans to travel 5,000 miles through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before arriving at Rafah in Gaza early next month.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Last night...

Last night, not long after I'd finished blogging we pulled over on the side of the road. The convoy were by now hours ahead of us because we're slow and heavy. As night falls people tend to dash for the next overnight stop and convoy rules go out the window. Well that works both ways then.

I phoned my Dad only to discover he has been taken into hospital with chronic nose bleeds. He's not been at all well and its played on my mind all along that I might be called home. I'm assured he'll be okay. I was just taking stock of that when a man jumped out of a 4x4 on the opposite carriage way and ran across to shake our hands. He wanted us to follow him and have some food. In the Koran it teaches that it is a greater good to care for a traveller than someone in your own life. It is also very ungrateful to refuse generosity. The chance to break bread with a local seemed like divine intervention and so we followed. Bear in mind this man, Jockicke Kamal, doesn't speak French, (mind you, mine is primary school level at best and John's is a mixture of every language under the sun including Martian) we followed him to an hotel. He bought up a meal and insisted we stay the night at his expense. Tough choice, drive til about 2am to find the convoy who had abandoned us in the Atlas Mountains and pitch our tents or sleep in the biggest bed I have ever seen. After lengthy discussions (2 sec max) about the ethics of suffering in solidarity we decided anyone in Gaza would think us crazy not to accept this hospitality. Honestly though some people think we should make the journey as wretched as possible to put up on a par with the Palestinians. This is play acting at being homeless and deeply patronising.

When they've finished "playing refugees" they'll all bugger off home to their comfortable homes in the UK. There is no virtue in poverty that's why it must be irradicated. So, we gratefully accepted this hospitality and spent a wonderful time with Kamal and a passionate French speaking waiter not understanding a bloody word each other was saying. I couldn't even understand John who by this time had kicked into a full on version of northern Irish Esperanto. We all though understood our reasons for helping the people of Gaza. We understood the killing of children. This haphazard meeting proved that we share an international conviction that the suffering of the Palestinians must end. It was a beautiful encounter and well worth getting on the wrong side of the convoy organisers for. By the way if you've been reading the Viva Palestina website it continues to propagandise. Apparently we spent a lovely day in Tipizi being shown around some ancient ruins. In fact we were inprisoned to all intents and the only ruin we saw was the cockroach infested hotel the majority of the convoy stayed in. We've been told that a Tunisian newspaper who offered to house the convoy have had their generosity declined in favour of us sleeping in our vehicles. Apparently its not enough to drive 14 to 18 hours. If I'd known I'd have brought some birch along so that I could flay my flesh and leave it as proof of my conviction along the roadside.

Some of the convoy seem to have invented a new game called "Lets all play Hamas". They've even started wearing black army style clothing. But really the majority are lovely friendly hilarious characters who grow closer each day. They are ordinary people who understand what it must be like to lose a child. Simple as that. We are up against a highly organised and well equipped adversary, and I don't mean the wannbe martyrs, I mean the USA and the Zionist goverment of Israet. By the way many of the vehicles including the fire engine were donated by a British Jew. The world is not divided in the ways we think. X

Up early

Today we rallied at 6.30 am. Trying to get 300 people to do the same thing at the same time is unbelievably difficult. Its always the same people who are late. As the convoy pulled out at 8.15 some people were still in bed. The Algerian police held us up for nearly two hours so that they could catch up. Trying to fuel 120 vehicles is another time sapping logistical nightmare. We've driven through the Atlas Mountains where despite the sun the air is freezing. This is a beautiful country and the people have given us an extraordinary welcome. However the police and military presence is overwhelming. We have met women tortured by the French during the was me liberation and heard the stories of the brutal suppression of the Islamic movement. We may not like aspects of Islamic regimes but when faced with supposedly secular pro western goverments who spend up to 2 thirds of their GNP on security you can see why the people want goverments with morals.

In Algeria the Islamists won and elected an islamist party but the government, with American backing refused to accept the result leading to a virtual civil war where many have lost their lives. It is countries like Morocco and Algeria where the Bush regime were sending suspected terrorists to be tortured under their policy of "extraordinary rendition", a phrase beyond even the imagination of George Orwell. We've had armoured cars, the works overseeing us through but inconsistently. Gun turrets pop up like cruet sets at the entrance to work sites, quarries and intersections, but still the people come to wave and want their children photographed with us. Such beautiful children but we know, looking at their parents, that they will grow old before their time. This evening John did a live satellite broadcast, thanks to Press TV, from a frozen mountain to UTV. I spoke to BBC Wales and will try to do something similar. Richard Gott is helping with contacts in Wales, but please, if you can pull strings, do it.

Meanwhile i've been writing some poetry trying to capture this experience for the convoy, describe characters, places and their stories. If I get near a computer with internet connection I'll zap then to the blog. We will cross the border to Tunisia tomorrow. What awaits us is as ever uncertain but we are getting better at taking the blows. That is with the exception of John who kicked the truck and threw a fit when we lost ignition at a service station. A mechanic had it fixed in two mintues flat leaving John exhausted and me exhausted with John. All a bit embarrassing as the mechanic and his mates thought we were clearly mad especially when John hugged him in relief! Until tomorrow, goodnight and good luck. X

Monday, 23 February 2009

This is Walid Hadid

This is Walid Hadid who I met in Algeria. He has a wife and two children in Caerphilly. He has been deported from the UK and is stuck here trying to appeal.

He over stayed his visa and the Uk authorities are refusing to reunite his family.

He worked and paid taxes the whole time he was in the UK.

A lawyer on the convoy has this moment offered to help. Perhaps you can too?

thanks us for our efforts

An Algerian Iman comes to meet the convoy and thanks us for our efforts.


A game of volleyball while waiting for the police to let us out of a barracks we had been driven to.

We reached Oran

Yesterday afternoon we reached Oran, a large city in time for prayers at a Mosque. From there the decision was taken to push on to Alger about 200kms away. The police assured us it would only take a Fez hours and dangled the carrot of hotels for all. In fact we arrived about 4am because the police kept stopping us. The only up side was the phenomenal response from people enroute which kept us going. How one of us hasn't been killed through lack of sleep whilst driving is either pure luck or Allah looking after us depending upon your persuasion.

John and I were woken at 6am by an Iman singing in the corridor outside our room, calling the faithful to prayer. I can faithfully say I nearly...well you can imagine. We've threatened to sing "You ain't nothing but a hound dog" outside his bedroom at 5am to see how he likes it. Ahh the sweet sound of cultures clashing!

The day descended into chaos as the Algerian police wouldn't let us leave the grounds of the barracks we were staying in. The convoy leaders were in an hotel 20kms away and similarly unable to move.

George Galloway arrived today but not even he could clear the blockage in the system. Eventually we rebelled and formed our part of the convoy at the barracks gates and insisted they let us out. We had realised we were effectively prisoners. The police were forced into action and escorted us to where the rest of the convoy are. By this time we had wasted an entire day. We were taken to what looked like a cross between a prison camp and a camp site. As I write we have nowhere to sleep but screw it we're getting a taxi into town to see what there is. After 10 days sitting in a truck walking any distance is a novelty and painful on my old knees.

Tomorrow morning I'm up at 5.30 am to help organise the convoy so that we're on the road asap. The planned meeting never happened but hopefully the fantastic comradeship by the many will swamp those whose agenda is entirely their own. Someone has just offered me their bed for the night, saying they will sleep on the floor. That is the kind of solidarity we are experiencing at every moment. We will get to Gaza, and we are determined to do it in a manner befitting our humanitarian objective.

From here on in we are sleeping rough and ready. If we'd known we weren't travelling today we could have done laundry. Fortunately I've been doing my smalls along the way, so unlike John I'm not starting to recycle. Driving with the windows open may soon become a necessity! Love to all. Come on Man Utd! Greg. X

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Chaotic welcome in Maghnia

Chaotic welcome in Maghnia. Sorry about picture quality. The first person to introduce wireless internet to Africa will make a fortune.

Cleared the Algerian side

Once we finally cleared the Algerian side of the border we entered a town called Maghnia where thousands of people had waited all day for us. It was crazy, cars beeping, overladen motorcycles weaving in and out of the convoy, people giving us food, coffee, dates and kisses as we passed. Children were kept up way past their bedtimes and beautiful they were too. Young lads danced in front me the vans and if we dared get out of them we were hugged and begged to have a photo taken with them. They are truly overwhelmed that British people have shown their own Arab governments the way forward. In fact it appears that we are largely being guided "for our own protection" bypassing large towns and cities for fear we might inspire civil unrest. As we head for the capital Algiers farmers down tools to wave, workers walk off their jobs, kids pour out of schools and women wail, cry and blow us kisses, sometimes all at once. The feeling that we are able to change the world comes rarely because we buy into the illusion, created to maintain the status quo, that we can't.

On this convoy we know we are changing the world outside and inside ourselves. Its difficult and fraught with contradictions. Last night someone slashed the convoy organiser's tyres. Probably because he wanted some militants turned back at the Algerian border but relented under pressure of a mutiny. The people we're hanging out with are a real mixed bunch, but all passionate about the changes, sights, sounds and debates that are happening along the road. Last night I slept on top of the cargo in a sleeping bag, thermals plus two t shirts, socks and a hat and still froze my balls off. I had to be up at 6.30 as I now have a loud hailer and the responsibility of getting the convoy organised to roll. I did it in 1hr 15mins this morning, shattering the previous record by well over two hours. I knew God gave me a big gob for a reason and I think I've just found it.

Today the sky is cloudlessly precise. The road weaved through fertile valleys till it reached a sand duned coast. Its now 30 degrees but the cold of last night is still in my bones. We've tried to institute rules, like No Overtaking. When people do it makes lorries like ours have to slam our brakes on. An old Moroccan man flew at John at the last break because he wouldn't let him pass. Handbag stuff but it shows you how tempers get frayed. Most people have never driven further than the shops and they're driving the professionals mad. We are supposed to be having a meeting tonight. Its going to be explosive for all sorts of reasons. I want to say that the journey should reflect the ultimate aim, to breakdown barriers, cross borders, bring humanitarian relief to our brothers and sisters. It seems more than a contradiction, an hypocrisy, not to treat each other the way we would wish to be treated.

To glimpse, along our journey, a future built upon the freedom to learn, change and believe, where every person gets a chance to achieve their potential and contribute. Old fashioned socialist values which come springing back to life it this context.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

On Morocco Algeria border

Phone signal very sporadic. I'm fine. On Morocco Algeria border. First time open for 17 years. Just for us. Yesterday we had a fantastic reception at a socialist MP house and later that night a banquet in Oujda thrown by the greatest Islamic scholar in Morocco. Big rift in convoy today when some radical unruly elements were nearly sent home. A rebellion was finally successful when a third of the convoy refused to move from the Moroccan border unless everyone was let through. Time will tell whether that was the right decision. An Algerian MP has sent food to the border because we have been stuck at passport control for at least 9 hours. They have also promised free fuel tonight. Where we will sleep, when we can leave, how much longer its going to take or how many hours we have to drive are all unknowns.

We broke down yesterday. Dirty diseal blocked the fuel pumps. Had to get towed to a garage fixed it and then refused money because it was for Gaza. We gave them Gaelic football shirts instead. Great affection from Moroccan people. People lined the streets, schools let the kids out to wave up past. The convoy is troublesome. So many personal agendas besides the objective me taking aid to Gaza. We all need reminding that that is why people are lining the streets.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Just left Fez

Just left Fez 3 hours late because of Moroccan fears of an international embarrassment should the convoy have an accident or split up out of their control. Too many uniforms spoil the broth. Last night one of the hotel staff was punched by one off our young lads for calling him a dog and insulting his mother, which to a Muslim invokes a law which says you must protect her. In this case that means lumping someone and provoking a mass walk out by hotel staff.

So much of what happens trying to get a simple decision made reminds me of George Orwell's description of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. One division is between Pakistanis and Arabs. Another is between the convoy organisers and the Iman led Islamists who want their own Sharia leadership. The funny thing is that John and I coming from Ireland and Wales and both brought up as Catholics are loved by all! I think someone should ring the Pope and tell him we're doing him proud.

Last night some people managed to get into Fez a medieval city but we were too busy sorting out the convoy. Maybe just as well because some people had a lovely meal whilst one Algerian was nugged and badly beaten. Perhaps because of his nationality, maybe because the local hoods know we're carrying a lot of valuable gear. We are entering bandit country and have to stay rigorously close together so we don't get hijacked. The problems come when someone breaks down. We become vulnerable despite police escorts.

The scenery is stunning, azure lakes, green and sand coloured mountains. Every single person from other drivers to school kids to farmers, to workers are waving and giving the peace sign. Their TV stations plus international stations like Press TV have made them aware of the convoy in a way the Europeans failed to do. The response is morale boosting. The people kind and fascinated by this raggle taggle army of ours. It brings tears to everyone's eyes.

We have to stop for prayers at 1pm, preferably at a Mosque so that they can hear a sermon from an Iman as well as pray. Its Friday too so its particularly important. Trying to schedule a convoy around prayers and washing five times a day as well as food, fuel and sleep is enough to have tested Monty! But these guys are very sweet when explaining to ignorant oiks like me why its paramount to them. Steep learning curves zooming off in all directions and not just for John and I. For some of the convoy we are as alien to them as their they are to us, and they are profoundly moved and impressed by our efforts and those of every single person in Ireland and Wales who contributed. Spread the word, give the blog address to everyone on Facebook and keep raising money 60,000 people are homeless in Gaza and believe me its cold at night. You're making history. The border between Morocco and Algeria will be opened tomorrow to let us through. The first time that's happened in 15 years.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Customs in Tangier

After getting through customs in Tangier, which was gruelling because the T shirts we were wearing, showing the route to Gaza, depicted a disputed part of Morocco as Algeria. This enraged local dignitaries and more unfortunately the plethora of uniformed security forces who despite having a delightful array of uniforms all seemed to be doing the same thing. Which was mostly writing our number plates down and staring mystically at our perfectly in order paper work.

Some of the convoy revealed themselves to be about as politically astute as Ian Paisley's daughter saying she wants to marry Gerry Adams, by chanting slogans and praise to Allah. No doubt Israeli intelligence were there. Such overtly political posturing will only undermine our humanitarian purpose.

Persuading the Israelis to lift their embargo is a delicate affair. Compassion is our plea and argument. Right now we are driving 6 to 8 hours to Fez after the organisers told us we only had to drive 20 to 30mins.

Now a thick fog has descended. Most people had little or no sleep last night because of having to catch the ferry at 7.30am. In actuality it took all day to get the convoy across from Spain because the ferry company had hugely over booked.

So nothing is easy, but the buzz of the Moroccan pople's appreciation of the convoy was uplifting and hints of what it might be in store should we ever get to Gaza, which we must. We have literally come too far now.

Arrived in Morrocco

Arrived in Morrocco. The convoy is together for the first time in days. The spirit is amazing. So much love. Each helping the other, sharing food and resources. Driving through Tangier people came onto the streets, car horn blaring to welcome us. Lump in my throat to say the least. After such a gruelling journey this is what we needed.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Driving across Spain

Yesterday we drove across Spain through Salamanca and Seville to the port of Tarifa. A beautiful drive across mountains in glorious sunshine. Again we drove for over 14 hours and slept as best we could in our vehicles at the dock. A can of Guinness has never been so welcome.

Teamed up along the road with some great brummies and a fire engine being driven by a mad but lovely Pakistani from the North of England, an Aussie arab who swears like a trooper and a circus performer from north Wales. All together for the same reason. We keep each other's morale going and carrying on everything from quizzes to story telling over the walkie talkies.

I'm now on a ferry to Tangier. From there we might stay with a team member's father or crack on into the new day. The convoy is supposed to be at a reception this afternoon but if its just another excuse for the so called leadership to blow smoke up their own ... then no one is interested. We are learning to do it for ourselves.

WE will get to Gaza!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Latest news...

John reversed over the laptop which of course wasn't meant to happen so no blog update possible yet. We roared laughing at George Galloway's description of events so far; "Civic reception in Bordeau" was actually some sandwiches in a community hall in a rough part of Begles, the official welcome in San Sebastian never happened because no one got there because of organisational chaos yesterday morning. And anyway it consisted of one man offering to align people's wheels and a "Rock Concert" which was a band who sang a couple of songs. The only reception we got was from para military police with machine guns. My point is not that heroics, solidarity, self sacrifice and immense effort aren't the reality but they are happening on the road not in the crap propaganda from the organisers who abandoned us and switched off their phones. We drove till 3am last night, got an hotel but many slept in their vehicles. We're heading for the ferry to Morocco today about 600 miles away.

The Spanish Police have stopped part of the convoy, confiscated the aid and searched everyone. Exhaustion is reaching critical point. Young Muslim radicals want the convoy run by Sharia Law. No democracy. No women group leaders, no non believers calling the shots. Their pride in their identity is admirable, but its capable of be chauvinistic. Their schooling in the Koran is remarkable but they have little education. Passing through the Somme some thought 1st World War was in 13th Century, others confused it with the American Civil War, another asked me if they had canons. Mark Twain once said that he wouldn't send a child of his to be schooled because he wanted them to have an education. I think he'd have little to say to these boys. as I am writing the Police are arriving and pulling vehicles over. More later...!

Ok, someone's been pulled over but we can't turn around to help them. My mission remains the same as the majority here, Muslim or non Muslim, to take humanitarian aid to Gaza. We do so out of compassion and a political determination to free all people to realise their potential.

One more remarkable thing I forgot to add. A woman at a service station met some of our crew and gave them a solid gold ring and all the clothes she had just been out buying for her own children.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Leaving Bordeau

Just leaving Bordeau to cross the Pyranees to San Sebastian in Basque Spain where there is a reception for us. Then onto Madrid. About 700 miles. More vehicles joining us. Will reach Gaza with 200 trucks, vans, ambulances, boats and a fire engine. Morale good. Tried to update last night couldn’t do it. Mind you, only had 3 hours sleep since Thursday, so was past it! Will try from Madrid tonight.

Leaving London

Leaving the rally in London was chaos. No one knew the way! My friend, dancer Phil Williams had to choreograph us from his motor bike before waving goodbye, as we headed for the ferry.
A good crossing meant food and 2 hours sleep. From Ostend we drove through the night stopping for two more hours sleep. We arrived in bordeau at 10.30 Sunday night, having been up since Thursday. Epic chaos, but all focussed and inspired by each other’s goodwill.