Friday, March 26, 2010

Impromptu Meetings and the Search for Stories

So far, I've had private meetings with six business professionals—and only two of these meetings were scheduled. In Gaza and across the Arab world, planning tends to be more impromptu. For example, I met with the Gaza general manager of Jawwal (Gaza’s only mobile phone company), who then made a personal call to the general manager of Gaza’s only electric company.

Next thing I knew I was in a private car en route to visit the general manager of the electric company. While meeting with him, the mayor of Khan Younis popped in to discuss electric shortages in his governorate—so I made arrangements to meet with him next week. The electric company general manager also put me in touch with the Palestinian Businessmen’s Association, which by coincidence was holding its first craft exhibition since the blockade. So off I went to visit the exhibition.

The exhibition was funded in part by the World Bank and aimed to draw attention to the work of Palestinian mom and pop shops still practicing their trades despite the blockade. The most interesting handicrafts were those that turned war rubble into art: metal wreckage molded into elaborate house decorations (see picture), broken glass used to make colorful tiles, and uprooted olive trees carved into picture frames and lamps.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Rafah and Khan Younis. In Rafah, I’ll meet with the friends of Rachel Corrie who I interviewed for my previous article and will see if these conversations yield any new story ideas. The big news in Rafah at the moment is that Israel bombed smuggling tunnels last week in response to a Kassam rocket attack that killed a farm worker in Israel. The rocket was not launched by Hamas, but by a more radical militant group that rivals Hamas. I won’t be covering this story because it’s been widely covered already, and I won’t be meeting with any militant groups.

In Khan Younis, I’m tentatively planning to research an article about the social and economic ripple effects of Gaza’s power shortages. (I was surprised to learn yesterday that, like most of the population, the electric company general manager gets no power in his home for eight hours per day.) I’m looking to meet with a Khan Younis family whose children were killed recently when a faulty electric generator smuggled from Egypt exploded. I’m also hoping to visit a sewage treatment plant that is forced to dump raw sewage into the sea when the electric generators fail.


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