Storytelling and narratives
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The time we walked to the sea

Many have asked why I rarely write about my work experiences in conflict zones. It is a question I revisit often, puzzled by my inability to tell development stories in the way my fellow professionals do. Sometimes, the conflict mutes me with its contradictions and complexities. The core concern is to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the people I meet through my work and obtaining consent to share their stories here would not only be complex, but also have the potential to blur the already loaded identities, roles and perceptions of people in this field.
This week I distilled another  truth: Life outside the ‘conflict trail’ is just as precious to me. The stories with which it feeds me and the beauty it infuses in my days fuel me with inspiration and the desire to continue doing my work with women affected by conflict worldwide.In the winter of 2010, I found a companion in storytelling outside the conflict trail. Martin Fletcher was the NBC Middle East Correspondent and Tel Aviv Bureau Chief. In the book Walking Israel, he committed himself to telling the stories he unearthed during his walk from the border with Lebanon to the border with Gaza along the Israeli coast, avoiding  the regions of tension and conflict that he had covered as a journalist in the region. Inevitably, conflict still seeped into that trail, but war was not the lens through which he approached this particular story. When I finished the book, I gave it to Elijah who, upon finishing it, drew the only conclusion one could:

We, too, must walk.

And walk we did across this land, on a combination of trails, paths and barely-roads that would not meet the dictionary definition. We walked on the sea-to-sea trail, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. The Jesus Trail (no, I am not making this up) took us through places of Biblical significance, such as Nazareth and Cana. The Israel National Trail brought us up hills that necessitated I later descend them on my rear end. We also walked on the special Roxanne-and-Elijah trail, which mostly involved finding the wheat field with the most thistle to prickle our legs or getting fenced into a cattle farm and trudging through poop to a chorus of moos.

We walked through a kibbutz and slept in a valley between Arab towns. We heard both the Muslim call to prayer echoing across a mountain at 4 AM and the sirens marking Israeli Independence Day. Even if this walk was not about The Conflict, the stories, plights, frustrations and sources of hope of Jews and Muslims alike wove themselves into our trail.

Some may ask “why walk?” I fall in love by walking. Cambridge, Massachusetts became my home once I spent consecutive mornings looping around the Charles River, avoiding patches of ice and goose poop in equal measure. I walked through Cairo during Ramadan nights. I walked through the Zona Cafetera of Colombia, soaking in the aroma of coffee beans and sight of waxed palm trees.

I make sense of the world by walking through it, piece by piece, village by village, drinking from the fountains along the way.

9 Comments

  1. Wow! What an adventure. Sounds like an amazing experience. I’m very tempted to add it to my own ‘lifelist’. Loving reading about your travels – keep it up. Clare

  2. Akhila, thank you so much! I highly recommend taking a similar journey some day – it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had so far. I am so glad that you are enjoying reading these stories; it is an absolute treat to be able to share them with you.

    Brandee, I’d love to read about your walks. Next time I find myself trudging up a hill or down a rocky path, I will imagine you in your neighborhood. Cannot wait to read more about that.

  3. I love reading these stories. It takes me outside my little world and is just fascinating. My walks are around my neighborhood, and it’s a very different set of experiences, but I’m learng to appreciate it differently, thanks to sharing your posts.

    I look forward to reading more about your walks.

  4. Roxanne, this journey sounds absolutely incredible! I would love to take a similar one someday. I agree that walking allows us to truly take in the sights, sounds, landscapes and allows us to learn so much more by simply observing our surroundings and being in the moment. I wish I had time to do it more often.

    And of course, you manage to make it sound even more magical with your lovely words 🙂 I can’t wait to hear more about this incredible experience!

  5. Clare, I am just now adding it to my Goodreads list following your recommendation. You have impeccable taste in books. I would love to walk somewhere with you one day. [I have not forgotten about the Turkey recommendations — I am simply caught in a mayhem of packing and transitioning, but they will be in your inbox shortly!)

  6. S and Kim, thank you so much for your kind words. S, walking is by far my preferred way of falling in love with people and places. Kim, I cannot wait to tell you the rest of the stories — it makes me laugh just to think about them. Alas, packing and writing exit reports and preparing for yet another transition take precedence, but I promise to return with tales of treks and tents!

  7. Wow Roxanne… this sounds amazing. One day I hope we get to walk somewhere together!
    Your own walk reminded me of Reja Shehadeh’s book, ‘Palestinian Walks- Notes from a Vanishing Landscape.
    Have you read it?

  8. Life outside the ‘conflict trail’ is just as precious to me.

    The other trails sound both inspiring and necessary to keeping your entire sojourn there in perspective. I’m so glad to hear about this trip and I’m looking forward to all the details. I’m anticipating post after post, you know.

  9. A wonderful way to “fall in love”. As always, you introduce a new perspective on life to me through your eloquent writing.

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