9. Days go by…

September 15th, 2008 by elinap

15 May 2008 – As the days go by and my mission in Hebron reaches the end, images are passing through my mind. The images of children we played football together after a night of fear and nightmares, the images of mothers crying for their sons spending their best years in jail, of young men smoking nervously as they describe their suffering in prison. Images of the conditions of the houses – some very poor, with just some mattresses on the floor and all the family sleeping in a single room. Some more luxurious, but with the same feeling of desperation and sadness. And some others, becoming just a bunch of cement ruins.

One of the most powerful moments that deeply touched me was a teenager’s girl wish to conduct the session on the ruins of what used to be her house a few days ago. We tried to find a safe “seat” on the cement, she showed me where her room used to be, the living room, the kitchen. She was looking at the ruins as if her room was still standing there, I could almost see the house in her eyes…

Through my missions with MSF, I had the opportunity to conduct sessions under a tree, into a house half destroyed by earthquake, into a public toilet, into brothels, under a tent, in the middle of a street. But this case here in Palestine, listening to a girl on the ruins of her house, under the hot sun, with the wind blowing telling me how much her life has changed and how much exposed she feels, has really left me amazed. Amazed by her courage, by her honesty, by her braveness.

I don’t know who has affected the life of the other more, me or my patients. For sure, I feel grateful to them for all the painful sharing, all the willingness to work together and try to make the best out of a pretty cruel, out of control and reason situation that affects their life everyday.

8. Belongings

September 5th, 2008 by elinap

01 May 2008 – Living in Palestine and working with the local people, has urged me to think several times about my relationship with the material aspect of things, with the idea of belongings. How much they mean in my life, how much the idea of happiness and fulfillment are connected with what I have, what I own.

This challenge came to my mind today after visiting a family of 7 who suddenly, one morning at 6.00, they saw bulldozers coming and demolishing their house within minutes and without allowing them to take anything from inside. Now they live under a tent and on the open roof of a neighbor’s house. Even to get water, all of them, including the 8 month pregnant mother, need to walk far with buckets to bring water for the basic needs. Their only belongings now are some old mattresses to sleep under the stars and basic clothes for the kids.

A month ago I was traveling back to Athens to visit my parents and I almost lost my luggage. For an hour I was sure that I will not get it back, till a young man handed it over to me. During this hour, I was feeling sad and disappointed, wondering why I had to be so unlucky. All this ‘cause of some clothes and shoes that I thought I had lost.

After my visit to this family today I felt that I owe to re-arrange my priorities in life, what really matters and what is just for show off. For some people having a roof above their head or running water is a luxury. For me is a de facto that I need to appreciate more in order to understand better my patients when they are trying to adapt to a tough reality and also to make my life more meaningful.

Photo: Elina Palakanou, MSF.  |  Palestinian grandparents.

7. Luck

August 27th, 2008 by elinap

18 April 2008 – Sometimes, I’m speechless in front of people’s suffering here. Words just don’t come out. I’m just listening, just trying to give space and time for people to say what they have inside, their complaint, their sadness, their frustration. How many people have shared that only with us they feel comfortable and safe to say what happened to them, where their sons are, how angry they feel and how they are coping…

Tomorrow I will visit a family of 5. They were just thrown out of their house within a few hours, not allowed to take anything with them. No clothes, no food, no precious things, no toys, not even the meds for the child’s pneumonia – nothing at all. The house was sealed, just like that. The family was suddenly out on the street. A relative gave them a room, someone else 3 mattresses to put on the floor, an organization some clothes, another some cans, a neighbor bread, a hospital meds for the boy. Suddenly, they need to depend on others to survive, just to eat. The house where they used to live, just some meters far from the “new” one, seems so comfortable. The children sometimes go outside to play and they show me where their rooms used to be. The mother is pregnant, no money for tests in the hospital, she seems so tired and so weak. She is getting easily angry nowadays – the children are getting naughty, as she says, and she spanks them. She is angry but not with the children. “With all the world”, as she says.

I’m also angry with all the world nowadays. With all this selective blindness and deafness around, with the easiness we speak about human rights and take them for granted though never had to fight for them, with the fact that we don’t understand that who we are is just the result of mere luck, just a game of fortune. I’m born Greek, in a middle class family with more than the basic needs covered. I could easily have been one of the children thrown out of their house, waiting for a neighbor or relative to bring me food, because otherwise I would starve. But I’m not one of these children just out of luck, but since I was lucky, the least I can do is speak out for their rights.

6. Not impressed

August 27th, 2008 by elinap

15 March 2008 – The last period was tense. What was happening in Gaza (125 dead people), what happened in Jerusalem (8 people died) affect obviously all the Palestinian Territories and all Israel. West Bank had its share in the violence offered and received. This circle of violence, this ongoing danger “smells” in the atmosphere. You are thinking: what next now. Cause you seem sure something is going to happen. I’m getting myself adapted to this atmosphere, I’m not impressed anymore by the number of Palestinians – Israelis having died, I’m not impressed by the number and the age of Palestinians being arrested every day. Not impressed by the things I’m hearing from those being released, for the “techniques” used on them. I don’t feel much worried when crossing checkpoints, when speaking to soldiers with the guns ready, when hearing shooting and bombs. I feel sad, I feel disappointed, I feel angry, I feel hopeless, but I don’t feel impressed. And this is a strangely dangerous thing.

If it took 3 months for me to get adapted, what does it mean for people experiencing this situation for years? For the people that have been born here and have seen nothing but this reality? When the only stable, ongoing thing you have ever experienced is violence – daytime, nighttime. What does the phrase “peace talks” means, when simultaneously people from both sides are dying and more people feel the need to retaliate? Where is the hope in all this?

5. Two-way transaction

August 11th, 2008 by elinap

02 March 2008 – There are some patients that you just cannot leave after the concluding of the sessions. That you feel you are going to miss them, that you would like to see them again and usually the feelings are mutual.

They are the patients with whom both we grew up through these sessions. They grew up calmer, enjoying life without the symptoms which disturbed them at the beginning, smiled again after long time, setting goals, living each day.

And me, grew up more human and more professional through them, watching them working hard with themselves under difficult circumstances, supporting them at these steps, adapting ways, respecting culture and beliefs.

So, I really don’t know who gives more to the other, it is a two way transaction leaving us both happy and satisfied but also with a bitter feeling of at the end saying goodbye.

Especially with children this ending becomes harder, they do not understand why you have to leave, why you have to go see other children also, now that they feel better and we can have more fun together.

I don’t know for whom this goodbye is more difficult, for me or the patients. What I know is what I feel after the ending of the sessions: happy for been there sad for leaving.

4. “Difficult” patients

July 25th, 2008 by elinap

14 February 2008 – Half of my patients are children having faced a traumatic event, e.g. an incursion, and the other half are usually the mothers and close relatives of those arrested. “Patients” mean that children have nightmares, bedwetting, somatic complaints and fear, while adults are sad and crying, they show lack of interest in daily life, they cannot sleep or eat and suffer from intrusive memories and flashbacks. They also have health problems for the same reasons. I put myself in their shoes to feel the impact in all its parameters and support them as much as possible.

Especially mothers are the most “difficult” patients. Maybe because being a mother may mean worrying about your children anyway. So much when children at the age of 14, 15, 16 and over, have been taken in the middle of the night with their pajamas only, beaten in front of their parents and put to jail with an open-time sentence. How are these mothers coping with this? Basically they spend their days waiting for a phonecall from the jailed son, waiting for a permit to go visit him, waiting for his release, waiting for a court and a trial to fix a sentence, wondering if her son found clothes, if he needs blankets, if he lost weight, if his moral is ok, if he is crying, if…if… Imagination fills in the gaps. They are worried as any mother would, and they are getting confused also with this political situation, as sometimes they ended up saying “at least I know where he is”. This means that they accept the imprisonment and whatever that implies as the best possible situation compared with other existing ones, e.g. becoming a martyr. It is easy to write about it, but to accept it means denying many of the dreams and ambitions usually parents have. It is a hard reality, which leads to an unfair but realistic adaptation.

My work with them goes up to a point. It goes up to the point when they can feel well and cope without feeling guilty, to the point that my need to support does not disrespect the difficulty of the situation and the feelings attached. Even when we agree to conclude our sessions, I cannot help thinking about them for long after, keeping an eye

3. Conflict or not, today children play.

July 9th, 2008 by elinap

30 January 2008 – Yesterday, we were wishing with the children I work with that it would snow in Hebron. There were some signs but when I woke up today I could not believe my eyes. During the night, it snowed heavily and if you add the wind and the cold, the scene is really perfect. If you stay at home in front of a fireplace I mean. I know that children will be very happy, it is a chance for them to play outside, to make snowmen, to “fight” with snow ammunition.

I cannot help thinking of how things are with such weather for the people here that cannot afford to pay for electricity, for warm clothing, for transportation, for buying food in case they get stuck in. Or how enjoyable can snow be when whole families, babies and children included, have to spend 3 hours standing outside in the cold at night, without warm clothes, waiting for an incursion to end. Or how is it for the 7 year old boy somewhere in the mountain that he lives, having to walk 2 hours to go to school and to 2 to come back…

For many people here, life is difficult. Because of the conflict, lots of things are not as we from outside take for granted usually. One of them is the way people live in their own houses, many times having no control on who’s entering, how the house ends up after and how many members of the family remain after the “visit”. The children I work with usually suffer after such “visits” – bedwetting starts, nightmares, fear, somatic complaints.

We tried together to work on these problems, having in mind that they need to adapt to the current situations and manage them in order to continue living, playing and behaving as children are supposed to.

Snow and playing out with it, doesn’t matter how cold they may feel, is one of the few things that Palestinian children can enjoy as all the other children in the world, this right of playing with at least what nature brings cannot be violated by any political situation. Conflict or not, today children play.

2. “Welcome to Palestine!”

June 25th, 2008 by elinap

15 January 2008 – I’ve been to Palestine for a month now. Winter has come for good. Temperature falls below zero during the night. During the day I visit my patients at their homes. The houses are very cold. Nothing that needs electricity is working. It is too expensive. People are rushing to switch on the heaters just for us. I feel embarrassed wrapped up in my fleece while people around me wear basic clothing. There was a small child today with bare feet walking on the cement ground. Her feet were almost blue from the cold…

Children gather around when I visit. We draw together, we play, we talk. They are shy but very polite usually. Not much time passes till they start smiling at me trying to attract my attention. They don’t have to try much. My attention is on them anyway. To those who cannot manage speech so well to explain what are they afraid of, to those who cannot understand why they need to visit their parents in jail and not have them at home, to those who wake up with nightmares every night. Children don’t understand about politics, diplomacies and casualties. They are not supposed to.

During Christmas boys are asking from their parents plastic guns as gifts. Toyshop owners say that anything else stays on the shelves, nobody buys it. So they stopped bringing any different toys anymore. Little Palestinian boys stand on the side of the road, targeting me with their gun as we pass with the MSF car. At first they “kill” us and right after they smile broadly telling us “welcome to Palestine”.

The photo below is a special request from the boys. They wanted me to send it to a newspaper but they finally content themselves with the internet!

This one was taken during Christmas in Bethleem…

And this is the MSF house in the morning. Amidst fog…

“See” you all in 2 weeks…

1. Coming to Palestine

June 12th, 2008 by elinap

03 January 2008 – Coming to Palestine to work with MSF as a psychologist was a desire I had for a long time. The last 3 weeks this has become a reality for me. I’ll be living and working in Hebron for the next six months. The goal of the project, the goal of my work, is to provide psychotherapy to the local people suffering from the ongoing conflict with Israel. Easy to write, difficult to accomplish such a thing though.

A bedouin boy

My first impression about the people here is that they have an amazing courage and love for life, despite the difficulties. And there seems to be a lot of difficulties here, of a varying nature and sometimes even unimaginable. I am wondering already how I would have reacted myself if I had to go through such sufferings. I feel that I have to go through this personal introspection in order not to just carry my western psychotherapeutic ideas around. Reality stroke me suddenly on the head here and thus this introvert mood… The photos are the first ones I took when I came in Hebron. They show Bedouin children somewhere between the foot of a mountain and an Israeli settlement.

Elina Pelekanou
Psychologist, Hebron

0. Biography

June 12th, 2008 by MSF Field Blog

Elina Pelekanou, a psychologist from Greece, is currently on a mission with MSF Spain in the Palestinian Territories. She writes from Hebron.

Elina has been a member of MSF’s exploratory team which assessed local needs following the great Peloponnese fires, as well as a team leader in the “Acteurs d’urgence” event – both in Greece during 2007. Previous field missions include working in Indonesia in 2007 following an earthquake, and in Armenia in 2005.