“This is really exciting .. not only is it cutting edge, but it has been prototyped at our University for over 5 years now “
“I could bore you with all of the nanotechnology, and how it’s going to shape our future.. but our university development programmes are starting to do some really exciting, and ground-breaking stuff with this”
Graphene is seemingly the stuff of the future and represents the way in which many of our futures will be shaped. At the time, I was in a field which was slowly turning to mud, as countless wellie-shod feet were transforming a green grass field into a morass, after a day of constant deluge on the first day of the festival.
Seeking respite, warmth and shelter, I had dived into a marquee, which was home to a variety university scientific research projects, when I found myself engaged with a researcher, who was eagerly describing their project’s research and development progress, and achievements.
As I stood hearing and appearing to listen, I thought he can’t be really deceived into thinking that I understood more than the merest fraction of what he was saying…. really?? However I had caught a thread of one particular strand and was beginning to bounce it around in my head..
“So what would you say were the principle properties of Graphene?”
“Well it is incredibly thin.. just one or two atoms thick.
Also it really binds two different surfaces together, in a way that gives it incredible strength.. oh.. and it is superconductive
It means that metal won’t rust anymore..
Light bulbs could be replaced by self illuminating wallpaper
It is bendable and stretches and yet simultaneously it is the hardest and most durable thing known to man
It opens up a myriad of new horizons for quantum physics and has the capacity to transform our lives”
I’m afraid however, my mind was starting to digress from the discourse by this stage.
My mind sprang back to a conversation that Wissam and I were having some months previously. He’s been my Palestinian friend for several years.. Born Palestinian, but who lived and studied in Chicago, After graduation, and a few years, he returned to live, once more in Palestine and hence he was bilingual Arabic/ English. He had been a researcher for Defence of Children International in Hebron, but had left to start up an NGO.Bedouins without Borders.Thishad been his brain-child, and now it had come to fruition.
We were sitting and talking together out under the stars, out in the desert in Area C about 10 miles east of Bethlehem. He and his friends had contructed a Bedouin camp with classroom facilities, kitchen, a meeting tent, and we were ruminatively lazing back, having just finished a barbecue. They had built it to be both a practical Bedouin experience, as well a learning centre about the lives of these tribal peoples. He always emphasises that they are not Nomads, as they have their own traditional ancient territory, and tribal hierarchy. As we talked, several small desert foxes, with huge ears, emerged into the half-light of the fire to seek out any left-over scraps.
As a Bedouin by birth, he was concerned at the vulnerability of these agrarian and ancient people, as their lifestyle was under existential threat due to the oppression and intimidation of the 70 year Israeli military occupation.
Villages had been demolished, cadres had been arrested, tortured imprisoned, made subject to detention, been on hunger strike, and the subjects of extra judicial killings. Traditional grazing grounds had been lost, settlements built over their pastures. Their rights to move freely and to access water had been forcibly removed.
That said, Wissam observed that Bedouins are an ancient, defiant and proud race, and generally a bunch of bad-assed motherfuckers, who were fighters by dint of birthright.
As he saw it, his community was under existential threat. He saw Bedouins without Borders as a means of trying to be a focal point of holding this community together. We talked on as the night grew darker and the stars brighter.
We discussed how he felt that holding on to culture was a critical necessity. The notion that children would learn about their poetry, their stories , their traditions, their way of life, the importance of their animals, the necessity for their traditions and ceremonies seemed to be a nailed on essential.. Through this they could claim their narrative as the ancient tribes of the Levant, and have a conscious awareness of their heritage, and identity.
As we talked, I shared a previous experience of mine, when I had visited the Palestinian Children’s Art Group in Hebron. It was a Saturday morning and we were in an art room in the basement of an old building, near the old city, where there was daily conflict with settlers, and a high military presence. Many children had to fearfully, go through Israeli military check-points as they went to and from school every day, and hence experienced intimidation, bullying, and abuse from the soldiers.
There were about 40 children all drawing and painting and I joined them. However, with my very limited Arabic, (and their much better English!) we were getting along and having a laugh. Many of their drawings showed distressing images of children, soldiers and violence. As we were finishing at 12.30, one of the girls on my table tore off a scrap of paper, and after writing a few lines, passed it to me.
“My name is Rania.
I am 13 years old
I am a Palestinian
I am not a terrorist”
It seems essential to me that when you’re experiencing repression and oppression in the way that these people are, perhaps it becomes essential to claim your own narrative and not one ( de-humanising and demeaning) which is imposed on you by the forces of oppression.
I guess I have experiences of this in Palestine, but the logic applies wherever there is oppression, be it through racism , war, poverty, refugees, or anywhere, where there’s a narrative written about you by the forces which seek to hold you down as somehow subhuman, and stigmatised. Maybe the qualities of such narratives are that they contain your culture, your history, your strength and your identity. There’s a word in Arabic “Samud’ which is the embodiment of strength and steadfastness, in the face of oppression and existential threat.
My friend Samir has a poster on his office wall, taken during the first Intifada, of a wiry teenager with a stone in his hand , confronting an Israeli tank coming down his street.
“David .. I ask you .. who is the stronger ? I ask you this! Who is the stronger?”
Maybe like Graphene, contained within these narratives, strength is contained. In these narratives connectedness is conducted across generations. Through these narratives you find a true voice and identity which proclaims who you are.. not that which those who oppress you say you are.
When I was asked to write a blog for Bit Crack for Sef Townsend’s performance , I wasn’t hugely sure how to do this, yet as he spun out his stories, be they from Israel, Palestine, Syria or beyond, it seemed that all of them we’re loaded with the DNA of people’s culture and identity which tied them to who they are… through their eyes, through their community, and through their culture.
I guess that in this increasingly hostile and challenging world where, whether it’s someone begging on Northumberland street, someone living under never ending military occupation, or perhaps a refugee fleeing and trying to find sanctuary for their family, the notion of who we are and where we have come from are nailed-on essentials in helping us to know where to go to next .If you are to be brave enough to confront these challenges, if you are able to be heroic, and find the will to survive and prevail, to find a narrative wherein strength from outside, comes through your DNA and into your heart, to find the (Graphene like) inner strength and resilience, then your culture needs to find a super-conductive way into your heart, both to give you a context, and also to guide you.
The stories, songs, poems, cuisine, Dabkha, and ancient customs are a means of ensuring that the baton gets passed on. It informs community- focused contemporary writing, theatre, art , rap music, photography, film-making, blog writing etc of youth. It is the way in which it reaches into a future, in the context of a narrative which isn’t proscribed by the external forces of oppression, which reduce a sweet 13 year old girl to the one-dimensional status of a “terrorist”. Rather it is the means to claim an identity of dignity, and of self worth. Such experiences seem to be necessary to survive, whilst under daily, ongoing oppression and abuses of your human rights.
Many thanks for the stimulation of your stories, which have enabled me to draw these reflections together in some way.
Contributed by Dave Harrop