Archive for November, 2010

Nov 13 2010

Night Boat to Cairo

Friends will be friends
When you’re in need of love they give you care and attention
Friends will be friends
When you’re through with life and all hope is lost
Hold out your hand cos friends will be friends
Right till the end

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while, but it concerns the events of the last couple of days, and things have been quite frantic. Even now things are still happening, but I really need to get my thoughts down or they will disappear entirely.

Firstly, a small disclaimer: I am politically naive to the point of embarrassment, and I freely admit that I have no idea about many of the underlying issues and causes involved in what follows. But happily, that is not my main concern. I am concerned about a friend.

Hobgoblin garden; me

On Wednesday night I picked up on a press release, linked to by a friend, regarding an aid convoy to Gaza that had run into trouble. The reason that this caused me some immediate concern was that a friend of mine, Kieran, was part of this convoy. It wasn’t a happy read, but things seemed to be relatively under control, and as it was 2am I went to bed.

At 8am on Thursday things had not improved, and there was very scanty information, which was the major worry. The basic situation was this:

The aid convoy, planned by Road to Hope, was to travel by road across the northern coast of Africa, through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before reaching Gaza. At the Libya/Egypt border they were basically refused permission to proceed by road, and were forced to find another plan. This plan was to charter a ship to take them by sea to the far side of Egypt where they could continue their journey.

It is at this point that I stop being very clear on what happened. Information is quite hard to come by, and most of it is coming from sources that are less than impartial. Still, my general understanding is that there was some sort of disagreement with the guy in charge of the ship, who decided that the best course of action was to take his ship to sea, without unmooring, with aid workers and port officials still on board, and without closing the rear door of the ship.

This is where I picked up the story. The aid workers on board ship were being described as hostages, and nobody really seemed to know what was going on, where the ship was heading, or anything of substance. To me, this seemed like a fairly major news story, especially given the events of May when the Mavi Marmara was boarded by Israeli soldiers and several people on board were killed. But to my surprise, almost nobody seemed to be reporting the story, and for a long time the only real coverage came from small local services, although I’m not really sure why they picked up the story.

Fortunately Kieran has a wide circle of friends, a group that I am proud to include myself in, and they decide not to let the lack of news coverage be a barrier. As has happened with increasing regularity in recent times, and online campaign quickly took shape, mostly utilising Twitter and Facebook, to raise awareness of the situation, and to try to get some information about exactly what was going on. Friends, kept each other up to speed, exchanged information, and hassled celebrities to spread the word as much as possible. The idea at this point was not to do anything in particular, other than to raise awareness of the unfolding situation, and make sure that the relevant people knew about it. This all happened very quickly, and it was actually quite hard to keep up with it all. Many celebrity figures were kind enough to pass on the story to their followers, which brought it to a much wider audience than could have been achieved through more traditional channels. Slowly, and with a great deal of effort, other news sources started to pick up the story, and by early evening it had made it to the newspapers – the Daily Record, the Independent and the Guardian among others. Notably, the BBC took a long time to come to the party, but they eventually did it with a bang, contacting a few of Kieran’s friends directly, and interviewing one of them on air (go Claire!)for a local news story.

The power of social media really came to the fore here. Although it was still quite hard to stay abreast of events, people were passing on as much information as they could get, and a real network emerged that was supporting each other in a very positive way.

I spent most of that night scanning the Internet for information, picking up small bits here and there, and passing them on as much as possible. Eventually, a slightly clearer picture emerged, that the ship was heading for Greece, where things could hopefully be sorted out. That still hasn’t quite happened. The ship has docked, but the situation is far from resolved, but it would appear that everyone is safe, which is a huge relief to many people.

What impressed me throughout the whole thing was that a very fluid, dynamic and above all supportive network of people emerged very quickly. Information was shared, support was given where necessary, egos didn’t come into it, and the concern remained the same – get people safe.

I’m fairly sure that Kieran will be as embarrassed as hell when he sees the amount of fuss that has been made about this whole situation, or rather the individual attention that has been paid to him. But this is only deserved, as he is a true gentleman and many people love and care about him.

It remains to be seen exactly what the outcome of this will all be. We live in interesting times. As I type, the situation is still unfolding, the aid workers are still on board ship and there has been talk of detaining them, or returning them – opinions differ. But my abiding memory is of a group of people who came together with a common purpose, to make sure that our friend Kieran is returned to us safely. Truly, a friend in need is a friend indeed.