Thursday, September 30, 2010

Update as of 11:55pm (GMT +8)

Kayseri's welcoming committee. We arrived to another rousing reception. Driving through town right through traffic lights and motorists passing us goodies through our windows even as we drove. The rain has been a constant companion all day long.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

update as of 5:05pm (GMT +8)

Back on the road again. Getting closer insha Allah. Next stop Kayseri

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 4:57pm (GMT+8)

Press conference. We leave Ankara soon

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 4:55pm (GMT +8)

Mark from Liverpool

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 4:54pm (GMT +8)

Pat from New Zealand

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 4:45pm (GMT +8)

Breakfast in Ankara. A very relaxed morning to the accompaniment of rain

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Salam from Ankara. Its 7am here.

We got ın at about 8pm & were ushered straıght to dınner, al fresco style. There were many & I mean many at dınner wıth us, sıttıng at our tables keepıng us company, pılıng us wıth food as ıts been throughout Turkey thus far, takıng our pıctures or just plaın hangıng around.

Abdullah Taha was our hero for the nıght. He had requested to take our pıcture when I asked hım to sıt wıth us. A second year student of cıvıl engıneerıng, he was one of those on board the Mavı Marmara & was shot 7 tımes; the shoulder, thıghs & arm. 2 bullets remaın wıthın hım, one of whıch ıs ın hıs arm & he was quıte happy to have us feel ıt. I asked ıf he would go agaın & of course there was no hesıtatıon ın hım but hıs parents aren't too keen, understandably.

Ordınary people wıth ordınary lıves wıth such magmanımıty, love & warmth just oozıng, as one young man put ıt, I've never had so many men come up & hug me. The women too turned up ın full strength yesterday, young & old & such beautıful ones too. One gave Azura a rıng & another gave me a bracelet. That's the second I've collected ın Turkey.

I gave a quıck ıntervıew wıth Al Jazeera Arabıc on the Malaysıan contrıbutıon, hopes & aspıratıons & after dınner was asked to say a few words to all on behalf of the Malaysıans. All I can say ıs we better start makıng plans for Kuala Lumpur to Gaza as ıts begınnıng to create a buzz.

And last nıght we had beds! A local foundatıon put us up ın theır centre & the women were housed ın a cozy apartment lıke place wıth bunk beds. And of course we spent the nıght merrıly chattıng away.

Our stay ın Ankara ıs brıef, too brıef for I would've loved to vısıt a dear frıend's grave who passed away ın Aprıl thıs year. We're scheduled to leave thıs mornıng at 10am pressıng on to our fınal destınatıon Insha Allah - GAZA.

Update as of 1:18am (GMT +8)

Abdullah Thaha Can was on board the Mavi Marmara. He was shot 7 times in the shoulder, thighs and arm. 2 bullets remain in him

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 1:06am (GMT +8)

Rabble rousing welcome greets us in Ankara. Sitting down to dinner al fresco.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Update as of 7:08pm (GMT +8)

We're at izmit rest area where another reception awaits

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

update as of 5:51pm (GMT +8)

12.42pm. We're on the highway and the last vehicle in the convoy. A man on seeing us, pulled over, got out of his car, put his hand to his chest and bowed the entire length of our convoy.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 4:20pm (GMT +8)

11.00am. We're on the road again and are running behind schedule. Bracing ourselves for Istanbul traffic but Ankara here we come, insha Allah.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)
We spent the greater part of the day battling the notorious Istanbul traffic. On my visit here some 16 years ago, we stayed within the vicinity of all the major attractions & moving about by taxis was fairly easy, at least as I recall it. But today was sheer madness.

We set off at 10am for a gathering at Ayub Sulaiman Square where the Turkish, Arab & other foreign press was in presence. Interviews, speeches, mingling, chatting or just plain hanging around took us to just after 1 pm & upon the Zohor azan, we made our way to the closest mosque, Sultan Abu Ayub Al Ansari. Ayub Al Ansari was the prophet's companion, whose house the prophet stayed in when he arrived in Madina. He died in jihad at the age of 80 & lies buried in this mosque which was built in 1510.

Right after we took off for the cemetery where the matyrs of the Mavi Marmara were buried. This was a most poignant moment. There were 2 graves, side by side. Their tombstones had their date of birth but not their date of death, in accordance with Islam that states that the matyrs do not die though we perceive them to be.

It was clearly emotional for many. Buried here are two strangers, yet they live in our hearts. We know them not, yet they're dear to us. They're our sons, our brothers who sacrificed the ultimate for the very cause we were here for. Prayers were offered, in congregation and in silence. There was no sadness, but a quiet dignity to the whole affair, a solemn respect. Many touched the tombstones as they filed past. It was surreal, yet so real.

And what was to come after leaving the cemetery compound while making our way to our vehicles? But makan of course! Sandwiches & juice. And I thought life in Malaysia revolved around food.

And then it was off to quite possibly the worst drive I've ever been on. For the next 4 hours, we seemed to be driving without any destination, though in essence we were driving through the city to create as much hype as possible & to show solidarity with the Turks, that the international community is with them. But the drive was just awful. Traffic was at a standstill at times, the saving grace being the show of support shown in the streets by almost everyone as our convoy passed them. Thankfully Azura & I weren't driving today as our van was left behind for some minor work & were instead being driven. But it was still draining.

It ended with dinner of course & fine dining too. And now we're all trying to get as much rest as possible before heading off to Ankara tomorrow morning. In spite of today Istanbul remains one of my favourite cities & I only wish it didn't have to end so soon. Adieu & till we meet again, Insha Allah.

Istanbul is as I remember it; a heady mix of old & new, modern & traditional, order & chaos, & at times completely maniacal.

Our arrival has been greeted with reception after reception, the instant we crossed the border. Shouts of Allahu Akbar filled the air & as I drove past the crowd 2 bags of fruits were swiftly pressed into my hands. I was asked to represent Malaysia at a press conference where I expressed the utter shock & outrage Malaysians felt at the attack on the Mavi Marmara & we were here with 6 vehicles & 12 volunteers. We also called for the Egyptian govt to allow for a successful end to this humanitarian mission.

Then we were off & some 2 hours later made a kebab stop:) Lamb kebabs, borek, muffin, ayran & water were generously handed over & after a quick meal we were off again only to stop 2 hours later at the outskirts of Istanbul. Here a bigger reception greeted us. This woman came by my window, handed over a stalk of carnation, rummaged through her bag & wrapped a bracelet around my wrist. Another came & hugged me, holding tight & whispered dua in my ears. I know no Turkish but knew what she was saying; that we have a safe passage, to send her salam to Gaza... There was so much emotion in her voice & grip that it reduced me to tears.

Then it was headlong into the madness of Istanbul traffic. It was tough keeping up with the convoy & we just happened to be behind my favourite boys; the Birmingham boys, who uncharacteristically led us the wrong way. But having a couple of Turks in their vehicle proved to be their saviour & IHH, our local host came to our rescue after a couple of phone calls.

We got to the sports complex, parked & were then whisked off to dinner, on foot. We were by then quite exhausted but we kept each other's humour up & the walk was pleasant enough. Dinner was lentil soup, salad, rice with chicken & the customary baklava.

George Galloway was there & we were later joined by the President of IHH who also the commander of Mavi Marmara. He received a hero's welcome & rightfully so. At our table was Meral, a young woman who was also on board the Marmara, but I'll save her story for another day.

By the time we called it a day it was close to 1am. Tired, exhausted, sleepy we were nonetheless thrilled to be in Istanbul. After all, all through our trip, we were repeatedly told, "wait till you get to Turkey."

And how it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Update as of 8:12pm (GMT +8)

at the grave of one of those matyrd on the Mavi Marmara. May Allah grant them all a place among the righteous.

(from Azra via MMS)

update as of 6:30pm (GNT +8)

We just finished press conference and heading to nearby mosque for Zohor

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 3:23pm (GMT +8)

We're being driven by my fav boys, the Birmingham boys and guess what? In our honour they're playing Raihan :)

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 3:15pm (GMT +8)

We are driving into city for a press conference and a drive through the city

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 3:20pm (GMT +8)

We are driving into city for a press conference and a drive through the city

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Picture update as of 3:23am (GMT +8)

Dinner at a restaurant, Istanbul. Its now 8pm

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Picture update as of 1:03am (GMT +8)

Just a portion of the crowd

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 12:59am (GMT +8)

Ya Allah. There are hundreds of people waving the Palestinian flag. Absolutely speechless.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 12:55am (GMT +8)

This lady just gave me a carnation kissed me and wrapped a bracelet around my wrist! N the other women r saying I love u. If this is not stuff that melts the heart.

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 12:49am (GMT +8)

Another grand reception just outside Istanbul. We breezed through toll without paying

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 10:25pm (GMT +8)

It's 5.25pm in Turkey.

I'm overwhelmed with emotions. The goodwill is simply stunning. At a stop 30 minutes ago we were loaded with kebabs, yoghurt drinks and water, cheese pastries and muffins, all homemade. Complete strangers turning instant friends. All through the drive passers-by toot their cars or raise their hands in support. Turkey is certainly living up to expectations.

May Allah reward these people in abundance.

(Sent by Azra via email)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Update as of 11:55pm (GMT +8)

Overturned car on the highway. Looks bad. Convoy members have stopped to help. The rest of us are waiting by the side.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 9:49pm (GMT +8)

Here's where the convoy stopped by the Marmara sea. We're moving out in 5 minutes. Istanbul is about 2 hours away.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 9:15pm (GMT +8)

Lamb kebab courtesy of the Turks. The entire convoy is pulled over by the side of the road where we're being handed kebabs and ayran, a yogurt drink.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 8:07pm (GMT +8)

Convoy stopping momentarily by the road. Currently some 140km from Istanbul. Local time 3pm

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 6:51pm (GMT +8)

On our way to Istanbul 220km away. Just finished press conference representing Malaysia

(From Azra via BBM)

Turkish hospitality begins

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 6:15pm (GMT +8)

Fantastic. People shouting and chanting. One man handed me 2 bags of fruits. I'm in tears

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 6:10pm (GMT +8)

Almost done with Turkish immigration and customs. I spot IHH's welcome committee up ahead. They're eager for us to come through as are we.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 15:58pm (GMT +8)

At the Greek border now. Just filled out the customs manifest. Sense of anticipation mixed with anxiety all around.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Updated pictures from the Convoy

Night out in Alexandroupouli

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

update as of 14:35 (GMT +8)

We are leaving Alexandroupouli for Istanbul. About 1 hour to reach Turkish border, another 2 to cross it and 350km drive to Istanbul. We've been told to expect a grand welcome and I'm looking forward to it. N to expect a long day ahead.

(From Azra via BBM)

Convoy update as of 23.50pm (GMT +8)

Some of the guys enjoying the sea

(sent from Azra via BBM)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How a shower transforms.

The journey thus far is a mix of a sense of mission and merry making. Sometimes the merry making tends to blur the mission a little but it doesn't take much to bring it all into focus. Its been exhausting at times with long stretches of driving. Being yelled at is no stranger but everything's forgotten soon enough. One convoy rule; what happened yesterday is forgotten today, as in mistakes. Everyday is a brand new day.

Today's IKIM radio interview asked how much longer do we have. That's one thing I don't want to think too much about. We'll get to Gaza when we get to Gaza, Insha Allah. Pretty much the same as the time I spent in Jerusalem, nursing my injured uncle on a visit there. I had no idea how long I'd be there as his injury was severe, so took it one day at a time & turned every day i nto a learning experience. I'm applying the same principle here. We put aside an entire month but are prepared to go the extra mile if needed.

The stories I've heard here are remarkable. Over IKIM today I related the story of Tony Upton. His picture's on the blog. He spent an entire day at his church in Belfast, over 6 masses & collected 1,400 pounds & purchased a van with that. The community donated aid like whhelchairs & other necessities to fill the van with. Together with a friend, Fra, they're determined to make their way to Gaza. These guys are not exactly living the comfortable life & making ends meet is a challenge. Friends & family back home are working extra to send the funds needed for their trip, like fuel & food costs. &they still have no provision for their trip back to Ireland. These men are so outraged by the injustice against the Palestinians that they went out on their own. And here we are, everything's made easy for us, no worry about fuel, food or ticket back home. Tony was especially moved by the video of Muhammad Dura being cold bloodedly shot by Israeli soldiers even as he was shielded by his dad. If this is not the stuff of what heroes are made of, tell me what is.

Then there's John, another Irish & a bricklayer by profession. Lives some 40km outside Belfast & had never met a Muslim before this trip & of course finds us quite human & different than widely portrayed. A young man & when asked how does his family feel answered "My mum's very proud of me."

I'm simply moved beyond words. A cause that's so dear to our hearts is equally dear if not more to these people. Enough to sacrifice so much more than us. What else can I say.

There are so many more heroic stories & Insha Allah will find time to write about them.



We got into the Municipality camping grounds of Alexandroupouli at about 3.30pm, a six hour drive in total with 2 stops.
This camping ground is by the beach & the breeze is playing the dutiful lullaby.
Two of our vehicles got loaded with medical aid last night, including the one I'm driving. The load isn't proving to be any trouble at all Alhamdulillah.
And last night Azura & I once again slept in the front of our vehicles. Musa, you might want to have on hand something for stiff joints:)

We're spending the night here & will leave for Turkey tomorrow Insha Allah. There's free wifi, which is a fresh lease of life for many, not to mention shower facilities as its been close to 48 hours since our last shower.

Got some news for OrphanCARE.

In one of my chats with Nicci, one of the organisers, I mentioned my role in OrphanCARE, the setting up of the region's first baby hatch & that 4 of us on this convoy are directly associated with it; me, Adnan, Azura & Musa.
Then in Lyon, a woman travelled 9 hours by train from Barcelona to hand deliver 2 ventilators for babies & VPUK decided that it'd be appropriate that these be placed in our vehicles & be donated by OrphanCARE. So these ventilators are in my vehicle, carefully placed & Insha Allah will be handed over when we get to Gaza. 
And VPUK is making a story out of these ventilators & OrphanCARE. As it is I've been interviewed by a Greek paper.

Amazing stuff we're seeing on this convoy. And Insha Allah will find the time to write about it.

(From Azra via email)

Update as of 17:15pm (GMT +8)

The drive to Alexandrapouli is absolutely gorgeous. Helps in taking our minds off not having showered in 36 hours.

(From Azra via BBM)

Update as of 16.50pm (GMT +8)

2 of our vehicles were loaded with medical aid. We're now about to move out. Heading to Alexandrapouli where we'll spend the night.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Update as of 12:.05am (GMT +8)

Tony Upton of the 2nd battalion Irish brigade. He's driving the vehicle donated by a Catholic Church in Belfast

(From Azra via BBM)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Convoy Update in Greece

‎​Picture of part of convoy as it passes through Thesselonika

(From Azra via BBM)


The drive here yesterday was long & not so easy. Drivers kept getting sleepy, I suspect due to the rather slow speed of the convoy yesterday & also the sun that was beating down our faces. But the it was beautiful, surrounded by countless hills. We arrived at our destination at about 5pm, another sports hall. But instead of heading there we parked a little off the hall, at an open car park. The group leaders were then informed that some extreme right wing politician insisted that we were not to have the use of the sports hall & were to spend the night at the car park, where there were 4 mobile toilets for use. The local community who was there refused to budge & called in their top guns & some hour & half later, we made our way to the hall, where there are toilet & shower facilities.
There was dinner provided by the locals, sandwiches & drinks, which was obviously greatly appreciated. Then it was just hanging around, chatting etc. Most of the men set up their tents on the grass within the compound of the hall. Some others chose to sleep in their vehicles, Azura & I included. Definitely less cold than Milan. In fact it was comfortable.
I was again chatting with the Irish, interesting blokes, big men with bigger hearts. Their involvement in the cause dates back to the 70s. Norazmi & I headed to the nearby shops after some negotiating with the organiser as no one's allowed to take their vehicles out. Why? He needed to get supplies; cooking oil, eggs, etc. And boy did we shop. And this morning's breakfast, baked beans, omelette, mashed potatoes all courtesy of the Aqsa men. Our initial deal of one stove each is now null & void. They put the stove to far better use than Azura & I ever will.
This morning is leisurely thus far, before heading off to the town centre with police escorts, again to drive around & create awareness. As it is the shopkeeper last night was asking about us.
Will update whenI can. Please let everyone know that IKIM interview is every night. And I'll be asking some of the int convoy members to say a few words too.
Salam from beautiful Greece

(message from Azra via email)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Italian and Coffee

The Italians even travel with their coffee!

(send via bbm by Sis Azra)

Updates @ Friday 24th September 2010

Updates @ 1.45pm (GMT+8)
Welcome to Greece. Time is now 8.30am. The lull of a ship in motion ensured a good night's sleep for most. Was chatting with the St. Patrick's Irish Brigade 2nd Battalion last night. 7 of them with 3 and a half vehicles. Simply outstanding. They recommend 3 movies for better understanding of Irish issue. Hunger, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Sunday Bloody Sunday. And Tony Upton says to be sure to have tissue.

Updates @ 6.11pm (GMT+8)
We are on a brief stop. Our group of 10 has grown with the additional 8 Italian vehicles. Debriefing sessions are interesting as its done in English by Russ and translated into Italian by one of their own.

Updates @ 10.28pm (GMT+8)
Tiocfaidh ar la in gaelic means our day will come. Its pronounced as chucky ala. This is what the Irish will be chanting coupled with Allahu Akbar. And we will be chanting along with them. When we get into Gaza inshaAllah.

Russ, our team leader
(sent via bbm by Sis Azra)

Updates @ Thursday 23rd September

Updates Thursday 23rd September @5.27pm (GMT+8)
We are on our way to the ferry terminal in Ancona. Should not take us more than 30 mins.

Updates Thursday 23rd September @ 6.39pm (GMT+8)
We are arriving at the terminal in batches. We were the first and another group just arrived tooting  its way in. Exuberance all around.

(send by Sis Azra via bbm)

IKIM interview

Please click the link below to listen to the radio interview (IKIM) with Azra Banu on the convoy's latest updates:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adriatic Kebabs

Thursday 23rd September

Yesterday's drive was long, hard but enjoyable. We left Milan at 6.30pm & got lost right after driving out of the camping grounds. Again! The driver in front of us wasn't keeping his eyes on the vehilces ahead & next thing we knew we had a trail of some 9 vehicles on a merry goose chase to nowhere. We got sorted out after a number of calls & boy is my phone bill gonna shoot right through the roof. How we managed to loose our way or get separated from the group is beyond me. Lets just hope we're learning from our mistakes.

Once we re grouped at a service station it was smooth sailing all the way. We had John leading & the very capable Russ bringing up the rear. Stopped every hour or so for a stretch & coffee for some. We continued driving well into the night as we wanted to get as close to Ancona as possible. Some drivers were showing fatigue & this is where the co driver's role is crucial. Either he takes over or he gets a conversation going. Azura took over the last leg of the drive & we were quite prepared to drive all the way to Ancona.

But we stopped some 30km away from Ancona, at a place called Sanigillia or something like it. Found an open car park, right across Holiday Inn & settled in for the night, except that it was 2.30am. I needed the toilet & spotted a McDonalds up ahead & made my way there with Wahab of Aqsa Sharif. It was closed of course but a cleaner was busy tidying up for the night. We knocked on the glass & indicated toilet use. He came out & after a while obliged us by opening the door, but in Italian told us that he couldn't let us in as there was CCTV. Wahab guessed he was Arab & indicated that we needed to pray & that softened him instantly. He asked "Musalman?" & we said yes & after a while he nodded us in. I sat & chatted with him a bit but it was tough going as neither of us understood what the other was saying except that he's Egyptian & I'm from Malaysia.

Azura & I decided to sleep in the front of of our vehicle as our previous night's experince sleeping in the back of the van in our sleeping bags was way too cold for comfort. I thought my muscles were gonna freeze. The front kept us nice & warm but resulted in exceptionally stiff joints, especially the knees.

We were off at 10.300am & got to Ancona some 30 minutes later, the first to arrive & a first for our team. Driving into Ancona port reminded me of Alexandria & Jaffa, that same Mediterranean air. As the others staggered in our Aqsa men got comfortable & got the stoves going. They've taken command of ours too & had noodles going on one stove & coffee on another. These men are amazing. yesterday the made briyani rice with gravy where I just bought a sandwich. And today again I took the easy way out & bought myself pasta with pesto which was excellent, al dente perfect.

We're now on board the Anek Hellenic Spirit, on ur way to Greece. Its a huge ferry, more like a crusier to me. We've got a cabin; 4 to one. Definitely an upgrade from yesterday. The Adriatic sea spans all around. Simply beautiful. Walking about the deck scents of kebabs wafted through the air as people lounged about quite happy to be baked by Miss Sun. The internet cafe with a mere 6 computers is fully occupied. 3 Euros for 2 hours is a steal compared to the 5 Euros for the same in Milan.

Everyone's looking forward to some rest tonight before another long day ahead tomorrow. We're expected to dock at 8am, a 16 hour ferry ride. Apparently there's some program & we're waiting to be informed.

Spirits are high, very high. Everyone's confident of a successful mission, Insha Allah. And Russ says HI.

Update as of 7.06pm (GMT +8)

It's 1.06pm in Italy.

Russ from Unite the Union sends his greeting to all Malaysians. He's the gentle giant from London.

Unite the Union is in memory of Jack Jones (I hope the link is correct) a prominent fighter for freedom.

Russ is the leader our group of vehicles and the leader of the convoy. He takes excellent care of everyone.

(sent by Azra via SMS)

Viva Palestina 5: Update @3.27pm (GMT+8)

Its just after 9am and many convoy members are still asleep. The ones who are awake are up and about, stretching our stiffened limbs and enjoying the morning sun. The irony- right behind our vehicles is Holiday Inn Express. But its closed, maybe for renovations. What a bliss it could've been. :)

Most of us once again are in desperate need of the toilet.

(send via bbm by Sis Azra)

Viva Palestina 5: Update @09:05am (GMT+8)

Viva Palestina Convoy 5 Update 2.52am (local Italy time)

We're just off the motorway and everyone's trying to get some sleep. We've chosen to sleep in the front seat of our van rather than laying our sleeping bags out. Salam and good night!

(sent via bbm by Sis Azra)

Viva Palestina 5: Update @7.34am (GMT+8)

Viva Palestina 5 Convoy Update:

We're still driving 7 hours after leaving Milan. Slight delay earlier when a group was lost.  Looking for decent  place to spend the night. Tho most of us are tired, spirits remain high as we take turns driving. It is now 1.30am.

(sent via Sis Azra via bbm)

Viva Palestina 5 Latest News @ 12.01am (GMT+8) @ 23rd September 2010

On the road again, 2 convoy groups leaving Milan now. Next stop, service station just outside bologna where we'll be spending the night.

(msg received from Sis Azra via bbm)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How can I put my thoughts into words in a way that will allow you to capture the spirit on this convoy? And the music blaring away in this room is proving to be a hindrancec I need to get away from. Right next to me are two gentlemen deep in a discussion of Palestinian right of return & the Jews right to the land.

Back home we're so used to the Palestinian issue being seen as a Muslim one, with very little support from our non Muslim friends. Our appeal has largely gone unheeded. Sure they feel sorry for the Palestinians but very few have taken that extra step. Where here so many have taken thousands of steps towards relieving some of the extreme hardships of an entire oppressed people.

The Irish are an exemplary lot. A Catholic church so enraged by the murders on the Mavi Marmara raised funds for the purchase of a vehicle & filled it wheelchairs, medicine and other kinds of medical aid. Another group of irish contributed yet another vehicle. The Irish are a loud, strong and totally dependable team. They hoist their flag up alongside the Palestinian's everywhere we go. And when the crowd chants Allahu Akbar will chorus right along. In the words of one of them "where you find oppression you'll find the Irish."

Then there's Pat the New Zealander with strong sense of justice. A simple man, an electrician he'd never travelled beyond his homeland & look at where he is now.

The Americans are here too to make the difference their leadership is incapable of.

And then there's Russ; a tattoo clad, tough & intimidating man with the gentlest of hearts that is reflected in his eyes. It wasn't long into the convoy when everyone realised that he's the man. An experienced driver, he has been put in charge of the road trip of this convoy and what a job he's doing. When our team got lost one night we had no doubt that Russ would rescue us. The sweeper, or the last man, he makes sure everyone & everything is in place.

The Birmingham boys, many of them Pakistanis are another lot to be admired. They raised GBP55,000 & came so prepared that they've got radio communication between all their vehicles.

There are so many more I hope to make acquaintance with & write about but undoubtedly my fellow convoy members have left me absolutely inspired. Back home sometimes we feel so alone but now I know I've got so many friends I can count on. And this music is still driving me up the wall.

I am once again reminded of heschel's words, "few are guilty but all are responsible."

Policemen in Tights

We left Lyon 8.30am for Turin, driving through the imposing Alps. We arrived in Turin at about 3pm, with hardly any toilet breaks in between, so you can well imagine the condition most were in. There was only one question on the mind, where's the toilet? Where we had stopped, waiting to proceed into Turin, there was none in sight, & very quickly the bushes fell prey to the more desperate men.

We were surprised when informed that we were to have police escort all the way into town; 2 officers to 7 vehicles & as observed, these were Italian men in tight uniform. One even obliged us with a smile when we photgraphed him.

In the town square, there was a reception waiting; pizza of course, breadsticks, kebabs, fruits, fresh mozzarella, salad. Right there in the open. The convoy members were mostly famished by then & had no care except helping themselves to the spread all beautifuly laid out. Once again speeches & well wishes followed & then it was off to our cars to continue on towards Milan. While at the square, I was interviewed by Al Jazeera Arabic on the Malaysian experience.

Getting to Milan would've been fairly simple if not for our lead vehicle taking a wrong turn that resulted in us being delayed by nearly 2 hours, arriving at the campsite all drained. We spent the night in our vehicle & it was quite cold.

This morning, its free & easy, given time to get online, do our laundry, charge all our equipments & just plain sleep.

We're leaving Milan this evening at 6pm to get a headstart. Heading towards the ferry crossing for Greece.

Lyon the Charmer

We left Paris 6.30am & headed towarrds the motorway. Traffic was already heavy & it was tough keeping up with the convoy as t was dark & as luck would have it, there was innumerable white vans about.

The drive itself was long & we made a couple of stops along the way. At the last toll just before entering Lyon, we were greeted by the local hosts & taken staright to lunch, chicken with olives, prepared the the local community. Then it was a dash to the mayor's office, where I was one of three to meet him. The municipality of Vaulx en Velin is twin to Beit Sahour(spelling) in Bethlehem & the Palestinian flag flies proudly outside the mayor's office. There's been pressure of course to remove it, but the mayor stands firm, insisting that whoever wanted the flag down, would just have to do it himself while facing the wrath of the people.

Then it was a mad dash to the heart of Lyon, where the rest of the convoy had been creating a ruckus. We stopped at the main square, where the locals came out in force & support. Speeches & well wishes followed & then it was lots of mingling & chatting. Lovely atmosphere. A group of Malaysian students had made their way there having heard of our arrival.

Right after it was dashing off to dinner of couscous with chicken before meeting the community in a hall where there were lots of suggestions and words of encouragement. We spent the nigt at a motel & left Lyon at 8.30 to head straight for Turin.

Lyon is a charming place. Its full of character & style, from its people to its building. The river runs through the city lazily & its people stroll about as if without a care in the world. While at the square, I spotted a chateu standing majestically on hill. Lyon is the second largest French city after Paris.

It was alas too brief a visit. I would've loved to see more of its charms.

VPM Convoy activists on Radio IKIM tonight!

Radio IKIM, Malaysia will be airing its interview with activists from Viva Palestina Malaysia and Viva Palestinaconvoy at 10.00pm (GMT+8) tonight 22th September 2010. 

Interview was done via phone from Milan, Italy a few hours ago! 

Tune in and listen to their amazing experience so far!

Here are the channels in case you are not sure:

Lembah Klang91.5 FM
Perlis/Kedah/Langkawi/ Pulau Pinang89.0 FM
Ipoh102.7 FM
Negeri Sembilan102.7 FM
Melaka89.5 FM
Johor Bahru106.2 FM
Kuantan89.6 FM
Kuala Terengganu100.2 FM
Kota Bharu89.8 FM
Kuching93.6 FM
Kota Kinabalu93.9 FM

(posted by Sis Zabrina for Bro Yuzaidi and Sis Noraini, Media Team VPM)

London to Paris

Where do I even begin? Its been 5 memorable days on the road. And so many more to come Insha Allah.

We left London around 10am, Saturday, 18th September. The Malaysian student team was outsatnding in their support. They were there early, bought us drinks, sandwiches, fruits, all in anticipation of our journey. Everyone's camera was clicking at rapid speed, their children ushered in front of us & our vehicles, totally adorable in their little autum outfits.

Then it was time to say goodbye. We made a quick dua & everyone was bidding everyone farewell & safe journey. Then the amazing happened. One of the students, Azeem, came up to me & wished me all the best & then with quivering lips asked to make dua that he would be the one to go next & the floodgates opened. The men succumbed to emotions held in check over the last couple of days & tears flowed freely. They hugged each other, so moved by their comrades' upcoming journey while the women stood by cool & calm. It required great effort to hold my own tears in check. It was a moving moment to say the least.

We got into our vehicles all ready to roll out and thats just what we did. We met up with the other convoy group on the M20 & drove straight to the Euro Tunnel crossing. The wait to cross was considerable. The vehicles didn't have to be checked as this was already arranged for by VPUK, but the queue to get our passports cleared & getting onto the train was quite a while.

The train ride itself was pleasant as we chatted with our fellow convoy members, very much a get to know each other time. On the French side, the convoy got broken up as the vehicles were staggered off the train & it was pretty much finding a vehicle you could tail. We met up at a service station some 60km away & discovered 2 of our Malaysian vehicles missing. Upon calling we were informed that one had broken down & the convoy control very efficiently made its way to retrieve them.

We continued our way towards Paris & were greeted by our local host & taken direct to our accomodation for the night, a sports/community hall. We were shown our sleeping quarters; the basketball court, with stands by the side:) And we were each given a foam mat each. Scouring around & trying to look for a spot that could afford me some privacy, I eyed the top of the stands & true to guess, right at the top of the stands was an area large enough & private enough. Azura & I made our way up, & very quickly all the women in the convoy followed suit, about 10 or 12 of us. This must have been something like 1am and we were tired out & so badly needed sleep. But food also beckoned, cheeses, baguette, fruits, beverages... & many tucked in before tucking out.

The next morning, Sunday 19th September, after a hearty breakfast of baguette, butter, jam, Nutella, cold cuts & so much more, the convoy rolled out & drove straight into the heart of Paris, tooting all the way, waving flags & banners. And there right in the heart of the city, our vehicles were parked the entire circumference of the roundabout at Bastille Square for all to see. There was great support from the public as they waved, cheered, chanted. Apparently one vehicle had bread thrown in through its window as it passed a bakery. We kept driving round & round & I'm certain all the people of the city could see that Sunday morning were these vehilces all decked up in the colours of Palestine declaring to all & sundry its mission at hand.

Following our foray into the city, we made our way back to the sports hall where we were greeted by the local community. George Galloway was there & there were speeches, word of thanks & support. The municipality we were in is called Balognet & its mayor was then on his wasy back from beirut, having been there commemorating Shabra & Shatilla. A quick lunch preceded a session with the local community. I represented the Malaysian contingent & spoke about how we raised funds for the convoy, the number of volunteers & vehicles, our hopes & aspirations. Once again the support was excellent.

The rest of the day was free & easy & we made certain of an early night.

Tuesday's Journey

Lyon (A) to Milan (B) via Torino (in the middle)

Convoy now in Milan, Italy

Update @ 07:29am (GMt +8)
Convoy has arrived in Milan and has settled in at a camping ground. Everyone is sleepy but the Irish. They are doing what they do best, sing. Off to bed now in our vehicles in our sleeping bags. Good night!

(sent by Sis Azra via bbm)

Convoy arrived in Turin

Update @ 10.21pm (GMT+8)
Convoy arrived in Turin. Handsome Italian policemen in tight uniform on bike showing us the way.

Update @10.36pm (GMT+8)
Convoy taking a pause and many in desperate need of toilet but none in sight. The bushes have thus fallen prey.

Update @ 11.01pm (GMT+8)
Convoy is driving around town and tooting away. Certainly getting lot of atention

(sent via Blackberry Messenger by Sis Azra)

Latest update as of 01:35am (GMT +8)

Convoy departing Turin after a warm reception in town square. Pizza, kebab, salad, breadstick, fruits, cheese... Police escorted us all the way to the motorway. People on the streets waved n shouted support. I was also interviewed by Al Jazeera Arabic on the Malaysian experience.

(Sent from Azra via BBM)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Latest update as of 7.19pm (GMT +8)

It's 1.19pm in Europe.

The convoy has crossed into Italy. We are currently 90km away from Turin. Alhamdulillah it has been a problem free drive since leaving Lyon.

(Sent from Azra via SMS)

Latest Update: Convoy moving out of Lyon

Latest update: Viva Palestina Convoy is now pulling out of Lyon, France on way to Turin, Italy. Convoy is driving thru the alps and expecting a breathtaking view. Local time 8.35am.

One of Viva Palestina vans from driven by Malaysian activists seen leaving Lyon, France moving towards Italy

Recap of 20th September

From Viva Palestina UK

Monday 20th September

The convoy was welcomed in the city of Valux-en-Velin, adjacent to Lyon, by the mayor, M Bernard Genin. The city has the distinction of being the only one in France to fly the Palestinian flag.

But not if the French government gets its way. The regional prefect, responsible for the central government administration of the area, has told the city that the flag has to come down.

'I've written back to him to say that he's welcome to try,' responded the mayor, 'if he can fight his way through the mass crowds who will defend it.'

The convoy left Paris early - the muster was 6am - after another night on the floor of the gymnasium. Most of the 85 had less than four hours sleep, but the road south was mainly motorway and the group, split into three elements, arrived at a service station outside Lyon shortly after 1pm. After a quick lunch provided by local supporters the convoy moved off first to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) in an ear-splitting cacophony of noise, horns honking and the sirens of the two Swedish ambulances screaming.

After the meeting with the mayor the convoy moved off again to the main square in Lyon, the Place Bellecour, parking the 36 vehicles in the middle of it and setting up a stage and amplification for a rally. Hundreds of people crowded around, dozens of postcards and posters were handed out and the organisers had to rebuff the appeals of dozens of people to come on the convoy to Gaza.

After another meal provided by VP local volunteers the convoyers were put up in a hotel, the first time they has slept on a mattress, between clean sheets since they set out.

Watch Press TV report on Convoy in Paris on You Tube at
Watch convoy at La Place de La Bastille in Paris at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Update as of 11.51pm (GMT +8)

It's 5.51pm in Lyon.

Just finished the meeting with the Mayor. This city, Vaulx-en-Velin is a twin city with Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town east of Bethlehem. A Palestinian flag flies in front of the Mayor's office and they intend to leave it there against the political pressure.

Update as of 10.52pm (GMT +8)

It's 4.52pm in Lyon.

The convoy is on it's way to Lyon city centre for a drive-by, like what we did in Paris. I am on my way with a small delegation to meet the mayor of this municipality, Vaulx en Velin

Today's Journey

From Paris (A) to Lyon (B)

Update as of 10.08pm (GMT +8)

It's 4.09pm in France.
We have arrived in Lyon and have just finished a lunch of chicken and olives.

Now we're waiting for the next programme to begin.

Viva Palestina convoy arrives in Paris - Press TV

Viva Palestina 5 Convoy on the "Place de la Bastille" in Paris

Viva Palestina 5 Convoy on the "Place de la Bastille" in Paris

Latest update: Convoy moving to Lyon

Latest from Land Convoy 5- It's 6.30am now in Paris, and convoy pulling out of Paris on way to Lyons. Expected to reach around 2 pm where another reception awaits.

From Faisal: Drive to Lyon is estimated about 400km.

(p/s this post is 5 hours late)

Convoy stopped around the inner square in Paris

Update as of 6.20pm (GMT +8)

It's 1.20pm in France and we're on our way to Lyon.

Still about two hours to go before we arrive. There's some beautiful scenery along the way. We've been muching too much while driving.

We had speculoos for breakfast.

(Message from Azra sent via SMS)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Map to Show Our Journey Thus Far

This map is taken courtesy of Aqsa2Gaza blog depicting our journey thus far...

From Luton(A) to Calais(B) via Dover straight to Paris(C)

Update @ 20:21 (GMT+8)

I am back at the Community Hall. George Galloway is currently giving a speech.

Also, here is deputy mayor of Bagnolet. He just acknowledge Malaysia for sending a big delegation.

(sent via text message from Sis Azra)

Update as of 5.25pm (GMT +8)

It's 11.25am in Paris.

The convoy is now at Bastille Square where convoy vehicles are lined up on the inside of the roundabout. Convoy members of various nationalities are walking hand in hand showing solidarity with the people of Palestine and with each other.

It is simply breathtaking.

(Message from Azra, sent via SMS)

Update as of 4.38pm (GMT +8)

It's 10.38am in Paris

The convoy is moving into Paris city centre now. It's an impressive sight, 35 vehicles all decked up, tooting away..

Onward to Gaza!

(Message from Azra via SMS)

Itinerary for Paris

It's 8.37am local time (2.47pm Malaysian time).

Almost everyone is up. We spent the night at a sports hall at Stade la Briquetterie. We got in very late last night but were thankful the local organisers, Resistance Palestine had prepared a supper of baguette, cold cuts, olives, cheeses and salads.

Today the Mayor of Paris will be hosting us. There will also be a planned street where convoy members will drive through for us to be greeted by Parisiens. Again our local organisers will organise lunch for us before we take part in a press conference.

(Sent from Azra via SMS)

Also check out Azura's post from Paris.

Arrived in Paris - Update as @ 07:30 (GMT+8)

Arrived in overnight venue in Paris, France after a long tiring day. Now, 1.20am Paris time. Drive was challenging with vehicle breakdown, lost vehicles but all sorted out by organiser. Now for some rest.

(sent via text msg to Sis Zabrina)

Compilation of Pictures on 18th September 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Update @ 21:51 (GMT +8)

All vehicles (both groups) are now at truck shop. Viva Palestina Land Convoy 5 will be departing for Euro Tunnel crossing soon.

(via text  message from Sis Azra Banu)

Latest Update: Convoy Moving out of warehouse @ 17:00 (GMT +8)

Convoy has moved out of warehouse about 5 hours ago. Lots of goodwill and well wishes. Malaysian students support is outstanding
At 5pm Malaysian time the convoy left Luton. They're now on their way to the Eurotunnel crossing.

Day One: The Luton Adventure

Today has been easier than expected. We set off for St Pancras Station at 11.45 & comfortably caught the 1pm train to Luton. But boy, all that luggage! Definitely called for dexterity.

We got picked up at Luton station & taken to the warehouse where we were warmly greeted by Nicci, the one person I'd been dealing with from day one. She instantly recognised me & gave me a bear hug. Amazing how in spite of all the logistical nightmare, she kept a smile throughout the day.

In less than 10 mins of us getting there, team Aqsa Sharif arrived. And we got down to making payments for the ferry crossing to Greece, validating documents, signing a code of conduct & collecting a tent for each vehicle, t shirts, & the stickers for our vehicles. Then we got down to work, puuting up all the stickers on our vehicles. The Aqsa men were indispensable, rolling their sleeves up & getting down & dirty. Each vehicle had at least 10 stickers, with 2 especially big ones. But that didn't deter them in any way. They chanted as they worked & naturaly garnered everyone's attention. They were so good at what they were doing that others came to watch their technique while some were hoping to steal them away to their own vehicles.

We were helped by a couple of Malaysian students in the UK, one of whom, Azeem used to record MPF events. And he was a gem. Never tiring, running out for errands, promising to buy Azura & me some drinks for our roadtrip as that's the one thing we haven't managed to pick up.

The entire warehouse has been kindly donated for the use of VPUK by a couple of young men, who'd quit their daytime jobs to completely be at the disposal of the convoy, getting vehicles ready for the trip, fixing, repairing etc. Everyone was in an upbeat mood, strangers remained strangers for as long as it took them to pass each other.

The briefing which was to take place at 4.30 took place at 6. It was a quick one, general code of conduct, what to expect & they ecpect difficulties from the Egyptian, but are hopeful of entering Gaza. There'll be massive negotiations for sure. The convoy vehicles will be split into 2.

One group will leave the warehouse at 6.30am for the embankment, in the heart of London. This will be the official flag off. The other group will leave the warehouse at 9.30am & wait for the first group at along the M20. The first group will comprise the Londoners & those familiar with ondon roads as they cannot risk delays due to drivers being unfamiliar with roads. All of VPM vehicles are in Group 2.

Upon meeting on the M20, we'll make our way to the Euro tunnel crossing, just on time for Saturday night in Paris.

Our group has a total of 15 vehicles & my vehicle A2 is the team leader. I will lead our group together with some guy I've yet to meet, called Jim.

Was chatting with an Irish, who have sent 5 vehicles. This guy, Tony will be driving a vehicle funded by the Catholic church of Belfast. They were moved to action by the killing on board the Mavi Marmara. The day of the murders saw them out in the streets protesting.

Another guy, aptly named Guy, is from the US. He's spending the night at the warehouse & is sleeping in one our vehicles. Then there's the Kiwi team...

The camraderie is unmistakable. Everyone's there for the same cause, same purpose. Everyone's there with a mission.

Azura & I checked into a hotel in Luton town at about 8.30pm, completly exhausted, so exhausted that Azura fell asleep sitting down while on her laptop.

Tomorrow I've asked team Aqsa to be at the warehouse by 8.30 am to allow us ample time to see that our vehicles are ready to go. Hope to catch a good nights sleep.

And yes, I've met so many of my fellow Pakistanis on this convoy that my instinct just wants to break into my Urdu.

Good night home & Insha Allah will update again.


(posted by Sis Zabrina on behalf of Sis Azra Banu)

Compilation of Pictures - 17th September 2010

Salaam and hello dear all,

Here are some pictures compiled from yesterday's activities @ Luton, UK send by our team members.

Photos of the Vans!

Good morning!

Have you read the post that came in in the middle of the night? Our VPM volunteers and Team Aqsa have seen their vans, stuck on their stickers and are ready to go. Read it here.

Now from some photos.