Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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.

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