Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Are Not Here!

I’m writing this from as I coast across the Dutch countryside by train to the city of Rotterdam. What, you might ask, am I doing in the Netherlands? Well besides stopping to smell the flowers and admire the windmills and sample the Gouda and whatnot, I am here to attend the bi-annual DEAF conference (Dutch Electronic Art Festival).

Specifically, I am here to present a project/game/simulation that a few good folks and I have been working on together for a few months (OK, they worked on it, I am just helping out).

It’s called YANH (You Are Not Here), and it is basically an urban tourism mash-up, fusing locations from one map, often in a conflict zone or isolated area, onto another urban area. Case one: Baghdad in New York.

The one I was graciously asked to help develop was Gaza in Tel Aviv. I know you must be thinking-Gaza in Tel Aviv? Gaza isn’t Tel Aviv, make no mistake about it, nor does the game propose that it can be (thus the name You Are Not Here…).

What is does do is allow participants to become “meta-tourists” of sorts, to experience a tour of Gaza in the streets of Tel Aviv, and as they do so, dial in site-specific audio codes to here none other than yours truly narrating to them what they are seeing as if they were in Gaza at this precise location.

We chose around 15 site-seeing-worthy locations in Gaza (ranging from the gastronomical to the political...example: Gaza's bombed out Palestine Stadium, and Kathem's ice cream parlor-a landmark and the most famous ice shop there).

The idea is to bridge the psychological and political divide, and challenge the conventional ideas about space and borders, says co-creator Mushon Zer-Aviv.

"We are trying to take terms like 'Palestinian' and 'Gaza' back to scale...terms that have been overblown or taken out of the human proportion by the media. We are trying to redefine the branding that has been imposed on Gaza by the mass media and years of conflict, and reclaim the mediated perception of the city."

Says Mushon:

“While the disengagement of Israel from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 was thought to open a new hope for Gazan civlians, it has practically turned Gaza to the biggest jail in the world You see most Israelis are tired of the 40 years long occupation and want to see it end. Yet in Tel Aviv the general mind-frame is that after the disengagement we are not IN Gaza anmore and therofre are not longer responsible for it. This is something we want to address through YANH."

My job has been to write out the descriptions of the locations our tourists are visiting, and narrate them for the audio tour. Easier said than done. Its been a real challenge immersing myself into the simulation-and speak through my voice to the participants AS IF they were actually seeing and living the location I am describing to them (“notice up ahead … if you look to your left…etc.).

Its not all rosy, as I mentioned (notice the broken beach umbrella icon in the well as the broken palm tree icons in the Baghdad map). While we have chosen locations like Gaza’s most famous ice cream shop or historic stops like The Samara baths, we also guide them through the national football stadium, which was bombed by fighter jets last year, Gaza's beach refugee camp, and even try to simulate sonic boom attacks and electricity blackouts in the middle of the audio tour.

The project is due to launch in mid-May, when particpants in Tel-Aviv can obtain the finished, double-sided map (Gaza on side, correspondeing streets and locations in Tel-Aviv on the other, in english, Hebrew, and Arabic) from BLOCK magazine, who are collaborating with us, or download it for free from the web.

We are presenting the project on Saturday morning, and it will be broadcast live via video streaming 11:00-13:30 Central European Time, and can be seen online here on Saturday in real time (click on the Live Stream Real Video Link).


Blogger Jed Carosaari said...

This sounds like a really great way for people who aren't there/can't be there to identify with the sufferings of the Palestinians. I would love to see this come to Seattle, such that there was a map for many major cities directing you to go to the appropriate places to see where landmarks are in Gaza.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Hanin goes to Lebanon said...

Dearest Leila.
Greetings from Malmö, Sweden.
Today is the first day of our three week long palestinian arts, film and activist-festival in Palmö. Three weeks of trying to broaden the understanding of life in palestine, and of alternatives to occupation.
You have been a great inspiration when we first sat down to define the goal of the festival: Communicating life for everyday palestinians, all of those images that do not fit into the ordinary media broadcast. Life, love, laughter, and a staunch belief that palestinians too, deserve to be free.
I wish you could be here, and we could sit and talk about Alis book (one country) which is another inspiration. We actually have a seminar inspired by him, where he was supposed to join, entitled "let's solve the israeli palestinian conflict"
Hanging out with you in Oslo was beautiful. Hoping to see you in Malmö soon.
Lots of love

9:22 AM  
Blogger WinterScribe said...

Hola Laila!
Here I am, browing your blog again =) There are three things I'd like to comment in. First is this post. Like many people have said, it sounds intesting. I only wish my computer weren't experiencing media problems and it wouldn't be slow... sigh. Second, have you read or heard of Jimmy Carter's "Palestine, Peace not Apartheid?" Third, I just want to compliment you on the photos of your blog, especially the ones you take when you are in Gaza. They speak on their own and you are great at catching those moments. =)
Keep up with the work, you are amazing!

cuidese (spanish for "take care")

3:16 PM  
Blogger nuh ibn zbigniew gondek said...

As salaam alaikum.

Sounds like an interesting conference and a equally interesting presentation topic.

On a side note, do you know any brothers or sisters who are having a baby? If so please let me know. I have started a sajada campaign on my blog and would like to buy my new little brother or sister in Islam one as a gift.

Ma'as salaama,

nuh ibn

5:45 PM  
Blogger RYD said...

Hi Laila: I stumbled onto your blog and I am thrilled I did. I'm an Egyptian-American (former journalist now stay-at-home mother) and would love to be in touch. Check out my blog: and e-mail me if you'd like to get in touch. I live in the U.S. but was a journalist in Cairo for five years. Hope to hear from you! -Roxanne

3:18 AM  
Blogger Dr Ido said...

diatrician (Hadassah Hospital) and work with quite a few Palestinina cooleagues both in Hadassah and in the authority both in the West Bank & in Gazza.
I'd be happy to correspond with you. I don't have a blog. Please send me your e-mail to
Regards, Ido

3:43 PM  

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