When I landed at Newark airport, plenty of uncertainty still hung in the air. I hadn’t yet met Norman Finkelstein, whose book tour I was supposed to be speaking on, and none of the universities hosting the events had actually booked me. As I was a last minute addition, no transport had been organised either. Nevertheless, I knew it was meant to happen. From New York to San Francisco, myself, Finkelstein and Lowkey were ready to tell the United States of America the truth about their closest ally.
I went to the bus station in the city to buy a monthly pass, with an exhausting and only just about possible schedule ahead of me. I would have gruelling, twenty and thirty hour bus rides, followed by a talk, a few hours sleep, and then onto the next location.
The University of Madison, in Wisconsin, was our first destination. A twenty-six hour bus ride, with three transfers along the way, but I was still undaunted. A girl called Maria took me out for lunch at the side of a huge lake, and we went to see Norman give a class to one of his friend’s classes. About half way through, he asked me a question about a phrase he had just said.
“I’m going to have to admit… I wasn’t listening!” I laughed.
“Well,” he replied, in the infamous Finkelstein “I-don’t-respect-those-crocodile-tears” drawl, “when you’re giving your speech later, remind me not to listen either!”
Unfortunately for Norman, I didn’t give him that option. When it came to my turn, I kept the packed room of over 200 people enthralled, trying my best to convey through words my passion for the Palestinian struggle, the strength of the Hannoun family, the strength of my brothers and sisters in Bil’in, and the strength of the besieged people of Gaza.
The organisers were suitably impressed, and immediately bought me a flight to the next event. The 26-hour bus to Wisconsin proved to be the last I would need to take.
The next evening, Purdue was the location. This time it was over 400 people, and the three of us had our presentations perfected. I felt slightly self-conscious when I got a standing ovation.
After a brief stop in Michigan, we reconvened with Lowkey in Chicago. I’ve never spoken in a church, and I’ve never spoken to a crowd of over 800 people, so Chi-town was a first for both. Plus, another standing ovation. We brought the roof of that church down.
It had been an intensive few days, and felt like a lifetime had passed. Nevertheless, only a week after I’d arrived, me and Lowkey were back in New York, walking through the streets of Brooklyn. Him pushing me in the wheelchair, we stepped into a deli on the corner of the block.
“Hey,” a guy standing outside called, “are you two brothers?”
“Yeah,” Lowkey replied, “of course we are.”
As we walked away, he expressed his disbelief. “People actually think, that people in wheelchairs are just stupid! As if I couldn’t just be your friend!” Even Subway station workers were trying to make problems. Different city, same bullshit.
The “brother” question happened three more times. One half-Iraqi, one half-Scottish… we must look so alike.