At the end of a lovely dinner, Annie posed this question: “So, Doreen, when are you going to Palestine?” And Doreen, totally surprised by the question, improvised, “Oh, when I can go with a group of women my own age.” Hugs, kisses, “Great dinner, let’s do this again,” and that was that. A few days later, Doreen got a phone call from Gail, who introduced herself as a friend of Annie’s, to inform her that the trip was on, and to ask her what dates were good, and to let her know that she, Gail, was making contacts with other women and that she was so-o-o excited. Doreen, on the other hand, was a bit stunned. She’d had no intention of really going to Palestine…at least not yet. But she gave Gail her good dates, and said that she was so-o-o-o excited too, and so it began.
Slowly but surely, we had a group of several 50+ year old women. Gail opened an email group account for us. Several names, including “the Crones” were bandied around before Gail sent an email to other groups announcing Women of a Certain Age’s formation and our goal to visit Palestine. A first meeting was called for February 11, 2003, with a total membership of nine: Gail, Doreen, Annie, Jenny, Jan, Judy, Carol, Stacey and Mimi. By the end of February, Eileen joined on from Montreal and Suzanne was on board. We were up to twelve with Jane’s signing on. March was also a growth month: Mary was our first California member; she enlisted two more West Coasters, Karin and Greta; Ann (not quite 50+) was welcomed to the group; Susan rang in from Doylestown, Pa. Somewhere while our numbers were expanding, a decision was made to include any of our daughters who wished to join the group; Ayesha and Joya, each in her early 20’s, happily added a new dimension to WCA. Our meetings’ agendas were full as we busily prepared.
We began making actual travel plans. Emails to the list flew back and forth. Everyone had an opinion, an idea, some input. Imagine seventeen women chatting across one shared email address. The work continued: we researched groups we hoped to work or meet with in Palestine; we enlisted a private Arabic tutor and weekly giggled and struggled to learn the language; we received training from local experts on medical safety and useful skills; we invited experts on the Middle East to get us up to snuff on the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We took no shortcuts to being fully prepared. We almost daily shared our angst and excitement. Hedy, 79 years-old, joined us from St. Louis in May, as we buckled down to the task of actually leaving for our trip on June 23.
Throughout the preparations, we each gathered individual support groups. In early June, we invited these family members and friends to a get-together in Jan’s community room to get to know each other, to address their concerns, and to organize a communication and support network for them while we were abroad. Finally, with two weeks left, we excitedly shopped for comfortable walking shoes and sleeping bag liners, carefully packed our luggage, checked and double checked everything. At last, we boarded the plane that would take us to the next stage of our amazing, life-changing journey.