Monday, April 6, 2015

Peggy Gish, Author

Residing in Ohio USA, Peggy Gish is a world traveler for peace. As an author, Gish takes a solid look into the lives of those afflicted and in adverse situations. She delves into the communities of the people of Iraq and writes about their challenges and quest for peace. I had the opportunity to interview Gish last year; she is currently in Nigeria. Gish expounds…

“I grew up in inner-city Chicago, but for the last 40 years have lived on a farm. My late husband, Art (died in 2010) and I had three sons, two of who are still living. We have lived on a Christian communal farm which started in SE Kentucky and moved up to Athens County in 1977. We earned our living by growing and selling organic vegetables at our local farmer’s market, until the fall of 2010. I worked for the Appalachian Peace and Justice Network in Athens, Ohio for 11 years, during which I taught conflict management in schools and with community groups and became a community mediator.

Art and I first got involved in peace and social justice work when we, as college students, went to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in Aug. 1963. We were inspired to continue to work for justice and peace, and have been doing so over the past 50 years. When I joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), in 2002, I first worked with CPT in the West Bank, and have gone there 6 times since then. In October 2002, I began working with CPT in Iraq, and have traveled there 15 times, the last time being July-Sept. 2014.

I have learned some Arabic and Kurdish, so I can shop, travel, and do some simple conversing in social situations, but have not become fluent. From my experiences working in Iraq, I wrote two books, Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace (2004) and Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (2013).”

Do you pen your thoughts daily while abroad, or do you wait until you arrive back in the States to compile your thoughts?
I took notes on a small notebook during the day, in which I recorded general information and notes from interviews with people. I also kept a daily journal, and summarized what happened that day and included information from my notebook, as well as personal responses to what was happening. So when I wrote my books, I gleaned from these writings and records of our team, as well as cross-checking information with other sources.

What organization do you support and travel with?
The organization I work with is the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a violence reduction/prevention organization with offices in Chicago and Toronto.

I heard you were almost run over by a tank on one of your peace-keeping trips. What happened?
Actually it was my late husband, Art Gish, who, in a fruit and vegetable market in the city of Hebron in the W. Bank, in Jan. 2003, saw tanks destroying the market, crushing crates of produce. When a tank started coming toward him, he stood facing it with his arms outstretched and stopped it. An AP reporter took his picture and it was on the front page of newspapers around the world, but not in the US. At the time this happened, he was working with the CPT team in Hebron and I was in Iraq.

What other unexpected or interesting things happened while you were there?
I was not expecting US Military personal to be as brutal in its detention/prison system, and fight against those who resisted occupation and harm and kill so many civilians in its "anti-terrorism" activities. I also met many young men and women in our armed forces who were there wanting to do something good, but found themselves in a system of violence where they were ordered to use excessive violence. Personally I experienced some very violent/dangerous situations, such as men coming to our apartment saying they were suicide bombers and were going to blow up our building that evening, but then end up just being robbed. Then there was the kidnapping of four members of our team in Baghdad, and a couple years later, another team member and I were kidnapped for a short time in northern Iraq, and I’m very grateful to have come through these experiences safely. Maybe more pleasantly unexpected to many people was to find so many Iraqi people and groups who out of their love and faith risked their own safety to work nonviolently for peace and justice and rebuilding their broken society. I tell these and many other stories in my two books.

How can the US protect Israel without being drawn into the devastation towards the Palestinians and Gaza?
I think the US can protect Israel, but not go along with and support its repressive and humiliating daily treatment of the Palestinians, its taking more and more of the Palestinians’ land, and the killing and destruction in Gaza that was extremely excessive compared with the violence against it by the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel wouldn’t have been able to do what they did in Gaza last summer if the U.S. had spoken clearly against it and withheld financial aid we give Israel. I think speaking clearly to Israeli leaders that we cannot support these things, would in the long run help Israel be more secure. If Palestinians were treated justly and respectfully, were not subject to daily violence and mistreatment, and were able to keep their homes, land, water supplies and not have them being taken away, control their own borders, trade, etc. Israelis wouldn’t need to be afraid of violence against them.

In your opinion, how can we bring about world peace?
As individuals, I think it starts with finding peace in yourself and in your relationships, and then finding ways to get involved in nonviolent activities to speak out and act publicly for peaceful alternatives to strife in our own society and for peace on a global level. On any level, peace will not be given unless we acknowledge and address the problems behind the strife. On a societal and global level it means addressing injustice for certain groups of people who do not have equal access to resources and opportunities for earning a living wage or to advance economically and socially. In other words, you can’t have peace without justice. It means changing basic economic policies in our country and internationally which allow rich people and corporations to make huge profits while those who work for them, to barely survive. It means rich companies should not be able to take and control the resources of poorer countries or the poor sector in those countries. For our country it means changing how we relate to countries of the world. It means curbing our need for cheap oil and therefore, the drive toward war to gain control of oil-rich areas of the world. It means caring more for the wellbeing of the poor in our society and for people of the world than our making profits. In theological language, it means repentance, which involves turning around and changing direction.

Will you be journeying to the Middle East again soon?
A month ago I returned from a two and half month time working with our team in northern Iraq. I may go back sometime in the coming year, but have not made any plans.

Describe the SOA Watch at Fort Benning, Georgia, November of 2013…
The atmosphere and spirit of the crowd protesting there and calling for the School of the Americas to be closed was positive, energetic, and peaceful. I was glad to be able to be there to also speak out against this school’s training fighters, from other countries, torture and “death squad” practices. Before the protest there started last Nov.,, I was part of the group that also visited the Stewart Detention Center, the largest for-profit prison for immigrants in the US, and was sad and sobered to see how immigrants were treated.

What are you currently writing?
In the past month I have mainly been processing my experiences from my last time in Iraq and preparing for the various talks I’ve been giving. I hope to soon start writing more reflections/articles for my blog. I don’t have plans for another book, at least for now.

What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading older novels from authors such as George MacDonald, Rummer Goddard, and Marilynne Robinson, as well as some modern young adult fiction to keep up with my granddaughters. I also read magazines I subscribe to, such as Yes Magazine and Sojourners Magazine.

Who are your favorite authors?
One of them, besides those I named above, is Madeline L’Engle. She combines realistic characters with problems we all face, with imagination, magic at times, and hopeful solutions to the dilemmas. I enjoyed series of fantasies such as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. For political books, I appreciate Naomi Klein, who wrote Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. One of my favorite inspirational religious writers is Henri Nouwen.

Do you have advice for novice writers?
Write out of your passion and experience. Address real human dilemmas and problems. Combine realistic coverage of problems with messages of hope. I usually like to learn something and come away with more insight, understanding, and personal growth, when I read. Sometimes I’m just happy to have fun and be brought into a whole new fantasy world if it is creatively done.

List 10 things that your fans may not know about you....
1. I am an introvert, and basically a shy person, yet prefer working with people than doing desk or research type work.

2. I love to spend time walking in the woods. It is one of the ways I find healing and nurturing.

3. I like to garden and see things grow.

4. I grew up in the city, but have lived more of my life in rural areas, and feel more of a country-person.

5. In the past 40 years I have lived very simply. Until recently, we heated with a wood stove, and I used a wringer washing machine.

6. As an adult I have lived without a TV, and have never wanted to have one. Life is too full without it.

7. Even though I respect people of all religions or the non-religious, I am personally a Christian, and find strength to do the work I’ve been doing out of my faith.

8. In spite of all I have experienced, I still feel very young at heart, and love to play and be with children.

9. In my work in Iraq, I have had some of the most difficult experiences of my life, but also some of the most rewarding.

10. Even though my recent work has focused on global peacemaking and preventing war, I am also very concerned about environmental issues, racial violence, economic justice, and violence against women, etc. I see them as interconnected.

Connect with Peggy

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