Sign on the road to Mitzpeh Ramon, Israel (used with permission)
Katie Schuessler is the author of the road less traveled, a blog of her experiences travelling and volunteering in Palestine, Israel, India and Japan. The majority of her posts are from her time spent in Palestine and give a sense of the culture, landscape and people of a place that most of us only know about from news reports, as well as giving an inside look at human rights issues.
She is also a photographer, and all of the images in this post (except the peace portrait) are taken from the vast archive posted on her site. Click each one for larger size.
I discovered her blog in an odd way: looking at referrers to this site, I followed one and found it was a spam page with all Kerala-related links. Her blog was listed directly below mine as she was writing about her travels in Kerala at the time, and after clicking on it I wound up spending an hour reading through the archives. Perhaps this chance path speaks to the interconnectedness she mentions below.
Passionate and personal, her entries have a considered-yet-raw quality about them that implies an immediate clarity of her surroundings, and a well-honed belief system that nevertheless remains open to change.
BHM: Why did you start blogging?
KS: i started my blog specifically because i wanted people to see what was happening in the west bank through personal stories and photos, and the whole thing kind of took off from there. it was great to publish my photos and writing while traveling, and nice to give my friends and family an easy way to see what i was up to.
BHM: You mention a journal in your writing. Do you see ‘the road less traveled’ as an extension of that journal?
KS: i’ve often contemplated blogging etiquette; what sorts of things are acceptable to a broad audience, and what sorts of things does one keep to oneself? my paper journal holds much more personal information about my experiences, ideas, and even art that i may never post, whereas the blog is only peripherally personal. i’d say the two complement each other quite nicely, but if anything, the paper journal is an extension of the blog.
BHM: Can you elaborate a little on that last sentence (‘if anything, the paper journal is an extension of the blog’)?
KS: i think there are some thoughts and perceptions of mine that don’t belong on the web. for instance, when i wrote about my roommate snoring like a tuba, it felt a bit too personal and i kind of regretted it. i do think there is a time and place for such intimate expressions, and for me they manifest in my paper journal. even though my posts get pretty personal — talking about breakups, life revelations and identity crises — i never get into the gritty day-to-day details like what i ate for breakfast or who i’m spending time with on a given day. i don’t really have stringent rules about what i can and can’t post, but i hope to maintain a certain professionalism and thoughtfulness on the road less traveled that is positively absent in my paper journal.
Woman forcibly evicted from her home in Sheikh Jarrah, Palestine (used with permission)
BHM: Describe something that is beautiful to you.
KS: there is something remarkable about laying in savasana (‘corpse pose,’ usually the last posture of any yoga asana practice) and feeling each cell of my body vibrating with the postures i’ve just done. from there, i like to visualize how each cell makes up my body as a whole. then i think about how more cells make up all the people and objects around me, and how we are all part of one larger cell. then i think of how this larger cell is part of the whole community surrounding us, which is made of similar cells comprising yet another big cell. this process continues to expand until i’m seeing the whole earth as one cell and feeling the power and force, yet utter lightness, of our deep interconnectedness. it’s beautiful.
BHM: What is your first memory of taking photographs?
KS: my parents gave me my first ‘real’ camera for my sixteenth birthday. it was a pentax k-1000. i spent a long time photographing flowers around the front yard of their house. focusing the manual lens was a magical experience. prior to that i had photographed with a point-and-shoot but there is absolutely no comparsion with using a manual camera. it gave me a whole new way of experiencing the world visually. later, when i went to pick up that first roll of film from the processor, i realized that i hadn’t loaded it properly and it was completely blank.
BHM: Did you display photographs publicly anywhere before you started your blog?
KS: yes, but not for quite some time. most recently i had a solo exhibition at the public library in tucson, arizona, but that was in may of 2008. it was a portrait project where i asked those who i photographed to write about peace between israel and palestine onto each of their respective photographs.
Moshe (used with permission)
BHM: I found your blog through an ad site about Kerala that also linked to mine, but I added it to my bookmarks largely because of the Palestine posts. Did your experience there have an effect on your belief system?
KS: before i left for palestine, i felt that i understood the situation. because i grew up jewish, i had the israeli and zionist perspective pretty well-covered. to learn more about palestine, i read books, magazines, and lots of online news. but unfortunately nothing could have prepared me for the reality of being there. there is no book that can describe what it’s like to live in a refugee camp under constant military surveillance. there is no magazine article that can (or that is willing to, perhaps) describe what it’s like to pass through checkpoints on a daily basis and be subjected to regular interrogation. it seems to me that there is a slow, agonizing process of trying to break people down via constant degradation — whether it’s unfair distribution of water, a refusal to grant permits to travel, housing demolition, regular raids, arrests, and murders, or even just simple, constant military presence. what’s remarkable is, the people living under that illegal occupation have such open hearts. if any part of my belief system has changed as a result of this experience, it’s that i have more faith in the strength of the human spirit. on the flip side of that, i am more puzzled than ever by the cruelty and out-of-handedness of humans making war.
BHM: Off the top of your head, which photo that you’ve posted on your blog holds most meaning for you?
KS: this is a tough question. the first photo that springs to mind is of a boy in mysore, india. he was part of a group of kids who i was visiting to drop off some photos. the kids were going nuts for the gora and the camera. somehow, amidst the chaos and silliness and posing, he gave me his full self, full of childlike innocence but also the maturity of someone who has seen a lot. it’s meaningful to me to have been able to catch that moment.
Boy in Mysore (used with permission)
BHM: Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?
KS: i think it’s the two posts (here and here) about water rights in the west bank. it’s a fascinating subject to me, and at the crux of the human rights deprivations happening there. i learned so much when i researched for that post, and felt that it was very important for people to learn about. there is no arguing about water — it’s vital for everyone.
BHM: Name two countries: one you’d love to visit, and one you’d love to visit again.
KS: i’m on an africa kick right now, but it’s hard to narrow it down to just one country. i’d probably start in east africa: somalia, kenya, uganda, ethiopia…and i would like to do another trip to palestine and india (if they’re on the same ticket, does it count as one?).
Palestinian children in volunteer-run photography class (used with permission)
BHM: A simple question for last: do you believe in God?
KS: yes, i believe in god. not in the sense of a man with a white beard and heaven and hell. but in the sense of a guiding creative force of the universe. and a trust in the earth. and a belief in our innate interconnectedness as inhabitants of this planet. and a sense of the power each of us holds to make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others. this is divinity.
This is the inaugural post for Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click the category tag in the ‘By Category’ section at the top right of this page.