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Sep 19 2011

UN Day 1: Bathroom Pumping & Tony Blair

By at 2:42 pm

This week, Jordana will be covering the UN General Assembly for The Jerusalem Post. Here’s her dispatch from yesterday, Day 1.

For many reporters, the drama of this week at the UN is simply a front-page story. For those of us who are more directly involved – such as me, by virtue of being Jewish and writing for an Israeli paper –  it’s unbelievably tense. This week will see an important moment in the Middle East and the world with the possibility of the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in the United Nations. While the US has said it will exercise its veto on such a move in the Security Council, the Palestinians may approach the General Assembly for approval instead. The gesture is largely symbolic but is a big one for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It is a region of the world where symbols hold tremendous import, where diplomacy is exceptionally difficult and where mistrust is high. And my job puts me on the front lines, my pen poised to transcribe history.

It’s Sunday and the meeting of the Palestinian Donor Conference at the United Nations is this evening. It’s closed to the media, but there will be a “stake out,” a terrific phrase meaning a press conference with question-and-answer opportunities, so I need to be there.  I preemptively sign permission slips, make tomorrow’s lunches for the kids and make sure that their backpacks are ready to go to school in the morning, knowing that by the time I get home, I will barely have the wherewithal to pour a glass of wine.

Having finished breastfeeding baby G, I get ready to saddle up and ride, driving into the city to the UN from our New Jersey home. I’m leaving Wonder Husband at home with a baby who is much crankier than usual, i.e. screaming her head off. My husband seems unfazed and wishes me good night and good luck. I, on the other hand, get in the car wondering if the little girl, who has a cold, has an ear infection, too.

Immediately, the first contingency surfaces. Foolishly, I was so engrossed in finding out the schedule of speakers for the UN that I neglected to check the schedule of the Jets, who play in the Meadowlands: their thousands of fans use the same road I’m using. I drum my fingers on the steering wheel and decide to call my boys at their dad’s house.

“Why are you working on SUNDAY?” my son asks as we have our good night phone call.

I tell him that I have to cover some meetings, but that moreover, in Israel, Sunday is a regular work day, school is in session, etc. My son gives an audible shudder: “That’s HORRIBLE.” I refrain from telling him that when I was a corporate lawyer, weekends and evenings both did not exist.

As I’m pulling into the Lincoln Tunnel, I have an epiphany. With perfect clarity, I conjure up a mental picture of my red wallet, comfortably lodged in my diaper bag. Which is… not in the back seat of the car.

“I took it out of the car to restock it,” my husband says of the diaper bag when I call him.  And admittedly, it makes sense for the diaper bag to be in close proximity to the person who wears the diapers. I hope the baby is enjoying my wallet. I spend the rest of the trip (normally taking a half hour, this one is an hour and a half) trying to drive as carefully as possible so as to not be pulled over and caught driving without a license.

I get to the UN with an hour to spare and flash my press badge (conveniently around my neck, not in the missing wallet). Since I cover the UN regularly, I don’t have to go through the accreditation process that most other reporters who have been sent here just for this week do.  I also know where I’m going. In the midst of all the chaos, this feels like a small victory.

I nod and smile hello to the Arab journalists, who mostly nod and smile back. We are always at the same press conferences, though we ask very different questions. Things seem more tense than usual today; one woman in a head scarf actually sniffs when she reads my nametag with journalistic affiliation. I attempt to banter but it is cursorily rebuffed. I have a sinking feeling that this week is going to be difficult.

My sinking feeling coincides with that prickly sensation in my breasts that lets me know that under normal circumstances, it would be time to breastfeed right about now. Ah, the joys of motherly multitasking. I consider this a physiological Post-It note and go to the medical office to ask them where they recommend that I pump. I case out the handicapped stall in the bathroom, which may become my future home away from home.

People start coming out of the meeting. The mood in the air shifts as the reporters and camera crews jostle to get into position. Since most of the press people are new in town for the week, they don’t recognize the Israeli deputy foreign minister – if they did, they’d doubtlessly pounce. I do, and get a five minute exclusive interview before he heads over for the podium of the press conference. I follow. The woman with the headscarf grabs my arm and pulls me back. I turn to her, thinking she wants to talk to me. No – she wants to pull me out of my spot and take it for herself. I’ll try not to read into it.

And then, a surprise appearance by Tony Blair. He seems smaller in person than he does on TV, and oddly tan for someone who spends most of his life lately conducting shuttle diplomacy. He has just come back from his 71st trip to the West Bank. He answers questions with aplomb but can’t hide that he looks as tired as Sisyphus.  Blair is part of the Quartet, the group comprised of the US, the UN, the European Union, and Russia, which is involved in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process… or, as in recent months, attempting to restart the peace process. It is an unenviable job.

Eventually I leave the building. The streets are empty, a stark contrast to how they will be Monday. Police vehicles are going the wrong way up the streets. Dogs are sniffing for bombs. Cement barricades are being erected by small cranes in the middle of roads going toward the UN.

It’s showtime.

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