Saugeen Week, Wed. Dec 23, 1992, page 3

Visions of typhoid, missiles and armed soldiers still vivid to Tobermory artist

The impressions of peace and tranquility reflected in the acrylic paintings of Tobermory artist Kent Wilkens, lie in stark contrast to the turbulent time he spent in Israel in 1991.

Wilkens, 34, who is fast becoming one of the premier artists in the area, was first there in 1989. Having sponsored some children through World Vision, he went back in 1990 to visit them.

"While there, I let it slip that I planned to return in 1991 to work in a Kibbutz."

A director with World Vision offered Wilkens a chance to paint a mural and teach art to children in the town of Ramallah, about 14 km. north of Jerusalem on the West Bank.

The mural was to cover a wall 10 meters by 3 meters in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

They wanted the painting to include Jesus talking to children by the Sea of Galilee.

Wilkens said he was hesitant about the project because of the tensions in the middle east, but went anyway, thus beginning a very emotional chapter of his life.

Wilkens said he planned to prepare the wall, do some research and make preliminary sketches of the Sea of Galilee. Then he planned on "getting out of the country." But his plan changed while visiting the famous Sea.

After camping out on the Mount of Beatitudes, "I got up and felt like I had been hit with a freight train."

Returning to Ramallah, he went straight to bed and began a long battle with chills and fever.

Feeling he was losing that battle, he consulted a survival guide book and diagnosed he had typhoid fever.

The people he was staying with took him to hospital where a Doctor confirmed it.

"I don't like hospitals ... especially when you are on the other side Of the planet ... especially with a war about to break out."

Wilkens said the Doctor was sympathetic said "if I didn't go into the hospital immediately, I wouldn't have to worry about any war.

"Imagine the worst flu you have ever had-and multiply that ten times. That's how I felt."

Wilkens finally got out of the hospital on January 14th, and war broke out in the Gulf the next day.

"I remember it quite clearly," he said. The place Wilkens was staying at was five stories tall and sat on a hill with a clear view to Tel Aviv, about nine(25) kilometers away.

The next day, about two in the morning, three Scud missiles hit the city. He described the explosions as a "giant gong-like nothing you have ever heard before."

The few people in the building were all evacuated to the basement(sealed room on 3rd floor) after the first Scud, but Wilkens watched the third one strike Tel Aviv.

"The whole city lit up like a Roman candle!"

From then on, they were constantly running to the basement, taping the windows and doors, and being placed on curfews.

"It was sort of senseless," he explained. "There were no gas masks distributed to anyone on the West Bank. Taping wouldn't have kept the gas out"

Wilkens also sympathized with the Palestinians. "There were mass curfews, arrests and harassments."

He said he couldn't condone the Palestinians cheering when the Scuds hit the city, but he could understand their feelings. "It boggles the mind-what they have to put up with."

Wilkens explained that even when gas masks were distributed on the West Bank, anyone with a jail sentence couldn't receive one.

"Most Palestinians have been in jail, most of the youth anyway, and the gas masks wouldn't fit children under fifteen. Picture a family of five. The parents get gas masks but there aren't any for the children."

Wilkens felt that if Canadians or Americans had to live in the same conditions as the Palestinians, they wouldn't put up with it

"I didn't have any fear but I was mentally keyed up. You are always looking, listening and watching. You never know what will happen."

Wilkens did have one particularly harrowing experience. After buying paints for the mural in Jerusalem, he hired a taxi to drive him back to Ramallah.

However the taxi driver would not take him all the way because of a curfew.

Wilkens had to walk about 5km. into Ramallah. "It was like something out of Mad Max," referring to the well-known science fiction movie. He explained that because of the curfew, the city appeared entirely deserted.

It was extremely surreal. "No people, no cars ... the wind blowing dust and paper around the buildings..."

Wilkens was in violation of the curfew... ... With cameras not allowed in the West Bank, he was sure the Israelis would not take too kindly to him. At one point he saw two soldiers on a roof. One was watching him through binoculars and the other, through the scope of a rifle. "I just kept walking." Later a large jeep approached him from behind. As the jeep passed, a soldier pointed a rifle at him and mouthed the words "boom, boom."

Wilkens said he just shifted the pack on his back and saluted the soldier.

"What shocked me was they just kept going. All they had to do was search me and I would have been in trouble. "Ill remember that trip for a long time-a very long time."

However, thanks to the extended curfews, Wilkens was able to get a lot done on the mural. He worked on it again in 1992 and should be able to finish the painting in the new year.

Meanwhile, pleasant memories of Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula have replaced the culture shock he experienced on returning home.

Wilkens first visited Tobermory when he was two years old and has holidayed at the family cottage for years- "It's something in my blood-I think. The moment you go over the top of the north hill in Wiarton, you feel it"

Wilkens and his wife Rachael, whom he met in Ramallah, have set up a business called the Golden Gallery in an old family home in Tobermory...    

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