An Unexpected Finale to a Night Out

A few days ago, the American and local staffs and the American interns left the grounds of TYO for a nighttime meal overlooking beautiful hills. While we knew there would be fun-filled, transliterated conversations (especially for the interns like me who don’t speak Arabic) taking place, the bonding that came to be at the end of the evening was a fabulous surprise to everyone.

I found that the evening began typically, with people waiting around the table, conversing about their jobs, complaining about the glacial nature of the wait staff, and taking turns watching Kais, psycho-social therapist Suhad’s adorable son, kick an inner tube around the pool while his older brother swam. After a few hours of eating and socializing, it was time for us all to pile into the brand-spanking new TYO bus and head home.

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I don’t know if it was the general jovial mood that comes after eating a delicious meal in great company, the intoxicating rhythm of Palestinian pop, or the neon blue floor lights of our new bus but, as we headed out of Matah Zaman, the unflinchingly strong Palestinian spirit took over.

We clapped. We cheered. Some of us even sang and danced to the beat of the amazing music. And as we headed through the Israeli-manned checkpoints, we didn’t lower our voices, but raised them.

And what remained in my mind long after the drive was over was that spirit. That resilience, that perseverance, that beauty in the people I have found during my time here in Palestine, that ability to enjoy life despite the daily trials of a military occupation. It is that which I will miss dearly from Nablus.

-Maggie

Individualized Early Childhood Education

On Monday, I continued a physics project with my kids aged 9-11 in science class to build floatable, cardboard boats displaying an understanding of buoyancy and Archimedes’ Principle. The kids were in the middle of making their boats when some of the groups began running out of duct tape, so I temporarily halted construction and decided to play musical chairs in the empty room next door. Ten minutes later, we returned to our science class to find that three of the boats had been destroyed, punctured with holes.

Mohammad stood next to them with a pair of scissors in his hand. He stormed out of the classroom, yelling that I should have let him steal tape from the other groups.

On Tuesday, the kids took their finished boats to the park and floated them. Afterwards, they played on the swings and slides of the playground. I left for a few moments to help my volunteer clean up the area where the kids ate ice cream.

I came back to find that Mohammad had tried to attack another child, screaming that it was his turn to go on the swings. I found out from intern Adam that Mohammad had just been on the swings, not allowing other children to share. Mohammad stormed off.

On Wednesday, the girls in my class joined Doris’ class on a trip to the pool, leaving me with just my five boys and three volunteers. It gave me the opportunity that I had been waiting for all summer. The opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and patiently address his quick jumps to anger, encourage him to analyze the situation instead of make assumptions and to simply hear about him and how he was feeling all the while trying to help him understand that it was not acceptable to steal from other children, to physically or verbally abuse anyone, or to shirk personal responsibility.

And he listened. He spoke to me, explaining how he felt when he was angry, how he didn’t know how else to respond. We talked through it, slowly looking at other options. Sure, he didn’t transform into a calm, slow-to-anger person in two hours, but he began to see that there were alternatives.

I grew up in the public education system of California and it is still shocks me how my teachers were able to teach me anything with twenty to thirty children wriggling around impatiently. Cut that class in half, and the teacher’s ability to do his or her job increases. Cut that class in half, and the child has a chance to be heard. Cut that class in half, and you have education reform.

Cut that class in half, and you have the opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and show him the alternatives to anger. That’s what I learned from Mohammad, and it’s something I believe is absolutely necessary to improve early childhood education. Personalized education, personal development. A voice in the midst of chaos.
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Kunafa Festival

All of Nablus and the West Bank had been abuzz with excitement for weeks prior to the event: the preparation and unveiling of the world’s largest kunafa! Kunafa is a deliciously sweet cheese-based dessert, popular all over the Arab world but an acknowledged specialty of Nablus. The TYO staff and interns can’t get enough of it, and with our sweet teeth leading the way, Saturday morning Shahla and I joined the thousands of visitors from the cities and villages of the West Bank and even Israel to pay witness to this overgrown dessert. Since we could not get close enough to snap a photo, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

170 bakers
10 pastry shops
75 meters long
2 meters wide
700 kilograms of flour
700 kilograms of cheese
300 kilograms of sugar
300 kilograms of paste
35 kilograms of pistachios
6 tins of cooking fat

While the city square is normally home to shoppers and families visiting the clothing shops, falafel stands, pastry shops, and my favorite: The Fruit Market of Sweet Satisfaction, it was thrilling to be among an expectantly waiting crowd of many times the usual size!

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The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

Walking around, fellow intern Shahla and I had the pleasure of encountering two TYO families: girls and their mothers from Margaret’s dance and aerobics classes. They were so enthusiastic, both to see us and for this momentous day for Nablus. It was a day of great pride for Nabulsis and Palestinians, and the international press paid attention! BBC News reported on the event, further adding to the positive international news coverage that Nablus has received in the past week.

Be it a new movie theater, a giant kunafa, or consecutive games of “Thumbs Up Seven Up” in my sports and games class, Nabulsis have shown themselves to be more than ready to find joy in opportunities for lighthearted fun.
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