The End of an Era

Today, our beloved Intern Coordinator, Chelsey, is sadly leaving us for the world beyond Nablus. Chelsey, who has nurtured us from intern infancy over the last eight weeks, who has introduced us to the wonderful people of Nablus, who has gracefully handled our hundreds of daily questions, has helped guide seven different rounds of interns through their first experiences of life in the West Bank, all with a huge smile on her face.

For the interns, we will take away wonderful memories of Old City walks, long talks on the balcony, and bonding over our love for iced coffee, to name just a few. For the many staff members she has worked with over her three years here, she has been a trusted colleague and a friend.

Whether it’s seeing her snapping away behind a camera – barely containing her obvious love for the children – or hearing her infectious laugh echoing through the hallways, we will miss her presence around the center. Chelsey, we wish you luck on your next adventure!

Intern Journal: Continuing the work

Over the past six weeks, all of us interns have come to rely on our translators to literally be our second voice in the classroom. But from lesson planning to TYO sponsored trips in the West Bank, time has flown by and we all realized that we had not had an opportunity to spend much time with our translators outside of the TYO Center.

For me, one of the most important things I wanted to gain from this experience was a better understanding of what it is to be a young person in Nablus so I was very excited when the interns and translators arranged a time to meet to have some food on Rafidia Street.

Under Sunday’s pink-tinged Nabulsi sky we all enjoyed lemon-mints, an amazing view, and good company. Our conversations often revolved around lighter subjects like debating the merits of John Cena, Troy, the Pittsburgh Steelers, iPhone applications, and 50 Cent; I will probably never understand some of the translators’ enthusiasm for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Although we could all laugh and joke with each other, we were all cognizant of the very different lives we have all experienced. At the same time, we didn’t forget the larger commonalities that bond us as young people. All of us are of the same generation and have passions and dreams that drive us whether that be our work, families or Ernest Hemingway’s prose. But above all, we have our shared experiences at TYO. I felt incredibly hopeful and reinvigorated by the commitment I saw from many of our translators to continue the important work we have all started together long after the interns have left this beautiful place.

Blooming in Palestine

My mom always says to bloom where you’re planted. It’s a cryptic life instruction; I think it’s somewhat akin to the superficially obvious unattributed quote, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Nearly a year ago, I left my friends and family in Los Angeles to pursue some sort of ambiguous higher calling. I never expected to wind up in Palestine. It’s amazing where a random email through your graduate school listserv can lead.

I suppose we all wind up in unexpected places. These sometimes-serendipitous-sometimes-scary digressions frequently compose more of our lifetimes than the stuff we planned. And while it’s always experience, living impulsively is not always easy. I’ve recently been hit, as I think many TYO interns are at some point, with a wave of homesickness. Perhaps this was spurred on by blackberry season in Wooster, Ohio, the small midwestern town where I was born and raised. My mom’s blackberry pies are otherworldly.

But something funny happened last weekend. Some of the interns went to Ramallah to sample exotic new flavors of iced coffee and explore another area of our new home in the West Bank. Upon our return to Nablus later in the evening, I flopped down in my room and listened to the confused rooster outside my window who starts to crow at 11pm. I walked out to the balcony to take in the Nabulsi breeze and fantasize about the kunafa I’d eat in excess the following day. It was good to be home.

In that moment, I realized that unbeknownst to me, I had taken mom’s advice. I liked it here. Actually, I loved it here. I realized that Palestine had gotten into my blood, and perhaps it would be a little harder to leave than I originally anticipated. I still miss my family and friends – mom’s blackberry pie, my dad’s high pitched giggle when he plays with the dog, the dimples in my nephew’s cheeks when he does something his mother JUST told him not to do – but there are just as may things about Nablus that I’m going to miss when I’m gone.

So, whether it’s the kunafa, little Rida’s subconscious habit of pushing his glasses up during a soccer game, the “secret hi-five” we have with the neighborhood girls, or the friendships I’ve made with the other interns, I’m going to spend the last three weeks here taking in every single moment of it. Well, maybe not the kunafa part – I’ll stick to every other day with that.

Intern Journal: This Class is Our Class

My volunteers are my extra set of eyes, ears and hands. They step in when I need materials passed out and when I need help rearranging my classroom for a new activity. They step in when a child needs a hole punched for a mask and when they need a string tied for a kite. Most importantly, they step in when a student has a problem that I can’t immediately address. After all, I am just one person with anywhere from 10-18 students. And without my volunteers, I couldn’t teach my classes.

This past Monday, right after Field Day in Balata and Community English class, my volunteers, translator and I met in my classroom to discuss our Arts & Crafts class. Throughout the session I have continuously stressed that this class is ours and I always welcome and encourage suggestions. But on Monday, I wanted to remind them just how important they really are to this class.

For the next 45 minutes we discussed what we’ve learned about our class and our kids thus far. What works in class and what doesn’t, what needs to stay and what should we change, but also how to improve. The amount of feedback I got from them was amazing. Together we agreed, using the hand clapping technique we tried to implement at the start of the session, doesn’t get the children’s attention like we had hoped. But making simple yet functional projects is a great way to keep the kids engaged. I appreciated the craft project suggestions from them too. Everything from flowers made of plastic bags, to face paint, to a mural! I have already implemented an idea: adding background music to class while they work on their project. The kids really enjoyed it too!

I want my volunteers to be on board for every craft project or silly game I attempt with my kids. I want them to be as enthusiastic about lessons as I am. And so that things runs smoothly, it is so important that they are included in the decision-making process and can take some ownership of the class. I know that my volunteers walked away from the meeting on Monday feeling much better about the remainder of the session. Weekly, I will keep reminding them that  this class is our class.

- Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

The Interns Experience a Wedding…Nablus Style

Two hundred pairs of eyes turned to us the moment we entered the huge hall, occupied by the bridal party and about every woman in downtown Nablus. The bride and groom continued their dancing uninterrupted as we glued ourselves to the back wall and tried to blend in unsuccessfully. The foreigners had arrived.

Let me backtrack a bit. Last week, during one of our aerobics sessions, one of the mothers in our class graciously invited us to her daughter’s upcoming wedding. I was taken aback, not only by this woman’s openness but also that she was even old enough to be a mother-in-law. The other female interns and I accepted with great excitement as we had been hearing wedding parties in the streets for weeks and had wanted to experience a Nabulsi party. Finally! We had managed to make it into the inner circle!

Back to the wedding hall. As we edged along the wall trying not to tip over flower stands, wooden altars, and ginormous cakes, the fellow interns and I tried to look the least conspicuous as possible – a tall order when we were the only unveiled women in the room. Up on the stage, the bride and groom were happily slow dancing as a fog machine and bubble maker created mystical clouds around them. It was fairytale-like, which is, I guess, the underlying theme of most weddings. Except here, the dancing was reserved solely for the bride and groom, while the rest of room buzzed with the general feeling of happiness that comes with all weddings.

A noticeable change in the demeanor of the other women came when the mother-of-the-bride greeted us warmly and thanked us for coming. Perhaps this was the official signal that we were indeed invited guests and not over-curious gatecrashers, as we were then invited to sit down. We introduced ourselves to the women around us, at which point two very adorable babies were handed to us for some inexplicable reason. We were simultaneously overwhelmed by cuteness and flattered by the mothers’ trust.

It was at this point that the party really started to pick up, as the men from the adjacent room began to pour in and the flashing neon lights went especially crazy. I found this part particularly interesting, as the flurry of activity (which was later explained to me as presentations of gifts of money) seemed to center around the groom on stage as the bride posed for pictures off to the side. At most wedding in the US the bride is the center of attention; thus, this tradition struck me as particularly interesting.

Just before we left, we all managed to get our hands on a sliver of cake. Only minutes beforehand, this cake had been sliced by the groom with a massive sword, not a sight you see at any old wedding and one of the many reasons why I hope to attend another Nabulsi wedding in the future. Insha’allah.

- Alex

Alex is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Triple Exposure murals complete in Askar boys’ school

Triple Exposure mural teacher Rimah and her volunteers went to visit the boys’ school in Askar UNRWA refugee camp, Nablus. Over two visits she worked with fifteen boys, ages 10-11 on two murals in the hallways of the school. Whilst representing the themes of nature and school, these murals have a more kaleidoscopic feel to them, with unexpected colours inside the branches and leaves of the tree, really bringing an extra splash of colour to the walls of Askar.

Like many schools in the West Bank, the school doesn’t have an art teacher or art department, and these were the first murals ever in the school. Even the teachers were interested in how the different colours were mixed and applied. The director of the school liked the mural so much he has asked Rimah to come back and do one more any time.

After they had finished the murals, the boys wanted to go home and show their parents they had been working with paint, and thoroughly enjoyed drawing moustaches on each other. The boys showed so much talent and dedication, seeing the project through to completion with admirable focus. If they had an art teacher or more opportunities to practice, the kids could really work on their art skills and creative thinking, on top of making these vibrant and lasting contributions to their community.

To date, Triple Exposure has complete fifteen murals around Nablus. For more details, please see the Triple Exposure blog.

Intern Journal: A Day Off in Nablus

The interns have made an amazing discovery, one that in my opinion rivals the adventures of the great explorers of the fifteenth and sixteen centuries. We have found it, our holy grail….ice coffee in Nablus.

To say that we interns have a bit of an addiction is an understatement. The first thing we did upon landing in Ben Gurion airport was to find the nearest coffee shop and sip slowly on the delightful elixir before driving into the West Bank. After a busy week of lesson planning, meetings, and reports, we look forward to having a day or two to unwind before the madness starts again. On Saturday afternoon, Amy, Tala, Samin, Megan, and I ventured into the Old City and soon found ourselves in the relaxed yet bizarre atmosphere that is the Cinema City cafe which provides us with all of the comforts of home right here in Nablus.

Checkered with flaming red and black designs, Cinema City is the perfect place to sample blended frappe beverages, coffees, and desserts aptly named after film’s leading ladies including “The Angelina, The Megan, and The Zeta-Jones.” Or Tala’s favorite treat, “Magic Corn” which is basically just sweetened corn. When our waiter brought over the tray of blended coffees, some of us had difficulty restraining our joy, others had problems breathing.

Sitting at our table under the “Thanks for Coming Y’all” sign, I momentarily forgot where we were. Was I actually in the States at my local mall? Had I somehow sleep-walked my way across the green line? Nope, I was still in Nablus – al-humdulillah! – but in a place meant to provide an escape for its customers from the realities of life happening outside its walls. A place where women go out with their friends for ice coffee and you can still catch Scream 4 playing in all its ridiculous goriness.

- Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

SOW Team: A Day in the Life of a TYO Volunteer

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I woke up feeling a little nervous, like the first day of school when you don’t know anyone yet. I walked down to the main floor of the Nablus Center to see many kids sitting along four tables, wide-eyed and restless. Who do I talk to when I can’t say more than ten words? I walk up to a small boy in an orange Holland jersey fumbling with his backpack, “Marhaba, Shooo issmek?” I say, still unsure if I’m pronouncing it correctly. He stares at me with a worried look and I back away embarrassed. Ala, a Core Child teacher at TYO who teaches IT skills, and my only friend who speaks English, points me in the direction of one of the classrooms. I can’t tell who’s more nervous at this point, the kids or myself.

I feel like the new kid again. I shyly introduce myself and take the open seat next to the kid in the Holland jersey. The teacher continues talking in Arabic as a few kids continue to stare in my direction. When your ability to communicate is taken away, you have to rely solely on universal gestures. The fellow volunteers start to hand out blank paper. Are those really butterflies in my stomach? I feel as if I am five again and have to hold the urge to grab the crayons first. It’s only been five minutes and I’m already uncontrollably smiling.

It’s no wonder TYO has so many volunteers. They have over 100 for the summer session, mainly from An Najah University, and overwhelmingly female. They actually started out with only 12 volunteers, all males, but with the increase in numbers each year, more and more women started to participate. After snack time, we prepare for our morning field trip to the Nablus Fire Department. I don’t remember the last time I visited a fire station, probably when I was about this age. After settling who travels on what bus (the kids must be separated by where they’re coming from, Askar, Balata, Khallet al Amood) we make our way down to the Nablus Fire Department.

It would seem that fire stations are impressive everywhere. The firemen greeted us in their typical outfits. There were then some demonstrations. Even though I couldn’t understand, Ala was quick to translate whenever there was a funny moment, such as when one kid, when prompted by the firemen if he had any questions, asked about a monster that attacked his foot last night. I enjoyed the children’s Q&A very much, but I had a question of my own so I conversed with one of the volunteers at the fire station. He told me that it was a long process to become a firemen and that he has volunteered for about seven years!

It seems as if volunteering is a natural option for those at the University because they are able to get professional skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Similar to the United States, where internships are the norm before getting a real job, volunteering has become increasingly common in the West Bank. Professor Jawad Fatayer, of An Najah University, stresses that this desire is more than just professional. It is also personal. Volunteers feel a sense of community through their work, that they are making an impact. That is probably why so many of the volunteers stay. Most of the volunteers we interviewed had been with TYO since the beginning. It is great to see how comfortable they are with the kids.

After waiting for a bit, our bus arrives. I thank the firemen for their time and prepare for a relaxing and reflective ride back. I am starting to feel less like the new kid and more like a new friend. When we get back, Alaa, Haitham, and Jawad, the Core Child teachers, even invite me to sit with them for lunch. I am touched. I have been used to the familiar territory of the sixth floor; however, it is nice to be around the volunteers whose faces I frequently see, but I’ve never had the opportunity of working side-by-side with. They tell me that all of the volunteers stay throughout the day despite having a break between the morning and afternoon programming. I notice them hanging out in front of the center, or talking in the computer class.

It is a warm feeling coming back to TYO and I understand a little bit better what it means to be a volunteer. It is not just a role, but a mindset. You can tell that it must not always be so easy to work with the kids but the volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They continue to come and be a part of TYO and the bond is obvious. I become slightly jealous that I don’t have a place like this back home, and a little guilty that I maybe haven’t searched for it as much as these students have. I walk upstairs feeling that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that Dr. Jawad described. For a little while, it is easy to feel hope and love, to feel an impact, to feel a connection.

- Sarah

Sarah is the journalist for the SOW National Team.

Just Add Water

At the end of June, the staff, interns, volunteers, and kids of TYO held what we’ve lovingly referred to as “Water Day.” The kids played about thirty minutes of soccer before volunteers began to emerge from the shadows of the Center, carrying mysterious baskets, bags, and buckets overflowing with the water balloons we’d spent hours preparing. I could practically hear the “Rocky” theme song as I watched, preparing for an epic afternoon. Nothing breaths life into a childhood memory quite like a water balloon or two.

Intern Cate and I got our kids settled in a large circle for a game of “Drip, Drip, Drop” – like Duck, Duck, Goose only instead of yelling “Goose!” the kid dumps a full cup of water on his/her target’s head (also, we decided to throw water balloons in lieu of tagging.) Cate and I jovially agreed to play, and mere moments after settling onto the concrete I had a water cascading down my forehead as I sputtered a laugh and tried to maintain control of my cotton-candy pink balloon.

The kids had a blast, and we learned a few interesting tidbits as well. Little Izz, for example, is only slightly slower than the speed of sound. The kids, who we worried might stick with their friends, turned out to be equal-opportunity soakers. Kids soaked teachers, teachers soaked volunteers, water balloons both missed and connected with their targets as everybody tried to figure out the best way to launch a balloon with a mixture of velocity and precision.

It was a ton of fun. Toward the end of the day, as we started to settle the kids and get them ready for the bus, I leaned down to pick up a small balloon that hadn’t popped. Before I could get back up, a tidal wave connected, Rose Bowl style, with the back of my neck. I turned to see our adorable Lin frozen in place with a now-empty bucket, grinning. As I stared at her in mock shock and teasing anger, I was hit with that profound realization that you’re in the middle of a memory that will last for years beyond its expiration.

So although I was still picking water balloon pieces out of my hair hours later, Water Day was a hit. My favorite moments here at TYO are those that transcend age and culture – the moments that emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences. And everyone, as it turns out, enjoys a good water balloon fight.

-Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Friends in high places

Once upon a time there were seven TYO summer interns living on a hill in Nablus, Palestine…….

I have had a chance to get to know more and more about my fellow interns due to living on-site together. Nearly two months since we started working and living together, I thought I’d share what I have learned about their personalities thus far.

Tala is the kind of person you need around after a long day. She is a human jukebox who can burst into song for no reason and with no provocation. I can’t tell you how many times she has started singing a song that I haven’t heard in more than a decade, or even know at all. Tala herself is like a song that I can’t get out of my head. In a good way.

Alex is obviously very passionate about politics and the Middle East. She is one of my go to people when we are out and someone is speaking to me in Arabic and I’m confused. I can definitely count on her to help me out. I’m sure that Alex will continue to do great work in the Middle East and I look forward to hearing about her future adventures.

Cate is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met but she is no push over! She is incredibly honest and sincere in all of her words and actions. I love seeing Cate with her Arts and Crafts Class students because it’s obvious that they love her so much and that they make her happy to be teaching them. Nothing cheers me up more than one of Cate’s stories about the cute things her students did that day.

Samin is just hilarious. I love love love her sense of humour and often fall into laughing fits that ends with coughing and crying, I can’t eat around her, but it’s so worth it. Samin also tells it like it is and I really appreciate her honesty. She also talks in a baby voice when looking at photos of her nieces and nephews on her computer. It’s priceless.

Amy is my rock on tough days. She just listens when I need her too and doesn’t brush off my concerns even when they are a little bit silly. Amy is a fan of the “funny cat video” genre of film that can be found on YouTube. I get a kick out of seeing her giggle at her computer because I know that’s what she is watching.

I have been lucky to spend the last two months living and working with this group of extraordinary, hilarious and talented people. I will be sad to say goodbye to everyone when our internship ends but we are already talking about having our 10-year TYO Intern Reunion in the new city if Rawabi!

- Megan

Megan is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

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