I Hope That You Will Come Back!

That phrase is what I heard most from people today. This was my last week of teaching at TYO and it was a happy, sad, emotional, amazing week with my kids and women. I will never forget them and our time together. It’s fair to say that they taught me more than I taught them. I’m finding it difficult to express in words what they’ve done for me, so check out the photos that tell our story below.

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- Megan is a summer program intern at TYO

The Man Behind the Wheel

The view of Munir we see most often...

“Marhabaaaaa! Keifik?” Every time we climb into Munir’s spotlessly clean taxi we are welcomed by this cheery greeting as he, always the gentleman, holds the door open for us. “My favorite part of driving is talking to the interns,” he said. “Americans are always happy, and they always like to talk.” This may not be news to anyone who has experienced Americans abroad, but neither is Munir’s genuine interest in our lives surprising to me, as this open friendliness has become indicative of most of my interactions with Palestinians.

Munir has been driving interns all over Nablus (and the West Bank) for four years now, ever since TYO first opened in 2007. With each trip, he has taught us valuable lessons to use and build upon before our next journey with him. I learned quickly to listen carefully as, without fail, Munir always remembers to quiz you the next time you get into his car. “Hatha al-Diwar. Hatha hajiz. (This is the central circle. This is a checkpoint).” On my first grocery shopping trip, Munir decided to teach me the names of all the stores and the ever-necessary word “fatoora” or “receipt.” Inevitably, on our very next ride to the store, I had my first vocab test, which I passed only after every word of “badee narooh ile mahal fouwaka (I want to go to the fruit store)” was drilled into my head. Ever since, whenever I call him up, he makes sure to correct my pronunciation and verb agreement, my unofficial Arabic tutor checking up on me. This has produced great results, as my halting Egyptian Aameya has slowly morphed into a more confident Palestinian form of colloquial Arabic.

So if it’s our bi-weekly trips to Salfit to teach English (an hour round trip), a weekend trip down to Hebron, or a simple trip to the grocery store, Munir is there for the interns, ushering us through every leg of our discovery of Palestine. If one passenger even looks slightly concerned, whether we’re eyeing a passing army vehicle or we’re simply stuck in traffic, his immediate “Noooo problem!” always calms us down.

What lies ahead for our humble guide? “I will go wherever TYO goes. Anywhere they need me.” So, future TYO interns, you can look forward for years to come to many long and interesting rides with the ever-charming Munir. Yaslamu li kiteer rihlat momtaza, ya Munir!

An Evening with Lina and Friends

Walking up what felt like 100 flights of stairs, Samin and I finally reached Lina’s house in our neighborhood of Khallet al-Amood. Lina is a mother who is in both my nutrition class and Samin’s aerobics class, and after weeks of asking us to come to her house, we finally had the time to visit with her in her home. I can speak for both myself and Samin when I say it was one of our favorite experiences in Nablus thus far.

Lina outdid herself with delicious tabbouleh salad, cakes, and fruits piled higher than I have ever seen! Slowly, one by one, familiar faces began to enter the room. Other neighborhood women from our classes began entering Lina’s living room to join us in conversation and good food. The women talked about their families, their children, their frustrations, and their lives during the first and second intifadas.

For me, the most interesting part of the entire night was speaking to Lina in Arabic and her responding in English. Throughout the evening we would switch between the two languages so that each of us had a chance to practice speaking and understanding.

Quickly into the night, Lina’s youngest son Hassan and Jenan’s son Saleem joined us. Both boys, are arguably the most adorable 6 and 4 year olds ever. They spent the entire night running in and out of the house, eating cakes and making and flying paper airplanes across Lina’s living room. Samin and I could have stayed there all night playing with the two boys. When it started getting late, Samin and I politely excused ourselves and thanked Lina and her family for their hospitality. We promised we’d be back to visit before we leave Nablus.

As our time here comes to an end, I have had the chance to reflect on my experiences here. I have fallen in love with the city of Nablus, that was undeniable, but until last night, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I loved it so much. And as cliché as I know it sounds, I have fallen in love with the people of Nablus. Just yesterday when I walked down to the juice stand with my fellow interns, I heard my name being called out and as soon as I turned around, I saw one of my students, little Alaa, waving her hands furiously from 100 feet away. It’s Alaa’s enthusiasm and joy and Lina’s wisdom and hospitality that are a constant reminder of why I love Nablus so much.

-Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus

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.

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.

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