Intern Journal: Percussive Plastic Plates…TYO style

I’ve just sent my music students bounding home with their newly fashioned “music shakers”…I fully expect to incur the wrath of their parents sometime in the next two days.  Call them what you will—maracas, plastic plate tambourines, or handheld shakers—whatever the nomenclature, Monday’s class activity yielded twelve beautifully decorated agents of NOISE.  Plastic plates (strangely, paper plates are quite the rarity here in Nablus), popcorn kernels, a stapler, scissors, and some colorful construction paper and streamers are all it took to generate an entire symphonic section of percussive instruments.  As we constructed and festooned our instruments we jammed out to an eclectic, world music mix, which featured everything from Fairouz and Nancy Ajram to the Beatles and the Gypsy Kings.  Although Nancy Ajram was the crowd favorite—the girls knew every single word of “Ana Yalli Bahebbak” by heart— “Octopus’s Garden” inspired some enthusiastic head nods in time to the beat as well as a brief explanation of the timelessness of the British sixties pop sensation.

Amazingly, there was only one maracas fiasco this afternoon: two improperly fastened plates, one overzealous shake, and the resulting shower of corn kernels sent us all into hysterics and laughter to the point of tears.   During the last ten minutes of class, and post-kernel cleanup, students used their latest creations to play the two bar rhythm written on the whiteboard.  Yes, that’s right, my students can now read and clap to (or shake a tambourine to) rhythm.  We’ve covered all the basics: quarter, half, and whole notes and rests; treble and bass clefs, measures and 4/4 time.  Needless to say I’m so proud of the youth’s music literacy progress over these past few weeks, but they are especially deserving of praise today given that there was a hiatus from class all of last week.

Hoping my students will afford their parents a few moments of peace,


Leila is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Messi or Ronaldo? Launching a Football League in Nablus

In alleys and classrooms, over coffee or sheesha, amongst the young and amongst the old, in the old city and in the refugee camps, a persistent point of contention strums the quiet baseline of Nabulsi conversation. Who do you support, Messi or Ronaldo? Are you Barca or are you Real Madrid?

Be prudent in how you answer. After all, in one word, uttering either the name of the diminutive Argentine wunderkind or the hubristic, self-involved Portuguese maestro (can you guess who I prefer?), identity is pronounced loud and clear, loyalties are expressed, and partitions are drawn between family and friends. The question is larger than football, an essential, human question you might say, revealing more than you can imagine (at least in my book). I will even contend that preference for Leo or Cristiano speaks fundamental truths about your character, social values, even your humanistic persuasions.

Albeit overstated (as is my nature), the above does give voice to how central football is in the lives of the Palestinian people. It is a passion, a joy, a release, a common ground, a freedom, a sanctuary. Despite my austerely limited Arabic, I have carried on many pleasant exchanges revolving solely around football. Smiles, names, and demonstrations of footskills fill in the gaps of our linguistic divides. Though a bit clichéd and something of a thirty-second ESPN promotional ad for the World Cup, witnessing how our shared passion for football can supersede national boundaries or any other markers of separation (arbitrary or legitimate), bringing together young kids from Balata with young men from America, the power of the beautiful game is proven beyond dispute.

However, despite the widespread cultural affinity for the sport, when it comes to actually playing, there are very few options for young Nabulsis. Grass and open-spaces, never mind proper pitches, goals, and boots come at a high premium here. There is an endemic love for the sport, but few outlets for participation. The disconnect in a city so enraptured in football prompted Adam and I to take action in hopes of addressing this void as best we can.

Last Wednesday night, we launched the Nablus Premier League for young men aged 14 to 18 from the local neighborhoods. The response from our recruiting efforts has been very encouraging (we had 30 kids our first night), and we cannot wait to see how competition and excitement generates once the League Table goes on display, once the top scorers are announced, once the battle for the championship and city pride really gain momentum. We will be sure to keep you updated on our progress.

Until next time, stay fly

- Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: In Search of Desert

As a person from the West arriving in the Middle East, there were a few preconceptions, some a priori “truths” that whether through ignorance or lack of exposure managed to hitch a ride in my suitcases as I anticipated what I was about to see. Thankfully, honest reading, research, conversation, and general open-mindedness undercut the possibility of me marching around here with sunglasses tinted by predictive cultural, social, or political biases (such a fashion/affliction seems to plague many of us “Amurrricans”). Instead, I was determined to let my experiences here inform whatever judgments I might later arrive at, and that mindset has been liberating and wonderfully beneficial. However, somehow in this process, I forgot to address my misguided and mythologized sense of Palestine’s geography, topography, and climate.

In short, though acknowledging the Mediterranean’s obvious proximity, I still came here expecting to see a land primarily of desert, a landscape that somehow reconciled visions of Aladdin, Lawrence of Arabia and nightly newscasts with Brian Williams, with a bit of those Biblical rolling hills thrown in just for variety. Stupid, I know, but some childhood imagery refuses to go down without a fight.

Living in wintry Nablus and traveling around the West Bank the past three weeks, much to my foolish surprise I came across beautiful, hilly countryside, chilly winds, and the city’s occasional flirtations with rain and hail. Though unexpected and pleasant, I must also admit, I was a bit disappointed not to see more of that romanticized Arabian panorama.

And then, Chelsey took us four interns on a hike to Wadi al Qelt this past Saturday. Stepping off our bus and crossing the highway, within five minutes we came to the majestic canyons, dunes, hills, and the crumbling valleys groaning with old age that I had hoped to see out here. We explored for hours, hiking virgin trails at times, free to roam along what was effectively an untouched, unpopulated preserve. It was a beautiful day, a great day, and I hope my photos below can do the place some justice.

Until next time

Stay fly

- Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: The Vivaldi-Bonanza Congruence

Have you ever listened to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons?  If so, you can attest to the mastery with which the composer captures the essence of each season: the “Spring” concerto evokes images of budding flowers and babbling brooks, while the third movement of “Summer” resembles the violent yet ephemeral summer storm.  But what if you were to listen to an excerpt from Vivaldi’s Baroque masterpiece with no prior knowledge of its “seasonal” context; how then might you describe the music?

On the second day of music class, we did an activity that used music to engage the more creative, imaginative spirits of my students.  I selected four audio excerpts of instrumental music to play for the kids: parts from Vivaldi’s “Spring” and “Summer” movements were chosen, as well as from Yanni’s “Nightingale” and the Western classic “Bonanza.”  While the students listened to each song, they drew on a sheet of paper (which was divided into four sections) what they felt the tune represented.  The children then had the opportunity to present their drawings to their peers.  The breadth and depth of interpretations was remarkable: while one boy likened the volatile brass emanations in Vivaldi’s summer movement to a battle ground, another declared that the forceful music mirrored the omnipotence of Allah.

“Nightingale,” by Greek composer, Yanni, hints at a far-Eastern inspiration and truly embodies the poetic “lament” of the songbird.  Without any knowledge of the title of this song, one boy colored a flock of birds flying into the sunset, while the girl sitting just beside him suggested that if music could narrate the dusk over the Nabulsi hills, it would sound like “Nightingale.”

The fourth and final song was by far the trickiest for students to connect with: “Bonanza” is a Western classic, and although it personally brings back memories of driving through the American West (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming), those not well-versed in “cowboy” culture would not respond with images of cowboys, horses, and lassos. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the children’s original responses, which included drawings of weddings, dances, and rolling hills.

The point of this class exercise was to illustrate to my students that music impacts every individual on the most personal of levels; and as such, it is one of the most powerful tools of self-expression.  Learning to play music is not just about building a foundation in music theory or being able to find the right notes on the piano. The true musician is one who can harness his emotions, memories, and fantasies, and channel them into his performance.

- Leila

Leila is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Photo of the Day: Literacy Training

On Saturday, February 19, 2011 Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, completed the final workshop in the training series for the new TYO-MEPI literacy collaboration.  For more information on this collaboration, read: TYO launches a new literacy project in partnership with MEPI.

Photo of the Day: St. George College Group Visits TYO Center

On Friday, February 18, 2011 Tomorrow’s Youth Organization hosted a delegation from St. George’s College in Jerusalem. The group of 25 visitors came to TYO as part of their 14-day exploration of the Holy Land and their encounter with its various persons within it. While at the TYO Center, the group met with TYO’s Spring 2011 Interns, participants from the FWEN project and the Center Director who provided an overview of TYO’s programming and activities. The group also enjoyed a hearty Palestinian meal prepared by FWEN participant Nehaya.

Intern Journal: Dawn’s Embrace

I’ve always been something of a morning person. A quiet time for reflection, reading, caffeine, meditation for those of such admirable initiative, checking last night’s box scores, and all the luxuries of that misty, yawning interim period before the day and all its trappings come completely into focus.

Early morning is more than the chill of living in a mind-fog, though. I believe the greatest gift of all so generously provided by our first hours of quasi-consciousness is the brief window for musing, hoping, planning, and creating the path that we might walk in the fresh set of hours to come, hours that are undefined and so limitless in promise, an expansive frontier with which our imaginations can roam unchecked until at least 7:30 when our realities and obligations might begin to clamor (usually in the kitchen). Even if the day never turns out as cool as it might have looked in our brain, these waking dreams are well worth it for me.

Here in Nablus, the early hours have shown themselves to be even more pleasant, even more invigorating. The call to prayer from the muezzin, the laid back white light calmly creeping over the hills a bit earlier each day, and the parades of four year-old children on their way to the TYO core program make manifest what Adam so aptly called “The Joy!” No alarm clock needed; no weighty gravity pushing you to stay in bed.

The Core kids rock for a number of reasons. Firstly, as it turns out, these children are super, super small, and that’s a funny and entertaining concept to me in itself. They have their own embryo of a social order, their own protocols for interaction, both of which are ingrained with intentional and unintentional humor. Beyond any Darwinian impulse to continue our line, I think the chance alone to watch toddler excitement, occasional toddler fear, and the transformation of both these emotions into smiles and laughter and singing is reason enough to one day have children. If you don’t involuntarily have a smile on your face in watching this kind of procession (I always get a special kick out of the tenuous sense of balance that little kids have when they walk and run, always teetering on the edge of tipping over before managing to find their equilibrium), you’re straight ice.

So these young girls and boys jump-start the early hours without fail, rain, sleet, or snow. By afternoon, older students begin rolling in. Amongst my responsibilities here at TYO is to lead and direct the Big Brothers’ Club, comprised of a selection of twelve to fourteen year-olds from the local neighborhood and the four refugee camps that dot the city’s landscape. Along with an incredible crew of translators and volunteers from the local university, I am working to engender self-confidence, self-control, and a capacity to trust and work in teams amongst this crew of young teenagers. For the most part, we are using the vehicle of team basketball and team soccer to help nurture such values as well as to create an environment where the students can feel safe, can feel a genuine union and connection to one another, and can feel the pride that comes with membership on a sports team.

The first three sessions have given me great encouragement. We’ve done lots of trust and hype-building exercises, introduced them to a good few dribbling and passing drills, and finished each and every session with the most raucous team huddles we can. Despite having only just departed our journey together, I have already seen leaders and a collective strength emerge, auspicious signs to say the least. On Monday, all players and coaches signed written contracts binding them to our team ethos of respect, brotherhood, risk-taking, and fun times, and we will be deciding on our official team name by week’s end.  Check back next week for photos and progress.

Until then, stay fly.

- Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Hoops in Palestine

Ay folks, this is Colin checking in for the first time from Nablus. Since touching down in Tel Aviv, time and space have blurred in a whirlwind of new sensations, sights and sounds. That said, I promise to strive for coherence and to capture a bit of the rhythm and rhyme pulsing through these early February days with TYO.

The last ten days or so have spun on an axis of acclimating, orienting, learning, fooding, butchering elementary Arabic, being encouraged to continue on despite my disgraceful renditions of elementary Arabic, butchering elementary Arabic again and for the second time receiving back only smiles and “you will learn” sentiments. I’ve met new people, created new lesson plans, taught, connected and just begun to grasp the staggering and striking smallness of this land forever defined in biblical (literally and figuratively) proportions (cognitive dissonance, I tell ya).

Without fail, every time I walk through town I’m greeted with kind eyes and faces, with whatever English greetings people around town may have in their repertoire, with handshakes, fist pounds, free samples of food, and general good cheer. The essential kindness of Nablus’ culture has exceeded any expectations I could have had.

On Sunday, I went to take some jumpshots and soon found the court surrounded by neighborhood kids watching, asking questions, introducing themselves and running through the limited cycle of their English lexicon, echoing shouts of “HELLO! WELCOME! WHAT IS YOUR NAME? HELLO! WELCOME! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” Their curious eyes remained peering through the fence for the duration of my shootaround.

If I’m honest, though, while all their kind words were quite nice and appreciated, what made me most comfortable out here in Nablus, what reminded me most of home, was that there were also a few brave souls amongst the onlooking group bold enough to offer a little smack talk. As I’ve established, my Arabic leaves much to be desired. Nonetheless, some messages transcend linguistic divides and can stand alone without the burden of translation. The sporadic heckling I heard when I missed a shot speaks thus speaks to the universality of trash-talk while also reminding me that hey, maybe New York is not that far after all.

Basketball has never been a game based on cordiality and gentlemanly propriety and, for me, hoops minus trash talk invites an identity crisis. So, for the one or two lads bold enough to express their inner Rucker Park MC, I thank you. In a strange twist of events, their cool helped me find my own in Nablus. I’m sure I’ll be seeing plenty of them in the months to come, and if you’re reading this lads, I’ll be out here all spring. Come on down and play, let’s see what you got!

I’ll be checking in again soon. Until then, stay fly.

- Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: Taking it all in

After a thankfully thorough week of orientation and training, we have completed our first two days of classes. As the days go by, I’m increasingly getting a feel for the rhythm of my week, the TYO centre, and a taste of life in Nablus. The working week begins on Sundays, and our days are punctuated by the now familiar call to prayer echoing out across the valley which holds this ancient city.

I taught my first class with fellow intern Leila – fitness for the mums. The women are so friendly and inquisitive, seeming to enjoy Leila’s lively kickboxing introduction and counting down the beat in flawless Arabic, but were soon distracted by the dramatic and deafening hailstorm outside that seemed to come out of nowhere. I hope to have them all doing Sun Salutations by the end of the course…

After lunch, the kids for the afternoon classes began to arrive in dribs and drabs from their respective areas, allowing me the chance to personally meet each child that was entering my basic photography class for Triple Exposure.

After a little warming up I explained (with the invaluable assistance of my local translator, Waleed),   to the students how to use the basic functions of the DSLR cameras, and had them take each others’ portraits, before setting about on the scavenger hunt game in teams. The team to find and photograph the most objects off the list given at the start, wins.
They ran around the TYO centre with their volunteers in tow, taking turns to capture the random objects listed – some harder than others!
The kids really enjoyed the competition, and two latecomers said they wanted more time to take photos, but I suggested they make sure to come to the rest of the classes and try harder to be on time!

Working at TYO is like juggling. With all these balls in the air and only two hands to catch with, you’ve got to be ready to switch things up if things don’t quite go to plan. Intern Coordinator Chelsey had been sure  to forewarn us that flexibility is key here. With bad weather hampering attendance for my first basic photography class – I ended up with as many local volunteers as children, when they should have been outnumbered by at least three to one! But my volunteers were patient, helpful and very happy to get involved.

This first week for me has been about taking it all in. It’s my first time in the Middle East. On the one hand I’m absorbing like a sponge all the new information, people and environment, whilst simultaneously trying to be creative, productive and give classes. It’s a stimulating process but also quite tiring. Needless to say, after bouncing so many ideas around and off each other, we’re all getting early nights to be organised and full of energy for our kids the next day.

- Mathilda

Mathilda is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Triple Exposure Update: Investing in Youth

To give you an update on how our Triple Exposure project is going, let me tell you the story of Mahmoud Aghbar. Mahmoud is 14 and lives in the same neighborhood where TYO is located, which means he is free to stop by whenever he wants! He joined our photography class in the Fall of 2009 and the last time I saw him was last week, when he popped into my office to ask when classes would begin again (we’re currently on a short break in between the fall and spring sessions at TYO). Mahmoud took to photography immediately – after only four months of class, his beautiful photo of a man walking in the rain was selected for first prize in the Waleed Photography Magazine Young Photographers’ Competition! Though we took on a new batch of photo students in the Summer of 2010, Mahmoud asked if he could keep coming to class as a volunteer; since then he has helped me teach photography and film to kids as old as and sometimes older than himself. He loves using computers and is my go-to for help when teaching the kids how to edit their photos and films. He’s not always available to come help out – like far too many young Palestinian kids, Mahmoud spends his spare time (particularly during the summer) working to help his family. But he’s been continuing to work on his photography, using the camera that he won from the competition, and last year he came to my office with a particular question.

“Doris, how can I go to visit America?” I answered that there are a number of programs that will invite and pay for young Palestinians to visit the U.S. “Okay, how can I apply?” I told him: “I’m sorry, Mahmoud, you have to speak very good English to participate in these programs.”

“Okay, can you teach me English?” We started English lessons twice a week. Soon his cousins and friends came to join the class as well, and I work to help them develop conversation and comprehension skills.

This is how Triple Exposure has progressed since its beginning in 2009. Our emphasis on working with the same children for years at a time has helped us really get to know them, to learn their hopes and ambitions and to help them grow as leaders, as self-initiators, as voices (and maybe someday ambassadors!) to the outside world. At the “Suwarna” Children’s Photography Exhibition in Ramallah last year, Mahmoud was interviewed by a Turkish TV channel: “I feel very proud to have won the contest, and I dream of becoming a photographer or a journalist like the ones who come to visit our class,” Mahmoud told the correspondent.

To see more Mahmoud’s photography and learn how you can get involved with Triple Exposure at TYO, visit:


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