Intern Journal: Lessons from Suhad

In my art and storytelling class Tuesday I asked the children to draw a person important to them for the last 30 minutes of class. I figured this would be a simple way to learn a little more about them, since speaking in front of the group has been a tough sell. I learned, though, that there is a lot more to discover from “simple” drawings than I expected.

As I walked around the room, asking each student, “meen had?” (Who is it?), I came upon a drawing that would cause uproar at a school in the States: a person with a gun. Two of the boys in my class had drawn people in their life that were killed. Saed told me that the person he drew was his friend who had been outside school when he fell down and died. The image didn’t surprise me at a logical level—I knew that this is a common experience for these kids whose childhood is defined by the 2nd Intifada. Yet I froze, because I did not want to display my own emotions in a way that would make Saed upset. So I responded to his picture the same as any of the other images.

The next day I visited Suhad, our psychosocial specialist, to discuss what types of questions I could have asked of this child to allow him the chance to share and also validate his feelings. I learned from her that I could have asked more questions of all of the children’s drawings, whether they depicted a soccer player, a dead friend, a friend or myself. Because I underestimated the depth of the activity, I had stuck to the simple question of “who,” and neglected the highly important question of “why?”

As Suhad sifted through the drawings that I had collected, she pointed out many details I had not picked out before. For instance, from the fact that Ayasar drew buttons and an orderly outfit, Suhad guessed that he is one of the more mature students. Why, though, she asked, did he make one of the person’s shoes a different color? Does his mom sometimes forget to wash his sock? Does he know someone whose leg has been amputated? Maybe it means something entirely different, but certainly I could have asked him why he drew it that way. Or I could have asked some of the kids why their drawings didn’t have a mouth, or had blonde hair. Suhad advised me that for now, I need to concentrate on creating the space for the children to share with me as individuals. Later, they will be more comfortable sharing with the group.

One of my goals as an educator is to encourage children to analyze what they see and hear beyond the surface story. I, too, need to learn to find the multiple layers of meanings behind everything the children do. Language is never innocent, as critical literacy scholars say: it is laden with people’s experiences and perspectives. The same goes for kids’ drawings.


Kara is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.


Hiking the Abraham’s Path

“Rah amoot! I will die!” I announced to Khamees, who was standing next to me under the shade of an olive tree. “We will all die! For sure!” Khamees replied laughing, a playful look of fear crossing his face as he pointed to the path ahead. The noonday sun beat down unrelenting. A dead baby goat’s decaying body lay by the side of the road. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” I wondered, a drop of sweat trickling down my back.

Last weekend, the intrepid members of the Kalimatna Initiative set off in the midst of sweltering heat on a journey that our forefather, Abraham, undertook before us. Or at least on part of his journey. Abraham walked for hundreds of miles through at least five different Middle Eastern countries. We walked for one and a half days and covered approximately 20 kilometers or 12 miles.

We started in the small agricultural village of Mughayyra. The taxi dropped us off on the side of the road where we were introduced to our guide, Hijazi. The first day we walked for all of two hours up and up through green fields dotted with red poppy flowers, called hannoon in Arabic. Every now and then we stopped for a short rest in the peaceful setting of an olive grove. Hijazi shared his extensive knowledge of Palestine’s flora and fauna with us, pointing out a gazelle that ran through the meadow and the migratory birds that stopped in Palestine on their way to Europe.

The purpose of our trip was, of course, bonding and team building. The trip was timely in my opinion since Hassan, Haya, Khamees, Bieta, Kara, and I, the members of the Kalimatna Initiative, are still in the process of fleshing out what exactly the cultural guide we are making will look like. An interactive multimedia guidebook to Nablus? A compilation of the personal stories of Nabulsi youth? We have been slow to come to any conclusions. Working with people you don’t know is always hard, and working cross-culturally and cross-linguistically with people you don’t know is especially hard. I think we have all been a little hesitant with the guide, afraid to dictate to the others what we should be doing.

Inshallah, this trip marked a turning point. For all of us, including the Palestinians, hiking through the mountains and spending the night in the homes of Palestinian villagers was a first. We all wore the same sweaty clothes two days in a row, huffed and puffed our way up the same steep hills, and discovered with shared excitement the little tortoise or sulhafa that was hidden in the bushes on the side of a steep hill. I learned that Khamees is not only an extremely funny person but is also a professional clown, that Haya has never been on a walk like this before, and that Hassan is better at making labna, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches than I am. Before walking on the second day, we did “yoga” together on the side of the road, laughing at how only two of us could touch their toes.

We all marveled at Palestine’s natural beauty. Spring in Palestine is truly exquisite. Lush green pastures and wild flowers blanket the countryside. Fresh thyme known as zaatar grows underfoot, as do as number of other healing herbs. “The world is so beautiful!” Kara exclaimed. “Too bad people have to mess it up.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Palestine is so beautiful,” she replied, “but so many horrible things happen here.”

Hopefully, this project will serve as a reminder to all of us of the infinite beauty and daily good found in this region as well.

Photos of the hike can be seen here on TYO’s Flickr stream.


Mary is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.