Alumna Post: Palestinian Food in Maryland!

TYO Internship Alumnae Ashwini and Julie at Julie’s home in Maryland

After spending three months interacting closely with the community of Nablus during my internship with TYO, I was eager to share some of what I had gained from my time in Nablus with my own community back home in the Washington, DC area.  When my parents offered to throw me a homecoming party, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to enjoy time with my friends and their families while sharing with them one of the best parts of Nablus: its cuisine.

I decided to prepare a variety of my favorite Palestinian dishes from scratch, taking inspiration from both home-cooked meals I had tasted in Nablus and dishes from my favorite restaurant in Rafidia.  I had scheduled the party for a date falling smack-dab in the holiday vacation season, so I was not sure many of my guests would be able to make it, but I was thrilled to get RSVPs from nearly all of them, including my guest of honor: fellow TYO intern Ashwini.

My concern quickly became not whether anyone would show up but instead how I was going to single-handedly prepare a massive Palestinian buffet for over 20 guests.  Nevertheless, I remembered with gratitude and awe how my many Palestinian hosts had managed to churn out heaping platter after platter of food for their visitors.  After a full day of non-stop cooking, I managed to finish up the last dish just minutes before the guests started to pour in.

My guests were delighted by the food I had prepared, including both familiar dishes like hummus and tabbouleh and ones that are less commonly served in the United States, such as maqloubeh, mujaddareh, and those delicious fruit cocktails from Fekhfekhina.  A few guests were able to draw parallels between Palestinian cuisine and the cuisines of other Mediterranean cultures; one of my neighbors who had spent time abroad in Greece was familiar with mujaddareh and was surprised to learn that it is also a traditional Palestinian dish.  A number of my guests insisted that I send them the recipes so that they could try their hand at making some of the dishes themselves.

As I discovered in Nablus, mealtime has a way of whetting not only one’s appetite for food but also for conversation.  Once my guests had satiated their curiosity about Palestinian cuisine, they began to ask Ashwini and me questions about other aspects of Palestinian life.  I talked at length about my classes and how rewarding they had been for both me and the students who had participated in them.  I also described my experience piloting conversational English classes at An-Najah National University and having my students correspond with Hemal, a medical student at the University of Maryland who was also present at the party.

In addition to their questions about my experience at TYO, several guests were interested in hearing my general impressions of circumstances on the ground in the West Bank.  In some cases, they were better able to relate to my experiences thanks to their exposure to relevant news stories.  In other respects, they found that the personal experiences I was conveying to them shattered the expectations they had formed on the basis of media exposure.

At the end of the evening, I was glad to have filled my house with delicious food and delightful company, but I was even more fulfilled to have had the opportunity to share my love of, concern for, and insight into Nablus with so many of those whom I deeply care about.

– Julie

Julie interned at TYO Nablus during the Fall 2010 Session. She taught Women’s Aerobics and Girls’ Dance at TYO and English at An Najah University. Julie is currently based in Maryland.


Nablus through the eyes of her children

Photo by Majd from Khallet al-Amood

The young photographers and artists who attended TYO’s “Triple Exposure” classes this fall are proud to present to you their depictions of what it means to be a Palestinian child living in Nablus. As you take some time to reflect at the end of the year, pause and take a look at the lives of these children, framed through the images they have chosen to present to you. Attend a birthday party, kick around a football on the streets of the refugee camp, hang out in the family store, spend time with grandma — we encourage you to get to know these children whom we have had the privilege of teaching, playing with, and learning from over the past three months. You will soon fall in love with them and their families, just as we did.

The photographs taken by Abrar, Noor, Yaseen, Mohammed, and many more are now available for viewing on the Triple Exposure website, under “student artwork.” Below is a shot of the mural the young artists painted this fall, with more photos to follow!

The fourth mural produced by the kids of Triple Exposure!

— Doris, Project Coordinator

“Triple Exposure” is a TYO initiative that aims to develop identity, awareness, and vocational skills among children and adolescents through teaching photographic expression and the production of public art.

FWEN Video: Nehaya Shares Her Training Experience in Cairo

FWEN Participant Nehaya received an enormous opportunity when she was selected to participate in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women “Women Entrepreneurs and Leadership” Certificate Program at the American University of Cairo. Along with other female entrepreneurs from Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine, Nehaya participated in this five-week training program to gain in-depth knowledge in operations management, finance, and human resources, among many other topics. Watch this video to hear Nehaya talk about her favorite parts of the 10,000 Women training and what she gained from the experience.

The Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus (FWEN) program is co-sponsored by Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, with support from the Small Enterprise Center in Ramallah.

FWEN Video: Aya Presents Her Business Plan

FWEN participant Aya plans to become the first woman in Palestine to own her own sheep farm. She is full of ambition and has been hard at work on her business plan during the past year, gaining experience and confidence from the FWEN training sessions. Watch the video below for a chance to hear Aya speak about her business and her dreams for the future.

The Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus (FWEN) program is co-sponsored by Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, with support from the Small Enterprise Center in Ramallah.

Walking in Balata Refugee Camp

We unexpectedly had the Islamic New Year off on Tuesday. My Drama class volunteers, Ayham and Yazid, also unexpectedly invited me to spend some time with them Tuesday afternoon. Both Yazid and Ayham are from the refugee camps of Nablus. Ayham is from Balata and Yazid is from Askar. They asked me if I wanted to spend the afternoon with them in Balata. I eagerly agreed since I only had entered the camp once before and saw little of my volunteers outside of class. Balata is the West Bank’s largest refugee camp and is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world with over 23,000 registered refugees living in 0.25 sq. km. It is also one of the areas that suffered the most during the Second Intifada with constant curfews and incursions by the Israeli army (IDF). This knowledge braced me for what I was to see and hear on my trip.

The taxi dropped me off in front of the entrance to Balata. Ayham and Yazid greeted me there with their friends who also wanted to meet me. The air was finally starting to chill in what has been a surprisingly warm prelude to winter, so we were quick to start moving. They began by walking me down the main street of the camp often referred to as the ‘Souk’ or the ‘Market.’ The street was not wider than a one-way street in New York City and it was filled with people. The barbershops, falafel restaurants, butcher shops and grocery stores had a constant flow of potential customers streaming before them in the late afternoon. We navigated our way through the crowd, occasionally greeting friends of Ayham, and made our way to what Ayham informed me was the center of the camp.

The experience of walking through the center of the camp was a profoundly weird one. The idea of a camp does not adequately represent what I was witnessing. A more accurate word to describe the physicality of what I saw would be slum. There was a sense of awkward and inhibited permanence about the infrastructure. The architecture itself illuminates the history of the camp. The land the camp was built on is actually rented on a 99-year lease from Palestinian farmers negotiated by UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It started as a tent city and eventually evolved into concrete housing on the same plots each family had for their tents.

From that point, they wanted me to see the alleyways that split off from the main street. There was originally one street that the tents lined up against. As the population grew the camp expanded away from this main street. What this led to was a serious of maze like alleyways that now lead to houses. The alleyways are so narrow at points that one has to walk sideways through them. Windows on these alleyways have views of the concrete wall of neighboring houses only two or three feet away. Despite the fact that it was still daylight outside these alleys were remarkably dark. This was not a walk for the claustrophobic.

The walls were often lined with bullet holes. The limited sanitation system meant that waste filled some of the streets, and a stench occupied the air. This was especially true when we arrived at the small park that doubled as a garbage dump, where I was told the children play soccer because there is no space elsewhere in the camp.

We finally arrived at Ayham’s house and ate a wonderful meal of kafta. Afterwards we enjoyed some shisha and tea, while having discussions about a variety of topics, from politics, to life in America, to our studies, to life in Balata. With the exception of only one of Ayham’s friends, who was an Arabic Literature Major, everyone studied English literature so I was able to communicate with them in English.

Typical of Palestinian households, Ayham made sure I was more than adequately full and caffeinated before I was allowed to leave his home.  I also had an impromptu Debka lesson at the very end, when I expressed my desire to learn. The warmth of the hospitality lingered as I stepped out into the chilly night. We continued walking through the camp some more and came back to the Souk. I was told this area of the camp experienced particular hardship during the intifada and suffered the most damage. Now the street was even more crowded than the afternoon. Old men walked in their patient pace, while children scurried around them under the store lights.

As we neared the end of the street we came across a funeral procession going in the opposite direction. A coffin surrounded by men who took turns holding death above their shoulders, floated along with their hurried march. We stepped to the side and respected the riveting silence. There was no apparent sadness in the eyes of most of these men. Only a clear sense of duty and direction, emanated from them. I was not left empty after witnessing the sight. Instead I was comforted. Life goes on in Balata camp. Its people live with a collective and resilient strength while bearing its hardships. I left with a renewed sense of duty in my own work with the children of the camps. I also left with the comfort of knowing that the friendships I have made here will last longer than this winter.

– Samee

Samee is an intern at TYO Nablus.


Dancing Bollywood in Nablus

When I told my students that next week I would be teaching them a Bollywood dance, a squeal of excitement went through the room—from the girls, but also surprisingly from my college-age volunteers!  Last Thursday, I  taught a dance to the song “Kajra re” from the Bollywood hit Bunty aur Babli.

At the front of the class, I suddenly realized I had never taught a dance before!  I hoped that I would be able to explain what I was doing, given that I was giving instructions through a translator.  I demonstrated the dance to my students, and they were obviously excited.  But first, I told them about the basics:  “Did I look sad, or happy?  Have you ever seen a Bollywood actress look sad while she was dancing?”  “NO!” they said emphatically.  “Right, so the most important thing to remember is to smile!  Even if you make a mistake, make it with a smile on your face and no one will notice,” I reassured them.  Then I asked, “Did I look scared, or did I look brave?”  They unanimously agreed that I looked brave and confident dancing.  I stressed that Bollywood dancers are not shy, and that they should move with confidence, even if they are unsure of what they are doing.  Finally, I asked, “What is the most important part of your body in Bollywood dancing?  Your hips!”  A whole lot of hip-shaking commenced, practicing for what was to come.

With the basics down, I started teaching them the steps.  I broke down moves into smaller pieces—first, just the arms, then adding the legs.  We learned short sections, put them together with other sections, practiced without the music and then added the music, and utilized many other strategies for learning dance.  I quickly found that it is much easier to count beats in English than in Arabic—the multi-syllabled Arabic numbers (“wahad, ithnen, thalatha!”) are a mouthful and even my students chose to count in English.

Through sheer determination, we got through the entire minute and a half of choreography, and had enough time at the end of class to do the dance together as a group several times with the music.  After I heard the bell ring and dismissed class, there was a hum of excitement and activity in the room that seemed to defy the Thursday afternoon exhaustion that usually sets in.  My students wanted to know where they could find the “Kajra re” song, and my volunteers, normally in a hurry to get home before dark, stayed late to take photos and tell me how much they enjoyed learning the dance.  It was a great way to finish the course—with only one week left, we have built the level of trust, comfort, and self-confidence needed to jump into a hip-shaking Bollywood routine and for everyone in the room to commit to learning it 100%.  As I put the chairs and tables back after everyone left, I thought about how it would have been nearly impossible to get my students to dance in front of each other in one of our first class sessions—and today they eagerly undertook it with such a lack of self-consciousness that it made me proud to see how far we have come.  And now that I have seen how much Nabulsis love Bollywood, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should have a full-term Bollywood dance course for TYO youth!  Hmm…

– Ashwini

Ashwini is an intern at TYO Nablus.

The Kalimatna Initiative Presents “This is Nablus!”

Over the course of 2010, seven American and three Palestinian youth worked together to document the city of Nablus through photography and videos of the people, places and things that make it special. The following  multimedia presentation is the final result of the Kalimatna project.

Check out “This is Nablus!” on Prezi!


The Kalimatna Initiative, meaning “our words” in Arabic, is a youth-led cultural diplomacy project whose goal is to introduce the culture of Nablus, Palestine, to the world.