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.


“3 for 5, for Obama!”—Strolling through the Old City and other first week exploits

To all my friends who scoffed at my choice of foreign language studies in university: four years of Arabic is finally paying off, big time.  In our capacity as teachers at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, we interns have ready access to translators and volunteers who help us to overcome language barriers in the classroom. Outside the center’s majestic walls, however, it is up to us to convey to the people of Nablus our thoughts, good will, and commitment to the community.  Pointing, smiling, and nodding can work wonders, but having a foundation in the language of the local community definitely enhances the cultural experience of living in Palestine.

Between strolling through the bustling old city souks and stopping to chat with storeowners, getting to know the women in my week one aerobics and computer classes, and just taking the time to admire the rolling hills from the sixth floor balcony, I’m quickly learning so much about the people here.
What strikes me the most about the Nabulsis is how welcoming and gracious they are: an hour’s stroll through the old city reveals how misguided many Americans are in their perceptions of Palestinian hospitality toward foreigners. Sure, while walking through the old city last week we interns got a fair share of curious stares, but that’s to be expected when you’re the only two blondes and redhead in the general vicinity.  As we proceeded past the aroma of spices, nuts, and Nabulsi kanafeh (yum!!) we were approached by several locals who wanted to welcome us to Nablus.  One particularly friendly owner of a nearby sweet shop stopped to introduce himself and to hand us each a little candy for the road. Perhaps the most amusing moment occurred as we passed by an older gentleman selling ka’ek by the road (ka’ek is a type of bread topped with sesame seeds): assuming correctly that we were Americans he exclaimed in Arabic: “3 [ka’ek] for 5 [shekels]…for Obama!”

As we meandered up the hills back toward the center, we stopped at a local supermarket to buy some pita bread (Arabic: khubez).  The owner was pleasantly surprised when he learned that I spoke Arabic and that my Mom’s family was originally from Jaffa. He then initiated a lively conversation about Jaffa’s famous oranges—best ones in the world apparently—and encouraged me to visit Yaffa before I returned to the States.  With a dry smile he remarked that Jaffa is a city to which he can never return but joked that he wouldn’t turn down an orange from there if I got the chance to go.  This exchange illustrates another noteworthy trait about Nabulsis and the Palestinians in general: they are among the most resilient people I have ever met.  The upbeat atmosphere at the old city markets, the pleasant exchanges between locals in the street, the hospitality of the women in my computer and aerobics classes such positivity in the face of constant adversity is truly inspiring.


Leila is an intern at TYO Nablus.

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.

On Being a Vegetarian in Nablus

“I know this is an odd question, but do you have to eat meat?” wrote a close friend of mine in response to an email I sent her about my experiences in Nablus.  As she once discovered on a previous trip abroad that we took together, traveling abroad as a vegetarian can be laden with all sorts of challenges, from finding the right balance of vitamins in a foreign diet to explaining one’s motivations for being a vegetarian in a culturally appropriate way.

In response to my friend’s question, no, Alhamdulillah, I have not had to eat meat at any point during my stay in Nablus.  On a day-to-day basis, it is not at all difficult to avoid meat, because my American colleagues and I buy our groceries ourselves, so we have a lot of control over what we eat.  We often take turns cooking dinner for one another, and they all know that I am vegetarian, so when one of my American colleagues cooks, he or she will let me know whether it contains meat and encourage me to eat it if it does not.

In fact, my American colleagues and I generally do not buy meat much at all, so on a day-to-day basis, all of us lead a near-vegetarian lifestyle.  It is not difficult to eat a meatless diet, because there is such a variety of good food here in Nablus.  Virtually all of the produce is grown locally inside of the West Bank, and whenever we want more exotic food items like soy milk or black beans, we head to our favorite supermarket in a mall on Rafidia Street that has imported products in stock.

When we go out to restaurants or community members’ houses, meat is available, but there are always plenty of vegetarian options as well.  On the day my fellow interns and I went olive-picking in Beit Furik, everyone else ate from the heaping platters of maqloubeh with chicken on top, but our host’s family surprised me with a special meatless version of the traditional Palestinian dish.  When my fellow interns and I joined our Kalimatna Initiative partners and classroom volunteers for a hike on the Abraham Path, we ate lunch at our guide’s family’s house, and once again, my hosts brought me a special plate laden with rice, yogurt, salad, pickles, and all sorts of vegetarian food.

I was fairly bowled over by those two experiences, because in the past and under different circumstances, I have frequently found myself having to pick around the meat dishes and make do with some rather unsatisfying side dishes.  However, I have found the reverse to be true in Nablus.  Rather than letting me fend for myself, my Palestinian hosts have often gone to great lengths to give me the choicest meal of all!  I think the key is just letting them know of my dietary considerations beforehand, and from there, their incredible Palestinian hospitality kicks in.

Initially, I was rather surprised by such a willingness to accommodate me, because vegetarianism is a very foreign concept in Palestine.  Although most of the Palestinians to whom I have mentioned that I am vegetarian are often rather surprised about it, they have all been very respectful of my choice.   Over the past 14 years in which I have made the conscious decision to be a vegetarian, I have learned to steel myself for a barrage of hard-pressing questions from Americans and foreigners alike, but all of my Palestinian acquaintances who have chosen to question me about my vegetarianism have done so in a tactful way.

One such time when my vegetarianism was an object of curiosity was before dinner at the house of my aerobics class translator, Hanin.  Her family was curious to know why I did not eat meat, and after I had uttered a sentence or two explaining why I am a vegetarian, my translator summed up my words in Arabic, announcing in a definitive fashion that I “take pity on the animals.”  Her family nodded sympathetically, signally no further explanation was necessary, and we eagerly headed to the dinner table to start eating.


Julie is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: First impressions of Nablus

“I can’t believe I’m really here.”

This line was repeated, in some variation, by all four of us interns in the first few days upon arriving in the city of Nablus. In a way, it was understandable–we were in Palestine, a place we hear so much about on the news, but that most of us had not had the chance to visit in person until now. Many of our family and friends were apprehensive about our trip here, and it just seemed so surreal to actually be in the West Bank after so many weeks of planning and preparation in the U.S.

My first night at TYO, I walked onto the balcony of the center and saw a spectacular view–rows of houses, mosques, commercial districts, mountains, and the noise of traffic and kids playing in the evening before a weekend. Over the next few days, we would tour the Old City, eat delicious shawarma and desserts, meet the local TYO staff, and become acquainted with the kindness and generosity of the people of Nablus.

Upon touring the Old City, we saw busy markets that had been re-developed and rebuilt over the past decade, now that conflict had receded. As I walked, places that had once been damaged or destroyed were pointed out to me. Many of these walls and buildings still hold reminders of how different things were just a few years ago. I wondered what it must have been like to live in an area of such conflict, especially as a child, and the importance of TYO’s work became apparent to me.

After years of hardship, Nablus is once again a bustling city with plenty to do, eat and see. One thing that continues to strike me about Nablus is how important family is to people here, both outwardly and more personally. I rarely see a child that is not being kissed, held or cuddled by an adult. The bonds of friendship and family are certainly strong here–but people are more than willing to extend their graciousness to people outside of their family as well. On one of our first days at TYO, we had lunch with the TYO staff, which was filled with singing, dancing and of course, plenty of getting to know one another. Although some of us are monolingual, so many of our interactions transcended the need for language. A warm greeting or smile was enough to extend hospitality or accept being welcomed.

Of course, any mention of Nablus wouldn’t be complete without speaking about food. We unanimously declared that the food, desserts and fruit juices were “unbelievable,” and that none of us would have to worry about not being well-fed during our stay in the West Bank.

Every day, it becomes a little less surreal to be here, in Palestine, in the West Bank, in Nablus. As we develop friendships with people in the city and begin to gain our footing on what Nablus has to offer, we feel more and more a part of the community. Of course, sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment or a lull in daily activity for that “I can’t believe I’m here” feeling to come rushing back. I personally hope that this feeling never completely goes away, as I think it would be a shame for me to forget, even for a moment, how lucky I am to be here.

– Ashwini

Ashwini is a Fall Intern at TYO Nablus.

First TYO Exhibit Opens at the NCM’s Launch Zone

On Saturday, January 25th TYO’s first exhibit at the Launch Zone of the National Children’s Museum opened to a crowd of nearly 300 people. The exhibit featured images and narratives highlighting the children of Nablus and their thoughts and feelings on traditional Palestinian food. “The exhibit itself is a fantastic anchor for all that happens in the Launch Zone and between the communities in the DC area and those in Nablus. I had a great time at the celebration and it was really good to see so many kids and families deeply engaged in the experience,” said NCM Director of Partnerships Mark Wright.

The exhibit also included several hands-on activities such as writing a postcard to the children of TYO, learning about the spices used in Nablus, and learning to spell your name in Arabic with the help of three volunteers from The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Throughout the celebration, visitors were encouraged to sample an array of Palestinian foods like grape leaves and manakish. and they enjoyed performances by George Mason University’s Dabkeh Dance Troupe!

Mickey Bergman, Director of the US-Palestinian Partnership at the Aspen Institute really enjoyed the interactive aspect of the exhibit. He said, “It is a great way to engage the kids in fun activities while exposing them and familiarizing them with elements of a culture they would otherwise feel foreign towards.”

Here in Nablus, we are thrilled that those of you in DC were able to experience a taste of our lives. We look forward to continuing to bridge the gap bring Nablus and the DC area through engaging and interactive art exhibits thanks to our partnership with the NCM.

A special thank you to Mariel, our illustrious US-based intern, and Lisa Hershey of the NCM for the wonderful photos of the event!

TYO Nablus debuts in Washington DC!

We’re so excited about TYO Nablus’s debut at the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone! We are sorry not to be able to bring the whole team, and the kids themselves to share their city, food and artwork. But 2 TYO interns, Mariel and Nachel will be at the opening on Saturday, January 23, and we hope a whole lot of you!

The NCM team is prepped and ready, after a lesson on Palestinian food and spices with Barbara Petzen, Education Director at the Middle East Policy Council. They learned how to make stuffed grape leaves, or waraq einab – one of our favorite Nabulsi dishes (at left)! And also got to sample kanafe: the world-renowned and delicious Nabulsi sweet, made of sheep’s cheese, semolina and abundant honey.

George Mason University’s Dabkeh Dance Troupe is putting the final touches on their performance for tomorrow afternoon (at noon, 1 and 2 pm). Check out  sneak preview of their awesome skills on YouTube!

And our kids and staff are waiting eagerly here in Nablus for photos of the event, first-hand reports from NCM staff, and of course: postcards from you and your kids written back to us in reaction to the exhibit!

Enjoy, and sahtain (Arabic for ‘bon appetit’)!