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

Makin’ Groceries, Makin’ Friends!

In New Orleans, people refer to shopping as “making groceries.”  In Nablus they should just call it “making friends.” 

We execute grocery runs twice weekly for our intern abode.  In the past two and a half weeks, I’ve volunteered, been assigned, or otherwise just gone to the market at least a half dozen times already.  This is not unintentional.

Making groceries in Nablus is an exciting process.  First comes the phone call to our friendly driver Munir who appears out of nowhere in his always spotless taxi.  Hopping in Munir’s cab begins an adventure in culture, language and, well, friendship.  An enthusiastic teacher and overall personable man, Munir is quick to extend a greeting in Arabic, remembering my name ever since I offered it the first time we met.  From greetings, Munir gently eases the conversation forward, speaking slowly and clearly, always pushing the limits of my fledgling Arabic vocabulary.

The first stop on our tour de food is Sami’s fruit market.  Like Munir, Sami needn’t have met me more than a single time to greet me with a warm welcome from then on.  His smile is infectious and his warmth keeps the open-air shop cozy, at least in spirit if not temperature.  Before reaching for a bag, I reach first for Sami’s large and calloused hand that he inevitably extends across the counter.

For all I know, Sami’s perch is permanent, wedged tightly in a narrow passage between the counter, which holds the electronic scale, a fruit vendor’s sole instrument of necessity, and a row of canned goods behind.  Sami’s girth extends almost from counter to back wall, but, then again, so does his smile!

I bump around the small market with whomever is on grocery duty with me, collecting small green bags of fruits and vegetables, piling them on Sami’s counter.  When we are finished collecting, the tallying begins.  Having yet to start my formal Arabic lessons, I look for vocabulary wherever I can, and Sami’s checkout counter makes for a fantastic impromptu classroom.

Sami, like Munir, is a willing and able teacher.  As he gently sets a bag down on the scale, he asks me first to name the contents in English before sharing the Arabic counterpart.  Soon, hopefully, I’ll beat Sami to the punch, offering him the Arabic word before it passes his lips. . . though I might have to keep glancing at my hand scrawled cheat sheet for the next few weeks!

We hump two or three bulging bags of fresh and colorful produce across two busy streets to a little supermarket.  Walid, the proprietor, greets us with only the slightest grin which suits his dark mustache and always-black outfit well.  Unlike Sami, Walid is reserved, contained, calm, though equally helpful and undeniably kind.  When a can is just out of reach, Walid finds another that previously escaped my view.  A moment’s hesitation when looking at a shelf brings him quickly to my side for assistance.

When I eye a big white painters bucket filled with pickled peppers, Walid and his colleagues are all too eager to offer me one.  In part to satiate my obvious desire, and, likely, in part to see my eyes swell up at the incredible heat!  I don’t mind as I am usually offered a cooling pickle shortly after, but, not of course until the burn has already crept up to my forehead and down to my stomach!

From Walid we collect a half-week’s worth of dry and wet goods.  Milk, eggs, bread, lebneh, juice, pop, salty cheese, Corn Flakes (Nestle, not Kellogg’s, sorry Battle Creek), red beans, white beans, chick peas, canned full, and, my favorite, a half kilo of fresh ground espresso.  The later Walid does not carry but is happy to procure for us, sending his assistant out into the evening to fetch a small bag of this finely ground chocolate colored powder.  The coffee arrives a few minutes later, freshly ground, still warm in the bag.  Walid is sure to let everyone sample its warm aroma before dropping into our growing pile of goods on the counter.

Like at Sami’s, and anywhere else we use group money to make a purchase, a receipt is requested and made out by hand.  The Arabic words followed by unfamiliar numerals look like some sort of ancient poetry, written solely for our eyes!  In a way, it is.

By the time Walid begins drawing up our unique culinary poem, Munir has usually reappeared and begins loading our many bags into his trunk.  If we are late, he has no problem spending a few minutes exchanging words with the other men in the store.  His friendliness is clearly not reserved for TYO Interns only.

Back in his car, Munir inevitably asks where I would like to go.  I do my best to eek out “I will go to TYO,” in Arabic, the transliteration of which I won’t dare to try!  Driving slowly through the night, Munir approaches each turn cautiously, asking me what to do next.  “Left or right?” he implores and I do my best to respond, setting off a string of laughter from any other Arabic speakers in the car.  Munir does not chuckle, but sees to it that after a few attempts I’ve corrected, or at least mitigated, my pathetic pronunciation.

No, my language acquisition skills are nothing to write home about and picking up Arabic isn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But as for making friends here in Nablus, well, its about a easy as makin’ groceries!

– Adam

Adam is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: Learning to draw

While all of the other children started drawing and decorating self-portraits of themselves in the present and in the future, Mahmoud sat still staring absent-mindedly at the table filled with art supplies. His brother Ahmad tried to give him oil pastels and paper, but Mahmoud refused to take them. He exclaimed that he just wanted to sit and not draw anything, but something made me feel that there was some other reason Mahmoud did not want to draw.

Over the past few weeks, I had noticed that Mahmoud never picked up a marker or crayon voluntarily during free time drawing despite the wide variety of colors and choices. Even when he finally picked one up, he would often just hold it in his hand and not use it. This lack of interest in doodling or drawing baffled me considering the fact that he continued to come week after week to my Arts & Crafts class. He was a good student who always listened carefully during storytelling, helped clean up at the end of class and was generally in a good mood. Why did he not want to color and draw like the other children?

I sat down at the table next to Mahmoud and started drawing my own self-portrait in hopes that maybe that would encourage him to start drawing. When that failed, I called over my translator Waleed to see if he could ask him why he did not want to draw. Mahmoud responded, “I don’t know how to draw. I can’t do it.” I quickly said, “Anyone can draw! Here I will teach you. It’s all about experimenting and having fun.”

For the rest of the class period, Mahmoud happily drew portraits of himself in the present and portraits of himself in the future as a teacher. As I watched him, I started to think about his response to my earlier question. Before coming to TYO, Mahmoud probably did not have the chance to express himself creatively and as a result, he did not think that he could do so. With a little bit of encouragement and direction though, he was now a little artist in the making. As he came running up to me waving his artwork, I could not help but smile broadly at his newly discovered enthusiasm for drawing. “Mumtaz Mahmoud!”

– Hannah

Hannah is an intern at TYO Nablus this summer.

Intern Journal: The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

In my Moms English class last week, I called on one of my students to write five letters of the English alphabet on the board.  Until that point, class had been jubilant and energetic, filled with laughter, smiles, and supportive applause.  Many of my students know each other well, a fact made obvious by their constant embracing and excited chattering that is sometimes difficult to bring to an end.  They are joyful and effusive in class, and often communicate their affection for me by spontaneously declaring, “I love you!”  With so much positive energy around, it took me by surprise when the student I called to the board broke down in tears.

At first, it was hard for me to understand why she had started crying.  But later, when I learned more about her family situation, my perspective changed.  My student’s brother, like many other Nabulsi young men, is currently in an Israeli jail, and it is unclear when, if ever, he will be released.  Her father is unemployed and hasn’t been able to find work for many years.  Learning these facts about her life was a wake up call for me.  It reminded me that even though my students seem upbeat and light hearted overall, the reality of their circumstances, which is life under a military occupation, is stark.  Many of them have experienced hardships that I can only begin to imagine.

The ubiquity of suffering and loss among Nablus residents has been the most difficult aspect of life here for me to understand and process.  Almost every time I meet a new person, I learn that something horrible has happened to them.  One friend was imprisoned for three years at the age of 18; another saw his father killed before his eyes.  These stories always take me by surprise mostly because at first sight the people I meet seem so normal.  But life in a city whose walls are always plastered with posters to commemorate the newly dead is anything but normal.  I need to keep this in mind as I continue to get to know and try to be helpful to my students.  In light of the stresses of life here, such as the military bases that tower over the city from the mountains above or the regular ear-splitting roar of the military planes breaking the sound barrier overhead, it is not surprising that my student started crying in class.  Not knowing the letters in front of her fellow students was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.


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

Kalimatna’s Social Media Platform

Over the last few weeks, the Kalimatna team has been working on our presence in the wonderful world of social media. We created a page on the TYO blog where you can read more about our initiative, we began documenting our journey on flickr, and we created a Twitter feed!

While the overall goal of our project is to create a by‐youth, for‐youth multimedia kit to introduce the culture of Nablus to the world, our equally significant secondary goal is to engage an international audience in our journey. Entrez Twitter!

Twitter will allow us to share information about our work in Nablus with people beyond the city’s limits. We hope not only to imbue the image of Nablus with thoughtful and positive insights, but also to draw our audience closer to us, hold their attention and garner their support in order to improve our kit through intercultural and peer dialogue.

Kalimatna’s twitter feed will share news about our work, our journey, ourselves—our 140 character mini bios are already up–and our beloved city Nablus!

Please tweet with us @kalimatna to share your ideas about our work, our tweets and what you would like to learn about the culture and history of Nablus!

-Kalimatna Initiative

Ice Cream at 4:30 am, Sunrise at 5:00

The interns took some time off this weekend and traveled to Haifa for some much anticipated R&R. After taking a not-so-quick detour to Tel Aviv for the absolute best burger I have ever, in my entire life tasted (true story), we turned our rental cars north and headed to Haifa, a costal Israeli town in which both Israelis and Palestinians live. (Historically a predominantly Arab town, Arabs now make up about 33% of the population.) The following day, armed with some sleep and our faithful robo-tourist guide, intern coordinator Robyn Kbera (“Big” in Arabic and she is as tall as they get, folks), we saw the beautiful sites of ancient Akko (aka Acre). Akko has at one point been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, various caliphates, Bedouins, Crusaders, Ottomans, Mameluks, Brits, and Israel. While touring around what is now called the Citadel of Akko, we walked along (maybe among) Ottoman fortifications, built on top of Hospitaller and Crusader fortifications, which were later used as a prison for Jewish Zionists by the British during the British Mandate. Needless to say, for anyone at all interested in history, visiting Akko is a bit like being a kid in a candy store!

After inundating ourselves with history and old rocks, we rewarded ourselves with a seafood extravaganza, right along the shore and a nap back at the homestead. We were all pretty exhausted at that point, but also knew that the real highlight of the weekend was right around the corner- SUSHI! At around 8 p.m., we headed out and proceeded to drive all over downtown Haifa before our cabs could find the elusive sushi restaurant. Following our second seafood meal, a few of us were still not quite ready to call it a night. At around 4 a.m., a decision was made that when in Haifa…see the sunrise. So, following an early morning ice cream break, we saw the sun rise in Bat Galim over the heads of Israeli women and Arab boys out for an early morning swim. Ice cream at 4:30 a.m. and a sunrise at 5:00 a.m. was just about the perfect way to end our first day in Haifa.

Beautiful Akko
On the road
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Intern Journal: Impossible to prepare

Now that the first two weeks of the summer session have ended, it’s time to breathe. We had two weeks of intensive preparation for what we would face as summer teachers here at TYO, but nothing could prepare me for what I faced. Nothing could prepare Kelsey when a young boy brought a knife to her class. Nothing could prepare me for having to defer kids from my class because they were too old and there was only so much chaos I could handle in a classroom with two volunteers. Nothing could have prepared us.

But more surprising than the chaos piercing your ears while kids play with the parachute on the bottom floor or while I watch Maggie surrounded by screaming children running and playing games around during every session of her Summer Camp class was the love that has pierced us interns.

It is the look of calm love as Maggie smiles when children scream around her. It is the way Kelsey walks her six to eight-year-olds in a single line, holding their hands, to the buses after a three-hour class, slowing down to match their slower pace. It is the way Adam tries to childproof everything in the building to protect the children, from putting foam around sharp corners and sandpaper on the marble stairs to slow the children down as they run up and down the stairs. It is the way Doris seems to notice every time one of her 15 or more students seems remotely bored, tired or sad and how she always addresses it immediately with concern.

We have fallen in love with the smiles of these children, and it’s entirely thanks to the people that have helped keep this beautiful organization running whether it is by coming to work or volunteer at TYO, mentioning it to a friend, donating to the website, or even sending a link to family members of the blog. So, thank you.