Diving Headfirst into Summer

The Core Program revitalized the building here in Nablus last week. The voices, cheer, excitement, and sheer wonder breathed air into the lungs of TYO. Their arrival marks only the beginning of our summer programming, however. This week, we’re back in rhythm and jumping right into a full schedule of classes and projects.

Of course, we’ve got a whole bunch of fresh faces in the building. A new crop of great interns has arrived, and having spent the past ten days or so orienting and acclimating, eyes wide and ears open, the seven of them are ready for business. They are eager and rearing to get started, teaching a wide scope of courses from nutritious cooking and women’s fitness to photography and critical thinking. They’re a diverse and talented group about to set off on an amazing journey. It looks to be another great session.

Today, we launched the first of our summer Field Days, effectively taking the TYO show on the road and out into the neighborhoods of the people we have served here at the TYO Center for the past three and a half years. Pulling together a dream team of sorts, including Core Program teachers, international interns, staff members, and university-student volunteers, we’ll be traveling throughout the summer to all the refugee camps of Nablus (as well as the Old City) to offer two hours of fun programming, every Monday, for all those children that might not be fortunate enough to attend TYO from week to week. The first day at Askar Refugee camp was great fun, allowing us to reach nearly two hundred new children and spread the TYO message far and wide.

In June, six university students from Students of the World (SOW) will join us in Nablus.  Their national team, volunteer film crew, comprised of members from universities across the United States, will spend a month with us in Nablus, documenting our new activities and foundational programs. (Check it out: SOW’s NYU chapter spent June 2009 with us and produced this wonderful video.) We are absolutely thrilled to have SOW back in the building.

The TYO-MEPI literacy program completed five trainings this month on a variety of topics, including Scholastic’s My Arabic library, leadership, volunteerism, education, and civic engagement. The program’s volunteer corps grew by an additional fifteen local volunteers and seven international interns. This summer, they will teach 220 children (ages 6 -12) how to read.

Triple Exposure is snapping away, homework help is packed four days a week, and the Midnight Football League is rocking out three nights a week. The soccer league added in two new age groups, including a mix-gendered league for the seven to ten year-olds of Khallet al-Amood. Maybe the next Mia Hamm is in our midst…

Busy times here in Nablus! And following all our May planning, it feels great to have the beating heart of the community back  in the building.


The spaces between hello and goodbye

The spring session came to a swift end (I suppose that is always how things end, isn’t it? No slow-mo montages like in the movies, no lengthy, profundity-laced embraces accompanied by a melodramatic musical score), a whirlwind of goodbyes, celebrations both happy and melancholic, early morning flights back stateside, and a constant reaching and searching for words that would always be inadequate in describing what the past three months have meant to us all. The world keeps on spinning without asking our approval, and we all have to roll on with it. Such is a reality no philosopher or theologian or clever songwriter has satisfyingly retorted or provided an alternative course of action for. However, even though time and space shifts for one and all alike, no matter where we go or what we do, I think I can speak for all the spring interns in saying that our time together with TYO Nablus will bond us indelibly, both to one another and to this city. It was a wonderful time, a foundational time.

Pardon me, the reverie and reflection, yet I want to convey just what the program at TYO has come to mean to those who have passed through. Seminal might be a good word. So thank you, for everyone that has made this program possible.

As for the here and now, well, I’m back to Nablus for another few months to help with the launching of our summer camp. Being back in town also means I can continue the Midnight Football League that Adam and I organized over March and April.

For the summer, we will be expanding the program to new age groups, starting a youth academy for the young lads and lasses just getting their feet wet in the sport, and also opening up the senior league to as many new recruits as Khallet al-Amood can provide us. I can’t wait to get started, and will be sure to keep you all informed of the league’s comings and goings via these posts, new photos, and even video footage. Action will kick off again this week.

Oh, and big ups to Bayern Munich for winning the Cup Championship two weeks ago! Great leadership from their captain Ameed Bawab set the tone, and they delivered quality performance after quality performance across the tournament. Congratulations should also be extended to Arsenal for winning the League Championship (best Regular season record) and to Sameh Kharoshe for taking home the League’s Golden Boot award (top scorer).

I’ll be writing again soon. Until then, folks, stay fly.

– Colin

Colin is a former intern and currently the Youth Camp Coordinator.

Hip Hop at TYO!

What better way to celebrate the last day of classes than with a performance by the hip-hop dance troupe Dar Al-Fonon from Nablus’s Old Askar Refugee Camp.  Participants in both the Core and Intern Program classes were treated to a multi-faceted show that began with sketch comedy and ended in full blown dance off between the members of Dar Al-Fonon and some of the Volunteer Program’s braver, or at least less self-conscious, participants!

As many TYO’s attendees come from the refugee camps of Nablus, it was doubly thrilling for students who recognized the dancers from their community.  It was furthermore exciting to see a particularly familiar face in the hip-hop project as one of the members is an all-star player for Lyon in the emerging Nablus Premier League.

Sure, our class party was cut a bit short, but with the way my Fifth Graders swung to the music, I can’t imagine a better way to sign off the Spring 2011 semester!

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.