One last look at our Olive Tree

We left Palestine in the end of August, after spending the whole summer there. One of the first blog posts we ever wrote, was a summary of our fears and expectations. Back then, we gathered them in an olive tree, where the expectations were on the ground, waiting to move up the trunk of the tree as they (hopefully) would be fulfilled. The fears we visualized in dark clouds overshadowing our tree.

Now it has been more than a month since we sat on our separate flights, crying silently, as we left the Middle Eastern soil. For both of us, the process continued internally. You can not just leave such an experience and go back to your other life as if nothing happened. We finally took the courage to revisit the Olive Tree of Expectations, talked a lot on the phone (yes, we have a long distance relationship now!), and debriefed a lot.

What can be said about the initial tree of expectations is that it was indeed a good way of capturing the thoughts we had in the beginning of our time in Dheisheh. However, we clearly had little idea of what the summer was actually going to be like, and how deep this experience would touch us and stay with us.

In this post-Palestine blog post, we have hence changed our tree! The expectations from the first version have been moved upwards to the degree we feel they were fulfilled. The closer to the sky – the more fulfilled. The fears have gone from just a cloud to a sunny cloud if we were lucky enough to avoid them, and from just a cloud to a thunderstorm if we unfortunately were right in our predictions. We are sharing both the original tree, as well as the updated one to show what happened.

The olive tree pictures are then followed by our individual reflections.olives

Our first tree, that we initially posted on the blog back in June.

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And our updated tree, where the leaves have moved and clouds have changed.


 

TEA

Staying in Palestine for 2,5 months gave me so much more that I could ever expected. It opened new horizons, raised new questions, brought even a lot of different frustrations and it has challenged me more than I was able to predict, when I was leaving to this new world.

I learned a lot. Mostly because of living in a refugee camp, that really allowed to experience a bit of the life of Palestinians in this area. We have met really a lot of people, with different experiences- not only people in our camp and at work, but also people who lived in cities, like Ramallah, Nablus and even people who live on the other side – in Israel. And for sure one thing, that apply to all Palestinians is that they want to share; they tell their stories, stories of their family, of their past, their fears and their thoughts how they see the future. Sometimes it was so overwhelming hearing this, sometimes I couldn’t’ hold my tears, I had a choke in my throat and many times, I couldn’t’ find the words to reply. I would say that from this interaction, I learned the most- not only about them, but also about myself. Through their stories I have been exploring my own perceptions, reflection on my reactions and trying to figure out, what I think about all this.

In all this, language really wasn’t a problem. Many people spoke English. But I do wish I would learn more Arabic- at least for every day phrases, for greeting people, asking them how are they, being able to express basic things.
Most of the words I have learnt are connected to the food. We ate an amazing food and I would say food is really important part of their culture. It tells a lot about women there and how they are in charge for making the food and how – of course-it has to be done in their own traditional way. When Ida and me were preparing some “European food” they still prefered their food and their way of preparing it. I guess it’s really an important part of their tradition and this is something that matters a lot.

I guess I did learn a lot about the political situation there. For sure I know much more than I did before, but this also opened so many other questions that are still not answered. About their culture, perception and then also about why things are as they are. And many times, when I was asking this and pointing out how some of the things are not logical, they are unfair, they don’t make any sense, or are against the basic rules and are even violating human rights… I got the answer “We stopped asking why.” Many times they are powerless- not only in acting, but also in explaining and providing reasonable answer. Because so many things there doesn’t make any sense.

I saw a lot of bad things. Situations that are not fair, a lot of violence, people in distress, consequences of occupation that cuts into every aspect of life.
Israeli soldiers there are coming to the camp almost every night, looking for young boys to arrest them. This include shootings on the streets, gas bombs, sounds bombs. Palestinian boys are throwing rocks at them, which seems ridiculous, considering how armed the soldiers are. But after spending some time there and facing this, you start understanding the reasons, why they are doing this, no matter how useless can it seems. Maybe because they will never give up, maybe because they need to fight with whatever they have, maybe because of despair, maybe because they are teenagers and they are rebellious… or maybe because they don’t have much to lose anyway. They call it a “Tom and Jerry game” –never-ending chasing each other, provocations and humiliations.
Adolescence kids are taken to jail, being locked up for months even without trials. With harsh restrictions and limited possibilities for their parents and family to visit them. Sometimes when people are hit, the soldiers don’t let the ambulance to enter the camp and help them. Many boys limp, because they have been shot in the leg. Sometimes some of them die. They become a “shaheed” –martyr. Their pictures are being put all over the camp, the house of a martyr is being decorated, everything in the camps stops, shops are closed and the atmosphere change.

In all this, you really feel you have no rights, you feel powerless. Sometimes I felt sad, then angry, pissed-off, confused, scared, shocked…
And then I even started normalising this. Because it happened so often, that you cannot even be surprised anymore. Because in the meantime life goes on- you go to work, you play games in the cultural centre, you go to a wedding, you celebrate birthdays, you enjoy time with your friends and family.
And then- mostly in the night- you realise again, that this is not normal. That this kind of living is not normal, because you’re confused how you were actually having a pretty nice day, but at the same time there is shooting happening in front of your home.

So based on all those experience, I can say that also my biggest fears came true. The political situation there is not pleasant, I faced violence and too many times I felt despair, powerless and frustrated. And this feelings haven’t left, although I have left Palestine.

It is impossible to explain, that even because of this whole unpleasant and insecure situations that I was facing living in the camp, at the same time, I felt most safe in the camp. This was my home. And even though they broke into our home and violated my safe space, they didn’t managed to break down this feeling. Because the feeling of home and of feeling safe and being able to enjoy days and experience so many nice and amazing things, was created by people around me- because of them, their openness and their generosity. In this place, regardless of the situation, most of the times I felt amazing.

And this is just another example, how complex this whole Palestinian experience is for me.

I don’t think I contributed a lot and I constantly feel bad because of this. I don’t know what concretely could I do there, to shake away this feeling and what would make me feel better. But I wish I could do more. It is unbearable knowing what I know now, having this experience and trying to live my “old life” now. And this is why my Palestinian experience is not over yet. It is continuing every day, going beyond that 70 days I spent there.

IDA

The main expectations I had when starting my Palestinian adventure was to learn, and to grow. I wanted to learn about the culture, the people and the surroundings. When I think back, I feel like there are still more questions than answers. This summer opened my eyes for the Arab world and for Palestine in particular, but I feel like I could spend years there and still come home and tell my friends that it is a confusing place. Maybe this is the charm? I think it was important for me to come home to rainy Denmark for a month, to really be able to reflect on the experience and how it shaped me.

I came to Palestine, or more precisely to Dheisheh refugee camp, with an open and curious mindset and not so much knowledge about the conflict. I think I lived in a bubble where I thought I knew some of the history of the region, but looking back, I had no idea. I did not know in practical terms what it entails to live a life (for generations) under occupation. I did not know what it means to live a life where you are completely powerless. This feeling that the life of yourself, your family and your friends are not in your own hands, but in the hands of an external entity with machine guns, this is a bit fucked up. You can’t even control your water. You can’t go to the beach. This summer gave me an insight into the very local Dheisheh life, which is not really representative of life of all Arabs, or all Palestinians. The camp life is different in many ways. It is unstable, it’s unfair and it’s sometimes radical. Still, when I go back to the Westbank, I don’t see myself staying anywhere else.

This morning I read the newspaper at my breakfast table. I saw an announcement of a study trip to “Israel/Palestine”. Lately, I really started disliking this label. Often this place is referred to as a two-sided conflict between two state-like entities that just can’t get along. Israel/Palestine is not a place guys, and framing it like this doesn’t say anything about how unbalanced and multileveled the situation really is. I am aware that my perception of this place is a biased one. To every story there are different angles, and this summer gave me an insight into one of them. To this specific story however, I engaged fully and with my whole mind and heart.

Culturally, I think I could be an Arab. At least we have the same concept of time and the same taste in food (minus the meat). The first thing I did however, when returning to Denmark, was to open a beer. Now, looking back at the non-alcohol culture and the crazy music and dancing I do appreciate it a lot. What I will never understand however, is how Arabs can drink their coffee at midnight. Culturally, this summer was an amazing learning experience. Living so closely with other people, with thin walls and no privacy, really gave us the opportunity to dive into another reality culturally.

One of the most amazing things about the Arab world is the language. It’s so old and so colorful and it reflects to depth and the beauty of the culture. Even if the local slang we learnt doesn’t support us in understanding ancient poetry for me it did spark an interest that I had to engage with. Back home, I signed up for a basic course in Syrian Arabic, which I am now attending every Monday evening. Syrian Arabic is apparently a nice and soft dialect, and similar to what is spoken in Palestine. In class I realized I feel very emotionally connected to the words that I learnt in the camp. For sure Damascus Arabic is more user friendly, but Dheisheh slang is closer to my heart.

Before coming to Palestine I also had fears about this experience, mainly related to violence. I think there are things in that environment that no human should ever have to experience. However, if this is your daily life, you find a way to live through it. Palestinians are tough. Not because it is some pre-existing personality trait they all have since birth, but because they have to. And sometimes, you need to find ways to enjoy life and have fun regardless of all the dark clouds that surround you.
I actually don’t think we really saw a lot of direct violence. Sometimes however, just to threat of violence and the constant fear is even worse. Mentally, it’s always there.
I didn’t expect to be so affected by the nightly raids. I hated them, but I slept well most of the nights. Back home, loud sounds still freak me out, and make me mad, even after a month.

We also feared not being included in the community. For me, this was a reflection of being a foreigner, not speaking the language and of being a woman. I think we were very lucky. We ended up with people who welcomed us with open arms, introduced to their families and made us feel like home. I don’t think we were ever fully integrated, and some things related to family-planning, marriage and gender roles, I could never fully adapt, but the fact is that Dheisheh is my Middle Eastern safe-space and home, and I will go back. For sure, the best part about this whole experience were the people. Shukran everyone.

I had a beautiful summer. I learnt so many things, I saw so many places and I got to know so many cool people. I laughed a lot, I slept good and I felt like I was doing the right thing. There are so many stories and memories that are waiting to be told! Still, when someone asks me about the experience I never have time to come to this. I get stuck at soldiers, fucked-upness and hopelessness. I don’t know why it happens. I don’t know why I can’t speak about knafeh or the games that we played with the kids in the street or how me and Tea ended up dancing with the bride at that wedding. Instead, I still have this urge to tell people around me about the occupation and how hard it is to live normally under it. Somehow, this is just a small part of it all. Palestine is so much more than misery! I don’t think it’s possible to go there, and not fall in love with the place.

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Youth in different environments!

One of the reasons we came to Palestine and chose to do the EVS in CDCE-I is because we also wanted to use our experience as trainers in Europe and contribute to the capacity building of young people that the organisation here works with. We had our small taste of this already before, but this time, we went all in and fully designed, prepared and delivered our own training!

We had free hands, but after learning a lot about the community and its’ needs, combined with our own knowledge and experience, the non-formal education training we designed was entitled: The role of youth in different environments – Europe and Palestine.Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 22.34.34What we did!

We started out by discussing the role of youth in society more on a conceptual level. This was done through an exercise where participants had to define themselves in relation to their parents, to their grandparents, to children and to Europeans. We followed up by another exercise (electioneering), where they had to place themselves on a scale from “agree” to “disagree” as answers to statements we read out. This exercise showed that “youth is a thing”, but young people still have different needs internally and disagree on many issues.

Outcomes shows how youth see themselves in correlation with other groups – how they are different from children, parents, elderly people/grandparents how they think they are different from young people in Europe.

We then moved on to stereotypes. In one exercise, the participants’ own bias was tested with the aim to show that stereotypes is something we all have, sometimes subconsciously. After this, participants had to define what stereotypes and assumptions they face as young people in Palestine. How do their teachers, parents and decision makers see them? A discussion followed on how these stereotypes can prevent their participation.

The next day we started with sharing stories from Europe. Participants learnt about youth unemployment in Spain and Roma discrimination in Slovakia – but more importantly –  about several amazing initiatives done by young people around the continent! After this, they had to define the challenges they face themselves as Palestinian youth, especially in regards to education, employment and opportunities for spending free time. The last paper was open for any other challenges they want to point out, either the challenges related directly to youth, or challenges in the society in general.

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At the end, and as a conclusion of the training, participants discussed what opportunities they have to work for change and created messages they want to spread and share.

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The final evaluation showed that participants were happy with the training and found it beneficial. Some of them found it inspiring and could see how to use what they learnt in the future.20915295_10154906259677957_1105508148402602120_n

What we learnt!

For us, this whole experience was amazing. More than anything, this was a learning experience for us.  We learned a lot; how to be flexible with the time, as here punctuality is not really a norm, how to use methods suitable for everyone, how to overcome language barriers and of course, how to do a training with young people who live under occupation. The influence of the environment they live in was pointed out many times at the training, but still did not limit participants to look beyond and find opportunities to address more specific  challenges and think of possible actions. It was beautiful to see that in the end, youth is youth everywhere, and they share thoughts and mindsets regardless of their societal situation. Many times in the training, it was mentioned that what makes young people young is the spirit and energy they have, and this is why it is young people that need to fight for better societies – and we couldn’t agree more!

 

Introducing some culture!

Last week we organized an amazing event in the cultural center in the refugee camp. After dancing and singing to Palestinian songs, playing a lot of Palestinian games and trying to pronounce Arabic – we wanted to turn the tables and organize an event for the community where we shared our stories. We organized a European evening, where we invited residents in the camp to take part in various activities, learn about us and our backgrounds and spend time together for one evening. All in all – we think it was a success, and definitely something new for everyone!

We now present the different activities.

Map of Europe and the flags

The section was dedicated to getting familiar with the geographical scope of Europe as a continent as well as the flags. In the first activity, participants got the list of the countries in Europe and printed flags of those countries. They had to matched the flags with the right country. They did pretty well and soon it was clear that some flags are very known, while others not so much. What made some confusion is also the fact, that some flags are quite similar (for example there was a confusion among Slovenian, Slovakian and Serbian flag). It was interesting that mostly guys took part in this activity and it seems they know the flags because of  sport events where flags are always presented.

The other activity was about placing the names of countries on the right spot on the map. We drew the map of Europe, only presenting the silhouette of it, without showing the borders of the countries. Participants got small papers with the names of the country to place. This exercise proved to be quite difficult, especially in the areas of Europe, where there are a lot of different counties in the small geographical area (for example South-East Europe ).

What can be said about this activity is that when we tested it ourselves before we realized we are not really good at the flags ourselves (Palestinian boys were a lot better) and that we struggled to agree which countries are actually part of Europe – geography is pretty constructed.flagsdone

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Food

Food plays an important role in every culture and we wanted to bring this aspect to the event as well. We believe the culinary of Europe is very diverse, so we went with what we know best and what we know how to prepare. The idea was to prepare a simple dessert and to make enough for all participants to get a chance to taste it.
What Ida prepared a lot in her childhood was a simple chocolate-cake, the label at this event said “mutakakku”, which is Finnish for mud cake, as it looks like mud. This desert is probably not very traditional but it is found in every cafe in Finland and Sweden, and children can make it themselves. The recipe consists mostly of butter and sugar, and a lot of it, which makes the cake very sweet and very amazing. Also at this event, the chocolate cake disappeared in minutes, almost as fast as it was to prepare it.
A slovenian traditional dessert is jabolčni Štrudelj – apples in a role of pastry. We prepared this for ours and realised it is probably not the most simple choice, but once we started we had to finish. At some point, our host family even jumped in to help us with preparations, and of course enlightening us with their suggestions and instructions, how they think jabolčni Štrudelj should be made. One of the comments was that there should be way more sugar in it, because Palestinian love sugar and they literally put kilos and kilos of sugar in most of the desserts. Guests at the event all said they liked it, although honestly, we think they were a little bit disappointed cause for their taste it wasn’t sweet enough. And because “jabolčni Štrudelj” it’s not the easiest thing to pronounce, they just called it “Hubes u Tufaha” which means bread and apples.
So in conclusion- we spent hours preparing bread and apples. =Dstrudeli2strudelistrudeli3

Friendship Bracelets

At the event we also wanted to include some crafts – it’s creative and something to bring home as a souvenir. When we talked about what  “European crafts” could be, we realised we both did friendship bracelets when we were young. For some time, this was really a thing among children, maybe mostly among girls, and it was an easy leisure activity that we were doing in school, at home: just for fun or when we were bored.
We wanted to present this idea to the community and we also thought the message of friendship is something we want to spread.
We bought different colours of yarn and before the event, we checked if we still remember the technique, so we created more than 15 bracelets in different colours, combinations and with different techniques.
The participants loved this activity. They were intrigued by our examples we provided and they wanted to do the same. Many women were familiar with the technique and they jumped right into making them, implementing some of their own techniques and helping children to learn as well. This activity was nice because it connected people across ages, genders and language!
The most popular combination of colours used was black, green, white and red, which are the colours of the Palestinian flag. brace

Music

As we live in a house where the Palestinian or Egyptian music is always blasting on full volume, we wanted this event to have “European” music in the background. Choosing a playlist was difficult, but we wanted to include classics like the Beatles and Queen, some songs that we listen to in our different countries as well as currently super famous pop songs by European artists. The playlist was hence a mix of everything, and through this we also managed to show how huge and diverse the music scene is in Europe; all in all we had music sang in around 10 different languages and in many different styles. Many people were surprised that some of the most famous songs are from European artists. For other songs, it was mostly the two of us dancing and singing along.playlist

Power point

A picture says more than a thousand words, and this is why we wanted to share our own backgrounds through a power-point with pictures and short explanations. This power-point was rolling in the background throughout the evening, and included pictures of nature from Slovenia and Finland, maps to show what Europe is made up of and pictures from our own lives. Naturally, there was a lot of pictures of snow, landscapes and animals. People learnt that Tea can ski, which is pretty much what everyone does in the alp countries. The hat Ida got for her high school graduation proved to be very confusing, because it looks like some weird combination of a sailors hat and a chefs hat.teaidaskiLanguage corner

A big part of our stay here has been influenced by the Arabic language, it limits what things we can do at work, it surrounds us in our home and on the street, and it is in Arabic we buy bread and ice-cream. However, after two months here we really do not speak it, and often get comments about how slowly we are learning. With a language corner we wanted to remind the community about the fact that we ourselves speak English as a foreign language and have different language backgrounds that also make it difficult for us to learn Arabic, because maybe there are sounds that we have never heard before, yet pronounced. The feedback here was that Finnish is a lot easier to pronounce than Slovenian, but that the words are too long. The Palestinian pronunciation of Swedish words was fluent! In general this table was a lot of fun, with people trying to pronounce words in these random languages, and we shared a lot of laughter. Learning new languages can be challenging!finnsExhibition

One of the things people here always ask us if how we see Palestine and the camp, and if this perception has changed. We have provided many answers to this in the blog, and we decided to visualize the content of the blog in exhibition format. We printed a lot of quotes and pictures and prepared an exhibition: “70 days in Palestine”. It was amazing! This exhibition really gave new people an insight to how we experience our time here, and opened up for discussions.expo

The land where roadtrips are political

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Last weekend, we packed our bags, rented a car and went on a road trip! We were three European girls and one Palestinian dog just chilling, swimming and driving (not the dog) on the Mediterranean coast (Jaffa, Haifa, Akko!). Lovely, right?

Well, here, nothing is uncomplicated. The two of us (Tea and Ida) both experienced a journey on the inside, that you can’t possibly see in the amazing pictures we took. We thus created a log-book from this weekend get-away that tracks the thought process we had.

Tea in gray, and Ida in brown. Two minds, one log. 


Thursday

16.56  We are driving through the checkpoint, and we are on the other side. It is a hot day- like every day – and as soon as I can, I take my backpack and take out shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt.  I want to change, as soon as possible and I do it just there in the car, while colleague is driving. It feels sooooooo good to be in shorts and  there is this indescribable feeling of freedom doing so, although it’s just clothes.

17:04  We are in a car driving inside Israel and we have just passed the checkpoint.  The girls are discussing something in the front seat but I am not paying attention.  I am sitting in the back seat looking out of the window at the beautiful scenery trying to identify the feeling in my stomach. It feels bad. I don’t want to be here at all. I don’t like this place. Please take me back to the camp.

18:26  We are in a dog shelter in Tel Aviv, handing over two Palestinian street dogs. The people here are amazing animal loving people, and they show a genuine interest in the dogs and us. I feel a connection to them because of our shared care for the dogs – but at the same time I avoid telling them about my life when they ask.

19:30  We are in an old industrial building in Jaffa, a former Arab town, now outside Tel Aviv. The former industrial building in the harbour is full of art; paintings, stickers, booklets, posters; all with amazing colours and some political messages. I realise I missed public spaces and art and it’s amazing to be in a place like this.

19:57  We are walking at the promenade in Jaffa. The sun is setting,  the sea is incredibly beautiful and the whole atmosphere is welcoming. The situation makes me so happy I can’t stop smiling. I make the decision that it is okay to feel this way, because the sea is an innocent part of nature, unaware of conflicts at its shore – and I am allowed to love it. It is not the fault of the sea that some people are separated from it by a wall, but still so close they can almost smell it.

23.26   The feeling of this freedom feels strange. I had a lovely day, exploring the modern places, sitting in a park, walking at the beach promenade, looking at cool and hipster places. But I can’t stop thinking that it’s so absurd that just couple kilometres away, we live in a refugee camp. And for Palestinians this feeling of freedom, I had most of the day, is something unattainable. And of course Ida and me starts talking… and then this ubiquitous question, that we can’t shake it off: “So, what is the solution for this conflict?”  We are talking for a long time, shaking different options. We don’t always agree.


Friday

09:34  We are walking towards the beach for a first swim, yay! We slept on the beach and need to refresh. A man passes by with a small child on his arm and our eyes meet. I wonder if they speak about Palestine at home. If they know, or care.sandy

11:02  In the car on the highway towards Haifa, I read about the Bahaiis for the first time; a religion based on world peace and gender equality that has its headquarters in Haifa, and had that even before Haifa became Israeli. I love it. I love that there is a religion like this, and that they are right here. 

13.39  What an amazing view. Gardens, perfectly maintained, clean and colourful and below this beautiful coastal city, with the beach on the south and the sea in the horizon. Ida and me are playing in a park, at the children’s playground and we are sitting on the grass, enjoying the feeling.

But, what the fuck? I am amazed with what I see, but I cannot understand it. What is this? And who are these Bahaiis? How did they end up here? I like their philosophy… but …how do they fit into this entire situation here? And what kind of status they have? And why is there no single park and playground in Bethlehem and our refugee camp?IMG_291118.54  I love driving the car. Haifa is enormous and astonishing. Exploring the city, then stopping at the market, trying some homemade local food, going for a coffee and just spending hours chilling, sightseeing and now we are finally at Carmel Mountains, surrounded by trees, hiking tracks, watching the sunset and enjoying the nature.

It is easy to live in this bubble. Just enjoying these lovely things… not thinking what is happening around you. I hate it. I really do. I cannot stand it anymore. I cannot stand this duplicity of what is actually happening, all I see here is deception.


Saturday

11.51  I can never get enough of these narrow streets, beige buildings, with turquoise doors, that are so significant for this old Arab citadels. We are walking the streets of Akko and unlike Jaffa, the sense of Arab culture is more present here. Arabs actually still live here and their houses have not been taken away and transformed into boutiques, shops, studios or stores. The old city is directly connected to the sea and they have access to the beach. It is one of the most breathtaking places I have seen.IMG_3056

19:09 We are driving back on the highway, sided by high palm trees, and we see Tel Aviv on the right, and soon Ramallah on the left. Other cities appear in the horizon. Two things cross my mind; that the distances here are very short, and that this is really all the same land.

20:21 We are driving through the check-point in the wall, and suddenly we are surrounded by the familiar smells and sounds of Bethlehem.  It feels strange that I have had the privilege to see both sides when most people here do not. I know that people’s’ memories of the other side are not fading, but the other side is changing fast, and perhaps doesn’t reflect the memories anymore. It feels good to be on this side of the wall, it is the right place to be.

20.22  Driving a car through the checkpoint is confusing. Not only because of the stupidity of these rules, but also because of all the reflections I constantly have in my mind.  I spend 3 days on the other side of the wall and now we are going back to Bethlehem, in our bellowed home in a refugee camp. I don’t feel comfortable driving this car, with Israeli plates to this area. I don’t want people from the camp see me in this. I saw what can happen to the cars with yellow plates, but moreover I know this is seen as betrayal.

21.16 Our host family kisses and hugs us when we arrive, gives us dinner and takes care of us. The youngest daughter in the family asks me where we have been. She wants to look at the photos I’ve taken and when she sees the beach and the sea she’s curious if I can swim. She scrolls down the pictures at my phone, at first being intrigued… but then, before seeing all the photos, she puts my phone down and says she will never see this. And she’s sad.

And I am sad as well. And I feel guilty. And there are no words to describe this horrible feeling. And I just answer “One day”, trying to convince and comfort her. And me.


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Our biggest aha-moments, and other things you didn’t know

As half of your time in Palestine is behind us, we decided to do a mid-term evaluation together. The process of creating this post had two parts. First, we individually wrote down questions we wanted to ask each-other about the first half of our EVS. Secondly, we both answered both set of questions, and finally merged all the questions and answers into one post. This way, we ask each-other the questions that really matter, and we find the answers that really reflect how we feel.

Hence, this post is us opening up and being fully honest about our current feelings.

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What is the best food you tasted?
Ida: The hummus. I don’t have words.
Tea: Knafa. Cheese in a dessert, super heavy stuff, but mixture of so many flavours. I cannot resist it and I want to eat it every day

What is your favorite word in Arabic?
Ida: Yalla – it means “let’s go”, and here you go somewhere all the time, so we use it more than anything else.
Tea: Sababa – because I feel sababa here, it represent the local slang and it shows enthusiasm.

What colour describes this environment and why?
Ida: Very light sandy beige. All the buildings are beige, there is barely any vegetation and the bright sun makes everything look lighter than it is.
Tea: The mixture of white-beige with yellow- because of the very strong sun and white buildings, sometimes it is so bright you cannot even see.

What’s the most beautiful place/city you’ve seen here?
Ida: We went to Jerusalem, and it is a mix of old and new, of different people, religions and cultures. There are many open spaces (like green parks!) and we saw the sunset there, and it was breathtaking. I hated that I loved it.
Tea: Bethlehem, with its narrow streets, paved with stones, typical architecture and design of the buildings with turquoise doors and with its historical atmosphere…

What does Dheisheh refugee camp smell like?
Ida: Inside the houses it smells like coffee with cardamom, and outside it smells like garbage.
Tea: Like a mixture of a hot asphalt and water. But this happens only every once in awhile, when the water comes and they clean up the streets.

What did the kids in the refugee camp teach you?
Ida: Many bad words in Arabic, how to properly eat roasted watermelon seeds and how to be confident in the streets of the camp.
Tea: How to say bad words, when they are fighting and calling each other names and acting childish. And then on the other side, how to cope with this environment, not showing fear, acting as grown up, brave people. And over all, how to be patient with them, keeping in mind they are still just kids.

What did you teach the kids in the refugee camp?
Ida: That Angry Birds was invented in Finland.
Tea: Not as much as I would want to. I am trying to teach them that violence is bad and it is not the only solution. But sometimes it seems useless.

What has been your biggest aha-moment so far?
Ida: When I realised the amount of symbolism and history behind throwing rocks – and that the rocks they throw in the camp are not even stone, but small parts of the pavement. They literally throw parts of their own streets and houses, well aware they don’t stand a chance against actual weapons.
Tea: Realising, how I am changing, how situations here are pushing me to directions I’m not sure I want to go.

A moment you wanted to scream?
Ida: No moment. In many situations I faced I see how screaming could have been the appropriate reaction, like when I saw a person being beaten up. Apparently my panic reaction is a very calm one.
Tea: When I haven’t had a good sleep for days, it was super hot, I was tired, stressed because of the work, it was so much things happening in the house, music playing outload, people everywhere, bothering you…and I couldn’t find a place and a moment to be alone and do my things.

The moment when you were most afraid?
Ida: When Tea really wanted to go and experience the Friday protests at the wall, that we knew were going to get very violent. In the end we didn’t go, because our family convinced us it was too dangerous.
Tea: The night after the soldiers came to our house. The night before they woke us up in the middle of the night, searched the house, looking for a young boy with their machine guns pointing at us. And this was for sure one of the scariest things I faced, although maybe at that time I didn’t even absorb it completely. Other thoughts and reactions took over at that time. And the next night, there was a sound in the middle of the night, I woke up, my heart was beating like crazy and I thought its happening all over again. And since then, these feeling happens almost every night. And I am afraid not knowing what will happen and how it will end up the next time they come.

When did you feel like crying?
Ida: A mother cried because she missed her child who is in jail. I wanted to cry because the whole broader situation here made me both furious and upset and there was nothing I could do to comfort her.
Tea: Lately, every single day. The first time I felt like this was 10 days ago, on a way from Ramallah back to Bethlehem, after the shooting in Jerusalem, when I was sitting in a car, just watching through the window, observing the landscape and the road, accompanied with the wall, thinking about this land and the situation. Since then, and because I am realising I’m already at half of my stay here, I can’t stop thinking that too soon I will have to go back home and leave this place behind. And all the people I’ve met are going to stay here- with this amazing land, but surrounded by walls and unstable future.

What are you hiding?
Ida: I am keeping many opinions, values and lived experiences to myself. These relate to feminism, love and violence/conflict.
Tea: My true feelings about many things, hiding them from different people. I want to spare my family and friends, I don’t want them to be scared for me and sometimes am trying to hide my thoughts also from myself, as it can be too much to deal with.

What was the weirdest situation you faced here?
Ida: The first week, me and Tea were sitting in our room, reading different discussions on an online forum about how to use the bathroom in the Arab world. Very educational but slightly weird.
Tea: Talking with Ida when I thought she’s awake, but then realising she sleeps with her eyes open.

How do you feel when seeing a gun?
Ida: I hate guns more than before, but because they are everywhere, they now scare me less.
Tea: Even after couple of weeks, the image is still in front of my eyes. Seeing so many soldiers, with their guns, entering your room, in the middle of the night, pointing a gun at you and occupying the whole space, hunts me over and over again.

Who was the most interesting person you’ve met and why?
Ida: The guy who worked in a bookshop in Ramallah, and who we ended up spending a full afternoon with. He told stories that were different from the ones we hear in the refugee camp, and it was eye-opening, especially in understanding the variety of experiences and opinions within Palestine.
Tea: The father of our host family, who I can talk with about so many different things, that are not so common to all people here. He is open minded, very realistic when it comes to important decisions, but still everyday he is daydreaming about paradise where he wants to live. One of the most important things for him is education, exploring new things and providing good life for his family, and now when we are living with them, also for us.

If you would bring one item home, to explain your time here, what would it be?
Ida: I bought a pair of long pants in Bethlehem, and I would bring them home to say – yes I wore these even in 40 degrees celsius.
Tea: Nothing can explain my time here, although I guess I’m trying to do this with this blog. But for sure I’m bring home zatar.

What do you miss from home?
Ida: The feeling of being in a place where human rights and the rule of law are practiced, and where people are protected by institutions and laws. I didn’t know it was a feeling before, because I took it for granted.
Tea: Sitting in a bar, just chilling with my friends, being and feeling free to do things that I want to do.

Has your own perception of “home” changed?
Ida: When you have a home, a safe-place, and access to your roots, it is easy to not to feel attached to it. On the contrary, if your home is taken from you, it becomes all you want.
Tea: I should probably start appreciating it more. Cause it’s not something that’s given. At least not to all the people, because for people here, home was taken from them.

Let’s say you come back to the West Bank in 30 years. What is the first place you will revisit?
Ida: I would go to the Walled Off Hotel, the hotel built by Banksy next to the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. In 30 years I would love to see how the hotel is in an open space because the wall is gone.
Tea: Dheisheh refugee camp- which at that time will be called differently as it will not be a refugee camp anymore. So maybe I’ll go and visit my host family in their real home- Zakaria.

What would be the title of the book you publish about your time in Palestine?
Ida: “Knafa,coffee and kids”
Tea: “Where do we draw the line?”

One thing you will miss?
Ida: The kids. I can’t believe I am writing this.
Tea: Ufffff…. A lot of things: people, the land, Ida,… this feeling, when every day is something new and something that shakes your mind, perceptions and understandings that you had.

Is there a solution for the Palestine-Israeli conflict? Are you more positive about the solution, or negative?
Ida: Everyone here says there is no solution, and even though I want to believe differently I don’t see how right now. A solution needs to come from a place of (a lot of) compromise, forgiveness, non-violence, trust, compassion and secularity.
Tea: There must be one. Although everybody we spoke with said they don’t see it and they don’t believe in it. And after getting to know the conflict more and more, I see how complex it is, its dimensions and how difficult would it be to resolve it. So, I am getting more and more negative about it. But I refuse to believe there is no solution. There must be one, I’m trying to convince myself.


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Our walk through the refugee camp

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We are staying in Dheisheh refugee camp, which we have mentioned in our blog many times, mostly because we cannot stop talking about it. The place in so unbelievable, that it is hard to describe it, show all the feeling we have for it and present the atmosphere here.

There are many variations of the spelling of the camp name, depending who is addressing it, but regardless of this, everybody knows what we are talking about. People however have different reactions, when we tell them we are living here. Most of the people are surprised and they comment that living there is hard, but the locals, who know it the best, they are amazed, that we are having such a genuine experience of living in Palestine and feeling the vibe.

The camp was established in 1949 and was meant to be a temporary solution for around 3400 refugees from 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron who fled during the war in 1948. Unfortunately, it is not just temporary. Now, after more than 60 years, there are around 15.000 people living on around 0,33 sq km, according to the UN relief and works agency for Palestine refugee in the Near East, (UNRWA), who provide services to the camp. During the time, the camp has evolved from tents to houses, streets, schools and some other basic services.

The streets in the camp are without names and houses do not have numbers. There are no mailboxes in front of the houses. The facades are covered with graffiti, mostly about the resistance, and with pictures of boys who have been killed in the camp – “martyrs”.  The streets are paved, narrow, dusty and mostly very lively. Especially in the evenings and in the nights, when the heat is gone, children are playing outside, men are chatting and smoking and when passing by, they invite you in for a coffee.

On one side, this is a very difficult place, as life here can be more challenging than elsewhere in the West Bank, it is crowded and violence is very present in the everyday life. On the other side, it is amazing what the place has became, considering the situation- culturally vibrant, active and friendly.  For us, this is where we feel at home. Every day we walk through the camp to our work, to the University building, that is at the edge of the camp.

With this post, we are trying to present the camp and our daily walk to work. We are not movie makers, but with this video we hope to showcase better how walking these streets looks like. We did not want to show faces of people, so we covered the camera whenever someone passed us on the street.

Find the video of our walk HERE.

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A for Alone, B for Bomb, …

Part of our work in the office at CDCE-I, is to assist with a training course where young people, aged between 14 to 16 are learning English. In the most recent lesson, the task was to come up with everyday words for each letter in the English alphabet. The class did it together, agreeing on words that are relevant in their own lives.

What we realized, when observing the exercise, was that the words these kids came up with, were different from what we expected. The words mentioned included things they see, experience and hear about. The words they agreed on are an honest reflection on what they know from their surrounding, that of course is different from what we know from our own childhoods.

What would be your first association, if you think of something from your immediate environment that starts with the letter A? And what about B? C? D?

Children growing up in Palestine will naturally have different associations than children elsewhere. From an early age they are completely aware of what is happening around them, in their refugee camps, at the checkpoints, on their streets, in their country. They are not being spared with the details, and any attempt to do differently would most probably fail. This is why, they know and use different words, than children in other countries do.

Palestinian children manage to constantly surprise us with the things they say. It is shocking witnessing children speaking so easily about soldiers, killing, death and violence, just to switch in a second and talk about something else, like food or the crazy hot temperature outside.

Tea: “But maybe for them, this is something normal. It’s their everyday life. Maybe it is not so shocking for them. And for me, this is the most shocking thing of all.”

Ida: “This shows so clearly how humans are able to adapt, and how the life of Palestinians has become “normal” in all its peculiarity. When young people express these things that are just normal aspects of their life, but so strange to me, I find it upsetting.”

There are probably differences in this regard also within Palestine, and we can only speak about the young people and children we have met, most of them who live in a refugee camp.

The picture below is a list of words in English, as an outcome from the English lesson and written down by one of the students. Would these be your choices too?

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Resistance is also to water a plant

A Friday morning, on our free day
We sat on a bus driving away
Passing checkpoints and beautiful hills
The view of settlements giving us chills

They said Ramallah was our aim
But Kafr Malik was the village name
Young people from all over the land
Came to the desert to dig in the sand

We were handed shovels and tree roots
And started walking different routes
On a high hill under the burning sun
We learnt these plants are not for fun

Olive trees will rise without a sound
Because this is a silent battleground
The olive tree, a symbol of Palestine
The branch itself a peaceful sign

Anyone else claiming this hill
Will know it’s against Palestinians’ will
These olives will not exist for their oil
But because they grow in Palestinian soil

Resistance is also to water a plant
Even when soldiers say that you can’t
The Palestinian youth is not going to break
Because this is land that no-one can take

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What do you do in this situation?

In this exciting blog-post, we are sharing some of the situations we have experienced and problematize around how to act when things like this occur. We are using a method, where a case is first presented briefly in a hypothetical way. We then ask you, the reader, to think how you would act if this happened to you! We then give you more information about the case. Would your approach change, now that you know more? This method is used to show the complexity of every situation, and the difficulty of finding a way to respond. Finally, we present what we actually did, which does not provide the “right answer”, but instead shows how difficult it can be to know how to respond. Often, there are no right or wrong approaches.

We encourage you to really take a moment and think to yourself how you would act in the situations we present, whenever we ask you to do so.

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Let’s do this. Three cases, from our daily life in Palestine. What would you do?


Case 1: The camp at night

It is getting late in the evening, you are just about to go to bed and sleep, because you need to wake up at 6.30 in the morning. You are lying in your bed and you suddenly hear shootings.

  • What do you do?

Step 2:  All other members of your host family are awake as well and you sit with them in the living room, the shooting is still going on, but they do not seem to be that upset. They explain to you that there are Israeli soldiers in the camp, who are throwing tear-gas bombs, shooting and looking for some people. Last night they apparently shot some young people. Palestinians in the camp are trying to fight back with throwing stones.

A nine years old boy, a member of your family, asks you if you want to go out and watch it all.

  • So…what do you do?

What did we do?

Hearing a shooting is not a pleasant experience and something we are definitely not used to. In our countries it doesn’t just happen like this, and if it does, it is not something “normal”. When we experienced it for the first time, we were a little bit upset and couldn‘t just sleep it through, so we went to the living room and stayed there with the others, trying to understand what was happening. We learnt that for people living in the camp, this is their reality and they have gotten used to it. We don‘t think this should become a normal thing and no-one should be ok with this. If they were upset, they didn’t show us. When the soldiers come, people in the camp wait in their homes, close their windows (so the tear-gas doesn‘t enter the house) and they feel relatively safe, because the Israeli soldiers will (most probably) not enter their house and are not looking for them. Our family told us, we‘re safe. They even made jokes about the whole situation, like if we wanted to go out and watch.

So we waited for the shooting to stop, together with them. We had hundreds of questions, why this is happening, how this could be, who they are looking for, can they enter the place just like that, how can they know we are really safe being here, what happens after the shooting, what is the role of the police, authorities, etc… And we raised some of them, we got little answers, and even less understanding of the situation…

And we went to bed.


Case 2: Your visit to a cultural center   

In the community where you‘re staying, there is a cultural centre, that plays an important role and offers a space for different groups of people to meet. On the first night of your EVS, just few hours after arriving to this new environment, they take you to this cultural centre in the evening. You end up being in a room, full of men, most of them older, who are playing some board games and cards. Only a few of them speaks English in a way you could really understand it.

  • What do you do?

Step 2: They all drink coffee late at night, which is something you‘re not really used to. They offer you a coffee as well.

  • Okay so…what do you do?

What did we do?

We learned how to play a board game on our first night at Ibdaa, the cultural center just a few minutes from our house. We drank coffee late at night, talked with everyone who wanted to talk with us, even though because of the language barriers it was just few and basic words, and we had a super nice night. And since then, we are going to Ibdaa almost every night. We like to pretend we are one of the locals, so with full confidence we enter the room, say hi to everyone, sit at “our usual table”, take a board game from the shelf, find an ashtray in the kitchen, order coffee and start playing. The game is called 31, and so far me-Tea- I‘m winning. =D


Case 3: Writing a tricky blog post

In this case, you are us, two European female volunteers sitting in the office where you volunteer, preparing a post for your blog. You have decided that you want this new post to reflect some of the new experiences that you have faced during your first three weeks in the Palestinian refugee camp, and one thing that keeps coming to your mind is harassment. You have both experienced catcalling, and even being touched on the street, and these experiences have made you very uncomfortable.

  • What do you do?

Step 2: You realise, while sitting in the office, that writing about harassment is very sensitive. You do not have any intentions of labeling the culture of which you are just a guest, as it does not represent it in any way. You also hear that harassment is strictly condemned and that violators can be punished quite violently, in ways you do not support at all.  Another issue is that both adults and kids have harassed you, which is part of why you are confused and do not know how to understand it. Furthermore, the culture which you are in does not generally speak up about these issues. The new context you are in, and where you have had these bad experiences, are however so interlinked that you really feel the need to reflect on them, not just on a personal level, but as a part of the holistic volunteering and living experience you are going through.

  • Now…what do you do?

What did we do?

We wrote this post. Instead of reporting about a few isolated experiences, we wanted to show the complexity of this case. It is not always just about us.

In the streets and bars and buses of the cities we live in, in Europe, sexual harassment exists as well. The difference is that these are contexts that are ours, where we feel comfortable to claim the space, where we have the power to say what is right and what is wrong, and where we have the language and the swearwords to stand up for ourselves in the appropriate manner. At home, we can deal with these types of situations because we know what the law says and what the consequences of those actions are.

Here in Palestine, we have tried to approach every day with curiosity and care. It takes time to learn which spaces we can claim and how we are expected to act, talk and dress. Compared to what we are used to, women and men in Palestine generally face different expectations, and many activities are separated by gender. Sometimes we find ourselves in spaces where there are no, or only few other women. We also attract attention, as there are not that many foreigners in our small local community. When something happens that makes us uncomfortable, confused or upset, we do not really have the language and cultural knowledge to react. This is true for more things than just harassment. We want to learn to be able to talk and deal with negative experiences, without shedding a bad light on the amazing experience we have, and without labeling the environment or the culture that is so welcoming to us. Hence, what we really can do, and should do, is to try to understand the context by talking to people and reflect on the experiences.


 

Shu? We were in Jordan?

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In the last days we participated in a training for EVS (European Voluntary Service) volunteers. It is called on-arrival training (O.A.T) and is an obligatory part of the EVS, meaning every volunteer regardless of hosting country takes part in it.

The whole idea of EVS is exactly this- it puts the volunteer in the center and it aims to help them to learn, grow and develop competences. It is not about just sending someone to foreign country to work there and do some kind of project, but is more to support them in their learning process, through this opportunity of learning mobility. For ensuring quality, several actions are developed before departure, at EVS and also after you come back from EVS.

Before you leave, there is a pre-departure training, organized in your own country, and in the first days or weeks after you arrive, there is an on-arrival training, and if you stay for 6 months or longer you will also attend a mid-term evaluation training. Each training has its own concept and objectives and it is meant for a specific phase of an EVS.

The objective of the O.A.T. is to make the volunteers familiar to their host countries, to prepare them for some cultural differences and also to explain to them what their role is in this whole EVS machine. We, as volunteers, have rights and there are for example limitations regarding work-load, guidelines for reimbursement procedures of the costs we have, calculations for getting daily allowance, having health insurance, etc. And we also have responsibilities and we should follow certain procedures that ensures we obey the rules and respect the organizations, work that we are doing and the culture in our host country.

Besides this, the idea of O.A.T. is also to define the learning objectives of the EVS. As said- the volunteers are at the center of the projects and the most important added value that is expected from EVS is personal (and professional) development of volunteers. We got familiar with the Youthpass, a tool that is created for recording and documenting the learning process and competences gained or further developed through EVS.

Our own O.A.T. took part in Amman, Jordan – which is a beautiful and vibrant city! For us this was an interesting experience, partially because Jordan shares many cultural traits as well as history with Palestine. For instance, it is estimated that more than 2 million Palestinians reside in Jordan. Most of them have refugee background, and many live in refugee camps similar to ours here in Bethlehem. Hence, many people in Jordan have links and emotional connection to Palestine. We also had use for the few words we know in Arabic!

The EVS trainings offer the opportunity for volunteers to meet. The training is not organized for individuals or only volunteers working in the same organizations, but it is mostly organized at national, or even regional level, which was the case for us. This allows volunteers, who are coming from different countries and who are working in different organizations to get to know each other, share their experiences, expectations, fears and views and also to see there are their peers, going through similar processes.

Jordan is another partner country of EVS, and there are some EVS volunteers doing their service here. Marouane and Benedetta are both volunteers for IDare for Sustainable Development, an organization based in Amman working with local youth and community empowerment. For us, it was amazing to meet the ‘Jordanian’ volunteers, and realize that our stories are similar!

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Marouane and Benedetta are doing their EVS in Jordan.

Marouane, France

Why did you apply for this EVS?

I wanted to make an opinion for myself about the challenges occurring in the Middle East and get to know the culture.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Adapting to the culture has been quite a challenge. I didn’t go through any particular event, but just understanding what is socially accepted and what is not giving the environment has been a process.

Benedetta, Italy

Why did you apply for this EVS?

I studied about the Middle East for years at the University and it really interested me. I wanted to work and live in Jordan because I wanted to learn about its culture without the Western prejudices. I chose to apply for an EVS because it is a European Commission programme therefore it is controlled and I have a sending organization that I can contact in case there might be any problem.

What do you expect from your EVS?

I think I will understand the culture of this amazing country and that I can improve both professionally and personally due to the fact that I have to adapt to a new environment and as I never worked before in a grassroot organization.

jordancool.jpgNarrow streets and amazing dinner in the inner city of Amman, Jordan.