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.