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.
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.