We have been in Palestine for a bit more than a week now, and we are starting to have our first realisations and learning points. To structure our thoughts, we decided to do the 5-finger method of evaluation, evaluating our first days. We wanted to include many aspects of our experience and we will for sure return to many of these subjects later.
In the 5-finger evaluation method, each finger represents one thing. The thumb is for something that has been really good, the index finger for something you want to point out, the middle finger for something that has been bad, the ring finger for something you want to commit to and finally, the little finger is for that little cherry on the top that fulfills your experience.
We live in an astonishing community that is so lively, friendly, full of life and so vibrant, that it is almost unbelievable how good we feel here, based on the circumstances that this is a refugee camp. Ibdaa is a reflection of this community- it is a Cultural centre, where there are things happening all the time. A place where you just go in the evening and you play cards or a dice game called 31-which I fell in love with, where youngsters themselves organise their cultural performances, where they organise “pop quiz” on the history of their home town, where you drink coffee, talk with all different people and enjoy the atmosphere.
People here are open to share their stories. They also want to meet you and this is why they are not afraid to ask you any questions, even personal ones. But at the same time, they will also open themselves up and even though you just met them 1 minute ago, they will tell you their life story, stories of their parents and how they came to this place, how they all became refugees in their own country, what are their hopes, aspirations and wishes, how it looks like they are having an ok life, but they would leave this all up in a second. They would look at their newly built nice house, with a huge yard and would say… “Yes, this is my house… but it is not my home”.
Talking with them and listening their stories is eye opening and it helps to understand their perspective, the situation and…it does not necessarily bring clarity. It raises up more questions and it intrigues me to learn more.
I feel bad, when I realise I am privileged. It feels bad, when they point it out like it’s something casual and the most ordinary thing. And I know they don’t mean it bad, it is just the reality and they say it out loud, maybe not even reflecting that this situation is wrong. It just how it is here. I have European passport, so I can travel around. I can write this blog. I am allowed to do more, than most of the people here. I am not the only one; it is also difficult to observe inequalities among people here; the place you live or even the colour of your license plate gives you privileges compared to others.
I feel bad, when I cannot comfort the people who are sad, because their children, brother, sisters and fathers are in prison.
I came here to work in this amazing organisation and learn from all this. In last week, I got familiar with the people in the organisation, the work they are doing and our common project ahead of us. The atmosphere in an organisation is amazing, so are the people and it is clear they are very professional in what they are doing, so I can’t wait to start working more. We will go to different communities and work with young people, providing trainings and strive to empower young people in different fields, such as leaderships, employability, soft skills, media and IT. I feel this is also an amazing opportunity to express my experiences and expertise and I hope I can bring something to this organisation and broader community.
Cherry on the top
There is a wall separating two sides. I don’t know what is on the other side of the wall. It is tall, long and you cannot see through it. It has check-points for passing through. Most people from the community where we live in, cannot go to the other side. But what we can see from this side of the wall are graffiti, artworks and paintings. Quotes and messages, calls, aspirations and symbols. From this side, the wall shows how strong is the will of the people, it reflects the values, hopes for the future, principles and peaceful resistance, the solidarity among many who are in despair. And even though I cannot say that the wall is nice, I am trying to see other meanings in it. And I am trying to see beyond.
The best thing so far has been all the people we have met! We are lucky to stay with a family of six in the refugee camp, and they have been amazing in opening up their homes to us, making us feel like home, answering questions and helping us get around. We live and work in a lively neighbourhood where many people are friends or related to our family, and people we meet are generally very open to share their life-stories – some that are not easy to hear. We are surrounded by people who are so down to earth, friendly and honest and the conversations we have helped us understanding the realities here.
We got to Palestine in the middle of Ramadan, which is the month of fasting in Islam. In practical terms this has meant that the office has been very calm, and we have had the opportunity for a soft start which is good. In the evening, when people break the fast, they first eat and then hit town for shopping or just hanging out, and it’s an amazing vibe! What has been interesting to discover more broadly is that people interpret their religion differently and not everyone fasts. There are spots where you can drink coffee or smoke (eg: in the backroom of a clothing store) even during the day, if you know the right location and people.
The most difficult thing for me has been to accept the fact that people are used to violence here. Kids know how to hit back, and several people have explained to me the different situations when violence is justified and many have experienced it. Violence and especially self-defence is a part of not just life, but the culture here, which has been a shocking realisation. When you walk down the street in the early morning and see rocks in the street, you know that soldiers carrying weapons came in the night and that the people in the camp tried to stop them from entering.
A part of EVS is also learning a language! For us this means that we will learn the basics of Arabic. The Arabic spoken in our community here differs from standard Arabic, so this is the version we are learning. So far it has mostly been a few words and phrases, but already this is helpful in communicating with people. In our EVS, we will implement training courses, and in some cases do it bilingually; us speaking English and a co-trainer speaking Arabic. This will be a super cool experience for all of us, and for the participants. [check out our own glossary here!]
Cherry on the top
I love Middle Eastern cuisine! As a vegetarian, I was warned before that all the Palestinian dishes contain meat. This is probably true, but I have eaten the best things ever. People here sure know how to make the best of the hours in the night that are for eating during Ramadan. Hummus is just the beginning. I will need another suitcase for going home, just to fill with all the different types of sweets that exists in this place. I am in love.
Our cherries: hummus & the wall.