Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Leaving It All Behind

Important note before I start blogging. I am temporarily disabling my Facebook. DO NOT FREAK OUT. I will bring it back up once I'm back in the States. This is merely a precautionary measure in case airport security decides to be super thorough with me.

So the end has come. I leave in the morning to go to Ben Gurion Airport where I will face the gauntlet of airport security and long plane rides to get back to the States. Fun.

This past week has been a whirlwind. I've said many goodbyes: to the women in my English class, to the dozens of kids I've come to love, to my volunteers, to the translators that I've become friends with, to the wonderful TYO staff, and soon to the other interns. Lila left already, but tomorrow I'm the first to head out. So goodbye Tommy and Megan. It's been a blast.

Last Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving. The Americans all cooked (except Lila and Tommy who got fired from cooking duty due to ignorance. They got set-up duty). I made a killer sweet potato casserole. The Palestinian staff have done Thanksgiving before, but you could tell some of it still mystified them. "What's this?" Futoon, our outreach coordinator, said as poked at the cranberry sauce in concern.

Thursday was also the field trip with the kids and my last sight of them as a group. I've seen a couple of the neighborhood kids since, but it isn't the same.

Over the weekend I had a horrible sore throat so didn't do anything which sucked.

This week there was a party for Samin where I got to see some of my women for the last time but other than that it's been cleaning, reports, cleaning, and reports. I never thought I'd find cleaning preferable to another activity, but I did and that's report writing.

I also got to hang out with the translators a couple of times which was good. The three of them (Ruba, Amani, and Mohammad) have worked with us so closely and I consider all three of them friends. Ruba especially since I spent about eight hours a week with her but all them are wonderful. Megan and I even got to go over to the dorm where Ruba and Amani both live and hang out one last time today. It was really sad to hug them goodbye.

So goodbye Nablus. Thank you for being so wonderful and welcoming.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Hanging Out in Nablus

First things first, I am safe. What's happening in Gaza has very little effect on my life here. The news sounds scary, but here in Nablus, it's pretty much life as usual. And now there's a ceasefire! So hopefully the violence will end!

This past weekend was three days, which was super exciting. Thursday was Palestine's independence day (when asked what this meant for a land under occupation, the Palestinians mostly said that it was about the hope for independence someday). We still had to work on Thursday so to make up for it, we got Sunday off instead. Yay three day weekend! Of course, we're all too broke to do any more traveling, and since we've mostly seen everything we really wanted to here, we decided staying in Nablus was fine with us.

We didn't just bum around the center either. On Friday Megan, Lila and I went to Hanin's house for dinner. Hanin is our Arabic tutor as well as translator for women's aerobics and IT. She made us the Palestinian version of dolmas as well as stuffed eggplant, stuffed zucchini and stuffed cucumber. It was a lot of fun, and her family was really nice. (Note Tommy did not come. He husband was apparently uncomfortable about having a "strange man" over.)


On Saturday we got even more food. Lila, Megan, and I went to the home of one of the women that we taught in aerobics class.  Abeer fed us more food than I thought I was capable of eating. She would not take no for an answer. Seriously. She took my spoon, heaped it with food, and PUT IT IN MY MOUTH. She's such a mother. We had a lot of fun. She's a total sweetheart who doesn't deserve to be married to the old jerk that is her husband.

This is chicken on top of rice and veggies (peas, carrots, etc.) with hummus, lebaneh, salad, etc. We also had fruit, cake, and tea later.

Now I'm in my final week of classes so it's been a lot of goodbyes. It's truly terrible. I've already cried once (one of the women in my English class gave a speech during our volunteer/intern appreciation ceremony about how much she liked my class--I managed not to cry until everyone left though so that's a win). I will certainly cry again.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving so I'll be making a sweet potato casserole for the staff dinner, and we also go to see The Lorax in Arabic with our kids. It's the last time I'll see them before I leave.

I'm going to be a wreck.

Friday, November 9, 2012


I'm really starting to feel how little time I have left over here. Honestly, it's freaking me out. Three months is a very short period of time. Despite a craving for a steak, I'm not really homesick for America, and I know that when I leave here, I will miss a lot of people. The other interns, the women in my English class, my translator Ruba, and all of the children I have come to love. But it's still too early to say goodbye; we still have a few adventures left before heading home.

Today was one such adventure. Us interns did a day trip to the Dead Sea. Now I know that the Dead Sea is super salty and, therefore, people float in it very easily, but I had no concept of what that would actually feel like. Let me tell you, it feels weird. First of all, the water feels slick on your skin, like oil. Secondly, it isn't just easy to float, you have no choice but to float. You float so well that you can't even swim. As soon as you stretch out your legs to kick, your feet pop into the air. Then there's the salt. This is not water you want splashed on your face. A wave hit me in the face, and I had to have Lila lead me out of the water while I kept my eyes screwed shut because the salt burned. I didn't really open my eyes until she had a bottle of water ready to pour into my open eyes to wash them out.

But it was so much fun!!!

Floating in the Dead Sea while I read a newspaper. Actually, the newspaper is in Arabic so there was no actual reading happening, but we thought the photo op was cool.

The Dead Sea is not just know for its salt; it is also know for the mud. People sell that mud for exorbitant prices at spas, but we just scooped some into jars while there. We also slathered ourselves in it before leaving.

So here we are, covered in mud. I felt like a little kid again. Playing in the mud is always a blast. (Also, I can't quite figure out how Tommy managed to keep his shorts that clean...)

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. We're actually several hundred feet below sea level here. Pretty cool right? We celebrated with beer.

You can't walk by "The Lowest Bar in the World" and not stop for a drink.

So there you have it. A blog post, with photos. Yay!

Friday, November 2, 2012

In which I blame my slow internet for everything...

A few weeks ago I went on an amazing trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I've pretty much told everyone who reads this blog about it by now, but I thought I maybe should put something about it on here anyway. The reason it's taken me so long? The internet here is SO SLOW that adding one photo to the blog takes so long that the thought of uploading them makes me invariably think of something far more productive I could be doing with my time.

Anyway, the trip was great. Highlights of Jerusalem included the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus' burial site), wandering the Old City, and a very informative visit to the US Consulate. Less awesome was the fact that I was horribly nauseous the whole day.

Bethlehem was even more amazing. We were shown around by a wonderful cabbie named Murad who also took us to his house for lunch. We saw a lot of awesome street art as well as where Jesus was born. Many photos were taken. I think I'll just do a picture post eventually with photos and captions for you.


Anyway, moving on. The weekend after that trip we stayed in Nablus. There was an awesome Halloween themed library day (we made the cutest crafts) but little else of note. Classes are going well. I'm no longer teaching at An-Najah University, however. My attendance was down to one person so we added him to Megan's class and I get to teach English to TYO staff members instead. This is actually a lot of fun since mostly it's just me getting to know them.


Currently we are on the tail end of our week long break so I did some traveling with Lila and Megan and am now back in Nablus. Tommy went to Jordan so was not a part of our escapades.

We went back to Jerusalem first so that we could explore more (without me being nauseous and Megan having a cold like last time). I spent money shopping for souvenirs...and stuff for me. Getting to Jerusalem this time was kind of funny because the soldier that boarded the bus at the checkpoint (making sure all the Palestinians had their permits to enter the city) was SO CONFUSED by the three American women on the Arab bus. He kept looking at the visa stamp, then at the picture page, then at us, then at the stamp, then at the front of the passport, then at us. Obviously we got through, but he could not figure out what we were doing there, poor boy.

We also met up with two cool chicks in Jerusalem that Lila and Tommy met last time we were there. We had burgers for dinner and went to a cool waffle place for desert with them. It was lots of fun. Other highlights of the trip included having a gay Arab in the Old City make jewelry for us. Okay, so he didn't TELL us he was gay, but we all knew. I felt bad for him as he's going to be in the closet his whole life. Also, it was fun to see how far the prices would drop when we would talk about how we live and work in Nablus with refugee kids. I got some great stuff.

After Jerusalem we had a brief time in Tel Aviv. It was much the same as my last visit though we had a very American night where we went to a bar the US embassy people all hang out at and ate nachos, drank beer, and watched the Patriots destroy the Rams (they weren't playing the Packer game, but at least I got to keep an eye on the score). The next day we went to the Carmel market, spent a couple hours at the beach then wandered around Old Jaffa where we met a French artist with the coolest gallery. Seriously cool artwork.

After Tel Aviv we went to Haifa where we were so happy to be staying for more than one night as schlepping our bags around was getting real old. Haifa is a beautiful beach town renowned for the stunning Baha'i gardens there. Our first night we basically just got to the hostel and crashed. The next day we went to the beach where a Scottish-Israeli guy fell in love with Lila and introduced us to his cousin who's a lifeguard. We hung out with them as they were really cool. Also, it was the lifeguards birthday so they invited us out to his party and bought us drinks. The Scottish-Israeli guy--whose name is Barrie--engaged Megan and I in a very satisfying debate about Middle East politics in general and the Israel-Palestine issue in particular. It was a lot of fun, and we were all still friends at the end (the way a debate should be).

There was more beaching the next day (which also happened to be Halloween). Barrie was gone to Tel Aviv, but his cousin (the lifeguard whose name is Manny) taught us how to paddle board, which was super fun. I managed to be pretty good at it. Lila was the best, but she's a jock from SoCal so that's not surprising. We were also introduced to a wonderful tuna sandwich recommended by Manny at a beachside place where we also met a bunch of old men spending their retirement as beach bums. After the beach we tried to go to the Baha'i gardens but it was too late and they were closed so we went the next morning (they are pretty dang stunning). We then had a very brief beach visit where we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to Nablus.

Shalabi, a Samaritan from the village here, picked us up and took us back. We made a brief stop at his house so he could introduce us to his family and show us this fruit thing he did on the ceiling. I don't know how else to explain that one, sorry. Eventually I'll have a picture.

Some of the funniest parts of the trip were us trying not to tell people that we worked in the West Bank. There were a couple of conversations that went something like this:

Person: So how long are you in Israel?
Us: We leave Thursday.
Person: You should stay longer!
Us: Well, we have to be back at work on Sunday.
Person: Oh? Where do you work?
Us: Ummmm....

So yeah, a blog post. Pictures will happen someday, I promise. Seriously though, the internet is SLOW guys.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Blogging Conundrum

When keeping a blog, you inevitably run into a conundrum. When interesting things happen, you don’t have time to blog about them. By the time you get the chance to blog, you’re tired and blogging just seems like so much work (especially when you also have to blog as part of your job anyway). Of course, when nothing interesting is happening you do end up with the time to blog, but nothing to say. So I’m sorry that it’s been a while, and I’m sorry this post is going to be a bit long since a lot has indeed happened. I’ll try not to get so behind again, but let’s be honest: I’m sure I will.

Classes have been going on, of course. We have now finished our first rotation of our kids classes so I get a whole new set of kids for these next three weeks. I already miss my little 9 and 10 year olds, but I still get to see them during snack time even if they aren't in my class anymore. I now have the oldest group (11-12 years old), which is quite a shift. I'm already well on my way to becoming seriously attached to them too.

Last weekend we took a TYO sponsored trip to Hebron, one of the holiest places in the big three monotheistic religions as it is home to the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Leah, and Rebecca are the ones buried there (I think that’s everyone). We visited the site on the Jewish side as it was Friday so only Muslims could go in on the mosque side. It was a beautiful area and very interesting. The brochures we got were especially fascinating as they were part informational part propaganda.

Outside the tomb.

Inside the Jewish side. Such a beautiful ceiling!

Let me explain about the propaganda. In the West Bank there are Israeli settlers that carve out places to live for themselves. There are really two types of settlers: the ones that do it because settlements are subsidized by the Israeli government so they get cheap housing and utilities and the ones that do it for religious reasons. The first group is generally the majority, but in Hebron, a place where settlers live literally on top of Palestinians rather than in their own communities, it’s the second kind. They are there because it is their God given right to have this land. Now I’m all for living near a holy site and all of that, but what I don’t approve of is how they’ve done it. The settlers have pushed Palestinians out of large areas of Hebron. Streets that used to be lined with shops and bustling with people are empty, like a ghost town. In other places there are streets where Palestinians can only walk on one side and not the other. There are also signs talking about how the Arabs stole Hebron from the Jews and how Jews are kept within tiny portions of the city. While some of the facts on these signs are true, they only tell a small fraction of the story. I really wanted a picture of some of these signs, but Tala told us that it was better not to take pictures so as not to attract any attention from IDF soldiers.

One of the empty streets full of closed storefronts.

Enough of the depressing though. One part of our trip to Hebron was amazingly positive. There is a women’s cooperative there where handmade crafts are sold. There were so many beautiful things. I spent a chunk of money there, as did the other interns (the woman at the shop told us we gave them about as much business in our one visit as they usually get in a month). My favorite purchase is a beautiful hand embroidered shawl. Now I have something to wear over a fancy dress on a chilly evening. I also got some presents for people so I won’t tell you everything I got. While we were there, a family actually led us up onto the roof of the building they lived in so we could see a view of the whole city.
This was a little girl that lived in the building where we took pictures of the city. That's bunches of Hebron behind her.

This is the shawl I bought at the coop. It is so amazingly gorgeous.

The day after our visit to Hebron, we had a TYO library day for the neighborhood kids. I won’t talk about that here since us interns wrote a blog post about it that you can read there. It was fun though so check out the blog. There are lots of pictures.

On Sunday last week, we finally got to go on the long-awaited tour of Nablus’ Old City neighborhood. As one of the poorest residential areas of the city, we get many kids from there at the center. There are of course markets and shops, but it is not the best place to live. Leftover signs of violence are everywhere. It was hit hard during the second intifada, and you can still see piles of rubble that used to be buildings and walls are covered in martyr posters and plaques commemorating those that died (and not just in attacks against Israelis but anyone that died, including children). It was definitely an insight into the lives of our kids. We also got to visit a wonderful spice shop, a soap factory (Nablus is famous for soap), and a kanafeh place. Kanafeh is a wonderful sweet dish involving cheese and sugar. Nablus is famous for its kanafeh. I must say that I’ve had kanafeh in only one other place so far, but Nablus’ is so far superior.
A plaque built into the wall commemoration martyrs.

A residential street in the Old City.

The spice shop!

This is what kanafeh looks like. This picture was actually of some kanafeh I had a week later in Taybeh, but it pretty much looks the same. Nablus kanafeh tastes way better though.

This most recent weekend that we just had was also an experience. Thursday night, we decided we had to get out of the center so we went to see The Dark Knight Rises at the Nablus movie theater. They have one screen here, but the movie theater/cafĂ© really feels like a piece of America in the middle of Nablus. We were all a bit surprised that some of the racier scenes in the movie didn’t get skipped over. Nothing was cut.

Friday was a day of intense laziness. Saturday we ventured out of Nablus to Taybeh near Ramallah. Taybeh is a Christian village here in Palestine and as such it is home to a brewery. This weekend they had an Oktoberfest celebration that we went to. There was live music, traditional dancing, a small craft fair, lots of food, and, of course, beer. It was a really international festival too. We met people from England, France, and the US. There were people from Brazil, Japan, and many other countries as well. It was odd to hear all the English being spoken around me. It was a generally fun day though we had some frustration at the end because our taxi couldn’t get into town to pick us up because of traffic so we walked the entire length of the town to go meet it.

Traditional dancing displayed at the Taybeh festival.

I had to take a picture of this banner. I did not expect to see Japanese in the midst of Palestine. It pretty much says "There is Palestinian beer!" Yup. I also saw several women at the festival in yukata. It was a bit surreal.

And now you’re caught up. Friday TYO is sponsoring a trip to Jerusalem and then us interns are planning to head to Bethlehem to spend our Saturday. Sorry for the long post. I also meant to post this two days ago, but our internet has been especially slow. Most of this was written Sunday, but I had to wait for a better connection so I could upload the pictures.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Worlds Apart

Orientation is over, and I've had my first week of truly working at TYO. It was a crazy week that left me rather exhausted by the end, but it was generally a really positive kind of crazy. If you've been following TYO, you may see the intern blog posts on their site. Some of my experiences are already documented there (we are required to blog once a week so you can keep an eye out at for news of me).

The work week here begins on Sunday, which is mostly meetings but includes a professional competency course that we interns give at An-Najah University here in Nablus. Since I am working an unpaid internship rather than a job with an income, I'm not sure how qualified I am to talk about professional competency. And in fact, this class was my greatest challenge of the week. I had about 30 students registered on my list; nine people showed up (and 5 of those nine were not on my list). Of that group, one had good English and a couple more could mostly follow what I said, but the majority were totally lost. It's supposed to be only advanced English speakers since I have no Arabic to fall back on if someone gets confused. Hopefully today will be better.

My classes here at the center are a far more positive experience. We started off on Monday greeting the morning core program students (the core program is taught by Palestinians. In the morning they have 4-5 year olds and in the afternoon they have 6-8 year olds. The intern program is for older kids).

Two of the cuties that we got to briefly hang with.

This little girl grabbed my hand and didn't want to let go. I don't even know her name, but she still touched my heart.

Later that morning, I had my first beginner's English class for the Women's Group. The Women's Group is for moms in the community, especially the moms of the kids that come to TYO. I'm REALLY enjoying teaching basic English to these women. Since I know no Arabic, I have to get my English points across by using over-the-top gestures and expressions and generally acting like an idiot. It's a LOT of fun.

On the mornings I'm not teaching English, I'm co-teaching women's aerobics. This is another funny experience. Lila, the intern teaching with me, and I have a translator for this one so we can coherently tell women to not stick their butts in the air when they do push-ups, but I still get to act a bit silly and dance around to Enrique Iglesias. I get a work out too so along with my healthy eating habits here, I'm probably going to come home in much better shape than when I left. One of the most interesting parts of aerobics is that we close the curtains and doors so that eh women can take of their outer layers and wear work out gear. They all come in with their heads, arms, and legs covered but shed all that so they're in tanks and leggings to work out. I especially find the women who have their hair styled interesting since no one sees that.

The afternoon is for my kids' classes. They are a lot of fun though exhausting, but then that's the case of kids the world over. I work with a fantastic translator named Ruba (she's so awesome, I can't even explain. I hope that she makes it to the States someday; she's actually hoping to get a Fulbright to get her Masters in the US).

This is one of my girls. Her name is Nahida. I had them draw a school bus (back-to-school theme, plus we read a Magic School Bus book) and put their names on it to decorate the classroom.

For the second class, we made our own puzzles. These boys are drawing the picture that they will turn into puzzle pieces.

A piece of the puzzle.

And now they're working to put their picture back together.

Once the week was over, Megan, Tommy, and I went off to Tel Aviv for Friday and Saturday. Lila had to stay behind because someone needed to be here to let in the BBC (I'll talk about that some other time as it isn't over yet) and Humaira, Tala, and Samin were also out of town for the weekend.

Tel Aviv is a little over an hour away from Nablus, but it is completely different. Nablus is a conservative city, even for Palestine: Tel Aviv is where Israel goes to party. When we arrived on Friday, we spent day wandering around the Carmel market before taking a brief beach break on our way to Jaffa, the old city next to Tel Aviv (Jaffa is mentioned more than once in the Bible. It's where Tabitha was raised from the dead and St. Peter dreamed of being allowed to eat pork--I'm paraphrasing).

Here we are in Jaffa with Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean in the background.

That evening we hung out at our hostel and met a lot of cool people. We were staying in a four bed room, and our room mate was from France (making me realize how incredibly terrible my French has become. It was awful, but I tried). We also met a British couple and several Israelis from Nazareth (though they were originally from Russia, I guess).

Saturday we slept in and then spent the whole day on the beach. Tommy and Megan impressed the chair and umbrella rental guy by speaking Arabic (he was from Sudan). Two of the food/drink servers on the beach we were at also came and hung out with us whenever they had a moment. They were also Russians that came to Israel. They seemed impressed by our work with the Palestinians. Also, Tommy took a picture with a Bavarian.

Tommy with the Bavarian lady. He's pretending to be holding a beer.

All in all, it was a good weekend getaway. Now I'm back in Nablus, and the difference between the two places could not be starker. I'm pretty happy to be home though even if the BBC has taken over temporarily.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Working hard

Orientation has been quite busy especially once we had to write our curricula for the session. Interestingly, we were supposed to have a couple of tours of areas in Nablus (the Old City and the largest of the refugee camps: Balata). Those tours got cancelled due to strikes and protests going on here in the West Bank so we had "free time". I'm not sure HOW I would have gotten everything done without that "free time". As it was, there was some staying up late and getting up early to get everything done.

Today, I went hiking with Tala and the other interns at Wadi Qelt, one of Earth's lowest points. Jesus apparently walked there when he was going to Jericho. There's some other Biblical stuff that I can't remember too. The Romans built an aqueduct to direct water through the area that is still in use today. There's also a Greek Orthodox monastery at one end that's been there for over a thousand years. Very historical. The hike itself was STUNNING. None of the pictures I took come close to capturing how beautiful it was. I've always been a fan of desert beauty, and this was rock formation at their most beautiful. So now, I'll give you some pictures!

My favorite thing about living at TYO: the huge amount of produce we get to consume. So many yummy fruits and veggies. As a grad student shopping for just me, I never got a lot of produce because it would go bad before I could eat it. Not a problem here.

Wadi Qelt! So beautiful.

Another view. Really, every angle of this hike was stunning.

The Roman aqueduct.

Another beautiful view. The cave dwellings are used by Bedouins. We saw some of them herding goats during the hike.

More beautiful desert.

This was taken inside St. George's monastery at the end of the hike. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have liked to look around more. They were also renovating so it wasn't the best time to see the place.

Tomorrow TYO has a library day for kids and then Sunday I starting teaching! Yikes!