This past week has been bittersweet: full of sad goodbyes, but along with them, reminders of how much we’ve accomplished during our time here. So many moments stick out to me from the final week: the kids hanging out the windows of the bus to high-five me when we got to Jaberland, or showing them how to reach out and touch the undersea creatures during the 3D movie like I did as a kid. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the kindness and the hospitality of Nabulsi’s. At the final party for the Women’s Group, I collected honorary mothers-in-law whose sons I’ve promised to marry, sight unseen, and the women in my IT class promised to stage a protest to get me Palestinian residency!
This experience was all about going outside of your comfort zone – for me and the kids alike. When I first arrived, I harbored doubts about my ability to teach arts and crafts; I’d never really seen myself as an artistic person, as any of my stick figures would tell you. Nor had I taught children with anywhere near the level of difficulty that these kids have experienced in their short lives. And I wondered if Ben Gurion airport security might be right in questioning why I would move across the world to live and work with people I’d never met. And the kids were out of their element, too. For nine- and ten-year-olds, especially the shyer ones, beginning an after-school program with kids from different camps was more intimidating than it was for me to fly across the Atlantic.
But we’ve all reaped the benefits of challenging ourselves. It’s a cliché of teaching that you learn just as much as you teach. While there aren’t any algebraic formulas or historical anecdotes that have become further ingrained into my memory through my art classes, I’ve received a non-formal education of my own, discovering a newly creative side to myself. As rigorous as it was, my liberal arts education could not have prepared me for this: for the moment when a child tells you that her family treats her younger sister better than they treat her; for jumping to separate two kids who are about to throw fists; for thinking through every possible thing that could go wrong with an art project.
In my first post, I wrote about hints of transformations ahead, and I’m happy to say that they have come to fruition. Kids who were shy when the session started now bound to greet me at the beginning of class, and the initially disruptive kids have settled in to the rhythm of class – like Rania, who lights up when I thank her for waiting patiently for art supplies. And just as I’ve found kindred spirits in my fellow interns and colleagues, and connected with my Palestinian peers, I’ve seen friendships blossom among the kids from different camps, who now beckon and save seats for each other.
I’ve come to think that that’s what “development” really means, on a human level. I didn’t come in as a Westerner to bestow my knowledge on the children of Palestine. Instead, we all pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, coming together to work, to learn, to create something new. Along the way, I have fallen in love with Palestine: this is a place that gets under your skin and stays. While I’m sad to be leaving TYO, I’m glad that a new interns and new students will get the same chance to create and develop together come summer.
As I ready to leave Nablus, I am overwhelmed with memories of my past three months in this beautiful city. The Nabulsi people have so warmly received me and my fellow interns into their city, and I already feel that I can call this place my home. As such, I am certain that when I depart from here I will soon have feelings of homesickness. While I will most certainly miss Nablus itself, I know that it is the community that I will miss the most.
Over the past 90 days, I have met so many kind and beautiful people. First, there are the children in my classes, whose sense of wonder will be difficult to leave behind. While at times our classes had their difficulties, the students always remained grateful and happy to have a place to learn and play freely. Second, there is my translator and my lovely volunteers, without whose help I could never have succeeded with my lessons. It is their care and dedication as local citizens that keep TYO functioning so smoothly. Third, there are the ladies from my Women’s Group classes, who showed me what it really means to be a strong, female figure. I will never forget their formidable endurance. Finally, there are my co-workers, both local and international, who have helped make my time here so enjoyable. Without their kindness and support, the difficulties of life in the West Bank may have overwhelmed me.
It is hard to believe that I may not see many of these people again. But while it saddens me to think such thoughts, I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have had here. True to the Palestinian sense of hospitality, I could not leave this country without a host of pictures, cards, gifts and mementos given to me by others to help remember them by. However, it is not these tokens of appreciation that I will cherish the most, but the memories of our time together. I will always carry a little piece of Nablus in my heart. Likewise, a piece of me will always remain in Nablus, calling Palestine its home.
As I pack away my memories and prepare myself to leave Nablus, I want to stuff my already overweight suitcase with more mementos than I can afford to lug with me. As I contemplate on this experience and try to decide what I am going to miss the most, I realize it is impossible to make that distinction. Trying to rank and classify this journey would give it a simplification it does not deserve. Palestine has become a part of me. Over the last three months I’ve heard stories that have profoundly changed my outlook on life.
It will definitely take some time to adjust to not being surrounded by so many loving children, craving affection and endearingly calling me “Nickelodeon.” I’ll miss the happy faces I saw during Racing the Planet games, eagerly crying out “binafsagee” with all the might of their lungs and how they patiently corrected my pronunciation of our team name.
And the moms – who will criticize my workout outfits now? How could I ever forget their determination to lead normal lives despite all the altercations and the constant set backs? Their resilience is inspiration for me. I can only hope to have half of their fortitude in my lifetime.
And Haneen our trusty translator who opened the doors of her home to us and made us feel welcomed.
Among the valuables I take with me are the three amazing friendships I created with my fellow interns. I’m going to miss calling Laura one of the many amusing nicknames we created for her. Or have Nawal protect us whenever she thinks danger is lurking and Anna’s witty remarks on the hilarity of our lives. These are treasures I will always hold close to my heart. Treasures I’m very fortunate to have found.
As I write this I realize the list is without end and the more I think about it the less I want to dwell on my separation from people that have become so dear to me. Instead I hope this separation will only be temporary.
Since I’ve already devoted a blog post to reflecting on my experience here at TYO, I thought I would use my final blog as a chance to share a few of my favorite moments of my sports class the session.
My first highlight, and one of the most memorable days of the class was my first day meeting the kids. We played a game called “Blanket Volleyball” in which teams work together to pass a ball back and forth between two blankets. We had been warned that the students can be overwhelming, but I remember leaving the first day thinking I would be working with 80 sweet, shy, and cooperative children. This illusion lasted until halfway through the second week, when they began to be comfortable with me, the other volunteers, and with the center.
Another game that I enjoyed immensely was charades. For this activity, the classes divided into small groups and discussed things they have in common. Afterward, teams took turns acting out the similarities in charades. What interested me the most, and I think the kids themselves, was being able to see each other expressing ourselves in a different way than usual. It wasn’t a sport, or even a sport-related game, so it was truly unique to our classroom dynamic. This was also one of the days when the class begged to continue even when our time was up.
A special activity here at TYO is the parachute. Our students rarely get to play with it, except during special field days on weekends, but we brought it out to play with our classes for one day. It’s amazing to see the level of excitement brought on by the parachute, but it can be seen in students and volunteers alike. I loved showing them how to make a tent by lifting the parachute above our heads and pulling it down around us. One of my goals for the class was to provide a toolbox of games for the children to take home and organize themselves with simple rules and few materials, so the parachute was a welcome change of pace.
While the children did turn out to be overwhelming at times, I had a glimpse, during our field trip, of what they were like on our first days together. Maybe it was the weather, or the park, or the fact that the children knew they wouldn’t see me again, but they were on their best behavior and seemed to be genuinely enjoying the day. Our kids are special, like any other kids, and I’m so grateful to have been able to be here to experience life with them, and to share with them a little bit of the freedom to be a kid that I was lucky to experience growing up.