This blog post features former intern Amanda as she reflects on her time as a TYO intern last summer in Nablus.
I had been studying Kathleen Hanna directly prior to my arrival in Nablus. Kathleen Hanna was the original Punk Rock girl in the 80s. She started a feminist movement because she used her fame to preach about the necessity for equality for women. She would often be heard at her shows screaming “GIRLS IN THE FRONT, GIRLS IN THE FRONT” to make men move away from the front of the stage and create a safe environment for women to dance at her concerts. She did this because both men and women would go to her shows to enjoy her music and start these mosh pits where people would really get hurt. Kathleen Hanna was a protector of women and TYO is the Kathleen Hanna of Nablus.
I had literally no idea what I was going to step foot into. The only people I knew who had heard of Nablus were found on my laptop – random strangers I’d find while looking Nablus up on Google and YouTube. After my flight and my eventful cab ride, I arrived to TYO around 1 or 2 in the morning. Two women greeted me – I’m pretty sure they were each wearing different matching pajama sets and I immediately thought, “These women are classy.” One helped me lug my giant suitcase up 6 flights of stairs – enough stuff for a month and a half and some change. These classy women had also been strangers from Google and YouTube – they had both been the ones to interview me for an international intern position at TYO on Skype. They showed me to my room and I remember immediately being taken aback at the realization I hadn’t fully appreciated the fact that I would be working with so many educated women up until that point. It was liberating for me, the girl with the family full of men.
Some of my most empowering moments came from the classes I taught for The Women’s Group. I had the disarming pleasure of teaching women ranging from 20-60+ about nutrition and fitness – these were women who got to leave behind their cramped houses, hungry children, husbands with varying personalities, cleaning duties, cooking duties, and coping mechanisms for a few hours. In exchange they received psychosocial programming provided by TYO like IT classes, group therapy, and my fitness and nutrition classes. They were initially skeptical of me, the ajnabeeya [foreigner], but once they learned I spoke a little bit of Arabic and wasn’t afraid to speak my mind they lightened up. They came to class excited, counting loudly, proclaiming their pants fit so much better now. They screamed, shocked that ice cream wasn’t a healthy snack option – “But it has milk!” – and then concurred among themselves that each woman had secretly known all along it was unhealthy, of course. I got to play soccer with women who thought sports weren’t for women. I’ve grown up around lots of boys and men because I come from a big Assyrian family – the only woman in my life has always been my mother. My strong, genius, great chef, beautiful single mother. It’s always been us: two strong women in a sea of big, loud, Mr. Fix-it’s. Suddenly, at TYO, I was in a sea of mothers. For two hours everyday – before I was surrounded by college students and later, 6 year olds – it was all mothers. It was difficult to contain my enthusiasm and genuine love for them. They sat on their yoga mats and told me stories of their homes they wish to see again – if I went to their old neighborhoods, could I visit their house? Would I come over for dinner? Would I be a guest at their daughter’s wedding? Would I marry their son? I made them close their eyes and meditate on the floor for 2 minutes. I would always chastise my women jokingly when they began to fidget – in reality it was extremely difficult to get them to be still for 2 minutes because they simply were not accustomed to the concept of relaxation – they could not do it. “Give yourself two minutes of silence, ladies. Otherwise, you will go crazy.” I could see their facial expressions in somber agreement and I wondered whether or not they’d heed my advice in the future. I hope Hayah or Obaida or Falasteen is out there meditating somewhere.
Now I am finishing up my student teaching experience at a Chicago Public School (I’m teaching History to Juniors and Seniors) and in many ways it is TYO who prepared me best for this. Although a generally outspoken person, I had extreme anxieties about whether or not I would be able engage classrooms full of students eager to learn. I had anxiety about my teaching efficiency – could I actually get through to anyone, could I give access to anything important to my students? I know now that I was able to engage my students and, although in hindsight we can always be more efficient, I felt I communicated key concepts across to the beneficiaries at TYO after being trained in best practices by the staff before full immersion in the program. Working in Nablus has made me a more empowered activist for human rights and a firm believer in the transformative powers of psychosocial educational programming. These two lessons translate themselves into tangible parts of my life today – I work with a group of young professionals who organize voter drives and meet with local congressman to ensure the dialogue on human rights in the Middle East continues and is productive. I implement psychosocial learning in my Chicago Public School classroom as frequently as possible because I know it works. TYO taught me that – not a classroom, not a book. TYO released in me an empathy I did not know I had – it brought out my inner Kathleen Hanna and she’s here to stay.
– Amanda, TYO Intern Alumna, Summer 2014