Tuesday, December 27, 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Twas the Tuesday before Christmas when I held an end of the semester party for my Balata kids. I will not be teaching there until February, although I will supposedly be leading a drama a few days a week. It was bittersweet, since I love those kids, even though I can barely handle the now overcrowded classes. There are now too many kids in both classes, and I am the only teacher at the site, which I find strange since Balata is the biggest refugee camp (in terms of population) in all of Palestine. Nevertheless, I would much rather continue to teach at Balata and get an extended break from my private school class. The party went off without a hitch, and the children were unexpectedly calm as I handed out snacks and sugary drinks. After the second class's party, 6 of the older kids stayed behind and helped me clean up, of their own volition. I was bombarded with hugs, goodbyes and I love yous which made all the work worth it.

On Friday I decided to explore the camp a little more because I had never walked farther than the center where I worked. I went with a visiting Brit who worked for TFP last year and had never walked around either. It ended up being a little awkward as Balata is very poor and we just looked like tourists amongst the curious glances and not so quiet exclamations. But we ended up running into Mohammed, who works at the center I teach at. His brother was one of the prisoners that just got released in a recent prisoner swap. He was arrested during the 2nd Intifada at the age of 19 and was in jail for 9 years. His entire 20s was spent in an Israeli prison. Mohammed invited us back to his house for the welcome home party. We only stayed a little and arrived at the beginning, so we didn't see much of the festivities. Nick and I were also split up as I went to sit with the women and he with the men. It was slightly awkward but I did get to meet Mostafa (the brother) and wish him my congratulations. He was a very nice, quiet and respectful man and I was dying to know his story. Definitely not the right time to ask. Perhaps in the future..

Saturday morning we headed off to Ramallah to drop off our stuff, decorate the guys' house and buy food for Christmas dinner the next day. We stayed with American guys we had met a month or so ago and have since become good friends with. They have friends with cars so from there we drove to Bethlehem. We couldn't seem to find Shepherd's Field where we heard they were having services, but after about 10 instances of turning around and asking for directions we finally found it. Its definitely a tourists' park, not an open field, but it's very well kept and nicely decorated for Christmas. We caught the end of an Indonesian service (they were ALL wearing Santa hats) and then headed up to Manger Square where we walked around looking at the decor and grabbing dinner. The restaurant was very warm and cozy, but the food and company are what made it a meal to remember. Several other friends had met up with us, so our extended table laughed, ate and enjoyed the new community we had made to celebrate Christmas. It was raining by the time we left the restaurant, so we drove to the Shepherd's field again and went to the chapel where, thankfully, they were holding an English mass for a tour group of Malaysians, Indians, and perhaps some other Asian countries. It was nice to sing carols and listen to the--quite frankly--adorable Indian priest give a message (although definitely not the style or content that I am used to). Afterwards, cold and a little wet, we headed back to Ramallah. We put in It's a Wonderful Life (which only 2 of us stayed down for the duration of) and had freshly baked chocolate chip cookies thanks to Lindsey and a Betty Crocker pre-made mix.

The next morning we woke up, made a pancake and eggs breakfast and relaxed for a little watching more Christmas movies and opening stockings Lindsey had made and we had stuffed with candy and other little things. Then we started the task of the day: cooking Christmas dinner. We all took over the kitchen in shifts. We knew people were bringing food, and the Turkey had been taken to a different house to bake, but we still made a bunch of food. Lindsey and Amy baked amazing pumpkin pies, I made a vegetable stew and others made some various other dishes. By the time dinner rolled around we had about 11 people. Then all of a sudden, at least 10 or 15 more people walk in just as the turkey is arriving. Everyone brought a tone of food: carrott cake, hummus, mashed potatoes, pasta salad amongst other delicious dishes. The boys had borrowed a second dining room table from their neighbors, so we fit as many people in that, and the rest sat at various other chairs, couches, coffee tables and arm rests. We met a lot of really cool and interesting people (all telling us to come to Ramallah where the jobs are better and the life is freer...so tempting). It really turned out to be a great night, even though I was away from my family, friends and home. Although, I have to say, my friends here are really like a new kind f family for me. I'm really glad I was with them this Christmas. And who would have thought I would be celebrating Christmas with Jews, Muslims, Christians and others...a very unique experience. For my first ex-pat Christmas away from home, it couldn't have been much better.

We came back the next day and rested. Then today after our first post-turkey workout, some of us went to the Turkish Baths for some serious cleaning. We laid on hot tiles, relaxed in a sauna and tried our best to breath in an intense steam room. Then we scrubbed with Nablusi soap and a loofah made of something like straw. It was a pretty nice experience, and the clean feeling after is incredible.

Now we've begun to plan for a New Years celebration in the boho neighborhood of Florentine in Tel Aviv (apparently one of the only places where you can find a big New Years celebration  because both Jews and Muslims celebrate different New Years). Two days of teaching before we head out early on Friday...and thats about all the planning we've done so far. As always, more to come.

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Onions Stop Tears

Thursday night after work we headed off to Ramallah for a night out to unwind from a long week. We went to a cozy little place with some dancing, which was much needed after about 2 months without dancing. It was a lot of fun to unwind and hang out with some of my coworkers outside of the workplace, especially since it had been a pretty tough week in terms of student behavior. We stayed the night at our American friends’ house (they now have a Spanish roommate who is equally as nice).

Then this morning Amy and I set out for Belien where we knew there was a protest. On the way we ran into some other internationals going to Nabi Saleh for a protest there so we decided to join forces. We were actually pretty glad we canged courses because we realized Nabi Saleh is the town where Mostafa, a protester, was killed by a can of tear gas to the face last week. So this week was a pretty important protest for the village since they had lost one of their own last week. They are protesting the settlement that was built on top of THEIR farmland and which has now taken over their spring where they get water. They also experience night raids and other maltreatments. This week a lot of people showed up, especially internationals who had heard about what happened last week and came out to show support.

(look in the gas cloud)

I guess for some reason I was expecting a simple demonstration. Guess again. We walked down the road to where the protester was killed last week.  I stayed towards the back of the group with Amy and some other people we know from various internationals’ events and connections. There were probably between 75-100 people and a lot of them were internationals this week. Then they started firing tear gas bombs indiscriminately at the protestors.  They’re about the size of a large orange and are hard…they look kind of like old school bombs.  People would retreat and then move forward and then again be bombarded by tear gas. They also pulled out the skunk water canon which shoots streams of chemically enhanced water that stinks and doesn’t ever leave. We stayed far away from that.

Then the Palestinians directed people to march down to the spring which is the focal point of the protests. The spring was stolen from the village by the settlement. We waited and walked up to the top of the hill overlooking the spring. There was a 45 min or so stand-off and some arrests. Then they started firing gas at the protesters right in front of them. When they had gotten really fed up with us they started firing at the hill and that pretty much ended things for the day. *** I forgot to add this when I first published, but Ill put it in now: there were also plenty of Israeli and Jewish protesters. I wanted to include that so that people know that this is not a one sided fight against breaches of international human rights law***

Now that I’ve outlined the events, I’ll give my personal commentary and reactions. I’ll be honest the first time they started shooting the tear gas at us I was terrified. It sounds like gunfire and all you see is people running and smoke flooding the air. Once you convince yourself it’s just gas canisters, the fear subsides, but those canisters are still pretty intimidating. I stayed towards the back for the most part, but at one point they fired longer range and I got caught in the gas. It’s like inhaling fire into your nose and lungs and rubbing pepper in your eyes. I wasn’t even that close to the can and I felt the effects of the potent chemicals. Ironically sniffing onions helps and some people handed me a few pieces to calm down the effects. It wore off relatively quickly since I didn’t get hit too hard. But apparently its more potent that gas someone experienced at protests in other countries like England. And they also shoot them at you whereas in other places the gas is rolled or sprayed in. Although to be honest, its never nice whether its here or the States.  And considering the mass of protesters they were firing at were completely peaceful, it was definitely excessive.  The most resonating images were those of the young Palestinian boys on a hill getting gas canisters shot at them as if they were a threat.  At some point some started throwing stones, but this was after they had been thoroughly gassed (although stone throwing at decked out soldiers doesn’t exactly justify shooting gas cans at kids regardless…but as I said stones were thrown later, after the gassing had started). Some I’m sure would want to see the boys in the wrong, and while I don’t believe stone throwing is the best response, when you think about it from their perspective you see things in a different light. To them they are using the only means they have to defend themselves, their livelihoods. If someone took your land and water supply and then shot gas canisters from a canon at you when you protested the seizure-- which is illegal according to international law--what would you do? Now on top of that imagine that you don’t have the bill of rights or anything like that to refer to. In fact, your country, your nation isn’t even recognized by the international community. Now honestly ask yourself what would you do?

 I think today reminded me  1) of why I wanted to come here, why I care so much, where my passions lie and  2) how consuming  and hopeless the oppression is for a lot of the people here, especially in places directly affected by the settlements like Nabi Saleh.  It’s really hard to understand fully unless you’re here, and even then as someone who has grown up being told I am free to do anything and be anything, I can’t even fully empathize.  Anyway that’s my two cents. Im sure some of you might disagree. I’m open to chatting about it : caseylabu@gmail.com

For those of you concerned about my safety at protests and  posting political pieces ....please don't worry. I'm smart and safe about what I do. Yes, there are some risks in going to protests, but I play it safe and it needs to be done. Since I have been given a passion for this conflict and for this oppressed group of people, I feel not only responsible for taking action but I also feel I need to stand up for what I believe and to defend the oppressed, which I have been called to do. My life is in God's hands and I have peace in that.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Turkey, Tattoos and a Charlie Brown Tree

I apologize for not posting in several weeks. Coming back from the break, I haven't had much time to breath, much less reflect and write. Now that I have to simultaneously make worksheets and readings for the current week and create lesson plans for the upcoming week, all this with a finicky computer, poor internet and a shared printer I am not linked to, I basically work around the clock. Its not a problem, I knew this was going to be a lot of work, but it explains why I have been so absent in updating. 

Its mostly been work, but I have had a chance to get out too. A couple Thursdays ago (Thursday is the last day of the school week, then Friday and Saturday are the weekend and Sunday starts the week off), me and some girls had a girls night out in Ramallah. Some UK musicians we had met were playing at a pub there so we went to watch. It was like walking into a European pub. 90% of the people were ex-pats from various countries. We felt like we had left Palestine. It was bizarre. We ended up crashing at the house of one of the Americans we had met there.

Then last weekend was Thanksgiving. We all made dishes and brought them to our friend Emma's apartment for a Thanksgiving feast. We would have liked to have it at our house, but the camp is more conservative, and we aren't allowed to have men in our apartment. The American we met in Ramallah came too and brought his other two roommates. Two are from Seattle and the other from Hawaii. We also had a mix of other nationalities getting a taste of a traditional...or semi-traditional Thanksgiving. We had sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, Musaka, rice, fruit salad, and lots of other dishes. The guys from Ramallah brought a 16 pound turkey which Emma masterfully baked in a less than legitimate oven. It was great to have all the traditional food and be around friends from work and outside of work. It didnt really feel like a normal Thanksgiving, but I think the word "normal" when referring to holidays is going to change now that I'm an adult on my own. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, but the pang of not being home with my family and not being able to see my best friends from home was definitely still sharp. Christmas will be the real test I suppose.

Speaking of which, the Christmas season has begun in our little house. Walking outside you would never know, but inside we now have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree Lindsey bought yesterday. We put up some Ramadan lights we found in the closet, and plan to get more decorations this weekend (we plan on taking a night/day trip to Bethlehem). Lindsey also has materials to make clay ornaments and paint them, and then we intend to string popcorn as well and make several other paper-based decorations for the house. We have officially turned on the Christmas music and have even caught a couple Christmas movies on TV (of course none of the good ones, but for now we're just happy for the familiarity of Christmas Spirit beyond our own computers and walls). They also have  a TON of chocolate commercial looking advent calendars!! We're each getting one in our apartment! Its funny because the kids have been running around with them for weeks just eating the candy. We also spotted some chocolate Santas at the supermarket. I have no doubt Ramallah and Bethlehem have more since they have significant Christian populations, whereas there are very few here. 
Our big plan is to go to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve and then either come home or stay with friends in Ramallah for Christmas day (more comfortable and intimate than being in a city where we don't have a place to stay). I'm pretty excited for that!

Tattoos: We've been talking about getting them in Bethlehem, something small. I might not be ready for that kind of commitment, but what I did end up with was four temporary tattoos from my Balata kids plastered on my hands and wrists...of course who doesn't want four cars on their hands??

Speaking of my Balata kids, they seriously make all the pain worth it, well the second class at least. The private school class is always a challenge because the kids do not listen. Then I commute to Balata and teach a now very large class of beginners. Its hard because the levels are all over the place and maintaining control of such a wide range of ages and levels is difficult. But then comes my older kids. The class is smaller and they always make me smile. There are two girls in the class whom I just love. They are so sweet and eager to learn and they tell me they love me after class. One day the one girl came to class looking upset. I took her outside and found out a couple of older boys had pushed her over. It's one of the few times where I have very seriously wanted to beat someone up. Had the boys been around, I think I would have thrown a couple punches and said some pretty terrible things, so maybe it is a good thing they weren't around...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backpacking the Dead Sea and Judean Desert

Lately I have experiences random acts of kindness from the most random set of strangers. Whether it was trying to find a cab during the holiday rush last weekend, or hiking through a mountain valley and being invited to stay in a Bedouin's camp, the kindness off strangers here has helped me out so many times. Just wanted to share that before I start on my holiday adventure.

I guess I'll begin with the Eid. Its the biggest holiday here, a little like Christmas, especially in the shopping rush capacity. We just stayed in Nablus for Eid, and then on Monday made the decision to travel. Me, my two housemates Amy and Lindsey set out to meet up with fellow teacher from Australia Ella, her friend from home Patrick, and another teacher Tim. We later decided on the title : the Intrepid 6...or the dirty half dozen. Who needs a set label anyway? I got to be the translator,as I was the only one with a background of Arabic. I enjoyed being the one who had to talk to people and ask questions. The best was when we needed to figure something out and I was able to translate from Arabic to English and figure it out. Not that I am anywhere near fluent, but I guess I know enough to get the point across.

We set off from Nablus for the Dead Sea. We had heard of a place where you could pay to camp on their property along the coast (I wouldn't say beach because its all mud). So we got ourselves there just in time for sunset. It was beautiful! Me and Lindsey got some volleyball in with a couple people spending the day there. We were one of only a few groups spending the night. After the sun set (at like 5 pm) we had a whole night and not a whole lot to do so we chatted and then did the inevitable: go swimming at night in the Dead Sea!!! We got some cuts and bruises from not being able to see the rocks too well, but it was totally worth it! There were definitely some quirks to the place: like playing awful US pop music until late at night and then starting it up again at 730 am (I never want to wake up to Bad Romance or any Lady gaga for that matter ever again). I actually didnt end up in the tent with the group. Long story short, the night manager talked to me until 2 in the morning and then gave me a little hut with a sleeping bag and pillow. I came to find out I got the best night sleep of the group.

Before I continue I have to say one of the best aspects of the trip was the group: we ha d a great dynamic, traveled so well together, and didn't once have a guide taking us around or a program manager holding our hands. We did the whole thing spur of the moment on our own terms. It was fantastic.

The next morning we set off early for Jericho. There we had a delicious and much needed breakfast feast of hummus, foul, falafel, salad and most importantly Nescafe. We picked up some food and LOTS of water and then headed off for Wadi Quelt, which is basically a gorge/ valley running through the Judean Desert. We started at the St. George's Monastery right outside Jericho. The monastery is built into the mountain, and is quite a sight. Then we trekked on through the wadi. Apparently a lot of people hike up on the top along the old Roman aqueduct (which we did for a little on the second day), but we went on through the rocky gorge. It  was challenging but so worth it. We got to do a little rock climbing up the side of the gorge (we left our gear at the bottom) to check out some greenery growing in the rocks. I think in the spring there will be a little basin there, but coming out of the summer it was pretty dry. We hiked for several hours encountering a few rocky obstacles that we had to climb with our packs, which made the adventure all the more thrilling. We had a great group and made lighthearted jokes along the way. We even busted into "hit me baby one more time" at one point. Interestingly enough Patrick knew it better than the rest of us. The hike was incredible. I've never been anywhere more breathtaking, or done anything more spontaneous and adventurous. I'm afraid now that I've got a taste I won't ever be able to get enough!

As the sun started to set, we began looking for places to pitch a tent for the night. As we were looking we cam upon a little Bedouin camp (Bedouin=an Arab ethnic group known for living in deserts and the like and often being of a nomadic nature). His name was Mohamed, and he invited us in for some incredible and much needed tea. He lives there seasonally shepherding goats and sheep, while his family lives in Jericho. I think quite a bit of backpackers end up at his place and I think he likes the company.Then he offered to let us stay the night at his camp. We decided since he had some mats and a bigger tent that we might as well. We hiked up a pretty vertically mountain, or mount rather and watched the sun go over the mountains. It was an incredible view as we could see the Judean Desert mounts, the Jordan valley and we could even see the lights of Amman, Jordan! It was an incredible view after an intense sprint up.

We ate the food we had brought and watched a little bit of a movie and fell asleep. Thank God we were in Mohamed's tent with his blankets and mats because we were FREEEEEZING with all that. Had we been in a tent on our own with 2 sleeping bags to share for all of us, we would have been in serious trouble (aka we would have gotten up and kept walking). So after 2 nights bad sleep we got up, had some of the food we had left, and set of for a shorter hike to a spring. This time we hiked along the aqueduct. There was one point we had to walk through the aqueduct because it bridged two mounts and it would have taken longer to walk around or down and up. It was quite refreshing actually, even though my boots were wet for the rest of the day. The spring was gorgeous although previous travelers had left some bottles behind which really took away from the scenery. We chilled there for a while and talked to some other travelers that arrived after us (they had just come down from where we were about to exit the gorge). We then made the strenuous but not long trek out of the gorge to the main road. It was quite a view: we were able to see the whole wadi curve out to the Jordan Valley (where we had come from the day before). We drank some water, had some fruit and set off for Ramallah and then Nablus. We had met an advertising exec and his mechanical engineer friend who works for a company opening a reusable bag factory to help reduce the use of plastic bags here (which is a seriousssss problem here!) who offered to help us out with rides. They took us to Ramallah and then Nablus, which was really nice of them.

It was a totally exhausting trip, but soooo worth it! I had an amazing time with great friends, met a random group of really awesome strangers, and saw some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I am so blessed!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dwindling Vocal Chords

Disclaimer: If you only have time to read a little, I would love it if you read down a little further instead of form the beginning, because I talk about my Palestinian family, which is a HUGE part of my life here.

I'm officially sick. That being said, so far I don't mind a whole lot. I'll take a small cold and dwindling voice over food poisoning any day. Honestly I'm more worried about my computer which keeps crashing, than I am about being sick. I
The day began with a slightly scratchy voice. By the time class time came around it was course, but still pretty clear. The after participating in an impromptu skit for the kids with the other teachers (which involved imitating a teacher known for her yelling capabilities) and a unruly class (last day before their biggest holiday), my voice started to wane. And i still had two classes to teach, which involved singing Happy Days enthusiastically and of course speaking loudly. Happy Days really did me in I think.

I spent the rest of the day and evening visiting with Kayan at her family's house about a 10 min walk away. I met two of her sisters, her mom, and her aunt. They were baking cookies for the Eid (big holiday here). I think I had like 6 glasses of drinks throughout the evening: soda, 3 glasses of tea, Turkish coffee and some really interesting but tasty version of hot chocolate. My voice got really bad at this point, which made speaking Arabic more difficult, but Kayan speaks some English so she translated a bunch which helped. It was really nice to just relax, and spend time with this incredibly nice and welcoming family.

I guess this would be a good time to explain who Kayan is, and how I came to know her. I''ll preface this story by explaining where I live. There are two buildings (each with a couple flats) within a separate walled area. The people living in these two buildings are all family in some way. We are at the bottom of one building, and what I have come to call my Palestinian family lives at the bottom of the other building. It started I guess on my first day in Nablus, when I was invited over to Besma (the mother in the bottom flat) invited me over. The whole family was there, including the family members that live above us (sorry if this is confusing).  I'm not sure what the next thing was after this initial welcoming, but basically between a series of Besma giving us incredible food, and me staying to chat after returning the licked clean plates (also washed of course), I began going over there regularly. Now I pretty much go to visit on a daily or bi-daily basis. I love going over there and chatting with Besma. She is so much fun to talk to, has a great sense of humor, and speaks slowly so I can understand. She knows some English, but we mostly communicate in Arabic, which has been undeniably helpful in improving my Arabic. I'm nowhere near fluent, but I am definitely improving. It is becoming more natural to say everyday phrases in Arabic. The biggest challenge is going to be building my vocabulary. Anyway, in addition to our chats over coffee, tea, or some other food/beverage, I also get to spend time with the other family members in that house.

The Dad is so...i'm trying to think of the right word...good-natured or jolly would be the closest...and sweet, and the interactions between him and Besma are just so loving, and I can tell they really respect each other. He kind of reminds me a little of my Pop-pop when he was alive, just in his mannerisms and look. That's probably another reason I like him, on top of everything else. Besma and Mohamed have 7 kids total, the 2 youngest of whom are still living with them. Taib is 11 I'm pretty sure, and Mahdi (or as I have officially knighted him Ma-D) is 21 (just about).

Taib cracks me up. He is an 11 year old boy that speaks like a 35 year old cosmopolitan, or perhaps wallstreet man. His English is excellent and his vocabulary is surprising for even an English speaker of his age. H watches a lot of American movies apparently, and his older brother who lives above them and is married to Kayan (my aforementioned friend) taught him English growing up. He's a great kid, and so so so so cute! It makes me think of my little baby brother (ok i know he's 14 but he'll always be my little baby bro).

Then there's Ma-D. I guess since we're the same age its logical for us to be friends. But above and beyond any kind of logic, he is a really great guy, someone I would want to be friends with anywhere anytime. I really enjoy talking to him, and as we have gotten to know each other it turns out we have a lot in common. I'm really really lucky because if he hadn't been my neighbor, we probably would never have met. This is a  conservative city, so interactions between men and women are pretty regulated. I feel really blessed that he lives next door and we are able to be friends. He speaks English I would say nearly fluently, if not fluently, so when he's around he translates sometimes when there are things Besma and I aren't able to communicate clearly. He is also helping me with my Arabic: when I need to know how to say something I can ask him. And after the Eid we're going to exchange Arabic lessons for Spanish lessons (he loves languages too). We're waiting until after the Eid because his schedule has been really crazy lately. He has exams, and on top of that has to work extra because of the upcoming holiday (picture retail stores one week before Christmas or the weekend after Thanksgiving, etc.). Basically he's a super hard worker.

The hospitality and welcoming that Besma (which by the way means smile in Arabic)  and her family has blown me away. I mean Arab hospitality in general is an astounding phenomenon and something I was already aware of, but this is more than anything I could have possibly expected. Like every time I go I come back with food. For a while I felt terrible about it and was terrified she felt obligated, but began to realize that this it wasn't like that at all. I think the moment I really realized it was when she told me I am like a daughter to her, and since then on numerous occasions she and other members of the family have told me I am family now.

Recently I started hanging out with Kayan, Besma's daughter in law. She is 23, and we get along really well. Between her English and my Arabic we are able to communicate pretty well. Its really exciting because she is my first female Palestinian friend, and I really like her. She is so sweet and of course welcoming. I mean she took me to her family's house after just meeting me! I'm really excited to spend more time with her and become better friends.

Then there is the family above us: our host family. They are also so incredibly sweet and welcoming. The Mom Abeer had us all over for dinner the other night and it was sooooo good!!! The son Husam who is finishing up high school is a lot of fun. He's a total jokester (I've labeled him snarky mc snarkeyson). He is also always so willing to help. He's fixed our cable, brought us gas tanks for hot water and cooking, and offers to help with any other little problem we may have. He also wished us a Happy Halloween and said he wished he could make us feel more at home. It was really sweet. He really always tries to make us feel at home. Also very smart and ambitious like Ma-D (theyre cousins).

My dilemma: basically, I was just told recently not to become too chummy with neighbors (too late for that). The bosses don't want us to. The reason is that in the past they have had an issue where they were chummy with a neighbor who would come over a bunch, but turns out she gossiped about them and damaged their reputation, which is not good for the school. This is a big city and small town in one I guess. So I understand where they are coming from. However, I know for sure that this won't happen with my family, and I don't have anything to gossip about regardless. Like the woman they had a problem with would come over and snoop around....whereas I always go over there.

 If they had told me when I first got here....I honestly don't know what would have happened. I'm glad they didn't tell me until it was already waaaayyyyy too late. I know that being with the family is right, not wrong in any way. I mean I missed going there one day, and the next day when I went over Besma grabs my hands and asked me where I was and then ushers me into the living room, shares a blanket with me (its getting chilly here) and tells me I'm one of the family. Like I said I see the school's point, but I KNOW that I am not in danger of that situation happening to me.

Ok I rambled on a bunch now. This has quasi become my journal since writing cramps my hand and takes up too much time, and my journal handwriting is illegible anyway, even to myself. I need to lesson plan now. I started this post last night (wednesday) but had to finish the next morning (thursday) because my computer kept shutting itself off (HUGE prayer request that this works out simply and cheaply...basically I cannot do my job without a computer as I make all my worksheets and materials pretty much). My voice is totally gone now, so Im going to stay in today (private school doesnt have English today, and I had to cancel my refugee class because I literally cannot talk. I would normally go into the school to do work, print out materials, make posters, but I think its best to stay in. I want to be able to travel a little over this week-long break!!!!) So NOW I need to work on my lesson plans for the week after break, so I can do materials next weekend when I'm back and better. Hasta Luego

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For the record...

OK so not everyday is going to be as amazing as yesterday. If yesterday was an example of a great teaching day, today was an example of a horrific one. Oh well. I guess the amazing days are only amazing because of the horrific ones to compare them to. Pressing on of course, tomorrow is a new day. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

So the bro snap here is actually a form of getting the teacher's attention

I know its been a few days, but I have started teaching, lesson planning, and material making, so I have been quite busy. I got off to a rocky start teaching, which I suppose should be expected since I have never taught before.

I love all my kids. Both the private school and refugee center kids! The private school kids have some listening and behavioral issues, but I've come up with a motivational incentive system which seems to be working. I'm learning what does and does not work with keeping that class in line. The biggest thing to tackle now is getting them motivated to actually learn. Like even if i can keep them quiet, things don't sink in for some of them. SO I need to make lots of visual aids (goodbye free time?)
The kids at the refugee center are so eager to learn for the most part, which is great! They don't know a whole lot, and I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what they do and do not know. The lower class can be a little unorderly. They're younger so its understandable but apparently part of my job is kicking students out (just for the day) that won't behave. I don't want to have to do it, but I think I'm going to have to. My second class is nearly perfect. A couple girls have problems not speaking in Arabic, BUT its not too much of an issue.
And I've really bonded with them.
The other thing that is annoying is the bro snap. Here what they do is stand up and do the bro snap to get you to call on them. Im pretty sure they don't know that in America thats what it is. What I mean is that I think its a parallel cultural phenomenon. Its irritating on its own, but even more so because it reminds me of the bro snap. I dont respond to it haha.
A few of them kept trying to walk home with me. I teach in one refugee camp and live in another. I like to walk back home...its about 25-40 min depending on if Im carrying a backpack or a backpack and 10 large hardcover books in my hands. I don't want them walking back alone so its a consistent "ok now go back home girls I will see you tomorrow" "no miss casey please we come with you" "no you can't it is not allowed" etc etc etc...eventually we part ways have 10 hugs (between just a few girls) and a few i love yous. Actually its really only happened he past 2 days since i started taking over...but I have a feeling it will continue. I don't mind really...whats an extra 5 min to my walk?

We went to deliver food to one family's house...I think the poorest in my class. Theres a mom, ten kids, one on the way and a TINY house that I didnt have time to go into this time but apparently will. One of the other teachers said she gets lice everytime she goes. The kids are so dirty and roam the streets. The mom doesn't keep track of them and apparently cannot tell you which of her kids were in school or not...not the best mother apparently. The two girls from the family in my class are really hard to control. But its important for them to be allowed to come.

My housemates and I get along super well which is great! We will probably travel together over the upcoming holiday. It will be nice to both get out and see new things, but also spend some time catching up with classroom preparations.

I know I'm missing things, but I think I covered the biggest chunk of things. I'm really starting to get used to getting around here and all the jazz. I love this city. So much.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breaking the Sound Barrier

The title of this entry was inspired by tonight's air show. A certain entity decided to create "sound bombs" by doing fly overs and purposefully breaking the sound barrier. Sound bombs kind of sound like bombs, or at least like a plane is about to crash into your house. Its quite obnoxious and unnecessary.

There have been several things I have learnt recently that have added to my frustrations with this entity. I already mentioned the burning of the olive groves, which happens frequently apparently. In fact, one of the other teachers witnessed and has photos of such an event.

There are other things too...I'm trying to remember. It really is a lot worse than people realize. And whats more, it affects their daily mentality. For example, I learned Palestinians rarely take the same route everyday as a survival mechanism...so as not to be tracked/hunted. Not that its necessarily an everyday threat for everyone, but apparently that has normalized into their culture from the past I assume, when Nablus was a heated "battleground." I'll have to look more into that and see if it holds true. I wouldn't doubt it though. Looking at graffiti and other forms of statements, you get a feel for what living out daily life is like for the people here. I wish I could remember everything, but it is late here, and I don't sleep very well yet...still getting my body's clock in tune.

I live in a relatively nice part of a refugee camp, which is essentially buildings built where tents were originally. BUT I have now seen the less nice parts, and probably have yet to see the worst. One of my afternoon girls when I teach at the refugee camp (a different one than the one I live in) is essentially a street girl. She has a "home" and "parent" but pretty much roams free and does as she pleases--something you can kind of gather by her appearance. She is sooo cute and eager to learn though, as are all the kids at the refugee camp.
My favorite is a little boy named Mohamed. He is probably about 7 or 8 but really small for his age. He has the biggest missing teeth smile and he uses it a lot! The best is when he agrees with something or wants something and says "yesss yess yess yess" and nods his head definitively. Even when he is being snarky and says the wrong answer to be silly...I have a hard time keeping a straight face. Its tough to teach though. I started today. Taking over one of the classes (with no materials today). They speak in Arabic which is a HUGE no no by our policy, and I have to tell them not to and give them "Xs"...4 and you go home for the day....I definitely ignored a lot today, but I do need to be tougher.

I started teaching half of the 2 hour class for my 5,6,7 grade kids too at the private school. So how it works for English is that grades 5,6,7 are grouped together and then separated by levels of comprehension and ability. I am with the lowest of this group. There are first graders that do better than them. And they have HUGE discipline issues when it comes to not talking in class and not throwing things at each other, even when I am watching them! These are relatively affluent kids as Pioneers is the best private school in town.
However, I definitely love them already. There are a few that, even though their disobedient, are sooooo sweet too. They need stability, and someone who will be there for them. Their first teacher quit, then they had an interim teacher, then a third teacher who got fired, then the same interim teacher and now me. So they have been tossed about a bunch. And apparently in Palestine the smart kids are the cool kids, and the not so smart kids are the not so cool kids....so they have that to deal with too. My goal is to find a way to motivate them to learn and behave. Easier said than done I'm sure, and Im afraid we got off on the wrong start. Today was literally a mess. I got out of the class looking like I just came out of boot camp.

I should go to bed. At least I got a few things down though. Tata for now!
I almost forgot to mention!!! Lats night my neighbors showed me two family wedding videos!! It was sooo interesting and fun to watch! So much fun and dancing!!
Additionally, I was in a shared cab with two adults and three kids (all in the back of a regular sized cab). Anyways I decided to smile at the 10 month old boy and the dad as soon as that plops him on my lap....which caught me off guard but was totally enjoyable as the chubby cheeked- big brown eyed boy was INCREDIBLY cute!!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Scratch that.. Land flowing with olives

Its Saturday night already...wow. Time has completely flown by. The past 36 or so hours have been crazy and amazing. 

Friday travelling went really well. The hostel manager loaned me his bell boy to help me drag my luggage out of the crowded old city. That was a huge blessing and cut the time by like 75%. One the way to the bus station Israeli cops stopped us for like 5 min to check his ID...even though they asked me if he was with me. The bus to Ramallah was fairly short. I met an American on the bus who helped me find the shared cabs to take me to Nablus. Yet again, another huge blessing. When I got to Nablus, I called a guy who the hostel owner had told me to call. He walked over and caught a cab for me...I didnt really need the help, but I didn't want to refuse the good will. I got to the private school and met a few of the teachers I will be teaching with. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Most of the teachers are relatively young, recent or near recent grads from America (one from Ireland and Australia and a couple from the UK). 

They dropped me off at my new apartment which I currently share with one American girl named Lindsey, but I think another new teacher might be moving in soon. The apartment is actually in a refugee "camp," beneath the house of a doctor who runs a partner organization. Refugee camps here aren't what you might picture. They're more like little sections of town on the outskirts. I'm really glad I'll be living there because I'll be closer to the classes I teach in the afternoons, and also you get to kind of live with a family, even though we don't interact with them on an everyday basis.

I was alone on the apartment for a while settling in. Then a neighbor boy invited me over for tea. His family was all sitting around sorting through olives they had just picked. Baskets filled with olives!! I joined them in sorting and we chatted until Lindsey got home. Then she joined us and they served us dinner. They are sooo friendly and inviting. One of the boys is almost 21, one is 17 or 18 and the other 2 are younger. It was definitely the perfect welcome evening to a new home in a far away place.

The next day we woke up really early to go olive picking outside a village called Sabastiya. It was me, Lindsey, a couple other teacher ex-pats from various different schools and organizations in Nablus, a masters student from Portugal named Joau (he was super fun to talk to) and a Palestinian named Khair who was really knowledgeable on a bunch of different things.
 Its valuable to have foreigners because 1) we lighten the load and its A LOT LOT LOT of work and 2) our presence keeps Israeli settlers from harassing them. In fact, we were supposed to go to another grove of olive trees to help a different family but apparently the Israelis had blocked off the road and wouldn't let ANYONE without a permit in. We saw the area from a mount top later, and you can see where the settlement and military base were in relation to the villagers's trees. They showed us a HUGE area that USED to be filled with olive trees but were literally BURNED DOWN by the settlers. So the families would have to do all the work themselves, which mean even the elderly members would have to toil in the hot sun and dust whacking the trees with sticks and picking up traps full of olives (our method of extraction and collection). I will refrain from inserting my analysis of all this....I'm just laying out the facts....if you would like my analysis shoot me a message, but I will try to keep this blog non-political but definitely present what happens. Also, for the record, I am neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Palestinian. Just putting it out there.

Anyway, we had fun climbing into the trees and whacking the olives off the branches (or at least I did!). I got to talk with some of the brothers who I think owned the olives or at least were related to the owners...or something. The oldest Mahmoud is a science teacher in Nablus, and the younger Ahmed...18 I think he said..is a student in university. He didn't speak English so I got to really stretch my Arabic (I've been using it a lot for small things, but we actually managed to have a full conversation).We also worked together picking up the tarps and climbing trees so we had to practically communicate in Arabic too. I really enjoyed that. We got SUPERBLY dirty and dusty, so much so I could not run my hand through my hair...it was so matted with dust. But I enjoyed getting down and dirty, and sharing water bottles with all 10 or so of us working on the trees. Great way to bond.

Afterwards they showed us some old Roman ruins at the top of the mount where we also got an incredible view! Pictures soon to come :) They also showed us an old church where the only Christian family left in the village worships...pretty cool.

After that we drove back to Nablus and watched the Japanese women's team play the Palestinian women's team, (in shorts which was unbelievable..although most skin was still covered). The women sat on one side of the stadium and the men on the other. We got swarmed by little girls asking us questions and taking pictures with us. I think the other girls who have been here longer were a little tired of it, but it didnt bother me, AND I got a little Palestinian flag out of the deal. After the game we chilled for a little and I met some more expats including a guy from Latvia. 

Then Lindsey and I came home and relaxed for a little while, since we have to leave in the morning for school.
We really are hitting it off right away which is ANOTHER huge blessing. I really thank God for all His provision in this. There are some moments (especially on the bus to Ramallah and ride to Nablus) where I suddenly realize I just MOVED to Palestine...and for a second I think I'm crazy...but then I just get really excited about being here and think about how much I love it already. The land is beautiful, people are so friendly, and it just feels right being here. I am definitely intimidated about teaching. I will shadow for a few days and then by the end of the week start taking over classes. I'm definitely super intimidated. But if God wants me here, then I know He'll give me what I need to do a good job. 

There's a lot of little things to think about that are kind of overwhelming...things I need to to in order to settle in, and then things I need to do once I settle in. But, I'm stoked for whats to come. Bring it on

Friday, October 21, 2011

A land flowing with hummus

SO lets see. I have to write this out because I'm super lost as to what day I am in. I left Wednesday morning for JFK. My NYC cab driver was Moroccan (we're now friends on facebook of course). That was a pretty cool little exchange. Then I flew to Moscow..altogether not a bad flight-I slept surprisingly well (yay for late nights before traveling!) and my Chinese rowmate was super friendly. Then I again fell asleep in the Moscow airport waiting for my connecting flight to Tel Aviv during which I also slept (this coming from the girl who "can't sleep on planes trains and automobiles"). Again, the airport experience at Tel Aviv also went surprisingly quickly and smoothly. I did get taken aside and questioned since I wasn't sure how long I would be staying, and planned to volunteer in the West Bank, but the woman was nice and just told me to go to the ministry of the interior near Nablus and get my visa changed. AND best of all I got ALL my luggage!!!

I took a shared cab from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem...which was long as the cab driver got lost dropping a couple of people off at specific places. I was dropped off at the Damascus gate (or near it rather) and then set off for the hostel I found online. Walking the narrow, incredibly crowded, cobblestone streets of Jerusalem's old city with about 140 pounds distributed between two rolling duffles and a backpack was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I finally arrived at what I thought was the hostel...but turned out to be a different one. Thank God...it was about 50 meters closer, had free wifi and a complimentary breakfast and was only a few dollars more than the other which had neither of these things. The hotel owner was very nice too. He had lived in America for years and we chatted for a few minutes. I went to my room, got on the internet and took pictures on the roof. Then, I set out to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is apparently the site of Calvary/ Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. It was hard to imagine since it has been since turned into a church in the middle of the Old City, but it was still very cool to see. Then I walked around and was stopped by a very friendly shopkeeper. We started chatting and when I told him why I was here he told me to sit down and came back with a delicious hummus filled pita and lemonade. I stayed and talked for about an hour and then he closed down the shop. He gave me his number in case I ever got into trouble.

Back at the hostel I took an ice cold shower and took some more night photos on the roof. The air was cool and fresh. I absolutely love it here. During the day the sun is warm, but the air is dry and soft. There is practically zero humidity and a cool breeze sweeps by every so often. 

This morning I woke up to more hummus, pita and fresh veges (a perfect breakfast I might say). Then I walked to Mt. Zion and got to sit in the room said to be the Last Supper and Pentecost room. It has since become both a church and a mosque at different points I believe. I managed to get the room to myself right before it was attacked by two tour groups, and then again once they left. As I was just studying Acts a few weeks ago, it was very meaningful to put an image with a name. I imagined the room thousands of years ago, a pretty unique experience (I'm not usually very moved by historical sites even if I deeply appreciate them).

There were a few other sites I hit up in the area (David's tomb and Mary's crypt), and after again being offered a friendly elder's number in case I ever need anything, I  returned to my hostel, where I am now. In a few minutes I will depart to the bus station. Thank God the owner offered one of his helpers to help me with alllllll my stuff to the bus station, as its QUITE a hike (yesterday was mostly down hill). I don't usually like accepting such help, BUT my body is not in the mood for complete destruction, and since I still have a bus and shared cab ride before I get to Nablus...I'll take all the help I can get...