After two weeks in Palestine, sometimes I feel like I have been here for an eternity and other times I feel like I have only been here for ten minutes. Through my activities with the Siraj Center and my host family, I have seen and done a lot in a few short days.
My favorite part of being here is definitely my host family. The last time I was abroad, I felt really disconnected from the local culture and spent most of my time doing expat-y things with other Americans. This trip I feel like I am really connecting with the people and rhythm of Beit Sahour. I am enjoying spending time with them and also to getting to know their extended family. My host family lives in the second floor of a three-story building with one apartment per floor. Other members of my host dad’s family live in the rest of the building, so there are always plenty of people around. I have also been able to meet my host mom’s family at two family birthday parties at her parents’ house.
My volunteer work at a kids’ summer camp has its ups and downs. How I like it kind of depends on which day you ask me. On the one hand, I love seeing the kids smiling faces, playing with them, and getting an opportunity to practice my Arabic (the young campers are some of the few people I meet here without a solid grasp of English!). On the other hand, working with dozens of eight to thirteen-year-olds can be a bit chaotic and unruly. Finding activities that entertain for a full hour is a challenging task. I couldn’t do it without Bess, my co-volunteer, and the local Palestinian teenagers who also help with the camp.
The more political aspects of the Siraj program have been incredibly interesting and useful. Before coming here, I had a rough grasp of the nakba and of the present situation, but little knowledge of what happened in between. For example, I knew that Jordan and Palestine had a strong connection, but I didn’t know that the West Bank had been governed by Jordan from 1948 to 1967. The lectures, films, and tours have given me a lot of information to fill in my knowledge gaps. An especially helpful activity was the ICAHD tour of East Jerusalem and an Israeli settlement. Our guide provided a succinct twenty-minute history of the conflict, the clearest explanation I have heard so far. On the tour, he carried history into the present by showing us the practical, insidious effects of the Israeli occupation. I have also been attending the biweekly lectures at the Alternative Information Center which provide even more information and perspectives.
The longer I am here, the more I see and appreciate the small town life here in Beit Sahour. After a young man passed away last week, the whole community rallied together, attending his funeral by the thousands and posting his picture throughout the city. When I walk around or run errands, I almost always run into students from the summer camp. Once crossing the street I saw my favorite taxi driver. He slowed his car to let me cross and made sure to say hello. Yesterday I went to Ramallah and had a visual comparison of city life there versus the quieter life here. I had a great day shopping and exploring, but at the end of the day I was very happy to return here.