Well the Eid holidays are finally over, and it's back to work on a Sunday morning at Project Hope. We usually have a meeting first thing, to discuss the timetables, organisation and structure of the week, followed by any questions arising. I'm very impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the Office staff, who are never too busy to give us a smile and a kind word.
There are about 8-10 English teachers here at the moment, with some of them doubling up as Spanish teachers, Art teachers and Music teachers, depending on individual specialities. We work all over Nablus, and sometimes outside: for example we work in two of the three Refugee Camps just on the outskirts of the city, at the local Orphanage, at at least two Women's Centres, at the Project Hope office itself, and some of us take trips to other towns outside of Nablus to give lessons - for example I go to Tulkarm, which is 30 minutes away by local service taxi.
I've been 'interviewing' the various volunteers, both local and international, and have really enjoyed talking to everyone, one-to-one, and asking a set of ten rather banal questions, but getting some very interesting answers. I'll probably compile a summary of these interviews later on, but for the moment the heartening thing for me is to hear other people who are either idealists, Utopians or revolutionaries, most with a fervent desire to try to solve the injustices and inequalities that we see all around us. It is refreshing to be able to sit on a balcony and talk with like-minded people about their backgrounds, their philosophies and their hopes for the future.
The Director of Project Hope keeps us stimulated too, with talks, films and debates on the issue, and I'm often reminded of one of John Pilger's books 'Palestine is still the issue'. One of the French volunteers I interviewed said she thought that this is the issue everybody needs to solve, and if we can solve this, we can solve any conflict.
Last night we were shown a film entitled 'Anya's Children' about a Jewish woman who started out supporting the expansion of Israel, and then was horrified by how history was turning out, and eventually built a Theatre in the small town of Jenin, north of here in the West Bank. It was built in the middle of the refugee camp, and all the locals helped. Her son, a filmmaker, filmed all of it, starting from the construction, when his elderly mother was already diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was obviously a formidable woman, even in old age, but what came through in the film was the humanity of all people involved: the Jewish lady and her son, who spoke Arabic, the locals in the camp, and the children.
Then the political situation worsened, and the camp was invaded by Israeli tanks, and this was all captured on film, from 'behind enemy lines' as it were. I do not know the reason for the invasion, and I'm trying very hard in my posts to just tell things as they are on the ground, trying to stay as objective as possible. The tanks came into the camp, however, and destroyed 300 homes, and many locals were killed, including some of the children who had attended the Theatre. As the film spanned 7 years, there was footage of them as kids, then their funerals. The film did not end on an up-beat note.
After the film, most of the volunteers got together for a tea, and talked about it. We all felt rather deflated, and ineffectual, and we have only seen a film, let alone been around when fighting was taking place. Nablus here has been under siege several times, and some of our local volunteers have seen terrible violence and death. We were wondering how we would feel if it happened to us: indeed, one of the most poignant responses I had from a local when I asked him what message he wanted to send to the world was "put yourself in our shoes".
Anyway today was another day of teaching, and I went out to one of the Refugee camps for the first time, as an 'Assistant' to Dan, our resident Art graduate. It wasn't what I was expecting at all, less like a military grid-style camp, but more like an impoverished village, with narrow streets and shops, schools, community centres, etc. We went to a large UN school in the camp, and Dan gave an Art class whilst I sat with some of the girls and helped them. It was a wonderful experience, and the girls were very friendly, the teachers too.
All of us International volunteers are deeply touched by the respect and gratitude we receive from local people, and we are humbled by it. Their generosity is incredible, and the kids smiles and laughter are wonderful. Today I was walking past a car, and the driver leant out and said 'Welcome to Palestine', and there is a tailor's shop near the school, where all of the tailors look up every time I pass and shout 'Good Morning!'
I had a lesson with my 17-year old student today, who was tired as school had started up again after the holidays. He told me he was getting very good grades at school, but that he hated it! He said he wants to travel...
Finally this evening there was a trilingual talk given in the French Cultural Centre: a French lady, who is writing a research paper, spoke in paragraphs which were simultaneously translated into Arabic and English by the School Director and one of the French teachers here who speaks fluent English. The subject was again very interesting, on the phenomenon of walls being constructed all over the world, trying to explore the political, economic and psychological reasons for this. It was stimulating, especially the questions session at the end, as quite a few local people had attended. As one of my interviewees said, to live here is to be political, and certainly you couldn't do what so many people do in the West: order another caffe latte and pretend everything is OK!