It’s been three eventful, exciting, bewildering, and, above all, rewarding, weeks here in Palestine. The amount to do has even outnumbered the quantity of adjectives in that last sentence!
Though not wanting to be repetitive, I have to echo Emily’s report from the last blog: the people we’ve met have, for the most part, been overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming – providing a stark change to British sensibilities. As a pampered Starbucks loyalty card holder from London this warmth is made all the more striking when considering that the majority of Palestinians are marking the month of Ramadan, and are therefore fasting during daylight hours. More intriguing still is the fact that when the sun goes down and us volunteers start thinking about heading to bed the locals find an incredible energy reserve and a lively atmosphere erupts: fireworks and fanfares (alongside an orchestra of car horns!) reverberate deep into the night.
Admittedly, few of the ICS team have been doing much abstaining to reward with such partying. Instead we’ve been making a concerted daily endeavour into the local falafel and Knafeh supplies. Still, deserving or not, it’s safe to say that we’re all very much looking forward to the spectacle -and food- that will be at the upcoming Eid al-Fitr celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan!
Of course this important religious period has had its flipsides, as myself and my fellow team members at Birzeit University Advancement project have discovered. Low energy levels, combined with the less populous summer term have made fruitful activity challenging at times. Indeed the holy month has also ruled out use of the most successful tactic for attracting students: the promise of free food and drink!
Nevertheless, we’re hopeful of getting students involved in upcoming English conversation classes, now rebranded with an ingenious name: ‘IngLeasy’. We are also looking forward to cracking on with the CV building workshops, a cornerstone of the work of previous cohorts. Furthermore, aside from the small matter of Independence Day, July 4th also marked the occasion of the first ‘Empoword’ here in Palestine: a monthly event that gives young people a safe, welcoming space to come together and share their original poetry, rap or creative writing. The maiden event was a real success with an impressive number participants getting stuck in and sharing their work with an entertained audience.
Local rappers lay down some of their verses at ‘Empoword’
The ICS team has been fortunate enough to travel outside of working hours. Thus far expeditions have included Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea. With the trip to the latter resulting in a ‘beautifying’ team mud bath!
Nonetheless, though these ‘touristy’ trips have been a lot of fun, certainly the most important expeditions have been those which have given us first-hand experience of the deep and often upsetting political realities facing Palestinians. Passing through the imposing grey walls and heavily armed security guards at Kalandia checkpoint – a precursor to almost every excursion- has offered a bleak illustration of the injustices faced by locals on a daily basis, and a poignant reminder of the importance of the rest of our time here on placement.