August 6th, 2014

This morning we ate labna and grapes while listening to gunshots. A few days ago, this would have made me tense up and strain my ears for minutes on end, trying to decide whether or not I should make a dash for the bedroom. Now, the other volunteers and I have grown strangely accustomed to the noise. In fact, Tessa, being the musician she is, has formally named it part of the “tapestry of sound in Palestine.” We hear bullets almost every day, although they’re far off and restricted to protest areas, and unlikely to spread, since all the shooting is done by the IDF (the Palestinian protesters don’t actually have guns). There’s zero risk of being shot here in Nablus, but it still feels weird to be so comfortable with such a sound.

The City Cultural Center classes are running smoothly now; Tessa, Giulia, and I no longer feel the need to all go to every single class. Which is good, because according to my (rather unreliable) schedule, we’re up to 16 classes a week between the three of us. Afterwards, Giulia and I went to go teach a new class, this time in Askar refugee camp. Askar isn’t as compacted as Balata, and it’s fortunate enough to have an art center and a women’s center in addition to schools and health clinics, all funded by the UNRWA. We were told the class was at the art center, so we sat out front and waited for Habib to open the building. After ten minutes Habib was still a no-show, but someone was watching us from the house across the street. Two kids, no older than ten, were shyly peeping at us from behind the green front gate. I tried saying hi to them, but they immediately ran indoors. Giulia and I went back to waiting. It was getting really hot outside, and beads of sweat were forming on our brows and arms.
Suddenly, the gate opened, and the younger boy came running across the street, straight for us. He stopped abruptly at the foot of the steps and asked us, “Bidik Ahwe?” (“Would you like coffee?” in Arabic). Giulia and I looked at each other. Habib still wasn’t here, and we had nothing better to do, so we followed the kid back to the house.

Inside was the other boy, a girl, and their mother, who brought us steaming Turkish coffee. It was surprisingly refreshing, despite the heat. Nobody in the family knew English, so we practiced our Arabic, awkwardly but successfully getting across that we were music students from Italy and California, come to Nablus to teach for Project Hope. The mother smiled and asked us more questions: Were we teaching at the arts center? Do we know Habib? What do we play?

Meanwhile, the older boy started messing with my trumpet case, tapping it and looking it up and down, like it was a cage containing some small, exotic animal. Finally, I unzipped the cylindrical case and pulled out my Kanstul trumpet. And the kid immediately grabbed for it, almost knocking it out of my hands. A little wary, I told him to be careful, but let him play with it while I reached for a mouthpiece. He puffed up his cheeks and whooshed a ton of air at the lead pipe, to no avail. I laughed and demonstrated for him, letting loose a bright tone, before handing the instrument back to him. He caught on quickly.

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Finally, we received a call from Project Hope. As it turns out, the class wasn’t at the arts center at all; it was down the street at the women’s center. We hurriedly finished our coffee, flipped our cups (to read the fortunes) and dashed over.

After class, we had lunch with Sego at what is probably the ritziest restaurant in Nablus (we’re talking fish for 120 shekels), and later, after a nap, we climbed upstairs again for coffee and tea with the neighbors. Our large group broke into smaller ones, with different discussions buzzing around the balcony as the sun shrank in the west. It was a learning exchange; Ahmad taught me Visual Basic coding on his laptop, while Tessa and Giulia taught Khalid how to play Happy Birthday. As a music and computer science major, I felt completely in my element.

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After we had finished our coffee and figs and mangoes, Khalid and Ahmad’s mother beckoned for us to come with her upstairs. We climbed, one story after another, until we were five or six floors up. I had no idea the building was so big. We emerged on a rooftop patio, sheltered by an awning heavy with grape vines. I know I’ve already described various viewpoints overlooking Nablus, but this was different. From up here we could see the two mountains that form Nablus’s valley in their entirety, as well as the northeastern and southwestern ends of the city. The city sparkled below us and hummed with traffic and nightlife. Suddenly there was an explosion, and our eyes snapped to the center of the city. But instead of fighting, we saw fireworks. Green, white, red: the colors of Palestine.

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