Today, I had my first meeting with my most difficult and fun class yet. 30 kids ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old were stuffed into this tiny room at the Nablus Medical Center, dancing and yelling and eager to start class. Until meeting them myself, I would have never believed they could be more rambunctious than my eight year-olds. The boys were especially energetic; they wanted to know where we were from, what we played, if I could teach them drums, guitar, how to dance, etc. Some of them were only a year younger than me, though I kept that to myself. With the help of our translator, we finally got them to calm down. The nice thing about teaching older kids is that, even with an Arabic/English communication barrier, it is much easier to get them to understand what you want. Within forty-five minutes they had learned all the basic rhythms and Solfege that had taken the other groups a week to fully comprehend. The lesson was over fast, but not before one kid and I had a quick jam session with drums and trumpet. As they were leaving, the students started clapping and singing our names: “Giulia, behebik, Camellia, behebik.” It was extremely noisy, but endearing nonetheless.
Straight after that, I took a taxi to Ramallah for a quick visit. I have some second cousins there that I wanted to meet. They’re related to my mother, but I was going to meet them before she did.
I fell asleep in the car and woke up in Ramallah. While waiting in the heat for my cousin, one of the men who was in my taxi bought me a water from a nearby cafe. This is one of the things I absolutely love about Palestine: strangers being randomly kind to each other, especially men doing something nice for women out of the blue, is neither uncommon nor creepy. If someone offers you some tea, or decides to guide you to your destination free of charge, you just thank them and remember to pay it forward in the future. Hospitality is built into the culture.
My cousin arrived a few minutes after I did. Emad speaks enough English for us to converse, and as we walked to his car he told me his son was getting married this Friday, and that he wanted me and my friends to come. 600 people are coming to this wedding, and most of them are related to me. I’m only one quarter Palestinian, yet I have some 500 relatives living in Palestine.
(Emad, with Ramallah in the background, and Jerusalem waaay in the distance)
Emad’s family really wanted me to have the traditional Palestinian experience. As we sat in the living room drinking Arabic coffee, they had me try on a tob, which is an embroidered Palestinian dress, typically worn at parties and weddings. Then they served maqluba for dinner, which is one of the most recognizable Palestinian dishes. “Maqluba” means “upside-down” in Arabic, and it’s made by flipping meat over onto a plate of rice and then pouring hot yogurt on top. I wolfed it down, forgetting that in Arab countries, the hosts will keep serving you until they see that you physically can’t eat anymore. By the time I had to leave to catch a taxi back to Nablus, I was stuffed with lamb and rice, and looking forward to the wedding on Friday.