Tag Archives: trumpet

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.



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.


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.

August 4th, 2014

We had our first class today, and as far as first classes go, I’d say we did alright. A little awkward in terms of flow, but that was to be expected, given the fact that we had about a day and a half to come up with our first lesson plan. This class was at the Nablus Cultural Center, just a few blocks away from Project Hope, and it’s probably where we’ll be teaching most often. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. Timing is pretty whack here; fashionably late is considered punctual, and I’ve learned not to trust the schedules we’re given. Our translator showed up fifteen minutes into the hour-long class, which meant Giulia, Tessa, and I spent that time awkwardly introducing ourselves in Arabic to a group of giggly eight year-olds.

But the nice thing about music is it’s literally the most basic form of communication, so it’s not hard to get across to these kids what we want them to do. It’s crazy how intuitive a four-four rhythm is, or even the Solfege scale (Do-Re-Mi). Imagine not knowing how to tell someone you want them to sing, but being able to successfully conducting them in choir to “O alele!”.

Back at Project Hope, we checked in and said hi to some of the other volunteers. Our coordinator gave us the day off, and since we haven’t had a free moment since coming here, we took the opportunity to practice a bit before heading back to the flat. I went out to the stone balcony with my trumpet and started playing. I knew it wouldn’t be long before one of the neighbors yelled at me to stop, but from that spot I could see all of Nablus in the valley below, and I wanted to take in the view as much as possible. Like I thought, the door to the neighboring balcony opened up just a few minutes later. A little boy ran out, leaned over the balcony, and started yelling, “Bekefi!” to the ground (“bekefi” means “stop” in Arabic). At first I was confused, but when I realized what he was doing, I almost gave myself away by laughing; the acoustics were making the sound from my trumpet ricochet off the walls and ceiling and finally down into the valley, so it sounded like I was playing from right under his building. We were only three meters away from each other, but he never even saw me.

That night, we went upstairs to meet our landlord and his family. We ended up staying for two hours, drinking tea and eating figs and talking politics. It’s impossible to have a conversation here without politics entering into it; the occupation is such a part of life in Palestine that politics are tied to everything from education to holidays to what you’re eating for dinner.

Before we left, the youngest son, Khalid, ran up to us with a tiny piano keyboard and asked us to teach him music. We showed him a nursery rhyme, and he became absorbed with it, practicing it over and over again as everyone else continued talking.

We were practically adopted by the time we finally made it downstairs. As Ahmad, the eldest son, put it, “I had only one sister. Now I have three more!”



August 1st, 2014

From the third story of Jaffa Gate Hostel, I can see two churches, a mosque, and a synagogue poking through the blanket of rooftops and souks that is Old Jerusalem. Noor, the innkeeper, insisted that I come up here to catch the view. His hostel looks like it’s been hollowed out of some huge stone house, with each room resembling a brick cave, stuffed with beds. Even so, I’m one of the only guests here; most have cancelled due to what they’ve read in the news.

But the sky is perfectly clear – not only of clouds, but of rockets. The city is quiet, and the police, though intimidating and thick in the streets, are bent on keeping it that way. Far from the conflict in Gaza, I actually feel safe here.

Not like in the airport. I was “randomly selected” for a strip search, probably due to having multiple Arab stamps in my passport. That, and the fact that my final destination was the West Bank. I felt bad for Sophie and her mom, who, along with the rest of their family, had been taking care of me all week in Germany; they had to watch from behind a rope as I was grilled by airport security for twenty minutes. “Why did you visit Lebanon? Jordan? The UAE? What’s your father’s name? And his father’s name? Why are you going to the West Bank? Don’t you know it’s dangerous? What’s in that case?” And so on.
Then, they had to wait as I was led off to the side, where I would undergo a full-body physical search. Honestly, I had expected this, and thought it was a little funny that a 19 year-old girl toting around a trumpet was threatening enough to bother spending an extra hour and a half on. At the same time, I was a little red, a little nervous, and actually feeling guilty. Even though I had told nothing but the truth up until that point, the intense, repetitive questioning made me feel like I was trying to cover up some terrible plot. It wasn’t until later that I realized I shouldn’t be made to feel like a criminal just because I’m an Arab wanting to reach the West Bank.

The physical itself was fine. In fact, it was very calm. One of the security guards tried to make small talk while checking my socks; imagine hearing “So what’s the weather like in California?” while someone’s searching between your toes for weapons of mass destruction.

I’m being honest when I say that the worst part, the most nerve-wracking thing, was when they asked me to fully take apart my trumpet. I gently disassembled it and placed each piece of brass in a red plastic bin. Then the security guard grabbed the bin and rushed out, jostling the pieces as he went. It got through okay in the end, though. The same guard who asked me about California struck up a conversation about the trumpet (she plays guitar herself). I liked her. Clearly the good cop, as opposed to the woman from Haifa who thought I was an idiot for wanting to teach music in the West Bank. The thing is, though, I think my instrument was possibly the reason the search didn’t stretch on for longer, or that I wasn’t flat-out turned back to America (as is typical of many Arabs and Arab-Americans wanting to reach Israel nowadays). After talking to me about music and why I chose Palestine to teach it, the good-cop security guard sped up the searching process, explained my situation to her colleagues, and quickly led me straight to the airplane, cutting ahead of a line of people checking in and stamping passports. Then again, that’s exactly what the good cop is supposed to do. That, and give you free snack vouchers as recompense for time and dignity lost during a strip search.


Where to begin…

Obligatory introduction to blog:

Welcome to my very own mooched-off-Wordpress corner of the internet. Originally, I just wanted to create a temporary blog so I could update my friends and family about my current situation without typing enough emails to digitally drown myself in. Those close to me know that for the next six weeks, I will be teaching music as a volunteer in the West Bank, which in some respects is a war zone right now (though in general, life continues as usual). However, many of those same people also know that I keep a journal religiously, and I figured this would be as good a time as any to start putting my writing online.

This blog falls at the intersection of several of my major interests right now, including music, travel, writing, language-learning, and communication. Seeing how I don’t plan on discontinuing any of those interests anytime soon, this blog could potentially go on for quite a while.

But for now, it’s focused on Nablus in the West Bank, Palestine, where there is so much going on in terms of culture and politics that my head has been spinning since arriving here this morning.