Tag Archives: volunteer

August 5th, 2014

I woke up this morning to Khalid practicing his piano nursery rhyme on the floor above me. It was 7:30 in the morning. The kid is dedicated.

We had two classes today: one at the Cultural Center, and the other in a town called Sebastya, about a half an hour away from Nablus. Both classes went extremely well. Our lesson plan was ironed our after its we piloted it yesterday, and the kids in both classes were eager and cooperative. They seem to enjoy vocal exercises the most, even if we’re just going up and down the scale, because that’s when they get to interact most directly with the music.


It’s getting harder and harder to find time to write; each class takes at least two hours, between lesson planning, transportation, and the class itself. And of course, we now have Khalid to teach during the evenings.
At 7:50 pm he knocked on our door, ten minutes before the scheduled time. That’s actually huge, considering most people here are at least ten minutes late to just about everything (though I should mention that our students haven’t been late once yet). I was pretty tired, but I invited him in and we got started immediately. The funny thing about Khalid is that most of the time, he’s an uncontrollable ball of energy, but the second you put a piano in front of him he becomes this focused, perfect student. Yesterday, he only knew the piano keys by numbering them. Today, I taught him Solfege, and he immediately, intuitively made the connection between Do and 1, Re and 2, etc. By the time I sent him on his way, he was playing his nursery rhyme from memory, without numbers, and playing with new combinations of notes. I was grinning like mad for fifteen minutes; it’s unreal to witness this kind of progress, especially when you had a hand in it.

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 3rd, 2014

Today is Sunday, and classes start tomorrow. We’ve only been here a day, but hey, no pressure.

Project Hope sent me, my flatmates, and three other volunteers to Balata and Askar, two of the refugee camps adjoining Nablus. As the taxi neared Balata, I began preparing myself for — well, I don’t know what I was expecting. Tents? Campfires with families huddled around? Sadness and Ruin, everywhere you look? But no. In reality, Tel Balata looks like a small section of any other crowded city. White skyscrapers are huddled together, lining both sides of a main street where all the street vendors gather.

Not that Balata doesn’t have its differences. It is, after all, a refugee camp. 30,000 people are jam-packed into the one squared kilometer that the camp is allowed to reside on. The people can’t expand horizontally, so they build vertically. The result is a forest of huge, looming skyscrapers, built so close together that you’d have to squeeze to get through the alleys. We were only allowed to wander these alleyways with a guide. To some people here, there is no distinction between foreigners; if you’re not Palestinian, you’re Israeli, and that can cause trouble.

But as we wandered Balata camp, we saw no signs of hostility whatsoever. In fact, we mostly saw children: tons of them, running through the alleys, riding their bikes down the main street, playing soccer in the few open spaces. They ran up to us and yelled in English, “Hi! How are you! What is your name!” I don’t think they could understand a word of our response, but they giggled like mad when they realized they were successful in making themselves understood to foreigners.

At the next camp, Askar, we met the director of an arts center,  who invited us in for black ginger tea. After introducing himself and discussing the volunteer projects with us, he steered the conversation towards Palestine. “What do you think of this country?” he asked us.
“It’s nice,” one volunteer said.
“Beautiful, even.”
“Everyone is so hospitable.”
He listened and nodded. Then he leaned back into his chair and said, “I don’t like it here. I don’t like the situation. But I don’t want to leave. Palestine is mine but it’s not mine. We have this land, but we don’t have Gaza, we don’t have Haifa or Jerusalem, we don’t have freedom. We have to claim it, even if we don’t really have it.”

He told us then of some of the horrors happening in Gaza. One man was found stumbling in the streets with a bag full of meat. It was his son. He had been “shredded” by a brand new type of Israeli missile. They pack tiny shards of metal tight around an explosive and send it over into overcrowded Gaza. When it hits, the missile explodes and the fragments rip through the flesh of anyone within an 80 m radius. I’ve heard kinder descriptions of hell. I don’t think anything I ever read in a book will measure up to the atrocities committed by really human beings.

The rest of the evening was much lighter. We did a little shopping for dinner: three huge eggplants for one shekel, mangoes for two, tomatoes and mint and onions for four. That’s, like, two and a half US dollars in total. The broke college student in me almost cried.


With these ingredients, we made a really delicious pasta with some fruit on the side, and three English teachers from Project Hope joined us for dinner. One is from Toronto, the other Montreal, and the last is from London. That makes three Canadians so far, one Londoner, one Italian, and me. More volunteers are set to arrive tomorrow.

August 2nd, 2014

Having just come from Brandenburg in Germany, images of the Berlin Wall are fresh in my mind. More than 100 km long and 3.5 m high, it stood as a functioning symbol of oppression for nearly 30 years, before finally being brought down in the reunification of West and East Berlin. I was amazed as I looked at this wall that divided an entire city, with every square inch of it covered in expressive graffiti that protested the segregation.

The Berlin Wall was nothing compared to what I passed on my way to Nablus today.

After meeting for the first time over coffee, the other volunteers and I climbed into a bus that runs from Jerusalem to Ramallah, crossing the Green Line which supposedly divides Israel and Palestine (I say “supposedly” because Israel tends to view this internationally-sanctified line as a general guide, erring on the side of Palestinian land). Along this line runs the Israeli West Bank Barrier. That’s the formal name for this huge slab of concrete, barbed wire, and sniper turrets that stretches for at least 650 km from North to South. At 8 km high, it is twice the size of the Berlin Wall, it symbolizes the systematic oppression and segregation of Palestinians that was begun 66 years ago, in 1948. And like the Berlin Wall, Palestinians have been painting it over with artwork decrying the occupation.

Luckily, it didn’t take us too long to pass into Occupied Palestine. We reached Ramallah soon after that, and then it was only a forty-minute taxi ride to Nablus.

The first thing we did was check in with Project Hope, which is Music Harvest’s partner organization in Nablus. While Music Harvest sends volunteers to teach music in Palestine, Project Hope organizes a broad range of volunteers, from English and French teachers to translators and administration. We signed the documents we needed to sign, and then Hassan, our new Arabic teacher, showed us where we will be living for the next month and a half.

The flat consists of three large bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom, which I would share with Tessa and Giulia, the other two Music Harvest volunteers, whom I met in Jerusalem that morning. With our own rooms and free Wi-Fi, we figured we’d settle in pretty quickly. But it wasn’t long before we were up again, following our translator, Anas, around for a quick tour of Nablus.

The second largest city in Palestine after Jerusalem, Nablus consists of one large city and three refugee camps, with a total population of around 192,000. It’s nestled in a valley, and as Anas led us down into the Old City center, the city grew dense with chocolate and nut shops, cafes, boutiques, fruit stands, taxis, and people going about their daily business. Most were Muslim, and as you look around you see a sea of colorful headscarves, as much a fashion statement as any other item of clothing. Right in the middle of Nablus sits a modern mall opposite the entrance to a souk, which is probably as old as Nablus itself. It’s into this souk that Anas led us, to show us the heart of Nablus.

Without him, we would have gotten lost. The souk is a maze of shops selling everything from olives to ceramics to clothes and towels. From all sides, butchers and fruit vendors yell or even sing their offers at you, and customers are constantly squeezing around you as they make their way to one store or another. After a several turns, we came to a cafe, where Anas had us buy falafel. One sandwich was only two and a half shekels, about 80 cents in US dollars… and it was some of the best falafel I’d ever had. On the way back up to our flat, I was seriously considering the logistics of eating falafel three times a day for six weeks.

My flatmates and I finished that long day by chilling out and making pasta. Giulia’s Italian, so she directed the cooking, “the real Italian way.” While waiting for it to boil, I practiced trumpet for the first time in weeks. I sounded like shit, but it felt good to know I would be falling back into the old practice routine.

Right before bed, I went outside and managed to catch the Adhan from the mosques and my first sunset in Nablus. It looked like this:

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.