I Noticed a More Cosmopolitan Perspective
It’s really not fair how the young Palestinians in and around Nablus city have to find their way in life. It was not fair the first time I did the Zajel work camp of An-Najah University in 2004 and it’s not fair now. But I did see some progress and even though it’s not fair to compare this year’s workshop with the one I participated in more than a decade ago, in this reflection I will focus on this comparison.
By: Stijl Olsteke
For starters the world was still a lot bigger when I signed up for the first time. There were no smartphones yet, no Facebook, no Google Maps - so the first difference I noticed was the way coordinators, volunteers and other travellers communicate with each other: email and SMS has been replaced by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Of course, the political situation is a lot different too. In 2004 the Second Intifada was still very much underway and posters of martyrs were plastered all over the center of Nablus. I was happy to see most of the facades covered with advertisements for beautiful Palestinian clothing instead.
The third big difference is the professionalization and scaling of the camp. During my previous visit the local and international volunteers would eat, sleep, shower, wash clothes, receive lectures and lessons all in the same building: an old primary school (boys and girls separated). Now the international males slept in a flat not too far from the university where we would give our workshops. We would eat in a bistro and wash our clothes in a laundry service nearby. The scale of the work camp has exploded: whereas there were some 20 local volunteers in 2004, there were over 60 volunteers in 2017.
The fourth difference is a logical result from the two previously mentioned developments. Thanks to a decade of relative political stability, combined with a period of professionalization, I noticed a greater sense of detachment. Both in public lectures and in personal conversations, I noticed a more cosmopolitan perspective and a greater sense of humor and relativity.
In Hebron we got to experience the weight of the occupation first hand: the international volunteers were temporarily separated from the locals and, due to a mistake on our part, we had to pass through checkpoint twice to catch up again. It took us more than an hour to go through this checkpoint with only 23 internationals. We could only begin to imagine how it must feel to ensure this hassle and humiliation on a daily basis.
I really enjoyed contributing to the English lessons with some of the other volunteers; the eagerness and enthusiasm of the students was so rewarding! And last but not least I liked the informal meetings and friendships I got to make throughout the camp as well!