I’ll be back
When I first heard about the Zajel Program of the PR Department at An-Najah University, I wasn’t too sure about going at all: among the counter arguments I was facing were the high temperatures in Palestine, as well as the political struggles in the region, which we all hear about on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, my curiosity and inquisitiveness outweighed my doubts and I booked a flight to Tel Aviv and applied for the Youth Exchange. Just two days before my departure I bought a guide for Palestine, which I actually never managed to read - it was redundant either way:
By: Natalia Waldo
The Zajel Youth Exchange Program turned out to be so perfectly organized and fully packed with information from locals and experts that I didn’t need any additional information.
Since the moment of arrival, I felt so comfortable and whole heartedly welcomed as I have never experienced in any other country I have visited before. The volunteers and organizers of the program, as well as generally all people I came across during these two weeks, turned out to be the friendliest and most welcoming people you could imagine. Everywhere we went people welcomed us in the loveliest ways, offering us coffee and telling us everything we wanted to know, interesting stories, funny stories, sad stories.
The local university students also turned out to be super friendly and really interested in learning about our cultures and countries of origin as well, so that we could all learn from one another and experience what it means to engage in cultural exchange. During my stay, I didn’t organize any workshops myself, but wandered around campus taking photos of the others doing so, or participated wherever I was needed. Regardless of which workshop I visited, the internationals and the local students were all getting along very well, often talking long after the official lesson had finished, exchanging Facebook addresses and taking selfies together.
For me personally, I had the chance to meet a fair amount of unbelievably inspiring and lovely people within the group of internationals, as well as among the local students and volunteers. We all did get along very well, spending evenings chatting about everything, sharing our experiences, thoughts, happy and sad moments. I truly hope that some of the friendships I was able to build during my stay will last. Never before have I come across such a diverse and international, while at the same time very interested and reflected, group of people.
The absolute highlights of my Zajel experience were probably the day trips we did: from Hebron to the Mediterranean, from Bethlehem to Jenin - within just two weeks we were lucky to see so many fantastic and interesting places and I can surely say that it would have never been possible for me to experience and travel the West Bank on my own the way we did with the students, volunteers and local experts. I learned a lot about the Palestinian Question, not only by talking to many people, hearing their experiences and stories, but also by visiting important, while apparently saddening, places like the Balata or the Askar Refugee Camps.
Nevertheless and even though I was a little insecure at the beginning, I must say that I never felt seriously threatened or endangered during these two weeks. The volunteers and organizers took good care of us, providing us with enough safety information and only taking us to rather safe places. Now that it is time to leave, I'm feeling more heartbroken than I could ever imagine I would feel leaving a place I've just got to know two weeks earlier. But even though it’s sad to leave Nablus, the University, the volunteers and my international friends behind, at the same time I can’t wait to get home and spread the word, show all the pictures I took to my friends and family, tell and retell all the stories I heard, describe the places I saw, the crime I witnessed. I will talk about the Palestinian question and raise awareness - we all will. We will condemn the Oppression that we can no longer be silent about.