Sunday, May 29

[the beginning in the end]

Hello friends,

Apologies for the ridiculously long absence from manysunsets. My life has been quite a story since I last wrote -- I had a fantastic senior year at Smith College. I spent Christmas in Strasbourg with my dad and his girlfriend and her family, and then spent my 21st birthday in Seattle with my most wonderful friends.

I have been an alum of Smith College for two weeks now. I am surprised at how much better it feels to be graduated than I anticipated. I feel very free. I feel less guilty about how I spend my time. I permit myself to dream, to read travel blogs, to start my never-ending reading list, to drink iced tea and grilled cheese sandwiches on gluten-free bread all day. And I can now submit applications for jobs and positions for which I was previously ineligible or 'unqualified'.

One of those applications was for a three-month position teaching music with an organization in Nablus (in the West Bank in Palestine -- see map below) called Music Harvest. I was confident that I'd submitted a strong application, and was pretty happy with how my Skype interview went. Lo and behold, last week...

I got an acceptance email!

So. Though I have not officially accepted (I will most likely do so next week), my heart is set on accepting the post. I will be teaching voice and piano to Palestinian students between ages 5 and 15 in the city of Nablus, إن شاء الله.

Nablus is a fairly conservative Islamic city -- not as conservative as Saudi Arabia -- and has been a center of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. There are several refugee camps in the West Bank, and many landmarks of religious importance to multiple faiths.

Nablus is home to Jacob's Well and is well-known for soap-manufacturing, kanafeh (a sort of pastry), olive oil, furniture, and other handicrafts. It is also home to the Palestine Securities Exchange (the only one in the Palestinian territories).

Wikipedia informs me that one of Nablus's sister cities is Dublin, Ireland -- many folks, including myself, have drawn comparisons between the way that the Ireland/Northern Ireland and the Palestine/Israel conflicts have been framed, both by outsiders and by parties to the conflicts. Obviously, the two conflicts are multifaceted and incomparable on many levels, but the discussions of national identity, occupation, statehood, armed resistance and terrorism, religion, and economic status have sometimes echoed each other. Not only is Dublin a sister city to Nablus, but many Palestinian flags have been flown in republican areas of Ireland in contrast to Israeli flags in the unionist areas of Northern Ireland.

Anyhow, I am now beginning the mental, physical, and material preparations for going to the West Bank in September.

Now, I bet some of you are thinking something along the lines of, "why would a nice, young, blonde girl like yourself want to go live in a war zone?" And indeed, my father's first question was, "is it safe?"

While there are so many politically charged, rambling, ranting answers I could give to the assumptions and power dynamics behind that question... Fair enough. I expect to encounter, directly and indirectly, armed and nonviolent Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. I also expect to encounter informal and systemic violence against the Palestinian community coming from some of the Israeli community.

I've done quite a bit of traveling -- granted, none of it in a place quite like Palestine -- and I have a great deal of common sense, highly attuned instincts for when to trust someone, when to back away with a smile, and when to throw an upper-cut. From all the research I've done thus far (including blogs, chats with trusted friends/professors, news articles), it seems that violence in Nablus and in the West Bank has been changing its face in the last year or so. Though violence and public opinion are unpredictable (especially because public opinion is not homogenous nor representative of the entire Palestinian community), it also appears that foreigners are generally welcomed and respected, or at least left untouched, particularly if they have connections within the community. I plan on using my identity as a sweet young female self to my advantage while I'm there -- accepting dinner invitations from families of students and asking for help from trusted sources when I need it.

This org will house me with the other volunteers, and I'll pay for my own living expenses (like food and local transportation), which they estimate to be about $50 per week. I'm also hoping to do some traveling when I'm not working. I'm especially looking forward to Lebanon, and hopefully Syria if shit doesn't seriously hit the fan.

Mainly, I want to go because I need to see Palestine with my own two eyes. There is something inside me that feels an affinity with the Arab world: the misinterpretation and subjugation by colonial powers and neo-colonialism; the struggle to define a national identity after a history of occupation; the collective memory of war and peace, family and foreigner, music and art, home and displacement; and the pride, patriotism, pacifism, and perspicacity of the majority of the Arab world.

I also feel an obligation to defend human rights, including basic security of self and property, the right to self-determination, and a genuine voice in the governing political body. Much has been said about Palestine by all kinds of people. I hope to find a balance between the learning I will do with my eyes and heart and ears, and the learning I have already acquired through my coursework, newspaper articles, speakers, and conversations.

I am mostly going to learn -- to hear stories. This is something I learned during my training two weeks ago to be a social justice mediator. The technique I was trained in asks mediators to gather stories from each party, and then to simply transmit the stories to the other parties. No seeking of common ground, no editing, no bargaining chips. I hope to practice this method in Palestine.

I am also going because I love music and I love working with children. I have experienced the transformative power of music, and I know how empowering it can be to acquire proficiency on an instrument and to be able to learn songs that the student is actually interested in, and to have the ability to perform together with my friends or with strangers. I hope to provide a safe, engaging, challenging, creative space for my students in which no questions are off-limits and in which the student is not only a music student but also a human being with a unique story and unique needs and dreams.

End the sappiness.

Here are the practicalities of preparing:

-Applying for a second passport so that my Israeli visa doesn't prohibit regional travel

-Reviewing my Arabic notecards and making specific vocabulary lists for teaching music, daily usage, and Palestinian Arabic in particular

-Finding a language partner (in person or on Skype) to practice speaking Arabic

-Finessing my packing list (including lots of long skirts, ear plugs, gifts)

-Reading (currently on "I Saw Ramallah" and the Holy Qur'an -- yes, it's online, just like the Bible)

-Preparing to teach:

-Reviewing my music theory

-Learning some Smithereens arrangements (Peace Pipes ?!)

-Chatting with mom about teaching techniques and strategies

-Practicing the piano

-Making a list of artists, genres, arrangements, songs that a) I want to introduce to my students, and b) are well-known in the region with which I want to be familiar

-Earning some money to pay for this exciting adventure!

-Planning my summer and the visits I want to make before leaving

-(sounds morbid, but...) Making a plan in case something does happen to me while I'm there.

How would you prepare for a trip like this? Are there any books or websites you'd recommend for me?