Our volunteer Anu Seiler works for three months as a volunteer in the projects of our partner organization YWCA Palestine. In her report about the first ten days of her volunteering Anu writes the following:
Between warm hospitality and bitter reality
مرحبا (Marhaba) - This is one of the few words that are already firmly entrenched in my vocabulary after only a short time in Palestine. It has been almost two weeks since I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. During my trip, however, I was very careful not to use any Arabic words in order to avoid being suspected by Israeli officials. Instead I greeted people with שלום (Shalom). All the controls and check points made me very nervous. But fortunately the way from the exit of the plane to my hotel in Jerusalem went without any incidents worth mentioning. On the cab ride I already had the pleasure to see a part of the country and to realize that driving a car in Israel, and especially in Palestine, is not everyone's cup of tea - neither the flashing lights nor the seatbelt nor the speed regulations are known in this country. However, as I quickly learned, driving a car is far from the only cultural difference.
The very next morning, my adventure in Ramallah continued at the YWCA of Palestine, the non-governmental organization where I will be volunteering for the next three months. I was completely overwhelmed by the warmth with which I was welcomed by all the staff and immediately felt very comfortable. They make an effort to introduce me to the many different projects as best they can, and I was already allowed to attend a workshop of the "She Leads" Academy. Unfortunately, apart from the few words I have already been taught, my Arabic still leaves a lot to be desired, and communication is a hurdle, especially in these workshops, despite attempts to translate the essentials with tools such as "Google Translator". Nevertheless, I am grateful to get real insights into the projects, as so far most of my volunteering has consisted of reading reports. However, I am hopeful that in the coming weeks I will be able to take a more active role in order to have a direct positive impact on the mostly not easy life of the Palestinians and contribute a piece of the mosaic to the overall picture.
With my host family in an Arab village just outside Ramallah, I feel not only well integrated, but also an active part of the community. Here, too, everyone is extremely friendly, lavishing me with delicious traditional food, teaching me words in Arabic, and taking me to weddings and other festivities. Each and every one of them makes an effort so that I can get to know as many facets of Palestine as possible and fully immerse myself in their way of life.
Despite the many positive first impressions, the few days here have a negative aftertaste due to the recent escalation of the Middle East conflict near Gaza and the violent incidents in the West Bank. Nevertheless, I feel safe here so far. This is largely due to the fact that the Palestinians continue to live their daily lives in the usual manner and the socio-political situation is hardly a topic of conversation. Nevertheless, life in Palestine is strongly influenced by the historical-political situation. For example, when I ask what the capital of Israel is called, there is no answer. Or when I go to Ramallah, I pass an entrance to an Israeli settlement and there are machine guns guarding the entrance and watching the people passing by. From a nearby hill one could even partly observe the fired rockets and also the firing of machine guns can be partly heard - but I was assured that the latter is only a usual activity at ceremonial events. These are things that I still have to get used to, but I definitely don't want to normalize them.