Disclaimer: I have never blogged before. Various levels of patience may be required of the reader.
Well. Now that we've got that out of the way. As most of you who will be reading this are already aware, I am currently living and volunteering at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. I am teaching English at Alrowwad Center, a truly incredible theater, dance, and arts youth center in the middle of the camp. http://www.alrowwad-acts.ps/ (Here's hoping you can click on that link...remember when I mentioned patience?) I have been here for almost one month now, and will remain at Alrowwad for about another month. I am hoping to stay in Palestine much longer though, and am looking for work in refugee rights, alternative information centers, and the like.
The title of the blog, Ya3ni, is the arabic word for "I mean..." It is often abused in the same way "like" is within the US. Though ya3ni is used by one and all, not just teenage girls. Since it is the word I most often use in Arabic--the word that pops out while I am racking my brains to figure out how to say what I am actually trying to say--it seemed an appropriate title for my blog.
Aida Camp is just on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It was created after 1948, and a good majority of its inhabitants are descendents of family members who came over at that time. Some, after 1967. The population of the camp is estimated between about 3,500 and 4,000. Everyone in the camp has refugee status. There are schools here that are run by UNRWA, but many children go to public schools in Bethlehem.
The camp feels sometwhat like an overcrowded small town. Everyone knows eachother and I find it nearly impossible to walk anywhere without running into people I know. However, the separation wall, which looms large against the edge of the camp, and the military watch towers, prevent one from falling too deeply into any sense of Pleasantville. There have not been any serious clashes at Aida for a while now I have not seen any soldiers withing the camp itself, but the military is a continuing presence and have heard about several recent small incidents. In addition, there are reports of night time raids by soldiers in houses in Aida, and even more so in cities and villages throughout the West Bank.
Every once in a while I will find myself forgetting exactly where I am--falling into the excitement of travel etc. This is almost always put into the larger perspective by a simple conversation with a friend or new aquanitaince. Such conversations can start anywhere, but almost inevitably come to politics, or some truly horrifying experience. What is most startling is how everyone here has these experiences. A mother killed in a grenade blast that came without warning, a brother who has been detained in Gaza for the past 7 years, a teenage neighbor who was taken away by soldiers in the night and has not yet been heard from, a brother who was killed in a clash only months before his son--now standing before me--was born. To name a few. These paralyzing stories seem almost incomprehensible to me, especially as they so often come out in casual conversations.
Then, of course, there are the day to day inconveniences. Though the checkpoint is open 24/7 to internationals, that is not the case for those travelling to Jerusalem with a work permit. People who live in Bethlehem and work in Jerusalem begin lining up at the checkpoint every morning at around 2am, waiting for the checkpoint to open around 5 or 6am. It is very difficult to plan ahead, as everything can be (and often is) put on hold for hours because of unforseen delays at checkpoints, or random checks, etc. This does not apply to within Bethlehem itself, but rather to travel within the West Bank on the whole, or to outside of the West Bank. There are many university students here who often have trouble reaching their classes in other cities on time, as they are held up and searched by soldiers. It was hard enough for me to drag myself from the dorm room to the PoliSci building at Macalester. Searches such as these, on students and people going to work, make every aspect of daily life difficult.
I do not want to get too far in on my first posting. These are my first impressions of life here, and 4 weeks is not enough time to understand everything. More will come as it comes. In the meantime, I should also say that life here continues and my personal day to day experience has not been one in which I am interacting with soldiers constantly or battling to walk down the street. I have been semi adopted by a fantastic family in the camp and will begin my Arabic dance lessons with them soon. The kindergarteners are just as annoying as knidergarteners in any other country. Germans, French, and British folk are my new hookah and lecture buddies. I am truly enjoying myself, but am also trying to balance that enjoyment with my larger knowledge of the situation.
Perhaps I should leave it here for now. I guess that I'll be blogging again soon! I hope to hear back on what you all think--assuming, that is, that I have successfully enabled this blog with some sort of "comment" capability...Once again, I beg for your patience and I promise that I will get the hang of this.