Day 25-27

Post by Sven

Friday 17th March

Today we did a trip to Bethlehem. First of all it was really nice that a lot of our Palestinian fellow students took part in our trip. After reaching the city we started our day with a small breakfast next to the city centre. We were discussing if we whether want to explore the city on our own or not. The majority wanted to split up the group. Therefore we explored the city in small groups.
I didn’t expect the city being so touristic which lead to a certain disappointment. Before continuing our trip we bought souvenirs for friends and family. While buying postcards I talked to the shop owner. I saw that she sells reusable bags. This was quite interesting for our “reusable bags” project. Therefore I asked her about the base price and if she is satisfied with the volume of sales.
After that we took the bus continued our ride and finally reached the wall. The colours and pictures were really fascinating but still the wall doesn’t make you feel comfortable. Furthermore we went into “The walled off Hotel” located a few meters next to the wall. The interior decoration and the gallery were really fascinating. Some of us also took the opportunity and visited the museum of the hotel. They charged everyone for 15 NIS only locals had free entrance leading to a good mood for some of us. Melissa, Miriam and I decided to take a quick rest and we enjoyed a coffee while watching the wall trough the window.
Our final destination was located at the border of Bethlehem. We met people living without electricity or running water. It was so surreal cause these people lived next to Israeli settlements. These moments gave us the opportunity to experience a huge clash of cultures and two different worlds meeting. When our host lead us through our way next to the fence a conflict occurred out of nowhere. One guy from the other side of the fence verbally attacked one person of our group. He asked us how we can be able to stand on this side of the fence supporting “those” people. Furthermore he wanted to show us a video of a situation two days before when one settler was killed. A huge argument between him and some of our Palestinian students occurred. I was really shocked when the settler pointed on the back of his jeans showing a gun. During the whole time is little son (maybe 6-10 years) stood next to him and had to see the whole situation. We left after the situation calmed down a little bit.
Finally we called it a day and started our drive home.

Saturday 18th March

Linda and I planned to do some more theoretical work for our project. Before going to work we started the day with a fresh juice at our favourite juice bar. The seller suddenly started to talk in French to us although we almost attended his shop every day. After that we went to the Star&Bucks Café. A café which tried to imitate the classic Starbucks shops. Furthermore they also offer food and shishas. For the last days we often came here to do our theoretical work. After finishing in the afternoon we went home and watched a German football game.
In the evening Josh and I went back to the city centre and looked for some food. We decided to go to a Shawarma place and bought a vegetarian wrap. Buying a vegetarian wrap gave us the opportunity to prepare it ourselves. After that we were invited to spend an evening at Berlin bar with some Palestinian students we met at BZU while making interviews for our project. Although we really wanted to go we decided to cancel the meeting because we had to get up early.
Finally the majority of our group met at Base2 and enjoyed the evening with some drinks and nice talks.

Sunday 19th March

Today we got up early to start our trip to Jericho and the Dead Sea. I was looking forward to visit the Dead Sea for a really long time. For the beginning we went to Renad´s place and picked her up. When we reached the first checkpoint we got a surprising rejection. The soldiers explained that due to a new law we were not allowed to pass through the checkpoint with our license plate. Therefore we had to go back and took an alternative route passing the Calandia checkpoint.
While heading to Wadi Qelt. we stopped at an amazing viewpoint enjoyed the extraordinary view, took a lot of pictures and visited a monastery. Some locals tried to sell souvenirs or donkey rides. All of us were really sad to see how badly those people treated their animals. They hit the donkeys with billets and most of them were really unfriendly.
After that we hiked up the mount of temptation and visited another monastery. When we decided to leave we saw a loud group of children being forced to stay outside the monastery. The teachers left them behind without any persons in charge.
We hiked down to the bus and continued our journey. Some us wanted to visit Jericho while the majority preferred to visit the Dead Sea.
Taking a bath in the Dead Sea was an amazing experience. We floated on the water and could see the border of Jordan on the other side. After our bath we rubbed ourselves with mud and enjoyed the sun. In the evening we met up with the rest of our group and went through the streets of Jericho. We ate a falafel sandwich and finished the day with an extraordinarily good ice cream.

Day 22-24

Post by Melissa

15th March – Getting blond in Palestine (because why not?)

The day started off with a delicious breakfast of a shrak falafel sandwich with hummus (what else?), fries and herbs tea. After Shahd, Layla and me finished, we met up with Reem, Marios, Sarah and Renad. We had an appointment at the Ministry of Culture with a female author who already wrote and published several books for children. They were very welcoming and friendly even though we arrived rather late. We talked to her about our upcoming art workshop at Saturday and listened to her opinion and tips. She gave us many ideas and inspirations regarding our project. In the end she gave us one of her books as a present. After we drove back to our apartment it was time for me and Sarah to rush to our next appointment with a hairdresser Shahd recommended us. When we arrived at the hair saloon “roots” in the center of Ramallah, we got to know the owner Mohammad Moutaz. We told him about our plans to become blond and so it began. We spend the rest of the day at the saloon talking laughing and being patient all together. Since Mohammad Moutaz really tried his best at this job, it took more than everyone of us thought. That’s why he gave Sarah an extra appointment at Saturday. This was the first time I felt like I got my hair “styled” by an old friend rather than a stranger, so if you need a hairdresser in Ramallah one time, I definitely recommend going there 😉 also the result was better than expected. Of course it was a very weird and strange feeling seeing myself as a Blondie but still he did a really good job. On our way home it was already dark and Sarah decided to get her and Marios a Shawarma when all of a sudden a weird guy stood in front of the restaurant and started to sing aka scream Arab and English songs. I got scared so we waited a little bit inside of the restaurant. Even the employees laughed and got confused. “He is a crazy man”,”Chalas” they tried to get him to go away but he didn’t stop singing songs and so he started to do some Karate moves and rolled on the floor outside on the street. We took the chance and ran as fast as we could to the market. When we saw him around the corner again, we totally freaked out and ran all the way back screaming and panicking. Out of fear we ran into our favorite juice store to get some help. 3 of the employees walked us home without hesitating. Even though I could have relinquished this frighting experience in the end it was still a funny end of the day.

16th March – Adventures in Wadi Qelt

Today Gerrit and me started the day early because we decided to drive to Jericho to hike in Wadi Qelt and we didn’t regret it at all. The Canyon was breathtaking and we enjoyed every minute there with us and nature only. It’s a wise decision to go there if you need a pause from all your worries or stress and if you want to be amazed by mother nature. We were almost alone in the Canyon and we saw a wild cat, a horde of donkeys and goats, an abandoned Bedouin and even waterfalls there. We took a lot of pictures, but still pictures will never capture what we had the opportunity to witness with our own eyes. I am very thankful for that experience and will definitely never forget about it. When we arrived home Layla and me met with Shahd and Reem at our apartment to talk about details for our project and the procedure of the session. We worked the rest of the day and discussed our results afterwards with Marios and Sarah. Linda and me went shopping afterwards and went to eat something. Then we ended up the shopping day going to a restaurant where we ate fresh baked bread with Za’atar and oil.

17th March – Trip to Bethlehem

Finally we went to Bethlehem. I was very excited about it, for the religious history of the city. When we arrived, the first thing we did was going to a restaurant all together and eat some falafel, hummus and foul. Even though nearly most of my time here in Palestine I ate falafel, I still didn’t get tired of it, it was delicious as always. Afterwards we went to the birth church. It was beautiful but unfortunately full of tourists which was a little disturbing. We had 1 ½ hours to walk around in groups and explore the area and other churches. Layla and me bought some souvenirs while Anne was filming a couple of times. When we walked around all of a sudden plenty of men were praying in the middle of the market street which was a touching moment to me since I am Muslim myself. Then it was already time to drive to the border wall in the middle of Bethlehem where nearby there’s an original Banksy graffiti painting. We got told the history of this wall; Before the wall was build, this exact street was the most important road for economy in Bethlehem and now it’s kind of dead. We also visited the Banksy hotel which had a very creative and unique style. First we walked around and looked at the different paintings in the gallery. Then Linda, Sven and me drank a coffee in the lobby and talked about our impressions. After everybody met in the lobby we went to the Banksy graffiti and the shop next to it. We took a couple of pictures and headed to Sho-Shahla, a village surrounded by Israeli settlements. We talked to its citizens and one man walked us around his village. He had a baby Camel which was following him the whole time. One could see the strong bond between them both. We walked right next to the fence of the settlement when all of a sudden a settler came closer and talked to us in a very aggressive way. Since I didn’t want to give him the attention he wanted I walked away and a couple of minutes later everybody moved away from him. Again it was shocking to see how settlers are treating Palestinians and act superior towards everybody. Nevertheless we walked a little more and took a final picture all together before we went home again.

Day 13-15

Post by Layla

6th March
The first day of our exchange without a meeting with the entire YALLAH group began and each project group had its own ways. On that day, the sun was shining and a pleasant breeze was sweeping through the streets of Ramallah. Enjoying the weather, our project group made its way to the administrator (He’s volunteering) of the youth centre in the refugee camp al-Amari to discuss our plans and project ideas. He became really enthusiastic due to the thoughts of integrating art to a computer club workshop. Considering this, he even offered to write and spread an announcement for the children across the refugee camp. Shortly before the end of the conversation, the dean of Uni Siegens’ “Faculty of Economic Disciplines” Volker Wulf, his wife Mika and his scientific research assistant and PhD student Konstantin joined. Also they seemed to be fascinated by the ideas.
After this major step forward for our project, we walked to the restaurant Abu Hammam. Though to get there, we had to cross an incredibly crowded market. From all corners, pitchmen shouted out their daily offerings for everyone to hear. For us Germans who are not used to this, it acted more like a deterrent than a temptation. At Abu Hammam, we enjoyed delicious traditional Palestinian meals for little money.
We headed home around 4 o’clock to work on our field notes for the rest of the day. Suddenly, we were informed of a protest in the centre of Ramallah. Palestinians demonstrated against the killing of an activist by Israeli soldiers. When we arrived home, we tried to inform ourselves of the incident as the demonstration would only take place at 5 o’clock. At 5 o’clock al-Manara square – the main square of Ramallah – was not yet packed with protesters. We guessed that the organizers could not mobilize people in such a short time so we were wandering around the shopping malls instead. Maren, Patricia, Somaia and Gregor were with Melissa and me, when suddenly a crowd of people drew our attention. They were demonstrating against the killing of the activist Basel al-Araj who died in the night of March 6th. Following the demonstrators, we were surprised how so many people were able to gather spontaneously. Protesters were hugging and crying or screaming out in pain helplessly. Melissa and I joined the masses entranced, tears welling in our eyes as well now. For us it was sad, but also beautiful to see so many people standing up against the killing of a single person together, comforting each other. After coming back home, we talked about the experience and how it has moved us for a long time.

7th March
By the 7th of March, we were in Palestine for two weeks and we would also stay for another two. On that day, we visited a workshop of the Disarming Design of Palestine Initiative in Ramallah. Three artists and designers presented their products to us of which each one had a special meaning related to Palestine. The entire team of artists aimed to spread alternative narratives regarding contemporary Palestine and tried to reflect upon the role of creative practices in situations of conflict. For example, they designed a wooden box in form of the region Gaza to symbolize the feelings of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who are neither allowed to leave the “box” nor able to fit into this limited space which is smaller than the German city of Cologne, but populated by about 2 Million people. In addition to this, the artists showed us a ceramic plate depicting distance markers to Gaza. For example, one plate showed the distance between Ramallah and Gaza which is only about 97 kilometres. We recognised that Gaza is not far from us in Ramallah, although we also could not reach it due to the closed borders. On the one hand, this showed us the close distance between Ramallah and Gaza, but on the other hand, we realised that – although we were right next to Gaza – we would not be able to enter it and get to know the life there.
After the presentation of a lot of different art works and goods, we made our own packaging (bags and boxes) from newspapers and flyers. It was really great to see how easy recycling – or in this case upcycling – can be done.
Then, we walked to our beloved Abu Hammam again – the restaurant with the best prices we had gotten to know so far (no covert advertising intended ;P).
Afterwards, we went back home because it suddenly got quite cold and windy. In the evening, we met Anne Paq, an activist and photographer, and went to Ziryab with her to have a shisha and hang out. Anne already told us that especially al-Khalil (Hebron) might become a very emotional experience for us and tried to prepare us for it.

8th March
All of us got up very early because we started our trip to al-Khalil (Hebron) at 8:30 am. Anne and Renad, a participant from the last YALLAH exchange, joined us. It took us a long time to arrive in al-Khalil (Hebron) and we saw a lot of Bedouin camps during the ride. We also had to pass lots of checkpoints. One of them was closed, so we had to take a detour which added about 30 minutes to our overall travel time. The sun was shining the whole day and a friend of Renad came to us and took us to a restaurant where all of us had a great breakfast.
After that, we visited a church in al-Khalil (Hebron) and got to know two lovely Palestinian children who walked with us through the church and its surrounding area and played games with us all the time. We came to the old city of al-Khalil (Hebron) and went through the market place. Here, the sellers were a lot more obtrusive than in Ramallah or Nablus. On the walls, we could read the plea “FIGHT GHOST TOWN” and we could not understand why someone had written this on a wall because the streets did not look like a ghost town at this time. Above the market street, a net stretched between two houses to protect the people on this street from stones or trash. We could see an Israeli military watchtower right above us. This confused us because just like the area guarded by checkpoints we had seen on our way between cities al-Khalil (Hebron) is part of the Palestinian West Bank.

Shortly after that, we went to a gate at the border. Beyond the border, we could see a lot of Israeli flags and above the border we recognised one soldier wearing a machine gun who was observing our group. Then we had to pass through a checkpoint because we wanted to visit one of the Palestinian inhabitants right next to the market street. Many young soldiers were standing next to us. To me, they looked like teenagers despite the huge deadly weapons in their hands.
We arrived at a crossover and chose to take the shorter way on the left as a matter of course. But immediately, when we tried to move to the left, two soldiers stopped us and told us that it is not allowed for Muslims to use this street. So, we took the street on the right and a few of us started to cry because it felt so unfair and discriminatory that some of us were not allowed to use this street only due to their religion. An old Israeli settler ran towards us and started screaming at us and the soldiers. We could not understand what he was shouting because he spoke Hebrew. He especially stepped up to a Palestinian member of our group and planted himself in front of him very aggressively. But our guide stood calm and just looked him in the eyes. One of the soldiers half-heartedly tried to calm the settler with one hand on his shoulder. Still, the old man continued and ran towards one of our girls who had just arrived and was not aware of the dangerous situation. Gladly, nothing happened to her.
After this emotional situation, many different cars with Israeli licence plates drove by. Anne told us that in this kind of place only Israelis are allowed to use cars. On our further way to the house of the inhabitant, a car stopped abruptly and a settler told us: “Welcome to Israel!”. He spoke of his opinion on settlements and tried to show us his approval of a peaceful solution. Some soldiers wanted to step between us, but he quieted them down. Although he lived in a settlement established on the territory planned for a Palestinian state according to the Two-state solution, he told us he was a supporter of it.
After that, we had to use a very rocky road with lots of trash. Right next to us, there was a high fence through which we could see a tarred and tidy street with the same direction. On this one, Palestinians are forbidden to walk upon, though.

When we arrived at the house of the inhabitant, we went to his roof and got some water and mocha. After a while, we went to the Ibrahimi mosque where we had to pass another Israeli security station. We had to show our passports and the Palestinian members of our group had to answer a few questions like where they were from. Renad answered that she was from here, from Palestine. The soldier answered that he had never heard of it and gloated, when he pointed to her ID which did say nowhere “State of Palestine”.
The mosque was really huge and we could see a lot of Muslims praying. On our way back to the travel bus, we saw children hitting a donkey with sticks. We tried to stop them, but it only worked for a moment. For us, this underlined the effect the omnipotent violence had on the new generation of children. They grow up in horrible circumstances of oppression and never lived an autonomous and peaceful life like ours.
We walked back to our travel bus, passing the market street again. It was getting dark and the street was completely empty. Every shop was closed and the street was dark, giving some of us chills. But when we walked to the centre of the city it didn’t feel like being in a ghost town anymore because there were lots of people. By now, we could understand why someone had written “FIGHT GHOST TOWN” on the walls.
After this long day, all of us were very tired. We had received a lot of different impressions of Palestine. On the one hand, we saw how inhumane the lives of Palestinians under military occupation are and how Muslim as well as non-Muslim Palestinians are discriminated against. But on the other hand, we could also get to know how resilient and brave a lot of Palestinians were dealing with this situation of oppression.

Day 10-12

Post by Robin 

Day 10

At 10 o’clock, according to “German accuracy“, we began our trip to Bil’in, where the film „5 Broken Cameras” was filmed. We drove in two taxis and were dropped off in front of the building of „Friends of Freedom and Justice“. A guy called Kefah was expecting us. He told us about the history of the village and the demonstrations. He also shared with us his experiences he made in prison. He was locked up in a small bright room for more than 15 days and was accused over and over again of having done things he did not commit. He did not confess to the allegations and came back after about three weeks.
We joined demonstrators and followed the road to the wall. We took a lot of pictures and watched the demonstrators knocking with rocks against the gate. The contrast between the beautiful landscape on one side of the wall and the large new settlements on the other side was enormous. Then we met the director of “5 Broken Cameras” and got to ask him questions. Afterwards we drove back to the apartment and some went to sleep early, because the last night we didn’t get much sleep. Later, a few of us met in the living room to further discuss and refine the project ideas.

 

Day 11

Today we met at 10 o’clock for breakfast at a restaurant called “filfil” near the university. We had a huge selection of Palestinian food and some of us also had pancakes, which are not comparable to usual pancakes though. During the meal, we continued discussing our projects and then went to the university to work with the other Palestinian students. We discussed our work and everyone could give their feedback. There was an open exchange and we progressed very well. In the end, each group was divided into smaller groups, whereby a main project and a secondary project had to be chosen. Afterwards we drove to the apartment and then met with Saja just before 5 pm because she wanted to show us the old town of Ramallah. She guided us and no guide could have done that better. This tour gave us the opportunity to discover new sides of the city. Then we met in a karaoke bar with Reem, Rand and Shahd. It was a fun but expensive evening. The highlight was the performance of Melissa rapping the song „Gangster’s Paradise“.

Day 12

The day started at 8:30 am when we met outside the apartment to take a bus to Nablus. Renad had taken care of the organization and so we could start without complications. A bus took us to the headquarters of the Government in Salfeet, where they gave us a lecture on the political situation. They tried to present their opinion in order to approach this sensitive topic. Subsequently, the governor could still be asked questions. They offered a falafel sandwich and juice for breakfast and then we followed a bus with other exchange students from the Birzeit University. We stopped many times and we were told many different things about history and regulations regarding building houses. The highlight of the trip was the meeting with a man who did not want to move when an Israeli settlement building and a fence/wall was built around his house. He reported that he was only allowed to enter or leave the grounds at certain times to get into his own house. He had a very strong personality and he realized that he had to remain faithful to his ideals.

Then we went to the city of Nablus, where a friend of Renad led the group and showed us many beautiful spots in the city. We strolled through the streets and ate the best Knafeh (a dessert made out of white cheese, sugar and durum wheat. During the bus trip, many fell asleep and after our usual conversations in the evening, we went to bed early.

Day 7-9

Post by Maren 

Project ideas and work progress

After a weekend fully packed with new experiences and a Monday working on our presentations, we started our Tuesday slowly. We slept long, had breakfast and at midday we began with our work sessions. We finally finished the slides, we would present at the university the next day. For lunch we went to a restaurant called ‘Abu Hammam’. It is not exactly a restaurant, it’s more of a canteen. The interior and the atmosphere was less fancy but the food was really good and also very affordable. I had a meal called ”fried tomatoes”a thick soup made of tomatoes, onions and peperoni. It is served with bread, falafel sandwich or rice with green beans.

Afterwards, we walked through the city and could not resist to do a little bit of shopping.
The next day was the first day of working at Birzeit University (BZU) with the whole group of Palestinian and German students, and we gave our presentations. These were done in groups, and they were about scientific and creative methods, but also about research papers about previous research efforts from the University of Siegen in the West Bank. The aim of those presentations was to establish a common ground for all participants on how to work scientifically. The presentation format was Pecha Kucha. It means that you have to present with a maximum of 20 slides, with maximum of 20 seconds to explain each slide.
My presented research paper was ”Challenges of CI Initiatives in a Political Unstable Situation – Case Study of a Computer Club in a Refugee Camp” by Konstantin Aal, Marios Mouratidis, Anne Weibert and Volker Wulf. My fellow german students presented “Computer-enabled Project Spaces: Connecting with Palestinian Refugees across Camp Boundaries” by George Yerousis, Konstantin Aal, Thomas von Rekowski, David W. Randall, Markus Rohde and Volker Wulf and the paper “3D Printing as a Means for Participation in Developmental Settings – A Field Study” by Oliver Stickel, Dominik Hornung, Sarah Rüller, Volkmar Pipek and Volker Wulf.
The presented methods from the Uni Siegen students were interviews, field notes and observations. The Palestinian students presented the Walt Disney Method and the Future Workshop, Cultural Probes and Brainstorming/Brainwriting. Before each presentation, everybody had one slide for a brief introduction of him- or herself.

After lunch, we started the creative process to work on project areas. In the first step, we did a Brainwriting session. Everybody wrote his/her specific ideas or what he/she has noticed what problems there are in silence on small pieces of colored paper. After that we spread the ideas on our round table and started to cluster them into groups, putting them next to each other on the table and adding paper slips with respective group names above them to get a better overview.

Everyone looked up which possible ideas there were and then groups were formed around these topics. There were ideas about upcycling of different things like cans or clothes. Another topic was the refugee camp al’Amari and the computer club there: ideas were formed to do some workshops with the kids about animal rights, arts or videos. Other ideas that evolved were concerned with garbage, creating spaces, sexual liberation and environmental issues.

In the next step we stuck the ideas on the wall to get a better overview. We further narrowed the ideas down, by renaming clusters and rearranging cards, combining and excluding some, discussing possibilities and so on to further compress them. Everyone engaged in the planning of first steps, and also gave feedback on each of the project ideas, so in the end everyone had a good overview about all the topics. We formed loose groups around the topics to be able to work in smaller groups.

The final problem areas to work on were the following:

• Food Sharing/Food Saving
• Creating Spaces on Roof Tops
• Garbage & Rewarding Bins
• Computer Club in al-Amari refugee camp
• Any kind of Workshops
• 2nd Hand Shop for Clothes
• Cooperation with Bibliobus
• Sexual Liberation/Sex education
• Detailed information about Programs in BZU

The final and definitive project ideas were to worked out by the project groups after some research and pre-evaluation.

In the evening, some of us spontaneously decided to go out to a club for the first time. It was a little scary to walk in such a dark unknown territory. There was a DJ playing techno music. The party crowd was resembling party crowds anywhere around Europe. One detail was different: the club closed at 12:30 am. We learned that this was due to the fact that the police do not allow parties after that and club managers would have to pay a heavy fine if they disobeyed that rule.

Day 4-6

Post by Patricia

First impressions, first conclusions

The first weekend in Palestine went by so quickly, although we gained so many new impressions: We met our fellow students from the University of Birzeit and had the first intercultural exchanges with them, experienced how it is when a Falastini wins the Arabic Idol, visited the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp and got a guided tour through the camp, met the director of Goethe Institute in Ramallah, and of course we had our daily fresh juice, because ‘a day without juice is no day’.

museum juice

But back to the beginning. On Saturday morning, we had a meeting with the Palestinian coordinator of YALLAH. He gave us a sightseeing tour around the campus of the University of Birzeit. Waiting outside for the coordinator, I recognized the first main difference between the University of Birzeit and the University of Siegen; Security forces at the gate, entrance only with permission. Inside the university all of us were impressed by the size of the campus, the university even has an own art museum. Lucky us, there we met the artist of the current exhibition ‘Documentary Drawings of the Kafr Qasem Massacre’ Samia Halaby. For me it was a great pleasure to meet Samia Halaby in the museum, she is recognized as one of the Arab world’s leading contemporary painters. Listen to her how and why she had painted her pictures in that specific way, gave us deep insights into her thoughts and feelings during her painting process. You as the observer have the look from the Israelis soldiers to the Falastinis and most impressive she gave every victim her/his real name. After the sightseeing tour, we got together with our exchange students from the Birzeit University. Everyone, the German and the Falastini students, were of course excited meeting the students with whom we would spend at least two months together – in Ramallah and in Siegen. After the formal part, the first personal and cultural exchanges between the students started, everyone was curious and very interested in each other. For me it seemed to be a very good start for the whole group to create new projects.

rawabiIn the afternoon, we made a spontaneous trip to Rawabi, the first planned city in Palestine, with the slogan ‘Live Work Grow’. The construction began in January 2010, by 2015 the first people moved to their apartments. During the bus tour through the city, it appeared rather as a ghost town than live out the slogan, only a few children walking on the street and a father with his son playing football in the tiny garden in front of their house. I had the feeling that most of us felt a little bit strange walking in this city, which seemed to be so untouched and sterile. Also with the background knowledge that it might be realistic that the land on which the city was build had to be sold by the Falastini owners for a cheap price, left a bitter taste for me.

 

 

Although we had a long day, we could not miss the final show of the Arab Idol, two of the three finalists were Falastinis. In the center of the nightlife area there was a live transmission of the show on a big screen with at least hundreds of people watching it. After our dinner on the way home, we heard that one of the Falastinis, Yacoub Shaheen, won the Arab Idol show. A few minutes later all the streets were full with honking cars and people walking around with Palestine flags, totally freaking out. I think we can compare it to a won soccer world cup in Germany, but more in a political way. A Falastini guy won the contest, so in conclusion it might be an indirect confirmation of Palestine as an own country to the Falastini citizens from the Arabic world.

On Sunday, we visited the first time all together the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp in Ramallah. Since in the first Yallah exchange last year the students started to work there with the children in the Computer Club, which was built up in one of the projects last year, it is a major concern for some of us to refresh and continue this project. Three residents of the camp gave us a tour through the camp. I felt a little bit uncomfortable walking around, looking at all the people and their living conditions and taking photos. Furthermore, for apparent reasons it seemed to me that not all of the inhabitants of the camps welcomed us warmly, feeling like people in a zoo observed by outsiders. In a kind of kindergarten, we came into contact with some children of the camp who gave us a feeling of being more than welcomed warmly. They wanted to interact with us in every possible way, asking our names and telling us their names, taking photos with us or even taking the camera out of our hands to takes photos by their own. The most impressive moment for me was in the internet café, where I saw a boy round about 4 years old playing counterstrike on the computer. I took a picture of him, almost exactly in this moment he shied away from the computer. First I thought he wanted me to play the game, but after the second photo I recognized that he was frightened by the click sound of my camera. This moment and the knowledge that the click sound might be similar to the sound of a gun left in me a deep shock.

refugeecamp jungecounterstrike

On Monday, some of us, including me, had the first little low, after our arrival in Ramallah and the first days discovering our new surroundings. In our working room at the University of Birzeit we continued to work on our presentations for Wednesday. In the afternoon, we visited the Goethe Institute in Ramallah and talked to the director, reflecting our first impressions and discussing possible projects for the upcoming weeks. Furthermore, she delivered us very interesting and helping insights into the cultural and social aspects regarding to the life in Palestine, especially Ramallah. She lives here for about 2,5 years and feels more than comfortable living here. She encouraged us to explore the city and Palestine as good as possible, talking with the inhabitants, seeing everything with our own eyes. After those three days, full with impressions and new conclusions, I fell exhausted into my bed, but with the confident promise that I still have to discover a lot more in the next upcoming weeks.

Day 1-3

Post by Linda

Day 1:
A long trip over to Israel it was. But it was also a really good opportunity to get to know each other better. We as a group of twelve students in a small aircraft made our meetings in advance of that trip almost unnecessary. Finally arrived at the airport of Tel Aviv, some of us were stressed, some elated and some totally hyped up due to the lack of sleep. I count myself to the first two. I cleared immigration and customs without any issues. One question – one answer – and I was in. After that also the last little jumpiness fell off my shoulders. Overall, ten out of twelve members of our group had a similar experience. Unfortunately, two have of us have been kept in for hours for further screening. Marios, Sven, Gerrit and Maren stayed at the airport waiting for those two to clear immigration. After quiet a turbulent ride, the other half of the group arrived well in the apparently abandoned and way too cold Ramallah. Our home for the next four weeks. The streets were completely empty and our apartment completely cooled down. Already in the staircase with its broken windows there was not much hope for real isolation of the entire building. We killed some time and checked our cell-phones every second, just in case any news from the group left behind at the airport would have been sent our way. (Not one radiator, but Wifi – thank you, Palestine.) The first highlights during that time: a 24/7 juice bar at the end of the street and the first batch of tea from Miriam. Around 4 am we received the notification that the others finally made it through immigration and that they are heading our way. After we checked the rooms and assigned the rooms/beds, we finally fell into our beds by 6 am. Arrived in Ramallah!

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Day 2:
It took us until the late afternoon to settle and to realise that we have arrived. It still is way too cold. We all expected something completely different and packed accordingly. But during the day Ramallah shows a completely different side than upon our arrival in the middle of the night. It is super busy and colourful. One store next to the other and a huge crowd of people moving through the streets. It’s a lot to take in. Especially with the unmanageable traffic situation. And now the third highlight: the food! Marios and Sarah brought in a big variety of everything, so we accomplished to have it for two days. This day was dedicated to solely arriving and getting settled.

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Day 3:
The third day I started off with some early morning workout with Robin and Miriam. We went out jogging through the streets, which went surprisingly well due to the fact that all the sidewalks were almost deserted. Also, all the stores were closed, because it was Friday. Just before breakfast we also discovered our rooftop and enjoyed the view over the city. The sun also said hi and delivered some warmth. On today’s agenda: city excursions in small groups. Robin, Sven, Sarah, Miriam und me went through the still empty streets over to the Arab market, where we encountered completely out of a sudden a huge crowd of people. Behind some fruit stands we discovered the mosque, where the people gathered around. They were sitting in front of, behind and in the mosque to listen to the sermon, which was broadcasted loudly over speakers. Robin wanted to get a little bit out of the city – out to a more rural area. We followed his desire and pretty fast we arrived somewhere more rural. We looked around and also talked to one of the residents. Afterwards we’ve met with Marios and Renad and walked together through al’Amari refugee camp. Already after the first five meters, we immediately could recognise that we just entered a complete different world, a world of its own. The alleys on the right and left became narrower and narrower, but were stretched longer than expected. Not everyone seemed to be well-disposed towards us, and people appeared to be not amused of “visitors” in their own little city. Besides evil eyes they also have thrown carrots and rocks after us. Nothing happened and since this was driven by motives of individuals, the impression remains that we were not welcome at all. Nonetheless, it was amazing to see all the curious kids, playing soccer in the streets – just being kids, frisky and happy. Hereafter we went back to the base and exchanged our experience we just made with the others. They also made an experience of similar nature – not a pleasant, but formative experience – they got threatened by a little boy. On the whole, we discovered Ramallah quiet well and collected a lot of impressions already. After the nightcap routine, we all went to bed.

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YALLAH 2017 is coming

After a successful kick-off in 2016, YALLAH has been funded for another two years! Everything is set for YALLAH 2017! Application deadline is January 25th and only a month later, around February 22nd we will start with our German students visiting the West Bank. The second phase of this years’ exchange will be in july, then our Palestinian fellow students will visit us in Germany.

You’ll find more info on this website and in the official announcement (PDF).

There will be an information event at University of Siegen on Thursday, January 12th,  6pm in room US-F 308 (Ludwig-Wittgenstein-Haus / Kohlbettstr. 15 / former city hospital).

Interactive Map – POIs for Refugees in Germany

An interactive map was created with Syrian refugees living in Germany. The refugees were invited to a workshop session, where they were taught the basics of interactive maps in the web and computer usage, in order to tag points of interest in a map. The POIs were supposed to be helpful for new coming refugees, so they can orient themselves better around the Siegen-Wittgenstein area. The data collected will be helpful for the research project “Nett-Werkzeug”, which focuses on helping refugees and volunteers to get in contact and provide various services (such as the already described map, translator exchange service).

Team Members: Sujood Al Haj, Ali Abu Hijleh, David Amend, Renad Khateeb, Marios Mouratidis, Sarah Rüller, Adham Sweedan

Team Garbage: Edible Cutleries & social experiment

A very obvious issue found in Palestine was a rather nonreflective handling of garbage by locals. A lot of throw away cutlery is used at the university and other places the students visited. So, one team came up with the idea of producing edible cutlery. Prototypes made from a special bread dough were created and tested in Palestine. In Germany, this concept continued with the creation of moulds (by using 3D printers and silicone) and a local venue offered the participants a contract. The team also organized a plastic bag prank in a Palestinian supermarket. Customers of the supermarket were charged a small fee for the, usually free, bags their groceries were put in.

Team Members: May Abdelrahim, Sondos Dahbour, Dina Haddad, Ramsis Kilani 

Computer Club in Al-Amari Refugee Camp

Al-Amari Refugee Camp is close to Ramallah city center. In the camps’ youth club was an abandoned computer room with some old terminals and electronic learning kits. The students got into contact with the club administration, got the permission to reopen it and started a workshop series about electronics, with refugee kids (boys and girls) aged 10 to 13. The workshop series took place on a weekly basis from April until August 2016 (when the Palestinian exchange students visited Germany). The club is now active and ethnographic research is still being conducted; based on this research, a poster and a long abstract were published at the ACM GROUP 2016 conference.

 

  1. Konstantin Aal, Marios Mouratidis, Anne Weibert, and Volker Wulf. 2016. Challenges of CI Initiatives in a Political Unstable Situation – Case Study of a Computer Club in a Refugee Camp. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 409-412. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/2957276.2996281

 

Team Members: Ali Abu Hiljeh, Renad Khateeb, Marios Mouratidis, Adham Sweedan

Urban Gardening in Palestine and Germany

Some students found out that there is a lot of unused space in the crowded city of Ramallah.  They came up with the idea to use these unused urban areas (like rooftops) for gardening. This approach also implied, by the materials used, another problem – namely garbage and waste. In workshops with Palestinian refugee children, a vegetable and herb (tomatoes, mint, cucumbers, lettuce) garden was created, by using empty plastic bottles as planters. The children would learn about empowerment, responsibility and being self-sustainable.

During the period in Germany, many Palestinian students requested to work with Syrian refugees. In cooperation with a local refugee camp, the team presented the idea to the inhabitants of the camp. The refugees liked the idea, so a garden was built as well.

Impression from the workshop in Palestine

Impressions from the workshop in Germany 

Team Members: David Amend, Sarah Rüller, Ala Abou Fara, Yara Al Shafie

Documentation Group

A group of students wanted to create a documentary about this program to create a multimedial artefact of cultural exchange between the western and Arab world, to tackle skewed media images from both sides and offer an accessible and portable experience of both cultures. This and further work is planned to be exhibited in Siegen (and other museums) in spring 2017 in collaboration with an artist from cologne.

Team Members: Mahmood Abdelkareem, Aydin Cosgun, Rand Inaim

Handicapped Persons

A team of students started campaigns to raise awareness for people with special needs in Palestine and Germany, especially deaf people. Posters and stickers were designed in German and Arab promoting sign language. Also, a website was created with further information on their mission called Hal Tafhamni – Do you unterstand me? (http://www.haltafhamni.com/)

 

Team Members: Anke Freuwört, Dina Haddad, Renad Khateeb, Jenny Kolloch, David Struzek, Laiana Obada Maswada

Amal – Cultural Exchange videogame

Amal is a Point and Click Adventure that aims to support intercultural exchange between Palestine and Germany.

The videogame tells the story of a small girl (Amal) doing various tasks in a Palestinian refugee camp. The purpose of the game is to enable the player an access to Palestinian socio-cultural conditions regarding refugees and also to their values, beliefs and culture in general. Amal is open source and as of now, is available on Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and Android.

Amal is developed with the open source engine godot.

Download it here: https://github.com/MartiniMoe/Amal

Team Members: Jasmin Kirchhübel, Moritz Obermann, Basil Alkatheeb

 

Back Home / Review

Post by Rand Inaim & Mahmoud Abdelkareem

yallah exchange programm - aug review

Our month officially started when we arrived at the airport and saw the entire German group there waiting for us and welcoming us. After the greetings we headed to our apartments. During our way home, huge areas of ‘green’ were all that our eyes could see! Green is everywhere! That was our first impression of Germany. We were surprised that we had to start the month with a very cold and rainy summer! Then the weather started getting better.

The month was full of new experiences and fun, but we will never forget our first experience with buses in Germany. As we took the bus for the first time to the university after half an hour, we were surprised that we came back to the same point we started from! I think one month was enough for us to understand how the buses work there! The day after, we took a local friend to the park in Siegen, so we wouldn’t get lost again! From there, we saw an overview of Siegen from a high point in the city, it looked very nice, green and full of architectural details. We would later come back to the same park with Ramsis and the whole group. We tried a traditional German potato salad dish  for the first time, which Ramsis made for us.

Later the same week we took the train to Köln (Cologne), it was our first time in the city full of tourist attractions. It was a beautiful city where we saw the most beautiful architecture in Köln, the very old cathedral (the Dom), we also climbed over 530 stairs to get to the top of it and walked around while seeing Köln from over 100m high, with all of the city, it’s details and the Rhine River in our eyesight. Another thing every visitor should visit in this beautiful city is the chocolate museum ‘Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum’ where we saw the process of making chocolate and tried a little bit of chocolate as well. The Rhine River was a quiet and calm place to end the long day, we needed to sit and have some ice cream after this tiring day.

The second week was fun in general, it started on the ninth when we all went to watch a football match between Siegen and Schalke U23, we walked all the way to the stadium from Siegen and that was a nice experience (the street was packed with car dealers, and yes Porsche! In addition, we even saw a BMW i8 at the stadium). We started getting used to things around in the city, became familiar with the transportation system and started working on our projects. We began exploring things on our own to get more out of this calm city, some of us started searching for tours and activities that we could do as well.

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In addition, this week was special to all of us, it was the week we met the Palestinian community here in Siegen, and oh boy were they welcoming, typical Palestinians! What we did not know is that all of these people were much more Palestinian than many Palestinians living in Palestine! That week they invited us to a barbecue in the woods, which was nice, they had Palestinian food, Palestinian music and many Palestinian people. What astonished us most about the Palestinians is the fact that they stick to their beliefs despite being so far away from Palestine and for such a long period. Moreover, not only do they stick to Palestine a lot, they also teach their children about Palestine, and the Palestinian situation. We were surprised when we saw kids as young as 10 years old who speak like us and know about Palestine as much as we do, even though they were born in Germany and have never been to Palestine or have been there only once. Even riding in their cars and listening to the traditional Palestinian music they were playing, made us feel like we were in the streets of Ramallah, we really felt like we were home and among our families whenever we were with them.

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This was the week of adventure and new experiences. It all started when Ramsis took us all to try this amazing Italian restaurant near the university, and oh boy was it delicious. Then the adventure continued all the way to Phantasialand in Köln. We had to wake up early that day, at first, we did not really understand why, but then when we stood for more than 2 hours to get on a single ride it hit us and we discovered that it was a busy place. With record-breaking rides, heart dropping experiences and very good food it really is an adventures place that everyone who goes to Germany must visit.

Later that week, we were all invited to one of the German student’s house to have lunch there (Jasmine invited us). It was near Köln, and on the way there we stopped for a bit at Gamescom which was happening in the same period we were in Germany, and some of us went to see it! The lunch was something new, having German food in a German house was something we all wanted try. All the food was delicious and we felt like we were at home.

After that we went back to Köln to see the Gamescom festival which was at night, it was so much fun, there was music, games, photo booths and much more to see and do, we tried everything and listened to many performers sing that night, the fun continued until late into the night. We will not forget that day, it was the day we walked from Weidenau all the way back to our dorms after 3 am because there were no busses that late at night.

fab lab siegen

This was by far the hardest/saddest week we faced in our month in Germany; it was our fourth and final week. We were getting ready to pack our stuff and head back to Palestine. Before saying our final goodbyes, we had to prepare for the fab lab opening in Siegen University.

We spent a fair share of this week preparing for the fab lab opening, it was an opening to display the new equipment in the lab like the 3D printers and the laser cutter, but we would also showcase our projects to the visitors of the opening. We put tables outside the lab doors and displayed our projects to the people while they entered or left the lab opening. We (the documentation team) spent the days of this week collecting images and videos of the groups while they were working (in Palestine or here in Germany) to make a short movie about the projects, so people would see what we had accomplished in this exchange program.

Other groups showed what they achieved in different ways. The garbage team for example (Sondos, Ramsis, May and Dina) had actually baked some spoons made from bread, and they used a 3d printer to create a prototype, from which they build a mold. Then they used the mold to make the next version of edible spoons. And they had two kinds of flavored bread for people to taste!

Another great showcase of the work done on the projects is the live demo of the game that Basil, Jasmine and Moritz had made which amazed us all. It was a cultural exchange game, which would teach people about Palestine and Germany, it was not completely done. However, what was done of it was impressive and a lot people enjoyed trying it out for the first time.

The work of the refugee camp group (Al Amari group: Marios, Sarah, Renad, Sujood, Ali and Adham) was mostly done in workshops, so we showed their work in the video we made. In addition to that, they showed the posters and the maps they made in collaboration with the refugees in the workshops they had in Siegen University. The urban gardening team (David, Sarah, Yara and Ala`) also worked with the refugees, they had many workshops both in Palestine and in Germany, so we showed their work in the movie we had playing.

Finally the special needs group showed us the stickers they made and some photos of the work they did, which included putting up stickers in the streets, universities, shops and many places in Palestine and Germany, it was really nice to see how they had stickers and posters in multiple languages as well. In addition to that, they had many activities considering special needs people.

In addition to this week being full of happy and proud moments, it contained many sad heartbreaking moments for us as well. It was finally time to say our goodbyes. Goodbye to the people who made us feel welcomed and that we were between our families, goodbye to all the moments that made us laugh, goodbye to all the good experiences we got to enjoy in our month here in Germany that we couldn’t do in Palestine, and yes, goodbye to the super quick internet. It was not an easy thing to start preparing ourselves to leave after this month and after what we had in Germany with all the things we did there. As always we ended the week with a late visit to the river Sieg, it was our final destination each night before taking the last bus home. It used to be the place where we ate, talked, laughed, played cards, met people and drew many memories in our hearts for that “lovely” daily station.

Impressions / Final thoughts

“Yallah” exchange program has been a life-changing experience to all of us and at different aspects. What made it special that it was in such a developed country. Everything was totally new and different; the whole environment of Germany is so different from Palestine. The thing that made it also an opportunity where you can see, do and discover new things. Living a month away from home and family has also taught us how to be more independent, more outgoing and made us gain so much confidence. Moreover, this incredible experience was an opportunity to widen the perspectives and discover “new worlds”. It was also a great chance to meet people and share culture and thoughts.

We have no doubt that it was absolutely the most amazing experience we could have. What an experience this was. No words can describe this journey of discovery, fun, learning and personal growth with unforgettable lifelong memories.

Finally, we would like to thank the people who made this all possible. Our coordinators both at Birzeit University and at Siegen University, Dr. Iyad Tumar and Dominik Şubat (Al Mu`alim), our fellow German exchange students who opened up their hearts to all our actions, words and feelings, the Palestinian community in Germany who made us feel like we were in Palestine.  This month has engraved something special in our hearts and shaped a special part of our lives too.

#lifelong memories ♥
#lifelong love 😎😍🙈

Days 28 – 29 in Germany

Post by Laiana

28. August

So we were living our last two days in Siegen. We woke up around 9 am to cook our last meal which was Maqluba – traditional meal. We decided to go to Tiergarten to eat and spend our last days in green areas. So maqluba was done! And it’s time to tidy up the trip stuff. Ramsis drove us to Tiergarten… Suddenly, it began raining heavily! The weather wasn’t our ally on this day. We gave up and returned home with wet clothes. We began to eat our meal around 4 p.m. and it was delicious! Some smells from home ♥ Adham made a kind of sweet called Harrise it also traditional sweet in Palestine. After finishing eating, Sujood and I went on a tour around the region to say “Bye Bye Siegen”.
Around 10 pm, one of the Palestinian community in Siegen – Mr. Jebrin- came with his sons to say goodbye. After this time, most of us were packing their bags to leave Siegen on Monday.

29. August

“Time to say goodbye” unfortunately, we are going to leave Germany today. Most of us woke up early to buy the last stuff that we need. I was walking to Siegen city centre to say goodbye to the region. It was a sad moment to leave Siegen. Around 2 pm we were waiting the bus to bring us to the train station. Anke, David Amend and Dominik were there to say goodbye. The hardest feeling ever!! Then we took the train from Siegen to Cologne. The trip took around 2 hours… Thereafter we took another train to the airport… Ramsis was with us from the morning… he was our guide most of time… we met David Sturzi in Cologne to say goodbye too. Around 5 pm we were inside the airport.. at 7:38 pm our plane was ready to take off.

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30. August

We continued our trip on the next day which was Tuesday. At 1:20 am the plane landed at Ataturk airport / Turkey. The second plane from Turkey to Jordan was at 2:30 am. We arrived Queen Alia Airport at 5:52 am. Sujood and Renad stayed in Jordan and the rest of us returned home. Karama border crossing and The Allenby Bridge were the most tiring road on the journey. After 23 hours of traveling.. Finally, we are home!

Days 25 -27 in Germany

Post by Ali

25. August

ali1As usual, we wake up in morning and have breakfast together at Sondos’ room, because we stored everything we bought there. Then, we went to the college to prepare for opening of the Fab Lab and as usual we bought coffee, as we can’t resist it while we walk by the shop and smell the coffee. I’ve been working on Al-Amari’s poster with Adham and one of the refugees, he was one of the refugees who attended the last workshop and he always says: “I want to help in anything“, also he said “I worked with Photoshop before”, so we asked him to help us on the poster, we hadn’t finished it that time because there were some words that needed to be translated into German, and we had to discuss the design with the others before printing it. I asked Jenny to translate them for me, and finally we printed it and pinned it to the wall beside the Fab Lab.
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We attended the Fab Lab opening, they were talking in German, we couldn’t understand anything, but we were just looking to pictures trying to understand what they are talking about. We were waiting for Dominik to start talking as we thought he will talk in English, but unfortunately he didn’t. After they finished the presentations, we explained our project, people were listening well, and they liked our projects. Also, they were asking us what we study, and where we are from and so on.

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26. August

ali6One of the Palestinian guys asked us to go and have fun in a park with a small river. It was a hot day so everybody wore short clothes. The park was amazing and it had a beautiful view, we had a lot of pictures there. Also, we saw the river which is not a natural one. We had a lot of fun until the sun disappeared and it started to rain heavily. Luckily the Palestinians had umbrellas in their cars, but unfortunately there weren’t enough of them, so we had to share them. We got back to cars and ate some cake and melon. Then we had lunch in Istanbul Sofra.

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After that, we were in a farewell with the Palestinians as we had to leave in the next days. Then, we went to Laser Tag which is a gun with a laser and two teams against each other. Luckily, there weren’t any other teams to play with us, so we split up and played 3 Vs. 3, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in Germany, we were able to play a second round, but then we had to leave and catch the bus.
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27. August

ali9We woke up earlier and went to Burger King to have breakfast, then we went to start buying the gifts for our families and friends. We hadn’t enough time, so we split up because everyone was looking for something different. As usual, we went to City Gallery, and met later after we finished. After that we went to walk around, we saw a small booth and a poster reading “Free hugs“, we were amazed about that, we were asking ourselves why do they give a free hugs to all, it was funny, and they asked us for a hug, but we refused because it was weird to give hugs to strangers.

 

ali10Ramsis invited us to eat food at his house. We all met at the city center to go there, but unfortunately we missed the bus, so we had to walk. While we were walking, we found a blueberry bush beside the road, it really tasted good. We ate fish and some of mashed potatoes, and the food was really good and delicious. Then we left to start preparing our luggage.

After we finished preparing our luggage, we played cards and Hamdia (one of the students who studies at Siegen University, we met her before, she’s kind and helpful) called us to meet and say goodbye before we left Germany, she brought us melon and chocolate, and we had a lot of fun.

Days 22 – 24 in Germany

Post by Basil

22. August

This is our 22nd day here. Germany has been great so far, but today was not about fun. Most of us worked on the projects. My project is a cultural exchange game, and I tried to work hard, since I feel the Germans are working more than me, because we are exploring Germany most of the day. The project is going very well; the Palestinian part is almost finished. Other projects also seem to be going very well. There was a meeting of some refugees with Al-Amari group today, and they were working on a map for new coming refuges which looks very nice.

23. August

On the 23rd day, we decided to do more exploring. At the beginning we went to cologne. We did some shopping and got some gifts for our families. But we have been to cologne before. We wanted to go somewhere new, so we went to Bonn. Bonn is a very nice city, Ramsis and his friend told us, that it was the capital of Germany back in the day. We also visited the University of Bonn. It looks old and nice, from the 18th century I think. Even their campus is very nice; it is large and looks like a park, with grass and people lying around. Maybe we could study there in the future. After seeing the University of Ramsis’ friend, we took a boat back to Cologne. The boat goes through the Rhine River, passing through wonderful scenes and several industrial areas. It was a lovely experience. After coming back to Cologne I realized that I have missed the hackathon. A hackathon is an event at the hackspace where many programmers work on the same project, and that project was our game. I left immediately and joined them (from the house, since our busses are crappy). They are pretty good at the hackspace, they added some cool things to the game. It’s very close to getting finished.

24. August

On the 24th day, we pretty much did nothing. Everybody is working on their projects; the garbage group went to some factory and is creating their first actual edible spoon. I hope it works out for them. And while they had to wake up at 6 am, we slept well. Today was quite boring; I guess I checked out the project. Now since Jasmin has her brother’s wedding coming up, the work is a bit less. But like most nights, we enjoyed sitting by the Sieg River. It’s crowded in the night because the atmosphere is very nice, especially when it is not very cold.

Days 16 – 18 in Germany

Post by Sondos

16. August

3D printed SpoonOur model of our first spoon was done today. I had a meeting at 11 am at the universities’ fab lab with my team mates Ramsis, Dina and May, Al Mua`llem (Dominik) printed us the 3D model for the spoon and it is ready now. It just needed to be a bit smoother (which Ramsis actually did using a knife). Before a couple of days, Ramsis, Mahmoud, May and me went to OBI (a hardware store) and bought silicon, a silicon gun and other materials that we might need. Then we needed to figure out how to use these materials beside the silicon with the gun.
We needed a box that fitted our spoon to put the silicon in and create a mold, so we could build the negative shape of the spoon. The “Amazing Ramsis” brought us some great and fresh ice cream, various fruit and some coconut. We finished all the ice cream and used the empty ice cream box. We built the mold for the spoon, but had to wait around 24 hours until the first part of the silicon cured. After that we would create the second part.

After university we had a meeting with a person which was working in a restaurant which was specialized in making fruit salads, ice cream, frozen yogurts, coffee and so on in Siegen. We talked with him about our idea of the edible spoons. He actually liked the idea and offered to buy some spoons from us, he would use them in his restaurant. He also asked us to make a mold of an edible cup, he would use it for ice cream, together with our spoon.  He wanted his logo on the spoon. Moreover, he allowed us to come to the restaurant and take videos or pictures if we wanted to. He was really interested in the idea of our work but honestly, we are conducting research and not a business, maybe when August ends we will come back to get some money from him :p
It was a long day, so we needed food (as always whenever there is food, Ramsis is the best to ask where to go) this time an Italian restaurant was our destination. After almost 2 and a half weeks in Siegen we should say that you can try any food from any country here, just take a tour in Siegen. There is a restaurant from every country around the world :p – but not an Arab one :p

17. August

sondos2I can make sure and say that this was the best day in the whole month and it was one of the best experiences in my life. It started at 7:30 in the morning; our generous German friends came to the dorm to drive us to Phantasialand. We left Siegen at 8:00 am, I was with Jasmin, and actually, I slept the whole road. We reached there and got our tickets at around 10:00am. The only sentence I can say about this day is that it was really worth every cent we paid for, we played almost 7 or 8 games. Waited almost an hour for every rollercoaster to get 20 seconds riding it, but it was really worth it. We stayed until 8:00 pm playing, shouting, eating, running from one rollercoaster to the next and reading the map wrong. Hahaha. We went also to the children’s part of Phantasialand by accident, because of the strange map which we couldn’t read.

sondos3Jasmin could not find her car when we finished. It took 10 minutes to find it because there were lots of cars and the only information that we had was that it is a dark blue Volkswagen car (any one can imagine how hard to find a car in Phantasialand with only this unspecific information available). We were exhausted when we reached home and slept directly.

18. August

One of the usual days here in Siegen. Nothing to do except going to university.
Our first part of the spoon mold is now done, the silicon has cured now and we can create the upper part. It was an easy job, all we needed is a plastic bag and silicon but now we have to wait another 24 hours so the whole mold is complete and we can try to make a bread spoon on Friday. We started checking and thinking of how to make a poster about our project for a presentation.
Lunch was in a Chinese restaurant with Ramsis. At almost 16:00 we had nothing to do, no work on the project and no other plans so me, Rand, Ali, Yara, Mahmoud and Basil bought some candy, chips and cola, then went to a park in Siegen and spend like 3 hours there taking photos and playing with the German kids. To be honest, parks here in Siegen are very beautiful, especially when the weather is nice, when there is food and friends. Parks are the best place to go to have a good time. The River is the last station of this usual day. Sitting next to the river for an hour talking, is so relaxing – but we had to leave at 11:00 to go back to the dorms. Here in Germany the most important thing is time. Time is really important, distracting, and accurate!
In addition, like every night we spent hours playing cards and eating German chocolate, which is really delicious. I am thinking of taking a million tons of chocolate back to Palestine.

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Days 13-14 in Germany

Post by Adham

13. August

The Amari group (Sujood, Renad, Ali and me) met Marios at University to go to Dortmund. We decided to go there and offer some refugees in the refugee cafe a workshop on creating maps and how they can add interesting and important locations to create an interactive map. With a map like this they can help newcomer refugees to find their way around and make life easier for them.
When we arrived to Dortmund, nobody was there. There was a woman working in the refugee cafe who told us, that the refugees just went out. Probably because the weather was very nice and they would spent their time outside, rather than in the cafe.
We decided to go back to Siegen. On our way back, we went to a festival (a “Kirmes”) which was taking place in a town close to where Jenny lives (Wenden). We met with Jenny, Dina and May there. Some of us had some fun on the rides. Afterwards, Sujood, Marios, Ali and I went back to Siegen and the others stayed at the festival.

14. August

It is a beautiful morning and a sunny day. Before, we have met someone from Palestine who lives in Siegen. His name is Ashraf and he studies for getting his master degree at the University of Siegen. Through Sarah he already knew that we come from Palestine, too.

He told me the day before that he would take us for a hike in the forests of Siegen. On that day, Sujood, Laiana, Ala’a, Ramsis and I go with him to the forest. We are had a great time there.

Ramsis brought some food his mother prepared which was very delicious.

After finishing hiking, we came back to our dorms and Ramsis joined us. We were playing table tennis and smoke argelah (Shisha). After that, we went to sleep.

Days 10 – 12

Post by Yara

11. August

It was an ordinary day, we woke up in the morning, had our breakfast, went to the center of Siegen, then to the university, we spent some time there working on our projects, after that, we left to have our lunch and spent the rest of the day walking around the city!

12. August

In this day we planned to visit the Ruhr area. We started our journey at 9 o’clock to Bochum city by train, we arrived there around 11 o’clock and went to “Deutsches Bergbau Museum” (German Mining Museum). It was a wonderful museum that showed us how people were mining back in the day, we went deep underground, for 17 meters and saw the stuff they used, also, many models and pictures of the workers and the tools.

Deutsches Bergbau Museum
Deutsches Bergbau Museum

We left the museum around 2 o’clock to have our lunch. When we finished our lunch we left Bochum by train to Dortmund city to visit another museum. It was really interesting, one that showed us the development of different technologies such as printing. We printed a drawing on a paper using an old printer, we saw a model for a huge laptop, also a model of an AIRBUS cabin and many robots.

Robot in the Museum
Robot in the Museum

We stayed in the museum until it closed, then went to Dortmund city center where the football museum is and spent some time in the city before we went back to Siegen city.

13. August

We decided to go to Cologne but not all of us, we were 5 only. We went at 10 o’clock to the train but before going there we searched for places we can visit and we chose to visit a new Turkish mosque and a flower garden called “Botanical Gardens Flora”.
There was maintenance for the rail way so we changed the train many times and it took us more time to arrive in Köln, when we arrived there was a festival in the city so we went there and bought some souvenirs and ate traditional German food.

When we finished we went to the mosque and entered it.

The Mosque
The Mosque

After that, we saw a high tower, from which we would be able to see all of the city and so we searched for its’ entrance. While searching we found the public park and it was very huge and full of people who were just laying there or playing different sports, also, a restaurant which offered free food tasting so we stopped and tried the food! After all of this, we finally reached the entrance of the tower but it had a sign that read it had been closed since 1992!
Finally, we went to the botanical garden and it was really nice. We took a lot of photos and enjoyed our time!

On our way back to Siegen, we needed to change the train so we stopped in Hennef and Bonn and each time the train was late from his original time so we waited in the city for a while.

Days 1-3 in Germany

Post by Ala’a

1. August

YALLAH - Palestinian Students' arrival in GermanyIt’s 1st of August all of us, the Palestinian students, prepared our backs and we are ready to leave to Amman. We left Ramallah at 2:15 pm, the bus took us to Jericho, then we went to pay for the taxes, we pay 153 nis and 10 JD for the backs. Ok after that we took another bus from Jericho to the Palestinian authority checkpoint, were there we had to waite like one hour because there was another bus before us, ok it’s now 4 pm we drive to Jordan and we take our backs and luggages and we pay quarter JD, ok now we are looking for a taxi to drive us to the Queen Alia National Airport, and there is a Jordanian taxi driver who stuck to us to let us go with him but we refuse because of the higher price, but we negotiate with him and take three taxies for 60JD. Now we are arrived, it’s 8 pm now we should wait till 23:20 cause Dr. Iyad will come with us. Dr. Iyad comes and its 11:20, we are going to check-in our luggage and get our boarding passes.

2. August

Dorms at Engsbachstraße in SiegenIts start to reach 2:20am we hanging around till it reaches, now we are at the Turkish airplane. This is interesting for me cause it’s my first time. It’s time to put the seat belt on, everything is *alhamdullah* great, except how the guy in front of me and liana sits. If we do move or make any sound he starts to be mad, he spoiled my first flight. Now we are at the Turkish airport we have to move quickly to get the next plane which will get us to Cologne airport. Now,  we are at Cologne but this plane was worse than the previous. We are at Germany now and this is the best thing ever… The German guys are here to welcome us and drive us to Siegen to our dorms…
Ok, so we are at the dorms in Engsbachstraße 56 and 58. My dorm is at 56. Each one of us takes his keys and most of us are going to rest after the long trip. We decided to go at 6 pm to buy things that we need at the supermarket. Then go back to our dorms and sleep.

3. August

Today is 3rd of August and we decided to take a tour around Siegen. We take the wrong bus and it returned us back to our dorms. We then managed to take the right bus.

Days 25-27


Post by Alica Bökelmann

2. May

JerusalemThe day started at the bus station in Ramallah where our little group met. Unfortunately one member felt sick and couldn’t join us. While we searched the Bus to Jerusalem one devious taxi driver tricked us by telling us that there was no bus to Jerusalem and that he could take us there. The only problem which we didn’t know: he could pass the check point. He left us there and we had to pass Kalandia checkpoint by foot which, unsurprisingly, didn’t feel comfortably or pleasant at all. We took the bus on the other side and without any further delays we arrived in Jerusalem. We visited the garden tomb, one of Jesus’ many possible graves which are spread through the city, before we started our tour through the old city. We saw the Arab Quarter, the Wailing Wall, then we visited the Temple Mount with the Dome of Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque and finished the tour in a little polish falafel-restaurant. The group split up because some wished to do the tour through the tunnel system underneath the Wailing Wall while others wanted to eat Sachertorte in the Vienna’ hospice which is nowadays a restaurant. The tour took about an hour and was very interesting. We saw the ruins of the second temple and the tour guide seemed to know everything about the history of this place. The group gathered again and did a detour through the Jewish quarter where we found the Madaba mosaic (the oldest cartographic depiction of the Holy Land). Afterwards we went back to the bus station. But instead of going home we decided to visit the Auguste-Viktoria Hospital on top of the Mount of Olives. There we had a fantastic view over Jerusalem, we could even see Jordan! If it hadn’t been so windy, I could have sat there forever. The walk back was easy: thanks to one of our team member’s sense of direction we found our way back to the bus station where we found the bus back to Ramallah easily.

3. May

Während des PranksTuesday was the day of our supermarket prank. Our “Team garbage” had a team meeting in the Andiamo Café to discuss the last questions by a nice cup of coffee before we went to the supermarket. In the supermarket everything run smoothly, we introduced our idea to the cashier and hid the camera, than we had to wait for customers. The idea was to let the cashier tell the customers they had to pay for their plastic bag half shekel while we watched their reactions. In the beginning the cashier seemed to feel uncomfortably because it is very uncommon in Palestine to pay for bags but due to the calm customers’ reactions he got calmer. We interviewed our customers later on and had some very interesting conversations.

After the prank we decided to visit Rawabi, a city build by one Palestinian billionaire. We had to convince our Palestinian friend a little bit because actually our he had to study but we decided for him that the best way to spend the day was with us. I am sure he didn’t regret that 😉

RawabiWe arrived in Rawabi headquarter, where we were told to wait. We thought, they wouldn’t let us wait for long but we were so wrong! We had to wait over two hours! But actually that wasn’t a big problem because we had so much fun together. We had food, a great view over Rawabi and Palestine, a mini-IKEA and a playground. It doesn’t take much to let some grown up students behave like small children 😉 We romped around, took lots of photos and had great chats. I enjoyed my company so much! After two hours we finally got our tour through Rawabi. The city isn’t finished yet but when it is finished, it will be impressive. Rawabi will become a modern city with its’ own amphitheatre, swimming pools, a huge mosque, schools, space for safari tours through the Palestinian mountains and solar panels on every rooftop.Im Restaurant

Back in Ramallah the Palestinian students had to get back to their studies while the Germans met to have dinner together.

We did a little walk, trying to find the restaurant where another friend works when he is not studying. After a few detours we finally found it. The restaurant was really worth the search because the atmosphere in there was great and the food was even better (even though some of us had to wait almost an hour to get there food^^). The dinner ended with the traditional shisha, of course, before we went back to our apartments.

4. May

On Wednesday “Team garbage” did its’ second prank: we placed three different garbage cans next to one of the cafeterias on campus and labeled them. One was for plastic, one for paper and the last one for all the other garbage. The idea was to see, if students would separate their garbage if it helped to recycle plastic and paper. We filmed again with a hidden camera. We could observe some really interesting and funny reactions and again had a lot of intriguing conversations. After we finished we had a chat with our supervisor because he was asking about the process of the groups. Because we already finished our project and the “Team for special needs people” asked our Team for help, some of us decided to go back to Ramallah to support the other project.

Days 28-30

Post by Anke Freuwört

5. May

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, we are going to Jerusalem!Stadtmauer

Our last trip led us to another historical place – Jerusalem. We started our day with a walk from the Damascus Gate trough the old town and followed the cross-coat of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was our first stop; our next stop was the old city wall, where a few went up and followed the old border of the ancient Jerusalem. Our group split up after that and a few of us went to see the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Following this way took us further trough the Christian and Armenian Quarter, where we bought some souvenirs. We finished our day at the Nablus Street festival where we could by some local products, listen to gospel singers and where kids were entertained by clowns. We got so many different impressions of the city that our trip came to a felicitous end and sums up our stay in Palestine perfectly.

6. May

Poster5Our last day! Everyone is busy doing his or her last things in Ramallah and finishing their group work for this time. Two of us decided to run a (part-)marathon of 10km in the morning (http://palestinemarathon.com/). After that the group for special needs spread their posters and stickers around the Al Manara square in shops and at the streets. We had a few nice discussions with police officers what we are doing here and got checked that we are not advertising some controversial stuff. It is our website (www.haltafhamni.com) were we spent hours creating the content. We managed it to write it in both languages – Arabic and English. Additionally, we had an interview with a deaf student in sign language and we hope to upload it soon.

In the afternoon we went to buy a few last things and a part of us went up the Palestinian trade tower to see the sunset. Sadly it was not as impressive as the last days because of the clouds. But still was worth it: my last Toffee Latte.

7. May

Today we are travelling back to Germany! Goodbye Palestine. We already left at night to the airport and fly back in different groups. But first comes the security check, asking different questions: “Where have you been”, “with whom”, “why”, “how long” etc. A few of our items come home later and whereas a few arrived safely and checked their luggage for missing things, others are still waiting for their connecting flights.

But everyone is looking forward to August, when the exchange continues, this time with our Palestinian friends in Germany.

– Anke –

Days 22-24

Post by Jenny Kolloch

29. April

It’s Friday! And everybody is excited about Fridays because this is the only day of the week that the juice shop down the street sells pomegranate juice. This sweet elixir filling our veins with new life… Why only on Fridays? We were told that Palestine provides pomegranates from Israel and the only day of the week Israelis sell them to Palestinians are Thursdays, so they sell it on Fridays.

Fridays here are like our Sundays, it’s a holiday: the shops are closed, the streets are quiet and everybody is home with their families. It’s a relief to be able walking down the sidewalk without squishing through masses of people. But today we don’t leave the HQ anyway because it is the first day that we have actually NOTHING to do. Some of us wanted to attend a peaceful demonstration against the Israeli military in al-Masara, near Bethlehem; but apparently the demonstration didn’t take place. So, we stayed at the HQ and spent the day doing some university papers and a lot of food. Food. And food. Did I mention food?

It was all a peaceful and lazy day until the worst thing on earth that could happen happened: the internet connection died! “Do we need to talk to each other now? Socializing? What is that?!” Funny, how people become uneasy when there is no internet connection. First world problems… Since there is nothing to do for me at the HQ and no internet connection anyway, I leave the place with Marios. Wandering through the streets we talk about the last three weeks and how time passes so fast. I already feel like home here. People start recognizing us and the well-known “Welcome, welcome” shouts become less. We have an ice cream, which reminds us rather of bubble gum than ice cream. Anyway, it’s delicious. And different.

Back at the HQ – still no internet connection – we sit all together on the balcony, laughing about our weird habits. Apparently we know each other very well after only three weeks of living together. At this point the only thing I am going to say is: Brazil. Salute.

30. April

The day starts off with goodbyes. Konstantin who visited us for only a couple of days – he has been here already five times before – is heading back to Germany. His flight is at 4 pm but he already leaves at 11 am since he feels that there will be a questioning about his stay at the security check of the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. So, bon voyage, Konstantin!

There is still no internet connection at the HQ, so, some of us decide to visit a nearby cafe to check our emails. I guess my family is completely freaking out because I didn’t contact them for a whole day! But nope. They didn’t even notice. Anyways, it’s a relive to feel connected to the world again!

P1110744Today the Orthodox-Christian Easter festivities start. At midday we go to the center of the city to have a look at the Easter parade. The city is always full of people but today it feels like there are 3 times more people. The streets are blocked by police cars and we are waiting on the sidewalk for the parade to start. When it starts, there is the shattering beat of drums and percussion in our ears. Every band represents one of the surrounding towns and every member is wearing a uniform. Everywhere we look, there are Palestinian flags. It’s an amazing spectacle to look at but it doesn’t look the way we would imagine an Easter event in Germany. Where are the crosses and the signs for Christs resurrection? There are so many drumming bands and even bands with bagpipes participating. In the end, uniformed men go among the parade with lit candles – finally a sign for Jesus’ resurrection – and whenever he passes by someone, the person passes his hand through the flames and makes the sign of the cross.

Not all of us were able to attend the Easter parade. Team Urban Gardening had a workshop with the kids of the refugee camp al-Amari. They planted seeds into cut-out bottles and hang them around the youth center. The Computer Club in al-Amari also had a workshop teaching children the functions of alternating current and how to switch on lights or making a propeller work.

#HmarOfTheDay is the not working internet connection!

01. Mai

Another morning without internet. But that’s fine with us because we are going to Jericho today. What was it about Jericho again? What did Jesus do there? Some kind of miracle? I am not sure, let’s ask Google… oh right, no internet. So, we grab a tourist guide book and read: Jesus and the tollkeeper Zacchaeus, Jesus on the Mount of Temptation, the Dead Sea and the lowest city in the world – 250 m under the sea level. Enough information, let’s go.

P1110824Three of our new Palestinian friends accompany us on the trip. Entering Jericho we are stopped at a checkpoint – a Palestinian one! They made sure that none of us is Israeli and they hold a short chat with Renad about politics. First stop is the Wadi Qelt, where we hike down incredibly steep ways to reach the Greek-Orthodox St. George Monastery at the depth of the canyon. Here it is at least 40 degrees and no hint of wind. We visit the monastery but not all of us because apparently man are not allowed to enter with shorts – Sorry, David! After visiting the monastery we walk along a very rocky path along the canyon, which our Palestinian friends tell us actually is a river. Unbelievable, because there is no hint of water along the way! We make our way back to the bus and if you walked down the canyon, you have to walk it up again! Some donkey owner offer a ride up but we rather walk.

Next stop is the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus supposedly fasted for 40 days and nights and resisted the devil’s seductions. We go up with the “Jericho Cable Cars” which were constructed in Austria. The cable car ride is about 5 minutes. On top of the mountain is another Greek-Orthodox Monastery – Where did all the Greek come from?! Monastery Quarantal is built around a stone where you supposedly can see Jesus’ knee print, where he kneed for his prayers.

Back at the valley station, on the other side of the street is yet another attraction: Tell es-Sultan. There you find the probably oldest town in the world (founded 10.000 B.C.) and its archaeological finds. The midday sun is incredibly hot and we find a shady place to hide right next to a fountain. But of course we are not here to have fun, so let’s go to the next touristic station! Hisham’s Palace ruins is the next stop. But everybody is more than hungry and already having withdrawal symptoms from the lack of falafel this day – Lunch time!

P1110969After a falafel sandwich, we make our way to the Dead Sea, Kalia Beach. We go change into swimming suits – what a relief, wearing so little in this heat. The water is warm and the ground slippery and muddy, so we lay down in the water immediately and…. OH MY GOD, WE FLOAT! It feels like flying. We don’t have to move at all, only relax, the water is doing the job. This must be magic… now I understand how Jesus was able to walk over waters. The water feels oily and is disgustingly salty – please don’t drink! And my advice for everyone: don’t get it into your eyes (Cheers, Dominik!). On the other side of the sea, you can already see Palestine’s neighbor state Jordan, it’s so close and the sea seams more like a big lake. I feel like in a different world, wearing a bikini and lying in the sun. In this moment the conflict which surrounds us seems far, far away…

– Jenny –

Days 16-19

Post by Aydin Cosgun

A week ago we visited an exhibition called “Future Heritage” (https://future-heritage.org), a german-palestenian project to “transform local cultures sustainably, thereby keeping traditions and skills at the heart.” At the exhibition we met some interesting people, one of them was a local artist named Hamza. We talked a little bit about art and other stuff. Few days later Ramsis and I met him by coincidence near our apartment, when he was transporting canvasses. We found out that he is our neighbour. We helped him carrying the huge canvasses to his apartment, while carrying he told us that he is preparing artworks for a new exhibition, which will also be exhibited in Italy. Things like that seem to happen often in Ramallah, every time you go out, new opportunities pop up. We had a little chat and I asked whether I could do an Interview with him for the documentation project, because I thought it might be interesting to show some local Palestinian art and how he uses art to express himself. Hamza approves and says that we can come whenever we want, because he’s mostly working at home and we should feel free to come when we want to.

25. April

We enter the university and are overwhelmed by all kinds of flags, posters and scarves in all different colours and shapes. Mostly in the colours of the three main parties. Green for Hamas, yellow for Fatah and red for the leftist party PFLP. Everywhere we go, we are accompanied by the signs, posters and students who openly show their colours and reveal their “political” convictions. Not a single meter seem to be spared by flags or posters. Today there are also parades by all the parties, after that they have short talks and performances on a small stage. Many Birzeit students attend the talks and are cheering and clapping every now and then. We understand little to nothing, but sometimes the speakers of the parties sound like war cries, which is quite intimidating. In two days the student council elections begin. The elections are important for the parties, because it indicates the popularity of one party or another.

26. April

1 - artwork ahmza
“My guts declare my identity.”

Today Ramsis and I visited Hamza to do an interview and to talk about the edible cutlery, on which Ramsis is working on, because Hamza also offered his support in that project. Hamza showed us some of his artworks and we talked about how his art portrays the situation in Palestine. His art mainly focuses on raising awareness to social and political issues, without taking political sides. This is also why he is allowed to use city walls as “canvasses”.

We talked about his motivation and also his collaborations with a lot of other artists from Palestine and abroad. He also had many exhibitions in Italy and other countries. And at some point whether you want to or not, you always end up in politics, but it’s totally normal, because “politics” effects everyday life and you just can’t ignore it. And like many other people, Hamza made clear, that even though he doesn’t like the life and situation in Palestine and had several opportunities to move away, that it is somehow his “duty” to stay and by that to demonstrate resistance. He said if he leaves, someone else will take his place and that he is too stubborn to “allow” that. “Existence is Resistance”. I really respect that many Palestinians stick to hope and seem to have a never ending endurance and patience in living the Resistance day in, day out. I talked to many locals and even though if there are many different political views, all of them had nearly the same mind-set and way of thinking: the situation is bad, but we won’t give up and keep on going whatever it takes.

While we talk, there are debates going on in the University of Birzeit. Tomorrow the elections end. The student council elections at Birzeit are very important for the parties, because it can be viewed as reflecting society’s politics. The university has an important role in the elections, because some of the leaders among the Palestinians are Birzeit graduates and second Birzeit has a leading role in the political life, especially among the students and also in fostering and enhancing the national identity of other Palestinians. That is also why the parties financially support the student councils and try to build up a good image and advertise themselves as good as they can.

27. April

Again we arrive at the university and today the elections end. The university is again very crowded, reminds me somehow of a music festival, where you have to squeeze yourself to get from A to B. There are some choreographies and talks going on. The university is still coloured in green, yellow and red, but all the flags have to be removed till noon, otherwise the parties get hard sanctions and are not allowed to participate in the election or get punished in other ways. The students are allowed to vote till 4 pm and at 8 pm the final election results are clear. I heard from many students, especially from younger ones, which are in their first year that they will not vote for anybody or just will make their vote invalid by voting for two parties, because they still made no experience, which party will represent them the best. I accompany some of my group members to the election and want to check out how Palestinian elections roll. I’m not allowed to go in, but can watch them from outside through porthole windows. Unspectacular. It’s a normal election. Don’t know why I expected something extremely different.

Later, after working a little bit more on our projects, the whole German squad is invited to a Palestinian students place. We get a ride to the fields of gluttony. We eat. Again. A lot. And it’s delicious, like always. Maqluba, salad, dolma, hummus, chicken, beef, whatever our hearts desire.

At about 8 pm, after we finished eating and drinking chai, we heard that Hamas won. Some people of our group want to witness the celebration at the university, but a little later we were informed that the celebration was cancelled. Could be because the leading party is Fatah and they wanted to make sure, that Hamas has a hard time celebrating their success. Later that evening on our way back home by bus, we saw many policemen and some “civilians” on the streets with machine pistols and alike. Maybe to intimidate Hamas supporters, so they keep calm and don’t openly celebrate.

 

28. April

Breakfast
Breakfast

I’m amazed how much hummus and falafel a man can eat without getting tired of it. Now its three weeks in and I can’t remember a day I didn’t eat hummus or falafel and I’m still craving for chickpeas. I fear that I have to go cold turkey on chickpeas, when I return to Germany and that this will be pretty hard. Well, after a big breakfast with falafel, hummus, foul, salad and coffee, we head to university.

Today Hamas is celebrating their win in the elections, but it seems like they are not really celebrating to the fullest. I ask some of the students and they tell me they fear that they might get imprisoned if they party too hard. Somehow it sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. They are serious and it really happened. Last year when Hamas won, many of the student council, which were supported by Hamas, were imprisoned and threatened by the Palestinian Authority. Some of them were imprisoned for months for no apparent reason.

Later that day, after the “celebration” is more or less over, some people caused trouble near the cafeteria. I’m not sure, who exactly is involved, because there are people everywhere and they all gathered to see what’s going on. Some say it were Hamas fighting against Fatah members, while others claim that it’s an internal fight of Fatah members, because they thought that they will win this year and couldn’t deal with it and started to blame each other, which has led to a physical conflict.

I wonder and respect how still many students and also other people keep on doing what they want to do, although they face many problems in everyday life, especially when they are politically active. Because nobody is spared and if you say something “delicate”, it could be that your whole life will be turned upside down in form of further restrictions of “rights” like freedom of travel, speech and thought.

– Aydin –

Days 14 – 16

23. April

In the morning eight people shower in a hurry because there is no water in the lower apartment and we have to be at university at 10:30 to take a group photo. Nearly all students are present and it does not take long to take the photo in front of the IT-department’s building.

After that we are sitting together with some German and some Palestinian students to give Professor Wulf who arrived yesterday a brief overview of our impressions and the projects so far. We talk about many things that impressed us because they are so different than expected, but there are also things that are surprisingly equal to Germany. For example someone points out how the university, the students and the campus aren’t really differing from their German counterparts. Afterwards the groups present their projects and the progress so far. Professor Wulf seems to be happy with all the ideas and the progress so far.Orchestra

To satisfy our hunger, we then go to the cafeteria before every group continues its work on the projects. I am a member of the “game”-group with Basil, Jasmin and Renad: Our main goal is to create a PC-game, meant for children, that supports cultural exchange between Germany and Palestine. We agreed upon creating a Point and Click adventure that tells a little story about everyday life in the refugee camp Al-Am’ari. We didn’t have a real idea for the graphics style and the story is not completely finished yet, so we write a storyboard while Ramsis (who is supporting us) draws sketches for the main character.

When we have to change rooms because of a lecture, Younes invites us to work in his office. By that time Younes is working on a Palestinian constitution which he hopes will be needed one day. He explains a lot to us about the Palestinian identity and his own religious views. He prevents us from working, but the insights are very interesting and totally worth it.

In the evening Iyad invited us to a concert at the University. It is an orchestra called “Palestinian Youth Orchestra” (http://ncm.birzeit.edu/en/palestine-youth-orchestra). It is divided into different age groups, each playing a few songs. Although we are all quite tired, it is really nice to listen to them. They play songs of various genres, for example the soundtrack of “Pirates of the Carribean”, or an original composition about peace in Gaza.

24. April

At 09:00 we get picked up by a bus which takes us to Bethlehem and Hebron. Renad is joining us as she has organized the trip. Unfortunately the bus is missing one seat so one of us is always sitting on a tiny foldable wooden table the driver brought.

On our way to Bethlehem we are driving past many settlements, protected by checkpoints, soldiers and huge walls. Someone tells a story about tear gas grenades. In moments like this, it becomes very clear to me that this is an occupied country. I try to imagine how it feels for the Palestinians to see all this every day.

We arrive in Bethlehem. It is very crowded and for the first time in Palestine I see many other groups of tourists. We want to visit the Church of the Nativity, but it is also very crowded as there is going to be a mass, so we leave again. Our guide Hassan wants to show us the milk grotto. Surprisingly it is also very crowded and noisy. Everyone there is taking selfies in front of everything else. People shout and talk very loudly. We see a woman taking a selfie in front of a locked corridor and one of us gets asked to take a photo of someone in front of a fuse box.

Afterwards Hassan takes us to a shop where some of us buy nice handmade souvenirs and scarfs from Palestine. The shop owner also offers us tea while we are waiting for some members of the group which got lost at the Church of the Nativity. Most of us are a bit disappointed by Bethlehem. Of course we did not see much of it, but it was just so crowded and so touristy that it seems impossible to feel some kind of spirituality or historic importance there.

On our way to Hebron our guide stops. He wants to show us a project he is working on. It is about rebuilding old, abandoned Palestinian villages and repopulating them to oppose the settlers that once made the residents leave. They already rebuilt one house and there is also a family living there. Hassan introduces us to the family’s father, Mohammed, who is very grateful for the opportunity to live there again. Hassan points out that we, as guests, are all witnesses of what is going on in the West Bank and that this is very important. Back in the bus Hassan talks about his political activities. He has been imprisoned 19 times because he is some kind of leader of non-violent resistance in his village. He points out, that every single non-violent action a Palestinian does to resist the occupation is an important victory and a step in the right direction to never lose hope.

Since Palestine is quite small and everything is very close to each other it does not take long to arrive in Hebron. Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank and very ancient. Because of its association with the biblical Abraham, it is viewed as a holy city in both religions, Judaism and Islam. Today the city is divided, due to an Israeli settlement right in the city center. About 400-700 jewish settlers and a lot more IDF soldiers are present there (around 4.000). The separation can be realized by huge walls, barbed wire fences, cameras and – of course – a lot of soldiers. While we are visiting the market and move along a street with small shops, there are always cameras above us and soldiers on the rooftops.
photo_2016-05-03_15-26-10Because the settlers live so close to the Palestinians, there are huge grids all above the street to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and rubbish onto the Palestinian streets. Our guide takes us to his rooftop. From here the separation is very obvious. We see a trench through the city, filled with garbage. Right behind a huge fence on a roof there is a place for basketball where we can see Jewish kids playing with their kippah on.

The feeling of going through the streets is difficult to describe. There are streets which are so close to the settlement that Palestinians don’t go there and every shop is closed. The soldiers on the rooftops create an atmosphere of constant fear. There are also many Israeli flags, only to be seen from the Palestinian side. Everything here seems to be trying to say: “This city is ours. Leave!”.

After visiting the old town, we also enter the Ibrahimi mosque (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs). The mosque is associated with Torah, Bible and Quran and is famous for its tombs. The mosque is also known for a massacre that happened in 1994 and left 29 Palestinians dead after a settler (Baruch Goldstein; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Goldstein) entered the mosque and opened fire. Today the mosque is divided, just like the city. While we take our shoes off and enjoy the cold stone floor we can hear Jewish prayers through a door next to us.

Before leaving Hebron, most of us buy one or more Keffiyehs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keffiyeh). Near Hebron there is the last Palestinian factory that produces them in a traditional way. All other Keffiyehs you can buy in Palestine are made in China nowadays. They are produced in a variety of color combinations to fit everyone’s taste and to reflect the political opinion.

Unfortunately on our way back to Ramallah some mechanical part of the bus breaks and it makes strange noises while the driver continues slowly. Just when some of us start to get nervous because there is going to be a steep downhill part of the road, the driver pulls over and we reach a workshop where the bus is soon to be fixed and we can go on. Back in Ramallah we are invited for dinner at Renads home. Her family prepared an awesome meal and we fill our bellies with rice, lentils, bread, yoghurt, olives and salad. Everything is homemade and tastes just great. Because we all are tired and the driver needs to return to Hebron on the same evening, we leave and call it a day.

25. April

Today most of the groups work on their own to achieve progress with their projects.

Jasmin and I want to visit the Al-Amari refugee camp to take some photos to create background scenes for our game. Jenny also joins us and we leave just at noon, which turns out to be a bad idea because it is very hot today. At the camp we start to take photos, but soon we begin to feel uncomfortable because many people are observing us in a skeptical way or talk to us in Arabic. Since we cannot explain the purpose why we take the pictures, we decide it would be better to leave. On our way out we notice bullet shells on the street.

In the evening we are invited to Iyad’s home. There is a wide variety of food and everything is very delicious. They even made chicken on top of beer bottles which some of us know from Germany.

Later, when we are back home, it is already quite late, but some of us cannot wait to watch the new episode of “Game of Thrones” – a television series some of us like. So we watch it together before going to bed.

– Moritz –

Days 11-13

Running out of tap water

Black water reservoirs at the rooftops
Water reservoirs at the rooftops

In the last days our flat ran out of tap water. It seems to be that our flat did not get a recurring refill of the rooftop water reservoir. These reservoirs backup the occasionally turned off water supply. But they do not get continuously refilled, in most cases every 2-4 days. When you use too much water or they forget your reservoir you are out of tap water.

Because of this situation we learned that it needs a bit organization to share a bathroom with eight people. One does get used to almost anything.

18. April

Hacked 3D-Printer to print with clay from the side while printing
Hacked 3D-Printer to print with clay

3D printers are more and more common everywhere; also here in West Bank. Usually they use plastic (PLA, ABS) as material to print the 3D models. But what about printing sculptures using clay? By chance, we met a German team that hacked a 3D-printer to work with clay. They use it to work with local potters and clay artists to show them how to combine their traditional clay work with current IT-technology. For a proof of concept they created a 3D scan of a clay carafe and printed it with their hacked 3D printer.

Refugee Camp al-Am’ari

Empty, narrow path in the refugee camp
Path in the refugee camp

After seeing how great the intercultural exchange and the hacking spirit is also happening in the West Bank we had to see the other side: the long-term consequences of the displacement in the late 1940s. People living at the coast (nowadays Israel) were forced to move to refugee camps because of the conflict after the Second World War. Someone told us, that they have the right to return to their homes after the conflict (UN Resolution 194 from 1948). But this never happened.

A huge red key brick-built as a sign of the displacement.
A key brick-built as a sign of the displacement

Since then the refugees are living in the camps with their children and grandchildren. Until today, they never gave up the hope to be allowed to return to their land. Because of this they kept their old house keys until today, no matter if their houses are still there.

Kids playing at the Youth Club of the Refugee Camp. They are standing in a circle, holding their hands.
Kids playing at the Youth Club of the Refugee Camp

We visited the refugee camp al-Am’ari in Ramallah. Around sixty percent of the camp residents are children right now. We were warmly welcomed in the community center of the camp where they also take care of children, similar to a kindergarten.

We were told, that right now the camp has around 8.000 residents. The streets and paths in the camp are really narrow. Nevertheless a few cars were trying to find their way through these paths.

They also showed us the Computer Club a few of our colleges from the University of Siegen built up 4 years ago. It looked abandoned. But one of our projects is to revitalize the club to enable more children to learn how to do interesting and fascinating things with computers. Hopefully some of them get the spirit of the hacking community and understand what hacking really means: hacking your environment in ways the things you are hacking where not meant to be used and using them for your own needs.

19. April

I am participating in the urban gardening project. We decided to visit the gardening space of the university to look what they have already achieved.

Garden of the University
Garden of the University

Today there are no lectures at the university. The staff is protesting against a legislation amendment concerning the pension payment in the West Bank. Because of this, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has organized a common breakfast for students and staff in the hall of the main faculty building. Surprise, there is a lot of hummus on the tables! We cannot be totally wrong by eating hummus all day long. This seems to be a common local habit as well.

Oh, and there seems to be a common sense between me and one other group member about making delicious Arabic hot drinks with our own ingredients. We both got the internal trophy for being the jerk of the day because of totally failing in the kitchen: Mocca tastes really good with sugar in it. I prepare this every day in the morning. Usually, there is cardamom added to the ground coffee. But try salt! It is… different. Also black tea with salt is an unforgettable experience…

– David –

Days 8-10

Post by Ramsis Kilani

15. April

To explore the grassroots movement of 3D printing in Palestine, we visit Dalia and Hana in al-Birah. Their organization VecBox is interested in bringing this technical innovation closer to Palestinian civil society, especially the youth. After the two tell us about their former workshops and planned projects for the future, they show us their tribute to an online activist from Syria called Basim Safadi who was imprisoned and not heard of since. He designed a 3D model of the destroyed monument of Palmyra which was destroyed by ISIS. The ancient temple has been 3D printed by the technicians. Afterwards, we explain to them our projects at Birzeit University. Dalia gives me the useful advice that my group could use a clay printer in town to develope a heatable mold for the edible cutlery we plan to produce. Fascinated by their visions and their enthusiasm, we take a look around. Between posters of Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela as well as uncountable books, all kinds of electronic prototypes and products lie around. At the door, three boys are watching us curiously. They are waving, and their broad smiles show a number of tooth spaces. I decide to follow the members of the documentation project who are being distracted by this group of boys. The oldest of the boys is probably around nine years old while the youngest may not be older than five years.

The contrast we encounter when stepping outside can only be described as surreal: inside the house, we are exploring scientific projects and material of the most modern and innovative kind, while out there, a farmer is plowing the ground with the assistance of a horse. For me, this seems like a portrayal of what I have been experiencing in Palestine so far – a land of inflictions and opposites, of progressiveness and traditions alike, of 3D printing and of farming.

The boys are giggling and chasing around, showing us a caged dog who is going mad when he sees us, yowling and throwing all his body weight against his cage. Feeling pity for him, I go back inside along with a girl of our group and ask about the dog’s miserable situation. We are being told that he is allowed to walk around freely every day, but as a farm animal, his main job is the protection of the others. Back outside, I see another dog and then yet another. These two are walking freely and barking loudly. Most of us (including me) are scared of these wild protectors who look nothing like the furry housekeepers in Germany, but bear a strong resemblance to wolves. Nevertheless, one member of the documentation project who holds a recording camera makes his way towards the farmer, passing them unhurt. The rest of the group stays with the children who seem to multiply each passing minute due to us strangers drawing the attention of neighboring kids. For some time, we are kicking around a football. One of the smaller boys takes a rusty steel chain in his hands, whirling it around, dangering others, but mostly himself. While my warning words show little effect, a short glance by his older brother ends the new game. Eventually, the farmer’s daughter is approaching us suspiciously, watching every move we make and smiling shyly every now and then. We are toying around like this until the oldest of the farmer’s boys asks us in – for his age – extremely impressive English if we want to see his kite. His kite is built out of newspapers and looks like it has crashed more than one time. In my broken Arabic, I ask the children if there really was enough wind to fly a kite. They confirm this and run to a nearby field of grass, almost falling over each other out of their visible excitement. In the end, the kite flies four metres above the ground, but the children do not care. Neither do they care about the electricity line – admitted, much higher above the ground – close by. I feel reminded of my own childhood and even become a bit nostalgic – here, back home or anywhere, children simply do not care.

16. April

Early at the University, I am caught by surprise by the supportive member Murad. He has baked a couple of edible spoons, forks and knives. As we have not yet produced a mold, they cannot be described as beautiful. But the value of these first prototypes lies in the opportunity to test their sustainability. Searching for ways to test and prove their usability, we borrow Moe’s coffee. I dip in the edible spoon and become a little anxious for the result. To my surprise, the spoon floats, although I could have thought of it because the ingredients are basically the same as for bread. I sip hot coffee from it and afterwards hold it down in the hot coffee for a longer time. Other than a thin plastic spoon, our selfmade spoon does neither melt nor bend. I let the others feel the texture and they guarantee it is still robust. Aydin records me eating the spoon to the applause of the others. The experiment with the first prototype worked out.

In the afternoon, after individually discussing our projects in the teams, we are invited to participate in the project of a former Birzeit student who plans to document the reaction of German and French people to Palestinian foods. In the Christian village of Jifna, a christian village nearby, we are served hummus, cheese and olive oil with zaatar as well as labs filled with spinache or cheese. Most of us are already full after eating all this, but the meal has just begun. Next is the main course, consisting of a selection of meals: rice or maftoul with chard, lamb or chicken. Three of us (including me) do not eat meat, so we can not taste all of it. Our bellies are nearly exploding, when the waiter brings Halawa and other Palestinian sweets. Sweet is a fitting word as for German tongues these dishes are incredibly sweet. But in the end, we are full and satisfied.

The mayor of Jifna takes us with him (we are rolling by now). He shows us a statue of Mary and we enter a Palestinian church which reminds us a lot of German churches. Birzeit student Renad greets the Christian Palestinians with her headscarf on, they welcome her and she wishes them God’s blessing for this year. Attracted by the sound of drums, we leave the church in Jifna and search for its source and end up inbetween a Palestinian tradition for the finale of the fasting of the Easter weeks. Although it all seems unforced and spontaneous, the rhythm of the drums being hit by young Palestinian girls and boys swaps through the streets in astonishing harmony. Their rhythm still has us summing along hours later, when some of us are relaxing to a lemon and mint hookah or Birzeit brewn beer Shepherd which is only being produced since 2015.

17. April

We get out at 9 o’clock in the morning and meet Iyad, George as well as our friend and Birzeit student Renad near the bus station. She and the other two invite us into their cars and our trip to Nablus begins. We pass by Palestinian villages and farmers, unmanned Israeli checkpoints, settlements and soldiers.

Nablus’ market is huge, its smells are confusingly exotic, yet tempting and its traders and customers are welcoming and friendly like all the people we have come across in Palestine until now. If we received a shekel for every time someone passing by told us “ahlan wa sahlan“, “welcome“ or even “willkommen“, we would be rich men and women by now. An old Palestinian man with a traditional Keffiyeh (a traditional Middle Eastern headdress fashioned from a square scarf) around his head approaches us and greets us in German. To our surprise, he tells us that he has been to Germany for only one year almost 50 years ago.

He invites us to a nearby mosque, we take of our shoes and the women put on headscarves. The mosque looks ancient and is full of ornaments, but not of people. That changes, when praying time starts, so in order not to disturb we leave. Renad excuses herself for a short amount of time because she wants to pray.

After she joins us again, we continue our journey through the narrow market street. On our way, we are given water, oranges and strawberries while passing by traders (well, at least the others do, I seem to look too less tourist and too much Palestinian for welcoming presents). Some take pictures of us, others joke about buying the only blonde German student among us. Jokes like these become extremely tempting with an empty stomach and delicious smells all around you, I have to give away. Our empty stomaches are filled with falafel, hummus, foul and pickles in a store that is called “Thursday“, though. Paying it almost results in a fist fight between George and Iyad who both try to be the one to pay for everyone. This is nothing new for me because I have Palestinian relatives who deal with situations like these in the same way. We pass an old Palestinian church which exists since 1848 and get back into the cars. After a couple of minutes, we reach a much younger and much bigger church. Inside, there is a well called “Jacob well“. Another student and I ask if we are allowed to drink from it, the water is cold and clean. Not allowed are fotos of the well so we respect the wishes of the sacristan and move along without taking pictures with our otherwise often used cameras. Outside I pick up a ripe fruit that has fallen down from an orange tree in the church garden. The taste is amazingly rich and nothing like the oranges that are available in Germany, not even those being imported during the Winter time.

Afterwards, we plan to visit another market, but the path is now blocked by an active Israeli checkpoint. We turn around and use another path, but there we also pass a checkpoint. Renad’s car is stopped and the passengers are questioned about their whereabouts. In the end, we still reach the market which is known to be extremely cheap. Again, oranges are given to some of us as a guest present. Tired, but happy, we turn back home and arrive safely.

– Ramsis –