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.

yallah exchange program - aug review2

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.

yallah exchange program - aug review3

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.

laiana

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.
ali2 ali3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

ali4 ali5

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.

ali7

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.
ali8

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.

sondos4 sondos5

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 –

Days 5-7

Post by Marios Mouratidis

12. April

On day 4 we were finally going to meet  our BZU (Birzeit University) exchange students. We gathered in the morning at our Ramallah Research HQ (this is how we call one of our apartments, where we all hang out). The drive to BZU is short, but offers a nice view of the surrounding hills and nature. There’s usually one spot where there’s a black jeep and usually a couple of armed men standing around. I found out that they belong to the Palestinian Preventive Security. It’s feels a bit strange, because it is the the second day in a row I see them –  and their rifles seem to be quite big. I never saw those in real life – as a gamer, I only know them from computer games.

We arrived at BZU and walked by the security staff, they remembered us and let us through. We looked for  our local coordinators office and found it without any problems. Together we went to meet our echange students. They were already in the seminar room when we arrived and we had a very warm welcome. Everyone introduced himself and after a general discussion about the exchange we started a brainwriting session. With 20 people, it may be rather difficult to collect ideas and discuss them. With Brainwriting everyone writes their ideas down in silence. The idea was to have a short creative session (10 minutes) and get as many ideas as possible, because some of the exchange studens had to go back to class. Brainwriting may also take away creative blockades which may emerge from fear of being judged (as opposed to brainstorming).

So we came up with the following project ideas (Some came up multiple times or were similar, so I summarized them)

  • Computer Club in Al-Amari (Al-Amari is a Palestinian refugee camp)
  • Urban Computer Clubs
  • (ICT-enabled) Urban Gardening
  • WiFi Distribution, e.g. in rural areas
  • 3D Printing (as a Service)
  • ICT-enabled/Gamified Garbage Containers
  • Improve Transportation
  • Growing Food
  • More Green Structures
  • High school Graduates need special sessions before starting university
  • Motivate People to read more
  • Open Street Maps – Improve POIs in Ramallah
  • Better Education:
  • Health System – Have Database with Patient Files
  • Improve Waste (separation, food wasting – sharing)
  • Social Innovation App (Meta-App, gamify volunteer work, connect social causes)
  • Language Tandems
  • Educate New Media – Internet usage awareness
  • Improve Situation for People with Special Needs
  • Improve Public Transportation
  • Stray Animals
  • Report Bumpy Streets
  • Improve Electricity Availability, especially in refugee camps
  • Improve  Water Quality / Availability
  • Traffic Jams in Ramallah
  • Intercultural Exchange (Video/Movie Project, Game Design)

After our creative session we took the time to get to know each other better and informally discuss some of the ideas over a cup of coffee and tea. We later stayed for a bit to do some work.

13. April

The weather cooled down. It reminded me of Germany. The sky was covered in grey clouds and it was very windy. We met our fellow students at Birzeit University to revisit the list of projects and cluster them. Afterwards we formed groups to start our work.

We went for lunch together and I must say, the food was really good. I usually go with traditional meals, so I had some rice with chicken shawarma and some tabouleh. A great meal, interesting conversations and nice people. So far so good. After our lunch break, we continued our work and finished forming the groups. The following project groups where formed:

  • ICT-enabled urban gardening
  • Documentary movie on cultural exchange
  • People with special needs (education and transportation)
  • Al-Amari computer club
  • Cultural exchange video game
  • Garbage issues (containers and excessive use of plastic)

I am going to work in the refugee camp Al-Amari, reviving a computer club for kids as my mayor project here. I will also help with any topics related to 3d printing and gamificaction. To some extend I am also interested in the urban gardening project and I may attend to help out the team from time to time. At 4.30pm we had to leave the university, because it closes at around 5pm.

The students stand in front of the building chatting happily, the IMG_5349sky is still grey. One of our hosting students points in the direction of an opening between two of the university’s sandstone-like buildings. The gap offers a view that reaches down into the valley: “Look! There is Tel Aviv!”. I light a cigarette and reflect on the view for a moment: not so far on the horizon I see skyscrapers and a few bright lights. The skyscrapers’ silhouettes loom in front of the sea which extends to the far end of the horizon. A mixture of voices and conversations emerge. I catch a couple of “Oooh, look: the sea!” in high pitched voices, “That’s so beautiful”. It seems that over there (Tel Aviv) and over here, are two worlds. As different as they can be. Standing here, I think of a golden cage. I start reflecting on my fellow BZU students. They see it everyday. They told me that they are not allowed to go there. I wonder what they think, and how they feel about it every day. To us, it is just „the beautiful sea“. To them, it is an unreachable wonder of nature. They get reminded of this, every day. I start walking to the bus in silence next to my project partner.

14. April

Last night we heard explosions and glass shattering. We found out that the IDF raided a money exchange company. It is quite surreal, I must say. Ramallah is a rather small town from our German point of view (30k population). Hearing explosions and knowing that it is just around the corner feels weird. I mean, really weird, “just around the corner” is meant what it really is: maybe 1km from our flats, the places we lie down to sleep at night, our current “homes”, our safe havens. “Komisch, in der Süddeutschen steht nichts” one of us said. Here’s an article from DailyNews about what had happend a 5 minute walk away from our apartments: Daily Mail article. Will this become “normal” to us? I don’t know. We sit here, I prepare my classes for my return to Germany, drink coffee, smoke, organize various meetings at BZU with students for our projects and other research efforts I was assigned to. We sit, talk about last nights’ events and other regular things, drink coffee and eat. I never had such an experience in Germany. It’s not “talking about the news” as we do in Germany, about stuff that happens around the world, feeling distant. It is real. It was close.

Well, most of us continued to work on their projects. Since I was assigned to the computer clubs in the Al-Amari refugee camp, I had nothing much to prepare because we had to wait for a response from someone from the camp. So I had an interview with an architecture student for one of my research assignments. The rest of the day I just discussed with my fellow students about their projects, and I socialized a bit with the BZU students. At our lunch break I inquired about the Keffiyeh. I noticed some boys are wearing them. So I found out that Keffiyeh are not at all just a fashionable accessoire, but rather a political statement. White Keffiyeh are worn by members of the political party Fatah for example, members of Hamas on the other hand wear scarfs in green color. In a couple of weeks the student parliament elections take place at BZU, and people are raising awareness for those.

Some people of our group went to a bouldering hall after 4.30pm. It has just opened and is run by a guy from the States. One of the BZU students had a car and took us there. We drove through the city center, so there was a lot of traffic and we had an interesting conversation about everyday live here in Ramallah. We drove by the building that was raided. The climbing hall (Wadi Climbing) was very nice, although the boulder problems were quite hard for beginners (and me as an intermediate too ;)) I talked to the owner, a guy named Tim, about organizing an outdoor climbing trip for all of us. I hope I can convince the rest of the group to go 🙂

All in all, being here for only 6 days, I must say that I am overwhelmed. There are so many fun and nice experiences, the people at the BZU are great to work with, they are very helpful at all times. However, there is also very much to process. This is because I also see and hear many sad things. It’s kind of a bitter sweet experience, which I definitly not regret. I am happy to be here.

– Marios –

Days 1-4

Post by Jasmin Kirchhübel

08. April

Today our journey begins. I am very excited and nervousness is coming up slowly. While I pack the last few things (I’m sure I forgot something, but even that is part of great adventures), I have so many questions in my head: How are the Palestinian people? What will we see? What will we do? Where and how are we going to live? Are the people going to accept us? How will they react to us? Are there aspects which I have to consider in my way of speaking or in my behaviour? And most of all: What are the people eating in Palestine? I am nearly bursting with curiosity!

09. April

After a long journey with a short stop in Istanbul, we arrive at Tel Aviv Airport on Saturday morning. We experience some trouble at the passport control: two of us have to wait and go through some interviews before they are allowed to enter Israel after nearly three and four hours of waiting.

We are extremely tired when we arrive at our flats in Ramallah. Some of us got lack of sleep for about 25 hours or more. Only after at least a little bit of sleep I am able to notice everything.

Our flats are quite big, the furniture seems minimalistic, everything is some kind of „low tech“, but the most important things are available and working.

The view from our kitchen is fantastic. And when you look out of the window on the other side, you can observe the hurly-burly on the streets. It is kind of funny how often the people honk their horns. It seems equal if they have a reason to do so or just want to honk as loud as they can. And if one of them starts, the others join in a concert of hooters.

We leave the flat and walk around. All hell is let loose on the streets in Ramallah. There are so many people and cars, walking and driving as if there were no rules for traffic. The shops offer diverse goods and some shop keepers on the street are trying to sell some arabic treats. We buy fresh “lemon mint“ juice and it tastes so good, I never want to drink something else. There is a daily market few streets around the corner.

Market in Ramallah

I experience a total stimulus satiation. It is a varicoloured mixture of all sorts of vegetables and fruits. It smells alternating of sweet fruits, fresh onions, garlic, vegetables, spice and candy. You have a wide range of everything you are able to imagine for unbeatable prices. I am a little bit overwhelmed and not sure where to look first. The people are very nice, friendly and appear to be interested in us because there are not many tourists in this area. Everything seems to be easygoing and untroubled. Life burbles along and no one seems to be thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. I am pretty sure everyone has some weight to carry along, but they do not show. They live here and now and that is the only important thing.

We spend the evening in a local restaurant. The atmosphere is wonderful because of the cosy seats, decoration and arabic music in the background. We order different things, such as hummus, bread, salads and chicken. Everything is placed in the middle of the table and everyone sticks his fork in the bowls or dips his bread in the delicious creams. It feels like holidays and we all are truly enjoying the lightheartedness of the moment. The owner is very kind and we get chocolate cake for free.

At this point I have to admit, that food is unbelievably great in Palestine. We all have fallen in love with the arabic cuisine. Some of us are eating falafel sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But fresh and warm bread dipped in hummus or olive oil with some spice which is called „zaater“ are alternatives for the falafel lovers. Others have to be careful not to get addicted to freshly squeezed lemon mint juice. We are convinced that we never will get enough of the delicious arabic treats.

10. April

Tomorrow we will visit the Birzeit University and begin to work on our projects – the reason why we are here. But for now we can relax and enjoy a free day. So we walk through Ramallah, buy shoes and other stuff at the market, try delicious food and get each other to know a little better. It feels like quality time with friends and we are all very excited right now.

11. April

After spending two days with getting to know the area around our flat – and of course eating all day long – the holiday time is over and we start our mission. We will visit Birzeit University for the first time. Iyad, who is a kind of supervisor for the participating students of Birzeit University, picks us up at the university gate and takes us on a little tour through the campus. First of all we visit the museum, which is part of the university. The artwork is really nice, it’s based on Palestinian cultural heritage. Afterwards, we watch a movie, which is called “the wanted 18“. It combines stop-motion animation, original drawings and archival footage to tell a story, which deals with the Isreali-Palestinian conflict.

Birzeit University

Afterwards, we walk along the campus, take photos and selfies and I am astonished by the lovely landscape and the pretty architecture. Birzeit University definitely is one of the most beautiful places to study I have ever seen. In any case, if they have had Human Computer Interaction as a degree course, I would toy with the idea of finishing my studies in Palestine.

By walking through the university, we notice students staring at us. It actually feels a little bit like being some kind of animal in the zoo. We are obviously an attraction. But they never look at us in a pejorative way. They just seem to be very curious and interested since they do not have guests from European countries that often.

We leave the university in the afternoon and drive back to our flats in Ramallah. Some of us go into the city to buy food, juice and some other stuff. We get to know a shop keeper, who sells water pipes and equipment and surprisingly talks to us in German language. He tells us about his studies of dentistry at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin in Berlin. I love the way the people welcome us. Nearly all of them are friendly and I never experienced such a hospitable country before.

All in all, there are already so many impressions, which we gained in the last 72 hours. I guess I speak for all of us if I say that Palestine is a beautiful place in its very own way and that we already have a really great time together. For me it feels like being part of a big family and I am curiously looking forward to the next four weeks and the unique adventures, which we are able to experience.

– Jasmin –