Post by Patricia
First impressions, first conclusions
The first weekend in Palestine went by so quickly, although we gained so many new impressions: We met our fellow students from the University of Birzeit and had the first intercultural exchanges with them, experienced how it is when a Falastini wins the Arabic Idol, visited the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp and got a guided tour through the camp, met the director of Goethe Institute in Ramallah, and of course we had our daily fresh juice, because ‘a day without juice is no day’.
But back to the beginning. On Saturday morning, we had a meeting with the Palestinian coordinator of YALLAH. He gave us a sightseeing tour around the campus of the University of Birzeit. Waiting outside for the coordinator, I recognized the first main difference between the University of Birzeit and the University of Siegen; Security forces at the gate, entrance only with permission. Inside the university all of us were impressed by the size of the campus, the university even has an own art museum. Lucky us, there we met the artist of the current exhibition ‘Documentary Drawings of the Kafr Qasem Massacre’ Samia Halaby. For me it was a great pleasure to meet Samia Halaby in the museum, she is recognized as one of the Arab world’s leading contemporary painters. Listen to her how and why she had painted her pictures in that specific way, gave us deep insights into her thoughts and feelings during her painting process. You as the observer have the look from the Israelis soldiers to the Falastinis and most impressive she gave every victim her/his real name. After the sightseeing tour, we got together with our exchange students from the Birzeit University. Everyone, the German and the Falastini students, were of course excited meeting the students with whom we would spend at least two months together – in Ramallah and in Siegen. After the formal part, the first personal and cultural exchanges between the students started, everyone was curious and very interested in each other. For me it seemed to be a very good start for the whole group to create new projects.
In the afternoon, we made a spontaneous trip to Rawabi, the first planned city in Palestine, with the slogan ‘Live Work Grow’. The construction began in January 2010, by 2015 the first people moved to their apartments. During the bus tour through the city, it appeared rather as a ghost town than live out the slogan, only a few children walking on the street and a father with his son playing football in the tiny garden in front of their house. I had the feeling that most of us felt a little bit strange walking in this city, which seemed to be so untouched and sterile. Also with the background knowledge that it might be realistic that the land on which the city was build had to be sold by the Falastini owners for a cheap price, left a bitter taste for me.
Although we had a long day, we could not miss the final show of the Arab Idol, two of the three finalists were Falastinis. In the center of the nightlife area there was a live transmission of the show on a big screen with at least hundreds of people watching it. After our dinner on the way home, we heard that one of the Falastinis, Yacoub Shaheen, won the Arab Idol show. A few minutes later all the streets were full with honking cars and people walking around with Palestine flags, totally freaking out. I think we can compare it to a won soccer world cup in Germany, but more in a political way. A Falastini guy won the contest, so in conclusion it might be an indirect confirmation of Palestine as an own country to the Falastini citizens from the Arabic world.
On Sunday, we visited the first time all together the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp in Ramallah. Since in the first Yallah exchange last year the students started to work there with the children in the Computer Club, which was built up in one of the projects last year, it is a major concern for some of us to refresh and continue this project. Three residents of the camp gave us a tour through the camp. I felt a little bit uncomfortable walking around, looking at all the people and their living conditions and taking photos. Furthermore, for apparent reasons it seemed to me that not all of the inhabitants of the camps welcomed us warmly, feeling like people in a zoo observed by outsiders. In a kind of kindergarten, we came into contact with some children of the camp who gave us a feeling of being more than welcomed warmly. They wanted to interact with us in every possible way, asking our names and telling us their names, taking photos with us or even taking the camera out of our hands to takes photos by their own. The most impressive moment for me was in the internet café, where I saw a boy round about 4 years old playing counterstrike on the computer. I took a picture of him, almost exactly in this moment he shied away from the computer. First I thought he wanted me to play the game, but after the second photo I recognized that he was frightened by the click sound of my camera. This moment and the knowledge that the click sound might be similar to the sound of a gun left in me a deep shock.
On Monday, some of us, including me, had the first little low, after our arrival in Ramallah and the first days discovering our new surroundings. In our working room at the University of Birzeit we continued to work on our presentations for Wednesday. In the afternoon, we visited the Goethe Institute in Ramallah and talked to the director, reflecting our first impressions and discussing possible projects for the upcoming weeks. Furthermore, she delivered us very interesting and helping insights into the cultural and social aspects regarding to the life in Palestine, especially Ramallah. She lives here for about 2,5 years and feels more than comfortable living here. She encouraged us to explore the city and Palestine as good as possible, talking with the inhabitants, seeing everything with our own eyes. After those three days, full with impressions and new conclusions, I fell exhausted into my bed, but with the confident promise that I still have to discover a lot more in the next upcoming weeks.