Post by Marios Mouratidis
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.
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 sky 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.
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”… literally: maybe 0.5km 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 –