Post by Ramsis Kilani
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.
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.
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 –