Looking out of the car window on my way back from Nablus, observing the Palestinians busy but laid-back Saturday routine and admiring the rocky hills in the backdrop, I cannot help but feel sad about going back to my home country of France in a few days. In just six weeks, Palestine has claimed my heart.
Its language, despite its difficulty and subtleties, has grown on me. Despite a year and a half of studying Modern Standard Arabic in university, I was barely able to articulate a word when I first arrived. The first few days were mentally exhausting, trying to juggle between the few words I knew and never ending questions from everyone I met. Luckily, thanks to the intensive Arabic course I was following and mostly to my amazing teacher Shayma, I quickly developed my vocabulary and was able to understand more and more situations. With 15h a week, the classes are challenging and require hard work; but Shayma always managed to make it interactive. During my time here, I’ve had Arabic classes involving cooking, going to restaurants, shopping, listening to music... After these six weeks, I feel much more confident in my Arabic and while it is far from being perfect, I feel more motivated than ever to work towards fluency.
The Palestinian food, cleverly mixing local olive oil and spices into heavenly pastries, has conquered both my heart and my stomach. Coming in as a vegetarian, I arrived with the idea that I’d only be eating hummus and falafels during my time in Palestine. Not that I would have complained about this, but I have been pleasantly surprised with the variety of food I am able to eat here. While most of the dishes are made with chicken, there is always on the side the option of rice, vegetables, or a salad. While vegetarianism/veganism are concepts that are still relatively foreign here and can sometimes be met with skepticism, most people will be very understanding and accommodate to your dietary restrictions. One thing is for sure, you will never go without food!
And finally, the Palestinian people, always welcoming me into their homes and sharing their life, hopes, and fears, have become family. My host family, but also friends met along the way, teachers, and other foreigners from the center, have made my time in Hebron unique and unforgettable. Not a day went by without being invited for dinner, for a wedding, for a visit of the city, or for a weekend trip. While prior to coming here I was afraid to become a bit bored, I quickly realized that I would not have enough time to do everything I wanted! Becoming so close to locals has also enabled me to discover the history of the country under new angles. Hearing life stories from Palestinians has been eye-opening and came as a very much needed counter-image to what is often portrayed in Western media. Palestinians are some of the most respectful people I have met during my travels, and while they do endure the effects of the conflicts, they always make everyone they meet feel at home - regardless of origins, nationality, or religion. This has led me to feel extremely safe while strolling through the busy streets of H1 in Hebron, where the conflict seems surprisingly faraway.
My month and a half in Hebron, Palestine with the Excellence Center has been all around incredible and has taught me more than any history or language class could have taught me. While I start getting my bags ready for my departure, my mind is with my Palestinian families whom, I know, I will see again soon.