I came back from volunteering with Karama about a week ago. After extending my stay,I must say it wasn’t easy to leave, for many reasons which I’ll try to explain.
It’s hard to begin writing something, but once you started, it can be hard to stop. That’s kind of how it was for me with Karama because there’s always something new or unexpected happening.
I wouldn’t call the beginning hard, because it depends on you. Yes it is possible that in the first days you will be home alone sometimes as you’re expected to spend the first days with the host family to get to know them, their culture and their habits. And of course sometimes they have to go to the mosque or to the shop or other things. They will not stop their lives for you and they have to get to know you too. During those days for me sometimes I wondered what to do and I thought it would be better to go to Karama so I would be busy. But then all the moments, like drinking mint tea together and them teaching me how to make it, sitting on the roof and talking about how we both see things in life, how things are in Palestine and in Belgium, helping them clean the house and banding. Those moments would not be there if it wasn’t for being at home so much. Those moments made me get to know them better, their culture, their country and how they experience everything. Even though the communication was not always very clear, we could understand each other.
I opened myself up and gave myself to their way of living. Because if, like some of those who wrote bad comments, you don’t open yourself and stick to your living habits, ideas and mentality of Europe or wherever you're from, you will miss out a lot, if not all. The whole experience made me question a lot in life, in the world, about my own personality, my friends, dreams, goals in life, habits and even religion. When I saw how the people live and interact with each other, it touched me very deep. Don't go hide yourself in your room when there's people visiting. Go sit with them, observe them, respect them. It's not that it's not allowed not to talk to visitors, but it's better if you don't too much in the beginning. Just go with the flow and it will all come automatically. In the beginning I didn’t talk much to the people, I didn't want to force myself to them. Once they get to know you or just see you more than once, they will involve you in the conversation.
Sometimes when you drink your cup of tea, it feels like you're away from the real problems. But when you open yourself and they see you respect them, they will tell you more about their own lives, how the Palestinian situation effected them. Then you realize that behind every person holding that cup of tea there's a whole story, a whole background.
The people I met are one by one just wonderful. They are very warm and very very generous. They will always ask if you're hungry or thirsty. They really took care of me. I was sick once and my host mother/sister got up in the middle of the night to make me some special herbal tea and waited by my bed to see if I could go back to sleep. The love and friendship I received is indescribable and I will always remember sitting at night with my host sister, drinking tea together, watching some Indian shows, massaging her head and talking about a lot of different stuff.
One of the things I love so much in their culture is that the door is almost always open, people walk in and out, so you're almost always surrounded by people. People still come and ask for a cup of sugar or a lemon or some mint leaves. Eating is all together around the same plate. I love this family feeling and they really involved me in it. I will miss this, because in Belgium I feel we lost some important values. We think too individual and sometimes forget what is really important, like family and other people.
Karama made this possible, they made sure I had a good host family and that I felt good with them. The staff of Karama will always check on your feelings and thoughts because they really care about their volunteers and are open to hear your opinion on a lot of things. I really appreciate this because I was the only volunteer for a while and it's nice to share your thoughts and feelings to someone. We sometimes went really deep with this, sharing visions on the Palestinian situation, on life and the world, thinking out loud together. The director of Karama is a very wise man with a lot of human knowledge and he made it possible for me to grow mentally, get to know my feelings and fears better. I learned a lot from him. He helped me in developing myself becoming a stronger person. He can be very direct I wasn't used to it, because in Belgium people are not, they are more fake with their feelings and will –how we say it in Belgium: 'talk around the pot' instead of getting to the point. Like with everything here, like everywhere you go, you have to open up yourself. Don't be afraid of the unknowing or the differences, challenge yourself.
The work in Karama was different every day. In the beginning I only did activities with the children. It's good to have a lot of ideas and energy. I always prepared things in the morning, but that didn't mean I would actually do it that day. I checked on the mood of the children and I think it's nice to think of stuff together. I think it's important to be flexible and don't force the children in to something but still in the same time stimulate them enough for new games, English lessons,..
Wherever you go and work with children, they will always test you in the beginning. I –although I still had to find my way- showed myself strict and self secure to them. Sometimes it was hard to find activities for all of them, because there can be children from 5 years old till 17. One of the nicest things I think was to see the children's change in behavior. For example some children could be a pain in the ass sometimes, but once they got to know me better and saw me more, they started to get really nice and we had so much more fun together.
Besides that I also did some administrative work, which I liked because I could develop my writing skills and in the same time get to know Karama in a totally different way.
Beside working in Karama and living in Deheishe, I did a ten day travel with a Belgian group, organized by Karama. We went to see a lot of places in the West Bank. I couldn’t imagine better guides for this than the director and his brother. We got to see the places through the eye of a Palestinian instead of just the touristic places. They answered all our questions and made us think about the things we saw and experienced.
I advise this experience for everyone. It’s really a way for opening new doors, opening yourself up for a new culture, new people, new visions.
This experience, the people I met, the whole situation, their culture and traditions touched me very deep and I am very very grateful for the experience and very thankful for how the people took me in their lives and culture. Insha Allah, I will be back soon.