Welcome to Ramallah- Day 10

Written March 13, 2017

Posted April 2, 2017

Today I went to a coffee shop with Muna and Maddie. We ordered hot chocolate and tea and talked about boys, school, and traveling abroad. If it weren’t for the guy with the Hookah sitting next to us, it felt a lot like a trip with my friends to the West Chester Starbucks. But it wasn’t, because Maddie and I are two Americans dropping in for a visit, and Muna lives in Palestine all the time. It’s confusing because we are so similar – just three high school girls hanging out. We focus on senior pranks, dances, and tests. The difference is that Maddie and I aren’t worrying about maintaining two residences just so we can keep the ID that lets us travel five minutes down the road. Maddie and I don’t need to worry about our classmates getting shot protesting. Maddie and I don’t need to worry about much at all.

The night before, while Muna did her homework, Maddie and I watched 27 Dresses with her parents. We found we shared a love for romantic comedies. We had popcorn and chatted about our families. We ate green almonds, which is the casing in which our almonds grow. We discussed politics and President Trump; it seems like everyone wants to talk about him. We played with their dog, who couldn’t stop jumping. We learned that both Muna’s parents work for a tech company. We talked about the languages we knew and wanted to learn.

These stories about my interaction with Muna’s family seem pretty random and everyday, but that’s the point. If you set aside politics, Muna’s family and my family have a lot in common. I don’t want to get so bogged down in complex and seemingly unsolvable issues of territory and identity that I forget to recognize commonality and similarity. Getting to glimpse the everyday lives of Palestinians helped me understand that while the politics are inscrutable, but the people aren’t.

-Jane Mentzinger

 

Build a Wall! Build a Wall! – Day 7

Written March 10, 2017

Posted March 29, 2017IMG_2065.JPG

Today we toured the Separation Wall, which separates Israel from the West Bank. It was supposedly built along the Green Line, which divided Israel and Palestine in 1949, but significant parts of the wall actually cut into the West Bank. According to Wikipedia, only 15% of the wall is in Israel or on the Green Line. Our guide said the wall was extended into Palestine to encompass Israeli settlements, but the configuration ends up isolating a lot of Palestinians, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. The Separation Wall was built during the second intifada, when there was a wave of violence. Israel calls the wall a security barrier against terrorism, and terrorism has dropped since it was constructed. Some people, however, believe the wall does more to promote racial segregation than it does to decrease violence. According the one of our guides, the wall doesn’t stop people from getting into Israel illegally to work. The determined wall-jumpers just wait for the guard to walk by, climb up a ladder, and use a rope to get down the other side. One of our other guides disagreed, saying the wall is very hard to get over. It’s difficult to figure out what’s really going on. Either way, at this point most of the barrier is actually a fence.

Graffiti and stories of Palestinian people cover the wall. I have included pictures below. The writing is hard to decipher, but it’s worth the effort to try to read the powerful and important stories. As we were walking back to the bus, I heard music blaring from the other side of the wall. Apparently Israeli soldiers play it to be passive aggressive. It seems so strange to me that a bunch of teenagers blaring their music suddenly becomes a political statement. It feels like here everything is political.

Talking about the wall while Trump is president is difficult. Everyone over here brings up his plan to build a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border. The comparison is clearly relevant and scary, but it’s important not to equate the issues that cause some to think a wall is necessary. The walls are being built for different reasons, under different circumstances, and in completely different places. I’m not totally sure that I can tackle both at once. One thing does seem to be true in both cases. As John Oliver said, “If you build a 30-foot wall, all it’s going to do is create a market for 31-foot ladders.”IMG_2046.JPGIMG_2033.JPGIMG_2063.JPGIMG_2077.JPGIMG_2038.JPGIMG_2035.JPG

Welcome to Jerusalem- Day 2

Written March 5, 2017
Posted March 27, 2017

After arriving yesterday evening at the Tel Aviv airport and having dinner with T. Melissa’s friends Orna and Rami, we checked into the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem.
For some background, Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and now occupies it, although even using the word “occupies” would be controversial to some. Jerusalem has so much religious significance that its future is key for any peace plan. President Trump’s recent proposal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was explosive, as this move would have signaled farther reaching U.S. intentions. Even after studying the Jerusalem situation in several different classes and in the pre-trip meetings, I still hardly understand it. Someone on the trip reminded the group of a saying that if you are here for a day, you can write a novel, if you are here for a week, you can write an article, if you are here any longer, you can write a sentence. The whole situation is too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain it to anyone else. The main problem in understanding it is that every word you use has some sort of political significance. Before this trip, I hadn’t realized that even calling the city East Jerusalem means something (many Palestinians call it Arab Jerusalem). In fact, it’s difficult to avoid making a political statement when talking about Israel and Palestine, which some would call the Palestinian Territories. The nuances in language can totally change the meaning.
Probably the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the Azzahra Hotel has really good hummus. Breakfast was at 7 a.m., earlier than I get up for school, but not a problem because most of us jet lagged travelers were up at 5 a.m. After a delicious breakfast, we headed off to the Old City.
It was only a short distance, and as we walked I saw more hijabs than I had ever seen in one place. I estimate about 75% of the women I saw wore them. I also saw more people smoking than I had ever seen in the United States. All along the streets, men would be leaning against shop doors smoking and chatting in Arabic.
Soon we reached the Old City. It’s hard to miss, given its high walls with crenellations on top and large towers. As soon as we walked in through one of its many gates, we immediately turned left. Our guide told us this turn was designed to make it more difficult for invading armies, a good counter measure considering that Old City has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
The first thing I think of when I see Old City is those drawing paradoxes, where you try to trace some stairs going up but somehow end up at the beginning. The Old City is a maze, full of confusion and optical illusions. There are stairs down and then back up, arches at every corner so you can’t differentiate among streets, and a million different winding paths. Even with a map, I would have been hopelessly lost. Thank goodness for our guide, who easily navigated through the city.
Shops spill onto the streets. As we turn from one street to another, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if we are inside or outside. In between the places of enormous religious significance, which are everywhere in Jerusalem, there are tables piled high with fruit, little coffee carts, and shops filled with souvenir magnets and Jerusalem postcards. Dodging the shopkeepers, tourists, and residents, we manage to make our way to some of the Stations of the Cross, including where Jesus was condemned to death, flogged, crucified and anointed. After passing through security (metal detector and bag check), we reached the Western Wall. All along the wall, little prayer notes are stuffed into cracks and corners. I was moved by the obvious demonstration of faith and devotion. From the Western Wall, we can see the Dome of the Rock, but we won’t get to visit that until later in the week. It’s too crowded now.
Now onto lunch, which is very welcome. Information overload and culture shock have made us hungry.

-Jane Mentzinger

 

IMG_1681.JPG.jpeg

Back home

IMG_3490.JPGMarch 25 2017

I’ve been back from Ghana for a little over a week and I’ve been reminiscing about my time there. It is crazy how things are so different but some things are so similar. I wanted to write my last blog and let you know what I learned.
What I loved about Ghana was the sense of community and respect everyone had for each other. They took pride in what they did and everyone was responsible for their friends and neighbors. They respected and valued their elders. I learned about a new culture and made friends with kids who seemed so different at first but actually we are not that different after all. I learned what it was like to stand out in a crowd and I also learned how to handle it.

In the US everything is so fast paced and material focused. Everyone seems wrapped up in their own little world and are sometimes unaware of their surroundings. Then there is the phone and social media addiction that is just our way of life growing up in the US. (If you know me, you won’t believe that I’m actually saying that it is so restraining.)

Ghana was so refreshing because it gave me a break from the fast pace that I was used to and allowed me to be in the moment. My phone wasn’t in my hand 24/7. I didn’t feel the need to be texting or on social media. I was aware of the world around me and wasn’t so focused on the tiny world inside my phone. It reminded me a bit of being a kid when there was no phone or people to impress. It was amazing!

The kids are genuinely happy and thankful for what they have despite it being nothing by our standards. They are grateful for the little things, food, clothing and a chance at education. It was amazing to walk into town to Jimmy Com, a small restaurant bar and local dance place. They welcomed us, we felt safe and respected. We were able to see where some the kids lived and also meet their families.

We met one girl from Heritage Academy who walked 5 miles to school starting in pre k. Heritage has since started a bus route. When I try to visualize a preschooler walking on the side of the rode it reinforces to me what we take for granted. The children we met didn’t want things from us. They were curious and happy to spend time with us and thankful we came to teach them and get to know them.

It’s amazing that maybe they have it figured out. It sort of gave me a glimpse or took me back to see vaguely what it was like in the old days before internet and the wired world. Back when playing, talking and being in the moment was life. Hopefully, I will be able to keep a part of that with me as I go through life.

 

The people of Ghana and the kids especially taught me more than I could of ever taught them and for that I’m thankful. Kwesi and Westtown gave me an experience that will never leave me. The kids gave me unconditional love, affection and a renewed hope in society.

They have a word for foreigners, Obruni, and despite the Obruni’s being different from them, they’ are welcomed and embraced fully.

It felt so freeing to be in a place where life wasn’t self-oriented. Everything was inclusive and group centered (even the meals).

Our county could learn a lot from this tiny village in Ghana. I wish others could have the chance to experience it. The kids in Ghana made me realize its the little things and moments that make you happy. They were also amazing at giving hugs and I miss that too. To them photographs and pictures are truly treasured and I’m thankful because I have so many pictures to remind me of this wonderful Village.

An Unforgettable Week

As my time in Colombia comes to a close, I feel an immense sense of gratitude. I am beyond thankful for my experience at Hogar San Mauricio. These young children changed my view on life completely in just five days. While I was spending most of my time teaching them how to say silly words in English and how to cross the monkey bars successfully, they were teaching me something much more powerful. They taught me that no matter what happens in life, you must push forward and smile along the way. As I have mentioned before, these children come from horrible situations and to see them smile and laugh the way they do is truly inspiring.

kids 2

 

In addition, this week has made me realize how privileged I am as a person. I am lucky to have caring parents, a home, and the ability to attend The Westtown School. Everyone always says that there are bigger problems in the world, but saying this and experiencing it are two completely different things. My eyes have been forced wide open throughout this week and I couldn’t be happier with that.

kids 3

 

This is a trip that I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life time.

 

Philly here I come!

Julia

 

A Safe Place to Call Home.

As I described in my first post, while in Colombia I will be working a non-profit organization called Hogar San Mauricio. On Monday Juliana and I visited the organization and were given a tour along with important information to know. While walking around and trying my best to understand our guide, I couldn’t help but feel that this place was a miniature Westtown, if not more. The founders of the foundation truly thought of everything, there were more than enough beds, toys, and any necessity a child or teenager might need. They even had a room designed as a mini hair salon! This place is a home to many children and young adults, just like Westtown is to its students.

foundation 2

Most of the people who live at the foundation were sadly left there or taken away from their families due to unsafe domestic conditions. The ages ranged from infants that are only a few months old, to college bound teenagers and beyond. At the conclusion of my tour, I learned that I would be working with young children, between the ages of 3-5, for the rest of the week. Juliana and I were even given the opportunity to play with the kids before our departure. We entered a small park area, that once again seemed to be equipped with everything. The kid in me was thrilled to see numerous swings (hand-made), a set of monkey bars, a hand painted treehouse, and most importantly a ball pit.

 

foundation 4Overall, I am very excited to work with these wonderful kids. These children could have been exposed to an extremely chaotic lifestyle, but thanks to Hogar San Mauricio, they now have a safe place to call home.

 

Until next time!

Julia

 

From 118,872 meters above ground, to 180m below…

Only a day after my arrival in Bogotá, I was whisked away to the Catedral de Sal, the first wonder of Colombia. This landmark is an old salt mine that was converted into an underground cathedral within the last century. Although uneasy thoughts about traveling 180m under the surface of the earth crept into my head, I tried to keep an open mind as I followed Juliana’s family through the entrance.

cathedral 5

After a long trek through different caves and tunnels we finally made it to the grand cathedral.  As I walked into the space I immediately felt much smaller than 5, 4″.  I guessed this room to be about 50m high and at least 100m across. I was simply awestruck for awhile, not really knowing what to do with myself.  Believe it or not, people make this journey regularly, as this cathedral is not just a tourist attraction, but it is also a functioning church.Salt Cathedral 2

 

As we began our return to the surface, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by an immense feeling of gratitude. Never in my life have I seen something so strikingly beautiful. It truly seemed that every detail within the mine carried some sort of meaning, whether it was spiritual or factual. I know that this will be an experience that I will never forget.

cathedral 4

This is a photo of Juliana’s family and I, whom I am also very grateful for. They are simply the most patient translators an amateur Spanish-speaker could ask for.

That is all for now!

Julia

 

 

March 14th – Dance Off

FullSizeRender.jpg.jpeg

14 March 2017

In a totally un-Rachel-like fashion, I opted in to going to church this past Sunday. Let me just tell you that it was nothing I had expected or even experienced before in my life. Though I’ve been to church numerous times in the past, my family identifies now as Quaker, so I’m now used to Meeting for Worship and sitting in silence for an hour. This church though, while Christian, was so different from everything I anticipated. There was nonstop dancing and singing and music. It felt like a huge happy party to me, but at the same time people were really getting into it and letting it move them. There were tears and shouts and lots of “Amens”. It was an awesome experience and the whole congregation welcomed us so openly. They provided us a translator as the service was in Fonte, they also  welcomed us to the front at the end to introduce ourselves to the congregation over the microphone. It was truly an amazing and moving experience. I’ve never been so happy to have gone to church.  I can not reiterate enough how kind and welcoming everyone has been to us.

The rest of the week thus far has been pretty normal, we are in a routine with teaching  in the daytime and service project in the late afternoon. We eat dinner at 6:30 which all of us look forward to because the food is amazing. Then we  have free time for the rest of the evening. Some days we play bananagrams, watch movies,or  buy sodas from the “convenience store” outside the house. The kids keep us entertained and make us feel at home. Or we can opt to take a walk to the local town (as we did tonight).

Well, I guess I take that back, tonight wasn’t normal! We walked into town to go to this outdoor restaurant, Jimmy Com, where we bought sodas and even learned dances on the patio. Mercedes some how persuaded me to dance, still not sure  how that happened… but there was apparently a dance battle going on, though one competitor claimed an injury, and despite that injury, seemed to have won. The music and dancing was fun despite the heat. I’m not  really sure I buy that the dance battle happened, but it was a great time nonetheless.

Tomorrow and Thursday are our last days of teaching. We definitely have a new found respect for teachers, it is not easy work.  I can’t even imagine saying goodbye to all the friends we have met. It will not be an easy task. We leave for Accra on Friday morning to see the city and to prepare for our early morning flight Saturday.

These two weeks have gone by so so fast and I’m seriously having the best time ever. If you want a souvenir, hit me up!

Rachel

March 11th – Gators

IMG_3280.JPG

11 March 2017

It felt like we spent longer at the resort than we did the previous time there. It was extra special too because Victoria, Isaac and Dorthy (the children who we are living with) came with us! I think they’re the funniest children I’ve ever met, and despite not being able to swim, they kept up with the best of us in their pink and lime green floaties. Isaac even decided he was a strong enough swimmer to hit the waves which caused a little bit of anxiety with the adults. There was a nasty undercurrent, hidden rocks and waves bigger than any of us. Despite all that, it was beautiful and the water was quite warm (though the pool was my preference).

In the late afternoon Isaac, Hamilton, Mercedes, Katie and I decided to take an excursion to the crocodile pond located (surprisingly) directly behind the parking lot. Though the enclosure was set into the ground with a wall surrounding it, the wall wasn’t tall enough to keep you from falling (or climbing in). The crocodiles appeared to be sleeping when we got there and, as you can imagine, Isaac really just wanted to see them move. He found a really big stick on the ground and was banging it on the side of the enclosure all while making the deep reptilian sound in the back of his throat. Though I was thoroughly impressed, the crocodiles didn’t seem to notice and kept on sleeping. Despite the sign clearly reading “No throwing rocks at the crocodiles,” Isaac realllllly wanted to throw his stick at them just to get them to move. I burst out laughing because I was thinking the same thing about wanting the crocodiles to move. However, we set a good Quakerly example for Isaac by telling him no, he could not throw a stick at the crocodiles. They were living creatures just like us and deserved to be respected. If you wouldn’t want to be woken up by someone throwing a stick at you, then the crocodiles wouldn’t either (and after all, the walls of the enclosure just weren’t that great).

10/10 great day.

Rachel

PS Oh, and at the resort we got virgin piña coladas.

IMG_3270.JPG

March 9th – Stella’s Day

IMG_3057
Stella

9 March 2017

Today was an interesting day… I acquired a new shadow in the form of an elementary schooler named Stella. She waits for me when I arrive in the morning and during recess! Her presence makes me miss home less, that smile, her eyes and especially her hugs…what more could I ask for?  Though Stella and the younger kids at Heritage don’t have a grasp on English just yet, we seem to be communicating just fine. We talk through hugs and waves and giggles and by holding hands. The kids at Heritage have me totally smitten. They’re insanely polite and friendly and are always trying to make you laugh. Elementary schoolers, universally, are the best.

The middle schoolers, who I teach, are little more high strung. They’ve got the same love and humor but they’ve got way more energy! Once they get going or get distracted, it’s harder to get their attention back to the lesson (which for us is art). Yesterday we drew self portraits in an attempt to connect faces and names. Today we drew pictures of our favorite places. As a person who is terrible at drawing, I was blown away by the talent in the room. Some kids even had really advanced and developed styles. It was awesome to watch.

After our school day finished up, we headed back to the house for some relaxation before our service project. It was a quick break though because we had to make a quick detour to the tailor, Sister Sarah. At the market yesterday, everyone purchased fabrics for Sarah to make dresses and pants and skirts (and anything else you might have wanted) out of. I, of course, opted for two dresses. I’m so so excited because the fabrics I picked are unique and totally gorgeous.

The next part of the day wasn’t as glamorous as designing dresses. We were making cement blocks. It was an experience that left my sneakers cement soaked and my lungs full of sand, however, it was kind of fun! It was just like building a sandcastle at the beach, you had to make the sand and water and then press it into a mold. Our cement making was apparently hilarious because we had an audience of about 10 Heritage high schoolers watching us and laughing periodically. I’d totally agree with the hilariousness of it all because I was giggling right along side them.

It was a good day.

Rachel