Day Four: “Say khanafe!”
This was our first day to divide into sub-delegations. And we ended together with a light meal and stories at our friend Salwa’s home, who lives in the Old Askar refugee camp. Salwa became our friend last fall when she came to Boulder and was hosted in Boulder.
We experienced the random power outages common to camp life; they can last anywhere from an hour to a week. Thankfully we had just finished dinner and were settling into sharing stories. This was cozy and enjoyable except for the realization that stories-by-candle-light is an on-going unannounced inconvenience often occurring at inopportune times and with severe consequences in cold weather.
While sitting around the lantern we joked that this was our first day without kanafe, the world famous dessert Nablus is known for. In short order we were all fantasizing about the delicious treat and this led to our agreement that instead of “say cheese” for the endless photos we are posing for we would henceforth “say Kanafe!”
Working backwards in time, we met with leaders in the Old Askar Refugee camp and learned about the conditions camp inhabitants live in. Old Askar having been established in 1948 for 2,500 inhabitants displaced from a variety of communities such as Jaffa, Haifa and Acre, is now 15,000 residents on the same 1 square kilometer in the original camp.
Salwa who has lived in the camp since she was in 1st grade, told us how the families lived in tents for approximately 6 years before UNWRA (United Nations Works and Relief Agency) built each family a 300 meter square room. These rooms became the core dwelling, add to and literally built up, to accommodate the growth of families over years. The tour included several passages of MC Escher-esque quality, as this expansion has had to take place within the same 1 square km.
Our tour of the camp included being treated to fresh persimmons and strawberries as well as a private oud performance by Habib, considered one of the best oud players in Nablus. He teaches children music and performed for us in a quaint little theater built for the camp by a French NGO.
This visit was, to date, the most painful as living conditions in the refugee camps are a first hand experience with Dante’s “limbo”.
Resources, jobs and opportunity are nonexistent and filth and poverty are everywhere, but they still laugh, tell jokes and play music.
Old Askar camp is home to more than 167 handicapped children and adults, so they have a center dedicated to providing a place to learn, work and just be. One of the men who is confined to a wheel chair, has dedicated himself to constructing accessibility equipment out of found objects! His accomplishments were impressive and even included a retrofitted sewing machine where the pedal was a body push pad. The number one item on their wish list is an elevator so that those in wheel chairs can get to the 2nd floor of the center which is currently only reachable by stairs.
Prior to the camp we visited The American Academy, a private school that follows the American structure and uses the Common core standards for teaching. The KG classes sang their numbers to 100 and the life cycle of a sunflower seed. These kids were adorable, it was impossible not to sing and dance along with them. Dee took the classes outside a did a quick movement activity with them while the rest of us marveled at her energy and the children’s exuberance.
At this point the delegation divided into sub-delegations.
The two teachers on the delegation joined teachers from American Academy, public and private schools, along with Dr. Nazer, the directorate from the Ministry of Education for a discussion of Pen pal programs. We shared our past efforts and our hopes for the program. As it turns out the constraints are much greater than we had anticipated, but we did generate a roadmap forward, including a formal letter of permission to the ministry and a suggested list of topics.
Calming Kids director and assistant went to the Odala Mixed Secondary school and presented a taste of Calming Kids Yoga practices to 75-80 girls, ages 7-14. This was only a taste including tree pose, downward dog, breath work and dance moves, choreography and meditation.
A third sub-delegation, went to Project Hope to teach a dance and movement class, with a focus on women as the city has been observing International Women’s day in a variety of venues.
All in all a full, full day.