TALHA, Toronto, 27, studied economics at university before joining a bank in Toronto. Talha tells us a bit about his experience in Hebron after two weeks here learning Palestinian Arabic, and his motivations for coming to the Excellence Centre to learn Arabic.
What’s a typical Arabic lesson like here.
When I began here they started me off on both Fusha and Palestinian dialect but it got too much after a while. A lot of words are different, and it gets very tough doing both so now I just do Fusha. During a lesson sometimes the teacher will choose a surah (a chapter in the Koran) and we’ll break it down.
Did you know any Arabic before you came to the Excellence Centre?
I can read Arabic because I’m Muslim so of course I’ve been reading the Koran since I was young. But I was reading it and not understanding a word, and at some point you want to engage on a deeper level.
Why did you choose the Excellence Centre?
It seemed like a spontaneous decision to come here, but I’ve always wanted to learn Arabic, I just never had the time or the opportunity. I researched the Centre before, but never called. At some point you just have to do it, there’s never the perfect opportunity.
Did you have any concerns about coming to the West Bank?
When I came here, my mum was really worried. My cousin told me, ‘don’t go there!’. My heritage is Pakistani, and they did stop me in the airport for three hours in Tel Aviv and asked me lots of silly questions about why I’m here and who I know here. But when I got here I told my mum, it’s not what you think.
What were the differences between your expectations of Hebron, and your experience here?
I thought it would be like a war zone, very dangerous. You think Palestine, you think, dispossessed, poverty, but it feels completely normal here. They have everything, and most of the time you don’t even notice the occupation, it’s been normalised. But at the same time there are certain areas it’s really there, like in Bethlehem I saw the wall.
What have been the highlights of your experience?
I’m staying pretty much on my own, but I hang out with some of the neighbours. Hebron stands out for how welcoming everyone is, they really want to talk to you and invite you for tea. You hear that all the time but it’s really true, people are really warm here.
Someone told me there was a KFC, I thought maybe it was a knock off, but no… it’s a real one.
How did you travel to the Excellence Centre?
I still didn’t know if I was going to come when I flew to Turkey, but [after a few weeks there,] I took the direct flight from Antalia to Tel Aviv. They’re very flexible here. I just called them from Jerusalem on the Monday, and said I’m in town and I want to learn Arabic. I spent two nights in Jerusalem and then came here on Wednesday. I didn’t know anyone here, but I came here with my suitcase and they gave me a room and set me up.
Do you have any plans for coming back?
I think I’ll come back for sure… if Israeli security will let me.