” My first day going to Hebron, Palestine. I can’t believe that I am in Palestine now. If you were to ask me a month ago, I probably will not tell you that I will be in Palestine. So how did I get myself here and most importantly what motivated me to want to be here?
My name is Noorchaya Yahya. I am originally from Malaysia; however, I have lived almost half of my live in America. I received my BA and MA in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL)) from University of Northern Iowa, Iowa, USA. I returned to Malaysia and worked at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) for several years. I went back to the US and received my doctoral degree in Rhetoric and Linguistics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1997, I had the opportunity to teach in the Institute of English Language at Harvard where I was teaching English as a second language to international students from Asia and South America. In Fall 1997, I secured a job in the College of Education in Florida Atlantic University (FAU) where I was tenured and promoted to an Associate Professor rank.
I spent 15 years of my career life in FAU teaching TESOL methodology to pre and in-service teachers in the Florida schools. In 2007 till 2009, I spent my sabbatical year and extended my stay at Taibah University in Medina AlMunawwarah –that was my introduction to living and working in Saudi Arabia. I like living and working in Saudi Arabia so much that I applied for a job at King Saud University in Riyadh and have been there for the past 5 years. This is in a nutshell about myself and my career in the field of TESOL education.
Back to why I am in Palestine now– In mid May 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia decided to award the universities and schools a shorter semester term. So all instructional and assessment exercises should be completed before Ramadhan- that’s when I decided to find a place to go during the first half of Ramadhan as I will have some free time. Last year I spent the last 10 days of Ramadhan in Mecca, and I have been blessed to be able to spend my Ramadhan in Medina and Mecca over the years that I was in Saudi Arabia. So this year, out of the blues, an idea came to mind about visiting the AlAqsar Mosque which I have never visited before. The reason I dismiss the thought of visiting AlAqsar all this time is because I have heard scary stories about coming into Palestine with regards to safety issues and entering Israel. One solution to this problem as I am more certain about coming to visit the AlAqsar Mosque is to find a solution.
The solution is to connect to a volunteer organization that can give me information about being in Palestine. This day and age where one can get most information by just googling, I resorted to googling “Volunteer in Palestine” and I was taken to the Excellence Center website. Everything else from here is history. I emailed Mr. Rafat Shantir the person in charge of the center and I was immediately given information and assistance on how to get here. Within a period of 3 weeks, my dream of being in AlAqsar Mosque was materializing.
In addition to this dream came other wonderful opportunities—I met a friendly and helpful team of dedicated staff at the Excellence Center, a kind and generous Palestinian family whom I live with in Beit Ummar. So far, my sincere intention in praying in AlAqsar Mosque rippled into other amazing encounters with the people of Palestine. Along the way to the Excellence Center in Hebron ,I met a few individuals that guided me so as I will not be lost. At the Damascus gate in Jerusalam , I met a kind lady that walked me through the beautiful souq towards the AlAqsar Mosque, the second person that assisted me to get to the bus station from the AlAqsar Mosque was a man called Khalil.
He helped me carry my heavy suitcase and put me on the right bus, bus number 231 to Bethlehem and in the bus I met another kind man that told me that he was going to AlKhalil (Hebron in Arabic) and we took the same bus and he paid my bus fare. Although it was a tiring first day, it was an adventurous and fulfilling day for me. I had a great spread of Palestinian food on my second day of iftar at my host family’s house. My host mother made delicious Palestinian food—batata mashy (stuffed potatoes) waragaanab (stuffed grape leaves), salata (salad) and drank date juice.
All in all my first day at the Excellence Center was a great start of my two week stay in AlKhalil (Hebron)”!