The Five People You Meet in Palestine :In The Five People You Meet in Heaven Eddie meets five people from his past who explain the meaning of his life and bring him enlightenment and closure. In Palestine, our volunteers report that their five types of people in Palestine you will encounter that will each have something to teach you about Palestinian culture.
The curious child. For those international visitors who are visibly not Palestinian this will likely be your first interaction with the locals. Young boys on their way to school or the corner market will stop and stare at you. Foreigners are not unheard of in Hebron, but they’re still a novelty. Cries of “Hello!” “How are you?” and, “What is your name?” will fill the air whenever you walk down Ein Sarah Street. The kids are very friendly and it will make their day if you stop and talk with them. Those who have traveled abroad know how ubiquitous English and Western culture is, so the youth of Hebron are familiar with the music, fashion, and movies coming out of the USA, EU, and Australia. They are very curious about what life is like abroad and how internationals behave. Sharing your culture with Palestinian youth, whether on the streets or in the Excellence Center, will be an important service you perform while visiting.
The host. At some point while exploring Hebron, you will undoubtedly run into a Palestinian who will offer you tea, a sample of sweets, or invite you into his or her home. In close-knit communities in Palestine one’s identity is tied to his or her neighborhood, city, and nation. As such being a good host, and offering hospitality to strangers to give them a good impression of their community is important. Volunteers wandering the old city may meet one woman who in the past has invited foreigners into her home to view the architecture that is centuries old.
The creep. Let’s be honest, there is misogyny in all cultures and Arab culture is no different. Female volunteers may sometimes find that men staring at them as they walk down the street are not solely doing so out of curiosity, but also out of lust. Sometimes they may even “catcall” in your direction. Hebron is a fairly conservative city and unfortunately many people have false ideas about foreign women, namely that they are all promiscuous. Try not to let it bother you, most of the men you will interact with in Hebron are completely honorable and welcoming. To stay safe and comfortable don’t acknowledge any catcalls, use the buddy-system (preferably with a male volunteer) if walking at night, and don’t talk to men you don’t know on the streets if you are alone.
The elder. Like every society Palestine has its fair share of elderly men and women. You’ll likely see older men walking on the street dressed in a manner reminiscent of a previous era. While the youth wear skinny jeans and t-shirts older Palestinian men often wear suits or jackets with a black and white checkered keffiyeh wrapped around their heads with an agal. If you have the chance to speak with them you’ll find they have a lot to say, a lot of wisdom to share, and can offer you a window into a different time when poetry, music, literature, and philosophy were all hotly discussed and debated throughout the young nations of the Arab world.
The hijabi. Hebron is a predominately Muslim city and the vast majority of Muslim women in the city choose to wear the hijab. Contrary to how Muslim women are sometimes portrayed in the West, as meek victims of religious oppression, powerless to chart their own destiny, the hijabis you will meet are some of the strongest and smartest citizens of Hebron. The Excellence Center could not exist if not for the hard-work of our female employees and managers. They will teach you Arabic, arrange your homestay, and manage the center’s operations. On the street, male volunteers especially may find Palestinian women shy. Smile or say hello and they may look away or nervously laugh. This is part of a culture of modesty and is perfectly normal. Put these women in a classroom or professional setting however, and they will excel. Get to know them in the center or through friends or host families and they will become your best friends. Nothing in Palestine happens without the consent and effort of the women.
This list is in no way comprehensive. There is a host of characters and actors that you will meet during your stay in Hebron. Each one of them will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime and many of them will remain close friends long after you depart from Palestine.