Video: Experience of Justin from the USA in Palestine
Excellence Center | March 14, 2017
“My name is Justin, and I am from the United States. I come from a city of about 200,000 near Texas, and my university degree is in Teaching English as a Second Language.
I began studying Arabic at the Excellence Center to improve my grasp of the language that I had not yet learned despite having already lived in an Arabic speaking country for the last 2 years. As I arrived to the personal warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the language school, it helped me deal with the chilly weather of winter in Hebron. The lack of central heating on an early morning at most buildings including the school is overshadowed by the heat in the kitchen coming from the tea kettle or the portable heater. Most volunteers and students crowd around these two spots to happily begin the day. Once classes begin, and I am comfortable with my glass of delicious sage tea, my teacher turns on the electric wall heater to begin the lesson. Arabic classes are personable with small sizes. Lucky for me, winter is usually low season for tourists learning a foreign language away from home, and I was able to get a one-to-one class with a teacher who had a degree in English. Lessons were low-anxiety and included communicative activities that specified task-based activities. These activities included role-plays between shop owners and customers, asking directions, writing stories, and even help with the local Palestinian dialect of Arabic. These lessons have made it much easier to live in the city and speak to the people. Because the Palestinians of Hebron are so welcoming and curious, it is easy to practice what you learn in class with the locals.
It seems to take a special kind of caring person to come work or study in Palestine in spite of all the rumors one might hear about how it is here. I have seen this special kind of caring in the actions of the volunteers coming to work at the Excellence Center from all different ages and countries. Working with them has been a very international story of travels and adventure.
During my time at the Excellence Center, there were always excursions to places in the city of Hebron and throughout the West Bank. We went to see Ibrahim’s Mosque, one of the most well-known sights in the Holy Land and lies in the Old City of Hebron. From there, we went to Shuhada Street (Martyr Street) which used to be a bustling market place before the year 2000. On a Friday morning, a group of us with some of the staff from the Excellence Center took a trip to Jericho and the dead Sea. On the way, we stopped by Mar Saba Monastery of the Greek Orthodox Church near the beautiful Kidron Valley. After taking some amazing photos, we were on our way to the the Dead Sea, but suddenly our vehicle passed a herd of camels and their caretaker. We could not help ourselves but to ask our coworker to pull the car over for a few pictures.
We ended up hanging out with the camels for 15 minutes as we spoke to the caretaker. It was amazing, and we had not even reached the Dead Sea yet. Upon our farewell from the lovely hump-backed animals, we drove another 5 minutes to our destination by the beach. Suddenly there was a view of a vast waveless body of water that stretched from Palestine across to the Kingdom of Jordan. It was the Dead Sea and we were ready to test the rumor that you float in the water. Well, the rumor was true, and we also learned not to put our heads under the water because it is so salty that it can burn your eyes for a while. I also learned about how very salty water keeps clothes wet. My blue jeans stayed wet for 5 days after the trip before I finally washed them. The trip to the Dead Sea was capped off by some amazing barbecuing by our Palestinian coworkers. Palestinians sure know how to cook, and the kebabs were plentiful. It was one of the most interesting excursions I had ever taken, and you should definitely plan to do it when you come to volunteer or study at the Excellence Center.
Traveling around the city alone can lead to interesting places, but I would not recommend walking alone in the Old Town alone after the sun goes down. The narrow corridors of ancient streets make for darkness and spooky experiences, so make sure you are with a group.
No tale would be holistic without mentioning the people and more about the food. My overall impression of people here has been positive. People will go as far as to invite you for a tea in their home. As a man, this has been a good experience to know a bit more deeply about the Palestinian families. I would not, however, recommend doing this if you are a female volunteer being asked by a man to come to his home. This is not a norm here in Hebron, and every Palestinian man knows it. The restaurants are mostly quaint and give a homely feeling. Choices of cuisine include delicious friend chicken, excellent shawarma, falafel, and popular Palestinian rice dishes called maklouba and mansef.
If you decide to make the trip to Hebron and volunteer or learn with the Excellence Center, I believe you are making the right choice. The food, the people, and the culture make it all worth your time”.