On my third day at TYO I spotted a guitar in the corner of an office. I could feel my heart beating faster with excitement as I asked if I could use the instrument and was delighted with the positive response. It was a small acoustic guitar that was perpetually out of tune, but simply having it brought me too much joy to care about the slightly off sound.
My happiness from finding the guitar didn’t stem from my direct love for playing music. Instead, the excitement was rooted in what the guitar could create. Music and dancing have always been the most important ways that I connect and identify with my own culture and with other cultures. When traveling to a place that presents a significant language barrier for me, I have found that music allows us to facilitate a connection that may have been thought impossible. Sometimes this connection can be even stronger than ones formed only with words. Finding the guitar meant more than music, it meant community.
I began writing silly little songs to sing to the children in order to help them remember words in English. Quickly, I noticed how these little five and six year olds went from shy and standoffish around me, to jumping, singing, dancing machines.
It didn’t take long for the children to tell their mothers in my women’s group to see how much I enjoyed music, and the ladies became eager to show me how to sing and dance the Palestinian way. No matter the age, all it took was a little bit of music to spark an infectious lively spirit inside the room each day. They would cheer and clap along as we danced around the room.
Yalla! Sing like me!
Slowly, someone would teach me a few lines of a song. I would try to emulate the vibrant and dynamic words coming from their mouths, but the Arabic was heavy and rough in my throat, making everyone laugh at my attempt to speak their language. But just like the out of tune guitar, it was okay that my words were a little out of tune as well.
Over the course of my time at TYO I sang with people who didn’t know my songs, and I didn’t know theirs. I danced with people who didn’t know my language, and I didn’t know theirs. All that mattered was the music and the people. My gratitude to those that I met during my time in Nablus is undying. I have never been to a place where I have been so quickly and warmly accepted into. Thank you for sharing your city, your culture, and your music with me.
– Connor, Spring 2017 International Intern