In three short weeks, the teachers, staff, and students at TYO have helped me to discover a new confidence that I did not know I had. That confidence has come to me through playing music. Whether singing for staff, learning to play the ukulele for children, drinking tea and playing music with the guard, or simply strumming a guitar on the balcony overlooking the valley, music has unlocked both the culture of Nablus and my own sense of identity and purpose.
Music first began to shape my experience while I was singing for staff. The day before classes began, I was petrified to sing and play music in front of people. I grew up singing and playing different instruments, but always suffered from terrible stage fright. I finally overcame my fear while lesson-planning at TYO and invited others to listen to me practice a “Hello” song that I wrote on the ukulele. Their support gave me confidence to play the song for the children.
All of my students were enthralled by the ukulele. Even when I made mistakes in week one, they still clapped and requested that I include their names in the verses. In the second week, one third grader even started dancing. Students also began to sing and do hand gestures while I played. The music has inspired an atmosphere of love and community. It means everything to me that my students enjoy learning and that our class is a safe space for them to express themselves.
I quickly learned that music also builds community in Nabulsi culture. I sat one night for nearly two hours drinking tea and playing the guitar with TYO’s guard. We passed the guitar and took turns playing traditional songs from our cultures. It was a beautiful expression of tolerance and reaffirmed the welcoming spirit that I witness on a daily basis from local staff. Once again, the experience required me to challenge my comfort zone and play music in front of others.
On a personal level, music has given me peace and helped me to feel at home. I often sing and play the guitar on the balcony overlooking the valley. When I do, locals living nearby will sometimes stand on their balconies to watch and listen. I am no longer afraid of anyone listening to me sing or play. On the contrary, the music has become a way for me to introduce myself to locals and break down any linguistic or cultural barriers that might otherwise divide us.
Music has shaped my first impressions of Nablus in every way. I came here to serve the children to the best of my ability. Playing music is allowing me to accomplish that goal while also helping me to recognize my own identity and potential. I have calluses on my fingers and a small bump on my thumb from where I have been strumming the ukulele and guitar. I hope those marks remain as a lasting reminder of this experience and the healing that music can bring.
– Katherine, Fall 2017 International Intern