I don’t even know where to start. I have learnt and felt so much since being in Nablus, that summing it all up in a few simple words feels like an impossible task. So, I’m going to do it in the most British way I know how – through tea.
At home, tea is a focal point in many situations. When you visit a relative, there is an offer of tea. When you’re stressed at work, there is an offer of tea. Whether you’ve had a bad day, or are sharing good news, there is always the supportive response of, “Would you like some tea?” I didn’t realise just how embedded in me this ‘tea culture’ was until I arrived in Nablus. Sharing living quarters with 3 Americans, I realised on the first day when I felt utter shock at the sight of one of my new roommates making tea in a microwave. I have since taught them well, however, and one of them is even returning to the US with her own teapot.
So, how does this all relate to what I’ve learnt and felt during my time here? Well, it relates in every way. Surprisingly, the tea culture that is strongly internalised within me is also widespread in Palestine. Not only is there always an offer of tea when visiting someone’s home, but also while out shopping for souvenirs in the different places we visit. We have even been offered tea while shopping for groceries! It is always very warmly received, and often much needed, after hours of having to resist buying every beautiful item we come across while (supposedly) shopping for friends and family.
Initially, I thought that being brought tea while out shopping was an unusually gracious gesture, but I was soon to find out that this kindness was just the tip of the iceberg. A teacher at TYO, Ahmad, recently took the interns for a hike to explore the nature surrounding his hometown, Jenin. Halfway through the hike, we stopped for a spot of lunch in the middle of an olive grove, with no other people in sight. It was beautiful. But what could make this moment more perfect? You got it – tea. Pulling a teapot out of his rucksack, Ahmad and his uncle saw to it that everyone had a refreshing cup of tea to enjoy while soaking in the autumn sun and reflecting on our time in Palestine. We were all very impressed at their commitment to tea. It certainly trumps anything I’ve seen in Britain!
Indeed, tea has played a central role in some of my favourite memories during my time here. Moments I will never forget include sitting at night with TYO’s guard, drinking copious amounts of tea and playing guitar. Limited in our ability to communicate through language, we have used tea to welcome each other and music to express ourselves and understand one another. This same guard has also become a personal doctor for the interns, providing us with herbal teas to help with whichever ailment was affecting us that week.
It seems that something so simple, that I had never given more thought to beyond what constitutes my favourite blend, has been transformed into something beautiful. Tea has become a sign of hospitality, providing a warm welcome when exploring new and unknown places. It has become a sign of comradery, to enjoy while getting to know each other better and reflect on important memories. It has become a way to communicate, to build friendships, and support one another. Most significantly, tea is a symbol for the most important lesson I have learnt during my time here – to never underestimate the value in spending time with people and showing them that you care.
– Sally, Fall 2017 International Intern