Intern Journal: First impressions of Nablus

“I can't believe I'm really here.” This line was repeated, in some variation, by all four of us interns in the first few days upon arriving in the city of Nablus. In a way, it was understandable--we were in Palestine, a place we hear so much about on the news, but that most of us had not had the chance to visit in person until now. Many of our family and friends were apprehensive about our trip here, and it just seemed so surreal to actually be in the West Bank after so many weeks of planning and preparation in the U.S.

My first night at TYO, I walked onto the balcony of the center and saw a spectacular view--rows of houses, mosques, commercial districts, mountains, and the noise of traffic and kids playing in the evening before a weekend. Over the next few days, we would tour the Old City, eat delicious shawarma and desserts, meet the local TYO staff, and become acquainted with the kindness and generosity of the people of Nablus.

Upon touring the Old City, we saw busy markets that had been re-developed and rebuilt over the past decade, now that conflict had receded. As I walked, places that had once been damaged or destroyed were pointed out to me. Many of these walls and buildings still hold reminders of how different things were just a few years ago. I wondered what it must have been like to live in an area of such conflict, especially as a child, and the importance of TYO's work became apparent to me.

After years of hardship, Nablus is once again a bustling city with plenty to do, eat and see. One thing that continues to strike me about Nablus is how important family is to people here, both outwardly and more personally. I rarely see a child that is not being kissed, held or cuddled by an adult. The bonds of friendship and family are certainly strong here--but people are more than willing to extend their graciousness to people outside of their family as well. On one of our first days at TYO, we had lunch with the TYO staff, which was filled with singing, dancing and of course, plenty of getting to know one another. Although some of us are monolingual, so many of our interactions transcended the need for language. A warm greeting or smile was enough to extend hospitality or accept being welcomed.

Of course, any mention of Nablus wouldn't be complete without speaking about food. We unanimously declared that the food, desserts and fruit juices were "unbelievable," and that none of us would have to worry about not being well-fed during our stay in the West Bank.

Every day, it becomes a little less surreal to be here, in Palestine, in the West Bank, in Nablus. As we develop friendships with people in the city and begin to gain our footing on what Nablus has to offer, we feel more and more a part of the community. Of course, sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment or a lull in daily activity for that "I can't believe I'm here" feeling to come rushing back. I personally hope that this feeling never completely goes away, as I think it would be a shame for me to forget, even for a moment, how lucky I am to be here.

- Ashwini

Ashwini is a Fall Intern at TYO Nablus.