Hidden Meanings

This week, we reflect on the important symbolism behind seemingly ordinary objects and interactions.



Such a simple, short word. Loaded with so many complex feelings and associations.  On World Refugee Day, my Art & Critical Thinking class for nine and ten-year-olds reflected on the meaning of home, as well as community.

At first the answers were typical, ranging from family to neighborhood, but as I challenged them to think of these two words in the context of World Refugee Day, my students offered forth deeper, thoughtful answers. One girl spoke about the Bedouins who face a lot of problems securing their homes and how we should offer them protection in our communities. Another student spoke of refugees in Somalia and Libya who can only live in tents as they flee war; he suggested we build them safer homes that could provide them with shelter from sadness and hurt. These reflections, along with many others, set the tone for the art project that followed.

Connecting the ideas brought forth during our class discussion to art, my students worked in their small groups of four to create a safe and welcoming home. Using mostly recycled materials, my students produced some amazing homes.

While their final products were impressive in and of themselves, I was struck even more by their reflections on their pieces that really express the symbolism of home. This symbolism takes on even more meaning when you consider that the majority of my students are from one of the four refugee camps in Nablus. All of my students expressed a desire to build a home that would protect anyone from harm—home is a comforting barrier from the outside. For many of my students, their newly designed home was also a place where all of your family could be happy and satisfied—home always welcomes and provides. Finally, one group of students described their home as a place without bounds, where you could go anywhere and see everything—home never constrains, but sets you free. As this session goes on, I will keep these insights in mind as my students reflect on Nablus in the present-day and redesign it for the future-- what will home mean then?


Stand out on the balcony of the sixth floor of the TYO building at any time of day and you will see sweet homemade kites bopping over of roofs and window sills across the city. I remember seeing these kites the first day I arrived here in Nablus. There is something humanizing about the sight of a little habibi hanging out of his window trying to get a kite to fly- something that symbolizes the struggles that each individual living in this occupied territory must face.

For so many children here in Nablus there is very little room to play or grow. In crowded refugee camps, where some homes have nearly 10 people living in one room, children must find ways to entertain themselves simply, quietly, and compactly. Flying kites lets children expand upward and outward. However, like the kites, children are still tied down by the strings attached to their living situations. The desperate unemployment situation leaves many teenagers feeling hopeless or purposeless. It seems like regardless of how high adolescents fly, they are still held back by their history.

This week, in my science class, my students and I raced paper airplanes. We crafted different designs of planes out of different weights of paper to see which would fly the best. Through the process of experimentation students were able to feel pride for their planes. This processes provided students with an outlet to explore, in a safe space free from judgment and with plenty of room for playing.

By linking American interns and Palestinian youth, TYO is providing children with an outlet for students to grow wings- no strings attached. International connections are essential for the program to give hope to Palestinian youth to continue to pursue their dreams and explore the world around them.


In Nablus, it is possible to express many things without uttering a single word. Instead, locals use various gestures to communicate a number of requests, rejections, and commands. While some of these non-verbal symbols may seem strange or even rude to Americans, they are quite normal and play an important role in the lives of Nablusis and foreign teachers, like myself, struggling to be both an affectionate and authoritative figure with a hodgepodge of bad Arabic.

The most common of these gestures is that which people throughout the Levant use to express 'no'. One gestures such by simply lifting their eyes and eyebrows and sometimes making a brief clicking sound with their mouth. For example, I often receive this gesture from a few picky students when I ask them if they enjoyed the healthy lunches that TYO provides. Due to my American sensibilities, I initially found this gesture to be slightly offensive. However, I have since wished that I were more popular in other countries, such as Egypt, where it would be extremely convenient to turn down a tenacious taxi driver or plastic pyramid peddler by simply lifting my eyebrows.

Another sign, which I use frequently inside and outside of class, requires bringing one's thumb and forefingers together so that the tips of each finger touch and then gently shaking that hand in the direction of an individual or group. This hand gesture, which means 'slow down' or 'wait', is incredibly useful not only when explaining sports activities to a group of hyper children, but also when crossing a busy street.

The last of these gestures that I will mention requires both the hand and face, as well as an imaginary beard. Used to emphasize an appeal, one makes this gesture by gently stroking their cheeks and chin with their thumb, pointer, and middle-finger as if caressing an imaginary beard or pondering one of life's great mysteries. However, rather than the distant look that generally accompanies a ponderous expression, this gesture is usually combined with an innocent smile or a pitiful frown to magnify its desired effect. From my observations, children will employ these gestures when they are entreating an authority figure to do something that they know is unreasonable.