Touchdown in Nablus

It is difficult to put my first impressions into words. When I finally got the call that I would be coming to Nablus after weeks of interviews and preparation, I literally could not contain my excitement. I distinctly remember being in my kitchen preparing dinner, and I immediately began jumping up and down in excitement. It was the best news I had received in a very long time. Moh soccer

As the son of Palestinian refugees, coming to Palestine was always extremely important to me. More than anything, I had a burning desire to understand the reasons why my father’s eyes would light up when he talked about it, and I always thought that no matter how much I read or studied about Palestine, I would never be able to fully appreciate it until I could actually see it in person. That proved to be true the moment I walked out of the airport. I had been frantically trying to communicate with my director as soon as I got my bags, and when I eventually got a hold of her, I was informed that I would be on my way to Jerusalem for the night because the road to Nablus was closed. Though this was not in our original plan, I couldn’t help but feel happy; what better way to start my journey than in the Old City of Jerusalem. While on the way to Jerusalem from the airport, I couldn’t help but notice certain things. The wall feels longer and higher than it looks in pictures; the buildings look similar to those elsewhere in the Middle East, but are clearly older. I knew from that moment on that this would be an unforgettable experience. The next day, Sarah, our intern who had arrived from the United States that morning, and myself, were informed that because the roads were still closed, we would be moving on to Ramallah for another night.

While things were not moving according to plan, we were grateful to have an opportunity to explore the city of Ramallah. We spent the day walking around the city, getting to know the people and the places, and ended up truly enjoying ourselves. Personally, being in Ramallah was extra special, because it was the city my father was born in, and had not had the chance to return to since the age of seven.

The following day things began to move in the direction we had anticipated beforehand. The roads had opened up, so we were off to Nablus. For the first time, we were going to see the city that we now call home, and meet the staff at TYO who have quickly become more like a second family. My first impressions of Nablus are only positive; from the people, to the crowded streets and narrow alleys, it’s clear that Nablus is a city with a story to tell, a story, which I can’t wait to discover. Nablus feels to me like a small town with the population density of a big city. There are lots of people here, but everyone seems to know everyone. From what I can, they have used that to foster a close sense of community and camaraderie, which is wonderful to witness.

Through our orientation week at TYO, we were overloaded with information and guidelines, balanced carefully with an overload of help, guidance and warmth. There is a lot to understand, because the dynamics of a community this old and tight knit is complex in more ways than one. What is clear the moment you step in to the center is that the people here, from the staff, to the volunteers, to those participating in the programs, are all equally committed to making Nablus a better place to be for everyone. We began our programs last week, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this special community of TYO, of Nablus, and of Palestine.

- Mohammad, Fall 2015 Zahi Khouri Fellow