We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Morgan Faulkner is currently volunteering with the Middle East Fellowship organization in the West Bank. You can find opportunities similar to this one in the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations©.
Ahlan wa sahlan to my tales of adventure! And adventure is absolutely the right word to describe my first two weeks in the West Bank. We have experienced ancient religious sites like Jacob’s Well and the Via Dolorosa, awesome cultural endeavors like learning how to make the best falafel in the West Bank and playing football (locals call it soccer) with our hosts at Holy Land Trust, and ordinary moments that are simply extraordinary like walking up the hill (more like a mountain) to my homestay house at sunset and watching as shadows fill the old city of Bethlehem. Even the routine here becomes remarkable as we try and blend into the fabric of life. I get up and have breakfast with my host family and my volunteer sister, Isabel, before going to work at The Steering Centre for Democracy where I do research and help write funding proposals for projects that will help empower women and children in the West Bank to play a substantial role in the rise of democracy. After work it is off to a break before I head to one of our classes on Arabic, culture, religion, history, or politics. We have amazing speakers and it is very enjoyable to hear them talk for a couple of hours after grabbing something like freshly made frozen yogurt with multiple toppings from a place called “Toasts R Us” (I am absolutely not joking about this name!).
Sometimes it can be hard listening to groups that deal with human rights violations and poor prison conditions, and on those days it really helps to have the support system of the wonderful community of volunteers. We remind each other that we are not alone and that we are doing everything in our power to improve local conditions. It is awe-inspiring to hear stories from local people and learn that they are still hopeful for a better future. Both Muslims and Christians live together in a rather remarkable peace. There is nothing quite so beautiful or disorienting as gazing across a skyline littered with gorgeous church steeples and crosses and have the air filled with the muezzins’ calls to prayer. The culture here is a blend of the ancient and somewhat modern but somehow it all works in unison. Although you can quickly tell the Christians apart from the Muslims by their manner of dress, everyone has a very similar code of conduct as far as I can tell. It definitely makes me happy to have come from a generally conservative part of the United States. Although it is hard not to stand out at least a little here, I feel like I blend in because some things come naturally to me. For example., I rarely speak to men I do not know even to ask for directions, making eye contact when talking is something I prefer to do only with close friends, and public displays of affection are not an issue for me. These may seem to be minor things, but it is important to understand the local culture and how something as seemingly innocuous as having a boy walk you home can lead to gossip and poor opinions of foreign women. In general, people are very friendly and happy that I have chosen to come spend time in their country rather than just passing through.
The people in the West Bank are very hospitable. The people here know my host family, offer tea in shops, and enjoy getting a chance to show off their English (which is, for the most part, excellent). The places I visit regularly have started to recognize me and we have developed friendly relationships. We even went to the only microbrewery in the Middle East, right here in the West Bank, called Taybeh. They make an excellent beer out of local ingredients and the brewery is entirely family run. They let visitors come in and see their operations and sell beer wholesale along with shirts (I bought a forest green one!), glasses, bumper stickers, and other products made by local women. There are so many impressions here it is hard to keep them all straight, much less try and get them all into one blog post! However, I will be continually working to figure it all out and so far I love it here!