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.
The following is a guest blog from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Lindsay Michael. She is currently volunteering with Project Hope in the Palestinian Territories. To find an opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations©.
The ride from Bethlehem to Nablus is a glorious and character building adventure not at all recommended for the faint of heart. The road hugs the sides of looming hills peppered with olive trees and asymmetric limestone boulders. We Passed Bedouin tent farms, Israeli settlement checkpoints, and struggling lorries that rode close enough to other vehicles for the drivers to shake hands. There could not have been a sweeter welcome than my feet hitting the ground in Nablus.
A jovial local volunteer from Project Hope came to retrieve me from the center of the city and take me to the place that I would be calling home for the next few months. He is known by his friends and coworkers as Nizar the Wizard because of his ability to make something out of nothing. He looked at my backpack that could easily double as a small body-bag and through a smile and a heavy exhale, and quite appropriately said, “It’s all uphill from here friend.”
We stepped lively down the narrow streets and through arched corridors, sidestepping crates of vegetables and astute street felines. The pungent smell of freshly ground cardamom, cumin, clove, and cinnamon hung densely in the Old City air. Shop owners selling everything from sweets to live sheep waved and offered a “Welcome of Nablus” in between assisting customers. Inquisitive youngsters with the most captivating eyes tagged along. By the time we neared the edge of the Old City, I had quite an entourage. “What should we do now?” I asked the shortest of my crew. With a tilted head, she looked at my sandals and lifted her eyebrows. “Let’s play!”
It is clear to see that the children here in Nablus, like children everywhere, want to be free to realize their full potential. However, in the meantime, they want to enjoy life. They want to laugh and have fun.
Last night, at a festival wrapping up the end of the Eid al Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Patch Adams.
The exceptional physician, social activist, and street clown, whose unconventional approach to healing through laughter leading him to be celebrated throughout the world, was in Nablus volunteering alongside a group of circus performers from Spain. His examination of the relationship between health and happiness is especially pertinent in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Towering over the majority of us in the crowd, he hoisted brave 7-year-olds up onto his shoulders while others looked on or investigated his long grey ponytail with unfeigned curiosity. The children adored him and their parents beamed as they stood close by watching.
No matter where we call home, we all share a need to feel loved, cared for, important. We all want to experience happiness and we have a responsibility to each other to work toward a better today within this framework. Volunteering abroad allows us to live out this dream in real time.
My first impression of Nablus, inshallah, will stay with me forever. I was moved by an absolute peacefulness that abounds amongst the city’s residents despite the unbelievably exhausting reality of living in the West Bank. I love that the majority of the people here celebrate one another’s holidays. Whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Samaritan, there is a respect that is not seen very often anywhere else in religiously pluralistic societies. There is a definite support that says, “I know this is an important time which holds a lot of meaning for you my brother or sister and I am with you, in solidarity to celebrate something sacred.”
I will share with you a quote from the film based on Dr. Patch Adams which he reiterated during our brief encounter: “I’m interested in connecting with other human beings and learning about them. We all need more of that.”
Yes indeed, we absolutely all need more of that!