One of our new volunteers in Abu Dis has written a moving and interesting first blog post. We are posting it below and suggest keeping an eye on the blog: abudisvolunteers.blogspot.com.
The fan is gently wafting the warm air in the bedroom of the Guest house as I write. It is the end of our first full day in Abu Dis. Flo has arrived completing our group and Yas and I have returned from a wonderful evening of hospitality which has removed the last traces of the stress of getting away, queueing at Luton and 4 hours with security in the airport in Tel Aviv. Kefah, a member of the women’s group brought us an invitation to her mother ‘s house – but more of that later.
The amazing love that people feel here for their native land, in spite of all the restrictions of occupation, has framed the time so far. The taxi driver who brought us into Abu Dis had ‘ been in England several times – had to come back, though I’m doing 3 jobs, it’s the life, it’s the people. The food’. And he went on to say, ‘It will get better here. But it will get alot worse before it does so’, expressing the hope that operates in absence of visible signs which I have often seen working in Palestine.
But the sadness of separations is part of everyone’s life here. The old ones of the waves of refugee-making and the new ones created by the wall, boundaries and check points that make it possible for the army to isolate the central area around Jerusalem from the north and the south, in the way that Gaza is already isolated, at any time. Abed, the Cadfa co-ordinator in Dar Assadaqa, the Friendship House, explained this broader context when he briefed us this morning about the summer activities for children. The place was alive with children competing to fill plastic bottles with water held in cups in their mouths. The air was filled with shouts of glee.
The day has been busy. We had a really helpful meeting in the morning, with Abed, where we used a questionnaire which showed us what we didn’t know and needed to know. Then Kefah and her daughter came and led us on a tour of the Al Quds (Jerusalem) University. There we saw its wonderfully endowed library and dropped in on the rubic cube awards ceremony, where we saw little kids being given big golden cups and medals. Everywhere we went we got a great welcome and gradually a larger group joined us on our tour. ‘The University has recognition all around the world’ they said. I said, ‘But I’ve heard that their degrees are not recognised and people can’t get jobs. ‘That’s here,’ they said. Only Israel doesn’t recognise the degrees. But the medical school is very famous and recently a successful case was taken to the Supreme Court and the University won and the medical degrees are recognised’. One of the reasons for the difficulties the university has is its name, Al Quds. The Queen’s university of Belfast, where I come from, also has a great reputation for medicine. Medical expertise flourishes in places where there has been a lot of trouble. The campus is lovely and after our tour we were treated to iced lemon drinks in a garden of olive trees, before returning to Dar Assadaqa.
Dar Assadaqa has no funding from the local council and relies on support from Cadfa and other donors and the work of volunteers. It runs the summer camps and has the women’s group we have come to work with but also has a role in linking with other local organisations that build up the community. It has been going for 4 years, and during that time many people have come to visit Abu Dis and people from Abu Dis have visited England and Paris. ‘Twinning’ is understood here as developing lasting relationships.
We met Saed, who runs the summer camps and the young volunteers and the children who were having a great time trying to fill bottles of water from cups carried in their teeth. Last year 41 children came but this year following a night time raid on the building by the army a week ago, some parents were worried and at present there are only 25.
Abed told us that one year the army lobbed a gas cylinder in and only that they had rushed the children out through the back door, it could have been terrible.
So, we are here, have done our shopping and settled in. And that brings me back to the evening andthe lovely welcome at Kefah’s mothers house. There when more and more family members kept arriving and we watched he evening light on the view over Wadi al Jahir. From there we went on to Kefah’s sister’s house, where we listened to the gentle playing of the oud. Then, as we settled, there was a great burst of noise – shooting or fireworks? Definitely fireworks. A wedding? ‘Maybe. No, no. A prisoner has been released today’.
Our host, he it was who played the oud, who has made a life here, spoke of the frustrations that make so many leave, yet ‘never wanted to leave, never went further than Amman. The roots are deep’. His words echoed those of the taxi driver who brought us to Abu Dis.