Before I left, I thought one month would be a perfect time period for volunteering. Little did I know that I would regret it so much that I only chose to go one month. Apart from the fact that I’ve missed my boyfriend and family at home, I would have loved staying a longer period, but going home was inevitable as I booked my flight May 1st. On the route to Jerusalem, where I spent one night before travelling to the Tel Aviv airport, I started wondering about what being home would be like after experiencing a month in Palestine. Leaving my local friends, the other volunteers and the beautiful culture I came to appreciate so much was more difficult than I expected beforehand. People who travelled before, to places where the culture and living standards are different, might already know that there isn’t only a culture shock when you arrive in a country, but also when you get back home.
During the last days before leaving, until a few weeks after arriving home, I kept notes on the thoughts and feelings I had. While I can’t really adjust it into some ‘tips and tricks on going home’ list, I am able to share it, in case anyone wonders how intense it can be to come home. Obviously, everyone will experience this in a different way, so don’t take my words as a guideline, but we’ll share the notes I took anyway because it might help someone and that’s what we’re all about in these blogs.
On the public transport to get to Jerusalem, I sit across a woman with two boys, and by the looks of it, she is their mother. While I’m observing them, and realize that she isn’t much older than me, right at that moment she smiles at me. For a small moment, she’s also observing me, curious and smiling kind. We have a connection and I think of how strange it is that our lives are so much different while we’re there on the same bus, looking at each other. As she probably doesn’t speak English, and my Arabic is poor, we can’t communicate, but I understand her encouraging the boys to smile and say hi. I say hi back, and that’s where the interaction ends, but it is a symbolic event for the thoughts I have been having during my trip, about the differences between a 22-year-old Dutch girl or a similar aged Palestinian girl.
Driving into Ramallah, the bus passes Holanda street. I have an inside giggle about being home already, but it doesn’t last long as right after we pass the street, we drive past a pickup filled with soldiers of which one has his gun out. Welcome back to Palestinian reality.
Today, I visited the skatepark and met up with another skatepal volunteer on her way back home. We skated for a bit, and it was the nicest park ever, just like more of Jerusalem looks very pretty, clean and well structured. Needless to say, it was an enormous contrast with the area’s I had been travelling through in Palestine, and that did confuse me. All I’d ever heard about Jerusalem is how interesting and beautiful the city is, but while being there I didn’t experience the same feelings, as I’d experienced the flipside of the coin.
One of the goals I had on being in Jerusalem was to talk with people who’ve experienced living in Israel. It was more difficult meeting people than I expected, as the vibe in the city was different and there was less of the hospitable feeling I experienced in Palestine, you could say it was more European. On the markets in the old city, I was invited by Palestinian salespeople to talk about my the necklace I was wearing (colours of the flag) and my Arabic tattoo, while we drank some mint tea. The market people said the life in Jerusalem is ok, and they think they have a more liberal way of living than people in the West Bank area. However, they have little to no interaction with the Israeli people, and their non-Arabic connections are mostly with travelling foreigners. Luckily, in the skatepark, I heard stories about Palestinians and Israelis skating together in peace, despite weekly conflicts mostly caused by non-skaters. Stories like this do exist and it’s a shame it isn’t more widely known as in Israel, as well as the Western world, there is a lot of ignorance about the Palestinian people and their way of living.
I have been home for little more than a day, and I’m exhausted. In my mind, I’m so tired, and I think it’s caused by processing the change to being home. Besides the regular thoughts about it, the day travelling from Jerusalem to the Netherlands was quite intense as I was held at the Israel border control for a thorough check. Before checking in for my flight, a conversation between me and other Dutch people happened where I told them about the volunteer trip I’d made to Palestine. Jokingly I said that I couldn’t really tell that to the Israeli officers, as I’d probably be seen as a terrorist. Apparently, with magic powers, I predicted the future, as that’s kind of how it felt 2.5 hours later, being interrogated, body searched and undressed. The Israeli border control only released me 10 min. before boarding the flight was supposed to start. At the time this all happened I was pretty chilled out, as luckily I knew what to expect, but judging my tiredness right now, it was definitely a lot to process.
Today is a national holiday in the Netherlands, celebrating the liberation at the end of the second world war. The freedom is celebrated with lots of events, festivals or people just enjoying a free day. In the past, as so many people, I celebrated Liberation Day with booze on a festival, just happy that we had an extra day off school or work. This year, however, I learned not to take my freedom for granted, which obviously gave me some mixed feelings. I would never tell my friends not to have fun on a day like this, because what would be the point in that? What I would love, is if people would be more aware of the feeling of what freedom really is, and I hope in some way my personal stories and Women Skate the World can cause this.
"This year, however, I learned not to take my freedom for granted, which obviously gave me some mixed feelings. I would never tell my friends not to have fun on a day like this, because what would be the point in that? What I would love, is if people would be more aware of the feeling of what freedom really is..."
Somewhere around may 12th
Seeing news reports of events happening in and around Israel and Palestine these days, makes my heart bleed and I wish I was there to support the people I have met on my journey. After reading and hearing about the Israeli fighter jets bombing Iraq outposts in Syria, which flew over Asira, the place I lived for a month, I am longing to be there and tell the kids in the skatepark it will be ok. While teaching skateboarding is a big part of our job, I felt like I could really make a difference by being there for the kids besides skating as well. It shows them people care about them in a time where they are the victim of fear and international conflicts. The interaction with the local community helped to broaden their image of the outside world, and at the same time taught me about the war they have been living in for years. At home, it is easy to be blind to the things happening in Palestine and Israel, but having had this volunteer experience I am now wiser and ready to take action.
The stories about the fighter jets and arrests in the West Bank make me focused on Women Skate the World and make me want to help people that deserve our help as they are not in a position to take action without getting intimidated, arrested or shot.
I definitely don’t want to make Women Skate the World about politics, but I realised the last days that skateboarding is a powerful tool to change the world bit by bit. It’s like the butterfly effect where my small actions are giving the people a creative and sportive outlet which will make hopefully make them more powerful in the future.
The week of may 15th
For the last six weeks, a protest has been going on in the Gaza strip called the “Great March of Return” demanding that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to the area they come from, which is now Israel. The demonstration also covers the 70th year ‘anniversary’ of the existence of Israel and the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which is internationally considered controversial as it states that the USA is accepting Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel while the status of Jerusalem is an unsolved conflict dating back 20 years to the Oslo Accords. This week the demonstrations developed into an even more violent conflict than it was before when the number of dead victims was doubled in one day. Human right reports state that there are thousands of injured and dozens killed, including children, journalists and medical staff.
The demonstrations and the 70-year existence of Israel both draw a lot of media attention in the Netherlands and it’s been tough reading about it from home while still being in Palestine with half of my heart. It’s difficult to search through the different views in media outlets, trying to find neutral reporting. Although I never visited the Gaza Strip I have heard stories about the uprisings in the West Bank in early 2000ths and I know how the people in the West Bank have experienced the news reports on Gaza during my stay. The good thing about all the media coverage is that it’s now an actual subject people are talking about and I can share my experiences as people are actually interested in what’s going on.I’m glad to tell more about the kind and hospitable culture of the Palestinians and the shocking things I’ve heard and seen.
It does make me long to do something about all the mess in the world and again it makes me mad, confused and frustrated. I can now conclude that I will not have peace of mind about this anytime near and that it’s time to use my feelings to actually do something.
Somewhere around June 15th, I realized that I’m back in the “normal life”, not hanging on to Palestine trip as much as I used to (however, still thinking about my Habibi’s every day). While Amber is continuing our work in Kurdistan Iraq, I’m at home, working on getting Women Skate the World registered as a legit foundation, visiting other skateboarding projects, and trying to find a way to do a local skateboard project at home (more news on this soon..). Putting your thoughts into action always helps for clearing your mind and focussing on the next thing. So yeah, if you’ve come this far with reading, you might be interested in what the things are you can do from home after having these kinds of experiences.
What to do after coming home?
First things first, take some rest and process everything you’ve experienced. I’d encourage you to talk with your loved ones about what you’ve seen and done. They’ll like to hear about your trip, and you get to empty your mind.
Secondly, it might happen that you are totally in the volunteering mood, which I’ve heard more often of people who participated in volunteering trips. A lot of organisations have volunteering places available, and Google is your best friend in this one. See if there’s any position available you like, or maybe find something that resembles the work you’ve been doing during your travels.
Thirdly, if you want to go all in, use your talents and set up your own thing. Be a photographer, clothing designer, skatepark builder, anything you can think of and use your company/foundation for a good cause. After all, that’s how we started as well.