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Adventure and the world upside-down

(a volunteer writes about her experience in NSWAS)

Tuesday 11 January 2000, by Tineke Vander Kooi

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Since I was thirteen I was longing to live for some time abroad. I wanted to do some practical work and get more insights about the world, about people and about myself. Lots of things are possible in this area nowadays, and after some investigations, Israel seemed like a good choice. On a few square meters you find intense politics and history. Concerning cultures and world religions it is a real melting pot. And it was even payable!

Through some acquaintances I got information about a village where Jewish and Palestinian people were living and working together. This seemed to me like the ultimate chance to get to know the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from different sides. I wrote a letter and eventually there was place for me from November 1998 till June 1999.

The group of volunteers consists of four to six people. Due to the small number it is quite easy to make contact with the people of the village itself. Every volunteer is also adopted by a family. I was very lucky with them: I could just go to their house, feel at home, drink mint tea, have interesting talks, learn new games and sometimes eat with them. That way you get to know the people and their way of living. It even happened to me that during Ramadan they took me to their family in an Arab village where they really stuffed me with the most extraordinary dishes...

The volunteers receive money to buy and prepare their own food. Everyone has a room for himself and shares the kitchen and the bathroom with the others. Life is not luxurious, but most of the time very enjoyable with campfires at night and many nationalities and languages around. Lots of VIPS come to visit the village (during my stay among them was even Hillary Clinton) and activities are organised like Arabic lessons, belly dancing and speeches. Sometimes the organisation and slow speed in which things are improved can be very frustrating, but you can try to learn to live with that. And even more you appreciate a washing machine, a television, water and electricity when it does work.

Most of the time volunteers are working five days a week, eight hours a day in one of the different branches of the village. The other days you can sleep long or for example go to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Sometimes the work is nice and most of the time it is not. Volunteers are mainly there as cheap workers to do simple jobs. Cleaning toilets wasn’t life-fulfilling, but made me look, both at toilets and at life in a different way. And because of that I was even more motivated to start studying. Opposite the stupid work are the freedom and all the new friends from over the world. You get to know their way of living, their cultures and you also get an idea of the complexity of the problems which are living in the Mid East.

My way of looking at politics has definitely changed through my stay. Impressed by the holocaust, being raised in a Christian family and with too little knowledge I came to Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam with a bit of a pro-Israeli attitude. This changed abruptly after the confrontation with all the injustice and discrimination I saw, heard and felt around me. I am still busy trying to find a balance between all the stories of people, who all have their own truths on which they base rights, and where t hey do have rights on. It turned out to be not only one problem, but an endless, confusing bunch of problems, with behind every solution even more problems. To become desperate and hopeless.
But I still have hope and I thank this mainly to the special people around me, from and around NSWAS. In spite of all the problems they take the courage to hope and to work on peace and respect. Abdessalam says in an interview:” You shouldn’t deny the conflict, you should try to learn to live with it". And I see this happening. The Kingdom hasn’t come there as well yet, I saw a lot of quarrelling and gossiping, but people dare to face the confrontation. It is difficult, but people are building together on a sound basis. The children are already playing together. They are proud of their own background, but also familiar with the other culture and religions. Therefore they learn to think and to handle not from fear but from respect for the other. With that the conflict is not solved yet, but people are treated with dignity and given their space.

Altogether it was a passionate year, very much worth the trouble. I would love to do it again. I have been homesick, I learned to fight. The world is not as simple anymore as it used to be, but there is so much more waiting for me than I ever expected. And the new insights, the friendships and the love I found are invaluable to me.

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