Joseph Grugeon-Dixon is from Newcastle, United Kingdom. Joseph volunteered for Music Harvest/Project Hope from September 2015 until the second week of December 2015 (with a small two week-break in October), teaching music to children and teenagers. Volunteering at Music Harvest/Project Hope has been part of a trip Joseph is making through Europe and Asia and is documenting in his adventurousacoustian blog. Below you can find some photos and excerpts of Joseph’s blog, covering his time at Music Harvest/Project Hope.
1 September 2015
“I meet Asha (the other music volunteer I’m working with) around lunchtime and we go to get a ‘Serveece’ (local public minibus and the common means of domestic transportation) to Nablus. Lots of olive trees, very dry. Once in Nablus, Hassan, our Arabic teacher, picks us up from the station and takes us to the Project Hope offices. After an introduction to Tawfiq and Nour (our administrators) and our flats, we are taken on a little tour of Nablus’ Old City and the centre. The Old City is the Souk (market), with all manner of dead (and sometimes alive) livestock, vegetables, home-ware and clothing you can imagine. It’s vibrant and bustling, a little messy and full of heady odours. There are cash machines and a little mall in the centre. It feels like a proper working city. In the evening I go with some other volunteers to eat at the top of the hill (Sama Nablus). It’s Roxanne’s last night. She was a Music Harvest volunteer and the only music representative for the summer. She’s from Carlisle, but studying music at Goldsmiths. The sunset over the city is pleasing and calming. This is my new home.”
7 September 2015
“Roxanne kindly invited us to go with her to her last kindergarten class before she left, so we could get a sense of what could be expected before starting ourselves. Soon after this, I received my preliminary schedule, which eventually grew and settled as: One kindergarten on Sunday and Tuesday morning, another on Monday and Wednesday morning, a small group of around six to ten year olds Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, a group of teenagers on Sunday and Tuesday and one more large group of various ages up to about sixteen years on Saturday afternoon.
All the other volunteers I am happy and proud to have met, they were a very nice bunch. There are separate flats for the men and the women, as culture dictates, and another separate apartment especially for couples.
The first week of lessons were about survival, then came adaption. The Kindergartens are very sweet and one of the principles is amazing at her job. She tells us that despite there not being substantial job prospects in Nablus, many women are motivated and determined to go to university for their own sake.
With the kindergartens we spend our time singing, dancing and conducting with different percussion instruments. We also played games involving different sounds; we all have percussion instruments to play with. For kids who are this young the music is almost subconscious and these games help internalize rhythm and melody without much notice. Sometimes we are left with questioning faces, and others with smiles to melt your heart. If there’s ever miscommunication we usually play the sleepy lion game or just dance around in a reckless manner.
With the next age group up we focus more on rhythm (starting at crotchets and quavers and eventually moving up to semi quavers and only occasionally straying from 4/4 to 3/4 time): having quizzes with flash cards and note reading; a crotchet being ‘Ta’ and a quaver being ‘Ta-Di’. We also work on intervals (mostly the 3rd and 5th, which are ‘Mi’ and ‘So’ respectively) adding in the tonic later.
Between the children’s cultural centre and the French cultural centre there are some music events, photography exhibits and film screenings to attend during our free time. Our accommodation is accommodating; a pretty good kitchen and not uncomfortable beds. There are three large rooms for bedrooms and an outside balcony area that has a high fence around it. The shower and toilet are outside via the balcony and occasionally the hot water or electricity fails us. Nevertheless, there’s a pleasant camaraderie between the volunteers though. It was pretty hot when I arrived, though, as the months passed into winter the house did become very cold without central heating (It has snowed in Nablus, Jerusalem and St. Katherine in recent winters).
During my first week of classes there was also an unprecedented sandstorm in the area that hung in the air for around four days making us all feel clogged up from the inside out and left a layer of dust over everything.”
12-16 September 2015
“On Tuesday we tried to deliver instrument lessons to the teenagers… in groups. I had about four guitars between ten kids and Asha three keyboards. The guitars got frustrating for some and they preferred Asha’s keyboards. Bless our translator, Ahmad, for going back and forth. Some showed real interest though and we were all there past our allotted time.
That night we went up the hill to where the Samaritans are located (a religious minority of a gated community living on a sacred hill overlooking Nablus). It’s finally a peaceful place, away from the traffic and with great views.”
25 September 2015
“I get nervous about the build up to classes. Once I am there it is just about delivering what you have, but I feel a responsibility to fulfil expectations or to provide something worth the time and energy of these kids. These kids are facing challenges no child or human should have to face. Asha has been vital and I can’t imagine I would have anywhere near as much morale without her.
Nablus is very friendly, however can be stifling. There is a lot of traffic, human and automotive. The restrictions are another presence to deal with. I can’t wear shorts, but women can’t ride bicycles!
I am proved right in my faith in people though. I have been respected and welcomed by locals without hesitation, whilst the kids have been enthusiastic in class.
You sometimes do hear gunfire. Tawfiq, our friend and administrator at Project Hope, says it is either the very small chance it is local trouble or, more likely and frequently, a wedding. Gunfire is usual at weddings and weddings are popular, there’s also a usual cavalcade of celebrating family members driving around the town and beeping their horns to confirm this.
Tawfiq told us a little about his younger days. His family was originally from Haifa, but was forced to move because of the establishment of the Israeli state. He grew up in one of the refugee camps in Nablus that we teach at. The camp is made up of what must be rapidly, and of course cheaply, erected concrete accommodations, the population density high and social amenities afflicted. He told us that during the troubles, Israeli soldiers would round up simply all the young men in the camp, teenagers, bind them and take them; holding them for days, sometimes with questioning and sometimes with nothing: covering all their bases at just the cost of the dignity and rights of innocent people. After my own visa negotiations Tawfiq said to me in all sincerity and humility that that is at least one way in which the Palestinians are lucky: ”we don’t yet need a visa to work here”… his own home.”
30 September 2015
“Last weekend some of the volunteers and I were invited to take part in the Olive harvest at the nearby village of Beit Furik, where we slept on mattresses at the local schoolhouse. One of the school teachers showed us around the village the night before the olive picking. We were also joined by some of the local boys who took us out to a little coffee and Shisha house in the town where the kids played pool and x-box. The village is within a very rural environment (olive groves as you may imagine) and the evening was a peaceful one, particularly in escaping the traffic of Nablus
The next day we picked olives. It was refreshing to get some physical exercise and feel closer to the land; I have to tell you a raw olive is one of the bitterest things you’ll ever taste. Climbing trees is also always appreciated and we were supplied regularly with tea and coffee from the kettle boiled on the fire. A sheet of plastic or fabric would be placed at the foot of the tree and then all of us would pick olives and let them fall loose onto the mat; once the tree was picked the olives on the mat would all be tipped into a bucket and we’d move on to the next tree. All in all, the day in the olive groves was very pleasant and we even met the mayor.”
October 2015-December 2015
“It was a relief to able to get back if only to see the song writing project with the teenagers through to the end. They had been working on their raps, different groups working collectively to write verses based on specific locations around the West Bank and then practicing to fit them within 4/4 bars, developing and emphasizing their concepts of beat and rhythm. The whole group had already written the chorus collectively and we had fun performing that all together in the classes previously. They went on to have a go at melody writing, using specific notes during a keyboards workshop that Asha led. We made sure to make a note of some of the melodies they came up with. In later lessons, we asked them to decide which ones they liked the most and then fitted the verses they had written to the melodies.
For the most part I stayed in Nablus during this last month volunteering. Outside of class it was nice to get to know life there in an everyday way… strolling the market where you’d be given edible gifts and welcomed as a friend. I went bowling with one the teachers from a kindergarten I taught at.
I had a wonderful birthday, our kindergarten sang happy birthday to me in the morning, we went for a rooftop dinner with one of our translators in another town called Tulkarem, which overlooked The Wall and the other side. When I arrived back the other volunteers had made me a banana bread cake. I felt very happy and at home.
I stayed in Nablus a couple of weeks longer than planned, as I wanted to finish a project with the teenagers. Eventually we made separate audio and video recordings of the class performing their rap and I put them together as best as I could.
Then it was time to leave…”