Although I have not traveled nearly as much as Ibn Battuta, I have almost as much to tell. Through two short trips to the Middle East, I have gained the knowledge and experience one may gain in ten years. When I first arrived at Ultimate Peace camp in Akko, Israel, I was ignorant. I knew our goal was to “build bridges of friendships” between the Arabs and the Jews through the awesome sport of Ultimate Frisbee. However, I had absolutely no idea what that would entail aside from actually playing the best sport invented.
Looking around the room on the first day the kids arrived; I was surprised that I could not pick out which kids came from Palestine and which came from Arab villages in Israel. Even spotting out the Jewish kids was hard since Arabic and Hebrew sounded so similar to me. They knew, however. They could tell where everyone came from and they knew who their friends were. They saw the boundaries between each other that were invisible to me.
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The first thing we did after getting into teams was a round of icebreaker games. Though timid a first, the girls on my team started to warm up to each other after a few shouts of WAH! and spinning around a few times to untangle the human knot. As the week progressed, I noticed the girls on my team, who used to travel in couples from the same village, were started to branch out to the other girls on the team and include each other in free-time games.
One night, I was helping at the Arts n Crafts table, making friendship bracelets and teaching the kids how to make them. Two 13-year-old boys from the same team came up to me asking how to make a bracelet. I set both of them up with two strings and realized one of them spoke very limited English and the other spoke none at all. I showed the first one how to tie the knots in the string using small, English words and lots of hand motions. He then translated what little I said to his friend. Once they were set in making their bracelets, I tried to have a conversation with them. I learned that the first boy was from Tamra, an Arab village in Israel and the other lived somewhere in the West Bank, Palestine. They had just met this year, in camp, and already were becoming two teenage troublemakers together. They’d laugh at my “accent,” whisper in Arabic to each other, crack up laughing, make me repeat whatever I just said, and the whole process would start again. Although I may have been the subject of their jokes, that was totally fine with me. Whenever they laughed, I smiled, and that was a language all three of us knew.
When camp was over, I gave both the boys big hugs and promised I’d see them again next year. When saying goodbye to each other, however, “next year” was not acceptable. All around camp, new friends were giving each other their Facebook names, phone numbers, and trying to figure out how to see each other during the year. The boundaries present at the beginning of the week were no longer in existence and when next year finally did come around, the two same boys with lumpy bracelets were tossing the Frisbee around like professionals.
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