In a Palestinian village north-east of Ramallah, on a warm Ramadan night, an animated conversation is taking place outside a family home. Not in Arabic, but in Brazilian Portuguese.
The home belongs to a lady called Umm Qussai, who organizes home-stays for the hiking groups that pass through her village, Kufr Malek. Around her are seven Brazilian girls, all students at Brazil’s FAAP University in Sao Paolo, who have come here as part of a 10-day cultural exploration of Palestine and Israel. To the delight of the students, Umm Qussai has invited her parents-in-law – Palestinians who spent more than 30 years living in Brazil, returning to their village only in retirement – to come over and speak with the girls in their own language.
Over tea and qatayef, the typical sweets baked for Ramadan, the group talks about life in Brazil and in Palestine, about the similarities and differences in culture and temperament. Later the girls switch to English so they can talk with Umm Qussai’s 15-year-old daughter, Nour, charmed by the girl’s obvious intelligence and quick sense of humour. Brazilians and Palestinian teenagers, it turns out, are equally fluent at typing Facebook details into smartphones with their thumbs. The girls do not stop laughing until past 1am in the morning.
The night in Kufr Malek exemplified the kind of exchange and learning that lies at the heart of our work here in Palestine. Later, we receive this letter from one of the Brazilian girls, Julia Padrao:
"This journey was definitely one of the most enriching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. All the places that we passed through were filled with history, beauty and an amazing energy that touched us all. Even not being religious, visiting places that were important for different religions and understanding them was really fascinating. At last, but not least, what made our journey especial was the people we met there: all of them so kind, receptive and open hearted that I can easily say that they made a difference in my life and in the way I see it. If there's something I can ever say to people is that it is a journey worth making."
The students of FAAP in Bethlehem(L to R): Maria Fernanda, Julia, Aline, Fernanda, Vanessa, Aline, and Leticia.