During the preparatory course arranged by our sender organization in advance of our exchange period in Palestine we were trained by a therapist for a few days. He challenged our comfort zone and ability to handle uncomfortable situations. The methods used varied, but one of them was presented as a children’s game: All the participants made a circle, except for one of us, who was ordered to the center of the circle. This person in the middle would give the group command to change their seats, and during the switch, the middle man would aim to get a seat in the circle. Because of the lack of space, one participant would always find himself in the center of the circle – the uncomfortable place to be.
Standing in the center could indicate that you were an unskilled player. Showing your weakness is embarrassing because it challenges your pride. Instead of break down and cry, our therapist told us to celebrate our mistakes with an outcry screaming «YES – I’ve failed» with a happy smile and an energized jump. The lesson to be learned is that mistakes could be positive as long as you gain knowledge from it.
Me myself have made a fool out of myself plenty of times, and to celebrate these incidences I would like to share some of my blush moments. Enjoy the show!
Failure number one: Embrace an old Arab man when waving good-bye after the first meeting which took place one and a half hour in advance
Learning: No physical contact between men and women in the Middle East
Failure number two: «‘Hope’ is a great organization!» Kath says and emphasizes the enthusiasm with the finger sign when the thumb and the middle finger create an O
Learning: In Palestine, this sign means «I’ll kill you»
Failure number three: Kathinka making conversation with a Palestinian refugee «Ah! – you’re from Aida?»
Learning: A refugee knows his history. No refugee «comes from» a camp as Aida – established after the Nakba in 1948.
Failure number four: Standing in front of the local Imam and snapping a book (?) from a shelf in the mosque in order to use it as a layer to avoid writing on an unsteady table
Learning: Respect for Allah, and take a shower before you touch the secret scripture of Koran.
Failure number five: Entering a disco in the Middle East and leave all the knowledge of a Muslim culture behind.
Learning: It will take you some months to reject an Arab
Failure number six: Fulfill the tasks you were responsible for in time because you presume it would be handy or needed by the employer
Learning: The volunteer is not supposed to be visible in the organization. Never feel ownership to any work you do. It could be left unused, canceled or changed a thousand times until what is left is a true copy of the style of your boss.
Failure number seven: Believe that you made a deal with someone who’s going to do you a favor, but the person is not a part of your social network
Learning: Eat cake, have a laugh and make friends before any business talks
Failure number eight: Do the fight for the Palestinian people and get lost in a discussion with a civil Israeli with machine gun
Learning: Kath is not a Palestinian and has to contribute by building bridges. Trust is not only created by listening, but also give the parties a feeling that you are listening.
Failure number nine: Entering a military bus with young Israeli soldiers and ask with a loud voice: «Is this the bus from «Breaking the Silence» (an Israeli human rights organization working with former soldiers who give testimonies from their military service in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine)
Learning: A soldier in service in trained to not think for themselves
Failure number ten: Make a mistake on purpose and violate the costume in the office in order to create a context for a highly needed conversation about communication
Learning: The hierarchy is still operative. Your colleague will delay a confrontation until the latest and leave the uncomfortable talk to his boss and let the volunteer face the almighty manager.
I admit it – I failed! Big time. But thank God.