Staying with a host family and practicing Arabic were two of my top goals during PSE this summer. But having lived with host families before and not always having positive experiences, I was both anxious and excited to meet my family on my first day. It turns out I had no reason to worry. My host family is a wonderful group of people. Even though I have only been here for two weeks, I already feel like I am truly a part of the family.
I'm living in Beit Sahour, a town just outside of Bethlehem. (It's an easy 5-minute taxi ride or a hot 30-minute uphill walk from my home to the Holy Land Trust office in Bethlehem.) I was surprised to learn that the majority of the town, including my family, is (Greek Orthodox) Christian. I was originally a little disappointed about this, because I was looking forward to learning more about life as a Muslim here and because I arrived during Ramadan, which I was looking forward to celebrating with my family. But it turns out it's been really interesting learning about the ways my host family practices Christianity and comparing that to my own experiences. Plus, I've been invited to coffee and Iftar at the (Muslim) neighbor's house a few times, so I don't really feel like I'm missing out.
I love pretty much everything about my host family, from the delicious Palestinian food to our family outings to discussions at the dinner table. But what I love most is just getting to experience the pace and style of Palestinian life in a large family. The entire extended family lives in the same house, 16 people in total. And unlike what I'm used to in the US, the whole family really does function as a single unit. While we eat meals in the smaller nuclear family units, we socialize and work all together. The family is also intimately connected to the rest of the neighborhood in ways I rarely see in the US.
The first day I was here, my host mom and her daughter-in-law spent the morning altering clothes for themselves and their families. While they were working, a neighbor came over to visit, then left and returned with her own sewing work. Later, we went upstairs for coffee with the other daughter-in-law. That evening, one son and his wife passed by my room on their way out the door. "Are you doing anything?" they asked. "Come with us to Korean Cultural Night!" We spent the evening laughing at silly skits and listening to beautiful music together.
This probably all seems mundane to my host family. But having grown up in the US, separated from my grandparents by thousands of miles and taught to keep a healthy distance between myself and my neighbors in order to protect their privacy, I am enjoying immensely this opportunity to live in community in a way that is not usually possible for me. And I am extremely grateful to my host family for giving me this opportunity.