I’d never been to a Muslim country before so my head naturally started to fill itself with assumptions and preconceptions of how things were or would be. I knew from the advice the volunteer program gave me, that Marda was a conservative village: No shorts, no singlets (LOL), no drinking, no drugs, and no approaching strange women romantically. I paraphrase but these were all suggested guidelines – Who’s been coming here??

Marda is a conservative village, traditional too – women cover themselves in public and sometimes socialise separately but everyone was friendly and interactive. If my arabic spanned further than the “Hello? How are you? Im fine, thank you.” at its peak, I may have broken down even more social barriers. Word to the wise: Don;t go in for a handshake with women you’ve just met as you’ll be left hanging.

Knees-up for the men
Wedding knees-up for the men

Despite the occupation and the harassment and intimidation that comes with it, everybody seemed upbeat. Theres a real togetherness here and its so much more chill than it looks and sounds from in the west. Theres lots of joking. Murad likes to take the piss out of people especially people that he likes. Theres one old guy we used to see and Murad always tries to tickle him.

Unhinged or piss-taking shop keeper blowing a recorder in our faces.
Unhinged or piss-taking shop keeper blowing a recorder in our faces.

It sounds like a stupid and obvious thing to say but Palestinians really love their children, especially young ones, almost as if preserving their innocence is everything. From about 7-12 boys go through a seen but not heard phase then at 13+ they’re targets for playful clips round the ear and downsizing banter. They have a lot of freedom in Marda. Children as young as 6 walk to and from school through the village, they go to the shops to buy groceries and play outside unsupervised. On paper it sounds like slack parenting but its not. The community polices itself. Everyone knows everyone and when children step out of line or get cheeky the nearest adult will call them up on it. I’d describe it as a golden age if the circumstances didn’t make it sound so ridiculous.

Murad keeping the local kids in check
Murad keeping the local kids in check

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