Reviving their Roots, Family Travels to Convention in Ramallah, Palestine
By: Elizabeth Ajluni/Arab America Contributing Writer
Ramallah, Palestine, a beautiful land of history and family. Every time our family travels there, we experience an immense amount of hospitality and have a better understanding of where our parents and grandparents lived, worked, and socialized. Ramallah is the birthplace of our ancestors and our connection to future generations. While traveling there can be challenging, the journey is an experience of a lifetime.
The 60th Annual American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (AFRP) Convention was hosted in our hometown Ramallah in July 2018 at the Millennium Hotel. Four years prior, the 56th annual convention was hosted in Ramallah for the first time. The comradery between the local convention organizers and the Ramallahites from the United States is strong and with a common vision of keeping the heritage alive and joining the past and present together.
The annual conventions are placed to rekindle with family, friends, and meet new relatives from around the world. From the beginning to the end, our family has always found the conventions to be one of the most important events to be involved with. Each convention builds new friendships and allows continued personal growth of being an Arab-American. We join our strengths together to help with scholarships and cultural awareness.
This year was extra special to our family as The First Ramallah Group (Sareyyet Ramallah) Director, Khaled Elayyan, invited the youth from the United States to travel to Ramallah and learn the dabke (circle dance) with the Sareyyet Ramallah team of 50 dancers, which would be performed at the convention. Our son, Romi, who has been a part of many convention dabke performances in the United States, decided to experience this opportunity internationally.
The Ajluni’s from left to right – Faris, Romi, Emeel, Elizabeth, Majid, Nader
The organization, is the oldest community center in the city, offering cultural heritage, dabke training, arts, outdoor activities and sports for all ages. The ten days of dabke training before the convention was intense, but fulfilling, as the team made us feel like a member of the dance troupe family. We were invited to the special performance by the Sareyyet Ramallah dabke troupe, for Prince William’s, Duke of Cambridge, first visit and welcoming ceremony in Ramallah.
The dabke troupe performed twice during the convention. The first was during the convention opening ceremony at the Ramallah Municipality, that included a parade march with the city officials, scouts and convention attendees leading the way through the old city. The scouts performed their band’s music, the dabke troupe danced to Wain Ala Ramallah, and the city streets lit up as the locals joined in the parade and celebrated our convention. The second performance was on an outdoor stage where over 4,000 attendees celebrated their dabke.
The 60th Annual Convention provided the 1,300 attendees from the United States with cultural activities. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, welcomed the attendees on the opening night, followed by a reception at the Mahmoud Darwish Museum. Each day was filled with exploring the historical sites of Ramallah. We walked through the city, visited where my parents and grandparents lived, explored the many popular merchants and enjoyed the Middle Eastern cuisines. The new Ramallah Park built in front of the municipality was also a great place to gather and enjoy the water fountain with its beautiful musical light show.
The evenings were especially memorable for the youth as they gathered at local restaurants for dinner and watched the World Cup. Unique to the Middle East is the ability to go to a restaurant or anywhere and bump into your family or friends. The closing ceremony included speeches from Palestinian Diplomat, Saeb Erekat, and AFRP President, Dr. Hanna Hanania, followed by the evening banquet which highlighted the close ties between Ramallah and its diaspora in the United States and around the world.
The organized bus tours began after the convention. We visited the holy sites of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Church, Bethlehem, Jericho, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Tiberias, Haifa, Yafa, and Akka. We were very humbled to be walking on the same streets where Jesus walked; we were truly impressed with the hospitality of local merchants. Traveling all over the country with newly made friends from the convention was such a gift and the photos and memories will be cherished forever. We look forward to another convention in Ramallah.