Staff Interview: Mai NAMIKI (Palestine Project*)

[Original by Yuka WATANABE, 2015 Public Relations Intern (March 15, 2016); Translated by J. Maruyama/R. Florea]

[*Ms. Namiki is currently in charge of the Public Relations and Fundraising as of April 2019.]

She always has a tender look. On days off, she often goes for a walk with her daughter, who turned 1 year and 7 months old.

Hello everyone, I am the Public Relations intern Watanabe. Today, I will be interviewing Ms. Namiki, who is currently in charge of the Palestine Project. She has been dedicated to the Middle East since her university days. I wonder what kind of stories she has to tell, so I look forward to hearing it!!

What triggered your interest in international cooperation?

During my high school days, I wanted to challenge myself and expand my communities. I was an active student. I joined many clubs as extra curriculum activities: newspaper, chorus, string music, broadcasting, literature, social research and so on. I was part of the School Council as well.

A newspaper extra issued when she got married. It was edited by her former colleagues of the newspaper club of her high school.

When I became a third-year high school student and prepared for university entrance exam, I thought, “What I would like to do?” I thought that if I do something, I try something new, learning from the beginning and doing to my limit. I decided to specialize in a language, which I never learned before. I was planning to learn Russian, which, in spite of the language of a neighboring country, I did not know well. But I failed to enter the university that I desperately wanted to go to. I had to study for the next chance. My motivation to learn Arabic was born in that period, when I watched news about the devastating damage to Iraq during the Gulf War. I found that people always follow figures and numbers in news and soon forget about human’s face. I wondered why it happens. I wanted to deeply know about the Middle East, the place of conflict, and then naturally, I developed interest in Arabic. I realized that I want to go there to find real faces of people, which we cannot see in news. I want to make it unforgettable information that captures public sympathy. That was the reason why I wanted to acquire the local language.

So, right after 1 year extra study and entrance into the university, you went to the filed?

I entered the Arabic faculty as I whished. During the spring vacation in the second year, I decided to go to the field. With my backpack, I visited Syria, Israel, Palestine, Austria, and Hungary. At that time, the situation in Palestine was unstable. People told me that it was dangerous to go, but I really visited there. I convinced them with two reasons: “I will visit my friend who studies in Syria and see the project Japanese people perform there.” Then I headed for the places.

However, after entering Jordan and planning to go to Palestine next day, an incident happened. I heard news that some people died because Israeli military attacked a Palestine jail in Jellico and gunfights happened. I had to give up going there, although visiting Jellico was my main purpose. Without any other choices, I changed the course from Jordan to Israel.

Next morning at a bus stop in Jordan, I asked in English to a bus driver to take me to King Hussein Bridge, the gate located in Israel. But this “King Hussein Bridge” was a trap. The names in English and Arabic are completely different. The English name of the gate on the Israel side “King Hussein Bridge” becomes “Marik Hussein”, if literally translated into Arabic. It is the gate on the Palestine side. Since the driver was an Arab, he misunderstood the word and took me to the gate on the Palestine side.

So, I came into Palestine by chance. Although it was just after the gunfights and bombings, I had the impression that everything seemed as usual there. I couldn’t find disruptions in the town. I happened to meet a Japanese journalist, who took me to the bombed place. The attacked jail was totally devastated. It was nothing but a pile of ruins. Smell of burnings and cartridges of bullets remained on the ground. I saw it with my own eyes, which I should have seen in news in Japan. I was shocked to know that Palestine was really a dangerous place.

Nevertheless, you went to Palestine for study. Why?

The trigger was a boy I met in the field. When I unexpectedly entered Palestine, a young local guy showed me around the town. He hit on me. When he finished the tour guide in the town right after the bombings, he said, “Why don’t we have a cup of tea?” (she laughs). At that moment, I remembered why I wanted to learn Arabic.

I didn’t want to know that the conflict area is surely a conflict area. Although many things are messy in the conflict area, people have common daily life, which is not reported. I wanted to see the real faces of people. Even in the conflict area, people fall in love and pick up girls on the way. There is no difference from other countries. I have decided to study Arabic, since I wanted to dig such things up and deliver them to people. By remembering it again, I thought I would live here. So I decided to study abroad.

How was your student life there?

A photo taken in her student days in Palestine. A number of sheep are marching in front of houses. It is a poetic scenery.

I stayed 10 months in Palestine and 3 months in Israel. In Palestine, after waking up in the morning, I went to the university and studied Palestinian issues in English. After that, I studied Arabic in Arabic language. The classes finished after lunchtime. I spent a slow life, playing with children in a refugee camp, going back home and then, sleeping.

I also studied language and politics in Israel. I felt that it was necessary for outsides to listen to the opinions on both sides in order to solve the Palestine issues. The points of view of Palestine and Israel on the Palestinian issues are completely different. Palestinian’s view is the massive violation of human rights by Israel. They believe that “Israeli’s occupation of the territory is the primary problem. We could enjoy our life, if Israel doesn’t do such things.” They lack human life due to political issues.

Beautiful flowers decorate the gate of her boarding house in Palestine.

Ms. Namiki watches the walls separating Palestine and Israel, when visiting Bethlehem with her friends. The walls seem to contain far larger problems than their actual size.

They can’t go out nor travel abroad from their land, which has the size of Ibaraki prefecture.

Israel, on the other hand, struggles to escape from fear. I found that they couldn’t be free from the fear of Palestinians. They have no other choices but to confine and criticize Palestinians. They have a lot of domestic problems, too. So, they can unite their nation by regarding Palestine as an enemy. It seemed to me that they were in such a situation.

How did you enjoy your student life?

In front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem together with her friends. The number of friends increased as her Arabic improved.

The more I could speak, the more I could understand about the framework of the issues between Israel and Palestine. I was enjoying the process. At the beginning, I couldn’t understand their language – I couldn’t get even the price of snacks (she laughs). My Arabic was not useful in daily life even though I had studied it for 2 years and a half. Because they used a lot of dialects, my standard Arabic was insufficient for communication… I was shocked to know that I can’t survive unless I study hard. But, since I had properly acquired the basic Arabic in Japan, I became able to have communication and simple conversation after 3 months.

During my stay, I was blogging every day. It was a fun as well. I realized that I could contribute to deliver the real faces of Palestinians, when a Japanese told me that he changed his view about Palestine after reading my blog written in the eyes of a university girl. As I recall it now, I might have written a lot of embarrassing things, too… (she laughs).

What kind of career did you have before taking the present one?

A photo when she worked in a company. After leaving the company of clicking donations, she did many kinds of jobs like factory worker, assistant to a professor of a graduate school, and so on.

Honestly speaking, I never thought that I would make a living by working at NGOs. After graduating from university, I started working for an IT venture enterprise, which manages clicking donations. My university friend in Palestine had invited me there. I did everything needed, because there were few people in the company. I served tea, collected data, made planning and moderation of events by myself. I learned basics of work at this company. But, I decided to leave it after about 3 years including the intern period. This was because I wanted to come back to Palestine. I got several pieces of information from an NGO, which we indirectly supported through clicking donations. I started thinking that I would like to work at a place much closer to actual scenes overseas. After that, while doing several jobs, I got involved in an NGO thanks to a friend of mine. I became a secretary-general of the organization, which supported disabled people in Sudan. I learned in practice a series of work necessary for NGOs. While I was spending such days, a former secretariat of the Palestinian project of JVC asked me, “I am looking for my replacement. Are you interested in working for Palestine?” I decided to get the interview, and I am here now. I believe that my previous careers were to acquire knowledge and skills necessary for working at JVC. Everything I ever had is connected to the present.

You have experienced a lot of things. Please tell us your motto (words to live by) and why you choose it.

“Fear those who do not care.” (Bruno Jasienski)

I believe that, when one is influenced and moved, it is always linked with one’s complex. My complex is to be labeled. I was frequently given a label of elite student since my childhood. I regretted that my real personality was not recognized. For example, I was expected to enter a high-grade school that I didn’t wish to go. Likewise, international society seems to make a blind assumption to Palestinian, such as “scary” or “misery” just for the reason that they are Palestinian. Is this labeling true? It might be because people don’t know their real face. I don’t want someone’s rail to be set by the label that majority put on with indifference. Although the Palestinian issues are political matters, with the voices of many people, we might reach a position where a single person never achieves to come to. In order to make a move on politics, I wish many people had interest. I would like to endeavor for that. That is the reason why I have this motto.

Please tell us a secret fascination of Palestine, which only you may know.

Embroidery goods on sale at the JVC Tokyo office. They are so lovely with fine cross-stitch.

Palestinian women are really fashionable. Not only in Palestine but also in the Middle East, Muslim women cover their hair with “hijab” and they wear it nicely: dangling different colors with layering, matching the colors with shoes, and making it swelling intentionally. We might associate Islam with the image that women have to cover their hair, but indeed, they have their own tactics for the fashion and look like having fun by doing so. Palestinian’s embroidery is also overwhelming (the embroidery goods are available at JVC). They are sewed by women’s hands in refugee camps and are really elaborate and beautiful. I also tried it once but gave up (she laughs). I managed to make a bookmark, but if the size becomes bigger than that, you need substantial patience.

-[My impression after the interview]

She is a very active person, who honestly faces her work and goes straight. Her constant attitude toward Palestine would surely involve people around her in Palestine. Her talks also made me feel familiar with Palestine. (Watanabe)

-[Notice for the next interview!]

She often wears a turtleneck and says, “OK, I’ll do it!” She is a living dictionary of JVC, to whom many staff members are obliged.

The next person is “JVC’s living dictionary, manager, and an unsung hero for everyone.” She is taking care of interns as well (so, I can’t say ‘No’ to her…)

* The order of uploading the English version of “Staff Interview” is random and hence different from the order of the original Japanese version. We are sorry, but the person coming next may be different from the “next person to be interviewed” mentioned in the text.

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