Alright, seeing as I've been volunteering at the Fauzi Azar Inn for pretty much two weeks now (excluding the days I was in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), I can finally, with total confidence, give you the gist of the place and my duties as Volunteer Supreme.
About the Fauzi
I know earlier I provided some background information concerning the Inn that I took directly from its website. However, now that I've actually seen and experience the place, I can tell you about its history and characteristics with a few more details.
How the Fauzi Came to Be
The Fauzi Azar Inn was originally an extremely gorgeous mansion belonging to a wealthy Arab family, the Azars. However, when the War of 1948 occurred and the state of Israel was created, the majority of the citizens of Nazareth fled to nearby countries- mainly Lebanon. Fauzi Azar (the head of the Azar family and the owner of the house) was the only one in his family, as well as one of the only Arabs in town, who chose to remain in Nazareth- he couldn't bear to give up his magnificent house.
After successfully living alone for some time, one day disaster struck for Azar- fire! In the process of saving the carpets of the mansion, Azar suffered intense burns that sent him to the hospital and eventually caused his death. The magnificent house sat empty for many years, as the rest of the family didn't want to live there, but couldn't bear to part with it.
The Inn may very well have remained empty until it crumbled to the ground from lack of use, had a young Israeli backpacker named Maoz not happened upon it. Maoz was a visionary who believed that not only would the house provide the perfect location for a hostel, but the city of Nazareth would be the ideal spot to begin a hiking trail he was developing with an American friend- what would later become known as the Jesus Trail. But convincing the surviving family of Azar that opening a B&B in their old, prized home was a laborious process, so I'm told. Maoz got in contact with the granddaughter of Azar, Suraida, and while she was not convinced by his proposal, she agreed to pass on his contact information to her mother for further discussion. I'm not quite sure how long the issue was debated, or who finally gave in, but eventually an agreement was reached that allowed Maoz to open his hostel, with Suraida as co-owner and her grandfather's named immortalized in the name.
The hostel opened in 2005, and since then has accrued an amazing reputation. [Sorry if the next part sounds like a preachy ad- I'm just not sure how else to convey its awesomeness....] The Fauzi consistently receives highly rated reviews on travel sites, is top pick in Lonely Planet guides, was awarded an Environmental Tourism Award in 2011, and has received TripAdvisor's "Travelers' Choice" Award for the years 2012 and 2013. Plus, the Jesus Trail is constantly getting more and more press for being an impressive hiking trail that roughly follows Jesus's path as he performed his miracles. Though of course non-Christian pilgrims walk it for the scenery as well. [Oh, and Tony Blair visited the Fauzi a few years ago. How about we start a petition for Obama to come by next month....?]
What Makes the Fauzi Special?
I'd like to think after five months of staying in a wide variety of hostels, I've a pretty good idea of what a hostel is- and what makes one good or not. Hostels span a wide spectrum, from the crazy party ones on one side to the super chill, laid-back ones on the other. I've discovered my personal favorites tend to lie closer to the party side, but with a good dose of relaxation thrown in as well.
The Fauzi embodies all that a decent hostel should. And then it goes a bit beyond. Features that all hostels tend to have include:
-cheaper accommodations than hotels
-both dorms and private rooms
-an available kitchen for guest use (some are even affiliated with a bar/cafe)
-free coffee all day and some sort of free breakfast
-a common area meant to foster meeting people
-routine activities, whether it's trivia night, Sunday afternoon BBQs, open mic night, or a pub crawl
-help in setting up tours
-a book exchange
Fauzi is special (in my opinion), thanks to:
-the unique free old city tour (purposefully leaves out the main tourist attractions, and instead focuses on the local community)
-the amazing complimentary smorgasbord breakfast (delicious, contains a wide variety of traditional Arab and Israeli foods and is cooked by staff with actually culinary skills)
-the history you can feel radiating out from the aged, muraled walls
-the most in-depth (and longest) reception shpeil I've ever witnessed [I have to learn it by heart- a daunting task]
-and finally, one thing that I personally am most impressed by, is Fauzi's ties/commitments to the local community. Before the Fauzi, Nazareth literally had 0% gains from tourism. The city used to just be a tour bus stop where religious tourists would get out to ogle the churches and then pile back on to hit the next site. This day-trip tourism for solely the holy places didn't contribute at all to the local economy in Nazareth, and that may still have been the trend today had the Fauzi not opened and begun to market Nazareth as a place to stay for at least a few nights. Some absurdly large (maybe 80) percentage of businesses in the old city are recent developments that appeared only after the Fauzi began attracting tourists who came to see all of Nazareth, not just the Basilica of Annunciation (the largest church in the Middle East). The Inn promotes local restaurants, souvenir shops, market vendors, etc. to its guests, and in gratitude most Nazareth-based businesses give discounts to guests of the Fauzi Azar as a way to say thanks for sending patrons to frequent their establishments.
Enough yapping about the Fauzi, Cleome (we can tell you're infatuated), what do you actually do?
Right, my oh-so-difficult volunteering duties.... I bake cakes. I help with reception and answering the phone/guests' questions. Sometimes I choose which music to play. I take out the trash. I do dishes and make sure there's always hot water available for tea or coffee. I tidy up the kitchen and the lobby. I restock the free fruit bowl. I do whatever the staff (two bosses, four managers, a Mr. Fix-It and a handful of cookers/cleaners) ask me to. I get to talk with guests. I meet really interesting, varied types of people. I play chess with the other staff/volunteers. If nothing's really going on I'll read or write. Or check Facebook. Or plan my next trips out of Nazareth.
Pretty chill "work."
Now don't get me wrong- what we do as volunteers aids the Fauzi considerably. We accomplish the menial tasks required of running a hostel day to day. And like I said, it's not hard work, but I've had shifts where it felt like I spent the entire six or so hours rotating between washing dishes and bringing out tea trays for newly arrived guests. Just depends on the day.
Overall I'm a huge fan of this set-up. I work roughly six hours, five days a week. The shifts are either 7:30am-2pm, 1-7pm, or 6-11pm, so it gives you time to do stuff either earlier and/or later in the day. Plus in your two (generally consecutive) days off, you can get a bit further out of Nazareth than just a day trip. There's usually at least one other volunteer free to hang with, though longer trips are generally embarked upon solo. And during your shift you tend to get free time for about half of it, so it honestly doesn't even feel like work.
Plus, the travelers that pass through the Fauzi are incredibly varied. In the few weeks I've been here I've met families on vacation, religious tourists, school study-abroad groups, pro-Palestinian activists/documentarians/journalists, travel bloggers, avid hikers, and plain old curious backpackers that have heard of the Fauzi's amazing rep. I've gotten to meet and talk with incredibly interesting people who've taught me a lot. Or just had amazing conversations with the coolest people.
I'm feeling incredibly lucky right now.
Plus, I think I've convinced Moaz to get the Inn a guitar! Life is pretty damn good right now.