Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dwindling Vocal Chords

Disclaimer: If you only have time to read a little, I would love it if you read down a little further instead of form the beginning, because I talk about my Palestinian family, which is a HUGE part of my life here.

I'm officially sick. That being said, so far I don't mind a whole lot. I'll take a small cold and dwindling voice over food poisoning any day. Honestly I'm more worried about my computer which keeps crashing, than I am about being sick. I
The day began with a slightly scratchy voice. By the time class time came around it was course, but still pretty clear. The after participating in an impromptu skit for the kids with the other teachers (which involved imitating a teacher known for her yelling capabilities) and a unruly class (last day before their biggest holiday), my voice started to wane. And i still had two classes to teach, which involved singing Happy Days enthusiastically and of course speaking loudly. Happy Days really did me in I think.

I spent the rest of the day and evening visiting with Kayan at her family's house about a 10 min walk away. I met two of her sisters, her mom, and her aunt. They were baking cookies for the Eid (big holiday here). I think I had like 6 glasses of drinks throughout the evening: soda, 3 glasses of tea, Turkish coffee and some really interesting but tasty version of hot chocolate. My voice got really bad at this point, which made speaking Arabic more difficult, but Kayan speaks some English so she translated a bunch which helped. It was really nice to just relax, and spend time with this incredibly nice and welcoming family.

I guess this would be a good time to explain who Kayan is, and how I came to know her. I''ll preface this story by explaining where I live. There are two buildings (each with a couple flats) within a separate walled area. The people living in these two buildings are all family in some way. We are at the bottom of one building, and what I have come to call my Palestinian family lives at the bottom of the other building. It started I guess on my first day in Nablus, when I was invited over to Besma (the mother in the bottom flat) invited me over. The whole family was there, including the family members that live above us (sorry if this is confusing).  I'm not sure what the next thing was after this initial welcoming, but basically between a series of Besma giving us incredible food, and me staying to chat after returning the licked clean plates (also washed of course), I began going over there regularly. Now I pretty much go to visit on a daily or bi-daily basis. I love going over there and chatting with Besma. She is so much fun to talk to, has a great sense of humor, and speaks slowly so I can understand. She knows some English, but we mostly communicate in Arabic, which has been undeniably helpful in improving my Arabic. I'm nowhere near fluent, but I am definitely improving. It is becoming more natural to say everyday phrases in Arabic. The biggest challenge is going to be building my vocabulary. Anyway, in addition to our chats over coffee, tea, or some other food/beverage, I also get to spend time with the other family members in that house.

The Dad is so...i'm trying to think of the right word...good-natured or jolly would be the closest...and sweet, and the interactions between him and Besma are just so loving, and I can tell they really respect each other. He kind of reminds me a little of my Pop-pop when he was alive, just in his mannerisms and look. That's probably another reason I like him, on top of everything else. Besma and Mohamed have 7 kids total, the 2 youngest of whom are still living with them. Taib is 11 I'm pretty sure, and Mahdi (or as I have officially knighted him Ma-D) is 21 (just about).

Taib cracks me up. He is an 11 year old boy that speaks like a 35 year old cosmopolitan, or perhaps wallstreet man. His English is excellent and his vocabulary is surprising for even an English speaker of his age. H watches a lot of American movies apparently, and his older brother who lives above them and is married to Kayan (my aforementioned friend) taught him English growing up. He's a great kid, and so so so so cute! It makes me think of my little baby brother (ok i know he's 14 but he'll always be my little baby bro).

Then there's Ma-D. I guess since we're the same age its logical for us to be friends. But above and beyond any kind of logic, he is a really great guy, someone I would want to be friends with anywhere anytime. I really enjoy talking to him, and as we have gotten to know each other it turns out we have a lot in common. I'm really really lucky because if he hadn't been my neighbor, we probably would never have met. This is a  conservative city, so interactions between men and women are pretty regulated. I feel really blessed that he lives next door and we are able to be friends. He speaks English I would say nearly fluently, if not fluently, so when he's around he translates sometimes when there are things Besma and I aren't able to communicate clearly. He is also helping me with my Arabic: when I need to know how to say something I can ask him. And after the Eid we're going to exchange Arabic lessons for Spanish lessons (he loves languages too). We're waiting until after the Eid because his schedule has been really crazy lately. He has exams, and on top of that has to work extra because of the upcoming holiday (picture retail stores one week before Christmas or the weekend after Thanksgiving, etc.). Basically he's a super hard worker.

The hospitality and welcoming that Besma (which by the way means smile in Arabic)  and her family has blown me away. I mean Arab hospitality in general is an astounding phenomenon and something I was already aware of, but this is more than anything I could have possibly expected. Like every time I go I come back with food. For a while I felt terrible about it and was terrified she felt obligated, but began to realize that this it wasn't like that at all. I think the moment I really realized it was when she told me I am like a daughter to her, and since then on numerous occasions she and other members of the family have told me I am family now.

Recently I started hanging out with Kayan, Besma's daughter in law. She is 23, and we get along really well. Between her English and my Arabic we are able to communicate pretty well. Its really exciting because she is my first female Palestinian friend, and I really like her. She is so sweet and of course welcoming. I mean she took me to her family's house after just meeting me! I'm really excited to spend more time with her and become better friends.

Then there is the family above us: our host family. They are also so incredibly sweet and welcoming. The Mom Abeer had us all over for dinner the other night and it was sooooo good!!! The son Husam who is finishing up high school is a lot of fun. He's a total jokester (I've labeled him snarky mc snarkeyson). He is also always so willing to help. He's fixed our cable, brought us gas tanks for hot water and cooking, and offers to help with any other little problem we may have. He also wished us a Happy Halloween and said he wished he could make us feel more at home. It was really sweet. He really always tries to make us feel at home. Also very smart and ambitious like Ma-D (theyre cousins).

My dilemma: basically, I was just told recently not to become too chummy with neighbors (too late for that). The bosses don't want us to. The reason is that in the past they have had an issue where they were chummy with a neighbor who would come over a bunch, but turns out she gossiped about them and damaged their reputation, which is not good for the school. This is a big city and small town in one I guess. So I understand where they are coming from. However, I know for sure that this won't happen with my family, and I don't have anything to gossip about regardless. Like the woman they had a problem with would come over and snoop around....whereas I always go over there.

 If they had told me when I first got here....I honestly don't know what would have happened. I'm glad they didn't tell me until it was already waaaayyyyy too late. I know that being with the family is right, not wrong in any way. I mean I missed going there one day, and the next day when I went over Besma grabs my hands and asked me where I was and then ushers me into the living room, shares a blanket with me (its getting chilly here) and tells me I'm one of the family. Like I said I see the school's point, but I KNOW that I am not in danger of that situation happening to me.

Ok I rambled on a bunch now. This has quasi become my journal since writing cramps my hand and takes up too much time, and my journal handwriting is illegible anyway, even to myself. I need to lesson plan now. I started this post last night (wednesday) but had to finish the next morning (thursday) because my computer kept shutting itself off (HUGE prayer request that this works out simply and cheaply...basically I cannot do my job without a computer as I make all my worksheets and materials pretty much). My voice is totally gone now, so Im going to stay in today (private school doesnt have English today, and I had to cancel my refugee class because I literally cannot talk. I would normally go into the school to do work, print out materials, make posters, but I think its best to stay in. I want to be able to travel a little over this week-long break!!!!) So NOW I need to work on my lesson plans for the week after break, so I can do materials next weekend when I'm back and better. Hasta Luego

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