My Balata students never cease to amaze me.
This semester has been off to a rough start in Balata, as only 5 or 6 students from last semester are coming, and about 20-25 new students are showing up to the first class. After registering the students, and permanently kicking out the trouble makers, I now have a pretty regular 20 students with a few extra that come irregularly. I did not like these new kids at first. I wasn’t used to their rambunctiousness and they weren’t used to my style of teaching. After some tough love and a very stern Miss Casey at the beginning, they have begun to understand my rules, and I have begun to become my goofy and lighthearted self in front of the white board. I enjoy them now, all their quirks and attitudes taken into account.
The second class had all my favorites returning, although without the consistency that is needed for a good class. And on top of that, they have been speaking in Arabic deliberately and without regret. I love them to death and I make it a point to be lenient on them, but at the same time, I think some tough love may be in order.
But as I said, my Balata students never cease to amaze me. Heavy rainfall today didn’t bode well for students showing up to school. For some reason rain is taken very seriously here and people, especially children, are hesitant to leave their homes. I’ve noticed however, that a fair number of my Balata kids come on rainy days. My first class only had about 9 students, but those 9 came in soaking wet and eager to learn. It was definitely the most fun I’ve had with them thus far this semester. One of the girls I couldn’t stand a month ago is now one of my best students, and I love having her in class. Then, in my second class only three girls showed up, two of which were already at the center because their father works there. The other one told me how her parents had had a disagreement over whether or not she could come. Needless to say, she was allowed. They talked in Arabic a lot, but instead of ending the class I decided to try something different. I put on the Happy Days Theme Song and The Lion Sleeps Tonight (two songs they learned last semester and loved) and we all started dancing to them, Middle Eastern style. If you know the songs and anything about Middle Eastern dancing, you know they don’t exactly blend together, but graceful movements and harmony weren’t the focus: laughter was. We all sang at the top of our lungs, and since it was girls only, danced without shame or embarrassment (not allowed to dance in front of men).
However, the best part of the day was being invited to two of my students’ home. Mohamed and Salsabeel are both in my first class and have been coming since last semester. They’re both really bright, and as I found out today, twins in 5th grade. After class ended they approached me and asked me to come to their house. Last semester I was likely to try and excuse myself, but my immediate reaction this time was “when?” I told them I had to teach another class but I could come after. So after my last class was finished, I walked outside and saw Mohamed standing there, umbrella in hand. He led me back to his house, offering me his umbrella, which I politely declined as he definitely needed it. I was welcomed warmly my Mohamed and Salsabeel’s mother and two younger sisters. She sat me down next to their gas heater, chatted for a minute or two, and then told me she would bring me dinner. I then met Mohamed and Salsabeel’s older sister who is 19 and a student at one of the local universities. Apparently they have another sister who is my age but she is married and therefore doesn’t live with them. Mohamed’s mom brought out avocado, bread, yogurt and grape leaves stuffed with rice. The food was delicious and was followed by tea and Arabic coffee (which is the reason I am writing this as it is midnight and I’m not at all ready to sleep). They put on the 19 year-old’s engagement party video and we chatted in Arabic about the kids, education, me, them and other little things. The kids showed off their English reading and speaking skills, which made me realize they’re definitely ready to move up to the higher class—it was the perfect opportunity to tell them, especially as Mohamed brought it up. I got to meet their father as well before I headed out into the rain. I have an open invitation to return and was invited to the sister’s wedding in September (should I be here).
They’re hospitality and kindness doesn’t surprise me, as that is a well-known trait of Palestinian families, but it does amaze me--every time. I wish everyone could come to Palestine and experience the warmth of being welcomed into a Palestinian household. It truly is quite amazing.
Right after that I got into a service (cab with a specified route and standard low fee) with perhaps one of the bubbliest drivers I have ever run into. He immediately greeted me with a resounding Kifik (how are you) several times and asked me a bunch of questions. Then he went on to say he only knows a few words in English including the infamous "what's your name" (get that a lot) and "how many books are on the table?" He then asked me what "how many books are on the table?" was in Arabic. I translated and he giggled a bunch and said something I didn't understand. The he drove me down past the drop-off point that I paid for so that I wouldn't have to walk far in the rain. It was really very nice of him. I was really glad when someone else got in the cab needing to go further down the road. Palestinian hospitality: love it.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on all the many experiences I’ve had since coming to the West Bank four months ago. It’s truly hard to believe I have only been here four months, as it seems like I’ve been here for over a year. Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve packed in so many challenges and life experiences into such a short amount of time. I’ve been tried and changed in just about every aspect of my life--in some way or another; and despite the harsh realities I’ve had to face and the hurdles I’ve had to jump, I can’t think of a single notable regret. I don’t think I could be more satisfied with my overall experience in terms of personal growth, knowledge gained and friendships formed. Oh and did I mention? I love my kids!