Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lice or Love

Perhaps part of the reason I’m writing now is from my lack of motivation to do lesson plans. After drawing a water nymph and part of a centaur appropriate enough for first graders in Palestine as a favor for my roommate, I’m not exactly in work mode. Reflecting seems much more appropriate.
It wasn’t the best of days for several reasons; although I really cannot complain, nor am I going to. I do, however, want to focus on an event that has resulted in a disturbing, yet necessary self-realization.
I headed to Balata right after school as usual. I was already feeling a bit drained and very contemplative, both things leading to a degradation of focus. Before I even started the first class, I had to kick two kids out for the day for punching each other. This proved to be even more of a hassle than I could have imagined as they both came back into the room multiple times, and I thus had to kick them out multiple times. On top of that, I had a couple groups of new kids walking in, trying to join the class, which I really can’t allow--or I will lose even more control over an already overcrowded class.
Then the door opened again. I nearly made a tasteless face of annoyance, bracing myself for either new students or the ones I had kicked out so many times before. I automatically made the “close the door” gesture, when I saw a familiar face pop her head in. Three more of those faces popped in, saw the gesture, and turned to leave until I quickly changed my demeanor and told them to join. I braced myself for a different reason this time, and rightly so, as I was met immediately with shouts of protest from the other students. I explained with aggravated gestures that the girls that had just walked in were not new because they came last semester. The protestations settled, but the looks of disgust remained. The girls sat down and immediately all the other students near them flinched and moved closer to the students on their other sides. The others couldn’t wait to tell on these girls for any offense possible, however small, hoping I would kick them out. Needless to say, they weren’t focusing on the lesson.
So who had walked in? Who were these children, that their very presence should warrant such disgust? Ghaliya, Celcity, Sally, and a youngin I hadn’t seen before. All four of them are sisters from a family of 11 (soon to be 12) kids; I believe one of the poorest families in Balata and thus most likely all of Nablus. I’d gander they could be one of the poorest families in Palestine, but I really have no proof at all to back that statement. They all live in an incredibly small apartment with their mother who can’t even keep track of them all—basically they’re street children.
I hadn’t seen them in months—they don’t come to class very often, and I’m sure they aren’t going to school as regularly as they should either. I know the organization I work for gives them food sometimes, but it’s evident that they’re not healthy. They looked noticeably dirtier today too, which says a lot as they haven’t ever looked clean when I’ve seen them. They all had various cuts and scrapes on their faces, indicative of life on the streets, and their hair was matted with all kinds of dirt, and most likely lice. They were somewhat properly dressed--thank God--since its been cold the past few days, but it wasn’t enough to be excited about. They were really quite subdued in class today, which was great as I didn’t have to kick them out; but the other children’s attitudes and lack of focus were enough to make me lose it.
When we went to the back to do the hokey pokey and head, shoulders, knees and toes, nobody would stand near them. Even I tried my best to keep my hair out of contact, as I was reluctant to get lice again—an attitude which made me realize I was no better than the students making faces.
After class had finished and I had spent 5 minutes trying to clear the classroom, I approached these girls last. Of course they weren’t leaving easily, but I had another class to teach and needed to set up. So I told them to come again tomorrow and the next day, and they seemed pleased with that. Then Sally came up and gave me a huge hug. For a second I cringed, thinking of the hassle of washing all my bedding and having to pick bugs out of my hair. Then I was overcome by shame for thinking of my own comfort first when I was presented with the opportunity to show love to a child who I’m sure rarely, if ever, feels it. I moved my arms all the way around her and lifted her off the ground a little. Her sister Ghaliya came up a few moments later, and again I swallowed my hesitancy and gave her a hug. I’m tearing up as I write, thinking firstly about those girls and the unjust cards they have been dealt, and secondly of how pathetic it was for me to put my lice concerns and past struggles with germaphobia before these kids. Even though I opened my arms up in the end, the fact that my mind and not my heart played first string makes me feel sick inside.  It was an important realization for me: that I had given my mind too much power, and had benched my heart—in all areas of life. My walk home gave me the space to think about how closed I had been to people in general lately in order to protect myself. And while, I know that for most things, a balance of love and logic is needed, I genuinely hope and pray that I never again second guess a moment to open my arms to a child, regardless of what else I’ll be hugging. 

As embarrassing as it is for me to admit all this, I really wanted to share about these girls without painting myself as their saintly teacher to the rescue. I also really needed to write this all down into a coherent train of thoughts, and this blog has pretty much become my journal for the time being. 

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