Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chapter 91 Cognitive Dissonance

(Somewhat) quietly working in groups. Little heads bent over sociology worksheets, arguing about what scenario would best present co-existing yet conflicting ideas.

Group work called to an end and examples asked for.

Hands waving, students standing up in an effort to be more visible, last minute negotiating on story details.

The first group:

"It's like when someone thinks stealing is wrong but will take money if they see it on the street and make up all these excuses why it's ok."

"uuuh kids, that's the example I gave you in the worksheet. It doesn't count"


"Told you! Miss Sara I told him!"

A few more lacklustre examples from the other groups.

The last group:

"It's like the people who say they hate Israel, but then go there anyway."

"Errmmm...." not a topic of conversation I generally encourage in class but this is, by far, the most coherent, relatable example anyone has come up with so far, and I wasn't relishing the prospect of having to re-explain the entire concept.

"Errrmmmm... ok. Let's go with that then. How can someone in this situation decrease the dissonance they feel?"

A moment of silence then a flurry of hands in the air:

"They can say things are cheaper in Israel."

"And things are better quality."

"Maybe they go there for work."

"Or their mothers make them go!" (These are 11 and 12 years olds after all...)

"They want to go to the sea! They have to go to Israel if they want to go to the sea!"

"What if they need medicine. They can go there for medicine."

Hours put into making a worksheet about a complex concept using simple, easy to follow examples and images.

All it took however was a few bright kids who live in a complex world making a simple connection.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chapter 90 Sleeping Inn

Nazareth is a great place to spend some time if you're going to be exploring Northern Israel, The Galilee or the Northern areas of the West Bank.

It's always a bit touch and go finding a reasonably priced hostel or hotel and not ending up somewhere where the sewage is coming out of the bathroom floor or you're surrounded by sketchy looking teenagers on a questionable holiday. 

We found a great place in Nazareth and, for anyone going, definitely consider it. The Fauzi Aar Inn.

Really lovely with very welcoming staff. It's also in a restored, 200 year old mansion.

Just saying.

All the info's on the website but here's some pictures to give you an idea of it anyhow.


The dorm room

An outside seating area.

A running fountain to add to the air of serenity

The breakfast room's walls are all hand painted

One of the private rooms

The entrance to the reception from the courtyard

A handpainted ceiling that has remained untouched for 200 years

The reception area

It's full of little touches like this that give it a really quaint but quirky feel

In the common area

Friday, 18 November 2011

Chapter 89 The Museum on the Seam

After much enthusiastic coaxing from a friend, I went to the Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem.

If you're into art and are ever in the area I would strongly recommend passing by. Artists from all backgrounds are featured and the work is thought provoking and smart.

A little virtual tour for you - a selection of art that I was both particularly struck by and able to properly capture on camera:

Ahmed Mater - Saudi Arabia

Mounir Fatmi - Morocco

Moataz Nasr - Egypt

Ann Mesner - USA

Ann Mesner - USA

Martha Rosler - USA

Jota Castro - Peru/Belgium

Thomas Hirchhorn - Switzerland

A close up of the images on the dress

Ubik - India "The Revolution Will Be Merchandised"

A view from the top of the Museum, overlooking West Jerusalem

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Chapter 87 Beautiful like this

'You look beautiful like this Miss Sara!' she exclaimed as the other children crowded around me enthusiastically, making noisy sounds of agreement.

I smile and adjust the hijab required to enter Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque.

The next day, in school - back to normal dress:

'Miss Sara?' He approaches hesitantly, 'Are you Muslim??'

I sigh inwardly. 'Yes Yousef, you know I'm Muslim. Haven't you all been asking me about this since last year?'

He looks confused. 'But...'

'But what?' I challenge him.

He looks me up and down helplessly and somewhat pointedly. 'But...'

'Yes Yousef...?'

Wishing he had never started the conversation he blurts out 'but I thought you were Christian!'


Miserable now 'Because... errrrr...'

'Yousef you know where I'm from right?'

'ummm Lebanon?' he replies warily.

'Yes good. You know in Lebanon there are many religions right?'

'mmmm... yes?' He scuffs his feet uncomfortably and looks longingly over at his friends who are talking and laughing instead of being slowly painted into a corner by a teacher.

'Yousef you know in America and Britain and all over the world there are Muslims, Christians and Jewish people right, and people who are none of these things?'

'... yesss?'


'Ummm... Miss Sara?'

'Yes Yousef?'

'Can I go please?'

'Sure Yousef.'

He scuttles off.

Compared to my own experiences, the children here are given a somewhat more rigid perspective on religion and culture.

The foreign teachers are foreign and therefore not expected to fall within the rule framework they are familiar with.

Me however; the Arab English teacher who is Muslim but does not necessarily talk, think or look like anyone in their immediate vicinity, poses them a problem of categorization.

There is no way for them to know that in many other Arab countries I blend in perfectly. That there exist whole spectrums of ways that people can comfortably self identify. 

So I understand the regular questioning about my religion and background. I am incongruous with what they have learned.

I'd like to think that there is no downside to seeing another perspective and surely none to widening one's perspective. Presumably we all learn a little something from our interactions with other people.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Chapter 86 Teaching for Palestine

The youngest scampers around in overflowing nappies, sucking tea from the teat of a soiled baby bottle. The others see dirty as normal and barefoot as life

The mother is pregnant with her eleventh child. She is 27.

A food drive organized at school will now feed them for a year.

A fraction of the food  collected during the week long food drive

A football league has been organized around Nablus.

Boys and girls from different socio economic backgrounds are coming together and playing against each other in after school friendlies. Girls from Askar Refugee Camp are playing girls from the Samaritan Village. Boys from Balata Refugee Camp are beating their wealthier counterparts from uptown Nablus.

There is little chance these children would ever have met and spent time together in a positive environment.

Many children at our private school are on scholarship. They are exceptionally bright children, many of whom live in the camps. These children are unlikely to have otherwise had access to a means to recognize their potential and take control of their futures.

These families, these children and stories like these are uncovered by an NGO founded by the director of our English department at school. Staffed by many of the same teachers, they work in the camps and around Nablus providing children with the same quality of English education we provide in our private school.

For free.

Teach for Palestine is primarily an education program. But in terms of its contribution to the community - it is much more. Through their work in the poorer areas of Nablus, TFP bridges gaps between those in need and those who can help them.

Kids from the private school often volunteer to come take part in and help out with TFP projects, breeding within them a sense of social responsibility.

TFP has grown so much over the past five years and they plan on expanding their work with Palestinian children around the West Bank and neighboring countries. Check them out, keep up to date with what they're doing and, if you can, donate.

It is, of course, primarily an education program. But it is also so much more.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Chapter 85 Opium

'Pffff... what about this UNESCO thing?' he exhales smoke noisily as he repeats my question back at me.

'I dunno... congratulations I guess.' I venture, shivering against the wind.

His face creases into a laugh, 'Ah well... sure, I guess. Thanks'

'The world's gotten pretty het about it huh? Nothing's gonna change though is it?'

'No no. Nothing will change. Things are going to get even harder, especially economically.'

'I heard the PA's raising taxes.'

Many complaints were being made about this new scheme to decrease Palestine's dependence on foreign aid. The main critique being that lack of jobs, rising prices and stagnant salaries was making equipping one's family with the basics a near impossibility already.

He shrugged his shoulders then leaned forwards to rub his eyes, 'yes they have - income tax, corporate tax... all that stuff. That's already going to be very difficult for people. Then there's the loss of the tax we receive from Israel. They'll cut that off if the UN bid goes through.'

'What taxes? Do they really constitute that big of an amount?'

'Ha! Do they? Every traveler that crosses through to Amman pays 140 shekels. That's hundreds of people a day. That's all money collected by Israel that they refund to the PA. That'll all be gone.'

'Wait so... if the UN bid goes through what does that mean for those borders?'

'Basically people who want to come visit the West Bank will have to apply for a visa, and people who want to go to Israel will apply for a separate visa. There won't be one for two anymore. And the Palestinian identity papers will be considered like a passport that can be used for travel.'

'You'd still have to apply for a visa though right? Like if you're Lebanese with Palestinian papers - visas are impossible to get for those.'

'Well yeah, but it would still be like a passport - just maybe not a very useful one.'

Gratefully accepting a hot cup of tea from the waiter, I cup my hands around it and briefly try to wrap my mind around it all.

'So... ahh hot... so if people have to apply for a visa to come here, surely that's a source of income for the PA isn't it?'

'Presumably yes.'

'Well what about Israeli Arabs who want to come here? Will they need a whole other visa? What about people from the West Bank who get permission to go into Israel - how will that work?'

'Well that's the thing', he taps his cigarette impatiently against the ashtray. 'It's just not well thought through. There are so many big question marks about how things will actually work. What the infrastructure will be like.'

I stir some more sugar into the tea, 'what about the people who are saying the PA is using this as a means to strengthen their position at the negotiating table?'

He leans back and clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

'No. This is not about negotiations. This is about keeping the people going. You remember before summer when Fatah and Hammas announced a reconciliation and had a meeting in Egypt? The protestors were calmed, after which it was all swept silently under the carpet. Prisoner exchanges are the same - it satisfies the public for a few months. This bid is no different. It gives just enough hope to keep people hanging on for a few more months. Keeps them quiet.'


He smiles at the reference. 'Exactly.'

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Chapter 84 What it's like for a kid

One of the first to put his hand up, he shakes his light brown hair out of his eyes and says in frustration:

'What do I do here after school? Sometimes I go learn how to play the saxophone then I go home and sleep. In America kids have football practice and a million other things they can do.'

Her dark eyes flashing she stands up and gesticulates to make her point :

'In other places people go to malls and the cinema. There are places for them to go sit. Every day after school I go home, study then go to bed.'

'All I want in my life is so see the sea. Why did they have to take this land?' He asks hopelessly, long limbs he has yet to grow into flailing about.

'I hate being Palestinian when the Israelis come in. Why should I have to worry about being killed or not having any safety?'

He is 10 years old.

'People throw all their trash on the street because they're too lazy to walk a bit to put it in the garbage.' Little trousered legs swing underneath his desk.

An arm waves around in excitement 'I went to Jerusalem once. Miss Sara it was so beautiful.'

'People here have no respect. They're always yelling at each other and threatening each other.' Murmurs of agreement from the rest of the class.

A dark boy with a shock of straight black hair stands up and addresses the class 'All of you here, you all want to leave right? No! You shouldn't. This is my country, I was born here and I will stay here!'

'I want to go somewhere else and have a good life.'

I could not have imagined such an innocuous essay topic could have taken such a turn.

I would not have presumed such well formed, passionate opinions from children so young. Or the depth of reason and emotional maturity, well beyond their years.

They are right. There are no structured activities for them to participate in after school. When school ends at 2pm, there is an entire day still left where they could still be learning, doing and growing. Instead, children either roam the streets or go home and study until their minds give out.

A colleague of mind was threatened by a child with a knife at our free after school English classes. A child who, had there been productive activities to channel his energies into, would never have found himself bored, unsupervised and armed.

Adults are frustrated and worn down by the difficulty of every day life. That flows down to their children, many of whom spend day after day with nothing to do but get into trouble in the streets.

What will become of these children? Things are not going to get easier any time soon. How far can they really go along these paths?