'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...'
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?'
'Ummm... Miss Sara?'
'Can I go please?'
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.