Yesterday, I sat in on the final session of a women’s English class. The women were reading essays on social issues that they had written over the course of the class. Early marriage, education and unemployment were all popular topics. In the lively discussion that followed, I learned about life for a woman in the city of Nablus. Women spoke over each other in a rapid stream of Arabic and English. It was as though they had simply been waiting for a space to express their thoughts, or for someone to ask their opinion. Now that they had that opportunity, no language barrier or hesitation in English was going to stop them.
The most interesting thing I learned grew out of the discussion on early marriage. One woman said that there should be a law against marriage before a certain age. Another woman quickly interjected that in fact there was a law- it is illegal to marry a girl before the age of 18. All the women nodded, even the one who had just told a story about her brother marrying a fifteen year old girl. The other teacher and I exchanged confused glances- were the women suggesting that all early marriages (as a far as I could tell, a common occurrence here) were technically illegal? As the discussion continued, the issue became clearer. Because the Islamic calendar has fewer days than a standard calendar, a woman’s Islamic age may be 18, even if her true age is younger. The woman can then use her Islamic age to marry earlier.
What amazed me was that the women (who all claimed to speak “terrible” English when introducing themselves to me) were easily able to communicate with me about these complex and controversial topics. In the next few weeks as I begin teaching this class, I look forward to trying to convince these women that whatever their language skills, they are all already amazing communicators.
Nervously, I began my first Community English class on Monday this week. With less than a little Arabic, I was worried my elementary/beginner students would have a hard time understanding an entirely English lesson. However, after playing a short icebreaker and having each student say a line or two about themselves, everyone seemed to be jelling well. Several of the students even stayed after class to ask me specific questions about short essay they were asked to write on their studies or work.
One of the students was Ayman, a TYO volunteer who works at the nearby juice shop. We chatted a bit, and I explained how to talk about where he works and what he does in English. Only a few hours later, Ayman was giving me the language lesson. During a walk through the neighborhood, one of the other interns and I decided to stop for a refreshing juice. Ayman was working and took the time to teach me how to order and how to say the names of several fruits in Arabic.
The TYO International Internship is a constant learning experience and this week, I was struck by how important and influential simple community connections can be. Even if it is just exchanging a few English and Arabic terms, cross-cultural connections are imperative in fostering understanding and compassion between people. As the only American NGO in Nablus, TYO is an excellent place build these vital cultural connections for the future. I am looking forwarding to creating friendships and experiencing more of the Palestinian culture during the next two months.
Broom over the shoulder and a bucket of paste in hand, it was time to for the final stage of Nablus being turned InsideOut as part of a global project transforming personal identity into public artwork. After a busy week of orientation and preparation for teaching our summer classes, we joined up with students from the Triple Exposure Program on their way down to Faisal, the busiest street in Nablus, to install their portraits and messages for the world next to a TYO mural on the side of the road.
It did not take long before those walking by stopped to look at the installation in progress. Smiles came to their faces as they as they observed the beautiful pictures and read the powerful messages of these strong and talented youth.
“I’m determined to realize my dreams,” tells Sireen.
“I want to raise our thoughts to the next level,” Mahmouhd conveys.
“I hope 2 change Palestine for the better,“ Yazan wishes.
While the youth may be frozen in their still pictures, their words evidence that they are anything but in real life. With their dedication, thoughtfulness, and compassion, they are busy acting for good in their communities. While I may be teaching with TYO for the next two months, it is clear that there is much that the youth from El Ein, Balata, Old Askar, New Askar, Khallet al-Ahmood, and the Old City will be teaching me.