Sabbatical Blog Post #11

Monday, 8 August

Today was my first day “teaching” at An-Najah University.  It was something of a bust.  First, my two years of Arabic classes have, in effect, given me the Arabic skills of about a 3 year old!  The 15 twenty-something Palestinians who showed up today were gracious, but you could see they were not impressed by my fluency in their language!

Moreover, I had envisioned young men and women struggling with English comprehension.  Instead, I discovered that these young people had better handwriting than I do, and were extremely capable of communicating in my language!  Public and private schools in Palestine, it seems, require SEVEN years of English for secondary graduation.  Then, at An-Najah, every student is required to take at least two additional semesters.  All courses incorporate English textbooks, and most examinations are given in English.  I was astounded by their facility.

I was also taken with the ambition of these students.  Many are here because their families have sold or mortgaged everything they own in order to get their kids an education.  Every one of them anticipates further study, with several of them stating a desire to earn a doctorate.  Information technology students comprised the majority, followed by engineering, medicine, business, and education.  Almost all of them express a desire to make a life in Palestine, but like Muhammed in yesterday’s post, they are not sure what the future will be here.  I wanted to hug them all!

So, what this little seminar will evolve into is a “how to” on being able to express themselves confidently in various situations: job interviews, social settings, and the like.  In return, I have asked them to help me become stronger in their language.

The best moment of the day was when one of the students asked me to talk about myself.  They were intensely interested in why this American was with them.  I shared the story of my love for Palestine dating back to 1987, before any of them were born.  When I shared with them my respect for Islam, and that I was fasting during Ramadan (all but one of the students is Muslim), they were fascinated.  They were also very interested in how Americans view Palestine and the Israel/Palestine situation.  I shared with them that what I most want to do in my time in Palestine is to be able to tell stories like these to my friends and family back home.

The homework assignment I gave them was to get on-line and “friend” me on Facebook.  EVERY ONE OF THEM has a Facebook page.  Their assignment is to read my posts there and to comment.  As that begins to happen, maybe some of you who are already my Facebook friends might see fit to connect with them as well.

The program at An-Najah under which I am working is called Zajel.  Long ago, I am told, a zajel was a bird.  Messages would be sent from village to village by means of putting little pieces of paper on the birds’ legs.  We might know this as a carrier pigeon.  The program title reflects the desire of An-Najah University to create means for people throughout the world to connect with the people living and struggling here in Palestine.  And so, for you my brothers and sisters in Ohio and elsewhere, I hope to be a Zajel.  I hope to create a few connections between us in America and these bright young people here.

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