Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 19th

I just watched an episode of 30 Rock on my iTunes, in my room, in the middle of the day. I find myself thinking, well, when the wireless comes I’ll be much more productive. It takes about 45 minutes to complete one task like posting a Facebook note on Haj Sami’s computer. I managed to print off some pages for a debate I want to have in tonight’s English class, but Haj Sami asked me if this was for the children. The children? Haj Sami, are these the same guys from yesterday, or new students? He said he didn’t know, he will find out. So I don’t know how many students I have, what their levels are…it’s bound to be hectic in the first week, I know. If I had wireless I could conceivably print out a dozen pre-planned lessons ….but enough about the internet. Today we had a visit from an NGO called COOPI, one of the guys was Italian and had been in Darfur with the same organization for two years. They wanted to know how much Haj Sami would need to rent a steamroller for the demolished road. We spent a bit of time trying to think of the word steamroller.

Yesterday was my birthday. I woke up at 4am, polished off my bucket of Maltesers, and made some videos. My plan was to post a video every Sunday, but the dial-up (damn!) makes it impossible, so I’m just collecting footage for now. I wanted to go into Tubas to meet with Husam at the Governor’s office, so Haj Sami sent me there on the kindergarten schoolbus. This was an experience. It’s not a bus, it’s a van, albeit a nice one with curtains and nice seats, but there were maybe 25 kids crammed in there. They were just chattering away, standing up on the seats and packed into the aisle. One of the girls on her mother’s lap said something about the “shabak,” which means secret police, and I'm assuming she meant the Israeli soldiers that were in the village a few days before. Then she said, “mumnua,” not allowed. The teacher/mother exclaimed that she was so smart (shatr!)and kissed her on the cheek. We careened through Tayasir and Tubas, and I was the fourth student to disembark. I went into the governorate building, asked for Husam, and was shown up to the 3rd floor. Husam brought me to meet the governor, who was very nice and spoke good English. I don’t remember his name. We got approval to send some of their employees to Al Aqaba to take my English class. He invited me to a workshop on water issues in Tubas, and I said I didn’t have a lot of freedom of movement, but threw out, “I want to get a bike.”

Half an hour later, Husam and I were in a bike shop, and he said, “pick one.” A very merry, unbirthday to the Tubas Governorate!

It was a tough ride back to Al Aqaba. It was maybe 88 degrees and the terrain is nothing like New Orleans! I had to walk my bike up the hill to Tayasir, and whether I was walking or riding, groups of boys would just laugh and laugh. Fifteen minutes later, I stashed my bike in another bedroom in the apartment, and as I was about to call Haj Sami, he called me asking, “where is the biciclet?” Of course, he knows. Husam had called him. I went to see the Haj and he was still half-smiling when he threw up his hands and exclaimed “why????” I tried to laugh it off. He said it’s no good for girls to ride a bicycle alone, there are many boys in Tayasir and they will ask, where does she live? And it’s no good. I know he was concerned for my safety. I could ride around Al Aqaba and to his brother’s house, but it’s no good. I liked the idea of being the first girl to bike from Tubas to Al Aqaba, but if the taxi is only a dollar it’s not that important. But maybe I’ll do it again.

Class went pretty well, I need to get the guys to talk more. Their levels really range, and I remember how intimidating it was to talk in Advanced Spanish with native speakers, so I’m trying to think of ways to get them out of their shells. We sang Seize the Day from Newsies, had a debate on violence in the media, and translated the UN Statehood bid pamphlet that I found in the governor’s office. Halfway through making copies, Mustafa went to the office shelf and showed me about 200 copies of the same pamphlet.

After class, Mustafa took me to one of the houses in the villages, where Haj Sami was visiting. We all sat in chairs in front of the house, drinking sweet tea and trying to speak each others’ language. Mostly I listened to them talk to each other. It’s amazing what you can see in people even when you don’t know what they’re saying. This family is really down to earth. I loved watching the mother banter with Mustafa, her 5th grade son and her 10th grade daughter. The only boy, Sudki, is so charming. He asked me to sing in Spanish, so I sang Shakira. When the rest of the mothers showed up, they asked me to sing English, so I sang Newsies. Then in Arabic. I could only sing Amr Diab, but they knew all the tunes. When Haj Sami came back from praying, he said, this not good. Just the one I teach you, salala wa alay u Mohammad, salala wa alay u asalam. From these pseudo-jokes I’ve gleaned that he wants me to wear skirts and dresses instead of pants, and sing about Mohammad instead of crooning like Amr Diab. And no boys in the apartment! Damn! Actually, that was pretty direct.

We had a great time. Looking around I realized how much I was missing out on by not understanding Arabic. I could see everyone’s personality shine through, and imagine what our relationship would be like if we could converse. Haj Sami echoed my thoughts, “I will teach you Arabic.” and he began with “masa al-kher,” good evening. I know, but can you teach me to conjugate in the past tense?