My last entry was the night I arrived here in Nablus – already over 2 weeks ago! Funny thing: not five minutes after I posted it, the power went out here – it was about midnight. That’s been a somewhat regular occurrence since then. As I scrambled around for my little bug-shaped light that I had brought, I heard a knock at the door. My landlords from downstairs were at the door with two candles for me. How sweet! And that’s how it goes in Palestine.
I really haven’t come up for air until today, the first day of school (Sunday). The first full day I was here Chloe and I stayed late revising the faculty handbook. She is great to collaborate with — but almost too easy! She keeps deferring to me! Otherwise, the first week we (i.e. the foreign staff, 20+) spent taking care of basics like getting bank accounts, cell phones, groceries, and getting to know each other. We had a lovely dinner at the principal’s house one night. Another night we feasted at a restaurant with a spectacular view atop one of the two hills that frame the city of Nablus. One afternoon we took a walking tour of the city – the school is definitely on the outskirts, but it’s only a 10-shekel ride or so to get downtown.
Another evening the teachers went bowling. I passed on that. Every spare moment I worked on my training sessions that were to start on Sunday.
My apartment is spacious and sparse. Since it’s new construction, it’s furnished with the bare bones at this point. We’re working on that ;). It’s on the second floor of a building just a 5-minute walk from the school. Downstairs are the landlords: a young family with two cute, energetic little boys – ages 4 and 7. The night I came home from the hill-top restaurant they invited me in for Arabic coffee. It seems like everything you drink here is caffeinated. I’m going to have to get my resistance built up for that. The wife studied English in college and was anxious to give it a try. Really sweet! It was great to make the connection, well worth the caffeine buzz at 10 pm! (That’s when my stash of Benadryl comes in handy… thank you, Fran.) The next day was Friday, the first day of the weekend. Prayers are at noon. There’s a mosque across the street, my other neighbor. The first morning after I arrived when the call for prayer came over the loudspeaker, it nearly blasted me out of bed. It’s pretty loud. And the speaker is basically pointed at my windows! The volume is probably designed to be heard quite far away, so for those of us who are close – well, there’s no missing it! I do think I’ve slept through it twice now – miraculously enough! Either that or the power was out those mornings. I still can’t believe I slept through it! Actually I overslept one morning this week and looked out. Normally the mosque is lit up with green (someone will have to explain that to me…. Not sure why) – but it was all dark. So I think my guess that the power was out might have been correct.
You may have read on Facebook how a young man came to my door that first Friday with a plate of warm pita bread and zatar. He said the food was from his mother and wouldn’t I please come to their house for lunch at 3:00. It just made me weep. Here’s this family – to whom I am a complete stranger/foreigner/someone who represents a potentially adversarial country – and they’re bringing me food and inviting me to lunch! I had to decline – I was heading over to the school for the afternoon. I’m hoping I might get another chance though! I am so humbled by the hospitality here. I wish we could take on just a fraction of it! Just a fraction.
So – our workweek is Sunday – Thursday and last Sunday was when I launched my training. My charges are 12 lovely young teachers. Some have teaching experience: Thailand, Cairo, Sudan. 2 are from the UK, 3 are locals here from Nablus, and 7 from the US. I started with presenting second language acquisition, most of the material being from my UIC class, and soon realized that I needed to dial things back a bit. It was all new to them and more than a tad overwhelming.
Nevertheless – we did workshops on classroom management, zone of proximal development and gradual release, what to do the first day/week of school, and more! Poor things were beyond saturation point. But! There was a method to my madness. These first days, visiting classrooms and checking in with teachers– we have enough of a common language for me to refer to what we talked about during the workshop. Not having a common language would render it hopeless. So I’m glad – even though it was a lot. It was a crash course in education! In one week.
Two workshops we did with the whole staff. Students at the school in grades 1-3 get 2 hours of English per day. The rest of their day is with a teacher who teaches them core subjects in Arabic. In grade 4 and up, they also get math in English, grades 6 and up, they also get science in English. For all practical purposes, it’s a dual language program! Seniors take 6 (I think!) SAT subject exams. Sounds pretty rigorous. It was great to see the local Arabic staff and the English-speaking staff getting to know each other.
All the while parents were coming in throughout the week, buying uniforms for their kids, getting supply lists, the usual.
Monday night the principal asked me to meet with her and the man who is the head of the board for the school. How impressive! They want students to get critical thinking which is something I was never able to convince anyone of last year at the Lutheran schools! They want to expand. “We want a manual so we can use it to open more schools.” They are so happy to have me here. I don’t think I’ve ever been so appreciated! And I’ve hardly gotten started!!
Thursday evening we had a potluck at my place – just my team. That was fun — though way too hot and the air circulation in here is not great. Everyone was pouring sweat. I’m told it got good reviews nonetheless.
That was one of the reasons that I requested a larger place. As Connie says, I get to be the “den mother” to these wonderful young people. I hope I can provide a space where they can come and enjoy an evening. Lord knows I’m not a great cook – but I can make food happen. Luckily one of our local English teachers convinced her mom to make Makloubeh, my all-time favorite Palestinian dish with rice, cauliflower, and chicken. You can believe I was in heaven! In addition we had brownies, stuffed dates, sautéed veggies, kofte, cucumber salad, Thai chicken, and I’m probably forgetting something! It was yummy and fun to have this place filled up with laughter and conversation.
The administrative assistant who keeps everything running at the school took me shopping Wednesday afternoon. It was like Dollar Store extravaganza! Dishes, tea cups, coffee cups, 2 clocks to spruce up the walls, a plastic chest of drawers, serving dishes, utensils, etc. etc.
My kitchen has beautiful and somewhat dramatic woodwork. That’s the only storage in the place at this point so I have all kinds of things stashed in those cupboards. Granite countertops, a nice-sized fridge. For a stove, I have two gas burners hooked up to a canister of gas. For an oven there’s a contraption about the size of a microwave that is apparently an oven. I’d love to get a batch of cookies baked in there at some point! No microwave. My favorite feature of the kitchen is an appliance I’ve always had to descend several flights of stairs to reach in my 30 years of living on my own. A washing machine!!!! No dryer – but a dryer rack. Today the humidity here was 70% — I’m pretty sure it was 40 something one day. Stuff dries in no time! The floors are a beautiful shiny tile. I have a blue bathroom and a orangey bathroom – both with really beautiful tile! So if you Facetime with me and it sounds I’m calling from an echo chamber – I kind of am!
We had parent meetings on Wednesday and Saturday. Ooh boy. When you’re paying top shekel for your kid’s education, you want to know! How are we going to attend to the whole child when we discipline? How are we going to manage the loose paper better than last year? We want hard homework! We have too much homework! My kid doesn’t have perfect pronunciation (of English!) in second grade! How are you going to challenge my child? How are you going to accommodate my child? I gave them my 5 tips for a successful school year including getting 11 hours of sleep per night and 30 minutes of screen time per day. They just laughed. Oh well – you have to start somewhere!
Lana, the principal, knows everyone – kids and parents. She is amazing. She’s not an educator per se – but she has been the principal the whole ten years. And now, this year, they –we — will graduate the first senior class! It’s really quite a feat. She was raised in the US but came here as a young adult and is by heritage Palestinian. She’s the perfect example of a bilingual, bicultural person – equally comfortable in either language and culture. Chloe, who was the person I had the Skype conversations with is equally amazing and is Lana’s right hand. Chloe O’Conner speaks Arabic totally comfortably, knows every student, loves! every student. I haven’t even seen her flustered once. She’s totally low key and lives and dies for the school. It’s all an amazing labor of love.
I had my first “office hours” for parents today from 10-12 (it’s Wednesday now) in my little office. One wanted to tell me about her daughter’s health issues, one was concerned because her daughter had been raised in Canada until first grade and is resisting Arabic here. Such universal concerns. And two really nice parents. I needed a translator for one meeting. One of the Arabic teachers at the school seemed happy to do that. They were really positive experiences. (Eva, do you see your frog?!?!)
So school started on Monday.
I tried writing this Monday and fell dead asleep at my computer. We have to be at school at 7:15 – yikes! The morning assembly starts at 7:45. Kids are picked up at 2:45.
It’s a pretty long day. The good news is I’m woken up at 4:30ish anyway by the call to prayer across the street – so I can still squeeze in a little workout, breakfast, etc. before I walk the 5 minutes to school. The one day – yesterday – that the mosque was dark I kept snoozing my phone til it gave up – thinking the call to prayer would save me. Well – I need to start getting my tired behind out of bed and that means getting my tired behind into bed at the right time. I don’t know if I’m still adjusting to the time zone at this point, but my body wants to go to bed at 11:30 and I should really be in bed latest 9:30.
We have one week next week of school, then a week’s break for Eid. That’s a pretty sweet way to start a school year – at least from this vantage point! I’m looking forward to heading to Ramallah and Bethlehem to catch up with my peeps down there!
And go to church! I have not been to church in 4 weeks. That hasn’t happened in decades. But I just heard from the Episcopalian priest here in Nablus tonight – he sent his phone number. So – we’ll get that pie spinning here pretty soon.
LOVE to you all in your respective corners of God’s beautiful earth!
Thanks for your love and prayers and good wishes.