The Gaza Camp Diaries
This page is designed to have posts about our Teaching English at Gaza Camp project. This project started in May 2010 and has been going smoothly ever since. To know more about this initiative please visit our Facebook page oh and don’t forget to like it
Keep checking for updates also on this page . Happy Reading
After 22 Weeks
After the passing 22 weeks, 22 weekly visits, 22 lesson plans, 22 invitations, and over 22 calls about transportation, I have come to the realization that I am sticking around for some time for the Gaza Camp English Teaching project . I couldn’t have made such a statement when I went on the first visit to the camp last May. And I couldn’t even have made such a statement when I found myself running the project the weeks to follow.
It is only recently that people are asking me why I haven’t given this project space on my blog or in my writing in general and my answer simply was that I just didn’t want to be one of those pretentious people who volunteer once or twice in their lives only to post a few photos on their social media networks. Nor did I want to be one of those detached people who write long winded stories about volunteering and how it changed their life. I simply didn’t want to claim that this project is worthwhile until I truly believed that it was.
And, yes, I didn’t want to discuss the kids we teach every week as if I were the child psychologist of the year. Nor even claim that I completely relate to their issues, as no honest person can claim that they relate or understand what any other human being is going through fully. I just didn’t want to lie to myself, as I seriously have an issue with lying to myself before lying to others.
To be honest, it was never even my lifelong calling to help kids. And although, I have always been passionate about any worthwhile good cause, kids were just never on my agenda of interests. I was never even good with kids. I still am not always great with kids. And at times it is only my refusal to see anything good die that keeps me going in our classes of 40 wild kids or more every week.
In fact, I am going to be brave enough and say what most people never dare to say, I am going to honestly tell you that I first went into this project for purely personal reasons.
You see, last May, when the idea of this project came about, I was board, I was down, and I was at a point in my life where nothing bad but yet nothing fabulous was filling my time . I was at a point where I needed to throw myself into something new. And it was then that I just happened to read about this project as an event on the JCI Facebook Page.
Even back then, when I read the event details, I remember thinking, “oh well, why not.” I remember convincing myself that “it won’t hurt to try it out” I even told myself. “If it is terrible I just won’t join the week after”. And, that is simply how I went with five other people to the first class.
Unfortunately, there is no glamorous story to tell you really, no bright lights, no revelations, no light bulb glowing above my head, and no speech about my passion for education. You can tell that my story was simply one about a girl who was board and who wanted to do something useful with her time back them.
So, on the first day, I remember the kids settling down in the classroom only to have the five volunteers look at them silently. None of us were teachers by profession and we didn’t know where to start. To me, the silence was too awkward, So I found myself jumping in with no idea what to say to break the it. I blundered into the lesson singing to the kids head shoulders knees and toes while pointing to my head, shoulders, knees , and toes, and asking them to repeat after me. Somebody had to do something and so I did. The kids seemed to enjoy it and so I went on asking them to show me happy face, sad face, laughing, and crying.
Then, after the kids had enough of the song and the faces, the ice was broken and another one of the volunteers took out flash cards and she started teaching them words that started with the letter A. A third volunteer asked them to repeat the words in a low then high voice four times before they got it. Then the last two volunteers played outside with the kids and that is how we blundered through the first week .
I went home thinking that the first week was not bad at all. And, this not bad at all first impression got me going the weeks after that.
As the weeks went by, I realized that I am not so bad at teaching kids. It just takes brain storming to come up with an idea for a lesson, oh and a lot of reading about kids and how they learn, which is something I would have never have thought of reading about before.
My feelings towards this initiative changed from not bad to good, four weeks later, and that was only when the kids started repeating everything we taught them and they were actually learning. I realized then that we were getting somewhere and this project is worth investing more energy into.
And it was also at that point that I was also told to run the project, something I didn’t really have time for, but when I saw that the kids were learning and that no one was keen on running it, I felt that I should make time for it. And that is how I started running the activity week in and week out.
Over the past five months, not all classes were fabulous, Not everything went smoothly. Like any human being I considered quitting at times when things were not working out, like the times the kids spun out of control, the Friday nights when I realized late that we have no transportation to and from the camp, or the times when we reached the camp and we realized that we have nowhere to teach, or the times when I just find one, or two volunteers going with me.
I felt like quitting at times when I found myself broke in the middle of the month, and I felt like never coming back at the one time when our cars were attacked. But then at such times, I would always remind myself that these kids wait for us every Saturday and these kids consider us the highlight of their week. I would remind myself that sometimes life really isn’t about us and what we want, after all, no one said such a initiative would be easy to run.
I would tell myself that us quitting would be another disappointment in the lives of young people who anyway don’t have much to look forward to and I would always tell myself that things will somehow work out. And guess what they do!
Did this project change me? I think it did slightly. I find myself looking forward to seeing certain kids, like the crazy twins Samir and Adel, and Rula, the girl who wants to raise her hand and answer every question even when she doesn’t know the answer. I look forward to seeing Abood, the cutest kid ever, and the 2 and half year old Maisoon who comes to class for no apparent reason, the wise Hind who thinks and talks like a 20 year old woman, the smart Salim,and the funny Shurouq who called herself Lina to fool me for the first two weeks. The many other kids who all add something to my week also make me look forward to Saturday, and that is a change as kids used to freak me out before.
It is also through this project that I made lasting friendships with the people I go with every week. I knew many of them before, but I just got to know them better now and to see what great people they really are. You spend all this time seeing someone you are bound to become friends with them. I also met new people whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise through this initiative. And, I can say that I slightly understand the crazy thinking of kids more so than I did five months ago. I also know now that I can teach if I ever have to as a profession and I know I can be good at it, something I could have never figured out alone.
And now more importantly, I understand the life of refugees more than I could have five months ago. And, I can relate to the challenges they have to some extent. I believe more in the need to work for them, and I actually now believe more in the reason I wake up every Saturday to teach.
It isn’t about a project not failing, a thing I found myself running, or a question of me simply being board anymore, but it is more about hoping that one day what we do can actually help these kids get a better life, better job and better future even if only slightly.
And thankfully I and the great people who go with me are getting there, we finally got support from the Palestinian Embassy, we are working with the ALC, and we are checking out other avenues of support as well. We are hoping to expand, and to give these kids the best quality of English classes possible, and possibly even other classes if the resources permit. And with the great people going every week, the determination will permit.
Finally, I am not saying that we have solved the problem of education in Refugee Camps, nor am I saying that we have solved anything major yet, but we are getting somewhere. And, at 22 weeks, our project is finally worth mentioning.
After 25 Weeks
In the last 3 weeks alone, the kids we have been teaching at Jerash Gaza Camp have shown an amazing improvement. They moved from learning words to forming full sentences, and when I look at how six months ago they were unable to say a word in English and how now they can answer simple questions like “what did you do yesterday?” and “what do you do everyday?“ I feel that we have really gone far.
Let us not forget the fun games we make up for them to learn. And how the classes themselves always provide us with something new to laugh about, I just feel that this experience is a real eye opener for anyone who makes it a regular activity.
Given that most members of the volunteering team are not teachers by profession, I can say that we have really improved our creative skills. I and everyone else in our little volunteering family think of new ways to get the lesson across, and at times that even involves us singing, dancing, acting, drawing, and becoming the big clowns ourselves.
I speak for all of us when I say that you can almost always find one of us jumping, running, singing, or acting out a verb for our kids to really get the lesson, and at times, we get too involved with the game itself to the point where we go home with casualties. I remember one incident where one of our teachers told the kids to hit another teacher so that they learn the verb hit, as if they learned everything in the language and they absolutely needed to know this verb. The other teacher went home with a scar on his face nut the kids sure know now what the word hit means.
There were other teaching do’s and don’ts, we learned the hard way. For example, we know now more than ever before that no teacher in his/her right mind should give kids scissors. The lesson where we gave the scissors out to the kids to cut pictures ended with one teacher cutting her finger . She cut her finger trying to break two kids up from a fight.
On the technical level though, it is these experiences that have made us improve our explaining skills to the point where I am sure that it is easy now for any of us to get any idea across to anyone.
Looking back to the first few months, where getting the kids to be quiet long enough to listen to us was a challenge, I can say we have really gone far too. With trial and error, the kids now take us seriously and their wild nature is more under control then it was last May. Kids though will be kids, and on occasion you are sure to find one of us unable to control the crowd.
On another note, Those kids sure love the camera, last class I gave them my camera to try taking photos and yes the camera was a subject for them to fight over. Those kids not fighting over the camera were too busy posing in front of it.
I would say that we are lucky that we make such a great team. We became good friends and we all get along. I honestly think that it is this great team, with the people who talk too much, the people with high spirits, the people with great ideals, and the friendships formed that make this project successful. Without this outrageous mix we wouldn’t get anywhere. Just saying thank you to each and every one of them is an understatement. The non-Arabic speaking volunteers add another interesting touch to the mix. The kids love our volunteer from Canada and our volunteer from China, and it is amazing to see how they try hard to communicate with what little English they have to ask them questions.
The original plan by JCI (Junior Chamber International) was to make this project a summer activity for the kids, but it was the determination of the volunteers that made it last a lot longer. After all, one wants to see an ongoing benefit, and surely anyone passionate about a good cause would not just want to do something temporary and then forget about the people he/she helped.
Challenges?, yes the road is full of those. Funding is low, and this sometimes stops us from offering the best we can. The outlook is wide, as we hope at some point to benefit more people in different areas, when the resources permit us to do so.
On the note of funding, we got some help for three months form the Palestinian Embassy, along with the generous gestures and personal donations of good-hearted individuals, but we plan to sustain ourselves through a string of fund raising activities, and hopefully the good will of sponsors.
So, with the New Year this is what I hope to see happen. I hope to see a full curriculum made for the kids. I also hope to get more donations, sponsorships, and I hope that by the end of the year we could have the means and resources necessary to help students in one other under privileged areas. Is it easy, the answer is of course not, is it impossible, the answer is no, and I say no because running this project is a group of like minded individuals who together make a great team.
This is but a small thank you to anyone who has helped make this project happen
We Don’t Really Know them Week 27
Yesterday, at our regular weekly class at Jerash Gaza Camp, we had a smaller number of attendance than usual, as it raining heavily and most of our students found it hard to arrive to class.
Seeing that we were only ten, we decided to have an informal lesson where we gave ourselves the opportunity to really talk and try to understand our kids more.
At one point in the conversation, we got to talking to our kids about their schools and their classes. Some kids spoke about their favorite subjects, their worst teachers, and their friends, and the conversation was fun, as it simply showed how they were excited about life.
Suddenly however, the whole direction of the conversation changed when one girl told us how her older sister, a shy girl sitting with us, was not going back to school after the winter break.
We, the volunteers, jumped on the girl and started telling her why it was important to go back to school. We, took on the roles of sociologists where some of us told her that school is important. Some told her that without an education she won’t have enough chances in life, and others told her that she needs an education in order for her to be a good mother. There was this other group of volunteers who told her that she needs to continue her education in order for her to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
Meanwhile , the other kids got on the girl’s case too. Some told us that she failed and that she didn’t want to repeat the 7th grade again. Others told us that she was lazy and that she just got bored from the whole schooling scene.
Despite the heartfelt advice given from the volunteers and aside from the allegations made against her by the other students there, the girl remained silent. She just nodded silently as she left the world to speak to her, at her, and on her behalf.
Then, one volunteer saw that the girl was too shy to talk, so she decided to take her out of the interrogation ring to have a heart to heart talk with her in private., and it was away from the crowds, the spotlight, and endless questioning, that the girl finally spoke up. She confide it in the volunteer that she was leaving school to take care of the house since her father was ill and her mother needed to take care of him. The family had no income. So it was impossible to get outside help.
It was only upon hearing her excuse that I realized how little we really know about these people. Sure we make the effort to volunteer every week, and sure the kids look forward to seeing us. But , no matter how hard we have been trying, we do still speak a different language, a language through which we want the people of that camp to think, judge, and evaluate life on our terms. To us, education is a must and we simply want them to think the same .
But, is it fair for us to expect them to think the same way we do when to them food is not a given, clothing is not a given, and a steady monthly income isn’t always available.
While to us, a girl leaving school in 7th grade is a huge mistake, to the people of this camp, maybe school is a waste of time when money is scarce, the prospects of getting jobs or entering universities is limited and where poverty leads to more poverty instigated by little or no national rights. Maybe she thinks that getting an education would lead her to nowhere when the fact that her family has no money comes in the way.
Upon hearing her excuse, we tried to resolve the issue by arranging for her to have afternoon classes instead of morning classes so that she can take care of the house and continue her education, and till this day we are still waiting for word.
However, to me, I feel that a bigger task is at hand. We need to start thinking on their terms, speaking their language, and we should stop hoping that our Amman standards are applicable in a place where the basics of life are not really available.
Yesterday was an eye opening experience for me, an experience that showed how much I don’t know., and how much we all should get a grip on reality before hoping for a change.
Want to learn about this reality go to
After 31 Weeks
The last four weeks have been filled with events at the Jerash Gaza Camp, starting with fund-raising events and ending with new classes.
You see, on January 28th, and after one month of planning we finally had our Book Sale for a Good Cause event at Muhtaraf Remal, whom, at this point, we thank for supporting us through their hospitality and their help with publicity. Preparing for the event was a challenge in itself, from finding used books, to finding a venue, to finding volunteers, to making it public; but it was really an effort worth making. Naturally, some of the organizers were about to lose their cool in the process. However, we were fortunate to have a good number of friends willing to help out. Some of whom, I would have never expected to be there.
The event itself was a huge success, and it left me feeling that a good portion of our human race is still willing to be selfless when it comes to helping others in need . We ended up raising a sum of JD 475, and this cash will go towards buying educational material.
Putting the positivity aside, the event also taught me that some people are in love with ideas rather than actually the work involved in making these very ides a reality.
We had our fair share of people promising to help and simply not showing up, along with a good number of people who said that they will donate only to forget about it later . As is the case with most events, we also had a good number of people who were actually supposed to be there all day,but instead they just came for less than 15 minutes, only to enjoy telling the world how they contributed to the Good Cause. But to me, that was all ok, because if this project taught me one thing, it taught me that you will always find good people in any group, and four or five good people can do so much more than hundreds of talkers.
The week after the book sale, we went to visit the family of one of our students. Our cause was to convince the student’s mother that the girl needed to go back to school, and that quitting at 7th grade as not even an option.
That day was indeed a memorable one. We walked through paths of open sours, a smell of garbage, and houses with tin roofs, until we reached the girl’s house.
Upon arriving, we were ushered into a room with mattresses stacked in one corner, an old carpet on the floor, and cushions used for seating.
The entrance itself had clean laundry left out to dry, and stones left as doorstops.
As soon as we walked in, we were asked to remove our shoes, as this was the one room in which the family of over 7 sat, slept, and ate. So we did, and we sat on the cushions and waited until we were introduced to the girl’s mother. The mother was a friendly simple woman, who informed us that she never forced her daughter to leave school but yet she never forced her to stay either.
She then told us, “My daughter is not a good student, she can’t even read. I don’t see why she should go to school, waste time and waste what limited money we have.”.
We tried to tell her that the girl’s education gives her a better future , but the mother then replied “What future, she has no future here. So, I am going to wait until she turns 14 and then I am going to send her to learn how to sew like her older sister”
It was with these words that I realized that our visit was a lost cause, as our standards don’t really apply to those people. You can’t force a mother to send her daughter to school in a place where school education doesn’t promise anything, and the lack of national number only promises a lack of chances for a higher education and a lack of promise in the job market.
I stopped convincing the mother of anything, instead I only hoped she would continue to send her daughter to our English classes, so that if anything, we can try to expand the girl’s mind.
Speaking of expansions, we recently opened two classes for adults. These to classes me, are a real joy to teach in, as the students are full of bright ideas and they are really eager to improve.
I realized that this group of students is willing to discuss anything, from women’s rights, to love, to how to improve life in the camp. They have opinions, and it is great to hear what they have to say. Their eagerness is the result of years of conformity and years of finding no one willing to let them talk. After all, we do come from a society where difference often means lack of discipline,. So, to me , if we can teach these students that difference only means a thinking mind, we can get somewhere.
This class makes me believe that if you tell anyone that they have a chance to say whatever they want, they would have a lot to say. And, while going into such a class with aims to teach, I realized that there is a lot I can learn as well.
And of course, we said good-bye to a few of our team team members, since they had no time or desire to continue . Too me, their departure from the group was also ok. because we welcomed in their place new and inspired team members. Today, our team includes two new girls who are below 18, a university student, young professionals, and of course the members whom have been with us from the start and who are the reason we grow and do more. . I believe now more than ever that age is only a number, and actions are more powerful than a title, certificate, or birth date.
These members are more willing to work than people who claim to have experience. They work more than people who joined once and claimed they were full of promises only to vanish the weeks that follow. They work more than people who claimed that the project is useless, and more than people who think that their time is better spent anywhere else. I think, this working team in general, is more useful than people who take big lofty titles within organizations only to mention in their speeches that such projects fall close to their hearts and the interest of their organization, and they work more than people who take a title only to enjoy the prestige of being told by their lofty colleagues that they are important.
Talk is the cheapest and most pointless commodity infesting the lives of the human race. It does nothing, adds nothing, and means nothing, because at the end of the day those who will make a difference are not people with titles, but rather the people who wake up, show up, and actually give their personal time and effort to a cause. People who make a difference are those who donate, and those who call to say they will volunteer and who actually do show up and volunteer.
Think of it this way, in many years time , who will any of these students remember. Who will those students look up to, and who will those students come to ? I think the answer to that question is very clear and it really doesn’t include the people making speeches and presentations behind lecterns. . To make a difference, you have to believe in what you are doing. And, you actually have to do something rather than just say you will.
I thank those who really are making a difference, and to those hiding behind promises, titles, photos, and speeches I say. don’t live a big lie . Soon enough, no one will even remember your name let alone your lie. No one really cares about what you think, no matter how many speeches and presentations you make about your thoughts and ideals. No one cares about what you say or show because what you do is far more important.
If we just listen to the phrases that are so wide spread in our society, we would realize that a lot of them are fake insinuations where the speaker means something completely different to what is said.
1: You ask the cab driver how much you owe and he says , “This time it is on me”. and you know and he knows that the fare is not on him . You are also aware that if you were to walk out and say thanks he would tell you to come back and pay, and you will be lucky if he doesn’t tell you a lot of other things you are better off not hearing.
2: And, if walk into a house where you are invited to lunch and you hear everyone say to the host, “You really shouldn’t have bothered yourself with all this food, we are here only to see you. “ Be sure that the host knows and you know that at least five invitees will leave the house saying how stingy she is if she were to serve the guests a cup of coffee only.
3: If you are wearing something new and the people seeing you say, your outfit is nice , but of course everything you wear is nice coz you are beautiful. You will say please take it, or your eyes are the ones that are beautiful. Now you know and they know you are not strikingly beautiful to wear things that magically become pretty, and you know and they know that you are not giving the new item of clothing away as they will not take it.
4: A guy would tell a girl after disappearing for over 4 month, “I was too busy to contact you but I was always thinking about you. “ , yet he probably knows that the girl knows he wasn’t really thinking about her. He probably was thinking about a lot of other people and then he got bored so he decided to call her again. Or he was lying in a ditch somewhere with no form of communication to call her for over a month.
5: A girl would tell a guy “You are the only guy I ever spoke to”, and he knows and she knows he knows that this is not true. She must have at least had one crush before him.
6: You ring someone and they tell you “I was just about to call you” and you can’t help but think “Ya right!”
7: In most shops you walk into you are always miraculously the first person to walk in and the buyer begs you to buy without a discount. You probably know and he knows that you know this is not true. He just doesn’t want you to bargain.
8: A girl sends a guy an sms and he replies three weeks later saying that he did not see the sms with an apology. The girl knows it isn’t true because the sms is sitting there on the screen .A guy can get the same from a girl too.
9: A girl tells a guy “It isn’t you it’s me, I need to figure out my life, and this only means it is you but I am too chicken to say so. “ a guy can do the same thing to a girl.
10:The words I will call you, often means no way in hell will I ever call you unless I am so board and I ran out of other people to call.
11: And if a colleague who isn’t your friend calls to say I just wanted to ask about you. Don’t be shocked what he/she really wants to say is I am embarrassed to ask you for another favor.
12: The total stranger asking a girl after looking at her and studying every detail in her body, what should I call you, “Mother of whom” (Um esh) doesn’t care to know the name of her son, he just wants to know if she is married or single.
13: “Madam” means you don’t look like a little girl anymore.
14: A guy tells a girl “You are just like my sister” so he probably means he doesn’t I find her attractive.
15: A guy tells a girl or a girl tells a guy you are my best best best friend (With one more “best” added every month to the phrase) and this means yes I call you every day we go out we have a good time but I am not sure if I can have deep feelings for you , yet I don’t want you to leave my life because I may miss you.
16: A guy tells girl I like you but I need to figure things out while what he really means is , I need to see all my other options and do a feasibility study on my feelings and where you fit into my emotional life, before I decide and yet I want you to wait for me while I make that major decision .
17: I forgot to do that thing you asked me for, means you are not significant enough for me to remember anything to do with you.
18: I am trying to find myself, means I don’t know what the hell I want said in a more philosophical way that sounds less pathetic.
19: I can’t make it something came up, means I can’t make it something more important than you came up. (Unless a real justification came with the word “Something”)
20: If you feel the person in front of you is honest and decent don’t believe a word I say, enjoy their company and believe them.
This is the cold ugly truth 80% of the time as the world does have a few honest people left, just don’t be stupid and don’t be deluded by what most people say .
Between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, I hit every shade of negativity any sane person can experience in the stretch of 12 hours. I went from doubtful, to skeptical, to angry, to disappointed, with the grand finale being my plunge into the phase of rock bottom on Saturday. That dreaded morning, I woke up feeling, as low can be.
I was angry, I was doubtful of myself , I felt deluded. I was in a place I hate being in, a place I often shield under layers sarcasm, bad attitude, and the impeccable ability to joke and make fun of myself or any situation.
More importantly I was annoyed at myself for feeling this way . The more pressing truth was, that I just didn’t have time to be at rock bottom, and I certainly didn’t have time to linger there. I had to snap out of it and get ready to go to Gaza Camp for our weekly volunteering activity. If I didn’t go that week, I just knew that the whole activity won’t happen and no one will go. The clock was ticking against my feelings regarding anyone or anything, and even if the reason I was feeling low was the Gaza Camp project itself, I had to get act my together and move on.
So, like a big girl , I numbed my negativity and I almost mechanically showered, put on my clothes, put the clothes we got as donations (For Gaza Camp) in bags, got a cab, and I went to meet the one volunteer out of a team of nine who didn’t cancel on me.
I am usually a cheerful person, and I don’t usually feel this negative I just learned a long time ago, not to let my issues affect the work that needs to be done.
This time however things were different. My plunge into darkness, all started on the Friday evening before the dreaded day when the first volunteer canceled on me. That volunteer, whom I was depending on, didn’t only cancel at a time too late for me to find a replacement but she also told me that I should cancel the event because she is scared. I asked her what she was scared of and she replied she was scared of what is happening in the country.
Trying to knock some sense into her, I replied “Sweetie if we hear that the road to Jerash is not safe for any reason, trust me we will not go”. Little did she know that I was going to be the first person to cancel the event if I felt any of the volunteers will not be safe. After all, the last thing I needed on my hands was a bunch of angry parents blaming me personally for risking the lives of their kids, even if their kids are adults over the age of 18.
She insisted and she canceled anyway due to her “fear’. At that point, I was angry but I wasn’t hopeless, I had eight more people who were willing to go, and eight was still a good number I thought.
But apparently , I thought too soon, because soon after that cancelation, others started pouring in. Two people canceled because they felt bad about what was happening in Gaza and two more canceled because they were scared of what is happening in Jordan, another volunteer got sick, while two more didn’t bother themselves to tell me if they are or are not coming despite my sms’s.
On this note, I must tell you that one of my pet- peeves is the lack of response to an sms, and I am not saying I get pissed off at any sms not replied to, but it does annoy me when an sms containing a distinct question or a clear request commanding a response of some sort is blatantly ignored, it just makes me feel too insignificant.
I think in this case, the two fabulous volunteers just believed that I had all the time in the world to sit and wait for them in front of JU the next day, or maybe I was sending them an sms asking for confirmations in invisible font, maybe they replied to me in invisible font, or maybe I sent out the message and they assumed I was flirting with them or kidding or I just felt like typing please confirm to me for fun, or maybe they are both in a coma lying in a ditch somewhere with all ten fingers paralyzed so that they are genuinely unable to confirm, not sure really which one it was, but anyway I am still waiting for their confirmation until now , even though both of them are very active all day on Facebook.
So down to one volunteer , 3 classes, a male class with no male volunteers, I was now hitting pure negativity . I was at that phase where my verbal diarrhea was on the rise and I was just capable of being mean and nasty so I decided to forget it all in the fear of making some unfixable damages to my relationships, after all we do live in a society where people remember your mean response before remembering that their actions may have pissed you off driving you to the mean response . So as a contingency plan, I switched off my phone and just went to bed.
But that night I didn’t sleep, I kept thinking and pondering the whole events of the day and the year that passed. I couldn’t help but wonder how people could say words they don’t really mean, or how they can use an excuse like their sadness about Gaza to not go to a volunteering activity for the refugees of Gaza. Did the people canceling because of Gaza stop for one second and consider how pathetic they sound?
If they had told me they didn’t feel like going, they would have at least earned my respect for their honesty, as for the people who were scared about what is happening in Jordan, I was wondering if they are scared to go to Jerash but not scared to go to City Mall, the cinema, or to eat out in restaurants ? Was Jerash the place where fear is multiplied ?
And, if those people not going are deemed people with big souls and big hearts, was there this underlying assumption that I didn’t care about what is happening ? Or, was I was this heartless person who was asking people to risk their lives in bad times to do something they committed to ? Was I preventing them from feeling for Gaza, Jordan, or whatever they are feeling for?
It was then that I wondered what those people opting to sit at home were really contributing to anything in the community, was their contribution to Gaza made in the form of merely switching from one news channel to the next?
Or were they contribution to Gaza made from the comfort of their own homes by constantly updating their Facebook status? Were they contributing to Jordan by striking out their day to day lives ? What was their contribution?
Was their addition to any cause the fact that they knew every detail about everything and they re-told it as Facebook and Twitter vomit that doesn’t add or change the situation ?
You see, I am all for people who at least give us one call to action in their social media post. For example, one person asked us to pray for Gaza and I respected that somewhat coz at least there was something in it, another asked us to share a video about the truth on Israel, and I respected that too, a third told us to spread the truth but what about the rest who just repeat what we already know or who are not original enough to post their own opinion even but rather copy the opinions of others? Was that the pressing issue they wanted to sit at home for?
Does this make those of us who actually are out of the house, heartless creeps lacking in nationalism or patriotism, or commitment to our countries ? I figure the answer is no, because it is really easy to play the role of giving a damn.
Thankfully the social media gave birth to a new form of propaganda, social propaganda, intellectual propaganda where people today can copy each other’s posts and appear far deeper than they really are, and that is exactly why people can use any cause to stop them from doing anything useful. People can now use their pages to be anything they want to be, political analysts, poets, philosophers, stand up comedians, broken hearted romantics, you name it.
They can spend hours and hours modeling a personality until they forget who they really are. Companies make money out of it, I would know, because I work in PR. So, yes people can say they care about a cause and not do anything about it because sitting on Facebook and twitter isn’t doing anything about anything.
But, how many of us actually do have something useful to say online . Aren’t many of us seeking publicity by re-posting the death and misfortunes of others, aren’t many of us simply seeking the secret thrill of a like or a comment or a share or a tag just to feel popular?
I am sorry but I just can’t think of a person caring for Gaza and not caring for their commitment to help others from Gaza, and I can’t think of anyone worried about their country and yet too lazy to do anything for it, the two don’t work together.
However this analogy didn’t make me feel any better, because I realized that if this project has ever taught me anything it had taught me how people use their words cheaply and stupidly. From day one, the Gaza Camp English Teaching project had been founded on one disappointment after the next.
With this realization, my thoughts then started becoming even more negative, I started asking myself “Why should I even give a damn about this project moving forward if only a handful of committed volunteers do. After all, the game will be over anyway if we don’t get funding soon, as we won’t even have the cost of transportation to go every week, and even as I write this the guy running the van we go with decided to hike up our transportation fees, which we can’t say anything to since the fuel prices went up. Regardless of this fact, no one is knocking on doors or trying to get funds so why should I care?”
I wondered then why I got into this issue anyway. It wasn’t like I woke up a year and a half ago with a long term vision to help refugees in Gaza camp nor was it on my agenda to be the Mother Teresa for the future with a mandate to educate the masses, nor did I have dreams to touch lives. It was just something I was thrown into and here it is keeping me up at night .
I was a normal girl living my normal life, until I saw a pathetic FB message from the pathetic people of Junior Chamber International (JCI) Jordan saying they want to go for one Saturday to teach English at Gaza Camp. Back then, my big mouth or big fingers in that case made me type the reply, “What the hell are you going to achieve from one day? Or do you have some evil strategy to make people there smell the good life right before you leave them to their misery “
It was then that I without knowing it had tied myself to this project. I had made the success or failure of this project my problem from that day on words, and If I count the number of people I have fought with for this project to work, I would have a big hate list, but on the upside I met a lot of wonderful people too and some are great helpers in all this or partners even.
Then, the next day while me and that one volunteer were on our way the lady in charge at the camp called me and said your students are waiting where are you. It was then that I realized that , if we can get students to come to our class at their own free will and without us forcing them to, and if they still are feeling there is value in what we were doing, then we must be doing something right. That Saturday, the girls and the guys learned how to write their CVs and since we had no male volunteers to teach the young men, the guys in the camp had their first mixed class. Most of them were fine with it but two or three left because they couldn’t be with women in the same class, and we will hear the complaints for sure about our lack of ethics and consideration for the culture next week, but oh well !
I learned to accept the fact that unfortunately in our society talk is cheap, you get the people who show up once or twice and then they disappear. You get the people who come and tell you they want to change the whole method of teaching and they want to buy books, and that they want to do great activities, and then you never see them again. You get others who give up , and you also meet the more entertaining grown MEN who feel they are not safe in a refugee camp. They have every right to not be, coz you know, we cross the lake of crocodiles and we fight the fire breathing dragon, and we communicate with the aliens and fight the terrorists before we get to class (kidding) but really that had to be the most entertaining excuse created by people who still believe in a class sustem in the year 2012. And, let us not forget those who come once or twice put a few pictures on Facebook and then disappear. But, fortunately you also get others who are committed but they leave you for a temporary period and you know very well that they will return when they can, and others who can’t come because they work on Saturday but they do make it a point to help in funding , planning, and any activity we do on a Friday, and you get the volunteers you can count on 95% of the time. After all, I met a lot of different types of people working on this project, and I guess I hit rock bottom only because of my high expectations in people.
Soon enough , I became my normal self again . After all, I decided not to expect too much and not to believe too much. You can call it cynicism, I call it survival in the age of lack of belief. I decided it is really easier to laugh at the pathetic things people say both online and offline instead of keeping myself up at night wondering why and how people can tell lies.
It was a rainy morning, one in which I just hoped it would stop raining long enough for me to be able to go out to the street and catch a cab. However, my wishes did not come true and I was drenched. So, soaked by a driver thinking he is in the rally , and thus driving fast enough to splash me , the rain falling from the sky, and a puddle in the road, I arrived at Jordan University, ready to go to the weekly Gaza Camp English lessons we give.
Seeing I was ten minutes early, I started my weekly Saturday ritual before any of the other volunteers arrived. To wake up and become a fully rational human being, I got my 3 in 1 hot cup of Nescafe also known as my morning caffeine fix.
And, like every other Saturday I chatted briefly with the coffee guy whom I managed to develop a friendly acquaintance with. After all, he is a young 20 something man who sees me every week, and he chit chats. However, I did realize on this particular morning that he knows me a little too well , or maybe it is just that I have become so predictable to the point where he started preparing my 3 in 1 Nescafe the minute I got out of the cab. I figured that I need to make a note to self to change the order next week, just to seem a bit less monotonous.
After the brief pleasantries of hi, how are you this week, and the odd pointless comment about the weather, I paid for the coffee and crossed the street , enjoying the hot paper cup in my hand, and I went to the photocopy shop to photocopy papers for our lesson.
In the past I used to photocopy my papers from the guy at the store that sells a bit of everything at Gaza Camp. It was just my way of contributing to his business. However, and despite my good intentions and after months of ignoring his comments, I found myself compelled to stop doing that lately. He wasn’t rude or anything like that, he just had too much of a problem looking at me as an unveiled woman. Over the past year, he said “staghfra Allah Il Azeem” to me which translates into (May God forgive you for Your sin) way too many times, and when he didn’t do that he would tell the young man working with him to attend to me while referring to me as “Il Marra,” (That woman) in disgust , and as if I were some contagious disease. Anyway the situation just got too awkward for me , although I am not a person to judge. So, un-judgmentally, I decided to make myself invisible because he was just too uncomfortable with my whole existence.
There are some weeks, when I am feeling particularly generous, and on those weeks I would send a male volunteer to do the job. This particular morning however, was not one of those generous times, and I was just in too much of a hurry to wait.
Walking into the photocopying store opposite the Jordan University, I was hit with another form of negativity. I came face to face with the guy behind the counter , a guy I see often enough on Saturdays. He is not a bad guy, but he seems to hate the fact that he is alive and working. As usual, I smiled and said good morning, only to have him grunt something I didn’t quite understand back to me. Deciding to ignore him completely, I sat at the computer at the far end of the room and started printing things out of my USB. You see, mend him established this help yourself routine where I go in print out whatever I want and I photocopy what I want, and I leave him be since he hates his life too much . After finishing from the printer, I went to him to pay. However, he still wasn’t ready to see me because he was now engaged in a phone conversation obviously far more important than his job.
Trying to stay polite, I waited. Then, when the waiting got too long, I had to say “Excuse me I am in a hurry, please can I just pay”. Upset to cut his phone conversation short he charged me, and I left to get back to our bus , hoping by then that the three other volunteers going with me that week had arrived.
Being in Jordan, the land of no response sms, no appointment respected, and no commitment, taken seriously, I learned to accept the volunteers who are 15 minutes late. So, when every one of them did arrive we headed off to the Camp, gossiping on the way, listening to music, and joking.
As we drove by, the rain really started to pour, and this only meant one thing, I was to expect a class of half the number of students I usually teach.
You see, at Gaza Camp, rain is a good enough reason for life to stop. But then again, I wouldn’t blame the people there for taking on this idea. After all, it is easy for us Ammanites to sit in our comfortable homes sipping our warm tea while making majestic theories about why everyone should go to school and should study. It is even easier for us to tell people that rain is no excuse to be absent, as we wear our warm jackets, boots, and drive our heated cars to work or school. On this note, I do sometimes wonder if we would be high and mighty with our ideals if our roads were muddy and the sewage was over flowing around us when it rains as is the case for the people we dictate our lofty ideas to.
I learned not judge. So, I simply don’t judge students, adults or kids, I don’t judge the guy who thinks I am a sinner, the lady who
thinks I should be married, and the other lady who wanted to marry me off to her cousin, nor do I judge the guy who almost fell off his bike a few weeks ago staring at me, and I don’t judge the guy in front of the university who hates his job, we can’t expect all people to think alike and if anything, we are the onesn who should try to understand before we dictate and philosophize .
With that idea in mind I walked into class, and indeed I was right about the numbers. In a class of 15 adult students only two
showed up, and in a class of 30 kids only two showed up, and in a class of 20 men only four showed Never the less, my adult female students, learned a full vocabulary list of cooking words in English. It was something they had been asking me for in order to learn recipies off the internet. They also learned the difference between a descriptive and an informative piece of writing. The kids learned how to write abut themselves and the guys learned phonetics. So the small number that did show up, learned something and that was good enough for me.
Regarding this project, I guess it is the simplest things that make me happy, a student showing up is enough, and my 40 year old school cleaning lady student who stood in front of the class and introduced herself in English was the celebration of last week for me. My student from last year who stopped me after class to tell menthat he got a scholarship to go to Denmark is enough, and the group of people who call me if I don’t show up one week assuming I was sick, also is good enough.
Now, we are in the process of looking for funds for this project, after all, it would be a shame if we just disappear due to lack of money. To us, we are not about putting photos on Facebook of ourselves or saying we are great, we simply teach anyone who shows up, because we assume if someone did take the time to show up, he/she probably wants to learn something.
On the way home, good deeds aside, reality kicked in, and we as usual were starving after class, so ending the day on a good note, we had lunch in front of Jordan university and I enjoyed indulging in a meal well deserved.
The Gaza Camp Diaries 22/12/2012
I was thrilled in the morning, when I saw that the sun was up. To me, that just meant that I won’t be soaked while waiting for a cab and that we won’t be walking in mud or sewage water at Gaza Camp either.
After all, I wasn’t in the brightest of moods that morning and I was even feeling a bit under the weather . Never the less, like all Saturdays I put my personal drama aside and I got ready to go once again to Gaza Camp.
Arriving at the Jordan University main gate, I stopped for a cup of coffee and the usual idle chit chat with my friend the coffee guy, and although I had previously said that I was planning to change my coffee order, I didn’t. Instead, I mechanically ordered a three in one again, and the guy smiled and said “I know”, reminding me just how pathetic and predictable I was.
Taking my coffee cup, I then asked him what appeared to be the dumbest question to be asked at 9:30 am. I said “Do you have change for a JD 50?”. Hearing these words, the coffee guy practically laughed in my face saying ”It’s still too early in the morning to have that kind of money, you can pay me next Saturday ”.
As friendly and as sweet as that sounded, my mind just refused the idea of taking a loan from the coffee guy, so I said “No, I will try and find change”.
So, I went to the guy selling accessories next door to him, and little did I know that that man was going to give me a boost to my confidence. Seeing me he said, “Good morning amo, (Uncle) and I smiled at the idea that this guy thinks I am young.
You see lately the stupidity of a few shopkeepers calling me “Madam” had given me a shot in the ego. Let’s face it, I am a girl who likes to feel good about my looks and the word “Madam” just makes me feel old.
Changing the money diligently the guy said “Tikram 3enik ya amar”, which is an expression of beauty, and I must have been hitting an all time low at that point because he got me.
But, joking aside I am not deluded, I knew for sure that I didn’t look beautiful that morning. After all, I was wearing the ripped pair of faded jeans, I reserve specifically for Gaza camp, a big jacket, and a big red sweat shirt with a “ground hog” on it, and my old winter hat, but it felt nice anyway even if it was pure, blatent, fact less flattery. The compliment got me to even buy from him a scrunchy to tie my hair, God he is a good salesman.
After that brief encounter, I then took the money and paid the coffee guy. And, with coffee in hand I arrived at the bus, only to find that as usual I was the first to be there.
After exchanging usual greetings with the driver, I sat in the front seat, and enjoyed a friendly chit chat with him. He told me about his adventures in wadi Rum the evening before., and while he was talking about an original water bottle from the alps, and a cowboy hat which he had inherited from a movie set he was working as a prop driver on, I was enchanted by all the fun this guy has on his job. In fact I was busy trying to remember what I had done the evening before, and It was then that I realized that I had done nothing remotely as interesting. In fact, I just lived in the lives of the characters of a novel I was reading, I watched a movie about the American Elections of 2008 , and I watched snip bits on TV. I even remembered feeling anti social that evening, as I was not up to socializing with anyone.
That was me, yet here was this man doing amazing things in the span of one day, things I couldn’t get done in the span of one week.
With that thought in my head I was also sms-ing the other volunteers, only to find out that out of 5, 3 canceled on me then and there that morning.
A year and a half into this project, I confess that such minor details don’t bother me. By now I realize that it is normal for any volunteer to cancel at given moment in time since he/she is not being paid for this activity. I was even grateful for the fact that we have gotten to the stage where the volunteers would bother themselves to tell me they were not coming, which is definitely a step forward from the pointless waiting and calling with no reply from the volunteer.
Two remaining volunteers were waiting for me at Swaileh, and one called to say that she was going to be late because she over slept.
Her delay, gave me and the driver more time to chat while we waited, and so he went on to tell me about the movie he shot and how he came about owning the cowboy hat in details. Apparently the movie was about Bin Laden, and in it the western production company portrayed Bin Laden as a womanizer. The driver even told me that they shot many scenes in a night-club on third circle and that the hat was just a souvenir from one of the extras playing an American soldier.
Then, full of apologies, the remaining volunteer did arrive eventually, and so we drove forward , picking up the two volunteers from Swaileh. One of the two was a regular comer on the team, and the other was her colleague in university who just wanted to observe. Instantly the new guy fit in, and we all joked on the way.
Arriving at Gaza Camp me and the new guy stopped at the stationary store to buy coloring pens and paper. Going with a guy is so much better than going alone for me, since I just don’t like dealing with the sheikh behind the counter who hates me . I am an apparent sinner in his eyes, or a girl so filthy that I am not worth looking at. That morning, and true to form, the sheikh directed all his conversation to the guy, making me even feel invisible.
However, he must have given us the evil eye or something, because a few meters outside his store, our bag with paper and colors ripped open at the bottom, sending all our newly bought stationary to a gutter filled with muddy murky water, and forcing me and the new guy to drop on our knees and picked up the stuff from the pool of mud. After salvaging the stationary, we wiped the stuff down with tissue, so that by the time the volunteers arrived to class the stationary looked anything but new.
Meanwhile, in the adult classes I arrived to the center only to find that as usual the classroom was locked and the students are not around. The reasoning behind the low attendance was that it was winter and that it was too cold, to come to class. Waiting for the genitor to get me a key for the classroom door, I sat in on a 9th grader’s English lesson. The teacher, who is also one of my students, was revising a few grammar points with her students for their end of semester final exam.
While listening to her teach, I finally understood why students across the country receive high marks on their Tawjihi English Exam yet they fail to form a coherent sentence in English.
For starters, the teacher was teaching most of the lesson in Arabic. She was trying her best to make the students learn when to use the terms “some”, “a few”, and “many” by linking these three words to systematic grammatical formulas. She kept asking the students when each term was used and they simply sited grammatical rules without even bothering to understand what the actual words meant. Not wanting to argue with her in front of her students, I kept to myself and while I was listening to the lesson, I remembered that I never took a grammar lesson myself. Instead, I was taught to speak the language and as a by-product I learned good grammar in the process. Those students probably know more grammar than me but what good is grammar when we can’t even speak.
I then spoke to the teacher about this point later and she said “Our students should learn grammar to pass in the system. This is why you are here , you can teach us to speak and we will teach the students to pass their exams.”. I couldn’t help but wonder what value is there to passing anything if we don’t learn anything new, but then again, such a change is beyond me as it requires a change in a decedent educational system.
Finally the classroom door was opened and we took a class where my students learned to read an article, and after reading I asked them simply to tell me in a sentence what the article was about. To my horror I found that they looked for their answer in the page.
At that point, I lost my temper, and I asked them all to turn the page and not look at it and to simply tell me in their own words what the article is about, and it was only when they were forced to think on their feet that they were actually starting to talk.
My students are all good, but they have been so used to looking for answers in passages, and to memorizing things word for word, that the bigger challenge isn’t teaching English but rather teaching them to think for themselves.
The bigger challenge is to get them to answer a question in their own words, and to be willing to say their opinion openly about something. My bigger shock was when I asked them if they did or didn’t like the article and why, and to answer this opinion based question some of them started looking in the article for an answer. I seriously don’t blame them for doing that, if they learn English in Arabic and they are taught to link every aspect of the language to a rule. It is this need to stick things to rules that make people in such societies think that rules apply to everything in life. The rules they come up with dictate that, all girls should get married, all women should wear a hijab, no girl should work, men should not mix with women. This could have been a simple grammar lesson, but it reflects a lifestyle where people are conditioned to follow rules without thinking. If I want to throw a student off balance, I learned to simply ask them “What they thought”, In one of my classes one student even refused to talk about the Quran because she was simply taught that it is a great book we shouldn’t talk about. She was shocked when I asked her “Why is the Quran great.” And while she was bewildered I went on and said “ God never told you not to think, in fact God wants you to know why the Quran is great. Think about it and come back to me next class with an answer” .
In other classes I told the women there, “what if you don’t get married?” and I realized that not getting married was not even a remote possibility for them. I ended up telling them “It is a possibility right, and this is exactly why you should work on yourself, and that is so you have a choice in life. If , God Forbid, you don’t get married, you won’t starve to death. If you are divorced you won’t be forced to starve, and if you are in a bad marriage you won’t be forced to stay.”
Maybe next class I will be told never to come back, because I am simply telling people to think, but we will wait and see. The simple grammar lesson was an eye opener to a way of life, a way of life that is governed by not thinking and blindly following. Maybe such societies are built on this way of life because people don’t know better, or maybe it is a form of anesthesia from a colder harsher reality or a situation that is too difficult to change.
A Case of Hit and Miss 20/4/2012
Today at Gaza Camp, I got a shot to my hopes when a student of mine asked me “Miss ,do we write people with the “p” letter that has the stick on top or ‘b” letter that has the stick on the bottom”. I tried to keep my cool, once I heard that question, especially when it was being asked to me after three months of classes with this same particular group of girls.
I said “How do you pronounce it dear, do you say people or beoble” the girl said “beoble” with her thick accent, making me realize then that we have to go over the difference between “p” and “b” . I thought we had passed that phase in the learning curve but apparently we didn’t.
Her stunning question made us waste 15 minutes of class going over the difference between “p” and “b”, only for me to realize that many other girls had the same dilemma. Trying to maintain a joking attitude , we laughed and joked about the issue a bit, but inside I was boiling with anger
Soon after that point, I was hit with another shock when I realized that my students don’t know the difference between “went” and “want”, so we wasted another 25 minutes in class going over the two words , what they mean . and how they work in sentences.
The issue isn’t really about someone not knowing something. On a more positive note the fact that a student is comfortable enough to ask a question, is good news for me. It is the first step to moving forward, especially since I remember a time when they used to all nod their heads saying they understood what I was saying, even when they didn’t.
I think, the problem lies in our educational system, where students are conditioned to memorize lessons, to the point where they can answer any question in the book without really understanding it.
I say this from experience, if I ask any of my girls a question related to the book, the story they are reading, or a lesson we wrote on the board, they would answer it. If I deviate slightly from the lesson, they would look at me blankly before trying to guess the answer, and I stress on the word “guess”. They could answer me perfectly well when I ask them “What did you do yesterday?” but yet some of these girls would stare at me with an expression of total loss on their faces if I ask them “What did you last Friday” even if I am asking them the question on a Saturday so that it means exactly the same thing.
One thing I don’t do in any of my classes, is give my students something to read at home or answer questions about it at home. The only type of homework I ever give them is to look up something, and even then they demonstrate a stunning ability to memorize a paragraph word for word as if their only goal in life is to impress the teacher.
I find this goal very alarming especially in an English class like the one I give where there are no marks, there is no extra credit, and nothing they do with me will really count towards a certificate. What shocks me even more is the fact that they all come to class, at their own free will. No one forces them to come, but yet they manage to memorize, not understand, and cheat by copying homework assignments off a friend.
Right now, we are reading Tom Sawyer, I figured it is a fun story that is easy enough for them, or so I thought before I was hit with the remark of the day, when one of my students says, “Tom doesn’t have a brother”.
Hearing those words I replied “Sweetie, who is Sid, the guy we have been reading about for a month”, she said “The thing is, I don’t remember him having a brother in the cartoon we used to watch when we were kids”
It then hit me that this woman, who i am guessing is in her thirties since she saw the Tom Sawyer cartoon, is not even making the effort to read the book, instead she is jogging her memory trying to remember a dubbed cartoon that she , and many other people growing up in the 80’s in Jordan had seen. Incidentally the people dubbing the cartoon couldn’t even get the boy’s name right since he was named ‘Tom Iswer” so no wonder they forgot about his brother Sid.
I personally remember the cartoon vividly since I spent a good portion of my childhood and early teens watching both it and the many other dubbed cartoons of the era .
A few months ago, a fellow volunteer who works as a full time teacher , tried to explain this fact to me by saying that he could make any student pass the Tawjihi English exam without the need for him/her to know English. He said ” Tawjihi is a system, and any good teacher just needs to figure out the system. The exam writers are not going to reinvent new questions every year, it is just a cycle where they repeat questions in a pattern, so most teachers know that and they just teach their students to memorize”
He said those words with full confidence, but I am pretty sure he was embellishing a bit.
I do however see a grain of truth in what he is saying, how else would you explain someone scoring an average of 99.9? Probably that person get his/her name wrong on the paper since it wasn’t on the syllabus.
If all teachers are teaching with this mentality, then it is no wonder that students memorize lessons only to repeat them blindly. They don’t know any better so they would do the same even in a voluntary class they signed up for themselves. I guess that in a school or college classroom where they have to take exams to pass they will even memorize where the comas and full stops are in the book as well.
So, today, I kind of feel disappointed, not because my students are asking questions but because it hit me that they need to be brainwashed from all the awful study habits they have picked up over the years.
I decided not to give any students books they can take home with them. I also decided to never say what the lesson is beforehand, but what is really bothering me is the fact that next month we celebrate two years working on this project, and yet although we have come along way, we are still making trial and error experiments on what works and what doesn’t.
I just hope that next week will be a better one.