Tag Archives: teach for palestine

Hello Tequila Produced Darkness, My Old Friend

*More brilliance from Ben! Enjoy!*
I view guest posts like the American military views illegal wars – one is never enough. So I return to you. Triumphantly, I would like to think, but as the only genuine obstacle I can really claim to be triumphing over is my own inherent laziness it seems like something of an empty statement. Once more, then, I invade this small section of the “blogosphere” in order to ejaculate my own personal brand of sarcasm and attempted wit into your eagerly reading eyes.

You’ve missed me, though, haven’t you? Admit it. You publicly pretended to be offended, disturbed or even uninterested in my last piece here but secretly you’ve been desperately waiting, hoping, hiding under the bedsheets late at night with the crumpled up printout of my last contribution, reading and re reading it by torchlight before crying yourself to sleep, wondering if my words of genius would ever return to this dusty old website. Well fear not, for here I am, metaphorically wiping the tears from your eyes and tucking you in for the night in a way that blurs the line between “comforting” and “creepster”..

So as Sara continues to entertain us with her constant invitations to fellate her and offers the culture in which she is living the respect that her moral relativism demands by founding Nablus’ first strip club I thought I’d attempt to give you all a little more insight into the life we live here. I’d like to tell you that it’s a docile, intellectual environment of friendly cohabitation and stimulating, respectful conversation. But I’d be lying, you’d be bored and Sara would be horribly misrepresented. So let’s dig for the juicy, uncensored truth instead.

Perfect vodka. I’d like to recommend it to you but the honesty of the recommendation would be somewhat akin to recommending a meth habit or the film “Panic Room”. And much like those things, perfect vodka may seem a good idea at the time but you’ll inevitably spend the rest of your life scarred by your experience, regretting your decision and suppressing the nightmares that it will undoubtedly produce. My introduction to the substance came through Sara, of course. On our first trip to Ramallah to procure the alcohol that is forbidden in the area in which we live I had picked up a couple of bottles of wine. Sara, on the other hand, rejected any thought of purchasing anything with an alcohol content of less than 40% and went straight towards the perfect. The price tag, considerably cheaper than any other spirit in the shop, didn’t seem to serve as the warning that it should have, nor did the fact that it was sold in 1..75 litre bottles, and before long we were sitting around the kitchen table imbibing the first of many bottles of this poison. Sara has been keeping a collection of the empty bottles. She will photograph this obscene assortment of hollow receptacles in order, no doubt, to remind herself when she reaches old age and senility, of the profound cultural and human experiences she took with her from this most troubled of regions. Most amusingly, one of the bottles has a written warning etched onto it forbidding the contents from being touched as the bottle was to last Sara between the time of writing and her upcoming birthday. Three more bottles were purchased in that time and the empty threat scrawled upon the glass of that bottle has simply become further evidence of the level of alcoholism necessary to survive as a foreigner in Nablus.

“You’re my shot manager”. She’ll forever regret those words and rightly so. Not only because the very idea of the challenge I was to manage for her proved to be her own undoing but also because, as every bad manager does, I put too much pressure on my charge too early, assuming she had more about her than proved the case. Backtrack. An explanation. Sara turned 21 two days ago. Where I come from this often means you celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first time you got drunk in public but Sara’s homeland likes to wrap their children in cotton wool for a little longer and so she was now of legal drinking age in the United States. Someone, some time before her birthday, had mentioned the fine tradition of attempting to drink 21 shots of liquor in order to mark and celebrate this landmark. Sara had decided to accept the challenge.
So, on the morning of the day itself I awoke, blurry eyed and groggy headed, and made my way, ape-man like as I am always prone to be at any point before midday, to Sara’s sleeping space. I flung open the door to her room(well, as much as it’s possible to fling open a sliding door), wished her a happy birthday and demanded she drink her first shot of the day with me. She willingly agreed, notched the first one up on the scoreboard and professed further willingness to complete the next twenty. It was at this point she uttered that foolish phrase. “You’re my shot manager”.

“I’m your what?”

“My shot manager, you’ll do an excellent job”. Unfortunately for her my management skills, in any situation, are pretty much entirely lacking. It’s not that I don’t take my responsibilities seriously (Well, it kind of is) or that I’m not entirely trustworthy and honest (Again, I’m actually not) it’s more that my unique management style of “leave everything alone and hope it works out for the best” just doesn’t work as some kind of universally applicable formula. I’m sure if I was asked to oversee a smoothly running, profitable business with 100% employee satisfaction and no prospects for economic downturn on the horizon I’d do wonderfully. On the other hand, emergency medicine is probably never going to be for me. I’m pretty sure this laid back style would have qualified me to run FEMA under the last US President. In any case, it’s employment in the management of Sara’s alcohol intake led to near disastrous results. The question “Hey shot manager, should I take another shot?” was nearly always met with a reply in the affirmative. Where such a reply was lacking the closest I got to dissuasion was to offer a “Do whatever you think’s best”. As many of you who know Sara will attest, Sara usually thinks another shot is best.

By half ten in the morning she had done 8 and was assembling the rest of her flatmates around the circular kitchen table in order to indulge in playing card based drinking games. By eleven she had fallen out of her chair and on to the floor. Getting back up was proving an issue. By midday the house had unanimously voted to prevent Sara in her attempts to leave and wander round this dry city in such an inebriated state. (I say unanimously, Sara did actually attempt to vote against the motion but her vote was disqualified on the basis that she was a drunken mess). Now, to me an arrest record is nothing to be ashamed of and Sara’s 21 years without a single handcuffing (I speak only in relation to encounters with law enforcement agents, obviously her side gig as a dominatrix has seen her get very familiar with many pairs of handcuffs) only speaks of a lack of experience to my mind. So in any normal setting I would have been handing her the car keys, topping up her glass and convincing her we needed to go and climb in the with the zebras at the nearest zoo but Nablus isn’t really that kind of place and if I am to be responsible for Sara losing her criminal conviction virginity then even I, with all my relaxed management skills, can recognise that it might be best to secure one somewhere where it’s not to be dealt with by the Palestinian Authority. Eventually she passed out on the sofa somewhere in mid afternoon, committing the cardinal sin of sobering up and spending the second half of her birthday hungover and unable to complete the last seven shots that would have seen her complete the challenge.. She blames her shot manager. Her shot manager was unavailable for comment at the time, shuffling off into the distance and muttering something about “bloody lightweights” under his breath.

Sara’s birthday came and went. And then so did Sara. Deserting us like a litter of unwanted puppies, thrown from the window of a moving car (What? How do you get rid of pets in your country?). She cast us aside and departed last weekend, leaving us with nothing to remember her by except painful memories, scabies and the extortionate future cost of the counselling it will require to deal with our abandonment issues. She’ll undoubtedly go on to great things, a career in law and politics beckons for a woman whose single minded determination and ambition would be almost guaranteed to see her become President were it not for the inherent misogyny of Western political systems and those photos she’ll mistakenly let someone take in a few years on the basis that he’ll “never show them to anyone”. But regardless of where she ends up I’m sure one day, as I search the floor of some mosquito ridden guest house in Amazonian Bolivia for a spare coin that would see me able to eat for the day, I’ll look up at the dusty, antique, black-and-white television in the corner to see Sara’s face as some off screen commentator praises her for doing something genuinely worthwhile, altruistic and significant with her time and efforts. And I’ll cough roughly, spit out a load of tar stained mucus onto the dusty wooden floor and announce to no one in particular: “I’m her shot manager”.

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Teaching

“Habbibi! Habbibi! Habbibi!” She calls as she runs up and kisses me on both cheeks.  “Ms. Sara, Arabic?” She asks if she can speak in Arabic.

“Ah” I respond. And then I am swept into my daily Arabic practice, and myupdate on 10-year-old drama.

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

Every day I arrive at the gate to our school to unlock the door around 2:15, and everyday there are already 2 or 3 young girls anxiously waiting for our cheek-kiss greeting and to be let through the schools massive metal gate.

Aiashia, the school we teach at (Whose name has about every vowel sound in the Arabic language making it a foreigner’s nightmare to pronounce) has a tall wall of about 30 feet surrounding it on all sides, with equally extravagant flowering trees lining the wall, which provides an excellent haven concealed from the busy streets, a secret garden if you will, where these lovely ladies can safely be themselves without the fear of an unwanted male stare or judging elder.

Aside from the male security guard and our bosses, no men are permitted within the school grounds. The basketball court is at the center of a courtyard. The actual building is a horseshoe shape with about 2 dozen classrooms emptying out directly into the cement courtyard.

As students filter in they bounce between my classroom and Ms. Amy’s giggling about their day, listening to the music, and emptying their ever inquisitive minds of whatever questions they had stored for us through the day. The classrooms are hallow, and echo loudly. The desks sit two people, and each day, I drag them from their traditional rows to a dining room table esque form, only to drag them back to their original place at the end of the day. The drawings on the desk testify to what my students nag about every day. “School is boring.” I laugh. Some things are the same even on the other side of an ocean in the middle of an occupation.

To give you a general idea

a of how our classes are run I will give you a few examples of my favorite activities we have done.

1. The restaurant- Amy and I quickly learned that food and learning should go hand in hand. My class received a nicely written invitation to the Princess Restaurant, and the next day the two classes gathered to find a classroom that had been magically turned into a restaurant with common desks transformed into the most classy tables with the addition of vases of wild flowers, and only the freshest and most classy food in town (Strawberries, humus, and cookies!). The girls were the waitresses, the hostesses, and of course the hungry patrons!

2. Songs!- We are encouraged to use songs as a way of increasing our girls speaking speed, so this semester my girls started off with “I am Woman” then went to “Hold On” by B*Witched and are finishing off with “Firework” by Katy Perry. I tried to stick with motivating songs. I was so proud yesterday when I gave each person in the class a solo, and each girl had the confidence to sing by themselves. I think it attests to the safe zone that Amy and I have worked so hard to create at the school. The girls at Aiashia have really become a family, and to me, that’s more valuable than any strides they have made in mastering the English language.

3. Sports- After each class we run about 30 minutes of sports. This has typically taken the form of basketball since some brilliant architect placed the basketball hoops directly in front of the soccer goals. Some days we have played hide and seek, in which, the full circle around the large building turns each round into a high-speed chase of who can sprint in a circle faster than the person who is it. A few days I have taught the girls some Taekwondo and self-defense which went over really well.

4. Plays- Amy and I both enjoyed doing dialogs with our girls. Mine did two Dr. Seuss scripts, the Lorax and Yertle the Turtle, though Amy takes the cake on this endeavor. Her girls did the Three Billy Goats Gruff. This included desks being made into a bridge that the goats could walk across and the troll could hide under, teaching ten-year olds to charge with their fingers in the shape of goat horns, and of course a lot of “Trippity, trap, trippity, trap!” I proudly made my guest appearance as the Big Billy Goat, but was out acted by the well mastered Troll voice of little Tala.

The program has no specific curriculum which has allowed me to mold my class as I see fit. This has eased my concerns a bit about being a language imperialist simply spreading my language to these kids who meanwhile have bigger problems, thanks in large part to financial contributions to their occupying force from my government. As you can see, I still think about it a lot, but I am proud to say that I believe my classroom has become a place of joint learning and mutual growth between all the students and myself as well.

I have 3 more days of teaching and then I think I am done teaching ESL forever, but I hope to stay in touch with these lovely ladies who will never know the extent to which they have helped me.

The Adventure Continues… a decision made.

I had every intention to return to Ithaca this spring. Every intention. When the lady in the administrative office said “and just so you know if you decide to extend your leave of absence another semester it will be an additional $2…” I cut her off and said, “That won’t be happening.” Her response “You never know.”

If my life were written out as a book that would be seen as a cheap foreshadow, ungracefully included to add some depth to the writing and add a little reward to anyone who read it more than once (who would read a book about my life twice! Of course who would ever write a book about my life, cuz it sure as hell won’t be me.)

Yes, 2 weeks ago, the plan was secure. I had the sweetest set up waiting for me back at Ithaca. I had been rehired as an RA (this time would have possibly been in a bigger room!) and my best friend Chris had been hired in the same area as me, possibly even the same building. I was returning, so I had already planned out programs, even got so far as to create some of the funding request forms, because I was coming back. 14 days ago, I had excitedly picked out my choice committees for the Model United Nations team for the spring, because I would be returning to the team and taking part in this year’s Harvard conference

Perhaps my certainty was seen as a challenge to a higher being, or perhaps to myself. Maybe I was so sure that I was returning that I subconsciously needed to challenge myself. Or perhaps all these examples of confidence in my plan to return, (ie. Not listening when the lady was telling me the procedure for extending my leave of absence and getting a head start on my RA work) was simply a mask of confidence in the plan and an attempt to hide that I hadn’t completely sold myself on the return to Ithaca plan yet. Who knows?

Though to be fair, I am not sure that any other plan was really logically suggested. I mean, if you are in college, you are expected to finish college. That was what was expected of me, or at least what I thought was expected of me, and what I most adamantly expected of myself. Well, not too adamantly, since, in a matter of 2 weeks that expectation has been thrown out the window. 2 weeks ago, I would be going home in December. On the 25th I would be in Pueblo celebrating Christmas with the family, which was the plan, which is always the plan.

But this is not 2 weeks ago, this is now. And now, that plan of returning home, Christmas with the family, and being an RA this spring are drowning in a flood of cold irony.

I have chosen to go to Nablus to teach English for a semester. It scares me that the whole plan can be summed up in one sentence. And that the details would take up only a few additional lines. A plan so simply stated means extending my trip five months, missing the holiday season, not seeing my recently divorced parents for 9 months total.

But those are the negatives; the positives are much more colorful, much more demanding.

The positives are getting the opportunity to live in Palestine. Getting to be in the heart of the most emotional and pain filled battlefield on earth and knowing that everyday what I am witnessing is real. It means getting a chance to continue working on my Arabic in an Arabic speaking society, the most constructive way possible. It means getting to be a teacher if only for a semester, which, as silly as it sounds was always my childhood backup plan if singer, film actor, and Broadway star all failed. It means living in the same city as X for the first time in a year and seven months, which is really just the icing on the cake. Were the cake not there, I wouldn’t change my plans for the frosting. Those of you who know me know I wouldn’t throw away all my plans and follow any man around the world. But the fact that I will get to share this experience with such an amazing person makes the whole idea much more exciting and a lot less scary.

As I have mentioned before, I believe our travels (and perhaps life for that matter) are defined by the people we encounter and the mutual growth that can occur when a positive encounter takes place. I will get the opportunity to learn from young girls every day. To gain an understanding that allows me to, at least for a moment, view the world through a completely new set of eyes. Palestine is depicted in the media as a 2D image. There is death and conflict, religion and hate, but my excursions so far have lifted that flat image off the paper and added a great deal of dimension. It is time now to fill in the details of the design. There is so much to learn about Palestine, about the entire Arab world, and this is my opportunity to be in the center of it all!

In simple terms, I’m not ready to leave yet, so I’m not going to.