On Tuesday at Yad Beyad(Hand in Hand), the bilingual school I volunteer at, I joined an English teacher to a class of five graders who truly didn’t want to sit down and open their books.
I couldn’t blame them.
Two kids were opening and closing the classroom door, three others were running in circles around the tables throwing paper balls at their friends, and few brave ones jumped in and out the windows(first floor). Chaos: The biggest similarity of this school to my own elementary school.
I guess most schools in this country share the honor of mischievous children. True to themselves children. Happy wild children.
As much as I enjoy being around Jewish and Palestinian kids who are busy being kids as their cheeks burn with fun and life, I was hoping the teacher had some experience with calming the situation.
Each time I enter the school I feel like I walked into a sacred temple: The Hebrew and Arabic educational slogans decorating the walls welcome me with fresh, foreign hope, new kind of optimism, making me want to borrow those pieces and plaster them over my own past memories of school. Where I learned nothing about the “other side”; Nothing of their history and customs, nothing of their pain, fears and dreams. I wish I could whisper in the ear of my 11 years old self: “It’s ok. Don’t fear. And do your Arabic homework. It is important.”
Back in the present classroom. In order for the waves of crazy to cool down a bit, the teacher gathered the little humans who misbehaved the most(!) and told them to go after me to practice English in a different classroom. Oh great. All boys. I smiled at them. One of them smiled back, the widest grin spread on his face upon seeing me, way too happy about joining the group. Very suspicious.
Looking for an empty class was not an easy task as I thought it would be. Shouting all around me mostly in Arabic, the boys each had their favorite spot to go to (recommendations for me). Considering I understand very little Arabic and I was there for English, I tried to make them all speak English. I failed miserably.
By the time we found an empty classroom, I was flooded with personal questions directed at me in my mother tongue. English was completely forgotten. One kid seemed very upset about being kicked out of class (“i didn’t do anything”) so he simply went back, leaving his book with me.
Almost all the Palestinian kids at the school speak Hebrew fluently. The Jewish kids speak Arabic too, a bit less fluently, some better than others. English? Everyone speaks it much less, if at all. Needless to say, I am deeply impressed by their abilities. Teaching English to these kids shall be a very small contribution for how much they already inspire me.
In the art room (which is also a bomb shelter…), where I help smaller kids with their art projects, I met two small humans who are “both”, Palestinian and Jewish. They tell me about it with pride. Coloring their flowers and cars on paper. I am very curious but trying to keep myself busy with the plastic glue at my hands. While I’m helping one of them, a 7 years old, gluing his artwork together he elaborates to me: “my dad knows Arabic and my mom knows Hebrew”. They are also from very different places. He beams about it so much, as if he didn’t set a foot in his complicated fate just yet.
The little guy indeed swims between Hebrew and Arabic as if they were one language. It is as natural for him as blinking and he doesn’t seem to think of it at all; at least not as much as I was while observing him in action: while the rest of the kids were at quarrel over the color pencils, he helped out big time. There was only one pack. The Palestinian kids sought for the colors in Arabic while the Jewish kids asked for the same ones in Hebrew. The little guy handed each what they needed. At the end, everyone’s drawings were very colorful.
I battle myself to stop being fascinated by them, by how lovely they are together. By how different their education is from mine. I tell my mind to just see them as kids at school. But I can’t. Not yet.
I know how it feels to be categorized as a “side of a conflict” instead of a person. Participating in peace programs as a kid used to upset me a little because of it though I didn’t know why at the time. Being the “Israeli” at my campus disturbed me as well. For we are so much more than nations. Each one of us.
These kids are all people outside of the school as well. With communities, traditions and loved ones.
So even if the school seems like a surreal dream to me, it is composed of very real people who are part of this world.
I do not blame myself for having these dreamy impressions of them. I am a product of this place and its reality. It is only natural for me to admire the school for being the special place that it is. But I do wonder how will the kids become part of reality here as adults, or what kind of reality will they be able to create.