Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dress Rehearsal

This entry comes to us from one of our long-time volunteer teachers, Sarah, giving us a wonderfully unique window into a typically atypical visit to Umm Batin.

As on most Saturday mornings where I have somewhere to be at 9:30, I woke up this morning regretting having agreed to come.  But it was the last week of the English-teaching program that my classmates and I do in the village of Umm Batin, just a few minutes’ drive outside of Beer Sheva.  Around five of nine I finally got out of bed, ate a quick breakfast, and headed for the parking lot where we get picked up.
Two of my classmates coordinate the teaching, but it’s a pretty informal program- the girls, and its almost always girls who come, have a pretty good English teacher; what we provide is a chance to hear fluent English and practice speaking it.  Today, it turned out that most of them were performing in a play tomorrow, and their theater teacher was organizing dress rehearsals, so they invited us to watch what turned out to be some sharp comedy the girls had written themselves, followed by a traditional Bedouin song.  In the first skit, they skewered teachers who see themselves as cowboys, and see the students as cattle to be herded around. And then there were dancing strawberries.  We couldn’t really understand the play, but some of the girls explained it to us (extra English practice!)  

The second one took on the cross-cultural difficulties of medical translation.  In the story, one girl played the grand-daughter, accompanying her grandmother to an appointment with a Russian-Israeli doctor (not sure exactly what made “him” Russian but the story sort of rang true.)   The grandmother described her symptoms in ways that the girls assured us made perfect sense in Arabic and the granddaughter translated faithfully: she felt like a chicken, like a squashed fig, like a buzzing telephone, like a donkey, until the fed up doctor told her if she felt like a chicken and a donkey, to see a veterinarian (what, did I say rang true?) That in turn set off a chain of events that led to the doctor fleeing the room.

I looked at our girls and the complex world they are navigating- they live in a small and tightknit community, and also debate the merits and detractions of Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift.  They are expected to be functionally trilingual by the end of high school. I have no doubt that many of them have translated for their grandmothers in the hospital; Israel passed a great medical translation law this past February that has not exactly been implemented.  They have school six days a week, and then come in for English enrichment on their day off; we often see other students and their teachers around the school for extra classes as well.  They are consistently warm and friendly to us, and to each other, in a way that I haven’t always associated with their age group.  They are fiercer at basketball than I would have expected from girls in floor-length jackets, tightly-wrapped head-scarfs, and sparkly sandals, and that I’m even remarking on this seems mostly to be a reflection of my own preconceptions.
The community has its challenges- the village was only recognized by the Israeli government a few years ago, when it got its first paved road, and the brand new school where we teach.  It’s still mostly not zoned, which means a lot of their homes are considered illegal, and at risk for demolition.  Many of their families lack hook-ups to municipal electricity and water.

But there’s a lot of strength here- it’s the quiet strength of the teachers coming in on a Saturday, the mothers who could use an extra pair of hands but send their daughters off to practice their English, a community that wants to keep its daughters close to home but often supports them going to any college they can commute to, even as they get married and have children. 

I hope we have expanded their world, given them a few more opportunities, but really, I think they succeed on their own, and we have learned so much from this opportunity to be welcomed into their community.

And every time I’ve left the school in Umm Batin, I’ve been glad I didn’t sleep in.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Religion, Angels... and China

This week’s visit to Umm Batin focused on religion, on both a global and personal level.  After discussing the world’s major religions (about which the students were surprisingly well-versed), we asked them to consider three questions:
     1. How do your beliefs affect your daily life? 
     2. Why are your beliefs important to you?
     3. What would your life look like without your religion? 
The following are some of the responses we got in return (posted with their permission, of course)…

“When I believe, I feel good because I know there is a God and he will help me when I need his help.  I believe religion is important because we all need something like God to believe in.”  ~ Razan, 16-years-old

“Religion affects my life – I wear traditional clothes.  Islam is a good religion.  We pray to God and the Prophet.  We must repeat the two.  I feel good in Islam, but some things I hate.  Religious men decide what the girls do instead of the girls.”  ~ Mona, 15-years-old

“Angels in China are very good and beautiful.”  ~ Noor, 14-years-old

“Someone asks me, what is your religion?  I say Islam.  What is it about?  It’s about everything in the world (people, angels…).  So it’s about people, what does that mean?  Yes, in my religion we believe that there are some people that do bad things in their life.  They can learn to change it, and in our religion we know that someday you are going to die and you are going to go to another world.  Also, I believe that someday we are going to face our God.  My religion shows me the right things from the wrong things.  I like it and I also love it.  Wow, if you don’t have religion in your life what would it look like?  I don’t know.  Sorry.”  ~ Maryam, 16-years-old

“I love my dad and mom.  I love to play football.  I love swimming in the sea.  I love dogs and cats.  I love to draw and play.  I love Nick and Sarah and Cherec.”  ~ Shams, 11-years-old
(I know, this response isn’t exactly on-topic, but she gets lots of bonus points from teachers Nick, Sarah and Cherec for that last line.  How could we not post it?)

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Our next entry is a thoughtful, touching poem written by talented 14-year-old Majdaleen. Majdaleen is an eager student whom we can always count on to be there when we visit the school. She composed this honest and insightful poem on her own. When she excitedly handed me her finished work, I started to read it and was immediately filled with emotion. Her words vividly express her longings and desires for herself and the people around her and give us a glimpse of the issues that she and her peers are facing. We are proud to share her work with you and thank Majdaleen for sharing it with us.

By Majdaleen

Imagine that we have peace in our land.

Imagine that everyone is free and his life easy.

Imagine that you have power in your hand, and you gonna change the world.

Imagine that the men in the whole world disappear, what gonna happen to the women?

Imagine that we gonna fly without wings.

Imagine that the sky is open clearly.

Imagine that we are born in the heaven.

Imagine that the books can talk and the words can walk.

Imagine that we don’t have a family.

Imagine, Imagine, we gonna still Imagine, hopefully it gonna happen.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Best Friends

Our first blogger is Maryam, a 16-year-old student from Umm Batin. She is an outstanding English speaker and a leader among her peers.  We proudly present Maryam's work and commend her for being willing to be the first to take part in the English in Umm Batin blog.

First of all, I chose this subject because I think best friends is the strongest relationship in the world.  So for me the best way to choose your friends is to know if this person likes you as a friend, even your look or style or something else.  I have two friends, Sosan and Razan, and they are my best friends.  I never imagine my life without them.  They are like my soul, and I can't live without my soul.  They have been with me everyday in my mind and in my heart.  I hope that we can be together forever.

Now I will show you pictures of when we went to the hospital to help the kids and we gave them gifts.

We gave gifts to all of the kids in that part of the hospital.  It was just before our holiday "Eid Al Adha."  We give gifts for this holiday, because if we give them a gift maybe it will make the children happy.  We think that it is a way to make them feel better.

We gave to every child.  It didn't matter if they were Jewish or Muslim or Christian children.  That is the point of what I am saying, that there is no difference between people.  With friends, it does not make a difference if you are Jewish or Christian or Muslim, all of us are humans.