It has been a little while since I have blogged last and a ton of things have happened in that time. As many of you might know, I love lists, so what better way to catch up with my blog, than a list of a few of the highlights of my time getting settled here? I’ll try not to make it too long, but there is so much! On the plus side, this time there are pictures included! Yay!
1. A couple weeks ago, our group of volunteers and our friends at the Lutheran World Federation had the privilege to visit Haram al-Sharif, home to The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Haram al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, is considered to be the third holiest place for Muslims in the world and traditionally believed to be the place where the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. The Temple Mount is a place that is very significant to all three major monotheistic world religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It is a highly contested place with a very interesting history that I unfortunately don’t have the space to write about! But on our tour, not only did we get to go up to the Temple Mount, we were allowed inside of The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, which is extremely rare for non-Muslims. It pretty much goes without saying that the religion nerd in me was busting at the seams with excitement, happiness, and awe for our entire tour. Here are a few pictures!
2. This week concluded my first full week at my site placement and I am thoroughly exhausted! For the year, I am serving at the Helen Keller School for the Visually Impaired and I cannot even begin to explain how welcoming this community has been to me. Although the school used to be exclusively for the visually impaired, its doors are now open to students with a variety of disabilities. I will be helping in the English classrooms, doing administrative work, and hopefully helping with some music! They have already kept me busy, and I totally empathize with all of my friends teaching in schools everywhere; there is no tired like teacher-tired. I have been there a total of six days now and it has already been a rewarding experience. I am joyfully anticipating the successes and the challenges that this year will bring.
3. Staying with the theme of Helen Keller, I want to give you just a few highlights of my first week in the school! For two of the days, I had the opportunity to follow and observe the school’s music teacher and help with the music lessons. During each lesson, I got to dance with the children, play a few listening games, and hear them sing. After each of the kids would sing, the teacher would have me sing a little something for the class. I chose to sing “You Are My Sunshine” (classic, I know) and it turns out that they know that one! A few of them sang with me and at the end of one of the classes, the students told me that I should go on Arab Idol! It was so sweet and it was fun to be able to share music with the kids. Although we have a hard time understanding one another because of our language barrier, music is something that universally connects us, and I am so grateful for that.
4. While I was following around the music teacher for a couple days, we went into one classroom where the focus was not music, but rather a language lesson. The music teacher additionally helps a few of the students in the school to learn Braille because she is an alum of the school and blind herself. While walking to the lesson, she asked me a question and because of our language barrier, I thought that she was asking me if I was interested in sitting in on the Braille lesson. Of course! When I got into the classroom, I was asked to help some of the other students while the music teacher sat one-on-one with a student. To my total surprise, by the end of the class period, she had typed up the entire alphabet, the numbers 1-10, and my name on the Braille machine. So in addition to learning Arabic during my time here, I have the chance to learn Braille! The people here continue to amaze me and I have so much to learn.
5. I just want to tell you two of the many things that were said to me this week to give you a picture of the open arms and hearts with which the staff and students of Helen Keller have welcomed me. As I mentioned above, I will be helping Helen Keller with some of their administrative work, doing newsletters, working on their website, and preparing presentations. At the beginning of the week I was speaking with the school’s administrative assistant about all of the questions that I have and how I have so much to learn and she looked at me and said, “You can ask me anything, ok? Think of me as a sister, I can already feel that we are sisters.” I can tell you right now that I could have cried. That simple statement of hospitality and her invitation to be family was more appreciated than I think she could ever understand. It is quite a powerful thing to experience that kind of generosity and reception from near strangers and it speaks to the warmth of the Palestinian people and the beauty of their culture of hospitality.
6. A few days later, after helping a severely visually impaired student read a story in English, she turned to her teacher and asked her a question in Arabic. The teacher turned to me and told me that she asked, “Why are all of the volunteers so lovable?” I was kind of overwhelmed. If I’m being honest, I hardly feel like I have helped much at all. I don’t have much classroom experience, I’ve never taught English, and I could keep going with the laundry list of reasons that right now I am feeling so unprepared for this experience. But that has to stop because it is evident that I am in the right place and that whatever I have done thus far has been appreciated. I am so thankful for the previous volunteers and the YAGM program for continuing to have a presence at Helen Keller so that we can accompany each other on the journey.
7. On a completely different note, in the past couple days, I have made a few new friends here in the flat. These friends are not of the human variety and I didn’t invite them, but they are friendly, nonetheless. In the past couple days, Abby (the other YAGM that I live with) and I have caught two small lizards in my room! I’m not sure why they like my room so much, but when talking with Antoinette, our host mom, she said, “They are small, like you!” Anyway, here are a couple of picture of my new friends!
Thanks for hanging in with my long post! Feel free to comment or email me if you have questions, I’d love to hear from you!!