Today is the 70th Nakba Day, the ‘Day of the Catastrophe’. People are gathering in Palestine and across the world to mark the catastrophic displacement, death and destruction suffered by the Palestinian people when the State of Israel was formed in 1948. They are also gathering to protest the fact that “…the Nakba is an extended present that promises to continue in the future”, as the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote in 2001.
Today is also the 7th week of the ‘March of Return’, confirming the truth of Darwish’s statement: people in Gaza have been marching to the border with Israel to protest against the ongoing blockade and travel restrictions and to demand their right to return to the lands from which they and their families were forcibly removed.
Today is a day in which we in Glasgow feel – more than ever – the urgency of supporting our colleagues in Gaza. So this is a blog about teaching Arabic with a Palestinian flavour in Glasgow as an act of creative solidarity.
In February we wrote about being invited to run a taster session of the OPAC course at the UNESCO Spring School. Our preparations since then paid off: the session was a delight for everyone involved. We wanted to create a welcoming environment, so set the scene by setting the classroom up as a cafe, with Palestinian dates to welcome people and give them energy:
We started by explaining the background to the current situation in Gaza, using maps and statistics to try to describe a reality far beyond what any of us in the classroom have ever experienced. Our Palestinian colleagues were present in our thanks and acknowledgements, even if they could not be there in person.
Then we moved straight into the lesson, showing participants the video of Unit One, Lesson One: greetings and introductions. We were impressed by how quickly everyone picked up the key vocabulary! Very quickly participants was walking around the classroom exchanging names and greetings. They were equally quick in joining in the numbers game which helped them learn the numbers from 0 to 5 – a necessary step before mixing their very own recipe of za’atar and olive oil:
While teaching the words ‘za’atar’ and ‘olive oil’ in Arabic we also invited people to appreciate the smells and colour of the herbs, spices and oil as sensory elements connected to the capabilities of expressing senses and imagination. We spoke about the significance of olive trees in Palestine, of how they are seen as symbols of endurance and rootedness to the land that nourishes them and its people. They also symbolise peace, and planting olive trees in Palestine is a political act of resistance and hope:
Za’atar is eaten with bread – another useful word to know in Arabic, and an element of Palestinian hospitality which is also highly charged and symbolic. We introduced participants to Mahmoud Darwish and his poem ‘Ummi’ (‘My Mother’), as put to music by the Lebanese singer Marcel Khalife.
The poem starts with ‘I long for / the bread of my mother’ and lists things the poet longs for and misses connected to his mother. Darwish is moved by the many memories of the homeland he has lost.
Which brings us back to Nakba Day, and how to remember a catastrophe that is still happening. We remember and protest with our bodies, but also with our words. We teach people words in Arabic so that the language spoken by Palestinians becomes real, a lived experience, a new landscape full of richness and beauty as well as protest and anger. We teach and learn languages because shared words help us to grow as humans in resistance and hope, despite destruction.
Olive tree image by Palestine Solidarity Project https://www.flickr.com/photos/palestineproject/6099524658