Where should the birds fly?

Between the 1st and the 3rd of May the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts had its second annual Spring School, to talk about asylum and refuge from many different perspectives. And what a great success it was! Three days of presentations and workshops in the welcoming Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in the West End of Glasgow. The School attracted academics (some from as far away as Australia!),
experts-by-experience, advocacy groups, integration networks and activists, and we talked, thought, laughed (even cried a bit) and enjoyed together the yummy food cooked for us by the great team at Küche.

nourishment
and more nourishment

The theme of this year’s Spring School came from a song by Karin Polwart, from her wonderful ‘Wind resistance’ album, which talks about the collective efforts of geese as they fly in a V formation. Birds thus featured prominently in most presentations and workshops, and our Palestinian Arabic taster was built around a line from a deeply moving poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called ‘The earth is closing on us’. The line says:

‘Where should the birds fly, after the last sky?’

So, at the workshop we learnt to greet and introduce ourselves in Arabic, but also the name of colours for squares of origami papers, which we then folded to make ‘asfour’, birds of many different colours. Arabic has two words for bird. One, ‘tayir’, indicates the general order of feathered animals, while asfour is used to refer to the little birds whose specific name we don’t quite know: the ones that dart around our cities and countryside, that sing – sometimes beautifully – and that can make us smile. All the little, colourful asafeer (this is the plural of asfour) we made at the workshop were collected at the end and gathered together on a piece of driftwood, so they could be displayed in the main hall for everyone to enjoy.

where should the birds fly?

Quite a few of the workshop’s participants said they want to learn Arabic with our friends and colleagues at the Arabic Center of the Islamic University of Gaza. All of them said they had had a wonderful time (and so did we!)

clothed in birds

Team member Alison delivered the keynote speech to mark the end of the Spring School, coming back to Karin Polwart’s birds, and dressed in the little asafeer of our Palestinian Arabic workshop.

International symposium at IUG

On the 13th of March, IUG and the Arabic Centre hosted an international symposium on ‘Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language’.

Participants included our colleagues at the Arabic Centre, staff and students from IUG, our research team at the University of Glasgow and two keynote speakers: Dr. Hasan Kordi from the Islamic University of the Maldives, and Mr. Murshed David from South Africa. The symposium allowed us to exchange knowledge and good practices about teaching Arabic online and about the presence of Arabic within different education systems and in different countries.

Below you can see symposium’s participants from Palestine, the Republic of the Maldives and South Africa as they looked from Scotland!

One monitor, four countries

The UK team illustrated the 2017 report by the British Council called Languages for the Future. The report used a series of indicators to research which modern foreign languages the UK needs for future prosperity and to become a truly global nation. And guess what? Arabic is among the five top languages!

The British Council report considers economic factors, and also non-market related factors, such as the languages most used on the Internet, the languages needed for diplomatic purposes, and languages used for tourism. The report concludes that it is imperative for the UK to find strategies to address its ‘language deficit’:  only 1/3 of the UK population (this includes UK residents whose native tongue is not English) can hold a basic conversation in a language other than English…

When talking to our colleagues and friends during the symposium, however, we stressed that learning Arabic is important not just for economic purposes, for diplomacy or intelligence (although these are – of course – all very valid reasons) but also because it is one of the languages spoken in our communities, and a language through which we can offer ‘linguistic hospitality’ to refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.

The day continued with the presentations by team members Mrs Lubna Hajjar and Miss Ola Lubbad who showed us some of the ways in which teachers work at the Arabic Centre, and by Miss Hala Al-Shreim who showed us a video compilation, made by our wonderful Gaza colleagues, in which Arabic Center’s students from all over the world introduce themselves. Below are our Gaza team testing the Arabic Center’s new website to show it at the symposium (about which we’ll write a post soon: keep an eye out!)

Getting ready for the symposium…

It was a truly lovely event!

Gaza: the full picture

When doing a Google search for images of the Gaza Strip, Palestine, you may really struggle to find images that are not of rubble, explosions, smoke, young people (usually men) with their face covered, looking threatening. Below is a screenshot showing the first few images that came up when searching the word ‘Gaza’ on Google Images today.

Google’s Gaza

Since Google tailors its results according to previous searches, you may get images that are a bit different. However, whether they come from supportive websites or websites that are hostile, the images are almost invariably along the lines of the ones above. We know, because, when we were putting together the Online Arabic from Palestine language course, we had to scroll through huge amounts of these images to find some that were not of war, misery and destruction.

When our Palestinian colleagues in Gaza send us pictures for this blog’s gallery, the screenshot of the drive where the images were stored could not be more different from the one above. Compare the two!

‘Our’ Gaza

Life in the Gaza Strip is indeed hard: we do not wish to minimise this. But there are people in Gaza who are keen to show that hardship and pain are not all there is in Gaza, that people there are living their everyday lives in the best way they can under the circumstances. That Palestinians in Gaza are managing to hold on to their dignity, hopes and great determination to lead lives as normal as possible, even in the ‘abnormal’ circumstances of the situation they are in.

Kholoud Nassar is a young Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza Strip. She uses her Instagram account to show ‘the full picture’ of life in Gaza, one which acknowledges that there is war and destruction, but that this is not all. You can watch how she portrays Gaza in the BBC documentary ‘The Instagrammer who wants to show a different side of Gaza‘.

The Khaldi Twins have also been making videos about the Gaza Strip and life in Gaza for a few years now. They too do not deny that life in Gaza is harsh, but they wish to show also all the good things that happen in Gaza. If you have access to Facebook, you may want to check out their page.

This Gaza of both suffering and strenght is the Gaza that our Online Arabic from Palestine shows too. Designed for total beginners, this course is taught by qualified, trained teachers based in Gaza. It will show you the many bright facets of life in the Gaza Strip. You can register through the ‘contact‘ button or by writing directly the Arabic Center at the Islamic University of Gaza.