The Online Arabic from Palestine course and the UN International day of Peace

It is Eid al-Adha, and our colleagues in Gaza are getting ready for the celebrations.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Public places in the Gaza Strip, such as the Islamic University of Gaza, are closed, but work on the Online Arabic from Palestine course is still ticking along. It’s now time for the last few tasks. After some to-ing and fro-ing of samples over WhatsApp, the course’s cover is ready, thanks to Gaza designer Maha, who volunteered to do this in her free time.

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Most of the course is now available on the Moodle platform of the Islamic University of Gaza, and we are busy planning launch events in Gaza and Glasgow on the 19th of September. We chose this date because we wanted the launch to coincide with the UN International day of Peace. We had to anticipate the date a bit (the actual date is the 21st) because this year it falls on a Friday, and our colleagues in Gaza will not be at work. However, we hope that the date we have chosen for the launch will bode well for our course, for the future of the Gaza Strip and of Palestine, and for the building of language bridges to foster understanding and friendship.

We have worked very hard to make this a course that is different from all other Arabic courses (and many courses also in other languages). This course is special because:

  • it is delivered from Gaza by trained and experienced Palestinian teachers based in Gaza… (the next best thing to travelling there)
  • it talks about the challenges of living in Gaza and of being Palestinian, as well as teaching you to introduce yourself, ask for sage tea, buy a thwab (don’t know what a thwab is? If you take the course, you will!)
  • it teaches you about Palestinian food, music, traditions, poetry and art, and also to know the difference between Modern Standard Arabic and the Palestinian dialect, so you are aware of these differences.
  • It introduces each lesson with videos that will take you to a Gazan marked, to the library of the Islamic University of Gaza, to a Gazan home and to Gaza’s cafes, shops and restaurants. We are really looking forward to showing you all these lovely places in Gaza!

Of course, the lessons are designed to teach you Arabic in a Palestinian and Gazan context. Below are descriptors of what you will be able to do at the end of each level. We have adapted the Common European Framework for Languages as a guideline for this. By the end of each level, you will be able to:

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We hope that many people will be interested in learning Arabic from Palestine. If you wish to get more information and/or book a place in the forthcoming course, please contact us using the form on this blog or directly via the Arabic Center (the link is available on our Home Page)

Look out for news about the launch!

Getting ready!

It is a time of preparation. Our colleagues in Gaza are getting ready for the Eid al Fitr festivities to celebrate the end of Ramadan, while putting the finishing touches on the IT elements of the online Palestinian Arabic course. In Scotland it feels as if the light is gathering strength as days lengthen towards the Summer Solstice. We are finalising reports from the pilot sessions, compiling a course glossary for learners, putting things in place for final reports and evaluations. It feels as if we are gathering pace alongside the season, steadily moving towards the (now very near) day when this course is publicly available, out in the world for people to learn and benefit from.

 

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Screenshot of one of the course’s exercises…

We are also excited about preparations for our slot at SOLAS festival, “Scotland’s Midsummer festival of arts and ideas”. This year, the SOLAS open-air festival has partnered with the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration Through Languages and the Arts (RILA), and the Online Palestinian Arabic Course is part of this. So we are delighted to bring a taster session of the course to the festival! We will cover basic greetings, some numbers, and how to make some Palestinian food. We are planning a fun, interactive session involving food, guessing games, music and poetry because it is just not true that learning languages has to be boring.

 

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Practicing for SOLAS…

Looking ahead, in September we will be heading to Bolzano in Italy to present our work at a European conference on education. We will also host the official launch of the Online Palestinian Arabic Course in Glasgow, which will be held in parallel to a launch in Gaza. Watch this space for more information about both these events. In the meantime, back to writing reports, finishing glossaries and looking for those tent pegs that surely must be somewhere…

 

 

Tent peg image by Jan Uthoff (Wikimedia Commons) GFDL and CC-BY 2.5

 

 

Teaching, learning, remembering

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:

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Waiting for our ‘Arabic taster’

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:

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Olive oil, mixing cup, ready for the za’atar

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:

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Hope is planting an olive tree

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.

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Bread, za’atar, olive oil and dates

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