Bright blue skies don’t often happen in Scotland, especially not for a whole weekend. But last weekend the sun shone on Solas Festival, on the multicoloured tents and on the people gathered to enjoy and share music and ideas.
This year’s festival theme was “drift”, which was nicely complemented by the white clouds occasionally drifting overhead. Alison gave a lecture as the UNESCO chair – you can watch it here – during which she talked about undertaking work in Gaza and about the Online Palestinian Arabic Project (as well as many other things!). Our Gaza colleagues were held very close in the thoughts of many, across closed borders and travel bans.
One of the final events in the programme was a taster session for the OPAC course, similar to the one we ran at the Spring School. Lots of people chose to leave the sunny field and come into a hot tent to hear about Gaza, Palestinan Arabic and how our unique course is structured.
They learned how to greet each other, how to count up to five and how to make Za’atar; they heard stories about olive oil, bread and music as part of Palestinian culture, and listened to Marcel Khalifeh singing Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry of longing for his homeland. By the end the tent was full of loud applause, smiling faces and the sound of people enjoying ‘khubz wa zeit zeytoun wa za’atar’ before heading back out into the sunshine to enjoy the rest of the evening.
It was a delight to share the project as part of such an interesting festival. The positive feedback confirmed what we hoped: the OPAC course is fun, important, useful, accessible. Contact us to find out more and join!
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.
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.
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
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.