Meet the Palestinian teachers!

After the celebrations of the last months, which saw the launch of the Online Arabic from Palestine course, and the arrival at the University of Glasgow of twenty Masters’ students from the Islamic University of Gaza, our team has been busy planning future projects (so watch this space!)

Meanwhile our online intercultural community of students and teachers is expanding. A growing number of learners from different countries are enrolling to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course, people with different cultural backgrounds, interests and expectations. This is really motivating for the Arabic Center’s teachers, who are busy developing even more tailored activities to maximise the students’ learning experiences. The teachers use the innovative course that has been developed but are also integrating it with their own ideas and teaching materials, making our great course even more flexible and suitable for all different needs. They are truly dedicated and creative professionals.

There is some trepidation in the air thanks to these online encounters! When enrolling as a language learner into a new course, you might feel excited, curious, hopeful and even, let’s admit it, maybe a little bit worried, or anxious… One of the first questions you ask yourself is who and how the teacher will be. This is always true, but even more so for one to one lessons, where there’s no way for you to hide 😊 The same happens to the language teachers, who, at the beginning of any language course wonder who their new students will be, how the course will go, whether the students will be rather shy or extrovert, whether the lessons that have been planning will meet the needs of the students and so on.

In this short promo video Lubna, Neveen and Jehad, three of the teachers at the Arabic Centre, introduce themselves. You can see their smiles, hear their voices… even before the first lesson! During the course you will get to know them a little bit better, and they will get to know you a little bit too since – remember – the aim of our course is not only to be introduced to Arabic as a foreign language, but also to create connections and get to know each other’s worlds.

If you decide to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course (you know you want to!) remember that you can contact the Arabic Center through our contacts section or directly on the AC’s website!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multilingual smiles

This is a post in the first person, written from one side of the computer screen. So far our posts have been from all of us, in Gaza and Glasgow. But this is a post about being responsible for a project in a language one does not understand, and there is just me (Giovanna indicates herself) in this rather peculiar position. So, this is my blog post about frustration, trust, collaboration. About looking for patterns and sounds (and smiles). About the affective dimensions of languages…

 

Scene one

An office at the University of Glasgow (zoom in on an email inbox). I open a document that has just arrived from our Gaza partners. I know it’s the script for the films that will accompany the course: we were expecting it. It’s in Arabic. I stare at it, but it remains silent. I minimise the document and get on with other work, waiting for Esa to come and breathe sound into it.

Esa and I look over the script for the short videos that will introduce each lesson. We are concerned that the dialogues have too few lines for Sara, the female character, and that we’ll need to expand her role a bit. I can tell when Sara speaks even though the script is in Arabic and I cannot read it. I can recognise the name ‘Sara’ because its last letter is a little ‘o’ shape, with two dots above it. I can see eyes, a nose, and a little wonky smile off to the right. Let me introduce you to Sara of the little smile:

سارة      

So, I can count the times the little smile appears as the first word of the script, just before a colon (I can deal with the right to left script, that seems easy enough). Yes, there are definitely not enough lines for Sara: we will need to make sure that she speaks a bit more… Esa reads the Arabic dialogue aloud for me, in Italian. We discuss the parts that we like, those that we’re not sure about (Esa and Giovanna speak Italian to each other). We make comments on the margins of the document for our Gaza partners, in English.

 

Scene two

Today we have a full team meeting. We have not had one for a while, so we have a lot to discuss. Esa and I sit on the floor, in the living room of a Glasgow tenement building, a wood fire to keep us warm. On the coffee table are: two laptops, some sheets of paper, empty coffee cups, pens, a few oatcakes, chocolate (it is lunchtime, after all). One of the laptops takes us to Gaza, via Skype. On the other one we bring up the documents we are working on.

The Gaza team look into the Glasgow living room from the other side of the screen. They look a lot more professional: a university room, desks, books, pens, laptops. No debris of a meal in sight (well, it is mid-afternoon there). Two countries, two rooms. Two laptops, eight people, three languages. Sometimes all three languages at once.

For some reason the connection today is poor. Our voices break up when they reach Gaza. I speak closer to the screen, in English, slowly: “Did. You. See. Our. Comments. To. The. Script?” The Gaza team consult in Arabic and Esa translates in Italian what they are saying: they are not sure which document. I try again: “We. Sent. You. The. Comments. Last. Week”. The Gaza team are struggling to understand my fragmenting English (puzzled faces on the screen). Esa enquires about the document in Arabic. They understand, and they all chat away (Giovanna puts more wood on the fire).

The reception improves and we work together for a couple of hours , honing the dialogues, discussing the activities.

 

Scene three

We wave goodbye to the Gaza team,  drawing another long, productive meeting to a close. I offer my “Ma Salama!”, a bit dizzy from the concentration required to juggle laptops, languages, echoes. Esa’s goodbye in Arabic takes longer (Esa and our colleagues in Gaza laugh).

Esa and I settle down for the rest of the afternoon, to do the work we agreed we would do. The Gaza team are doing the same in their university room, getting started on the many tasks they have taken on. Esa and I write the screen-play using the dialogues we agreed on, so we can send it to Gaza before evening: Sara likes music (she gives a thumbs-up). Adam likes drawing (he shows his sketchbook). Anas would like sage tea (close up of fresh sage).

The filming in Gaza will start within days, and there’s no time to waste. Sara (of the little smile) now has more lines.

“Ce la faremo!” Esa tells me (she smiles).