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29 March 2017 – Pen Paling

29 March 2017

I woke up with the ideas of our pen-paling project whirling through my head. The meeting yesterday with the director of general education in the ministry of education, a room full of public school teachers and principals and the head of the school of education program, made me realize that this project would be no small feat. Our cultural and educational realities are so different in so many ways, how was I going to bridge this gap. My dream for so long has been to bring students together from across geographical and cultural chasms, and now I know why the chasm has been hard to bridge. Here in Palestine public schools are separated by gender, the classes are filled with an upwards of 45 students, their curricular standards are completely different, and their cultural expectations seem wildly disparate. This morning my goal was to work with Julia to bring these to worlds together in a cohesive plan. We would skip the talk at the Palestinian Workers Union about the Women’s Rights Conference, and we would begin fleshing out our dream.

We spent the morning writing a letter to the Ministry of Education in Nablus and creating a pen-pal curricular guide that both Boulder and Nablus could work with, it wasn’t perfect but it was a beginning, and today we had a meeting with some private school teachers at the American Academy, that might help us shed some light on how to move forward with our project.

Meeting with the teachers at the American Academy allowed us to begin the see the possibilities of this type of cultural exchange. Being a private school definitely gives them an advantage and takes down a lot of the barriers we will face with the public school. Together we imagined the possibility of doing collaborative projects, creative writing pieces in which students write about a day in the life of their pen-pal after a semester or so of getting to know them, creating videos for each other, and even Skyping once or twice a year.

Dinner tonight was at Aquil’s beautiful home just up the street from our hotel. When we got there we were invited up to a large terrace overlooking the city. The terrace was decorated with pots of flowers, herbs and succulents, as well as two vine covered canopies, and a porch swing. The evening was perfect for an outdoor meal with a light breeze helping refresh us after a long day of meetings.

Before the meal we went upstairs to listen in to some music being played in the music school above Aquil’s house. A 16-year old boy stood with his two friends, a violin pinched between his chin and shoulder and extending so naturally as if a part of him, another limb. The ardently beautiful music coming out of his violin seemed other worldly, and definitely did not seem like it came from the same instrument that played the classical violin concertos I was used to in the states. For me the violin has always been an instrument of melancholy, but his music was far from melancholy. It was joyful. His spirited, rhythmic and lighthearted yet enigmatic music seemed to personify the Palestinian attitude: in the face of adversity we love, we laugh and we hope.

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