2.14 – 22 December 2005
J. and Z. stay at home while L. and I go to school at nine o’clock in the morning. L. was wrong about the nine o’clock lesson and I attend one on Arabic. This is the eldest children’s classroom; next year; the eldest will have to travel to Aqraba daily to attend secondary school. I copy in my notebook what the teacher writes on the blackboard.
There are three classrooms in this school. I can not see lights on the ceiling or plugs on the walls, it doesn’t seem that they use electricity here. This is probably why school starts at seven in the morning and finishes at noon, to make use of daylight. The windows are square holes in the walls, without glass. The doors stay open to let the light come through. There is also a kitchen in the school.
Two levels are taught in each classroom by each teacher, both at the same time. There are also children from Lower Yanoun, who come in the daily shuttle van that also carries the older children to Aqraba for secondary school. Only six years are taught here.
The only computer in the school is in this classroom. Whoever donated it, did not ask if they had electricity in the school.
Against the walls are various sets of shelves. They are full of boxes with the Unicef logo on them. All the children have the same model of school bag, with the same colours, and all their books look pretty old except for the English and Maths books. The English book says on the front (as one would open it in the Western world, not as an Arabic book would be open, like the rest of their books): English for Palestine. I imagine these materials, chalk, books, school bags… come from international organisations like UNICEF or OXFAM.
During the break L. plans to play football with the kids and we both head for the playground, which consists of the road and a small esplanade next to it. The teachers tell him to stay in the kitchen for some lunch and he looks at me – the invitation is supposed to include me but they will talk to both through him, as it is culturally mandatory. Lunch consists of a dish of oil, another dish of hummus and bread to dip in. And, of course, tea.
They ask where I come from and then they say that the van that takes the children to school was bought thanks to some Spanish/French charity. The English teacher says that the children in this village are a lot better at it than in Aqraba, thanks to their daily contact with internationals. Besides, they start learning it right from the beginning of their schooling, when they are four or five. I remember I only started to learn English when I was eleven.
After the break there is finally the English lesson. The technique is a lot more “oral” than the way I was taught, and it looks a lot less academic, but seems a lot more useful, judging from the level of English of most youth who have never gone out of this country – mainly because the Israeli authorities do not allow them to.
When school finishes, a white van with sits but no sign that it is a taxi comes from the same road we used to come here and the children that don’t live in Upper Yanoun get on it. L. explains that it is the daily shuttle to and from Aqraba, mainly for the older children who have to go to the bigger city to the equivalent to secondary school, but also for the children in Lower Yanoun to get to and from school in Upper Yanoun.
I find this schooling system quite similar to rural Spain, or at least a combination of what was the practice years ago and what is done now. Decades ago, in many rural parts of Spain the one teacher of the village would teach all the children in the same classroom, all ages and all levels taught at the same time. Which is partly what is done here, with children of two different ages joined in the same classroom, studying two different levels. Then, what they do now in Spain is run shuttles like this to bring pupils to bigger towns where they can attend school with more children their ages. Although of course some parents choose to move to the bigger towns to avoid the daily travel to their children.
So the fact that these children need a shuttle bus to go to school every day is not because of the occupation but because it is a rural area with small villages. L. says, “yes, it is easy to blame all the problems on the occupation”.
When school finishes we go home and then visit some families. L. seems to know most of them. He says it is best to visit as many different families as possible, since it is their knowledge of our presence that makes them feel safe.
We sit around the fires at the entrance of as many houses as we can with the men of each house. At the last one, a woman in a black long dress and with her head covered sits next to the door, out of the circle that has formed around the fire, and looks at me. I smile at her and then she asks: “are you good at English?” Sitting as I am between two North Americans and an Englishman, I can not say I am, so I answer jokingly: “I am good at pretending”. She continues very serious and, staring at me, without blinking, she asks, almost states:”would you help my daughter”. I say I would and she invites me in, leaving all the men outside and taking me inside, with her daughters and younger sons. I have been invited to a domestic realm where my fellow comrade men are not allowed.
The living room consists of a medium-sized room with a carpet and thin, gymnasium-like mattresses as sitting facilities. In one of the corners there is a small piece of furniture with the children’s books and notepads on its shelves and a tv on top. In another corner there is a wardrobe with blankets. The children sit on the carpet or on the thin mattresses, as they watch tv or do their homework, using the same carpet they are sitting on as their studying table.
The mother introduces me to the daughter I have to help and we both sit down, as the mother goes to the kitchen. All the sisters look of similar age to me and their English sounds almost native, so I wonder what exactly they need me for. The one I’m here to help tells me she has not actually prepared today’s lesson because she has another exam tomorrow and, could I come back the day after tomorrow, after she’s had her exam and prepared her lesson with questions for me.
I say I will and then the mother, who is now wearing modern, western sportswear and has her hair in a pony tail, invites me into the kitchen to eat. There are fresh vegetables and falafel on the table for me. She tell me she makes the falafel herself and after we both eat she gives me all the balls left to take home. I join the rest outside and after a few moments we the internationals go home. Tomorrow two of us will leave for another place in need of internationals. L. and Z. will take the shuttle that the older children get in order to go to school in Aqraba, at eight in the morning or so.