Day One, July
The first day of Jusoor’s summer program in the Bekaa Valley began, as many things do here in Lebanon, with a bit of an adventure. Because of Beirut’s ‘garbage crisis’ the bus carrying the volunteers from Beirut to the Bekaa was late, which caused the volunteers to arrive two hours late and miss approximately half of the first session.
As the bus drove up the mountain through Chtoura across the Litani River into Jarahieh, and finally south to Joub Jenine, I could not help but think about the paths each of us — administration, teachers, volunteers, and students — had to take to get to school this morning. We were late because of Beirut’s traffic. Our students and the rest of the teachers were on time. Where did the students wake up this morning? Who helped them get ready? What was their bus ride, or walk perhaps, to school like?
Jusoor, in Arabic, means ‘bridges’, and, in many ways, these paths are like a kind of bridge. They connect one place — Beirut, our home, our family — to another, the Bekaa, the camps, school. The question I couldn’t help but ask myself as we finally arrived at the other side of the ‘bridge’ this morning was “what flows below?”
The rest of the the first day sped by. We kept busy by dancing, singing, playing football, making nametags, telling stories of Cinderella and of having to help our families, learning colors and how to paint with our fingers. Shy students who at the beginning of the day weren’t comfortable dancing to songs, learned by the end how to turn simple movements into dance moves and confidently demonstrate other students’ their dancing. Students who at the beginning of the day didn’t know the names of colors learned by the end how to ask for different paint colors in English. Students learned that I didn’t prefer them call out “miss!” while raising their hands. I learned how to say things more clearly in Arabic. We all learned that it’s okay to make mistakes when learning a new language. While these are not huge lessons in themselves, they do give some indication of the direction we are heading. Another bridge.
At the end of the day our buses took off in different directions. Some of us returned to Beirut where buildings have air conditioning to cool during the hot summer, (sometimes) clean water, and coffee shops that have (only somewhat functional) WiFi. It is from here that we will design our lesson plans for the coming days. And others of us returned to elsewhere.
I am finishing up my classroom plans for tomorrow as I type this blog post and I wonder, given the distance between them, about the kinds of bridges that we can build between these two places. About the kinds of bridges that I can help support — as a foreigner with barely passable Arabic that happens to be living in the Bekaa — and the kinds of bridges that a Lebanese or Syrian teacher, or even a Syrian student, can help build.
I am also still wondering about what flows below.
Tory volunteered at Jusoor’s educational centers in Lebanon during July and August as part of the summer volunteer program.