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From a meeting with a Bedouin family
My first interaction with the Bedouins took place in a hike with my friends in Ein Ekev, Southern Israel. Exausted from a whole day’s tramping over hill and dale, we sat down with a Bedouin family that lived in tents and were treated with snacks and hot tea. During the visit, we listened to their story of how their home was under constant demolition because of their illegal status and why they chose to stay instead of moving to the cities. I was completely taken by their strong commitment to the land and a Bedouin life-style. I also realized how little I knew about “Bedouin” except for its being a name for a nomad. After hearing of A New Dawn from a friend that has volunteered here before, I reached out to our CEO Jamal and expressed my interest in volunteering. Luckily, I got the chance to start my four-week journey exploring the Bedouin community in Rahat as well as working as an English teacher for Bedouin kids.
Experience of teaching English in Rahat
My major task in these four weeks is to arrange the English Summer Camp together with my coworkers. The program has lasted for three weeks: the first week we gave three classes a day in A New Dawn, dividing kids from 10 to 18 into three groups, each of different class schedules; the second week our four volunteers in this program were divided into two groups to teach in different schools, Alex in Segev Shalom while Joel, Anwar and me in the Matnas National Community Center in Rahat; the last week we had it in A New Dawn again.
The first week was not easy for me since I was giving three classes a day, and Joel and me were the only volunteers for this week’s camp. Joel is a kind, funny American guy and a perfect partner to work with. He reached out to me after he saw my post in the Facebook looking for volunteers, saying that he would love to join. I am so grateful that our cooperation went surprisingly well from the very beginning. After teaching together for three weeks, we has become very good friends.
We faced different challenges when teaching each group. Teaching the youngest kids seemed to be the easiest since it is not hard to draw their interest into English by doing fun games and songs. But they can also be distracted easily. I was very careful on the teaching order in order to make sure that the kids would not get confused by different information or overwhelmed by new things. Drawing, acting and story-telling are very useful teaching methods that can deliver new information while keeping them interested.
I had a hard time engaging the older kids into class discussions because many of them were too shy to speak English, especially teenage boys. But as we got more familiar with each other in the next few days, I started to realize that they were the most talkative and active students I had ever met! We had deep discussions on career, travel, and cultural differences in class, where singing and dancing would never absent as it is such a Bedouin tradition. One of the funniest experiences I had of interacting with the kids may be a “Could you write my name in Chinese?” activity. Once in class a kid asked me to write his name in Chinese. I did. Then one after another, kids came asking for a Chinese version of their names until I wrote all 30+ kids’ names in Chinese (I made several up though since I couldn’t find their counterparts in Chinese lol). Working as an English teacher, it is a rewarding moment when I witnessed kids too shy to speak English in Day 1 ended up open to conversations and asking us about our lives and cultures.
Being with the Bedouin kids is a process of knowing a different people while reflecting on myself. Although the kids are at least five years younger than me, many of them have quiet a clear knowledge of what they are purchasing and what effort they should pay to achieve their goals. For them I am probably one of the many English teachers they have had in life, only being with them for a few weeks; but for me even in these few weeks I had a meaningful experience. I see myself able to help them get some fun from learning, to be a friend that they can talk with, and a window through which they can see a bit of a foreign culture. Me in the process, surrounded by the Bedouin directness, hospitality and passion for life, I was also reexamining the culture that I’ve grown up with-much about politeness and respect but unfortunately, less empathy for others and passion for life.
During my four-week’s stay in the host family, I was invited to a wedding once and visits to a friend’s or a relative’s family for a thousand times. It is a Bedouin tradition to maintain a close relationship with family and friends by visiting each other frequently. If guest are coming to visit, a big feast is a must for reception. When I visited Eden’s family (a girl I know from the wedding), I was treated with a delicious meal called Msakanah (a mix of grilled chicken, a lot of onions, ground almonds and rice. Yum yum!) and a home-made chocolate cake for dessert. After dinner, all the kids in the family came to me with tons of question about my impression of Rahat, my life in China and even Kungfu! Though it was a shame that I couldn’t show them Kungfu since it’s non-existing in me, I had a great time sharing with them different food and habits we have in China and listening to theirs! The next morning, after waken up by the hostess at the exactly time we had fixed the night before, I enjoyed the most splendid breakfast I’ve ever had in life plus some sophisticated gifts for memory. Their warm reception to make me feel like at home really melts my heart.
The Bedouin community-a different world in a Jewish State?
In the host family, I shared a room with one of the daughters Aysha, a smart sixteen-year-old girl and fluent English speaker. In our interactions I was surprised to find out that she preferred speaking English than Hebrew when she was in Be’er Sheva! Some other girls that I have talked with also expressed their worries in terms of speaking Hebrew in front of the Jews. Though located in Israel, Rahat seems like a different world from other big cities, such as Haifa and Be’er Sheva. Half of the Bedouin population in the Negev is Israeli restricted to settle within the city of Rahat and 6 other towns (Knesset, 2010), keeping their own communal lift-style. Hardship in getting the sense of belonging and being integrated into the broader Israeli society have posted identity crises to many Bedouin youth, especially when they walk out of Rahat for higher education or work. This is a problem that the Israeli government is trying to solve, but obviously their effort is far from enough.
I met a lot of great people in these four weeks, many of which I would love to keep in touch with in the future. As an Political Science student, I worked a lot on getting a more comprehensive picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in school, one of the most problematic issues in the way of the Middle East peace. Situation of the Bedouin society is something that would not be addressed as frequently as the Palestinian problem. Is Jewish-Bedouin coexistence less worthy of attention “internationally”? Practically yes. However, problems that are disturbing the Bedouin society, unemployment, inequality, discrimination, inadequate integration into the Israeli society etc., are also problems worsening the issue of coexistence in this country. I am glad that I have the chance to have a deeper look at the society while providing the kids with some help. Also, I am looking forward to coming back to Rahat, if not in a near future, and seeing good changes in both people I get to know here and the society.