Children have a lot of questions. It is in their nature to be curious—and for good reason. Children do not know much about this world we live in, and thus are often sheltered from the brunt of the reality. The Bedouin children I teach in a Rahat elementary school are no different. They are energetic and excited, and full of interest in the world they know. Their world is a small one – many lack the opportunity to travel and have only interacted within their tribe in Rahat. They love to talk about Barcelona and Madrid, not because they have been there, but because of the football teams they admire. While their very way of life is a political debate, constantly being questioned by those above them, the children I teach are not concerned or care about them. They do not, however, keep questions to themselves.
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My pupils constantly question me. Some I understand – the questions about where I’m from, where I live, what my name is, and how old I am. When I tell them I’m from America, most are confused, how did I get from America to Rahat? Do I live in Rahat? Where are my mom and dad? They ask me about my sister and brother, and what they do.
Some questions I do not always understand—the questions they want to ask but lack the English knowledge to do so. I know they ask if my mom wears the hijab, and if I am married. (A question I get almost every day – my gold College ring confuses them.) They want to know if I have babies, a normal thing for women my age in their community. They try to ask if I like Barcelona or Madrid, Messi or Ronaldo.
The questions the pupils ask me are simple ones – ones that I can easily answer. The questions that I cannot answer are the ones they do not yet know to ask. They do not ask me why I am at their school – the answer being to try to improve their English in hopes that they will be able to attend university and increase their chances at a better life. They do not ask me which of them will be of the 30% of Bedouin pupils even eligible for university, and which ones will slip through the very large cracks in the Israeli Arab educational system. They do not ask me why they only start learning English in Grade 3, when most of their Jewish peers start in Grade 1, giving the Jewish children a significant advantage over them. They do not ask me about the looks and concerns I receive from Israelis constantly when I tell say that I teach in Rahat, the Bedouin city. They do not know to ask me why Israeli Jews are scared of their city, why they are scared of them.
The pupils I teach do not see just how high the odds are stacked against them. They do not understand to ask me why. They do not understand to ask me for help tearing down that wall. Their eyes are bright with other questions, and bright with all of the potential that they hold. The question I want to ask them is not what the letter P sounds like or what an apple is, but how I can help them tear down that wall, and close the gap. I can only work as hard as I can to answer that question for myself; to help them understand that their success is the answer.