Intern Journal: The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

In my Moms English class last week, I called on one of my students to write five letters of the English alphabet on the board.  Until that point, class had been jubilant and energetic, filled with laughter, smiles, and supportive applause.  Many of my students know each other well, a fact made obvious by their constant embracing and excited chattering that is sometimes difficult to bring to an end.  They are joyful and effusive in class, and often communicate their affection for me by spontaneously declaring, “I love you!”  With so much positive energy around, it took me by surprise when the student I called to the board broke down in tears. At first, it was hard for me to understand why she had started crying.  But later, when I learned more about her family situation, my perspective changed.  My student’s brother, like many other Nabulsi young men, is currently in an Israeli jail, and it is unclear when, if ever, he will be released.  Her father is unemployed and hasn’t been able to find work for many years.  Learning these facts about her life was a wake up call for me.  It reminded me that even though my students seem upbeat and light hearted overall, the reality of their circumstances, which is life under a military occupation, is stark.  Many of them have experienced hardships that I can only begin to imagine.

The ubiquity of suffering and loss among Nablus residents has been the most difficult aspect of life here for me to understand and process.  Almost every time I meet a new person, I learn that something horrible has happened to them.  One friend was imprisoned for three years at the age of 18; another saw his father killed before his eyes.  These stories always take me by surprise mostly because at first sight the people I meet seem so normal.  But life in a city whose walls are always plastered with posters to commemorate the newly dead is anything but normal.  I need to keep this in mind as I continue to get to know and try to be helpful to my students.  In light of the stresses of life here, such as the military bases that tower over the city from the mountains above or the regular ear-splitting roar of the military planes breaking the sound barrier overhead, it is not surprising that my student started crying in class.  Not knowing the letters in front of her fellow students was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.


Mary is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.