It’s Kanafah not Knefeh, bas tfaDal [But Help Yourself]

EFL Fellow Mike spends time with his Arabic instuctor, Bshara, and his EFL student, Rakan, during a celebration for the STEP! II English as a Foreign Language program

EFL Fellow Mike spends time with his Arabic instuctor, Bshara, and his EFL student, Rakan, during a celebration for the STEP! II English as a Foreign Language program

When my students ask, “What Palestinian foods have you eaten?” they always laugh at my response.  “No,” they tell me emphatically, “It’s kanafah, not knefeh.”  I pronounce the famous Nabulsi dessert in the Lebanese way, not the Palestinian.  And though there are obvious, clear differences between the cultures of the two countries, and even the culture of Palestinians living in Lebanon and Palestine, I cannot ignore the similarities of teaching in both.

In both Lebanon and Palestine, Palestinian refugees face myriad challengers, and in both countries, they face them admirably.  While, more often than not, those living in Palestine and Lebanon are prevented from ever seeing each other, they have much in common than perhaps they know.

Every single day in my class at TYO my students attempt to offer me some portion of the food they bring for a snack.  If a student only has one cookie, I will still invariably be offered half.  Though I obviously love cookies, and appreciate the gesture, I usually feel honor-bound to refuse the generous offer.

Each time this happens, I am transported back to the winding alleys of the Rashidieh camp of South Lebanon.  One of my students there leads me down the twists and turns to his parents’ house.  Three of the children in the family were actually my students, and to show their appreciation, their parents invited me and one of my fellow teachers over for falafel.

While the family had little to give, they would bankrupt themselves to welcome us if we allowed it.  Thankfully, we both knew better.  Easily we could have stayed for hours eating helping after helping of their truly amazing food, but after a sandwich, we knew we had to limit ourselves to the coffee.

Much like in Palestine, I also found my particular brand of Arabic helped me connect to the students.  Though my friend and fellow teacher there studied Arabic more intensely than I, and therefore spoke better fusHa (the formal Arabic), but I had been living in Lebanon, and had somewhat of a feel for the Amiyya (the colloquial).  While he used his fancy words to talk politics with the parents, I was able to comfortably speak in the language of the students.  Neither of us understood the other’s conversation very well.

I find myself remembering those dual conversations as I talk with the teachers, staff, and volunteers of TYO at the center.  While I largely understand them and they largely understand me, if the conversation leads to ‘high-brow’ topics such as politics or complicated discussions of work, I will quickly be lost.  However, everyone seems highly amused by my Lebanese accent.  I often have people ask me, “Say something in Lebanese.”  Or I hear hushed voices in Arabic whispering, “Yes he speaks Arabic, but he speaks Lebanese.”

The unyielding optimism, strength, and generosity of my students and the staff here in Nablus have only ever been matched by that of my students and coworkers in Lebanon.  Although I am gently teased here in Palestine both inside and outside of the classroom that ‘tHki mtl Lubnani’ [I speak like a Lebanese], I am extremely grateful that I have been able to experience both narratives.

– Mike, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation