Palestinian children (image credit: Michael Reid)
Michael Reid, a teacher at Broughtonhall Hall High School in Liverpool, blogs about how he took part in a Connecting Classrooms project where a group of Liverpool schools connected with schools in the Palestinian Territories.
Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, I was struck by the seemingly-chaotic nature of the airport. I was then a little surprised to have to join the queue for foreigners – other people are foreigners, not me! Once through passport control and having collected our bags, I and my travelling companion, Les Stewart of Cardinal Heenan High School fame, spotted the magic words ‘British Council’ on a sign held by Louis, our protector and guide. It was a very welcome sign indeed.
Although we arrived during the early hours of Sunday, our drive from Tel Aviv to Jericho provided enough sights for us to be a little uncomfortable. After all, it’s not every day that we Brits encounter military checkpoints and huge concrete walls on our road trips.
Normally I am glad of a decent breakfast; but I soon discovered that a very light self-service breakfast was a necessity during this trip. Palestinian hospitality is such that their concept of a ‘light’ breakfast or lunch is anything but light. Throughout this visit, it was clear somebody thought that we needed to be fattened up.
Our first visit was to the Jericho Directorate Office for some welcoming remarks from the director. We had coffee, a ritual drink that bears no resemblance to what we drink back home. The first light breakfast was indeed light, a cunning plot to lull us into a false sense of security. Ah, security, a word that will be cropping up at regular intervals.
Next stop was Jericho Secondary Girls’ School. We were greeted by a wonderful group of teachers and pupils, names were exchanged, hands shaken and thanks were showered upon us. We were given the grand tour by a group of confident grade 12 students who possessed excellent English language skills. Education is treated with respect in Palestine, which is swiftly evident; the pride shown by all is almost matched by the enthusiasm. We were treated to a choral presentation from a student with a gift for singing, watched a lesson – and then the ‘light’ breakfast got us.
Breakfast was a kaleidoscopic mix of dishes that were as pleasing to the eye as the mouth. I will always remember the food here. If at times my tone is light when referring to the food we were presented with, I make no apology. The people we met all had a well-developed sense of humour and were able to laugh at things we in Britain would struggle to handle.
Throughout our time in Palestine we were impressed, saddened, uplifted, enthused, angry and happy at various times. One overriding impression that will stay with me is that of resilience. Happy, enthusiastic students, eager dependable teachers, worried administrators and sheer hard work typified the schools that we visited. The qualities that seemed the most strained were those of hope and optimism.
At the Marj Naaja school, the most isolated of the schools, students brought their own water to school. The water supply in the area is beyond their use and control. We arrived at a sad time; a pupil had died in a farming accident. As a mark of respect, the visiting dignitaries along with Les and I paid our respects to the family. We were given coffee, a sign of respect and commiseration, and were invited into the family home. The family was of Bedouin heritage and welcomed us with open arms. Bedouins will give food, shelter and protection to any visitor without asking the purpose of their visit for three days. This hospitality was offered to us despite the tragic circumstances. It was with heavy hearts that we took our leave of the family.
Our visit that began on Sunday ended on Wednesday with a meeting of school principals, education directors and the British Council. In thanking our hosts, we made reference to the fact that we went as teachers, swiftly became students and parted as friends.
Palestine is not as Mark Twain once described it, ‘desolate and unlovely’. It is a warm, safe and friendly collection of communities that desire peace and hope. In saying goodbye, it is my fervent wish that they achieve their desires.