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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"I hate English, and she hates me!"


I am awaiting my 3 pm class of staffers, which is actually my 4pm class. We moved it up when I found out that that Kamle had arranged for me to visit overnight at someone’s house. Kamle, who I’d just been eating with a few minutes before, never mentioned it to me. Yesterday, a similar thing happened. We found out, last minute, that the group we were expecting at 1:30 pm had been changed to 3pm. Suzi had been planning to give her second presentation, about her art, at 2pm, so that plan got scuttled.

I am assuming the woman is the same person who’d invited me to stay over last week, then cancelled because she was sick. We’ll see. I hated the idea of cancelling the staff class, because it’s been so on again/off again. And yet they do seem to want to do it.

Yesterday a bunch of bigwigs from the art world in the US visited, brought on an art tour by a group called Artis (ie art Israel) that promotes Israeli art and artists abroad. The group included a bunch of curators, the director of the Des Moines Art Museum, a couple of arts writers. One woman seemed particularly moved, and when she and Suzi started chatting they discovered they were practically neighbors, living several blocks from each other on the Upper West Side in NYC. She indicated real interest in supporting efforts to raise funds for the greatly expanded Museum Said has planned. She is the former head of Aperture, the renowned photography foundation and magazine, founded in the 1950’s by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and others to promote the art of photography. Ellen seemed very warm and personable, and genuinely interested in the gallery and its mission. So it will be interesting to see where that goes.


I did spent Sunday evening at a family’s home, as anticipated. It wasn’t, however, the family I had expected. I had I assumed it was Amne, the woman who’d invited me a week ago and then had to cancel. It was, however, an entirely different family.

This family is also friends of Kamle. The father, Amal, is a cell phone salesman. His wife, Waseem, does laser hair removal. When I asked how they knew Kamle, Amal explained that Kamle was a customer of Waseem’s. Oh, and by the way, when I later told Kamle that I was confused, had she told me that they’d invited me , Kamle just shrugged and smiled and said she’d forgotten.

Amal and Waseem and their chidren, 22 year old Noor and 16 year old Ahmed, were, as everyone has been here, warm and delightful. Noor is an English teacher, in Beer Sheva, a 2 hour bus trip away, which she makes every day. Ahmed was at first resistant to trying to speak to me in English, which his parents were clearly urging him to do. I just smiled at him, indicating, I hoped, that parents were like that. But when his dad went out to pick up Noor, and his mom was in the kitchen, he suddenly, using his electronic dictionary, starting asking me questions. He did say to me that he hated English, and she hated him. But he was talking to me! By a couple of hours later, he was telling me that English was beautiful, but hard, and that I was a good teacher. He also told me all about his girlfriend.

Amal told me that Ahmed had had a terrible English teacher the year before, and he thought that was why Ahmed was so resistant to English. I couldn’t help thinking that the problem was partly that his parents pushed him too much, which he was also clearly resistant too. Ahmed was an entirely appealing young man, with a spiky hair style and a zany way of loping around the house with a grin on his face, which I couldn’t begin to describe. His sister was very sweet. When I told them I couldn’t stay over (Said was picking us up at 8am the next morning to go to Tel Aviv) they all insisted I come back another time, which I certainly hope to do.

Waseem, the mom, by the way, speaks no English, but was totally involved in, even prompting, much of our conversation. She asked me a lot of questions, which her family translated, and it was she who had originally invited me. She was gregarious, similar to Kamle, and I could see how they would be friends. She also prepared what was, in my mind, a feast, which they seemed to regard as a light meal. There was delicious lentil soup, made with red lentils. They seemed surprised that I make brown lentil soup, which they do use, but not in soups.
Then there was the usual array of salads, plus rice with almonds, and a meat and vegetable stew.

Followed, of course, by multiple kinds of sweets and fruits, including a kind of grapefruit-like fruit, but larger, and drier, for which we couldn’t find an English name. Waseem gave me the two pomegranates that we didn’t eat to take home. They are sitting in a fruit bowl on the table with the figs. I am overwhelmed with fruit and with friendship.

Twenty questions, my little electronic device, was a great success. It definitely was a big factor in encouraging Ahmed to talk. Waseem and Amal wanted to know where they could get one. Which gave me the idea that I could send them one later on, or maybe two, one for Amal, and one for Noor to use with her students .I brought several gifts with me from home, Boston potholders and chocolate covered cranberries. But there are so many people I want to give gifts to.

Before we left, for Amal to bring me back here ( they live in a small town of 1000 about 20 minutes away from Umm el Fahem) the conversation between Waseem and Noor turned somewhat contentious. Since they didn’t seem to have any shyness about arguing in front of me, I decided to ask Amal, in the car afterwards, what the discussion had been about. He explained that Noor had asked for money for transportation to school. Waseem was angry because Noor earns a salary and should be responsible for her own transportation. But Noor said she had no money in her bank account, and they didn’t understand what she had spent it on. Amal did indicate that Noor liked expensive clothes.

I will stop now, because, in theory, my staff English class is supposed to start in a few minutes. That, though, has been so on and off that it will not surprise me if that doesn’t happen. I do also have an invitation from another family to visit their house this evening. This is a family whose son and daughter are in my Saturday English class. I have more hope that they will actually show as planned, but we shall see.

When I return, from whatever events actually take place, to the gallery and to the blog, I will catch up on the goodbye party a couple of days ago for Jamal, Suzi and my visit to Tel Aviv yesterday, and our visit this morning to a nearby day care center.

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