جامعة النجاح الوطنية
An-Najah National University

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By: Margo Markowski

Being in Palestine is the dream I didn’t know I had come true. When I was invited to be an ‎English Language Fellow in Palestine, I wasn’t sure about much except my happiness at going ‎to an Arabic speaking country.  I was in for many surprises—most of them pleasant!‎


I lived in Ramallah and split my time between Bir Zeit University and An-Najah National ‎University, traveling to Nablus three times a week. Safety issues at check points prevented me ‎from attending classes so often, that it was decided to move me to Nablus, which I love. In ‎Nablus, I feel I am in real Palestine.  The English Language and Literature Department has been ‎most welcoming and helpful.  Not only was I amazed by the high quality of English that my ‎colleagues have mastered, but I am also in awe of their teaching and their dedication to their ‎students. I have sat in on several classes and hope to observe more in the next two months.‎

My students have been delightful.  My non-students have also been delightful.  Students stop ‎me to chat whether they know me or not. They are eager to practice their English and ‎interested in knowing where I’m from and if I like Palestine. I teach about 7 hours of ‎conversation classes a week for American Corners  in addition to two regular grammar classes. ‎Learning how to use Zagel as a non-Arabic speaker was  a challenge, but with Engineer Amal’s ‎help and guidance from faculty, I feel that I’ve made a progress  and I hope I have made some ‎small contribution to the Department.‎

I wish with all my heart that family circumstances didn’t prevent me from staying a second ‎year. I’m beginning to be able to read Arabic, and I have ideas for service projects. Most ‎important, I love my students and my life here. Leaving will be very hard.‎

Living in Palestine is a surreal. I find myself in a safe and welcoming environment. People are ‎friendly and hospitable. The food is delicious. The history is overwhelming. Nablus, where I ‎have had the pleasure of living, is built on Roman ruins and there are more in the vicinity. ‎There are many well-known cities, including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Haifa Jaffa, and ‎Tel Aviv. Historical and archaeological wonders are everywhere. But where are the tourists? ‎And where are the terrorists?‎

Going about Nablus, travelling to other cities, I haven’t run into any terrorists. The man my ‎brother thought would kill me, infidel that I am, has yet to make himself known. I can count ‎the people on one hand who have told me outright that they don’t like America/Americans, ‎and I have to admit that I see their point.  I love my country. That doesn’t mean that I always ‎support its policies.‎

My life here has been filled with kindness from strangers, vegetable sellers who give me ‎eggplant, students who pay my taxi fare, service drivers who refuse my money, people in the ‎market and on the street who go out of their way to help me find what I am looking for.  I ‎expected to be happy here and I have been very happy. I have very impressive colleagues to ‎learn from. My stay has been as professionally rewarding as it has been personally.

Why then do I say it is a surreal experience? While I am having a happy life, surrounded by ‎kindness, free to travel, despite some minor inconveniences, my friends, colleagues and ‎students are leading a parallel life. There don’t seem to be enough good jobs to go around, ‎even for the well-educated. Travel is restricted and sometimes so difficult it isn’t worth the ‎trouble it takes. Devout Muslims under the age of 60 are generally barred from visiting their ‎most holy place in Jerusalem. Illegal settlements expand into Palestinian territory with ‎impunity. Collective punishment destroys the family homes of anyone suspected of wishing to ‎do the state of Israel harm. Male students must endure harassment of Israeli soldiers at ‎checkpoints. I feel ashamed that we lead such different lives living side by side. And I feel  ‎powerless to change it.‎

Of course, I am not totally  powerless.  I can be a witness to the truth.  Educators in all sectors ‎work hard to provide the best education and hope for the future. Unfortunately, the ‎occupation oppresses and subdues these hopes. Palestinians defend much more often than ‎they attack. Islam has as much to do with terrorists as the Klu Klux Klan has to do with ‎Christianity. These are truths I can tell that are just as important to me as the joy I have felt ‎living here and feeling welcome. Palestine has my heart in ways I would never have expected. ‎I look forward to returning.‎


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