Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Bring me to life
“I want to learn English so I can talk back to my American boss and tell him what he’s doing is wrong”.
A cigarette burns in his hands, he smokes it, sucks the life out of it with his silent lips. Those lips burning quietly, when so much wants to come out, so much wants to voice itself, so much wants to unleash itself. But. He can’t speak English very well.
He’s been coming to my English classes at the refugee camp each day, a diligent 35 year old Palestinian married man with a five year old child named Mustapha: “ Miss, oh you’ve got to teach me that word again, I think Mustapha knows it!” -- he always thinks of his son when I ask him to come up with new words in class.
The other day, when I said to the class “choose a word from the board and make a sentence from it”, he chose the word – Pain. His sentence was, “pain has been my best friend since childhood”. Good sentence, I say, and I quickly move on before he remembers his pain. Or feels it. Again.
He makes eye contact with me as if to say, “ do you feel what I’m saying?” ….
Ahmad witnessed the war in Lebanon and as a result has a physical disability. He cannot hear well nor pronounce certain words. He works with an United Nations relief agency here in Lebanon, a job he’s been doing diligently for many years after the war. “It’s my way of resisting, I teach Palestinians who were torn from the war to integrate back into society. That’s my little contribution”. He’d say this to me after class while I pack my stuff, and while he lights up that fifth cigarette, sitting on the chair, looking at me.
Me: “Why do you want to tell off your boss?”
Him: “ He asks me to lie. The other day, he asked me to register 12,000 people living in a given refugee camp, when in fact there are 20,000. They don’t want to do more work or provide better service to the people. If they tell the government they have less than what’s really there, the government won’t ask them to meet the demand of 20,000 people – but only for the 12,000”.
Me: “You told me earlier you want to tell your war story. Why do you want to say it in English? Just say it in Arabic, you’ll never be able to say it in English”.
Him: “How could you say that! You don’t know me, I can!”
Me: “I didn’t mean it that way. Your experience in life is 100 times better and wiser than mine, even if I’m your teacher. I just meant your war story is so much deeper than any English you can learn in a month or even a year”.
Him: “ I want to learn the language of the age, so I can speak”.
……… I feel sorrow for my student. It’s as if he’s waiting to come to life. He truly believes that this won’t happen until he learns English. Then tells his war story. Then dies. As his English teacher, I feel paralyzed because he can’t master the level of English he needs to tell a paragraph of his story, let alone all his memories of the war. And he won’t bulge, won’t change his mind.
When he asks me to teach him English, it’s as if he’s saying: “Bring me to life. Wake me up inside, so I can tell my story to the world before I die” …..
I remember someone telling me, "if you kill one muslim, it is like killing the entire ummah, and if you revive one muslim, it is like reviving all of humanity"....
Oh Allah swt, please show me the way to help ... ameen.