I met a man at the Goethe Institute – a German cultural center – in Ramallah a few weeks ago who said he was looking for a native English speaker to volunteer to teach classes in a village a half hour outside of Ramallah. Sure, I told him. I’ve got a bit of free time in the afternoons, and I figured it would be a good chance to see a part of Palestinian culture that is not apparent in cosmopolitan Ramallah.
My class is a group of 15 high school senior girls. Kharbatha Beni Hareth is a conservative Muslim village, like most in Palestine, and so the boys and girls attend separate schools. There is to be no mixing after school, either. The girls all wore head scarves and long, black gowns. The only visible skin are their hands and faces. They pray five times a day. Otherwise, they giggled, all talked at once, competed for attention and acted pretty much like high school girls anywhere.
We started at 1:30 reviewing their English lesson from school to help prepare for their test the next day. We continued until almost 4 p.m. They were concerned about finishing before the next call to prayer. One suggested that we could all pray together. Are you Muslim, she asked me. No, I’m Christian. The Muslims like the Christians, but the Christians don’t like the Muslims, she said. That’s not true, I told her. Well, in Bethlehem, the Christians don’t like the Muslims, another said. Well, I don’t know about Bethlehem and besides I’m not Palestinian, I’m American. Is it true that Americans hate the Arabs, another asked. That’s not true, either, I said, and then steered us back to the English lesson.
Once we were done, and as the girls were heading out, one of them asked me if I could call her brother, Mohammad, to tell him that the girls had all been in an English class, as a sort of excused absence from being out after school. My cell phone didn’t have reception in the village, so it wasn’t possible. One girl explained that they normally go home directly after school, and that they are expected to help harvest their families’ olive trees. The harvest began last week in Kharbatha Beni Hareth.