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Monday, February 21, 2011


One of the strongest experiences Nicole and I have had in Lebanon has been tutoring high school kids from one of the Palestinian camps in town. The students, with whom we meet on Saturdays, are preparing to take their SATs in English, which most colleges here require, and struggling mainly due to the language and cultural specificity of the test. Imagine not only taking the SAT in a language that you don't speak at home, but also trying to correct "grammar" in sentences that refer to things totally unfamiliar to you. Allusions to Darth Vader, Frederick Douglas, and the prom all needed explanation this past weekend. Another question that caused confusion had a line about how "intimacy, love, and marriage" intersect. In the SAT practice books (and presumably on the test itself), a lot of questions in the reading section focus on American history, often referring to the revolution or the civil war. Helping a kid decipher a question about the latter, I asked, "You know what a civil war is, right?" and he responded, "Yes, but which one are they talking about?" Plus, they know the metric system, which complicates the math sections.

The students work very hard and I have no doubt they'll accomplish a great deal. But they certainly have challenges. As refugees they essentially have no country. They and their families are barred from setting foot on Palestinian land. And the country that has given them refuge largely bars them from getting work permits, traveling freely outside their camps, and accessing health care. Some even blame them for the country's political problems. It's hard to get my head around the complexity and gravity of the situation, especially when the human face that's put on the issue is that of a kid.

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