Thursday, July 28, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Post by Tyleem, Khalida and Amira
Monday, July 25, 2011
Theatre presents a way for students to engage with ideas in a high kinesthetic manner. It is another avenue for students to tackle complex issues and to work through them in group contexts as they develop stories based on the experiences of themselves and others. At Al-Bustan, I cherish the role that I have as the facilitator of such explorations.
My approach differs from that of a teacher in a more traditional sense. Indeed my highly collaborative methods mean that each year at Al-Bustan is different than the one before it, not merely because each year brings a new theme, but also because each year brings a new group of students and a new classroom dynamic. The students bring their unique approach to the material. They tell me what interests them about the topics that they study in other classes such as Arabic, art, poetry, and science. I record their ideas, place them into an outline format, read the outline back to the students and have them add flesh to the bones of the outline through improvisational exercises. This process requires a healthy amount of creative chaos, which may seem odd to the outside observer, but which always proves to be highly effective. Ideas flood the room, and the student’s unfiltered comments give way to open debates and further queries. The process is partially controlled thanks to a primary rule, which I heavily enforce, that all ideas must be treated with respect and must be considered fully before they can be dismissed.
This year at camp the middle school students decided to craft a play about the lives of kids who grew up during the Lebanese Civil War and who, despite suffering great adversity, persevered and demonstrated their remarkable resilience and ultimate love for life. Thus far, the students and I have staged the first scene, and our process has conformed largely to the method that I described above.
In many plays the first scene establishes the time, place, major characters, and circumstances of the play. The students themselves came up with the idea to have a scene inside the home of a traditional Lebanese family. In this scene an elder brother attempts to read a book as his two young, rambunctious siblings pester him with questions. Although their questions initially seem inconsequential, silly even, they dovetailed into a series of more weighted remarks about the nature of the Lebanese Civil War and concerns for the family’s ongoing safety. The seriousness of the conversation causes the older brother to change tactics and adopt the calming voice of authority, telling his siblings not to worry, but to be strong in the face of such adversity. The dialogue itself is determined by the students who play the roles on stage. The onstage actors are given further guidance by the students who sit on the sidelines awaiting their turns in the spotlight. If one of these students in the audience has an idea of what a given character should say, he/she raises his/her hand in order to offer a suggestion. Those on stage consider the suggestion and embody it. In this way, each student has the opportunity to add his/her insights, becoming playwrights themselves. This process will continue until Thursday when we treat our friends and family members to the culmination of our efforts, a fully-staged performance about Lebanon!
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Oh the miracles of modernity! Though Nadine Touma, the publisher of Dar Onboz, was not able to come to Camp she visited via Skype on Wednesday. Many of our teachers have incorporated books published by Dar Onboz into their curricula for Camp so it was a great pleasure to finally meet her.
Nadine began her conversation with the Campers by sharing her grandmother's tradition of
beginning the day by sticking her face into a basil plant and taking a deep breath. Basil holds a rich symbolism for her family. Taking a deep breath of this herb is said to bring success, a happy family, and a peaceful home and to drive away negativity. She showed us her basil plant and blew its positive forces the 5694 miles from Beirut to Philadelphia.
In addition to the morning ritual of taking a whiff of basil, her grandmother inspired Nadine to embrace storytelling at a young age. Her grandmother too told great stories. Nadine said that her grandmother’s storytelling was "an homage to her matriarchy and her independence and strength as a woman." For Nadine, becoming a writer was not a choice. She has loved telling stories since she was a young girl and “while some people see storytelling as telling lies I see it as creativity.” She has unleashed her boundless creativity in children’s books such as Doodles and The Moon and the Bird, which have informed this summer’s Art and Drama Classes respectively.
After this brief introduction, some campers asked Nadine how she comes up with her story ideas. "Sometimes they come to me in the morning when I'm sitting on the potty. Sometimes they come when I am kissing someone I love." Campers giggled at her honest response.
Though she draws on all of her experiences in her writing, the book Is This a Passport Photo? is based on the incessant questions she had as a girl. This book of questions includes many thoughts and musings with which she pestered her parents. With this book she hoped to encourage parents to embrace the questions that their children pose.
The name of the publishing house exemplifies her reasons for writing and publishing books. ‘Dar Onboz’, which translates to ‘house of hemp seeds’, is a nod to the legend that feeding hemp seeds to birds make them sing. Similarly, she hopes that the Dar Onboz books will nourish people’s souls and ideas and inspire them to proudly express themselves. She aims "not to teach, but to share" with these books which she declared are her children. Rather than explaining what she hoped to convey in the stories she prefers to let “the reader to decide the deeper meaning in the books." One topic that comes up in several Dar Onboz books is the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).
One camper wanted to hear about Nadine's experience growing up in Lebanon during this civil war. "It was horrible. It was scary. I saw my parents' pain and lost touch with family. It is something that has made me realize that violence is futile." She dreams not only of peace but of a world in which there is a ban on manufacturing arms thereby forcing people to imagine other ways to solve problems than by picking up a gun.
Her desire to inspire people to think about the world and themselves in new ways is a common thread that runs through Dar Onboz books. She hopes the books will remind people to “look at the full moon and even if it happens every month, to notice how it is different and beautiful each time.” Her continuing sense of wonder, even as she grows older, makes her a captivating storyteller.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Last Friday we had a visitor at camp: Abdallah Tabet is a landscape architect, born and raised in Lebanon. He gave the campers an introduction to modern Lebanese history and architecture through the story of Fahkr al-Din II, an emir, "prince" in Arabic, who is remembered for his attempt to unite Lebanon and throw off Ottoman rule in the early 17th century. In addition to presenting the country's physical landscape, he shared his personal experiences growing up in Lebanon.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
On Tuesday we had a visit from Maria Nacouzi who is from Lebanon and a mother of one of our campers. She demonstrated how to make one of Lebanon's national dishes: tabouleh. Maria explained that there are regional variations on this dish but that the abundance of lemon juice and small quantity of bulgur make this version typically Lebanese.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
My experience here at Al-Bustan has been incredible so far! Unfortunately we have one day left in poetry class. I'll be hard at work on an anthology once we wrap up class tomorrow but in the meantime here is some of the work the classes have been creating so far.
In Group A James wrote the following poem after we read "In This World":
No and yes
The world is white and black
Front and back
Full of opposites
Everything and nothing
Those who talk and those who sing
Those who are proud
And those who are blushing
Everything is opposites
And so are you.
Sophie finished this acrostic poem today in class after we discussed what we had learned so far about Lebanon:
Lebanon is a place
everyone would like
but the civil war was
all over Lebanon for 15 years
now it is peaceful like
now it's the end of this poem
After concluding our discussion on what we had learned about Lebanon so far Group B was put to the test today with free writes and responded brilliantly. One of the results was this beautiful poem by Laila:
It almost smells like
It makes me wonder
what is happening
so far away
where the oranges grow
Mariam also wrote this wonderful poem:
Lebanon in my memories
As I walk on your shores...
As I hike on your mountains...
I remember the days where we
used to play...
the way your branches
swing out like arms from cedars...
the way your waves sound
like a conversation...
Today it is all gone
as I sit on my window
reading my diary scrawling
where did these days go??
Finally Group C was given a similar task and had wonderful poems to show for their work. One of those results was this poem by Isabel:
I've never been
I've never seen
I've never met
I don't know
I won't know
But I've heard
it is the place that
The orange trees blossom
and the olive trees twist
and the mulberries ripen
I've heard it's where
the mountains are tall
and the valley is low
and the cedar trees grow
maybe one day I'll know
if I ever go
to visit the
The orange trees blossom
and the olive trees twist
and the mulberries ripen
and the mountains are tall
and the valley is low
and the cedar trees grow
Adam also took a humble outsider approach to his poem:
See You Soon
I've never glimpsed your walls,
Or felt the touch of your breeze.
I've never heard your deep breaths, exhausted
From the scars and effort of past war.
I've never sensed your subtle wording,
Hinting for me to come visit for a while.
I've never shared your pain and pride,
Sympathy with little empathy.
But I know your heart is strong;
Your resilience, ever
I know you're bouncing back,
And building a community new.
Rising to the top,
I'll follow you.
So one day, I'll glimpse your walls.
I'll feel your touch,
Hear your breaths.
Come in sync with your pulse,
And lay a hand on your shoulder.
I'll see you soon.
It was tough to choose just a few of the great poems the groups have been creating but finally I wanted to share this poem by Jad:
to Tripoli and Saida,
Cultures come together
and religions live together.
From the snow covered
Mountains, to the low
Through war and conflict,
Lebanon still is
Monday, July 18, 2011
Group tha' and the shabab are tackling a Mixed-Media Narrative Art Project. They will be telling a story using the Arabic alphabet as characters. Inspired by the books of Dar Onboz, they will combine the letters of the Arabic alphabet with the language of art to tell visual stories of rebuilding.
Check back soon to see how the campers bring together their collages!
This first clip features some of my favourite subjects; dance, singing, and percussion.
Next is a video I put together showing the very creative arts department, as well as the adventurous science course, where the students get to explore some cool parts of Fairmount Park.
The oven heats up stones sitting on top where Yasmine places the gently stretched khobz. While Yasmine and Khalil are Palestinian, there are many traditions that their home country shares with Lebanon, including this bread-making process.
The dough then bakes, covered, for about 2 minutes on each side with the uneven stones leaving an imprint on the bread.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
I've posted a new picture of myself making candles when were visiting Bevagna. I was jealous that you all get to make soap for the science portion of camp so I was the first to volunteer to make a dual wick candle from beeswax.
Only a few more days left here and I have found a new spirit of community and have been inspired to write from another perspective. With the camp theme this year, I have been planning to work with the teens in developing the sense of conflict and the varying forms that it comes in. This is a tough prompt and I believe that before I ask all of you to explore this, I must partake in the exercise myself. What has been yielded is some amazing soul searching about what it means to be a woman in the world today and what it means to define myself by my country of origin as well as my religious perspectives. I can't wait to delve into this mode with you all and am terribly inspired by what has been posted about the camp thus far.
Ciao and see you in a few days!
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Camp is located at Springside School, which borders the Wissahickon Valley Park--the perfect place for a nature walk during Science Class.
Tremain, our Art instructor, starts off class by reading from Noojoom. This book was published by Dar Onboz, a publishing house established by Nadine Touma in 2006 in Beirut, Lebanon. We are integrating Dar Onboz books into all of our classes this summer.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The Arab world is actively changing as we head towards the opening of camp. As someone who has been involved in the news industry and cares deeply about this part of the world I check constantly for updates. I am sure I am not alone among my fellow teachers, counselors and campers alike. The opportunity to teach at Al Bustan is especially exciting to me as an Arab American who has years of experience as a camper and camp counselor. I was not lucky enough in my youth to have a camp that catered to my community, but being involved as a teacher seems like a lucky addition to my life. I had the pleasure of spending November and December of last year in Beirut, the most recent of many visits there. I look forward to sharing my many experiences of Lebanon with the youth. I have included a picture here of some art that is visible on one of many stairways connecting neighborhoods to another in Beirut. I think the words and steps themselves can symbolize the movement towards a healthier space for the Arab world and also function as words we can embody at Al-Bustan.
The video class will not only explore film/video techniques--we will also watch some new and exciting films from Lebanon. I have had the pleasure of hearing about the camp for years by a friend and former teacher Dahna Abourahme. Dahna's contributions to the camp have been great, I hope to continue that tradition.
I will be in Italy for two weeks, hoping to explore the countryside with the locals. I have been overwhelmed with sad news from within in my own life to the things that are happening to others around the world and cannot wait for the countryside to refocus my energies. I am hoping to reshape my writing with this trip and maybe accept more of the greenery that surrounds us here in Philly and of course in Umbria, Italy into my writing. I am actually getting tired of writing about Arizona monsoons and sunsets...
With all of this being said, I have found that my best writing happens first thing in the morning. AND that my best writing happens when I share it with others who have the same passion. I'm hoping to expand both the campers and my network to include those who continue to support the arts, especially poetry.
I'm looking forward to seeing you all soon and I can't wait to breathe!