Thursday, July 28, 2011

Teen Animation

This animation is about a boy in geography class, and he is falling asleep because it doesn't entertain him. He starts to fantasize about all the places he wants to be in Lebanon. -Tyleem Gray

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good evening everyone. I am fresh, well a week fresh, back from my writing journey in Italy. The picture here is from when I was granted an opportunity to work the garden on my final evening in San Marco. I have never had better tomatoes AND I picked them! I also got to come back and start making homemade pizza for all the people I was staying with.

As you can tell, I was excited and feeling very blessed to have the opportunity to visit this beautiful country. However, what I was more excited about was to come back and work with some amazing teens.

It has been a very hot and SHORT week and a half with them. We have two teens who have returned from last year and are used to my craziness, three new teens, and finally, two beautiful young ladies that I have worked with before at NE High School in Philadelphia.

The ranges of writing experience are vast and to be honest, too academic. As a teacher, I find myself giggling at this, but it's true. This translates into the teens wondering if their poetry is good, or if it makes sense, or should it rhyme. It also translates into absolutely no writing getting done.

So, I had to change up my approach with them in many ways. The first is, the art teacher asked if we could add words to their beautiful works of art about rebuilding. Done. The second was to get inside of what their art said and why they chose the theme, the colors, the textures, the shapes, the amount of "slides" used in their pieces, and of course, what does it say about them.

From here we passed their works around and each teen spent some time free-writing about what their peer's work meant to them. They had to use dialogue, point-of-view, and prose to flesh out those works deeper. We also discussed the term rebuilding. The teens shared some similar ideas about rebuilding, such as happiness. A term that was brought up a lot. So, we then examined what it means to be happy and what if your happiness if different than someone else's happiness. What does that mean? And of course, we wrote about it and then each day, everyone read aloud and shared what they wrote that day, even if it was "bad" or didn't "rhyme".

The next step was to have each teen tell the journey of their own piece in their own words. I had them write an obituary about their piece as a way to practice writing about death and then a life. Translation - if you read an obituary, you will find that a good one will have celebrated the person's life. Just as in the theme rebuilding, we have the teens celebrating their pieces.

I can't tell if they are excited, nervous, or just plain old tired from a long emotional week and for the performance tomorrow. We had a lot of them today asking if they had to read their piece and what it meant if they did or didn't. I really didn't give them a choice, they have to read. They have to read because the small things they say in both their art and their poems are worth hearing about.

Any person, any country, any family, any community, any religion experiences conflict and rebuilding... and so have these teens. I tell you all, you have to come out and experience what the very near future holds and be witness to the creative ways in which these awesome teens are opening our eyes to what they value.

Thanks for your time and see you all tomorrow!



Teen experience at Al-Bustan camp

This year Al-Bustan camp was a very fun and interesting experience. We got to meet new people. We even had the chance to email teens from Lebanon and create friendships while learning about their culture. In film class we are working on a great video about stereotypes and discrimination. In these three weeks we have learned a lot of Arabic, probably a years worth. In art class we created an art piece based on change over time. In poetry class we got to go inside our artwork and find the emotion and the story that we created in Tremaine’s art class. During video class, we traveled to Center City and interviewed people about their thoughts on stereotypes and discrimination. It’s very interesting to hear how different people feel about real world situations. In video class we also had the opportunity to create our own plays, and act in them. I think kids who will attend Al-Bustan Camp in the future will benefit from this learning experience. Al-Bustan staff members motivate you to do better, and have fun while learning.

Post by Tyleem, Khalida and Amira

Monday, July 25, 2011

Creative Chaos...Afterall, it is Drama!

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!

Baskot wa raha

On Friday camper Amer introduced the rest of Camp to baskot wa raha, or "biscuit with Turkish delight" in Arabic. This Lebanese treat is made by spreading raha (turkish delight) in between two lemony lucky 555 Gandour cookies. Gandour is a confectionary company that was established in Lebanon in 1857. Initially they began as a sweets manufacturer producing raha, a gummy sweet often rose scented or studded with nuts. In 1936 Gandour started selling biscuits and the baskot wa raha was born. Thanks to Amer for introducing us to this delicious and classic combination. Sahtain!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Virtual Visit from Nadine Touma

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

From Architecture to the Civil War: Stories from Modern Lebanon

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.

Some of the campers were curious to hear about his experience growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, which ran from 1975 to 1990. He explained that when he was 8 years old he and his family lived on and off in an underground shelter which had once served as a fabric warehouse. At first his time in the shelter was fun because school was canceled but when his teacher arrived with a stack of work for all the kids, the excitement wore off. This story is working its way into the play that Group tha' is writing in Drama class and will perform at the End-of-Camp Performance.

Under the influence of Fahkr al-Din II and his time spent in exile in Venice, the Lebanese houses began to reflect those of Italy. Houses with red tile roofs, covered porches, and rooms opening onto a central courtyard became prevalent. The use of different colored stones in the place of paint as a form of decoration in Lebanese architecture was the inspiration for an art project that Groups Alif and Ba' tackled this week. Mimicking this use of natural materials, the campers used earth tone oil pastels to make transfer drawings of buildings.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Making Tabouleh at Camp

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.

The ingredients of tabouleh are: finely chopped baqdanus (parsley), banadura (tomatoes), hamod (lemon), basal (onion), and na'na (mint), burghul (bulgur), zait (olive oil), melh (salt), filful aswad (black pepper), and bhar helou (sweet pepper). Maria lets the mixture sit for 10 minutes to enhance the flavors.

For some campers this was their first taste of tabouleh and most went back for seconds! So as we say in Arabic, Sahtain, "to your health", to which we respond ala albak "on your heart"!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

As poetry comes to a close

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
olive trees
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:
Orange blossom
Smells nice
It almost smells like
fresh air,
sweeter though
It makes me wonder
what is happening
so far away
where the oranges grow
in Lebanon

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
through memories
and wondering...
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
and maybe
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
place where
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:
Standing tall
From Beirut
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

First Week in Art Class

The books of Dar Onboz, the Lebanese publishing house founded by Nadine Touma, have served as a jumping off point for Art class at this year's camp. The books are very visually stimulating--communicating the story line not just through text but through images, including many collages, as well. During the first week, Tremain, our Art Teacher, had campers focus on creating collage materials in preparation for making individual and collaborative collages as a final project.

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.

They will be using drawing, painting, printmaking, and collage to create a series of artworks that either individually tell a story or are seen in sequence.

During week one, Groups Alif and Ba' used the geography of Lebanon as inspiration for art making. On Monday the Lebanese mountains informed their class in which they experimented with line making.

On Tuesday the cedars of Lebanon were the inspiration for a printmaking project.

On Wednesday and Thursday the coastline of Lebanon was the basis for a project exploring color and texture.

Check back soon to see how the campers bring together their collages!

Campers join together for a fun-filled first week!

In the exciting first week at the Al-Bustan Camp, children of all ages came together in a fun-filled educational atmosphere to learn about Arabic culture while making new friends. Myself, being the documenter of the program, found that the only negative side was not being able to be everywhere at once to record the wonderful happenings at this camp. Below are a few vignettes exemplifying some of the high points of the week.

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.

Lastly, is a video featuring the very astoundingly taught courses in Arabic and poetry.

Hoping for this week to be spectacular!
Yours truly,

Making Khobz

We want to thank Yasmine and Khalil Bdeir for transporting us from the playground of Springside School to the Levant by making khboz, "bread" in Arabic, at Camp yesterday.

Yasmina woke up at 6am to make a veritable vat of dough from 10 pounds of flour, water, yeast, and salt. An experienced baker, she doesn’t measure the water but rather adds it little by little until it feels like the right consistency. Pita bread, which puffs up in the oven and leaves a pocket has less water than khobz and is consequently not as light and fluffy.

Khalil and his son Mokhtar, an Al-Bustan Camp counselor, built this wood-burning portable outdoor oven where we baked an abundance of bread.

The dough has to be gently kneaded into a large round circle.

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.

Some of the teens placed their own dough on the hot rocks.

We then topped the khobz with olive oil and zaatar, a blend of dried thyme and oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. Sahateen ("to your two healths" in Arabic) everyone!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ciao from Monte Falco

Good morning Al-Bustan campers, it's Ellie and I am enjoying the wonderful weather here in the Umbrian region of Italy.

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

Camp: Day 3

Here's a glimpse of our third day spent exploring Lebanese arts and culture at Al-Bustan Camp.

Some of the Shabab ("Teens" in Arabic) went outside to apply what they have learned in Video Class so far...

while others filmed Group Alif dancing in order to practice various shots.

Group Alif followed the path of the Wissahickon Creek on a nature walk.

They collected items for their field guides on the natural environment of Pennsylvania.

Counselor Fiona looks on as Group Ba' writes collaborative poems in Poetry Class.

The Shabab experiment with different textures in Art Class.

Hafez instructs Group tha' in a Lebanese dance.

They are learning a dance to Yaba Yaba Lah by Tony Hanna, a Lebanese singer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Camp: Day 2

Here are some photos from our second day of classes at Al-Bustan Camp!

Camp is located at Springside School, which borders the Wissahickon Valley Park--the perfect place for a nature walk during Science Class.

During Dance Class, Group Alif enjoyed dancing to some Lebanese Debke.

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.

Campers in Group Ba' tried out print making, looking at the horizontal lines in Cedar trees, a tree found all over Lebanon, for inspiration.

Camp: Day 1

Yesterday was the day we've been anticipating and preparing for with great excitement for so many months: the first day of Al-Bustan Camp! We will be posting photos from Camp so join us on the blog for the next three weeks as we explore the arts and culture of Lebanon.

Mary, our science teacher, introduces Group Ba' (the second letter in the Arabic alphabet) to plants that are native to Lebanon including grapes, olives, and oranges.

Campers also learned the geography and topography of Lebanese in Science class.

Group Alif (the first letter in the Arabic alphabet) gets their first percussion lesson from Hafez who says, "The kids are having fun: they're learning, they're asking good questions, and they're already using their Arabic."

Brahim, our Arabic instructor, introduces Group Ba' to the first two letters of the Arabic alphabet.

Group Ba' began Art Class by exploring lines and mark-making using an array of tools including string, straws, sticks, and brushes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lebanon on my mind

The counselors have been hard at work preparing for Camp. Musa and I tested the counselors' knowledge of Lebanese culture and history in a trivia game. Congrats to the winners: Mohktar, Katie, and Catalina!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Science at Al-Bustan Camp

My name is Mary Welsh, and I will be the science educator at Al-Bustan Camp this year. I have really enjoyed learning more about the climate and geography of Lebanon, and it has been so fun to think of ways for us to appreciate the traditions of Lebanon. The main theme of our science program will be the different ways people connect with their local environments, and we'll focus on Lebanon and Pennsylvania. We will read Nadine Touma's book The Color of the Sea, a story in which a group of Lebanese children travel to the sea because they are not sure of its color. After their visit, they creatively share their findings with their community. In this science class, the campers will similarly observe their surroundings and work to share with their friends and family.

We will be working locally in Wissahickon Park, literally the backyard of Springside School, where we will explore local wildlife, create field guides to show friends and family, and explore uses for local resources. I hope that the kids will look at the world around them with an appreciation for the way the local environment affects our lives everyday. See some of the kids from group Alif exploring the park below:

We will also have a strong focus on Lebanon and the way its people interact with its local resources. Inspired by the children's book Olives, Soap, Hammam, I have been researching ways to make olive oil soap. Next week, kids will work with me to create their own variations of the traditional soap by adding fragrance and molding it. We will also focus on other diverse uses of olive oil.

I will keep you updated as we move forward!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Arab Spring, Philly Summer

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.
Good morning everyone! It has been a whirlwind of a summer thus far and we're only really three weeks into it! I am counting down the days to camp and have really delved into the ideas that we will be exploring at camp this summer.

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!