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



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

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!

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.

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.