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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.