Time is flying and, as the McDonald’s ad says, I’m lovin‘ it! I am so happy here. Everywhere I go, people greet me with a smile, and I have to smile. Maybe I smile first and they smile back. I don’t know, but I end up smiling all day, and then the people here think I always smile. It’s not true, sadly. But inside of me there is a joyful woman, and she comes out here; full of life, love and joy. She is in love with these people. I’m not sure I would want to live forever under these material conditions, but for now, I can’t imagine a place I would rather be. These are the people I want to be with, at least for now.
Today I am bold – I wear my black flowered flip-flop sandals to the garbage dump. Everybody else wears sandals; I want to risk it too. The only problem is, just before the school, the road is blocked because of a building under construction, so Rohmy and I have to walk over a pile of gravel and another sand pile. My sandals and feet are full of sand by the time I reach the school.
I go back to the same kindergarten class I had two days ago. The same child is sleeping, but he wakes up for the lesson today. Marleen, the school principal, wants me to teach these children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English. Five-year-old children who don’t speak any English. I look at her for a second, doubtfully, but she assures me that these kids know it in Arabic and that it will be good for them to know this prayer in King James English. Okay…
“Our Father”…I interrupt myself. “That means ‘Papa”. They all know the word “Papa”. “Our Father”…and they all repeat after me a few times. “Who art”… They repeat this. “In Heaven.” They repeat. How to explain what Heaven is? I point to the sky and all around me. We get as far as “Hallowed be Thy Name”, repeating many times, when I decide that’s enough for today. We have several more days to learn this prayer.
Marleen comes back into the classroom and says to the children, “I love Jesus!” They all repeat after her, making motions for each word. This reminds me of the song I learned in Sunday school, decades ago, “Jesus loves me.” I once heard a sermon about this song that I will never forget. The preacher said that this song contains some of the best theology in existence, and it says it all. He said it is a song that says all we need to know. I would agree, except my prayer for myself is that I will love Jesus more and more, with all the love I have.
I ask Marleen if she knows this song. No, she’s never heard it. I sing it to her, and she is amazed. She finds this song incredibly beautiful. So I begin to teach it to the children, using the same motions she used, but in reverse, and adding a few others. Then we continue to the lesson we had two days ago, writing the letters of the alphabet.
Suddenly I am called out of the classroom. Sister Maria has called the school and told them that I am to visit another school. She has already told me she wants me to have a look at all the programs this center provides, so I’m not surprised by this sudden change of schedule.
Another woman and I walk a block or two, past people sorting through garbage, past shops, past donkeys carting garbage and goods for sale, to another school.
As soon as I enter the school, I see that someone has taken pains to beautify it. The walls are clean and freshly painted in lovely contrasting shades of pink and maroon. I glimpse a sign in English, “Literacy Program”, and we enter a classroom with children about eleven years of age. The teacher, Mariem, invites me to sit down. I wonder what I am supposed to do here. She seems to have no idea, so I ask if I can see what the children are doing. Yes, certainly. These kids are writing words like “dog”, “cat”, “fish” and “apple” over and over again, each word on one page of a notebook. Sometimes their method is unorthodox. Some of the children start from the right side of the page, or the word, and work left, or write only the “a” of apple, for example, all down the page, then get to “p” and so on. I try and help them see that they need to go from left to right. They already know this, at least in theory. And then I help them write an entire word before going on to the next. I am impressed that these children haven’t given up. They are proud that they can write these words.
There is also a computer in the classroom.
One of the girls in the class gets to play a computer game when she’s finished writing her words. Mariem comes every day to teach these children math, Arabic and English. Perhaps more too. Her English isn’t very good, but it is adequate to teach these children all they need to know. Some of my students in Germany could come here and teach these kids to speak English. Mariem is living out a principle I started learning a few years ago. Give back what you have received. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. It is good enough if you know just a little more than your students. And this applies to anything in life. Give back what you know. Don’t wait to be perfect.
It’s time to leave. As my escort walks me down the stairs, I look out the window. Just behind the school walls, I see the garbage dump. But the courtyard before it is magnificent! Someone has made a basketball court/soccer field, and painted the walls sky blue with pictures of people playing sports. As yesterday, I am struck by how much love, care and attention is given to these children, most of whom are garbage pickers themselves.
On the ride back, as we pass shop after shop, I look – just for fun – to see how many apples I can find. Usually I see oranges, guavas, bananas, pomegranates, peppers, even potatoes for sale, but rarely apples. Finally, we pass a shop that sells both golden and red delicious apples. Now I know these kids aren’t writing “apple” in vain. They do eat apples in Egypt.