"Arabi?"

By Sana Ullah

Deane and Paul Shatz International Student Exchange Program Award

Washington to Jerusalem, December 2016 - January 2017

     It is easy to separate ourselves from one another through our physical and cultural differences, but it takes courage and patience to search for common ground. We claim we are empathetic, yet we lack the strength to speak for those that are often times muted. And we constantly create, organize and share our opinions about those we cannot fully relate to, but we fail to admit there are others who can speak better than us. Through it all, we forget to reevaluate ourselves, revisit our intentions and recognize our own misunderstandings.

 

     Visiting Jerusalem was not only revealing in a political, social and economic stand-point, but in a personal self-reflecting perspective as well. My parents are both Bangladeshi immigrants that moved to the U.S. in the late 1970s. My siblings and I were raised in a Muslim Bangladeshi American household in South Florida where we spoke Bengali at the table, went to public school on the weekdays and Islamic school on the weekends. The only Arabic I knew was the one in my Islamic school books and still, we only learned how to read and write. We never learned how to speak Arabic.

 

     The only expectation I had while traveling to Israel was security stopping me at the airport. I assumed my name and/or my hijab would only continue to give me issues, but I never assumed that it would be my hidden blessing as well.

 

     I was prepared to tell this very concrete photo story of physical borders, but failed to notice that I, too, would have my own border in communicating with those around me. I could not speak Arabic, but it did not affect my ability to make friends. There was this entire world of trust amongst the Palestinians [when I was alone]. I received gifts, food, and a common hospitality that one may say is rare to find in the U.S.

 

     And I can confidently say that it was my faith, alone, that helped me.

 

     Though I failed to speak Arabic and several of the people I met could not speak fluent English, we were still able to communicate through a mixture of our languages, our faith and our hand gestures. Through that trust, I not only learned of my own personal language barriers, but borders on many of the Palestinians I met as well.

 

     Starting with a question as simple as, “Arabi?”

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