Philistine Ayad

Al-Urdonia

Fifth grade is terrifying for anyone beginning anew in a different school—let alone one who was still coming to grips with the culture shocks of a country that was somehow inherently familiar all-the-while completely new. Not only was I in a new school, in a new country, but missed my mother, and family back in America. My mother was still back in the states. She hadn’t gotten her citizenship by then, and had been refused a re-entry visa into the “State of Israel.”

I had gone to Palestine to bury my grandmother in the family plot. It was then decided my cousins, my brother and I would live in Palestine so that we would learn to speak our language, as well as embracing our heritage and culture. At first it seemed like a death sentence.

The children (including myself) were horrified. What about our friends? What about our family? What about our Nintendo?

I couldn’t believe the bad luck I was blessed with. It only got worse.

My aunt wanted to put all of the children in the Arabic public schools. Yea… that wasn’t going to work. I would have had to start school all over again! It was bad enough being the tallest first grader my first time around!

The Blad Crew (which roughly translates into Home-country Crew) had now been formed. My cousins, my brother, and I were united. We took the stance, “Hell no!”

Eventually, my aunt gave in to our screams, and sobbing.

We were enrolled in Al-Urdonia. This was an American Private school in Al-Berea, a city right out of Ramallah, and only twenty minutes away.

I wore a frilly dress with white panty-hose and tied my hair up with a ribbon to match—wanting to make a good impression and make new friends right away. I almost cried when I saw a run form in the nylon during third period—it snagged onto my desk somehow. Everyone else worse casual attire, even my cousin Janeen—and she lived with me. My Aunt, Janeen’s mother, was the one who convinced me into wearing that frilly abomination. Therefore, we (my cousin and I) were supposed to be in the same clichéd boat her mother had forced me into: utter embarrassment.

All of the girls in the class were friendly enough, even as they sized up the competition. The boys were boys, no matter which country you go to, they seem to remain the same at the core—the immaturity must be the curse of Adam eating that damn fruit first.

Recess couldn’t come sooner. It consisted of going out onto the basketball court and talking with the other nine girls in a class that was over-populated with boys. The lower court was the one of preference for the elementary students and underclassmen. The top court was a privilege for the upperclassmen—that was the way the hierarchy went, and I would imagine remains still. The graffiti upon the walls was pitifully dull—even my young, naïve eyes could see the lack of imagination. I remember thinking that it looked nothing like the beautiful colorful letters and pictures of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This wall art—and I use the term art too liberally in this instance—consisted of classes boasting of their superiority in a pathetically inferior manner. Of course, I made my own mark upon that wall as well. I used a black Sharpie permanent marker and wrote: “Philly (a nickname from the fourth grade class a world away) Rulz.” It was as simple, and as stupid, as that. I wanted to fit in; conformity was high on my list of priorities.

I would continue to try to fit in during my three year stint at Al-Urdonia. I made friends, and lost friends during those years. Our juvenile dramas seemed so important at the time. I never really stood up for myself as I should have.

At that point in my life “Timid Philly” ruled supreme. She always went away during recess time though. I could not be bothered with her when I was tending to serious business. The cafeteria food was intolerable, and I needed to sneak away to Sammy’s corner store for some good snacks. My five shakles (a dollar in American currency) would buy me something desirable from there—perhaps even a Kinder egg. The toys inside were always worth the two and a half shakles spent.

A chocolate egg was the furthest thing from my mind that day, as I climbed the wall to the few minutes of freedom—stolen by means of a hole in the fence. I actually wanted to get some Bisli chips. Bumba was all well and good (certainly cheaper) but I wanted Bisli that day, and the school did not sell it.

I didn’t get the chips I craved though.

Halfway through the hole in the chain-link enclosure, I heard a car approaching. This had never happened before. I never got caught sneaking out of school. I had developed many ways, and the adults were always none-the-wiser. Frantically I wondered what I should do, and like an idiot remained hanging, stuck in the fence.

I hysterically wondered who was in the vehicle approaching, carrying with it my doom. Three people were in that white car. If it were up to me, it would have been black. White always reminded me of the fairytales with the knight on a noble steed—what else? Yes, black would have been far more appropriate.

In any case, I was trying to place the faces, which looked familiar, as they stopped right in front of me—having spotted me in my oh-so-clever escape route. Why did they have to stop? I felt like I had just jumped into the Dead Sea, after being stabbed with the sharp edge of humiliation, bleeding from multiple lacerations.

“HOLD ON A MINUTE! Those people are related to me,” I thought to myself, my musings taking on a panic-stricken note. I had seen them a few times in the States during social functions! It was a distant aunt, and uncle, and their eldest son!

“Crap! I’m going to be sent to Eesam again—the principle with the speech impediment!” Horror took control of me, squeezing my stomach from one side as the metal of the fence pushed in another. The bile rising was somehow finding a way through the knots inside me. Esam, the principle, was a man whose appearance was comical, belying the evil nature beneath his rotund exterior. His wide girth was perched precariously on pencil-thin legs, looking as though they were ready to snap. The vibrantly red toupee was shocking in a country filled with brunettes. I could already hear his sharp, cutting voice in his lousy unintentional parody of a pirate: “Whaaaaat?! You-sh cut school-s?! Don’t play-sh wish me-sh. Playing-sh wish me-sh ish like-sh playing-sh wish fire-sh!” I could already feel that metal ruler heating my palm with each determined WHACK, and I was aching just thinking about standing against a wall, arms out-stretched upwards, with my right leg lifted for an hour in punishment.

After the aunt and uncle—whose names still eluded me at the time— had finished laughing at the humorous sight I must have made, they asked me for directions to the front gate.

Apparently, their son had been kicked out of Bridge Academy—one of the four other English Private schools in Palestine. Al-Urdonia was slightly less prestigious, but still a good school, and the other schools were out of the question—seeing as their reputations were deplorable.

Well, hanging there as I was, I pointed the way to the front gate—draped over the fence as a cooked noodle hangs upon a fork. After a stern look, the uncle told me to get back in the school, and then he drove off. He didn’t rat me out.

I was relieved; Eesam would have killed me for sure this time.