From Shatila to Ramallah: an introduction

Student mural at Beit Atfal As-Sumoud rooftop in Shatila refugee camp

Nour Joudah

I never thought of myself as a teacher, and when my mother used to suggest the profession to me as a kid, I would flinch. But lately, that’s exactly who I am finding myself becoming – not just as an answer to our obsession with the “what do you do?” question, but as a general identification of how I see myself.

Any teacher will tell you that even on days you want to grab your students and throw them out of class, the frustration stems mostly from witnessing wasted potential more than a superficial annoyance with behavior. When I was teaching in Shatila this past summer, the difficulty lay more in moments of knowing the obstacles your students would encounter down the line and knowing they knew that you knew that working hard probably wouldn’t be enough. Here, at a rigorous private school in Ramallah, the frustration stems not from potential disrupted, but privilege unrealized.

And for as quickly as you identify these roots of frustration, you also come to understand that there is a potential at question aside from theirs – yours. You grasp that privilege unrealized is not something worth frustration because privilege needs to be pointed out before it can be recognized, let alone understood; that potential disrupted has to be given motivation to persevere; that your ability to pierce through either is dependent on your willingness to let the students show you more of their world than you teaching them about the one you want them to see.

It’s striking that just when you think they have been overwhelmed with hardship, they share their dreams; or, when you are convinced their spoiled surroundings cloud their empathy, they come together to support a friend literally shaking before his class presentation on his father’s arrest.

Living in Ramallah now after a lifetime in the diaspora, trips home to Palestine limited to Gaza, and a recent summer in Shatila – my 14-year-old students are the only thing keeping me grounded, keeping my over-analytical brain from self-imploding into total identity crisis and anger at a colonial reality with a reach far outside of these historic borders.

As I write, reflect, and report for EI over the coming year, it’s from this locale – both mental and physical – that I will do so.




As someone currently studying to be a teacher of ESL students in the U.S., I appreciate your candor and insights about teaching. In the end, we teach each other in the classroom. I look forward to reading your articles, and reports from Palestine.

Nour Joudah

Nour Joudah's picture

Nour has a MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University. She was teaching high school and living in Ramallah prior to a re-entry denial, and subsequent ban from traveling to Palestine. Nour is currently re-exiled to and living and working in Washington, DC. She is the Associate Producer for Status, an Audio Journal and show, and blogs at Twitter: @nsdoud