Lora M. Beseler (U.S.A.) was an English teacher during Summer 2013. She holds a Bachelor degree (Criminal Justice), a J.D. (Law), and an M.A. (TESOL). Lora practiced law for at least 16 years before changing career paths to the teaching of English to foreign speakers. Coming to the Excellence Center in Hebron gave Lora the opportunity to acquire teaching skills, as well as indulging her interests in languages (particularly Arabic), travel, and cultures beside her own. Traveling to Hebron, Palestine took her out of her “comfort zone”, expanded her horizons generally, and, more specifically, gave her first-hand understanding of a volatile political situation.

Did you stay with a Palestinian family? What was it like?

 I stayed with a host family and it was great! From the very first moment of stepping inside the home, I was welcomed with open arms. My house mother told me “This is your home now. Don’t be shy.” There was no hesitation to assimilate me into the family, and by that I mean the family at large. I attended a wedding with the family when my host mother’s aunt was a bride’s maid. It was absolutely wonderful! I accompanied my host mother on numerous visits to family members, and to the neighbors. I was one of the family – from taking meals with them and relatives, to interacting with the little son. As I was there during Ramadan, I observed the customs for iftar, restraining myself from eating until the call of the muezzin was heard. I recall my house mother inviting me once to begin eating and not waiting for all of them, but I declined as I wished to do as they did. During Ramadan my shoes could be found in the heap of shoes outside the entryway. Relatives always told me “come to visit all the time.” My room in the house was clean and comfortable. Always I was amazed when my house mother insisted on vacuuming it at 10 p.m.!

1What level of cultural immersion did you receive?

Every single day I was surrounded by Arabic language and culture. If I needed to speak in English, I could certainly do that. Otherwise, I heard and lived Arabic and Arabic culture morning to night. In fact, I was so immersed that some language was becoming automatized in Arabic for me: during a language lesson taught with a co-teacher, I asked a student a question. He looked at me strangely. I asked again – and again – with no response from the student. The co-teacher finally demanded to know “what are [you] doing?” It seems I was asking the student the question in both Arabic and English! The co-teacher had heard me doing this other times, she said, and had thought I was kidding around. Automatization can only occur if one is seriously immersed or practicing the language. Even the children would voluntarily and relentlessly DRILL me on numbers – “again” they would order!

What are your best memories of Hebron?

 My well-thumbed memories of Hebron and Palestine! So many. The most valuable memories are the people themselves; their hospitality, warmth, and love are unforgettable and something I have never before experienced. My overnight visits to student/friends’ homes I remember, their care for me and treating me as an honored guest, especially grandmother wishing that I try on her rosa and veil. I love the memory of having gone to the bridal salon to have my arms, elbows to fingertips, henna’ed as a birthday present to myself. I love the memory of going to a tiny market for a can of tomato sauce because my house mother needed it for cooking supper. She wrote out the item in Arabic for the grocer, and sent me into the neighborhood street, telling me that if I couldn’t find the shop to ask anyone in the street. I did ask some lovely Palestinian women buying melons. After eagerly reading my note and wishing to all be of help to me, they gave me directions. I love the memory of my friend’s mother making a big warm, delicious khubz for me in the morning, wrapping it in paper for me to take “home” with me.

I remember stomping and wending my way through the westernmost cemetery of Nablus with the Excellence Center co-owner in order to find Fadwa Tuqan’s grave. I smile to myself thinking back to an elderly taxi driver wearing a skull cap, chuckling with glee as I made oohs and ahhhs over a herd of beautiful little goats trotting along with their shepherd. Elderly women sitting by a roadside in Yatta, clothed in abayas, veils trimmed in coins while some little goats scampered down the street past them come back to me like a delicious dream. I remember walking to a spot on the neighborhood road one morning in order to catch a taxi; there stood a woman wearing a niqab accompanied by her daughter waiting as well. I remember her smile behind the niqab and her delight in asking me if I was the American girl living with the XYZ household. I remember everywhere I went ALL people welcoming me, and greeting me. Never have I known such warmth, generosity, and love from people in six decades of life. Going to Hebron and to Palestine, to the Excellence Center, was the best thing I have ever done in my life.

2What did you gain from your experience in Palestine?

The easy answer to this question: I gained teaching experience, forged new friendships that are maintained to this day, saw new places, witnessed political realities, challenged myself to venture into a new and different way of life, and laid a foundation for language learning in a new and difficult language.

The intricate answer and the most important answer: I truly saw that despite our differences in cultures, nationalities, languages, and religions, we are most assuredly brothers and sisters going about our human lives, all with the same worries, hopes, dreams, joys, bothers, laughter and tears. I understand that nothing else matters more than this humanity.