I picked up my bag, and walked into a sea of diversity, wondering what waves the year would bring. With Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, Jordanians and Palestinians, Iraqis, other Arab nationalities and a few foreigners sliding into the classroom desks each day, challenging discussions are bound to arise. Different political, social, religious and ethical views come forward. Last year, I feared these discussions, and the moments of tension that sometimes arose between students. This year, I look forward to them; while there are sometimes moments of tension, there are always moments of enlightenment. The girls have learned to treat these conversations like waves. Sometimes they get swamped, but stand up again. Most of the time, they ride them. These waves of differences move them further than the calmer waters of silence and isolation.
I surveyed my students for the first time in over two months. Each of them greeted me in their own way. The more outgoing ones had found me in the hall or in my office before class. The shy ones peeped out from different corners of the room, and raised their hands in a faint wave. It was a moment of fulfillment for me as a teacher. The girls weren’t only welcoming me; they were also hugging and greeting each other. They began last year by sitting in small clusters with two or three friends, each like themselves, refusing to talk to, or even look at girls of different social statuses or political opinions. They began this year as one group, freely intermingling with each other in spite of varying lifestyles.
The wealthy students came back to school in new clothes and shoes, with two or three Blackberrys or iPods on their desks. These girls come from influential families; their fathers work as doctors, bankers and upper class businessmen. Sitting among them are the poorer students, who have only one pair of shoes. They come from sacrificial families struggling to break free from the cycle of poverty by providing their children with a quality education, regardless of what they must give up to make it possible. Their fathers drive cabs, herd sheep and goats, or do other manual labor.
We began the year with spontaneous oral presentations about summer experiences. Some students spent their summers at five star hotels in Europe. Others worked summer jobs to help pay for their tuition. Some of the Christians participated in humanitarian missions with Caritas International. The Muslim students spent most of their summer vacation in intense prayer and fasting for the Islamic month of Ramadan, and tried to get a little fun in edgewise. Many of the girls spent time collecting and distributing goods to a new Palestinian refugee camp here in Jordan. Others tried to show their solidarity with Arab nations that have seen recent unrest in their governments, by writing appeals in favor of freedom and justice.
And yet, after such varied summer experiences, these students find themselves back together, in the same school, wearing the same uniforms, sitting at the same desks, studying side by side. This year, they are happy to be back together. They have maintained their respective beliefs and cultures, but have come to realize that there is more to unite them than to divide them. Poor and rich, Christian and Muslim, Jordanian, Palestinian and other nationalities alike, they share the same love of life and youth, the same ambition for their future education and careers. They share the same hope for future family life, the same yearning for happiness. They share the same belief in God, even though they call him by different names.
I hope that, one day, the world at large, like my students, will learn to ride the waves of diversity which, whether great or small, rough or graceful, are all meant to reach the same shore. I pray that each culture, while preserving its identity and heritage, will reach out to the others, shake hands as brothers, and join Gibran Khalil Gibran in saying:
“You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith – the Spirit.”
Gibran Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American Author and Poet