If you’ve been following the blog, you know that my role here on the trip is to wrangle the kids. On Friday, the kids participated a fun run organized by Lost Children with the neighbor kids. The organization is doing some great things here to help Palestinian kids have normal childhoods. All the kids received free t-shirts, hats, and toys and after the run, they had a block party with traditional dancing, face painting, and bounce houses. I had originally planned to take the kids to a nearby carnival, but after their run, they were pretty tired and perhaps even a bit cranky. We’re saving the carnival for another day. Careful observers may note that we’re at the Palestinian Scouts headquarters!
On Sunday, Lynn went on a daytrip with the local university to visit a Palestinian village and learn more about the culture here. Will, Maggie and I ended up going to a birthday party thrown by one of his friends from school. The party was at Chuck E. Cheese – apparently legitimately franchised and everything (unlike, say, the Stars and Bucks coffee shop downtown with a familiar green and white logo).
The kids and I grabbed a servee (shared taxi) down to the city center and walked over to a toy store we has scoped out earlier. The store featured high quality imported toys, with the prices to match. Our first thought was to give the birthday girl a board game. We have been kicking ourselves for not bringing board games with us — we had the games we were going to take laid out and had a plan for which games were the most portable (Sheriff of Nottingham, for example, easily fits in a small ziplock, despite the large box). We’re adding that to our list of supplies for next time! Anyway, the store had both Monopoly and Life. Monopoly can be had for the bargain price of 259 shekels (about $69!), while Life goes for 289 shekels (~$77). Needless to say, we quickly changed that plan. The only problem we had is that neither Will nor I know what a 4th grade girl would like. They had tons of dolls, but is 10 too old? Normally, I would grab something like a fun science kit, but those weren’t available. With Maggie’s help, we ended up deciding on a small jewelry box. I know that you’re supposed to bargain in the downtown shops, but we’ve just been paying what they’re asking. Most of the times, they’re driving down the price anyway. We’ve had several experiences with “It’s 100 shekels, but for you, we’ll make it 50”…meaning we should probably be paying 30. At the toy store, the guy gave us the box for 60 shekels and that included gift wrapping, a card, and a plastic light up turtle to tape to the box.
With my screenshot of the map taken from the local Chuck E Cheese’s facebook page, we confidently walked to the restaurant. Unfortunately, mapping programs really don’t work very well here. There is a great GIS program in the city which recently gave all the streets names and regular addresses, but no one uses them yet. And mapping apps haven’t caught up with the rapid growth of the city – you won’t find any Google Street View vans driving around here. So we walked right to the pinned location, but it was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. A quick stop at the local market to ask for directions revealed that we weren’t that far off – we only needed to make a zig zagged series of 6 turns to cross two major streets and go up a big hill and we’d be there. Luckily for us, one of Will’s friends was driving by and saw us walking – his dad stopped the car in the middle of the street, got out to shake our hands, and invited us to jump in.
The kids had a great time, but I think I enjoyed myself even more. I hung out with a couple of the dads on the patio outside the restaurant (just like birthday parties in the States!). The host dad bought us some Arabic coffee and we swapped stories for a couple of hours. I ended the evening with an invitation to join one family on a trip to their neighboring family village and another to pick olives in a few weeks! We also arranged to have the children spend time together twice a week after school (I don’t think either of us checked with our wives, but when in Rome, right?). One of the dads (the guy with all the olive trees) owns a couple of restaurants in town and really wants his children to practice their English with a native speaker. As it turns out, his son is in Will’s class and his daughter is in Maggie’s. The kids were already friends! They’re going to help Will and Maggie with their Arabic homework, and our kids will help them with their English work. It should work out well for the kids.
In other Dad news, yesterday I went to the second grade parent meeting for Maggie’s class. I can confidently report that Maggie does in fact have teachers and they do in fact have work they are doing. Other than that, I was just smiling and nodding. The principal did offer to translate early on, but I told her that I would just catch up later. As it turned out, the meeting lasted an hour and a half, so if they had stopped to translate, there’s no telling what time we would have gotten out of there. Luckily, I wasn’t the only person there who didn’t have a clue – one of the moms sat next to me with her 3 month old son (I tried to compare notes with him after the meeting, but he was more interested in chewing his sock). I did catch that they are practicing recitations and songs in their Arabic class and they need to complete daily reading logs for their English class. The gym teacher spoke for a really long time, so apparently they also have some very advanced PE activities. After the meeting, the principal asked if I got all of that. Actually, I was kind of surprised how much I did catch on. Parent meetings are pretty universal. And context and body language go a long way – there were occasional English loanwords thrown in that helped me stay on track (“recycling” told me we were talking about their science project, for example). I was a little concerned about an exchange between the moms when they were talking about the English class – they said “genius” about five times. I was really, really hoping that they weren’t talking about our Maggie – I don’t think they were, but just in case when I got home, we had a chat with her about being careful not to answer too many questions in English class. 🙂 At the end of that meeting, I exchanged numbers with another parent who wants to arrange playtime with Maggie and her daughter.
I’ll end today with a shot of Will’s new chore…taking out the trash.