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To Mars, Together 29 May 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Education.

It’s official: if we ever build a colony on Mars together, it will be called “Tae Kwon Do Soccer Ball: First Grade Muslim Country”. Wadi, Land of Shoes, Madia, First Graders on Mars, Marsy Red Mars, Roodi, First Colony, Super Team and Death Shooter did not make it through the second round of voting. The class has spoken. I write the colony’s name on the whiteboard, and underline it with a flourish.

“Sister Amani will be the Ambassador of Mars,” I announce. “And I will be the Ambassador of Earth.” “What’s an Ambassador?” Walee asks. Amani and I look at each other. “Do you know the word in Arabic?” I ask. She nods. “Safir,” she says. No one on the rug looks reassured. “An Ambassador is a person who represents a place,” I say. “And if you want to do something in their place, then you have to get their approval. Also they might be able to give you money to help you pay for what you want to do.”



Ali and His Gedda (Why We Love) 22 May 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Education, Spirituality.

Gedda wears a thin black scarf above her broad, striped shirt. She rocks while I finish math. “Ali, the number I’m thinking of can’t be sixteen,” I try again. “Sixteen is an even number.” I write the numbers from fifteen to twenty on the board, and together we cross out the even ones. “I am thinking of an odd number,” I remind the class. Over their heads, I watch Gedda unpack her bag. She stacks styrofoam plates on the floor, and tops them with a sack of bright foam flowers. At last, we are both ready.

“Look, children,” I incline my head toward Gedda. “There is a guest in our room.” “As-sal-aam-uuuuu a-laik-um wa rah-ma-tu-lla-hi wa-ba-ra-ka-tu-uu,” they chorus, rhythmic and slow. Gedda beams. “Wa alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.” She holds a white circle behind her back, as she walks to the front of the room. “First graders, what do you love?”


Loss in the Afternoon 8 May 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Education, Misc.
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By the third time he asks, my patience is gone. “Hossam, I have answered you the last two times,” I tell him. “I am going to help you to find the toy, but this is not the right time.” I thread the end of the dandelion through Marwa’s right braid. Ayat pulls off its stem, until only the blossom remains, caught up in a twist of black hair. Freeze tag resumes against a backdrop of soccer. The girls, the smaller boys and I orbit around each other. Hossam knots up the tip of his chin.

The mean time between injuries is ten minutes when all of us are outside. Within seven, Mouad has bruised his shin. “I cannot walk,” he wails. His face crumples, until he is all forehead and nose. He hops pathetically at me. I open my arms, and pull him up. Fifty pounds of Syrian fury rest along my hip. The first graders streak ahead of us to the door.


Democracy Now 1 May 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Education, Law, Misc.
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My bambini just wrote letters to our Governor, Mr. Deval Patrick. These letters are about environmentalism, but they are as much about how American Muslim children view the democratic system and themselves. I am transcribing them here for you.

1. Muhammad.

Dear Governor Patrick,

I am a First Grader. My name is Muhammad. I am a good reader and good at math. I read a lot. I have a water slide. I want to tell you that we should really recycle more. Trash is getting more trash. I hope you are feeling well and I am 6 years old. I love soccer. Soccer is my favorite sport.

Good bye,


Field Day 24 April 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Education.
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The students queue up in the parking lot like chattering sardines. Sister Nadra makes the quiet sign, with a finger to her lips and her free hand raised to a point above her head. I mimic her, as do the other teachers. Slowly the students follow suit, but for the two year-olds and the fifth graders. I am sorry for these classes. It is hard to be at either end of things.

It takes us ten minutes to sort all 120 of the kids into four equal groups. Each teacher is paired with another. Sadia and I, caretakers of the barely literate, are assigned team Al-Muttaqeen. In quadrants of the parking lot, As-Sabireen, Al-Muhsineen and Al-Mo’mineen form. From our spot near the railing, my heart gives a hiccup. I am proud that my children are of those whom Allah loves. I scan the crowd. Away from our classroom, the first graders are shy. I watch Marwa and Hamza try to stake their ground in the presence of the Big Kids on team Al-Mo’mineen. When Hamza is not looking, I blow them a kiss.