Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: school

On the Way to School

On the way to school

While organizing my office, I watched a French documentary on Netflix called On the Way to School. I expected this film to occupy me a little while I multitasked. I did not expect it to capture my attention more closely than a suspense movie.

On the Way to School is the story of how children in different parts of the world, who live in remote villages, get to school. Jackson and his young sister live in Kenya and walk ten miles a day each way to get to their school.  They have to beware of the wild animals in their path. Carlito and his younger sister ride their horse more than eleven miles each way across the plains of Argentina. Zahira and her friends live in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains and their journey, partially on foot and partially hitchhiking, takes four hours to get to their boarding school. In India, two brothers have to push their brother Samuel, who’s in a wheelchair, 2.5 miles each way to get to school.

These children not only go to school, but they also help around the house. They did not complain, analyze or compare their situation to anyone else’s. They did what they had to do and learned a great deal in the process. They had an attitude of gratitude and a type of understanding that parents hinder their children from having when they baby them too much.

When I finished watching this documentary, I told my children they had to help me clean the house. I handed out a list of tasks and I stopped feeling bad about telling them to make their own sandwiches, grab their own drinks and potato chip bags. Since I watched the movie, each time an inner complain wiggles itself inside my head, I think of them. I think of their dedication and perseverance and I switch my complaints to an attitude of gratitude.

That’s what good movies are all about. They make you visit other peoples’ lives, learn something new, gain a different perspective, and maybe, hopefully, make a change.

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International Coffee Hour

Coffee Hour

My husband normally drops off the kids at school in the morning. Once they’re out of the house, I usually start the day with writing, cleaning the house, cooking, and then it’s 3pm and I have to pick up the kids. Yesterday morning was different. I volunteered to drop off the kids because I wanted to join a new coffee hour event at 8:30am.

Over coffee and donuts, I sat with the principal of the school, Mr. Slancik, and the community’s favorite priest, Father Matthew, along with several teachers and parents. We discussed politics, religion, and community news. I noticed for the first time the flags that hung on the walls of the cafeteria. I counted forty-one flags, each from a different country around the world.

I asked the principal what these flags represent. The principal said that according to what he was told, since Schcuchard Elementary was built, students from that many nationalities had at one point or another attended this school. I was happy to know the school had such rich diversity. The more diverse a place is, the more opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and learn new things. This is precisely what I loved about traveling overseas. I always attained a new perspective and returned home with greater and deeper knowledge and appreciation of the world, as well as my home.

I carefully observed the flags, each distinct in its symbolism. One in particular caught my attention and I asked, “Does anyone know what country that red flag belongs to?”

The English teacher beside me said, “That’s an Albanian flag. It’s from my birth country. The symbol is a double-headed eagle.”

The eagle was used for heraldic purposes in the late middle ages by a number of noble families in Albania. The Kastrioti’s coat of arms, depicting a black double-headed eagle on a red field, became famous when he led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire that resulted with the independence of Albania from 1443 to 1479. This was the flag of the League of Lezhe, which was the first unified Albanian state in the middle ages.

I did not know that like Iraq, Albania was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire. People are always focusing on our differences, allowing our similarities to go by the wayside. More coffee hours would help cure that.

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Iraqi Americans (Not) Acclimating

Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

             Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

Today I attended a school meeting with the educators and parents where we discussed, once again, how to encourage Iraqi American parents to get involved in their students’ work and in the school itself. My community has the largest growing Iraqi immigrants. It has even been nicknamed “Little Baghdad” because on each corner there is an Iraqi produce market, butchery, bakery, restaurants, etc. This is great on one hand. The culture resonates very strongly here. However, when the newcomers stay within these boundaries, adding Satellite TVs in order to watch Arab channels all day long, they don’t give themselves the chance to acclimate.

One of the teachers said that she really embraces this ethnic community, especially given that she resides amongst them. “However,” she added, “it feels like this community is like a volleyball game. This team is on this side, and that team is on that side, and often they split apart. They don’t really come together.”

I remembered something my elderly neighbor once said as we chatted over our back fence. Her parents were first generation immigrants from Italy. She said that all immigrants had difficulty acclimating but that she noticed this was more prominent with Iraqis. They really resisted change.

I thought about that and wondered whether this was due to them having immigrated from a country of a different religion. They also had endured much oppression and persecution and for over 30 years war. Their wounds are so deep, it’s not easy to tap into them. They will take decades, maybe even generations, to heal. But isolation is not the answer. And it’s their children who will suffer for it.

As the principal said, “If people don’t know the truth, don’t worry. They will make it up.”

His point was to spread the good news about the school. My point is let’s spread the good news about our culture, our history, our pains and joys. Let’s share ourselves. Because if people don’t know the truth about us, they will make it up.