My host sister slept for about two hours last night because of anxiety. No, there is no war here. There hasn’t been a trace of violence, not even a fist fight, since I arrived here. She isn’t worried about the stalled international peace process between Israel and Palestine, or the growing settlements on the hill across the valley from Bethlehem. She was worried all night about her final score from high school. She graduated from high school in June, and has been awaiting her final score since then.
And this is not just any score. The students have a final examination, the equivalent to the SAT, which they must take upon graduating. They are given a month off from school to prepare for the exam.
And today, at 8:30 this morning, she found out her grade. It wasn’t by means of anything in the mail; there was no paper delivered to our house. Instead, the scores of graduating seniors were published in newspapers – available at every street corner in Bethlehem – and broadcast over the radio.
My host sister got a score of 82 out of 100.
How good is this?
Well, I spoke to one American volunteer, and she said that she has talked with people and they have said that this means that my sister can get into a university, no problem.
But that isn’t how my sister, Sharah, reacted. She immediately broke out crying hysterically, and she didn’t eat today. She has refused to leave the house, while other students can be seen driving around town, honking horns, setting off fireworks (yes, while in their cars), hanging out of car windows, and celebrating in revelry.
So why isn’t Sharah celebrating?
Because the family can’t afford for her to go to university.
On the first night that I arrived, she told me that she wants to study chemistry at university. Then she plans to work in a chemistry laboratory, doing blood analysis and assisting with transfusions.
But she needed a 90 on the exam to get the necessary scholarships. Otherwise, the family can’t afford for her to go to university.
Najati, the oldest child, a 20 year-old guy, had to drop out of Jerusalem Open University last year because the family couldn’t afford his studies. So instead, he works at the falafel shop on the corner of our street in the refugee camp. It’s basically the same as flipping burgers in the states.
These economic problems for the family stem from their father not having work. He normally works in Jerusalem, doing construction. But he hasn’t been able to find anybody to work for in the past 3 months, and these recent problems are part of a continued lack of jobs in the West Bank. While houses and construction booms in Israeli territory, the main purpose for bulldozers in Palestinian territory is to tear down homes.
But the larger Palestinian problem is pretty well embodied by the family I’m living with. Heck, I haven’t had running water in the house for the past 3 days to wash. The utilities are run by Israeli companies.
Where’s the hope in all of this? I’m still looking… I just hope Sharah sleeps tonight.