Ashley Virgin
Ashley Virgin
Israel/Palestine 2016
Merhaba! My name is Ashley Virgin, and I am going to live in beautiful Bethlehem, Israel for six months. While in Bethlehem, I will work with WI’AM Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center where I will teach English and arts classes to children. I will also take part in other areas of community development in the city through WI’AM. I am excited to participate in the city and culture of Bethlehem and learn more about the nonviolent conflict resolution and social justice programs that WI’AM sponsors. Read More About Ashley →

Sakni fi Betlahim

This past Monday, I started my “Spoken Arabic for Foreigners” class at Bethlehem University. I go to class Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 5:00 to 6:30. It’s right after work and the university is even on my route home. The class will run through the end of October. This week, we went over the pronunciation of Arabic letters, but it’s more accurate to say sounds rather than letters. For the purpose of speaking Palestinian Arabic* (“Amiya”), and not writing, reading, or learning Arabic grammar (“Fus-ha”), we use the Roman letters with the addition of symbols for certain sounds unique to Arabic.


Never thought I’d have another first day of school again!


This is a picture of a part of my book’s sound chart. Notice that there are three different “G” sounds in Arabic. One is pronounced like the English “G.” The other two are unique to the Arabic language. One is a deep “GHHH,” low in the throat and almost a gargling, rolling of the tongue sound. The other is similar to the English “J.” The hardest to pronounce so far are the dawd, sawd, and haah for the D, S, and H, respectively. Each involves the throat and mouth in a way that the English D, S, and H do not. The S, D, G, H, and T have English equivalent pronunciations, but they also have additional sounds related to them. There is also a throaty, “AYN” sound and a halting “hamze” which have no English equivalents.

If this seems really confusing and difficult to you, that’s because it is! Learning to speak Arabic as an English-only speaker means training your mouth and throat to make sounds it has never had to make before. The only way to learn how to pronounce Arabic words correctly is to practice with and hear them spoken by native Arabic speakers. Luckily for me, people at my organization and my host family are on my side in my quest to learn Arabic. They are very patient and willing to help me study. On Monday night, my host brother spent 15 minutes on teaching me to correctly pronounce the word for midday, duhor (with a dawd and a haah).

I also learned how to say where I’m from. In Arabic, there is no “to be” verb. When you want to say where someone is at currently, you use “fi.” So if I am at work, I say “Ana fi shuGHul.” If I want to tell someone I’m from America, but I live in Bethlehem now, I would say, “Ana min Amerka, bass ana sakni fi Betlahim.”

Despite how tough it is, Arabic is a beautiful language and I’m excited that I’m finally learning it formally.

Now on to an update about work. About four weeks ago, I started meeting with a group of university-age students who want to practice their English. Three of my students are sisters who already know English but wanted more practice with grammar and reading. We meet once a week at the center. I make worksheets and activities that include reading exercises and grammar lessons. After we’re done working on the lessons as a group, we play ESL games, like charades, cards, board games, and Jeopardy. I’m happy to say that we have moved from a student-teacher relationship to a more peer-to-peer dynamic. We laugh, talk about school and life, and wish each other luck in our respective language pursuits. Our meetings have become a time of mutual learning for both parties; I help them with English, and the girls help me learn and practice Arabic!

Over the past few weeks, two interns and I took on the task of completely revamping our organization’s website. With absolutely no experience in website production under our belts and with the assistance of dozens of online tutorials, we taught ourselves how to work WordPress, how to make a staging site, how to edit website code, etc. We worked with the staff to change the color of our logo and edit the website’s content, including the descriptions of our programs. It was a laborious and often tedious process, but the staff and interns worked hard, commiserated in the agony, and bonded over it. At the end of last week, we finally had it all finished and launched it! See our hard work here:

I also FINALLY finished the updated video for Wi’am, now featured on our website’s homepage. Currently I’m in the process of gathering footage of our programs in order to make separate, program-specific videos. While the first video is more of an overview of Wi’am, the next videos will delve into the programs in more detail. These videos will include stories from the people who participate in our programs. Our hope is that these videos will supplement the written content on our blog and website and actually show Wi’am’s mission and activities in conflict transformation.

Speaking of which, what is conflict transformation? If you’ve been reading my blog, I’ve given a bunch of examples of the various ways the conflict affects Palestinian peoples’ lives. Wi’am is a nonprofit community center where women, youth, and children are welcome to participate in clubs, cultivate relationships, locate resources, and celebrate their culture. In this way, while the organization cannot end the conflict, it works to transform the harm it creates into prosperity, community, and success. Essentially, Wi’am works to make lemonade out of lemons, and I have loved contributing to that work.

One more thing before I go. My host sister and I visited Jerusalem today. I love getting lost in the Old City, wandering around the shops, listening to the different languages of people buying and selling, and smelling the spices, incense, and food for sale. We got turned around about four times while trying to find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On one of our detours, we found this cool archway.img_3033

We eventually found the church. Here are some pictures.



That’s all for now. Salaam!


*There are multiple dialects within the Arabic language. Palestinian Arabic is one of the Levantine dialect, versions of which are also spoken in Lebanon and Jordan. Other Arabic dialects include Modern Standard Arabic, Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Bagdadi, and so on. Modern Standard is the type taught in school (“Fus-ha”), but people also know the dialect of the country they live in. One of my friends told me that the different dialects are almost like completely different languages, such that if you were to speak Palestinian Arabic in Morocco, most people wouldn’t know what you were saying. Did I mention Arabic is a complex language? If you want to read more about dialects of Arabic, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page on the subject:


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