Virtual Al-Waha 2020: In Review
Published: August 7, 2020
The end of Virtual Al-Waha: نهاية الواحة الافتراضية. Yesterday was the last day of Virtual Al-Waha. For many, including me, Virtual Al-Waha was one of the highlights of my summer. It was the thing that structured our days and made us excited to learn something new. Personally, I woke up every morning looking forward to the taqdiim makan al-yawm تقديم مكان اليوم (Place of the Day Presentation), and I drank coffee every afternoon and chatted with villagers and other counselors at our maqha iftiraaDiia مقهى افتراضية (Virtual Coffee Shop). Some of our villagers participated in only morning sessions, or only afternoon sessions, while others took part in both.
First thing in the morning, we had interactive presentations about Arabic-speaking places from counselors around the world!
Ustaadha Aya, who was an Al-Waha counselor in 2018, gave us a tour of Yerevan, Armenia where she lives now, and showed us pictures of Aleppo, Syria, where she used to live before.
Ustaadha Dalia, another person who was a counselor at Al-Waha in 2018, showed us around her hometown of Bethlehem, Palestine, and taught us how to do a Palestinian dabke dance.
Doctora Chantal, who is one of the deans of Lac du Bois, and her colleague Ustaadh Hassan showed us photos of where they live in Iraq and had us guess what places we were looking at.
It was such a treat to be able to travel vicariously through these counselors’ web cameras. After تقديم مكان اليوم, we broke out into small learning groups. In the mornings, we focused on learning how to read and write new vocabulary through games, videos, and other activities. With the guidance of Ustaadha Karima, Doctora Farida, Ustaadha Hadeel, and Ustaadha Lujayn, by the end of one week, villagers could introduce themselves in Arabic and tell us their favorite colors and animals. We even sang a few songs about them!
To kick off the afternoon sessions, at the مقهى افتراضية some days we played games like Pictionary or Hangman. Other days we had breakout room discussions about the weather where we live or coffee culture in the United States. It was a fun, relaxing way to start the afternoon activities.
After المقهى we broke out into activity groups. Some villagers learned how to make al-ma’quuda and baba ghanouj with Ustaadh Diae; some villagers learned a new song and made a music video for it with Ustaadh Khalil; some villagers worked on Kufic calligraphy with Doctor Mokhtar; and some villagers worked on arts and crafts with Ustaadha Lujayn. At the end of each week, the villagers presented their artwork, music, and cooking to the large group in Arabic. It was so cool to see what they had learned to do in Arabic!
This past week, the world outside Al-Waha has been a little scary and stressful, and for that I am grateful to have had the community of Virtual Al-Waha to keep us grounded. An enormous explosion in Beirut, Lebanon destroyed the center of the city on August 4th; in response, people all over the world are sending their love and support to the people of Beirut. From what I have heard, the relatives of Al-Waha counselors and villagers in Lebanon are all ok, الحمد الله. Aside from that, after Tropical Storm Isaias swept through the Northeast of the United States, people there have been without electricity for several days. We are very fortunate that our villagers and counselors from tthe Northeast found a way to connect with us despite the power outages!
Yesterday was the last day of Virtual Al-Waha, and I think I had goosebumps the entire day. The end of our virtual summer session feels as real to me as the in-person Al-Waha did in years past. The singing, dancing, presenting photos and videos of all the activities we did, our thank-you session...they all carried with them the same joy, nostalgia, and gratitude as it did the last summer I worked at Al-Waha. I had the same feeling of “I don’t want to leave yet!”
In fact, it was the thank-you time at the end of the session that has stuck with me the most today. I am grateful to all the villagers for bringing Virtual Al-Waha to life this summer. You are all such talented, curious, and courageous young people. I am also grateful to Shams, Farida, Hadeel, Mokhtar, Karima, Diae, Khalil, and Lujayn for their hard work this summer - you are truly inspiring and I am honored to work with you! They created and led activities that were enjoyable for villagers of all ages and language levels.
Check out Al-Waha’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages in the coming week for more photos and videos of all the cool things we learned at Virtual Al-Waha this summer. I miss everyone already, and Inshallah we will see each other again next summer!
A note on the use of honorifics: throughout this blog post and over the past few weeks on social media, I have been referring to camp counselors as أستاذ\أستاذة Ustaadh (m) or Ustaadha (f), and sometimes دكتور\دكتورة Doctor (m) or Doctora (f). We haven’t always used them at Al-Waha in previous years, but in most Arabic-speaking places, people may refer to their teachers as Ustaadh, or Doctor if they have a doctorate degree; you may also hear the word حضرتك HaDritak (m) or HaDritik (f), which is a very polite way to say “you” instead of anta (m) or anti (f) أنت.