An update: teaching and a trip to Jerusalem

It’s been a while since my last blog post – I’ve been a on a hiatus from the translation world and working as a French teacher in a local secondary school. It’s a temporary position but it is nonetheless time-consuming, especially combined with my other commitments.

I was initially reluctant to take on the role as it is outside of my comfort zone, but then I decided to embrace it as a new experience and use it to expand my skill-set. After all, freelancing (and life in general!) is unpredictable and constantly offers fresh challenges. Teaching is simply a different way to apply my linguistic skills.

It is also an opportunity to persuade young people that learning languages has many uses. Many of the young women I’m teaching seem to think that learning French is pointless – ‘Miss, when am I ever going to need French?’. Picture my horrified face. Any suggestions on how I can persuade them otherwise are most welcome. In the meantime, I’ll be catching up on endless marking (Reasons not to become a teacher #1).

'I presume you're the substitute teacher?'
‘I presume you’re the substitute teacher?’

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I just got back from an Easter break to Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia. Jerusalem, and the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, are home to the three holiest sites in Islam. Travelling always teaches us about another language and culture, but making a pilgrimage to places of worship is an entirely unique encounter with different ways of life. For a start, the British penchant for queuing becomes particularly pronounced!

I found the people of Jerusalem to be friendly and warm. One morning, as we walked back from the dawn prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque (which was at 5 0’clock by the way), an elderly lady joined us, just to have some company as she walked back home. Foreign visitors are made to feel very welcome, and hospitality is clearly inherent to the local culture.

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The Dome of the Rock
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The Old City
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Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City

Coming back to London always feels like a shock after a visit to Mecca and Medina, as there are thousands of people gathered there at practically all times of year. During the Hajj season, which falls in September this year, there are roughly three million pilgrims. It can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first time.

The pilgrims have one obvious thing in common: their reason for visiting. The rites themselves and the prayers to be observed are the same for everyone. However, it is interesting to observe the subtle differences between groups of pilgrims. It can be the way they place their hands during prayer or the colours they wear. In my culture, it is considered highly disrespectful to place the Quran on the floor, while in others it is completely normal. The pilgrimage is a lesson in tolerance, patience and understanding.

After a truly beautiful and life-changing journey, I feel rejuvenated and ready  to get back to work (yes, really!) with fresh perspective and the best intentions.

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The Grand Mosque of Mecca, known as the Masjid al-Haram, is currently undergoing a fourth expansion to accommodate two million more worshippers.
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A model of the Grand Mosque, including the new extension
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Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina
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This model shows how the original Masjid Al-Nabawi would have looked in 622, with a roof of palm leaves supported by palm trunks.

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