Bethlehem native is far from home this Christmas
By STEPH TAHTINEN
Mt. Pleasant News
WAYLAND — Sanaria Abusour is a long way from home.
So far from home, in fact, that the 16-year-old WACO foreign exchange student from Bethlehem, Palestine recently won an award at a festival in Missouri for being the person from the furthest away.
“I told him (the announcer) that I’m from Bethlehem, and they went, ‘Oh, where Jesus was born, that’s cool. That’s amazing,’” said Abusour. “So, I guess I was the winner and I won a t-shirt and a plaque. It was something great, actually. It was a good award.”
Although she laughed as she told the story of her award, she grew somber as she recalled that the announcer referred to her home as Bethlehem, Israel.
“That made me kind of sad because all of Bethlehem people, they say that Bethlehem is in Palestine. They do not say that Bethlehem is in Israel,” explained Abusour, who later had a chance to explain this to the announcer.
“I told him, ‘By the way, Bethlehem is in Palestine. It’s not in Israel.’ So the other man, he was just joking, and he said, ‘He’s not good at geography, we should give him a map,’” said Abusour. “Well, it’s not about geography.”
Although Abusour came to the United States to learn more about the country and its government, her goal is also to help educate the people here about her country, including giving them a different view of Palestine than is often portrayed in the media.
“I am all the time giving the other, good part about the Palestinian [culture] because most of the people over here, they just get the bad news,” said Abusour. “So I just try to give the best part and picture about my country.”
“Of course I won’t forget about what is happening over there and explain that, because not a lot of people are understanding what is going on and know that we are an occupied people where we cannot go to Jerusalem. People who are in Bethlehem who are Christian or Muslims or whoever, they just cannot go to Jerusalem to pray or to do what they want inside Israel,” said Abusour.
She explained that the division also prevents the Jewish people from coming to Bethlehem.
“After the 2000 war, they just closed Jerusalem by wall, which is called a segregation wall,” explained Abusour, comparing it to the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Germany after World War II. “I have relatives who live inside Israel. Because they are Arabian, they are allowed to come to Bethlehem, but Jewish cannot. That’s how the segregation starts. They do not want us to have contact with the Jewish.”
Abusour views the conflict as a government problem and thinks that it would be different if it were up to the people.
“I guess I believe that if we went and we just talked with the folk, with the citizens, we could make a better decision than the two governments right now are making,” she said.
She noted that in America, the decisions are in the hands of the people, and that freedom helped ignite her passion to come to the United States.
“I heard it’s a free country. I have lots of checkpoints over there, so I wanted to feel what it’s going to look like when I’m free. I just insisted to go to the United States,” said Abusour. “[My parents] were kind of afraid for me, but they were at the same time saying, ‘It’s her life, and she should experience that.’”
Although Abusour is far away from her parents and three younger sisters, she is able to keep in touch with her family back in Palestine through the Internet.
“I Skype my family every week. They’re doing great, and I just tell them what’s going on over here, what are my new experiences,” she said.
She also keeps her friends updated on her life in the United States via Facebook, including posting pictures of the first concert she has ever sung in as part of the school chorus.
“It’s something amazing to have a concert like that. I took the pictures and they have been posted on Facebook. My friends saw that, and they just really liked that. They really like to see the other part of the American culture,” said Abusour.
Things that many American high school students take for granted — such as last fall’s homecoming and next spring’s prom — are new experiences for Abusour.
When asked, it doesn’t take her long to think of the biggest difference.
“Cheese,” she responded immediately. “It’s unbelievable. I was amazed how there’s different flavors over here of cheese. Over there, cheese is expensive, and I eat cheese once a month over there. Over here, I just eat it almost every day. Every single day! And I gained 10 pounds, and my jeans cannot barely fit me right now!”
Another big shock for Abusour was how much time her new classmates spend texting.
“They text so crazy, so crazy. It’s like, throughout the class, people text. Five minutes later, they text. Everywhere they text. They’re driving, they text. Every single moment,” she laughed. “That makes me really crazy. This is a big shocking thing, actually.”
“Another thing,” she continued, “People will just go to their school in pajamas, in flip flops, in whatever they want. We have uniforms over there, guys. Okay, I can accept going to school without uniforms, but not with flip flops. It’s kind of crazy. I cannot imagine that.”
She also noted that there was a difference in how the school day is run. She is used to taking 14 different subjects. The school day is still seven hours long, but there is a different schedule each day. In comparison, at WACO she has seven classes that meet each day, and she noted that included in those seven are a physical education class, a music class and study hall.
“So it’s kind of five, and my friends [in Palestine] were amazed about that. They just couldn’t imagine,” said Abusour. “Actually, junior year over there is so super hard.”
If she was attending her junior year back in Palestine, Abusour would be deciding which route to take to help determine her future career. She said that her father wants her to be a doctor, but she would like to study languages.
“I just feel like languages have different personalities. Every language you know gives you another personality,” she said. “But I may change my mind because there’s no future for you in Palestine if you study languages. There’s nothing to work on over there.”
But Abusour noted that she wants to be a “make changer,” so maybe she can help create opportunities.
“I may just change life over there and start languages and start making something different,” she continued with a smile.
Things are already changing for her country, she noted.
“Right now we are upgraded in the United Nations. We are now as a country called Palestine. Finally we got that,” she said. “I’m proud that I’m from Bethlehem, I just love it a lot, and I’m proud to be a Palestinian.”
She commented that although there has been lots of bloodshed and sorrow in her country, the people are still hopeful and positive.
“All that we want is peace. We don’t want to lose other lives or souls,” said Abusour. “The grass is going to grow some day. That’s what I believe.”