By SASHA HART
When you first meet Mahadia Maher Abu Dalal, you would never know the lengthy and risky process she experienced to get to Colorado College from Gaza. Yet, the process was more difficult than many of us could fathom. Abu Dalal is at CC this year on a Fulbright Scholarship. In this role, she teaches Arabic adjunct classes, takes courses, and organizes events as the Cultural Program Coordinator (CPC).
Abu Dalal was born in the Philippines to a Filipina mother and Palestinian father but moved to Gaza when she was four years old. Since then, she has never travelled outside of Gaza, until coming to CC. She currently lives in Gaza with her husband, whose application for an Israeli permit was denied, thus preventing him from accompanying Abu Dalal to Colorado.
After finishing her education, Abu Dalal became a teacher, one of the most common jobs for women in Palestine. While she initially had dreams of becoming a doctor, for women, this profession is not accepted in her culture. However, she has come to love teaching, especially teaching Palestinian students, because she is able to be both a teacher and a counselor for her students, who have suffered many hardships in their lives. Back in Gaza, Abu Dalal teaches at the Oxford Centre, a private school where she teaches English as a second language, and at UN schools in Gaza, where she teaches refugee children.
When asked what the hardest thing to adjust to in the U.S. was, she wasn’t initially able to pinpoint one thing. Ultimately, she realized it boiled down to the difficulty in facing negative comments about her origin. On one of her first days in Colorado Springs, while crossing the street, someone verbally attacked her because she was wearing a hijab. For two weeks after that, she didn’t leave her house because she was worried that someone would kill her if she went out.
However Abu Dalal is resilient. To get to the U.S., she had to first apply for an Israeli permit to get to the border between Israel and Palestine. After three months, she received one, but it gave her only a week to say goodbye to her family and country before she had to cross the border.
At the border, the Israeli military took her computer and forced her to remove her clothes, but eventually she was allowed through. She doesn’t know if she will face the same difficulty getting into Gaza and, in that sense, she has jeopardized her life in coming to the U.S.
As Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies Professor Ammar Naji explained to me, it is incredibly rare to find a woman from the West Bank or Gaza Strip through the Fulbright program, in part due to the difficulty in leaving these areas. In hiring Fulbright Arabic scholars, Naji, Office of the Dean, and the Office of International Programs all look at the applications, which include everything from recommendations, to teaching statements, to amount of travel overseas.
Naji comes up with a list of his top four picks for candidates and the list ultimately gets sent to the Fulbright program, which responds by telling CC which candidate they can extend an offer. Oftentimes, the candidates selected by CC will have already gotten and accepted offers from other universities, so it is particularly fortunate that the college was able to get Abu Dalal as this year’s Arabic CPC.
Through her experiences in the U.S., Abu Dalal hopes to gain a better understanding of American culture and to discover the variation in culture between states. Upon returning to Gaza, she told me she plans to go back to share her experience with other educators in Palestine. Currently, she is currently writing a book about how to acquire a new foreign language, and she hopes this experience will help her in finishing the book. As for her hopes for CC community members, Abu Dalal said, “I hope that there is more awareness of what is happening there [in Palestine] and what the contribution of the American government and politics is there.”
Without an Arabic house or department, it is harder for Abu Dalal to fill her role as a cultural ambassador to engage with students outside the classroom. However, she has the potential to be a resource for the entire CC community.
For those who are also interested in talking to Abu Dalal and hearing more about her life, experiences, culture, and perspectives, she hosts multiple events on and off campus, including the Arabic Table in Cossitt Hall every Friday from 2 to 3 p.m.