I have been having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that my experience in Lebanon could sadly end up a somewhat isolated event that happens in my life. I don’t know for sure that my future will permit me to come back to this beautiful country any time soon, that I would be able to live in Hamra or that I would work with ULYP again. I know for sure that if I were to return and attempt to mimic my experience here, the students with whom I would be working would not be identical to the multifaceted, inspiring, and sometimes challenging group that I was lucky enough to be placed with this summer.
This means that, at least the way I see it, much of the way Lebanon and my experiences here will stay in my life is through storytelling: both how I form my experience into stories in my head and then how I talk about it to others. Additionally, my loved ones will never be able to step into my shoes and see the beauty of two students reconnecting after 12 years, the efforts some of the students put in as they wake up at 3:30 each day to ensure productivity, or the glow and excitement some of them emit as they slowly begin to better understand what we are teaching. Furthermore, despite the 8 weeks that I spend with my students, I will never be able to truly understand what many of their lives are like living in walled camps for generations, facing many safety issues, without the freedom or resources to experience much of the world, much less would I be able to return home and accurately depict this to my close friends and family. The only way they could ever begin to understand is through the oral history I recount of my experience here, reminding me of the importance of the accuracy and ethics within the stories that I choose to bring home with me.
Even now, as a write this reflection, I am struggling to make the words I write reflect how I truly feel while not diverging from the reality that has been the past 3 weeks. By writing this for you, I am creating a mini history of aspects of my experiences with the work we are doing here, inherently meaning I must choose to include certain examples and leave out many. While I don’t have the right answers on how we should tell stories, my documentary studies class forced me to analyze the way I tell my stories and those of others’, helping me to think critically about the ethics of how I attempt to document my experience.
In class, we began by talking about how difficult documentary work can be when it is done from the first-person perspective. The way I view my experiences here are not exactly accurate. Everything we see, hear, and feel goes through the filter of our personality. Our daily happenings are tainted by our own inexact interpretations of our lives. As I leave class each day feeling stressed because I felt I bored the class to sleep without accomplishing much good, or elated because I felt like the class was energizing and the students were really learning, it is very difficult for me to know how accurately my feelings reflect what happened in class. I have therefore not spoken much to my friends and family from home about my students or my experiences working with them because honestly I’m not quite sure how to do so.
This brings me to the second aspect that we discussed in my documentary studies class. We talked about how ethical it is to even tell someone else’s story. What right do we have to recount what exactly we see here with the Palestinian refugees we are working with when we could never truly understand their lives. What right to we have to go home and attempt to tell their stories without their permission each time they arise in our conversations? I don’t quite know how to talk about the students that I’m working with or even the country I am living in in a way that I am 100% sure I can be proud of and in a way that I know would make them 100% proud too. If I’m being honest, these challenges lead me to be weary of speaking about it at all, which I don’t really think is the answer. I voiced this concern to one of my fellow Duke Engagers and she suggested that my students may actually want me to go home and tell their stories. I am flattered and excited when my students tell me about how they spoke with their sister or grandparents about me, is it possible they could feel the same way? I don’t know.
The oral histories that we will be creating during our time in Lebanon face a combination of these two ethical struggles. We are telling our stories in first person perspective, but we are also sharing the stories of others to people who may never gain another perspective on this group other than that of our stories. This is a lot of pressure to ensure that we do this right and I’m hoping that as time goes on, I will confident enough to be willing to have my blog posts become public. And maybe, hopefully, I will become be more confident in my creation of my own DukeEngage story.