November 30th, 2017
Nada brought her homework to me. I’m not sure what grade she’s in, but it looked like something that a middle school student would be studying. She had some geometry to do. We finished that up pretty quick. The lesson was mostly about comparing rectangles of similar shapes, but different sizes. We had to determine size ratios. Nada is good with math. She’s sharp that way.
Then we worked on some physics problems. Nada had a sheet of word problems to solve. The idea was to match the event described in each problem to one of the three Laws of Motion. One scenario was that a student had left her homework on a desk in a classroom, and nobody had made any attempt to put the homework elsewhere. The student had returned to the classroom and found her homework exactly where she had placed it.
I asked Nada, “What law goes with that?”
She pointed to the Third Law: “A force exerted on a body is matched by an equal and opposite force”.
I shook my head and said, “Uh, no.”
Nada gave me that puzzled look that said, “Why not?”
I told her, “Well, think about it. Was there any force exerted on the girl’s homework?”
I got the blank stare. This is where the language issue raises its ugly head. Nada doesn’t know English well enough to understand me all of the time. I know a smidgen of Arabic; enough to make small talk, but definitely not enough to teach science. I needed to try this explanation another way.
“Yeah, well, did anybody move the homework?”
“No, she replied.”
“Did a breeze from a window blow it around?”
“So, did anything at all move the homework from the desk?”
I pointed to Newton’s First Law: “A body at rest will tend to remain at rest, and a body in motion will tend to remain in motion, unless acted upon by another force.”
“Does that match up with the story about the girl’s homework?’
Nada smiled, “Oh yeah!”
“Good. Let’s try the next one.”
Nada and I would have made significantly more progress with her homework if there had not been constant interruptions by her siblings. Any house containing eleven kids will have a high level of chaos. I know this sort of thing from experience (I had six younger brothers). Nada’s little brother, Yusuf, kept coming to the table to show me things. He smiled and laughed, and demanded my attention. At one point he tried to climb up some rickety shelving, and I told him firmly to get down from there. I didn’t want to test the Law of Gravity, and have Yusuf bang his head on something.
Nisrin came to me also. She wanted help with her math. Nisrin isn’t as good with numbers as Nada is. I tried to explain some multiplication problems to Nisrin, and she nodded that she understood when I knew full well that she had no clue what I was talking about. Once again, the language barrier was there. I just don’t know how to explain a math problem in Nisrin’s Syrian dialect, although I suspect that she might not have understood even if English was her native tongue.
Amar, one of their older brothers, brought me my hot, sweet tea. Amar is an intelligent young man. He learns quickly, and I sense that he is street smart. He think he has had to be that way in order to survive this long.
Nada and I finished up the physics worksheet. It was an arduous process. I downed four glasses of tea, and felt like I was floating. We read a short book together about a kid and his pet housefly. That was oddly disturbing. Then I went downstairs to say goodbye to Um Hussein and the other children.
“Ma’a assalaama”, I said.
“Ma’a assalaam”, they answered.