Last summer, my family decided to host an exchange student. It was our second time. The first one was from the West Bank. He and my son shared a room. We had ideas of him teaching everyone Arabic and Palestinian culture. In reality, we watched a lot of TV, and he and my son argued about video games. They got along sometimes too.
Yes, they argued, but we loved showing him around. We live in WI, and we took him to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. He also loved the snow. We even took him tubing and skiing. We introduced him to his favorite food, tacos. It felt good to share that with him.
My son left for college this year, and my wife asked if we should host another student. I was reluctant because I had a much more realistic expectation about being a host family this time. Hosting an exchange student is basically just inviting another teenage into your home, with everything that comes along with that. But she and my daughter begged me. So I reluctantly went along with it.
When we first got her, things went as I expected, typical teenager stuff. She was a picky eater. She fought with my daughter about bathroom time. She spent too much time on her phone It was everything I expected.
Then the war started.
At first, things were the same. Her family was in northern Gaza, but they could still contact her and were still in their home. Things started getting bad in the north. So they moved in with relatives further south. Even after that, things were mostly the same. They were still posting on social media, and they were relatively safe. Then, there was a long period of no contact. A few days ago she heard from them. They have been completely displaced, without even a tent and barely any food or water.
Since then things have been crazy. Iit seems obvious that she’s going through strauma. There are mood swings. She goes from being despondent to shouting at my daughter for seemingly no reason. She never sleeps and barely eats. We have been at a loss for how to handle the situation. The exchange program doesn’t have any ideas other than sending her to another family. I don’t want her to life with a family that when she says, “I’m from Palestine,” and they ask, “do you mean Pakistan?” (That happens very often, more than you’d expect, like embarrassingly often.)
So, we’ve decided to try to stay focused. We’ve contacted asylum lawyers. At the end of the school year, she’s supposed to go home, but she has no home to go back to.
She’s also trying to get her family out of Gaza. The exchange program seems to think that it’s possible to get them to Egypt, but it will be expensive. She does have a gofundme (Jwana Rostom), but it’s a long shot.
I didn’t write this post because I want to debate the Israel/Palestine issue. I just wanted to share our experience. I guess I’m just looking for ideas or even just empathy and solidarity.
Anyway thanks for taking the time to read this.