|Thanks to the teacher shortage, Palestinian Yousef Hannon found his calling in Chicago.|
Two years ago, Yousef Hannon, a Palestinian, was 33 years old and living with his wife and son in the West Bank city of Nablus. Hannon’s chosen profession was teaching, which made him a highly respected member of the community. For several years, he had been teaching math at the Arab American University, in Jenin, about 15 miles away. Before that, he taught at a private school in Ramallah, where most of his students were Arab Americans who had been sent back to their homeland to get an education and to learn about their people and culture.
“Come to America!” Hannon’s students would say to him, and the more he heard about places like New York City and Chicago, the more he wanted to see them with his own eyes. “I knew America in movies, you know,” Hannon says, “but not the real America.” And that’s what he wanted to experience, firsthand. In his mind, America was “like the new paradise of the world.”
For Palestinians living in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, travel restrictions are a fact of life. During the intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Nablus was the scene of violent clashes between Arabs and Jews. The Israelis responded with a military crackdown, which included curfews and roadblocks. Travel between cities became difficult, sometimes impossible. Eventually, the situation improved, and in 1994 Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were granted limited self-rule. But a recent escalation of violence in the area has resulted in another round of restrictions. At one point, Ramallah was completely sealed off. Since September, more than 400 people, including at least 350 Palestinians, have been killed in intense fighting.
Hannon had traveled only as far as Jordan, and that was when he was in high school. How, then, could he imagine going to the United States? You must try, he told himself. When he went to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, however, there was a long line of people waiting to get visas. Forget about it, he thought. Don’t even bother. “I was leaving,” he recalls, “but then I saw this old woman in a wheelchair, and I helped her get from the street up to the front of the line. The security guard noticed me and said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I was planning on being in the line for a visa, but not anymore.’ He said, ‘OK, come with me.’ For some reason, he took me to the front of the line!”
From that moment, everything fell into place. Hannon got his visa, good for six months, and soon bought a plane ticket to Chicago, where he could stay with the relatives of several of his students. He planned to stay for about 40 days and then come home. His wife, however, knew better. “She was afraid,” he says. “She thought something was going to happen to me, or I would like the American life so much that I wouldn’t come back home.”
Many teachers in the Global Educators Outreach program come from countries where students rarely misbehave and teachers are treated with reverence. Chicago, they’ve discovered, is a different world.
In fact, Hannon has not returned to the West Bank since he arrived in Chicago on July 1, 1999. Through sheer determination and good timing, he is now teaching math at Gage Park High, a tough school on Chicago’s South Side. Hannon was one of the first teachers hired by the Chicago Public Schools as part of the district’s Global Educators Outreach program, an innovative attempt to help solve a critical shortage of teachers by bringing in qualified applicants from overseas. Many come from countries where students rarely misbehave and teachers are treated with reverence.
Chicago, they’ve discovered, is a different world. A handful of teachers already have dropped out of the program, but most seem determined to stick it out. After six years, they can apply for permanent residency in the United States-the carrot at the end of the stick.
Hannon, his wife, Intesar, and their 6-year-old son, Nazmi, now live in a small basement apartment in a quiet neighborhood called Jefferson Park, not far from O’Hare International Airport. There have been many challenges along the way, and surely more will arise. But Hannon and his family are safe now and carving out a new life for themselves in a city that has long been a magnet for hard-working immigrants.
“I don’t like Chicago—I love Chicago,” says Hannon, gushing with enthusiasm.
It’s 6:30 on a cold February morning, and Hannon is getting dressed for work as his wife prepares his usual breakfast: hummus, pita bread, olives, and hot tea. “It’s good here,” says Intesar, who is pregnant and wearing the traditional Muslim headdress that covers all but her face. “But I miss home. Still, it’s a good chance for my husband. And, you know, it’s very hard right now in Palestine.” Hannon’s father, who arrived with Intesar and Nazmi but plans to return to the West Bank, sits quietly in a plastic lawn chair, sipping tea.
Hannon emerges from the bedroom attired in gray slacks, a white dress shirt, a tie, and a beige cardigan sweater. He is big—about 210 pounds—and tall-just over six feet—with short black hair, a neatly trimmed mustache, and wire- framed glasses. He eats quickly, then fires up the first of many Marlboro Lights he will smoke throughout the day. At 7:15, he kisses his wife and son goodbye and gets into his car, a brand-new Mitsubishi Mirage. Soon, he is driving southeast on the Kennedy Expressway, which turns into the Dan Ryan and takes him south toward Gage Park, about 45 minutes away.
Chicago in midwinter is dull and gray—even on a clear day, the sunlight barely seems to reach the ground—but on that July day in 1999, when Hannon touched down at O’Hare, the city was verdant. He remembers looking out the jet’s window and seeing a huge, sprawling city with green trees and green grass. This really is paradise, he thought. The pilot kept talking about “Chicagoland,” a mysterious phrase that stuck in Hannon’s mind and made him think that he was indeed arriving in the New World.
At O’Hare, he recalls in a thick accent, “people were hurrying, running for their baggage, but I was taking my time, relaxing. I wanted to enjoy every second.” Before he knew it, he was outside, waiting for the parents of one of his students to pick him up. He saw a police officer and instinctively got out his passport. “At the airport in Tel Aviv,” he notes, “I must have been checked about 12 times. But this officer didn’t say anything, so I put my passport away.” Hannon was carrying $400 in cash, a check for $3,000, and a burning desire to learn as much as he could about America.
For several weeks, he was a typical tourist. “I was going here and there,” he says. “I went to a lot of museums.” He borrowed a Chevrolet Caprice from someone he was staying with, “and from that moment, I fell in love with American cars—big luxury cars!” Sometimes, Hannon would just drive around the city, exploring neighborhoods. It was summertime, and the living was easy. “Hot and nice,” he remembers. “Beautiful.”
He met many Arab Americans, and they all seemed to be thriving. One had come to the United States five years earlier, with $50 in his pocket, and was now the owner of three car repair shops. Others owned grocery or clothing stores. Most, he learned, sent large amounts of money to relatives in the Middle East. Hannon started thinking, Would it be possible to stay here? It seemed unlikely—after all, he had only a six-month tourist visa, and his family was still back home in Nablus. But a man can dream, can’t he?
Toward the end of his planned 40-day stay, Hannon came across an article in the Chicago Tribune about a severe shortage of math and science teachers in the city’s public schools. (The Global Educators Outreach program had not yet been conceived.) I’m a math teacher, Hannon thought. Why couldn’t I teach here? Seeking more information, he tried without success to contact the reporter who’d written the article. An editor, however, informed him that the shortage was common knowledge. So he called his wife back in Nablus and told her, “Fax my work papers.” But why? she asked. “I’m having an idea,” he said. “It might not work, but I must check it out before my visit ends.” Intesar was skeptical, but she carried out his request.
|Hannon came across a newspaper article about the shortage of math and science teachers in Chicago schools. I’m a math teacher, he thought. Why couldn’t I teach here?|
And so, armed with his documents, Hannon spent three hours riding on city buses to get to 1819 W. Pershing Road, where, according to an old phone book, he’d find Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters. But when he arrived, a security guard told him the district administrators had moved downtown, to 125 S. Clark Street. So that’s where he went. “It’s a very big building,” Hannon says. “Very huge. Twenty-five floors.”
Anyone who’s ever walked into a big-city school administration building knows how daunting it can be. Amazingly, Hannon made his way through the bureaucratic maze to the district’s human resources department, where he found someone willing to listen. “I was a teacher in Palestine,” he told the woman behind the desk. “I want to start teaching in the States.”
“Before you talk to me,” she said, “you need to have a certificate.”
“I thought, What’s she talking about? I have a diploma. I have a bachelor’s degree. What does she mean?”
It would take much paperwork, Hannon discovered, before he could become a public school teacher in Chicago. He would need a valid teaching certificate, not to mention a work visa from the U.S Immigration and Naturalization Service. He would have to pass several tests. Yes, he was told, we need math and science teachers, but we just can’t hire you off the street.
But Hannon wasn’t ready to give up, at least not yet. America, he’d realized, was where he wanted to be. One night, he used up all of his long-distance phone cards on a three-hour call to his wife. “I told her I had decided to stay,” he says. “I said I was going to find a better life for her and for our son. And I said, ‘Whatever bad things people say about America, they’re not true.’ ”
For the next three months, Hannon visited 125 S. Clark St. nearly every weekday, going from department to department, “bothering,” as he puts it, the bureaucrats with his persistence and charm as he filled out one form after another. (“The trick,” he says, “is to wear a nice tie and pretend like you know what you’re doing.”) His money had long since run out, he was heavily in debt, and his six-month tourist visa was about to end. But he pressed on. And when someone told him that Gage Park, a high school on Chicago’s South Side, was looking for a math teacher, he wasted no time in contacting the school’s principal, Katherine Smith.
Hannon had everything Smith was looking for: a background in math, teaching experience, a winning personality, and good English speaking skills. She was particularly impressed by his tenacity. He had been in Chicago only a few months, yet he had managed to locate a principal who needed exactly what he had to offer. “I just knew a person like that would be the kind of teacher I would want,” she says. But without a work visa, Hannon could not be hired.
Desperate for a math teacher, Smith called the board of education and learned that a new program was in the works that would allow foreign teachers to receive temporary work visas. Smith promised to hire Hannon as soon as the program got under way. “There’s a teacher shortage,” she says, “so I have to be proactive about finding people. If I hear about someone who’s good, I try to go after them.”
When Hannon heard about the pending program, “it was good and bad at the same time,” he says. “Good because I would at last get what I wanted, but bad because I had spent so much money, and I had a lot of debt.” While waiting for the program to begin, he offered to help out at Gage Park—the kids needed a math teacher, and he was eager to return to the classroom. Smith accepted, teaming up Hannon with substitute teachers. “He’s a real go-getter,” she says.
For several years, Chicago has grappled with a severe shortage of qualified teachers. Serving 431,000 students, it is the nation’s third-largest school district, with more than 43,000 employees. Last year, the district spent $5.1 million to recruit 2,236 new teachers and still came up short. Halfway through the school year, 500 teaching spots remained unfilled.
And the problem isn’t particular to Chicago. Other school systems are feeling the pinch. According to one study issued last year, virtually all of the nation’s largest urban districts are short on math, science, and special education teachers, a situation that is expected to continue for at least the next five years. As a result, some have offered signing bonuses and housing discounts to attract new employees. Others have looked for talent overseas. Three years ago, New York City hired 23 Austrians to teach math and science and seven Spaniards to teach Spanish. Districts in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other cities have followed suit.
In the fall of 1999, as Yousef Hannon was knocking on doors at the board of education, Jorge Oclander, senior assistant to Gery Chico, president of the Chicago school board, figured it was time to get creative. He knew that some U.S. high-tech firms had been given access to special Immigration and Naturalization Service work visas to help alleviate staff shortages. Why couldn’t Chicago’s schools do the same thing?
‘It’s the Chicago version of Survivor—take [teachers] from Third World countries and drop them in a Chicago classroom.’
“It just so happens that the INS is just across the street from our building,” Oclander says, “and I had met Brian Perryman, the district director, before. So I called him up one day and asked if I could come over and talk to him.” Perryman agreed to provide the district with an initial block of 50 emergency H1-B visas for foreign teachers. It was the first such arrangement between the INS and a public school district. (Normally, H1-B visas are issued on a case-by- case basis.) “He’s the real hero in this thing,” Oclander says of Perryman.
And so began the Global Educators Outreach program. Under the plan, teachers hired by the Chicago district are issued work visas good for up to six years. In accordance with INS rules, the school system “sponsors” the foreigners and, at the end of each teacher’s first, fourth, and fifth years of service, decides whether to continue sponsorship. After six years, GEO participants may apply for permanent-resident status. Meanwhile, they are expected to meet all the requirements for an Illinois teaching certificate within four years of being hired. To help foreign teachers do that, the district arranged for them to take classes at DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education.
To date, Chicago has hired about 125 teachers from a variety of countries, including China, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, and Yugoslavia. “We’ve had over 4,500 applicants,” Oclander says, “and we haven’t invested a cent in advertising.” Eventually, the district hopes to expand the program in order to hire up to 250 GEO teachers a year.
“It’s the Chicago version of Survivor—take [teachers] from Third World countries and drop them in a Chicago classroom,” one of the program’s few critics, Anthony Bryk, director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, recently told the Sun-Times. Surprisingly, the Chicago Teachers’ Union has no qualms—provided the teachers hired have strong qualifications. “So far,” says CTU spokesperson Jackie Gallagher, “the ones who have stuck with it seem to be doing an excellent job.”
By the time the GEO program was officially announced, in February 2000, Yousef Hannon had secured his H1-B visa, and he was already a staff member at Gage Park High School. His hard work and resolute spirit had paid off.
At 8 a.m., Hannon pulls his car into the teachers’ parking lot at Gage Park High, a three-story, red-brick structure built in the Gothic-revival style. Set in a working-class neighborhood of small houses, duplexes, and apartment buildings, the school serves roughly 1,400 African American and Hispanic students, most of whom are classified as low-income. Five years ago, Gage Park was one of 109 Chicago high schools placed on academic probation—fewer than 15 percent of its students were scoring at or above the national norm on standardized reading tests. When the school failed to make sufficient academic progress, principal Frank Lacey was replaced by Katherine Smith, who says, “We’re a struggling school trying to move ahead.”
After entering the building, Hannon passes through a metal detector. He spies Maribel Ouielle Silva, a new GEO teacher from Mexico who is in training, and says in his booming voice: “Good morning! How are you today?” Silva looks glum. “I don’t know,” she says. Hannon, who has become something of a mentor to many of the newer GEO teachers, consoles her and says, “Whenever you need anything, you’ll find me around here or there.”
As he turns the corner and walks to the central office, students are passing through another metal detector just inside the school’s main entrance. A guard makes sure each student has his or her identification card. (Last year, a student was suspended after a gun was discovered in a locker. In February, another student was wounded in a drive-by shooting about a block from the school.) In the main office, Hannon grabs his own ID, which hangs from a red ribbon around his neck, and runs it through an electronic reader, a high-tech version of a time clock. “Sometimes I believe it’s like they don’t trust the teachers,” he says. “But this is how the system works. Everyone must sign in.”
Down the hall is the teachers’ resource room, a nicely appointed former classroom with several tables, a bank of computers, telephones, and a small reading library. Hannon hangs up his leather jacket and sits down to go through his mail. “Uh-oh,” he says, glancing at a list. “One of my students has been suspended. I hate such kind of punishment.” For many Gage Park students, he says, school is a sanctuary. “Most of them have nowhere else to go during the day, so when they are suspended, it does them no good. They come to school anyway, just to socialize with their friends.”
‘[Hannon] is a very good role model for the students here because they see an Arab in a different role than just working at a grocery story.’
Another sheet of paper informs him that 224 students were absent the day before. That’s typical; according to the school’s most recent “report card” issued by the state, Gage Park has an average attendance rate of 83.3 percent. The district’s rate, by contrast, is 91.6 percent.
Hannon’s first class doesn’t begin until 10 o’clock, so he heads for what he euphemistically calls the “meeting room"— actually, it’s the boiler room—for a quick nicotine fix. Inside the dimly lit space, beneath a twenty-foot-high boiler stamped with the words “Board of Education, Chicago, 1938,” several teachers are sitting around a small table, chain-smoking. A recycled can of Jewell Coffee serves as an ashtray.
Hannon’s mentor teacher, Greg Glab, puffs on a Pall Mall. “He’s doing great,” Glab says of Hannon. “He’s a very good role model for the students here because they see an Arab in a different role than just working at a grocery store.” Glab says he urged Hannon to alter his teaching style—he was used to standing in front of the classroom and lecturing—in order to make sure the kids were active participants in the learning process. Now, Hannon begins his classes by having his students work on five or six problems, and he moves around the classroom to see how they’re doing. No more “sage on the stage.”
“I think Yousef will have a terrific career,” Glab reports. “Someday, perhaps, he’ll be an administrator.”
For now, however, he just wants to be a good teacher. And, at a school like Gage Park, that’s not easy. There are days when even an optimist feels nothing but frustration. “Some days,” Hannon says, “you are just sick of everything.”
“OK, do these five problems,” Hannon tells his students. “You have 10 minutes.” His first class of the day, algebra 2, has just begun. When school resumed last fall, 32 students were enrolled in the class. But some graduated, others moved away, and a few dropped out, leaving 23 students, nearly all of them juniors. Today only 19 are present. Hannon inquires as to the whereabouts of one particular boy. “He don’t like school anymore,” a girl replies. “He don’t have a phone,” offers a boy. Another student, wearing baggy black Dickies and a white T-shirt, has his head down on his desk. He isn’t sleeping, but he sure isn’t working. Many of the students seem uninterested, barely there.
And yet, within minutes, most are working on their assignment. Hannon, who has an easy manner with his students, moves around the room, answering questions and offering help. “OK, perfect,” he says as he picks up one student’s paper. After 10 minutes, he writes a problem on the board and asks another student to come up and solve it. Outside the room, an assistant principal patrols the hallway with a walkie-talkie. The boy with his head on his desk is now asleep.
At 10:37, with three minutes left, Hannon says: “OK, that’s it for today. Please stay quiet.” The sleeping boy stirs; he and Hannon have a brief conversation.
When the bell rings, Hannon grabs his books and his briefcase and heads off to Room 212 for his next class. (Most of the teachers at Gage Park have their own classrooms, but because Hannon is one of the newest faculty members, he moves from room to room throughout the day.)
“Did you see that guy I was talking to?” he asks, referring to the sleeping student. “His brother was shot two days ago, and he died last night.” Hannon thinks the shooting was gang-related. “I wonder how he came to school at all today. I guess it’s like hell at home, so it’s better for him to be here at school. So I’m not going to be hard on him.”
Last year, Hannon probably would have reprimanded the student for dozing off, no matter what the circumstances. Back home on the West Bank, sleeping in class— or virtually any form of classroom misbehavior—is considered an insult to the teacher and is simply not tolerated. “I would say something like, ‘Hey! Did your parents send you here to sleep?’ And that would have been enough to shake him up, to take care of it. But I tried that here last year, and they laughed at me.”
Indeed, classroom management has been Hannon’s biggest challenge since arriving at Gage Park. Other GEO teachers struggle with the issue, as well, according to Jorge Oclander. “Some of them are a little bit surprised at American classroom culture,” he says. “One teacher said that back home, when she walks into the classroom, all the students stand up, and they don’t sit down until she says, ‘Please sit down.’ It’s hard to imagine that here. And yet, it’s a great concept: Honor your teacher. What is politically incorrect about that?”
As a new teacher—and a foreigner at that—Hannon was an easy target. “Once, a student threw a piece of paper at me,” he recalls. “I’d never seen that before. I couldn’t even imagine such a thing would happen in a high school!” Another time, a student actually picked up a desk and threw it out the window. Hannon was flabbergasted.
‘One teacher said that back home, when she walks into the classroom, all the students stand up, and they don’t sit down until she says, “Please sit down.” It’s hard to imagine that here.’
Back home, he says, teachers are respected by virtue of the fact that they are heads of their classrooms. Discipline can be tough; corporal punishment is an accepted practice. “But one of the biggest problems that a child could face is if the school calls his parents,” Hannon reveals. “That’s the worst. It rarely happens because the school system has the authority to deal with the students in certain ways. But if they have to call home—Oh, my God, it’s a disaster! I’m not going to say that his father is going to kill him, but he will be severely punished.” At Gage Park, however, “we call parents on a daily basis,” Hannon says, “and many don’t care. Sometimes, they’ll argue with you. They’ll defend the students.”
Some teachers complain openly about how unruly and unmotivated the Gage Park students are. “It’s the worst school I’ve ever been in,” one says. “It’s an amusement park for dummies.” But Hannon prefers to talk about how he’s adapted to his new environment—without compromising his values.
“My students didn’t have a math teacher for about six months,” he says sympathetically. “And then somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m going to be your teacher.’ That was hard. Last year, I couldn’t even sit down—something might happen! This year, I’m relaxed. I can turn my back for a while.”
More importantly, he feels that he has earned his students’ respect. They certainly don’t razz him like they used to. “I have more confidence now,” Hannon says. “I have time in the classroom to watch the students more, to help them more. And I give a lot of thought to their needs, their problems, their issues.” In other words, he has tried to understand where his students are coming from. “My mentality has changed,” he says.
It helps, he admits, to have a good sense of humor. When his students give him a hard time about the way he pronounces certain words—"thirty,” for example, sounds like “thairty,” and “parallelogram” ends up missing several syllables—Hannon laughs it off. “Sometimes, in a math class,” he says, “you need some laughter to make it go better.”
Throughout the day, Hannon maintains his good nature, despite the empty desks in nearly every one of his five classes. Not that he’s happy about the absentee problem. “Oh, my God,” he says, “it kills me!” But it’s a fact of life at Gage Park, particularly toward the end of the week. (Today is a Thursday.) For that reason, he reserves the hardest material for Mondays and Tuesdays, when most of his students are present.
Even the occasional sassy student doesn’t rattle Hannon. At the start of his 2 o’clock freshman algebra class, a girl named Tiffany is still standing at the door, talking to a friend in the hallway. When Hannon asks her to take a seat, she shoots back: “Dang! You gettin’ on my nerves! Stop talkin’ to me!” But Hannon keeps his cool, and eventually Tiffany sits down. She won’t stop talking, though, so Hannon draws her attention to a word problem. “If Tiffany speaks 12 words in one minute,” he asks the class, “how many words will she speak in five minutes?” Tiffany laughs and offers up a half-hearted protest. “Why you using me for an example?” she asks. She then stays relatively quiet for the rest of the period.
Hannon’s last class ends at 3:35, and 10 minutes later he’s in his car, heading home. He drives east on Garfield Boulevard, past once grand but now deteriorating two- and three-story houses, then gets on the Dan Ryan going north. It’s smooth sailing until he’s close to the Loop; suddenly the traffic comes to a standstill. He decides to try Lake Shore Drive, a much longer route but one that may be less congested. “Let’s hope it’s empty,” he says. Soon, he’s cruising past the city’s famous skyscrapers and luxurious lake-side apartment buildings. Just beyond Lincoln Park, he turns west on Lawrence Avenue, which takes him to his home in the comfortable but distinctly unglamorous neighborhood of Jefferson Park.
|Hannon has had attractive retail job offers from some Arab Americans in Chicago. It’s tempting, but he just doesn’t see himself working in retail. ‘No, I’m a teacher.’|
When Hannon began teaching at Gage Park, he was thrilled to learn he’d be making $33,000 a year. Recalling his wife’s reaction, he says, “She thought I was rich.” But his first paycheck was a shocker. With deductions—which no one had told him about—his net pay is roughly $990 every two weeks. “This is hard,” he says. “I’m spending half of my income now for housing!”
Last year, when his old Crown Victoria broke down, Hannon decided it was time to buy a brand-new car. He didn’t have the money for a down payment, so he borrowed from a friend, the brother of his landlord. (Successful Arab Americans, the family owns a discount clothing store.) “He said: ‘Yousef, you are a teacher, and you know more than I do. But with all respect, you are a loser.’ I said, ‘What?’ And he said: ‘Look at yourself! If my car breaks down, all I have to do is get on the phone and call any car dealer, and they will give me a new car right away. But a teacher? This is not the right job.’ ”
Sometimes Hannon thinks his friend is right. He’s had several job offers from some of the Arab Americans he’s met since arriving in Chicago. One asked if he would manage his clothing stores—for a salary plus a percentage of the profits. “They’re all making a lot of money,” Hannon says. “They say: ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to be one of those poor guys waiting every two weeks to gather several hundred dollars? Come and get a real job.’ ” It’s tempting, but he just can’t see himself working in retail, even if the money’s good. “No, I am a teacher.”
When Hannon arrives home, his son, Nazmi, is watching cartoons on TV while his wife, Intesar, prepares dinner, a lamb-and-vegetable stew. It’s been about six months since they joined Yousef in Chicago. Nazmi attends a nearby elementary school and is quickly becoming Americanized. (His favorite computer game is “Team Apache,” which features U.S. Army helicopters engaged in battle.) Intesar, who was a geography teacher on the West Bank, is getting to know Chicago better, especially now that she has her driver’s license. “I want to know everything about this country,” she says. Still, she misses her friends and family. She is in the United States, she says, because there are better opportunities for her husband and her son.
“She feels that I’m doing what’s best for the family,” Hannon adds. “For one thing, it’s safer here.”
He recalls one night back home, when Nazmi was 2 years old. “It was a nice summer night,” he says, “and he had a stomachache. So I decided to take him for a drive. We were just driving around slowly, and suddenly some guys with guns, some Palestinians, stopped us and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ ” Hannon calmly explained the situation. “Relax,” he told them. “This is my wife, and my name is Yousef Hannon. I’m well known in this area. I’m a teacher, and that’s my son sleeping.” They were allowed to keep driving, but five minutes later, they were stopped again—this time by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. “They made us all get out of the car, and they searched everything. I thought, Oh my God! I’m not safe with the Palestinians, and I’m not safe with the Israelis. This is not my country anymore. I was really upset. And since then, I was always dreaming of going to a different place.”
Like most Palestinians, Hannon hopes that someday his people will have their own country. But he condemns the violence on both sides, and he blames the politicians for making life difficult for ordinary Palestinians. “Sometimes,” he says, “politics is poison for everybody.”
Nonetheless, there are days when he longs for the life he left behind. “The thing I’m missing now is this,” he says. “At 4 or 5 o’clock in the evening, when it’s almost sunset, after I’ve taken a nap, I would go outside and sit in the garden by our house.” Intesar would bring him his radio, and he would listen to music while his friends and neighbors stopped by to say hello. They would smoke, maybe play some cards, and laugh. “I miss those things.”
But Chicago is now Hannon’s home, and he believes it’s a good place for a teacher and his family. “This,” he says, “is where I want to raise my son.”