Monday, November 2, 2009

Seventh blog, November 2, 2009

Please allow us to relate four events that occurred in the last week. Each in some way says something about the area and its people.

First, in my World/Western Civilization course, I decided to bring an enrichment moment playing from my iPod a piece of music by Thomas Tallis. An English church composer, Tallis died in 1585, and lived through the religious upheavals of the 16th c. I happen to have a rendition of his song “If ye love me,” the beginning words of the passage where John suggests that Jesus says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever, e'en the spirit of truth.” (John 14: 15-17) It is really a lovely piece of music that would sound particularly good in a large cathedral where the harmonies can linger and mingle as they bounce around inside the space. I tried to explain the context in which the music would be performed. The students responded very favorably – said they really enjoyed it. And the supreme complement: two students have asked if I would give them the music file. Normally I am reluctant to support the widespread copying of music and films that goes on around here, but in this case, I made an exception since it would be so very difficult to get this music in this region. This situation allows me to say that in my bringing the Bible into my class discussions, as we have talked about the late 15th century church and the Protestant reformation in the next century, I have been struck by the extent to which students seem to have a great respect for sacred text as a source of guidance for living. I have said explicitly to them that my bringing this to class is not for the purpose of changing their beliefs, but rather to help them understand how the West evolved in ways that impacted the whole world. They seem far less concerned about this than I am.

Second event: this morning, as I was waiting in a student lounge for any of my students to drop by for voluntary conversations on issues of their choosing, a student in the pre-college writing program saw me sitting with no students around (none came this morning) and asked me to critique a paper he had written. So I spent the better part of an hour going over his paper, making suggestions for better word choice and sentence structure. The paper was a first-hand account of his growing up in a town north of Sulaimani, where in the early 1990s his family was caught up in a civil war between two feuding Kurdish parties. To escape the fighting, his family fled to a refugee camp in Iran. He describes how, as his family lived in a tent city for two years, he had to sell cakes in order to help his family survive. In the essay he wrote about how the birds spoke to him and told him that it was important that he not give up hope, and that he climb the mountain of knowledge, no matter how difficult. He wrote of how glad he was to be able to return to his home town and to begin the schooling that had been denied him as a refugee. He is so happy to be at AUIS, and sees the program as the fulfillment of his long dream to climb the mountain of knowledge (his metaphor). I could hardly speak at moments as I read and understood the utter horrors he experienced as a child (he decribes crying from being cold and knowing there was no place to turn, no more coats and no more blankets), and yet I saw in him such hope for the future. Some of the students can be maddening in the literalness with which they approach reading and assignments (“now tell exactly what I have to know to get an A on this essay”), but a moment like this one gives life to the day, and a renewed sense that though things are not perfect around here, we can make a difference.

Third event: The voice has changed and Carolyn is writing now. Last week-end, Carl and I went to the bazaar to purchase some fresh vegetables and fresh ground meat. The prices are so much better than the Suli supermarket, and the freshness is also much better, just as it is at home when you are able to buy directly from the orchard as opposed to the chain food store. As we walked along the crowded street, Carl spotted a very young boy, maybe 14 years old or so and weighing at most 100 pounds, pushing a very heavy three wheel cart uphill loaded with boxes of paper. He was barely moving and the cart frequently lodged itself in holes in the pavement. Carl decided to offer to help the boy push and they began moving the cart at a rather good rate of speed up the street. You can only imagine the looks these two received as the locals watched this white-haired American help this young Iraqi boy perform his task. The young boy knew a little English and was able to ask Carl “American?” “I learn English in school. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” After about two blocks, a very winded Carl and this young boy reached the top of the hill, and Carl felt he could step back and let the lad take over the control of the cart. I had followed along the entire time walking on the sidewalk, snapping pictures, and watching the reactions. (See first picture above.)

Fourth event: Two young girls in the English Writing Pre-university program contacted me to ask if I would agree to an interview about my work as an accounting professor. I agreed and they came to my office with good questions prepared. Their English was somewhat broken as they are in the second of four levels of English training. But we managed a good conversation and they thanked me profusely. Their teacher told me he was very impressed with their report and suggested I asked to see it. I asked them to stop by my office with their report and they proudly arrived with a report which had earned them 100%. It was amazing how much they understood including my discussion with them about how I had experienced the glass ceiling as a young professional. I wasn’t sure they could understand that concept but they really got it. When I finished looking over the report, one of the girls handed me a necklace made of gold beads and cloves. (See second picture above.) She explained that this was hand-made and represented an Iraqi custom given to someone for whom you have great love.

Each day here is filled with these wonderful one-one-one encounters with the local youth that make up for some of the inconveniences of daily life. People are the reason we came to this place and we have not been disappointed.

Carl here to close: normally by late October I would have helped my granddaughters carve pumpkins. The third picture is of a pumpkin I carved for a Halloween party we went to last Friday evening for the ex-patriot community. The picture is dedicated to Maya, Talia, and Elena, whose help I needed to pull the “guts” from the pumpkin.

See additional pictures at our Picasa photo web album:

Postscript written by Carl on November 3, 2009: At the risk of over-emphasizing the dark parts of the Kurdish past, I am offering a URL for a website that contains first person accounts of what happened to them in the Red Prison that we wrote about last week. It is disturbing reading, but says so much about what is important in the collective memory of Kurds. The site:

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