Posts filed under ‘Education’




Syrian children learn English in school, and each one I meet wants to try out a couple of phrases whenever I leave the house. I respond countless times each outing to “Hello, how are you?” And “What is your name?” They run away giggling before I can introduce a new phrase.

Among the dozens of children on our street, most are friendly and curious, which seems to be an appropriate response for children who live in an area where foreigners seldom come. Friends in Syria seem surprised that we live in this old neighborhood, where restoration has begun quite slowly, where most of the residents are poor, and where people interpret Islam as requiring that women cover not only their heads, but their entire faces as well.

We had issues with only one young boy among the dozens that greet us each day, a child probably ten or eleven years old who harassed my Arabic teacher whenever she came to see me. William had words with him, and we haven’t seen him for two weeks.

But those incidents made me begin to worry about the kids, about what their parents said about the local strangers.

My anxieties were calmed on Thursday evening. Returning from dinner, we greeted a family walking on the street past our door. A small girl (maybe four years old) ran over to say hi and I greeted her back. Then her father smiled, picked her up, and held her up for me to kiss her. She seemed delighted when I kissed her on both cheeks.



August 31, 2007 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment



University Entrance

Hala, my wonderful Arabic teacher, met me at the entrance to Aleppo University’s Faculty of Arts. She had introduced herself to the chair of the History Department the previous day to ask if he would be able to meet me. We walked into a huge hallway, past the empty hall used for exhibitions, and up to the third floor. Professor Abbasi welcomed me in his office, and, since what I had really wanted was simply to meet another historian (do most historians miss being around other historians when away from home?), we, of course, talked about history. Professor Abbasi does his research on the relations between the Ottomans and the Safavis, from 1501 to the mid-1700s. He also has studied Mosul, but 200 years earlier than me.

I asked him about the faculty. There are only seven full-time history faculty members in Aleppo, and the department relies on the teaching of a number of professors visiting each week from Damascus. He told me with some pride that nearly a dozen of their own graduates were now working on graduate degrees in Europe and other parts of the Middle East, and he was hopeful they would return to Aleppo to strengthen the local department.

Aleppo University Dormitory


Undergraduates in the department take an incredibly rigorous course load. Each history major takes six courses a semester. Their required courses include one in Geography, at least two years’ study of either Turkish or Persian, one European language, and a whole series of chronological/ regional courses on the ancient, medieval, and modern histories of the Middle East and Europe. They take one course on eastern Asia, and one on America. Although some students take more courses in geography or economics, they remain quite focused on their own major department. Hala, who finished her undergraduate degree in Arabic literature, tells me it was the same for them: an intensive course load that focused almost exclusively on the major. Hala is currently writing her masters’ thesis on Arabic children’s theater.

I enjoyed the company, the coffee, the history conversation, and then returned to work on my own project. When Hala arrived at 5:00 for another intensive Arabic hour, she brought a whole tray of kubbe that her mother had made for us! Trying to figure out what we could send back in the tray, I experimented last night with a Syrian peach pie. I know it is a poor craftsman who blames her tools, but I really do think that some measuring cups and a real pie pan would have improved the crust. We’ll try something else.

August 16, 2007 at 2:24 pm Leave a comment

Receive Blog by Email