Mar. 3, 2008

To Syria

In September, it was a possibility: “Yeah, Syria is one of the places I’m thinking about.”
When December arrived, it was a choice: “I’m hoping everything works to go to Syria.”
By January, the wheels were in motion: “So I’ve got my ticket to go to Syria!”
In February, I was assured: “I think you will be pleasantly surprised about traveling to Syria.”
This past weekend, I began saying adieu: “Check out my blogs while I’m in Syria!”

Being a somewhat less eloquent writer than some others, I find myself at a loss for the words to appropriately describe my intentions at the outset of my visit to Syria. The official reason for this trip is to gain experience teaching and learning in an international context. I have the incredible opportunity to introduce students the history of the Crusades and accompany these young individuals on trips to a number of the castles that were built during this period of history. As a historian, the prospect of traveling through one of the cradles of civilization where innumerable historic figures lived, fought, and traveled even now leaves me awe-struck. While I hope that friends will never peg me as merely the guy who will always be happy as long as you find him a museum, historical site, or dusty manuscript, I simply cannot wait to find myself surrounded by the walls of castles that once sheltered Salah al-Din and his armies or crusading knights from Europe.

To understand my most deep and fundamental desire to visit Syria though, my reader needs only to recall recent history, hysteria, and horrors. Despite its rich past, its cultural diversity, and its devotion to religious values, the Middle East has been characterized in black-and-white images as a haven for terror, a region of instability and intolerance, and a breeding ground for religious fundamentalism. This is simply an unfair characterization of a region inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. If it is the historian’s job to present and analyze information in a fair and balanced way, then this historian is seeking to address the imbalance in the story of the Middle East that is being told and retold in the media and in households today. If educators are responsible for preparing students to live well and make thoughtful and intentional decisions, then this educator believes that students need to hear an alternative narrative to the prejudiced, conflict-driven message that is currently being circulated. If there is ever to be lasting peace on this little planet of ours, that peace is going to come from understanding.

To this end, as I write over the next month and when I return to Canada after my trip, I hope to be an ambassador for Syria. I do want to describe the amazing experiences that I am having and reassure worried family and friends that I am indeed safe and sound, but it is my deepest desire to convince my readers and listeners that we need to consider these people – Syrians, Arabs, Muslims, people from the Middle East – as individuals who are our friends and neighbours rather than a faceless mass to be feared and contained.

I am not the greatest storyteller –I can never think of the appropriate story at the party unless it occurred in the last two months and often need to be reminded of events that happened only a few years before; consequently, my blog posts and the photos I take will help me to recall teachable moments and surreal experiences in the unlikely event that this trip does not leave a profound impression upon me. At the same time, I will likely comment on matters historical here and educational in Humility in Education, and some posts (like the one that you are now reading) will appear in both blogs, so please look forward to posts that are academic but hopefully not too irregular or uninteresting! When you read though, it is my desperate hope that you will also consider the serious purpose of my visit.

Syria-usly? Yep. Seriously.

Finally, I hope that you will share in my travels by commenting on my posts. Well-wishes and wish lists, comments and concerns, stories and suggestions are enriching for everybody who will continue read on.

“What’s new with me? Well, I’m going to Syria.” What an adventure!