Apr 22 - May 05, 2011
Do you know where Syria is? School days… firstname.lastname@example.org
ast Friday afternoon, I went to the Barnes and Noble store at the Waterside shops. My intention was to check out some new books and just sit in peace, type a story on my laptop and have some strong dark coffee. I must confess I also like the smell and feel of new books and there is no better place than a bookstore to smell and feel as many books as possible by walking through the many aisles. After my walk-through, I sat down, turned on my laptop and started to look up current news items in the Middle East and North Africa by checking out various world newspapers’ websites. A gentleman dressed in khaki pants and a rich looking polo shirt sat next to me. As I searched through the websites and started writing notes on Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia he started to watch me. Finally, he said “Looks like you are interested in world events; are you a professor, attorney or a politician?” I politely responded “No, I am not any of those but I write for a local newspaper and I am doing research for my next article”. He then asked me what I thought about all the recent events in those countries I was looking up. I thought this is great. Someone is really interested in the events in the Middle East instead of the latest results from the Masters! So I gave him a 10 minute passionate report about the Arabs, Palestine, Israel, Libya, Syria,
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Elementary school kids with blue smocks.
educated children based on the Koran were all closed by the new government under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey; a new alphabet was established; Turkish replaced the Ottoman language and many young and idealist new teachers were spread out all around the country teaching the kids of modern Turkey. It was an exciting time for the country. As was the tradition, a number of black smocks were purchased for me to wear to school along with the white collar attachment which indicated that I was an elementary school student. My mother bought me a small book bag and we also purchased an inkwell since everyone had to learn to write properly using a pen which you dipped into the inkwell after every word you wrote!
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Muslims and what this all may mean to us as Americans. He listened intently and then turned to me and said “by the way where is Syria anyway?” I was crushed and brought down to earth very quickly. Trying very hard to hide my “feelings of the moment” I responded; “North of Israel, South of Turkey, and West of Jordan; somewhere in that general neighborhood” and shut down my laptop. On the drive home I decided not to write about the events in the Middle East this week. They were getting too complicated to fit into a 900 word article. Then I remembered a conversation I had some weeks ago with Dr. Jory Westberry, Principal of the Tommie Barfield Elementary School here on the Island. I was telling her about the elementary school I attended in Istanbul from 1955 to 1960, and how she listened intently to every detail and told me; “You must think of writing about this in the Coastal Breeze”. Elementary school days were a long time ago, but somehow memories of attending elementary school in Turkey were very fresh on my mind. After attending pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, time finally came for me to go to elementary school. We lived in downtown Istanbul and my mother registered me in an elementary school ten minutes away from our home. It was the same school she and her brother attended when they were young. I anxiously waited for September as that summer did not seem to end. It was an exciting time. Turkey had become a Republic only a short 30 years earlier after almost six hundred years of Ottoman Empire had come crashing down. Under the rules of the new Republic, Western looking schools were opened all around the country. Old Madrasas which
School opened on the first day of September. Holding my mother’s and my father’s hands I walked through the front door, into a large garden where many students were playing. Teachers, also wearing black smocks were walking around with authoritative looks. My father approached an older lady who was going to be my first grade teacher and said “Ms. Ulviye, this is my son Tarik; his meat is yours, his bones are ours” and with that let go of my hand and I was left alone with this tall, strong, serious looking lady with snow white hair and big, thick glasses. What did my father mean by that scary expression? What meat? What bones? Ms. Ulviye looked down at me and said “follow me and the others in to the classroom”. With that, she walked briskly towards the three story concrete building
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