Preserving Culture in Baghdad: A librarians Journal

From explosions that shook the building to heating fuel prices that are 40 times higher than in the fall to assassinations and death threats among his staff–Saad Eskander, the director of Iraq’s National Library and Archive in Baghdad, has faced these and many other challenges in his efforts to keep the system operating. Eskander tells his story in diary entries that have been appearing on the website of the British Library. An article chronicling his work also appeared on February 7 in The New York Times.


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Hajj Day 3

I’ve been reading the Arab News online recently to get news from a slightly* different perspective.  Of particular interest is a columnist who posts daily commentaries on the the hajj.  As a non Muslim, I find these writings quite insightful.

 Dul Hijjah 10 (the third day of the pilgrimage) is always a very hectic day for the pilgrims. After spending the night in Muzdalifah, they have to stone the Great Satan, then there is the sacrifice and next, they must take care of all the necessary steps to be released from ihram — their state of consecration. Finally, many move on to the Holy Haram to perform tawaf. So most do not have the energy to be concerned with anything happening out in the larger world. Many people came to know about Saddam’s hanging through text messages from their relatives. Texting is a very popular form of communication at the Haj and people are kept updated with the situation at home through text messages from relatives and friends. Pilgrims are frequently seen stopping to read incoming messages on their mobile phones, oblivious to the fact that they are blocking pathways.


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Fulbright to Syria and Turkey


Religious Pluralism as Exhibited in Two Secular Muslim States
MCCA and the Center for International Community College Education at UMSL have submitted a grant proposal to the US Department of Education to send 15 community college and secondary school faculty to study and travel in Turkey and Syria during the summer of 2007. This four and a half week program will begin on June 7th in St. Louis with an orientation, and end with the return to St. Louis on July 8th. We are now soliciting

applications from community college and high school faculty who would like to participate. Please distribute this announcement and the attached itinerary and application information throughout your institutions and to high schools in your region.

This travel-study experience will examine the cultures, practices, belief systems and interactions between the principle religious communities in Turkey and Syria. The planners have confirmed with the US Department of State that travel is approved for U.S. citizens in Syria, and travel in these countries is considered safe under current international conditions. Selection of final participants will be made based upon:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to the goals and objectives of the project;
  2. An interest in traveling in the Near East, with little or no prior experience in the region;
  1. Demonstration of the value of the experience to their area of instruction, and commitment to developing a course module based on their experience and study. 
  1. Diversity and balance on the team; with emphasis on discipline, gender, ethnicity, region, college/secondary balance;.
  1. An expressed commitment to participate in follow-up activities upon return, including development of curriculum units, participation in local, regional and/or national forums, short-term seminars, lectures and interviews, distribution of acquired materials, encouragement of students to study abroad, and compliance with priorities of the grant;
  1. US citizenship or permanent resident alien status;
  1. Evidence of good health, sufficient to withstand the rigors of travel, and of commitment to willingly and enthusiastically participate in the expected activities of the project, with an understanding that this will involve the routine challenges of working, living, and socializing in different and unfamiliar environments. 


For Information, contact Kent Farnsworth at UMSL, 314-516-6528 or by e-mail at Participants will be selected by the end of February, 2007 through an application and interview process. (Interviews may be by phone.) 

Application deadline: January 31, 07      Anticipated Applicant Notice:  Mar 1, 07

What Interested Parties Should Consider When


  1. The project will include two weeks travel and study in Syria, and two weeks in Turkey. Individuals may not obtain a Visa to enter Syria if they have traveled to Israel or Egypt on their current passport. (A new Passport could be obtained.)
  1. The group will be directed by three individuals experienced in travel and group direction in this part of the world, two of whom are native to these countries.
  1. Out-of-pocket expenses will total about $300 for passports, insurance, gifts, etc. Participants must also cover travel to St. Louis for the program, and from St. Louis home. They will also be expected to cover expenses for lodging, meals, etc. before leaving the country, but these will be kept at a minimum. All international expenses, aside from personal items, will be covered by the grant, if funded.
  1. During the program, participants will live with a roommate (of the same gender), and this is not optional. Family, friends, and others not selected as part of the applicant process may not accompany the participants.
  1. Travel will include a fair amount of walking, will involve spending a few days and nights with villagers in rural areas, and participating in the normal activities of Near Eastern life. Applicants should be comfortable with some rigorous exercise, and with interacting with different cultures in unfamiliar circumstances.
  1. Participants will be interacting with representatives of diverse Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities, and are expected to approach these interactions as learning experiences, rather than as opportunities for debate or evangelizing.
  1. In addition to the requirement to develop a curriculum module appropriate to the participant’s discipline, each member will be expected to make a minimum of three presentations to civic, church, educational or other groups upon their return, including one to an elementary or secondary school audience.
  1. MCCA/CICCEL may not receive this grant, and applicants may go through the entire selection process, only to learn in April that the project has not been funded. This process should not involve expense to the applicant. Those selected must be committed to go, however, if funding is received.

All this being considered, this project will provide participants with once in a lifetime opportunities to visit some of the most significant sites in Jewish, Christian and Muslim history, including Ephesus, Damascus (the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world), the home and tomb of the great Sufi Poet Rumi, to meet the Grand Mufti of Syria, to stay in an Eastern Orthodox Convent, and to enjoy the hospitality of Turkish and Syrian villagers.  (See daily itinerary, attached.)

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Looking at the Big Picture

Now that I’m back home, I’m trying to prepare for the “what were your impressions” questions.  I’m too overwhelmed to come up with a good answer right now, so I’ll seek some inspiration in a few photos.  I’ll come back with couple of closing posts to answer that question and to leave some resources on the Kingdom.copy-2-of-img0628.JPGThere will always be dates and cardommon coffee

The development of the modern copy-of-img0642.JPG

country of Saudi Arabia was strongly influenced by the development of Aramco

img0559.JPGhidden treasures such as these caves

Foriegn workersimg0607.JPGsuch as these women from  Eritrea.

img0639.JPGthe astrolab

img0595.JPGand McDonalds

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People, places, Things


copy-3-of-img0627.JPG  Mosque in Dharran

Private Home in Jeddah  img0806.JPG

img0570.JPGSchool in Jeddah

On the Red Sea Coast img0782.JPG

img0582.JPG Burger King; Dharran


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Camels, Classrooms, Caves and the Capital


A rare treat: A trip to a camel market. Most Saudis never see camels because they live in large cities.


Need to get a camel off a truck? Here’s how!



Taken in a Kindergarden classroom in Riyadh. Notice that on the Islamic calendar, the day, date and year are completely different. Boys and girls are in the same classroom at this age.


Student artwork.


In Riyadh, you will want to eat at the Globe Restaurant in this building. In fact, look toward the top of the building and you can see the Globe!


We had the rare opportunity to meet with members of the Education Committee in Riyadh and sit in on the Shura Council as they met on Human Rights issues . Men sat on one side and women sat on another, protected behind mirrored glass. Six women, each with advanced academic degrees, have recently been appointed to audit the Council sessions. They were present when we attended.


If you look at previous posts, you’ll be able to see more photos that I’ve just added!

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On the Road

It really doesn’t take a visitor too long to realize the Saudi Arabia they’re seeing is not quite what they expect. Indeed, many of our expectations are based in 25 year old images and re-inforced in a media that delivers everything buth the truth. From movies to talk shows to the evening news, we don’t learn of how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is develping (KSA). Governments interact and develop relationships but real understaning has to begin with the people. So, let me try to paint a picture of what I have seen.

Saudi Aramco brought wealth to the Kingdom through oil and from that came growth and development with is being sustained by diversifying the economy, developing infrastrure and welcoming multinational companies.

The most profound image of my day was from my drive along the coast. All along the beach were Saudi families enjoying the first day of their weekend (Thurs and Fri are the weekend here.) There were groups of women in their abayas, large family gatherings, people on jet skis and boats and brightly colored amusement attractions. The median dividing the highwat had many peices of modern art, anything from a large wrench to a birthday cake to a faucet to all kinds of abstract designs. Street signs are in Arabic and English indicating where to find the Corniche, the city center, sea port or gateway to Mekkah. Other streets along the way are filled with Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Toys R Us and Burger King, European designer’s shoppes, many stores with the latest women’s fashions, fire stations, mosques or high rise business centers. Marigolds and petunies often line the road.


The call to prayer can be heard, but it hasn’t always been obvious. Drivers will sometimes stop during the day when the call is heard. Local newspapers list the times each day that the call will be given. Hotel rooms will indication the direction to Mecca with arrows placed in out of the way corners. Korans and rugs are provided for the needy traveller.


Driving is interesting to watch! Cars no different from those I see in at home drive in a manner which made automiblie accidents the number one cause of death in the kingdom, and this is with no women drivers or alchohol in the country!

Staying inside looking at television I can see shows from US, UK, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and India just to name a few! This variety, like the variety of food, art and architecture, indicates the crossroads the KSA has always been.

Students may think they would like to live here because there is no compulsory education. However,, this is creating a huge gap getween the haves and the have nots. Those who are affluent are able to attend private schools and study in any country they choose, while public school students have a textbook based curriculum heavy on drill and repitition. All schools do have libraries!

I’ve eaten delicious foods I cannot name: Grilled chicken dishes, grilled eggplant with balsamic vinegar, greads and lobster soup, and Om ALi, a very delicious Egyptian bread pudding.

At dinner we have interesting conversations with Saudis who are quite fluent in English (most private schools teach in English) Last night, we had a discussion on basic differences within Islam and Christianity and realized the importance of interpretation. We realized we would each leave the table with our own interpretation of the converation, as will most reading this blog!

I’ve been amazed by the huge cross-section of people I’ve seen. Workers from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Eritrea and the Phillipines. Students from Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. Business men from US, Europe and Africa.

And I will still have so much to tell when I get home!

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