Saturday, September 17, 2011

The State of Arab Pride

Preface: I wrote this post six months ago, when I was still in Syria. Everyone concerned in the story is now outside the country, so I feel safe posting it. (Yes, I'm still a paranoiac. So sue me.)

March 7, 2011

I recently attended a college fair with one of my Syrian friends, who is trying to go study abroad. The fair hosted booths from colleges in Dubai, Malaysia, England, Turkey and America. Several Syrian universities also made an obligatory appearance: the University of Damascus and Tishreen University in Lattakia among them. The Syrian Ministry of Education also had a booth there. These booths were mostly devoid of activity. They had only a few standard pamphlets and posters, and few Syrians were looking at them. When I tried to ask about Arabic classes at the University of Damascus booth, the men seemed gratified and enthusiastic that an American was interested, but could do nothing more than refer me to the school’s website.

My friend lived for most of his life in America, and as a result did not learn written Arabic (which differs vastly from spoken Arabic) in school. Since all Syrian high schools use written Arabic, he is working towards taking the GED test, so he can go study abroad. At the fair, one of the organizers told him that even if he got an American college degree, he wouldn’t be able to work in Syria without a Syrian high school degree. I’m pretty sure this is crap, but it worried him, so he went to the Ministry of Education booth to clarify the point with the representatives there.

He ended up telling most of his story to a man behind the Ministry table. When he mentioned that he had only recently moved to Syria from America, the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic’s Ministry of Education, whose mission under the Syrian constitution is to create a “socialist nationalist Arab generation which is…attached to its history and land, proud of its heritage…” had this to say:

“Leesh rej3at?” “Why did you return?”

Why indeed? (In point of fact, he had no choice.)

I didn’t understand most of the conversation, but my friend later told me that in the end, the representative insisted that he would have to get a Syrian high school degree, and boasted that Arabic is the hardest language in the world. “No it’s not,” my friend replied. “What about Chinese?” At which point, the representative said, “We will never accept your trash degree here.”

I think my friend will live.

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