Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Today’s guest blogger is Tamás Lőrincz. I first met Tamás at a Magyar Macmillan conference in Budapest about 15 years ago, when he was a young teacher with an interest in drama. His working life has changed quite dramatically since then. Tamás now lives in the United Arab Emirates and before that, he worked for a time in Iraqi Kurdistan. The moving story he relates below shows what a profound effect that experience had on him.

I started teaching in the picturesque Hungarian town of Szeged in 1993. Although I’ve experimented with teaching English in a variety of settings, I consider myself predominantly a public (state) school teacher.

From 1999 to 2007, I worked with Macmillan Education, first in Hungary as a teacher trainer and rep. Later I joined the company’s marketing team in Oxford. The third phase of my engagement with Macmillan took me to many exotic countries in my role as marketing and teacher training coordinator for the Middle East group.

I’ve trained teachers in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Northern Iraq, UAE, Qatar, KSA, and Bahrain. I’ve recently resigned from my job in the UAE and am thinking about his next move.

I’ll be talking at TESOL Arabia (Dubai, UAE) and IATEFL-UK (Harrogate) in 2010. 

Most importantly: I’m the dad of a beautiful 5-week-old baby girl, Sophie. 

A tribute to the real unsung heroes

Writing for this blog is a great honour – being acknowledged by someone I consider a role model and example both professionally and as a human being is more than I have ever hoped for.

When Ken asked me to write for this series, I thought I would use this opportunity to acknowledge some much less fortunate, real unsung heroes of our profession.

I could have chosen a great number of scenarios I have witnessed:

«   the amazing work educators do in Lebanon

«   the fantastic efforts of teachers in Gaza and the West Bank

«   teachers working away from their families in the Arabian Gulf

«   Saudi national teachers battling against prejudice and the hardships of teaching English there

But the story that touched me and never let me go is that of the Kurds in Iraq. As many of you probably know (especially because I love bragging about it😉 I worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for 10 months as a teacher trainer and coordinator. The memory of the time I spent with these fantastic people in this magical country will stay with me forever.

This video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU1mYWnWkYs) tries in some way to show the passion and dedication that Kurdish teachers have for their work, which they do in the most difficult conditions.  They have few resources, overcrowded classrooms and earn meagre salaries, yet still come to school every day committed to shaping their country’s future for the better.

Here are 10 key events in the history of the Kurds, based on one of the best books ever written about Iraqi Kurdistan. (1)

1200 BCE      The Medes – the ancestors of the Kurds – settle in the Zagros mountains.

1514             Kurdistan divided between the Ottomans and the Persians – these borders remain until the end of WW I

1918              After WW I, British mandate

1920             Treaty of Sevres (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_S%C3%A8vres)                          promise of independent Kurdistan (and Palestine). Kurdish uprising against the British mandate brutally put down –  Churchill uses chemical  weapons against the Kurds. Churchill  unsurprisingly still not very popular with them.                          

1932             End of British mandate – Kurdistan becomes part of Iraq

1946             Kurdish Republic of Mahabad proclaimed in Iran

1970             Kurds reject Saddam Hussein’s “Autonomy” law – the beginning of the long battle with the central government

1980-88        During the Iraq-Iran war, Kurds support the Iranians

1988             The “Anfal” campaign leads to the death of 180,000 Kurds and the                                       destruction of some 4,000 villages

1992             The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan is established   

Of course there is a much longer and more exciting version of the history with all the intrigue, machinations, fights and evil back stabbing that characterises Middle Eastern history (well, any history), but I thought the short history was important to include because if you don’t know about these things, you might not realise the value of every smile, every act of trust, every friend you make.

From the moment I entered the country for the first time I saw a sadness behind the smiles, a suspicion in the outstretched hands that I could only compare to those of my Holocaust survivor grandmother.

I saw the dedication, love and never-ceasing energy of people trying to rebuild their country – a country they were promised but never given. (Even according to the most conservative estimates, there are about 12 million Kurds living in the world today, which makes them the largest ethnic group without a country.)

Their never-ending hope for a better life, and the understanding that education is a key to the survival of the nation, was humbling, invigorating, and left a mark on my soul forever. Yes, I think after having been to Kurdistan – talking to the Kurds, laughing with them, dancing with them – I have learned another meaning of the word hero, and have become a better person as a result.

I dedicate this post to the work of all the wonderful teachers and the hopes of all the great kids in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Just to remind us that this story is still alive, here’s a very recent heart-wrenching story from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8397547.stm.

Everyone in Kurdistan has a Halabja story.

This is mine.

After driving for 5 hours, visiting classes, talking to teachers and administrators, I found myself in a car with a supervisor (Mr Rizgar) and his two colleagues. Like after other school visits, I thought we would do the usual – have lunch at the local “Brinj u Mrishekh” (rice and chicken) restaurant.

Instead, we headed for the vast fields outside the town. I must admit I wouldn’t have been a Westerner if the thought of abduction and ransom notes to the parents hadn’t crossed my mind… Instead the boot flew open, the marinated skewers of chicken and beef were laid out, and the cans of beer were freed. Mr Rizgas slowly started humming a song and the others joined in.  As the food was getting ready and beers disappeared, the sun went down, and the song is still in my ears.

 

Mr Rizgar and friends preparing lunch

I will be forever grateful to Macmillan Education, and my then boss, Flavio Centofanti for the opportunity to work with these fantastic people in this amazing country.

“Zohr Supas” – Thank you very much in Kurdish.

“Xwahafis” – Good-bye.

Some books about Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurds that helped me understand them a little bit better:

Thornhill, T (1997): Sweet Tea with Cardamom Pandora Publishing

Bird, C (2005): A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts

Randal, J. C. (1997): Kurdistan: After Such Knowledge What Forgiveness?

Lennox, G. (ed) (2001): Fire, Snow, and Honey – Voices from Kurdistan

There are numerous websites to learn about Kurdistan and the Kurds. The Regional Government’s website is a good starting point: www.krg.org

You can follow Tamas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tamaslorincz

Or visit his blog at: http://tamaslorincz.edublogs.org

Comments on: "Guest post 7 – Tamás Lőrincz on Iraqi Kurdistan" (10)

  1. shellterrell said:

    What a beautiful and touching post, Tamas! I really think these are unsung heroes and deal with so many barriers. My heart goes out to them and I admire the courage these teachers display every day.

  2. Hello Tamas,

    Thank you for this touching post! So sensitive! I am sure the experience is one you’ll always cherish.
    I admire the struggles of all the unknown heroes fighting on the battlefield of education all over the world.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Best wishes,
    Melania

  3. Sounds like an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing. I always fondly look at job offers there, but alas, my wife is not so keen on moving to a war-torn country😛.

    What was your favorite Middle Eastern country to work in?

  4. Hello Tamas and congratulations!
    I have no words to describe your post.
    The video you made and the comments were excellent and showed us the dedication of the teachers, which you could see in their eyes when looking at the camera or at the chidren; the children were so interested in learning.
    To tell you the truth, I was very moved especially when I saw the video and your comments full of affection for these wonderful people – congratulations Tamas and thank you for sharing your experiences with us. All the best to you!
    Vicky

  5. Dear All

    Thanks for the lovely comments, and thanks Ken for the opportunity.
    I am sorry I didn’t get round to answering before but my internet provider decided that I spend too much time online and my internet connection (and telephone) was off for a couple of days.

    Dear Shelly,
    I spend a lot of time complaining about my hardships. It’s good to be reminded of what real hardships are and people who have to cope with more basic challenges than the projector not working in their classroom😉.

    Thanks Melania,
    Absolutely, this is an experience I’ll never forget and I’ll be grateful for forever. I learnt a lot about humility, friendship and perseverance in Northern Iraq – real-life lessons I’ll cherish and remember.

    Hello Nick,
    Yes, absolutely understand. Although Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the safest places in the Middle East, you’d think twice before you risk your family’s safety.
    However, I think the risks are very low and the situation is getting better by the day. There are organisations working in Kurdistan who look after you very carefully.
    It is an adventure, it is very different but the challenge is more in facing and living with a very different culture and mentality. It wasn’t my security I feared most but whether I would be able to cope with the challenges of living under such different circumstances.
    I loved it and will cherish every moment (even the annoying, stupid bits).

    Thanks Vicky (and thanks for finding me on Twitter, too.)
    The video was a lot of fun to make, it brought back an avalanche of memories. It is great to remember these moments and put things into perspective.
    I am glad you liked it.

    Thanks again for this great opportunity.
    Tamas

  6. Tamas,

    I adore how you write from the heart – it makes your writing unique, raw and honest. Thank you for sharing such a personal adventure and definitely making us realise that our hardships are nothing compared to some.

    Shonah🙂

  7. Thanks Shonah

    At the risk of sounding a bit drippy sometimes, I try to share moments, thoughts and ideas that are genuine and help me come to terms with things present and past before moving on to pastures new.
    Writing this post was one of these exercises in “exorcism”.
    I’m glad you liked the post, I really enjoyed writing it.

    Tamas

  8. shakawan said:

    Tamas

    Thank you for your kind words about kurds I am pleased to hear that your had good times in kurdistan.As a kurd it makes me proud of my people and feel humbled by your descriptions.We kurds are well known for our hospitality and hunger for friendship.

    kurdistan is now ever changing and developing at a faster rate than any other place in the middle east. I hope with the all the development that we need we don’t change the things that we are known for!!

    Shakawan

  9. Dear; Tamas heyy my name is shwan iam fome kurdistan
    i red all messages its vrey good so iam sorry
    i think my writing not good so iam study in england
    iam vrey lazy because my wirting shit know why
    i was school in kurdistan but whene i sarting its not english
    i went school six years but never trying wirting english
    iam live in england now iam doing college now so its vrey difficult for me thank you

  10. jack watley said:

    thank you.

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