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.
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