On 12th June the Festival of Ideas at Foyles Bookshop hosted remarkable Syrian writers, Khaled Khalifa and Robin Yassin- Kassab, and a video artist and cinematographer Khalil Younes. The event was a part of the UK tour Syria Speaks. Art and culture from the frontline, which marked the publication of a book with the same title, a unique anthology of uprising literature, art and culture.
The evening was filled with stories, both fictional and real, full of darkness and hope, fear and friendship, all related to the revolution. At first we could hear a fragment from the award-winning Syrian novelist, screenwriter and poet Khaled Khalifa’s book Lettuce in Fields read by himself in Arabic and afterwards by Robin Yassin-Kassab in English. After the reading, the writer told anecdotes about Syrian censorship and talked about gratitude and fears which accompany every morning coffee in his house in Damascus.
Similar feelings were also present in Khalil Younes’s speech. The audience of the festival could see some reproductions of his illustrations, such as Hamza Bakkour, which commemorates a thirteen year old boy’s tragedy. Khalil Younes is not only an illustrator, video artist and painter but also an author of short stories. One of which, Chicken Liver, included in anthology, tells a real story about him and his friend who found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
Likewise the above mentioned artists, Robin Yassin-Kassab presented a fragment of his yet unpublished book which was received with a warm applause. He shared his observations on Syria from the position of a writer and a journalist. According to him, every person in Syria has a terrible, unbelievable story to tell but not everyone has a chance to be heard. On the other hand, as he mentioned, media don’t always show the activities of people who bring hope and believe in humankind, such as the baker who stayed in Syria to bake bread for the local people or the man who publishes a children’s magazine for younger Syrians.
I truly believe that the UK tour Syria Speaks. Art and culture from the frontline gives an opportunity to Syrian people to express themselves beyond the media and for the British audience to hear an authentic voice of the Syrian revolution.
Written by Joanna Michta
Edited by Alicja Zajdel
Photo courtesy of Khalil Younes
When I think back to my school time years and the variety of personalities that have taught me throughout the years, there is one that really stands out: a forever smiling Spanish man from Salamanca whose energy and enthusiasm were inevitably contagious, even for the most stubborn individuals. He would begin his classes by throwing unexpected questions at us, ones that he usually heard on the radio the same morning, and that would guarantee our instant attention. After all, how many times do you enter a classroom and get asked if you’d rather lose a leg or an arm?
Funnily enough, a silly little question like that can open up a whole debate and I’ve never seen my classmates as keen to speak Spanish as they were on those occasions. I guess that was my teacher’s sneaky technique of getting us to chat away in the language without even realising. This, of course, was not his only trick. We would play games in Spanish- something we didn’t do a lot of in our other classes. A-level students are clearly too mature to play games… Mr. Sánchez, however, thought otherwise and he could not have been more right! It turns out that 16-17 year olds love games just as much as the younger students (or perhaps even more!). The one I remember most is the game in which someone sticks a piece of paper on your forehead and you have to guess who or what you are by asking yes and no questions.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t just the games and the silly questions that made Mr. Sánchez a great teacher. In my opinion, it was his evident passion for teaching. The satisfaction you could see all over his face when the students were finally starting to get the hang of the subjunctive! Learning in his classroom was a great experience where everything seemed possible. He always pushed us a little further, venturing outside the boundaries of the school syllabus, which had definitely given much better results. The best evidence for this is that more than half of the class went on to study Spanish at university.
Thinking back and analysing my classes with Mr. Sánchez I try to pinpoint the qualities that made his lessons so enjoyable and rewarding. His personality was definitely one of the key aspects, but unfortunately it is something that others cannot really replicate. However, something that can be learnt from Mr. Sánchez is to keep the lessons fast paced, not allowing the students to lose concentration. Of course you also have to make sure everything is explained clearly and followed by everyone. I cannot say that his lessons were easy, they required a lot of concentration and work that had to be put in, but they were certainly where I learnt the most.
Now that I think about it, it is probably thanks to Mr. Sánchez that I decided to study languages at university, as it was definitely my favourite subject at school. He is a truly inspiring teacher and the impact he had on me has made me want to share my language madness with others.
Written by Alicja Zajdel
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