Monday, January 17, 2011
Two roads diverged in a wood
I came to a crossroads today. I entered the classroom and there, like knife wounds on flesh, I noticed three swastikas etched in to a student's wooden chair. Two identities within me recoiled in horror. Students were asking me questions about my morning but I was momentarily dumbfounded as the symbol and I starred at each other. Like Achilles squaring off with Hector, both of us feared and loathed the other, but despite all the talk, we had never before come face to face. All was quiet as the Spartan dust settled. There we were, oppressor and oppressed only now both anachronisms in a time that has changed both our roles and more importantly our reputations. The lightly weathered pine wood seemed apologetic for its scar, one that seemed to taunt and beg the question: what will you do now? Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by... only it didn't make any difference. I decided I had to tell someone. A few years ago swastikas were discovered on school property at my university. All students involved were expelled immediately. While I would never expect the same reaction here in Egypt, surely I thought the school might fear for its reputation, or at least its furniture. No one cared. One administrator chuckled softly and said "oh yes, that Nazi thing." Another waved me out of his office saying "oh not to worry, they don't mean it." But isn't this a rather dangerous symbol to embrace but not to understand? This was cause for some self-reflection. Perhaps I was letting my preconceived notions get in the way of what was ultimately a cultural learning experience. Maybe I needed to relax and realize that the etching does not carry the same weight here. And yet this seemed unsettling somehow. Hatred is universal. Hatred transcends cultural bounds. While the significance of the symbols change, the ideas don't. Schools are supposed to strike a match to the darkness of ignorance. Shouldn't we as teachers make sure that these flames are born from the flint of truth and love? I've been told I pose too many questions without enough statements. But today I asked my school a question, and I'm still waiting for the answer.