Have you ever wanted to travel to exotic places? Have you ever experienced the loss of a loved one and temporarily lost your sense of equilibrium? Both of these things were part of Joan Sparling Migwans‘ experience and, rather than pulling back into herself, she packed up her household and went headlong into new experiences and adventure.
Uprooted is the story of Joan’s experiences with three of her four children over a two year teaching assignment at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) at Aleppo, Syria. Having within the space of two years lost her husband, her father, and her mother, Joan was ready to reevaluate who she was and how she fit into her new world. It seemed that getting away from her changed world and learning more about the unknown would expand her knowledge of both the world and herself. Leaving her oldest daughter to attend university, she packed up what she could of her world and headed with a certain amount of fear and trepidation for Syria.
This is a story of wonder and humour, challenge and friendships, learning about different cultures and respecting them. While Joan lived and taught in Aleppo, there were many weekend excursions or longer vacations with other teachers from the school who knew the area and enjoyed getting out of the town and off to the seaside or to archaeological sites, vineyards, and neighbouring towns of interest. They learned about the food and customs, attended traditional weddings, and even enjoyed a Bedouin-style, oasis adventure. Joan tells of how her children adapted, how the people looked out for them, and she felt safe letting them travel alone at times. All was not easy, as her 13-year-old, Rebecca, found when her smile brought unwarranted advances from a young guard for the house across from their ICARDA compound or when the maid Joan had hired turned out to have some serious problems. And then there was the time-consuming difficulty of border crossings into Lebanon or Turkey.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book aside from the travel and cultural aspects was the philosophy of education at ICARDA which had much in common with my own philosophy in that area. I enjoyed reading about their planning and field trips, their concerts, and how the children evaluated the success of their outings.
In her Epilogue, Joan makes it clear through her own experiences toward the end of her stay and letters from her friends, some still in Syria and some who emigrated to other countries, that this is a Syria quite different from the one she knew when she arrived in August, 2005. It is not a place she would feel secure about visiting with young children as she had back then and this is a loss not only to the citizens of Syria but to travellers who would have wondered, as she and her children did, at the richness of the culture, architecture, and friendliness of the people. While it may be closed to us would-be travellers today, we can enjoy it vicariously through the rich and charming stories and pictures Joan has graciously shared with us in this, her first book. Hopefully there will be others as well. * * * *