Saturday, November 5, 2011
Going in circles
I went to Granada Elementary and Alhambra High School. I had no inkling at the time that those names would one day become the obsession of my career.
It started a couple of years ago when I signed up to teach in the Study Abroad in Jordan program. But the economy and the political uncertainty joined forces and the program was cancelled. Last year, Lutfi Hussein tried hard again to get it to go, but it again didn't make. He and I had coffee together in late March, just after the official cancellation, and Lutfi told me he thought a year of rest was in order.
I went home and thought about the many study abroad programs MCC offers: China, Mexico, Ireland, even a four week experience in "the wilds of Namibia" in southern Africa. But in a world with deep misconceptions and suspicions between Muslims and non-Muslims, we did not yet have a program that allowed us to open up one of the most needed engagements of the modern world.
So I made a decision in mid-April to try another approach. I looked to one of human history's finest moments, to Al-Andalus, Islamic Spain, where through 780 years Jews, Muslims and Christians forged the "convivencia" - life together. First in Córdoba, then in Granada, they moved beyond tolerance to a shared vision of beauty and learning. 500 years later, the people of modern Andalucia still remember this. How could they not? They are surrounded by the art, the architecture, and the culture that bears witness.
Now, after a whirlwind 10-day walkabout to Andalucia, after months of paperwork and PR, after endlessly dreaming and talking about the world there now that speaks that world of a millennium ago, I am going back to the cities from which my childhood schools took their names. I only wish Mrs. Cordova, my sixth-grade history teacher, could know that one of her 12-year-olds was going to the place that gave her family their name.