By: Lorne Swarthout
Upper School History Chair
Two surprise visitors dropped into our Modern Middle East class recently, adding some special insights to the semester’s final unit of study on Iraq and Iran. These visitors are examples of the tremendous expertise and the volunteer spirit of so many members of the BC community. They deepen our understanding and broaden our horizons.
Peter Damrosch (’08) dropped in as he was passing through on his way to graduate school in Cambridge, MA. Peter spent three years after college living in Amman, Jordan, where he taught history and religion at Kings Academy and also worked on improving the local municipal bus system. Students wanted to know how Iran looks from the Jordanian perspective. Peter told us that they are wary of Iran because of its ambition to be a regional power broker and because the two countries are on opposite sides of the Sunni-Shia divide.
He also talked about his school, which King Abdullah fancies will be another Deerfield, his alma mater, and his students who hail from all around the Middle East. One of the most challenging assignments Peter faced was teaching Judaism to these young men, almost all of whom were passionate supporters of Palestine. Designing a map of Amman’s chaotic bus system was Peter’s labor of love during his last year in Jordan. It made him realize the importance of urban infrastructure and planted the idea for a degree in urban planning.
It was great to hear that the Middle East is not all combat and turmoil. Our students had each done a project investigating some aspect of the “new culture” of the Middle East. Peter heard the students describe their projects and encouraged them to dig deeper. Certainly his example of scholarship and service and social entrepreneurship is one our students can admire and seek to emulate.
Two days later we were treated to a visit from Dr. Mehryar Sadeghi, father of Kamyar (’15) and Kian (’18). Our history class had been studying the Iranian revolution of 1979 while reading Persepolis and the autobiography of the human rights lawyer and Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Events that we were trying to visualize from our books were vivid memories for Dr. Sadeghi. He slipped out of Iran in 1984 in the hold of a fishing boat. Standing in front of a large map of Iran and Pakistan he told the class his story. It was at least as exciting as last year’s movie Argo!
Sadeghi had multiple close calls with the Revolutionary Guards on his trip from Tehran to the coast. Some of these were downright scary–an interrogation–and some were slightly absurd–a tour of a new mosque. At the last possible moment, he stepped aboard the smuggler’s trawler, squeezed below decks, and rode out 12 hours of stormy seas enroute to the desolate Pakistani coast. The last 1,000 yards, he told us with a laugh, he and his buddy had to swim.
It was a thoroughly engrossing story, and this was just the first leg of a journey that had many more daunting hurdles to jump. I think we all now understand the Iranian revolution just a little bit better. We also understand the ordinary/extraordinary heroism of people in our own community.