Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Pursuit of Knowledge?..

What would I give to be young again!...
You may have met my little girl (well.. she is 21, and a graduate student, but she is still my little girl, OK?..).. Some of you have been so kind as to offer her help in the past..
As you may know, she studied World and Popular Music, and did her dissertation on Fairuz.. She is now doing a Masters in Music on the role of female performers in the Levantine (and particularly Syrian) music..
So, as part of her course work, she was asked to do some 'field work'.. She was tasked by her Tutor to go and spend a few weeks in Syria, researching the topic of her Masters project..
Kicking and screaming (yeah, right!..), she 'agreed' to go and spend the Christmas break in Damascus.. The declared aims of the visit: Firstly, to interview a number of music academics, and some performers, both professionals and amateurs, particularly female ones. Secondly, to get some feel, on the ground, of the role of female performers in the current and past musical scene in Syria..
(In actual fact, she was so excited about her trip, she was on 'Cloud 9' way before she boarded the plane ten days ago!..)
She is staying with my parents (and is getting spoiled rotten by them!..). My Mum, and my Dad, as well as several relatives, friends and contacts, have helped her arrange appointments with several eminent music academics, and key musical personalities in the Country.. Even in this short time, she managed to meet the Director of the Opera House in Damascus, as well as two or three musical historians and authors on the topic she is researching.. They have all been extremely helpful and supportive, and have provided her with masses of material, and many, many promises of more help.. She is awaiting some tentative attempts to get her in touch with some of the best-known quality female performers in Syria.. (So tentative are these promises, that I am not going to mention any names, until she does meet them.. then I can brag!..)..
Through sheer persistence and dogged single-mindedness, she managed to defeat the legendary bureaucracy and obtain a Library Card (to access the archives at the Assad Library) in less than an hour.. She was not going to be dissuaded by silly dismissal from some lazy, disinterested minion, who kept saying: 'Come back on the 26th!..'!!.. She just refused to accept 'no' for an answer.. The result: She got the Card, and accessed the Library... She obtained enough material to keep her busy during the Eid Holidays, and she will be back on the trail, once life returns to normality..
I have no doubt that her infectious youthful enthusiasm and endless radiant energy have been instrumental in making people want to help her.. After all, how can anyone refuse a request that has been put forward with such eagerness and zest?.. In fact, one of the academics whom she met was so excited about her project.. He said that, despite his prolific writings, he has never broached the topic she is studying with such depth and breadth.. He, not surprisingly, promised to do all he can to help her, and said that her work has inspired him to write a detailed piece on the subject...
Dana is working very hard to gather the material she needs, documenting everything on a voice recorder and a video camera. She is spending hours transcribing the recordings, referencing the video recordings, and wading through material from library archives, as well as the stuff she had been given by the people she met and interviewed.. Despite all that, she manages to make it sound like so much fun!... With her passion, verve and abundant vigor, she seems to be enjoying every minute of her time, despite all the endless hours of hard work and toil..
I guess that is the gift of youth..
Oh, what would I give to be young again!...

(Photo by SB: Ingleton, Cumbria)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eid Mubarak

I wish all my cyber-friends and cyber-family members a very Happy Eid Al-Adha..
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year...

(Photo: Flower in my garden..)
P.s. I know it has nothing to do with Eid, Christmas, or the New Year.. I just thought it might add some colour to brighten up your day..

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Rear the Tender Thought...

'Delightful task!
To rear the tender thought..
To teach the young..'

James Thomson, Scottish Poet, 1700-1748

I have, on a number of occasions, talked about my work.. You may remember my recounting the various stories of everyday-life that I encounter.. the momentous event, the tiny unexpected arrival, the chaotic day, or the controlled performance... I would hope that, through these posts, I have managed to convey to the reader how much I really enjoy what I do, and how passionate I am about it..
Mind you, I have not spoken yet about one of the most rewarding activities that I am involved in.. one of the most satisfying, most fulfilling aspects of my varied and diverse work.. the part of my work that I draw a lot of satisfaction from.. and that is teaching and training...
Don't get me wrong.. I do not aim to belittle any of the other activities I am involved in.. Saving a patient's life, reducing someone's suffering, or even simply imparting a few reassuring words to an anxious person, are all immensely rewarding and very worthwhile actions.. If I do any of those on any given day, I would feel fully satisfied and content.. but, somehow, teaching still gives me a sense of fulfillment that is hard to beat.. I guess it is the sense that I am helping shape the careers of these eager young minds, that gives me this feeling of profound contentment.. it is the hope that, by passing on my experiences, I am helping save the life of some future patient, who might need the skills of these young (and not-so-young) doctors, doctors-to-be, nurses, or paramedics..
Teaching in my field can take any of many varied forms.. from didactic classroom teaching, to informal 'shop-floor' teaching and supervision, to practical workshops and simulated scenarios..
Last week, I was teaching on an Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS®) Course, which encompasses most of those teaching modalities.. The Course was conceived back in the mid-seventies by an American orthopaedic surgeon who lamented the quality of care he and his family had received at a small hospital in the back of beyond, after his light aircraft crashed in a field in Nebraska. The Course has since developed into a global phenomenon, and is taught in more than 45 countries worldwide.. (However, the Royal College of Surgeons of England is the only institution outside the US, entrusted to run Instructor Courses.. Not a mean achievement, I assure you..)..
Trauma is often called 'the hidden epidemic'.. it kills the young and the active.. the 'typical' victims of trauma are usually the most productive elements in society.. Road crashes alone kill around 3,500 people, mostly young, every year in England and Wales alone.. Considering that 286 were killed in Lockerbie, the above figure represents more than a Lockerbie disaster every single month!... Can you imagine the headlines if a 747 falls out of the skies every month?!... But I digress...
So, back to the Course.. Its aim: to improve the care of trauma victims, and improve their chances of survival, and of returning to a meaningful, productive life.. what the Americans somewhat crudely refer to as 'tax-paying status'!..
It is run over a period of 2½ days.. These are long and tiring days.. tiring for both candidates and instructors alike.. We start at 8am each day, and finish anytime between 7 and 8pm, although we do finish at about 3pm on Day 3..
A series of lectures, punctuated by demonstrations, workshops, skill stations, and simulated patient scenarios, are delivered by a group of dedicated and experienced Instructors, who have been selected for their outstanding performance when they themselves attended the Course as candidates.

Instructors are not only selected for their knowledge and mastery of the subject matter, but also for their ability to communicate, support their fellow-candidates, and demonstrate that elusive ingredient that completes what is instinctively, but rather vaguely, perceived as a 'good teacher'...
A candidate being put through his paces..
(The 'casualty' is actually a Medical Student, made up to look the part!..)

I say 'dedicated', because most of us often end up doing these courses in our own time, and free of charge.. Can you imagine someone from Industry agreeing to give up three days of their own time for less than £2,000 and a five-star treatment?.. I think not!.. So, really, for 'dedicated Instructors', read 'bunch of mugs'!.. but hey, we love it!..
In the short time we spend on these courses, a kind of bond develops amongst the Instructors, as well as between them and the candidates.. We feel that our success as a faculty is reflected in the success of the candidates.. we only feel fulfilled and content if we accomplish our task: the imparting of knowledge.. the transfer of experiences.. and seeing that, come test time on Day 3, our 'trainees' are coping confidently and ably with anything that we throw at them, is worth to each of us a lot more than any payment..
Didn't I tell you we're a bunch of mugs?..