Date :Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Time : 14:07 |ID: 73926 | Print

Syrian and Iraqi tour guides at Pennsylvania Museum

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SHAFAQNAIraqi, Syrian guides share a modern cultural perspective with visitors to the University Of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology’s Middle East gallery, reopened in April after a $5 million renovation.

The museum has hired immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq, who are trained to share details about the items and answer questions while also telling their own stories and memories about their homelands.

People really have trouble understanding and connecting with objects from the ancient past,” said Ellen M. Owens, Penn Museum’s Merle-Smith director of learning programs. “People who come from these places, even in contemporary times, can find a connection with the objects and they provide an interesting window into what it’s like to walk through these magnificent ancient ziggurats or visit a marketplace where traditions go back thousands of years.”, Arab News reported.

“Queen Puabi’s burial jewelry is one of my favorite objects in the gallery,” says Saradar, who goes on to explain that in Syria today, people still save up for gold jewelry for their wedding. She shows pictures of packed jewelry shops in Damascus, walls glittering from floor to ceiling.

Saradar is among the museum’s new tour guides — immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq who can make connections between the ancient artifacts and the present-day cultures.

Saradar and her family arrived in Philadelphia as refugees in 2016, and she now works as a medical interpreter during the week and gives tours of at the gallery on weekends.

In Syria, her family lived outside Damascus. “We are so proud that it’s the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world,” she says. But even though very old buildings were woven into the city fabric, she says she didn’t really think about that on a daily basis when she lived there.

According to Kevin Schott, the Penn Museum’s education programs manager, Saradar and the other guides offer something local docents can’t.

“At some point in almost every tour somebody will say, ‘What about today? Do they still eat these things today?’ Or, ‘Is this place still a place people go?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I can’t answer your question.'”

Another guide, Hadi Jasim is from Iraq, and was an interpreter for the U.S. military in 2004. He is in the United States on a visa for Iraqis who worked with the military, and told PRI that “sometimes, even if I don’t have tours here, I just show up to work, go through the Middle East gallery, go and see the clay tables, and see the carvings. It just brings my memories back.”, THE WEEK mentioned.

Now, Jasim has a job in food service at a local hospital. He says the museum work has become more than a second income.

Being surrounded by pieces of his heritage makes Jasim feel close to home, while also adapting to his new life in America, he says. “I don’t feel like I’m a stranger [any] more.”

Jasim and Saradar have both been asked by visitors whether these antiquities belong in a Western museum. Saradar says she usually responds by talking about how the objects in the Penn Museum were excavated a century ago by university archaeologists, under a shared agreement with local governments.

And Jasim tells me this: He’s deeply upset about the damage to Iraqi historic sites that occurred during the war and by ISIS and looters. It gives him some comfort, he says, that some of his heritage is being preserved here — and so nearby.

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