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Volume 55, Number 2March/April 2004

In This Issue

Click for the Table of Contents

Reader's Guide

By Julie Weiss

This one-page guide offers springboards, arranged thematically, that will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue�s articles. We especially encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers from late elementary school through early university courses, whether they are working in a classroom or through home study.


Class Activities

The activities in this section are designed to engage students with the material in Saudi Aramco World while encouraging them to connect it to the larger themes they explore in their other studies. This month’s activities revolve around the concepts community and traditional and modern.

Theme: Community

Each of the six features in this issue of Saudi Aramco World describes a kind of community. The activities that follow invite you to use the articles as case studies of communities.

What is community?

People use the word community a lot. But what exactly is a community? Let’s look at the word itself. Com means “with.” Unity means “one.” Community, then, refers to a situation in which we unite with others to become one whole. For example, people who live in the same area might form a community of neighbors, or people who pledge membership in a fraternity or sorority form a community of family-like members. As a class, brainstorm different examples of communities. If you get stuck, use the following categories to spark your thinking: communities based on a shared location, a shared history, shared beliefs, language, activities, goals and so on.

What types of interaction create community?

Turn your attention to three articles in this month’s Saudi Aramco World: “Reading the Sands,” “The Joys of the Bath” and “Suq: 4000 Years Behind the Counter in Aleppo.” Using your class’s list of examples as a guide, ask of each article, “What type of interaction described here creates community?” Another way to think about it is to ask of each article, “What brings people together in the situations described in this article?” Now look at your own experiences. What communities are you part of? Choose one to focus on. What type of interactions is it based on? Make a list of five things that are necessary for your communities to exist.

Can communities exist among people who are not together geographically?

So far you have probably thought mostly about communities that exist among people who unite in one physical place. Three other articles raise the question of whether communities can exist—can people unite?—despite physical separation. Read “emel’s Hope,” “Azizah Rising” and “Becoming the Thing.” Each article depicts a kind of unity. Write a sentence describing it. With a small group, discuss the question, “Can communities exist among people who are not together geographically?” Write down the evidence and arguments that support each answer. When you’re done, see which answer seems more convincing. Compare them with other groups’ answers.

How do new technologies affect community?

“The Joys of the Bath” reports that the public baths nearly became extinct when private homes got running water. Similarly, tracking has become nearly obsolete with the development of DNA identification and other technologies. With a partner, list five technologies you use regularly—e.g., car, microwave, computer, etc. Think about each technology on your list, one at a time. What kinds of communities do they make possible? Then imagine what people’s communities were like before the technology was available. Would they have been different? If so, how? Write a short essay that answers the question, “Do new technologies always change communities?”

Theme: “Traditional” and “Modern”

What happens when new meets old? These activities will help you think about it.

Define “progress.”

Progress literally means “step forward.” Yet it isn’t always clear what constitutes a step forward. What advances might at the same time set someone else back? Are they, then, “progress”? It’s a difficult question. Try this as a way to explore it. Working in a small group, choose one of the following items: penicillin, flush toilets, mapping the human genome, splitting atoms or moving businesses to other countries. Make a web that shows as many effects of this discovery or occurrence as you can think of. Do the positive effects outweigh the negative, or vice versa? Or is it hard to tell? Why? Join with two other groups and use your graphics to come up with a one-sentence definition of progress. Share it with the class.

What is of value in tradition?

Modern technology might displace trackers as it nearly ended all of Cairo’s hammams over the last century and a half. In each case, tradition has survived, but barely. In your life, what has come down to you that is at least 100 years old? Is there any value simply in its oldness? In the situation you explored in the previous activity on progress, think of examples of what might survive from tradition. Is its survival a good thing? If so, how?

Who decides?

We often think of change as inevitable. Cell phones become available, so we use them. It isn’t quite that simple. People create change by making choices. Running water didn’t magically appear in Cairo 100 years ago. People worked hard to make running water possible, and other people liked the idea and decided to go to the trouble and expense of having it piped to their homes. What do you think motivated them? To get a handle on the question, try thinking about a more recent example: When microwave ovens first became available, some people refused to buy them. “We like cooking the real way,” they said, “and besides, microwaves aren’t good for our health.”

What might have changed their minds? Divide the class into groups. Have several group members take the role of running-water promoters in Cairo. Develop a newspaper advertisement for running water that will encourage people to install it in their homes. Have at least two group members read the ad, and then role-play a conversation in which one is eager to get running water while the other prefers the traditional ways of getting water.

How do you balance the traditional and the modern?

Both Azizah and emel join the cultures of Islam with the cultures of mass media. Most of us, in different, often very individual ways, probably maintain our own balances among traditional, modern and things that seem somewhere in between. Write a letter to the editor of one of the magazines about a day in your life, and tell how you encounter both old and new, traditional and modern. For a good example of a traditional-modern blend, review the text that follows the initial capital letter on page 5 of “Reading the Sands,” where the author describes using modern conveniences—a four-wheel-drive truck and a mobile phone—to set up a test by which the traditional trackers can prove their skill.

Understanding What You Read

Pre-Reading Activities

An easy way to improve reading comprehension is to do something you probably already do: Flip through the magazine. Start with the Table of Contents. Look at the pictures, and read about the articles. What intrigues you? Go to the article. Read the headline. Look at the pictures. Read the captions. Jot down a few notes about what the article seems to be about and a question or two you hope it will answer.

Reading-Comprehension Questions

The following activities are here to sharpen your reading by pointing you toward the most important parts of the articles. Complete them as written, or another way if it will work better for you.

“Reading the Sands”

What do trackers do? Why is the number of trackers declining? What feats do stories attribute to them? Describe the test in which the author participated. What did it demonstrate? What traits do the trackers described in the article possess? Why is tracking losing its appeal as a job? Explain how tracking might represent “the origin of science itself.” What is tracking used for today? What are “dead tracks”? What is more useful than these “dead tracks”?

“The Joys of the Bath”

When were hammams most numerous? How does bathing relate to Islamic rituals? What functions did the hammams fill in Egyptian communities? What did all hammams have in common? How did the baths work? Describe a bather’s experience. What led to the decline of the hammams?

emel’s Hope” and “Azizah Rising”

What makes emel unique? What group of readers does it target? How do the magazine’s founders feel about relationships among Muslims and non-Muslims? How is emel financed and distributed? What makes Azizah unique? What group of readers does it target? What does it mean to say that women “are active agents”? How does the concept apply to Azizah? How is the magazine financed?

Analyzing Visual Images

We spend a lot of our time looking at visual images—on television and computer screens, in newspapers and magazines, in art galleries and on billboards. Most of us enjoy them without thinking too much about them. It’s a good idea, though, to be able to look at visual images with a critical eye—to know what draws you in, how it does so and what you get from it.

Once color photography became widely available in the mid-1960’s, you didn’t see many black-and-white photos any more. That makes the photographs that accompany “Suq: 4000 Years Behind the Counter in Aleppo” somewhat unusual. Consider the article’s opening photograph on pages 24 and 25.

• Imagine the scene as it looked when the photographer took the picture. What colors might he have seen?

• Light and shadow are extremely important in black-and-white photos. Locate the brightest areas of the photo. Squint your eyes so you no longer see the specific images; instead you just see where the light is. How is it distributed in the frame? What is the greatest source of light in the scene? What mood does it create?

• Black-and-white photographs actually include black, white and shades of gray. Photos with almost no shades of gray look like silhouettes. This photo, however, has many shades of gray. If you were going to paint this photo using white, black and grays, how many shades of gray would you need to capture it? Count them. Compare your answers with someone else, and discuss you how you might have arrived at different numbers.

• Perhaps people at the market were wearing bright colors—blue and orange, for example. Why would the photographer sacrifice color? In the absence of color, what draws your attention?

• Why might the photographer have chosen to shoot in black and white rather than color? Discuss the question with a partner. Write a statement in the photographer’s voice explaining why you chose black and white to render this scene.

Julie Weiss Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies and develops curricula and assessments in social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language.