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Svetlana Salikh: Russians in Jordan Remember Victory Day

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Svetlana Salikh: Russians in Jordan Remember Victory Day

12.12.2014

Svetlana Salikh was born in Vladimir, studied in Ivanovo and lives in Jordan. Having come here with her husband and five-year-old son, she was quick to realize that when her son grows up he won’t speak Russian and started teaching him herself. Later the children of her friends joined her son. Having thus begun with kitchen lessons, Russian-Jordanian wives created the Russian Center of Culture and a baccalaureate program on Russian at the University of Jordan.

— I studied at Ivanovo State University and married a Jordanian who also studied in Ivanovo. Jordan abounds in such wives from the former Soviet Union. There I first taught Russian to my child because I was afraid he would lose this cultural stratum. He had to learn Arabic, Russian and English, but I made him teach Russian with tears in my eyes. Later Mikhalkovs film was released about the first wave of Russian emigration, where third-generation immigrants had a story to tell about their parents forcing them to learn Russian. They were crying and saying: ‘Why do we need it? They thought they would never come back to Russia. But the time came when the Union disintegrated, the borders opened and they returned. Their children and grandchildren now study at Russian universities.

How did you start teaching Russian to other kids in Jordan?

First I studied only with my son; then I began teaching the kids of my friends in the kitchen, so to say, and then we opened a womens club. We did not have any special conditions, since we were given just a corner in the library. It was necessary to explain to those kids why learning Russian was a must. “Well, you may go to Russia or how will you writer a letter to your grandmas?” Now this is no longer needed because Russian is in high demand. I do not compare us with Europe. Jordan was never part of the socialist camp where Russian was taught at schools. This is not a country where repatriates flock, like Germany and Israel, where Russian is studied at schools as well. Nevertheless, everything has changed radically. First of all, a center of culture was opened, where Ive been working since its foundation and it will soon turn 5. I brought my group to this center and now we have six groups of different levels and every year their number keeps growing. We hold thematic events, celebrate all holidays, including – just imagine this happening in a Moslem country The Day of Slavonic Writing and Culture. The indigenous Arabian population is among our students as well. The number of those who go to study in Russia based on quotas is rising.

Whats more, Jordan is full of ethnic Circassians and Chechens who came to Jordan back at the end of the 19th century and now they seem to be interested in Russia because they get the Russian citizenship and jobs in Russia. So they also come to us to learn Russian. I am not talking about millions, to be sure, but there is a certain progress. Whats more, the National University of Jordan once had Russian as an optional subject, only 50 lessons. However a baccalaureate program on Russian and English was put in place through the efforts of enthusiasts three years ago. I sometimes teach there too, with about 200 people studying there now plus 100 people studying at our Center. In addition, the Russkiy Mir Foundation has opened a wonderful Russian Center at the university. A short time ago a delegation of Moscow university rectors paid a visit to us and they want to open an All-Arab Center at the University of Jordan for studying Russian. We do hope and believe they will. Jordan is a stable nation. While everything is seething and boiling around us, we have certain stability here. I think thats why they chose this country.

Was it exciting to watch these changes happening?

Of course, it was, because I had to teach my son myself, there was nowhere to go. When President Putin was on a visit here, some women approached him and then the process got underway and some money was allocated for repair.

Did Russian wives approach him?

Probably, or the womens club, there are several organizations like that, women being the key driving force, playing a major role in many areas.

How come? You live in a Muslim nation!

This is so indeed. And there was a time when girls did not even learn to play the piano, since this was frowned on. But then Russian women who graduated from the conservatory arrived here and started working at local Conservatories and teaching both girls and boys and now its popular and prestigious. Can you imagine that ballet studios already operate in this Arab nation, even if at the level of small home studios! Women doctors and engineers teach and treat people and this is also thought to be prestigious and they are favored right now.

Whats the dress code for women walking the streets?

Jordan is a secular nation and there are no bans in principle. In addition, 6% of the population is Arab Christians, there are a lot of foreigners and the society is rather motley, split between Europeanized people and a more traditional segment. But there is no special dress code.

What does your husband do?

My husband is an engineer and electrician; he studied in the Ivanovo vocational school and continued his studies in Tashkent. He always works in his specialty. Because a war is raging all around us in Syria, investments in Jordan have run dry and its difficult for my husband to find a job in accordance with his level of skills. Many of our husbands work in the Persian Gulf nations or Saudi Arabia. Our son graduated from the magistrate, majoring in management, and left for the Emirates in spring.

I have only one son so I am not a typical representative of the Arab world where women are different: more children, less freedom. But I meet different people: there are elderly people who studied in the USSR and my young students who love Russia.

For instance, we have an annual concert devoted to the V-Day. Can you imagine this? In Europe nobody celebrates the victory over Nazism, there is a lull there. And we have a grand-scale concert, with children and adults of all ages participating, and we have a Russian-speaking youth club. Already now they start getting ready for this holiday. Last year we received a music team from Belgorod Institute of Culture and could organize a large-scale concert, having rented an auditorium seating 500 people, because there was not enough space at our center. People were standing in the aisles and crying out Hail, Russia!

Whats the attitude of other Jordanian Arabs towards Russia?

Talking about the press, I know many journalists who are the husbands of my friends. They mainly just reprint information from different sources, having no stance of their own. But I also come across people who support and love Russia.

How do people live when a war is raging around?

Well, in this region this is a norm rather than something extraordinary, people just do not take any note, minding their own business and hoping for stability in their own country. The war in the neighboring land has its toll on Jordanian economy as well. We receive a lot of refugees, like Russia where refugees from Eastern Ukraine are flocking. Prices keep growing, many people leave for countries of the Persian Gulf in the search of good jobs, but on the whole life goes on.

Tell us how you ended up participating in the competition of Russian for teachers?

The boss let us know that a competition is going on; it was necessary to answer some questions online and write an essay on a chosen topic. I picked out Russian language and children this was close to me and I told my story which you know already: our way from the home kitchen to a good center with a library and master classes of well-known Moscow professors. I keep telling the kids: You should be bearers of the Russian culture and disseminate the knowledge about Russia, because in local textbooks they write only about Jordan and America. Who was the first to fly in outer space? An American astronaut. Who won in WWII? America! The world must know that Russia abounds in all kind of goods. My dream is making a short film that would cover all achievements of Russia in different fields: science, ballet, art, first piloted space flight, Olympiad… The information is scanty and distorted. Children come up to me and ask: Svetlana Yuryevna, why does our teacher say that an American astronaut was the first to fly in outer space? I tell them: Well, you know the truth, so just share it. Our children growing up in mixed families know the objective information.

Olga Ogaryova
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