Abdel-Kader Centenary - A Castle in English Style
No less than seven schools are to be found in Zqaq
al-Balat. One of them has just celebrated one hundred
years of existence, the Lycée Abdel-Kader,
formerly known as the Lycée des jeunes filles
de la Mission laïque française. It was
not mere chance that the new French Cultural Counselor,
Adrien Lechevallier, devoted October 7th, 2010, to
his first visit to this francophone establishment.
local populations must be persuaded to perfect themselves
according to themselves and not to go against their
own nature,” was the vision of Pierre des Champs,
inspirer and founder of the Mission laïque française
1909 he was charged with setting up a school in Beirut.
The school for girls was to follow a year later. Likewise
in 1914, the founder of the British Syrian Mission,
Mrs. Bowen Thompson, and her sister built what was
to become the Hariri II School and the Lycée
Abdel-Kader, which for some time they occupied. The
latter, a palace in English style, was bought by Dr.
Debrun, who in turn passed it over to the Mission
laïque française in 1929, when it became
the Lycée for young girls. The primary classes
had both boys and girls.
Grand lycée, opened at Sodeco, took in boys.
The Lycée for girls, which was to take the
name of Amir Abdel-Kader and to become co-educational
in 1974, was then made up of two buildings. The more
beautiful of the two, the palace, was reserved to
the kindergarten and the boarding premises for girls.
During the nineteen-forties, a score of young ladies,
come from Baghdad, Palestine or Tripoli, took up residence
there. The other building was occupied by the primary
and the secondary school classes, the girls doing
their last year in the Grand lycée.
“We were already going there for the Science courses
in the penultimate year of the Scientific strand to
take advantage of the laboratories and to have the
opportunity to meet the boys who were waiting for
us,” relates Nour Nour, the walking memory of the
place. She has spent fifty-eight years going along
the corridors, as a pupil from 1933 to 1945 and later
as teacher and librarian till 1991.
ever we returned a book late or in a torn condition,
we had to pay her 10 piastres,” recalls Fatmeh Saghir,
former pupil and present orientation counselor. Every
morning and during school breaks she sold exercise
books stamped with the name of the establishment and
pens and nibs. “We use to buy the nibs most of all
on examination days in order to have good writing.
Those for French had finer points than the ones for
Arabic. We used to dip them in the mauve ink placed
on the tables. The uniform, which is no longer demanded,
had its moments of glory: a black overall with pink
squares for the girls, a blue one for the boys, a
blue marine skirt and white collar, and so on. Fatmeh
remembers that in her time they used to buy them from
Zefir’s in Souq Tawileh. “No woman would wear trousers,”
explains Nour, “but we had red shorts for sport.”
There were prefects-general to ensure discipline and
still remember Madame Lamia Khatib,” exclaims Fatmeh.
“The day after a holiday I still had some smears of
kohl around my eyes. As soon as she saw me she cried
out, ‘Miss, go and wash your face!’ And it was the
same thing if she thought our neckline was too low.”
“Of course, we were never allowed to go out alone,
save those who went home for lunch,” continues Nour.
“If we played truant, we were of course expelled.
But we were allowed to go on a demo near Saint George’s
during the war in Algeria with the slogan, ‘Yes for
independence, yes for Algeria!’”
In 1959 during a speech in memory of Mme. Levy, principal
of the Lycée for twenty-seven years, Madame
Labaki, a former student, recalled that “...during
the conflicts that opposed Lebanon to the Mandate
authorities, the principal did her best to understand
the young people, and when they took part in any movement
of national awakening she did not judge them. For
her the important thing was that they should do their
studies as good pupils of the Lycée and succeed.
She understood our legitimate demands and considered
very wisely that to demand one’s rights did not mean
that one was ungrateful.”
Mission laïque was the first to give care to
Arabic in its institutions,” said Parisot, teacher
in Beirut in 1929 in a review devoted to the teaching
of French outside France. “This fact may surprise
some French people, for it is paradoxical, inhuman,
for Lebanese pupils, like French ones, to pass their
baccalaureate exam in French, their own national language
appearing their only as ‘foreign language’. Like French
students they study the history of France first and
foremost and world history only from the French point
of view. Like French students, they must know all
about the slopes of the Paris Basin and the plateau
of Lannemezan. But Lebanon is a foreign land, just
as their own language is a foreign one, at the French
baccalaureate sat for by the Levantines in Beirut.”
“...from the foundation of its Beirut college, the
Mission laïque devoted considerable time to the
teaching of the local national language and history
... But whatever we may have done, the result remains
and will last that our pupils are more conscious of
the French genius than they are of the Arab or Semitic
genius. Only an imperialist can get any pleasure from
this ... At the same time,” concludes this instructor,
“The French High Commission and the Lebanese government
have just organized a Franco-Lebanese baccalaureate
... To know one’s own country is the first imperative
has a particular memory when her classes of vocabulary
in 1st junior high school with Mme Vidal come to mind.
“She asked us to describe the trees of the Lycée
and we were supposed to be both precise and poetic.
At that time in the large park, now replaced by new
buildings and sports ground, there were any number
of wisteria. Within ten minutes we had to find the
right word to describe the color of the flowers. I
can also tell you about the history classes in 2nd
junior when we had to bring Pompeii back to life with
the appropriate vocabulary. Who would know how to
do that today? The Internet has killed people.”
carries on: “Take the Fables of la Fontaine. We used
to know them by heart for having read them so often.
Nowadays nobody knows them. Without reading, without
instruction, the brain doesn’t work any more.” Both
agree, young people seem less learned.
Incidentally, the children of those working for the
Lycée have always received instruction free.
Nour was the daughter of the gardener. “There was
no distinction between children of different religions
or social levels. We got the grades that we deserved.
The son of the janitor, for example, has become an
ambassador.” As for Aida Labaki, she learnt “...on
the benches of the Lycée that that human brotherhood
is more important than confessional brotherhood.”
This human brotherhood is still to be seen in practice.
“When one passes through the door of the Lycée,
one keeps one’s beliefs but one does not talk about
them. The girls may ware a veil, for we are in Lebanon.
But there is neither Shiite nor Druze nor Christian
nor Sunnite nor white nor yellow, there are only pupils,”
the principal concludes.
Darmency - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer
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