Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking back, then forward

Friday is our weekend – so we had a day off from visits and meetings. The University of Damascus very kindly provided us with a driver and tour guide to take us out for the morning. We visited Ma’alula. This famous village is some 56 km from Damascus, and is situated at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. Its little houses cling to the face of an enormous rock; they look suspended in mid-air. There are two monasteries here; Saint Sergius and Saint Taqla's.The inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. If you are interested in Ma’alula you can find out more at: If you ever get to Syria I would strongly recommend that you visit this fascinating city.

On the way back one of us asked our guide "Where is the Road to Damascus” – he simply said “You are on it”. It is strange to think we were on the road that St Paul travelled so long ago. As we drove through the city we stopped by the old city walls. Our guide pointed out a small window in the wall near one of the gates. He told us that this was the window that St Paul had jumped out of to escape the Romans. This is a city where people describe structures that are a thousand years old as “modern”. There is history everywhere going back 4000 years.

In the afternoon Ali kindly took us to the Umayyad Mosque. You can find out more about the Mosque at: It is one of the largest and oldest Mosques in the world. It was build in 705AD and took 10 years to build. We wandered around inside the Mosque taking in the very special atmosphere.

Syria is a very friendly and safe place to visit. We have walked around the city and at all times have been made to feel welcome. This will come as a surprise to some people – but I can honestly say I have never felt more comfortable or safe in a country. This is in complete contrast to a trip I made to South America a few years ago.

I am sure this visit will generate quite a lot of activity for CQUniversity. If this leads to a chance for you to travel to Syria I would recommend that you take it without hesitation. I know I want to come back here on my “own time” in the near future.

Our one day weekend came to an end and we were back at work on Saturday. On this day we visited one of the largest private universities in Syria – the Arab International University AIU. The University has about 4500 students and five faculties Pharmacy, Civil Engineering, Architecture, Fine Arts and Informatics Engineering. The University is only five years old but is growing very fast.

We visited the University on a very interesting day. They were holding a ceremony to celebrate the start of an intensive workshop entitled “New Challenges in Drug Delivery Systems”. This workshop was being delivered by the Martin Luther University from Germany. So there were a number of German visitors. We attended the ceremony and the Deputy Minister for Higher Education was present. We had a chance to meet him after the ceremony.

During the day we had meetings with the President of the University Professor Dr. rer. Nat. Abdul Ghani Maa Bared. He was very generous with his time and we discussed ways in which our two universities can work together. During the day we also met the Vice President Professor Dr. Faek Diko, Professor Dr. Abdul Razak Cheikh Issa the Vice President for Quality & Academic Accreditation, the Dean of University Requirements Dr T. (Jack) S. Toumajian and the Head of International Office Dr. Dr. h. c. Thomas Teuscher. We asked why Dr Dr – he told us that one PhD was in Arabic and the other was in English.

We came to the conclusion that there were many ways that our two universities could work together. They would like us to run intensive workshops. They would like our staff to visit their university. They are happy to cover the expenses for these trips. We also want to look at the possibility of joint degrees, joint research, and student and staff exchanges. Once I get back to Australia I will be talking to the PVC Faculties and CMS about how we can pursue this relationship. We will be looking to sign a MOU with this University.

In the evening we were invited out to a dinner by the President of the University. At this event we also had the chance to meet with the Chair of the Board of University Trustees Dr. Mohammad Imady. He is also the Chairman of the Syrian Commission on Financial Markets and Securities. The University was very generous with their time and hospitality. I hope we will be able to work with this University in the future.

1 comment:

Shazhi said...

Greetings Professor Bowman,

Understandably, as a CQUniversity employee of Syrian descent, I read your blogs of your travels in the Middle East with much interest. Sepcifically your journey to Syria.

Having travelled to Syria several times its pleasing to hear such positive comments on a country which is truly a "living museum".

And you have certainly made a good impression, with relatives contacting me from Syria advising me of a University VC travelling through their country. Good news travels fast.

Ill be heading back to Syria in August for a holiday. However if you require a representative in Syria during my time there im available.

All the best.

Shazhi Yaghi
Student Advisor
CQUniversity Sydney Campus