Professors Find Friendship Amid War

BY Ben Hancock (aka thedailytransit)

Published by The Capital Times on August 13.

For the past two years, Susan Friedman has opened up her e-mail box every morning hoping for a sign that her friend is still alive.

Usually, to her relief, there has been an e-mail from her colleague burning to be read. Since she first started receiving them, the contents of those messages have ranged from harrowing – tales of bombings, assassination attempts and murdered neighbors – to utterly inspiring.

For Friedman, a professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was sometimes hard to go back to daily life after reading those e-mails, and even harder to know how to respond. But, she said, what was perhaps most difficult was dealing with her racing mind when no e-mail came.

But last weekend the anxiety lifted when Friedman met for the first time the Iraqi professor with whom she has been corresponding, closing a chapter in their emotional saga and beginning another.

The professor, an Iraqi woman who specializes in American and Arabic feminist literature, arrived in the U.S. on August 1 after receiving a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute, a Harvard school which supports scholarship on women. Out of safety concerns, Friedman has chosen not to disclose the Iraqi professor’s identity.

A Letter from Iraq: In June of 2005, Friedman received from out of the blue a letter written by an Iraqi post-graduate student looking for help – the student wanted to write about three prominent American women writers, but didn’t have any of their books. Friedman responded with some academic advice and promised to send the materials.

But shipping books proved to be a more difficult task than she imagined. Unaware of an embargo on packages to Iraqi citizens (which does not apply to U.S. soldiers in Iraq) mandating that all parcels not exceed 12 ounces, Friedman was turned away from the post office and had to buy a scale so she could repackage everything. “And if I wanted to send a book, I ripped it in half,” she said, “typically because many books are just too heavy.”

The dialogue between Friedman and the Iraqi woman moved beyond academics and became more personal. The woman expressed heartbreak at having to leave her youngest child with her mother while she pursued a Ph.D., and vented to Friedman about dealing with her husband ‘s disapproval.

“Since she had exposed so much personal stuff I wrote back telling her some things about my life, too,” Friedman said, “And I think that broke the ice, I think I discovered something from that.”

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