Al mashriq - The Levant

Recess in 1917

by Harold G. Dorman '22

In 1916 and 1917 the Faculty School, located just next to the Syrian Protestant College (A.U.B.) Hospital, had a good large playground, and there was a continuous, marathon game of Prisoners' Base that went on at every recess and every before- school time when early arrivals were waiting for the school bell to ring. The teams were always boys against girls, so you never doubted on which side you were on. For those unfortunates who are not familiar with Prisoners' Base, let me explain briefly that one team owns one long border line of the playground or field, and the other team the opposite border. While you are touching your own line you are invulnerable. When you run out in the open space between, you are "fresher" than whoever from the other side left their safety line before you left yours, and you would "capture" him simply by tagging him.

In those days, the game assumed mammoth importance and excitement for us. At recess we would pour out on to the playground, touch our own base line as a starter, and boldly move towards the central open area in challenge and defiance of any "fresher" girl who would emerge to chase us off. The game was hot and furious. On a warm day, even a fifteen-minute recess would leave you absolutely streaming with sweat as you returned to your desk and tried to concentrate on geography or French. A longer period for the game might be even as prolonged as half an hour, during the before-school time as kids were arriving. It might start by two or three boys going across the empty playground and standing on the girl's home base borderline. We would start chanting to the three or four girls who were chatting on the school steps, "We're sitting on your side, we're sitting on your side," until they couldn't stand it and would come and chase us off. But even more exciting were the times when we came to school and found the game well in progress, with the girls in such numerical superiority that they were all over the place and pressing the boys back. We would no sooner get inside the school gate than the wail would greet us from the boys' side, "Hurry up! We NEED you! We NEED you!" We would rush in, hurl our books on the ground, and start dislodging those smug girls from their proudly occupied advance positions!

All this was during the terrible war years of World War I, and gives an idea of how completely, as kids, we were sheltered by our parents from what was going on around us. Beirut in 1916 and 1917 was still part of the Turkish Empire. The wheat fields and fruit orchards of Lebanon were commandeered by the government and the wheat and fruit taken off to feed the Turkish army. Terrible starvation was rampant. We kids were not taken downtown, where dead bodies were sometimes lying on the sidewalks, beggars or even ordinary people starved to death. But we did use to see and wonder at the great circular patches of orange color that began to appear on the rough plaster walls that lined Beirut's streets and gardens, little orange circles and larger ones too. They were made by starving people who, during orange season when oranges were all over the place, had got hold of a piece of fruit, perhaps a discard, and had been unwilling to waste even a bit of the rind. The white of the rind of the orange is not bad, but the orange color is bitterly sharp. So, a starving person would carefully rub off every bit of color on the rough plaster wall of the street before proceeding to devour the fruit with every bit of its white rind.

When we were in school, Miss Winifred Thornton was principal. She had come to Beirut from England in 1903 or 1905 to be tutor for S.P.C. President Howard Bliss's kids at home. The Community School, or rather the "Faculty School," soon grew by the addition of other faculty children meeting with Miss Thornton at the Blisses' house and later moving into a little school in a separate building. One of those early Bliss kids came to be a teacher in the school and taught me fifteen years later. She was Margaret (Bliss) Leavitt, whose children are second generation A.C.S. alums, as are ours.