Golden School Days

By Nadia Tobia, Architect
March 2021


Documentary of School days in Baghdad from the kindergarten to end of high school. Memories of schools, principals, teachers, activities, events and the environment. 1. British Council Kindergarten / Ms. Saywell and Al Sadoon Park Neighbourhood, 2. Al Mansour Primary Private School, 3. Baghdad High School and 4. Al Sharqiya High School for Girls. These are the schools I went to from 1958 to 1972, while living in Al Sadoon Park Neighbourhood. 


Part 1:  British Council Kindergarten 1958 – 1960 and The Neighbourhood

The School 

We used to walk both ways to Ms. Saywell, the British Council Kindergarten in Al Sadoon Park neighbourhood. On the trip home, we sometimes took a horse carriage from the nearby Maji supermarket on Nidhal Street after picking up a few items. It was a bumpy but fun ride back home.

Ms. Saywell was the principal, but the school was always referred to as Misaywell pronounced as one word. The school was established in January 1947 with 23 Iraqi and 17 British students (1). Ms. Saywell retired in the mid 1960s and Ms. Jean Sounders became the principal until the school closed in 1968 (TBC). After its closure, the entire staff moved to the newly opened kindergarten at Al Tasissiya School in Al Mansour.

Our teacher was Ms. Nayfeh Ghantous, who now lives in the US and was kind enough to provide some relevant information to me. Teachers in the 1960s also included Ms. Salma Jazrawi, Ms. Ann Alvarez, Ms. Afaf and Ms. Omar.

Ms Olive Saywell received recognition from the British King in 1951 and the Queen in 1962 for being the headmistress of the British Council Kindergarten in Baghdad as documented in the London Gazette for those years (2)(3).

The school moved in 1959 from the south side of  Al Sadoon Park to the north side of the park, and remained in the new location until it closed. I attended from 1958 to 1960. I spent one year in the old location and one year in the new location north of Al Sadoon Park. The school building was a rented house used as a kindergarten and it overlooked a roundabout. It had a curved side to it, was clad in brick, and had a balcony over the ground floor with white painted metal rails. There was a nice, fairly good size garden and the students did many activities outdoors.

Ms. Olive Saywell at the British Council Kindergarten, 1960s, Image Courtesy Ghada Frangoul.

Ms. Salma Jazrawi at the British Council Kindergarten, 1960s, Image Courtesy Wanda Franguol.

Horse carriage similar to the ones in Al Sadoon Park

The Neighbourhood

Obviously, my friends and I do not recall much of the school activities and remember Ms. Saywell only vaguely. After asking several of them, one friend remembers singing “Ring-a-ring-a-rosies” and “Humpty Dumpty”,… but we remember the park, the neighborhood, the houses, the gardens and the streets, because they remained with us as we grew up.

Al Sadoon Park was established by the mayoralty of Baghdad in the early 1930s. At that time Arshad Al Omari, an architect (1888 Mosul -1978 Baghdad) was the Mayor of Baghdad and later became the prime minster of Iraq. Al Sadoon Park was named after Abdul Muhsin Al Sadoon who had died a few years earlier (1879 -1929). He was a politician who served as Prime Minister of Iraq on four occasions between 1922 and 1929. The area was mostly vacant land and included a horse race track, which can be traced today in the curved streets pattern. Several families constructed their houses in the 1940s, and by the 1960s Al Sadoon Park area was filled with new houses. The standard residential plot size in the area was 600 square meters sometimes double that size and a few triples. Al Sadoon Park neighbourhood east boundary was the Eastern Dike (now Mohammad Al Qassim Highway) a 10 to 15 meters high earth dike, which was one of the defence lines against floods. In March 1954 the area was under serious flood warning and fear, but the the anticipated flood did not occur in this area, and Park Al Sadoon neighbourhood was saved.

Marked star indicate Al Sadoon Park neighbourhood and the adjacent Eastern Dike Boundary. Image, Baghdad Book, published by Iraqi Engineering Union

Al Sadoon Park was a large oval shape of about 60,000 square meters. A huge grassy area in the middle and lots of trees mainly Eucalyptus on the periphery. There was a roller-skating rink, children play area with swings, lots of benches and trolleys selling soda drinks. Rows of oleander (defla) bushes would line some of the side streets, and the bottle brush trees were popular. Elias plant an ever green shrub was shaped and shaved, especially into dividers or boundaries in landscape design.

The park was irrigated through a network of shallow ditches “saqi” providing raw water. The “saqi” ran along the streets into the park and also into the private gardens. Later these were replaced with piped raw water irrigation system. Each house had two water supply systems, drinking water and raw water for the plants.

The houses had fences that were not too high, allowing the climbing plants and trees to hang over from their gardens into the street. The private gardens usually had a central lawn, surrounded by beds of flowers mainly roses and annual plants such as, zinnias, snapdragons (halq al sabba’a), holly hocks (khatmia), and stocks, matthiola incanas (Shaboy). Typically, behind the flower beds you would find a ditch for irrigation then a row of citrus and fruit trees, all along the house fence, and one or two palm trees. Of course, the bougainvillea (jahanamiya) was everywhere with its strong and vibrant colours.

Fruit trees in the gardens included, orange, lemon, lime, sweet lemon, grapefruit, mandarin (lalingi), pomelo (cindy), fig, sour pomegranate, apricot, a foreign fruit tree called loquat “angia dunia”, mulberry “tut”, and Seville orange (narange) its juice used for salad dressing or a chicken dish called “chicken mai narange” and its skin made into marmalade.  Another important fruit tree was a kind of citron (turunj) with the rind used for making marmalade. Its colour was golden if cooked perfectly. Almost every house had grape vines, the leaves of which were essential for making Dolma (vine levees stuffed with rice and meat). People loved planting fruit trees; one house may have every type.

One very prestigious fruit tree was the Nebiq tree, (ziziphus spina christi). Its delicious fruit was sought after by the birds and children, who competed to get to it first. Children would climb the tree or throw stones to bring the Nebiq down.

At certain times of the year, one would smell the orange blossoms or the jasmine flowers when walking down the streets. Flowers with strong scent such as gardenia and in particular “rasqi” (kind of jasmine) a small white flower, was a favorite of Baghdad people, who may carry one and keep sniffing it as they walk.

Eucalyptus Tree similar to the ones in Park Al Sadoon Area

Orange tree blossoms

Nebiq Tree Fruit

Snapdragon Flower ``Halq al Sabe'a``

Stock, Matthiola Incana Flower ``Shaboy``

Narange Marmalade, Photo by Rabia'a Allos

Turunge Marmalade, Image Engineer Kholod Kitchen

Grape Vine Dolma

In the residential streets the neighbourhood children played marbles “Du’bul” and the Iraqi version of Hopscotch “Tuki”,played with a small stone and selecting the right stone was important. Young people mostly boys gathered in the evenings under the park’s light poles to chat, read or study

Street deliveries and other activities took place: fresh bread was delivered by bicycle early every morning and was left on the fence pillar; the shoeshine man who, as far as I can remember, was always the same person, and came every Friday morning to install himself in front of the house with his tools before ringing the bell. Gasoline was delivered by a tank pulled by a horse; Coca Cola came by truck so did the products of the dairy factory in Abu Ghraib, (they were the only ones using a vehicle); a salt cart, fruit cart and the man buying and selling used items, today called a garage sale; and the postman on his bicycle was our only connection to the world. In the spring and autumn strong men appeared to provide a carpet cleaning service. They cleaned them by shaking them and then hanging them on the roof parapet for the day, and sometimes washing them. The sewer cleaner wandered on foot, announcing his service by loudly shouting “Nazah Nazah”.  Most did the same, but some used a primitive ringing device.

Marbles Street Game, ``Du'bul ``

Tuki Street Game, played with a piece of stone

Dairy Delivery Truck 1957

In addition to the residential streets, the area contained public and institutional buildings, a number of embassies and residencies, such as; the Syrian and Dutch Embassies, and the Dutch ambassador residence (by architect Gabriel Khamo), the Spanish and Malaysian residencies. Other institutional buildings included the Green Palace (the near by White Palace and the Green Palace were used as government VIP guest houses), the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (completed in 1947 by architect Ellen Jawdet). Adel School known as Madam Adel established in 1932 and led by its principal Layla Adel.

The two private maternity hospitals; Al Samarraie Maternity Hospital (both the old location and new location) established in 1950 by Dr. Kamal Al Samrraie; and the 20 bed Al Haidary Maternity Hospital, built in 1956 by Dr. Salim Al Haidery

Several churches were in the area; National Evangelical Protestant Church; Catholic Chaldean Church built in 1966 (Um Al Ma’ouna); and the Seventh – day Adventist Church (200 seat church built in 1961). The Adventist also built and operated the 85 bed Dar El Salam Hospital which was on the corner of the round-about just east of the Iraqi Engineering Society. Construction was completed in 1954, with 40 medical professionals from the United States and Europe. Dar El Salam Hospital was nationalized in 1959 and the American medical foreign staff were deported. The hospital was originally established in 1946 in a hotel building on Rashid Street, that was owned by the Adventist brothers Bashir and Nassif Hasso. They offered the hotel to be used as a hospital, until the mission could build a new permanent facility.(4)

The well known architectural engineering office Iraq Consult (Rifat Al Chadirji, and partners), moved to Al Sadoon Park location in 1960/1961. The Iraqi Engineering Society completed in 1950. A committee was established to design the building it included architect Ahmed Mukhtar Ibrahim (known as the first Iraqi architect), architect Hazim Namiq and the structural engineer Niazi Fetto.(5) The building design was one of the modern examples of architecture in Baghdad at the time. The building had three large and tall wooden doors for the entrance, leading to a long corridor that reached to a nice backyard garden. The garden was used for outdoor movies and monthly parties with live music and singing. The sound from the movies and music was heard all over the neighbourhood, especially during the summer nights when people used to sleep on the flat roofs of their houses. Next was the Auberge Night Club, which had an environment suitable for families outings, and had good quality performances.  The location later became the Armenian Athletic Club. Near by was  the Ministry of Oil Cultural Club.

At one time the famous singer Afifa Iskender (1921 Mosul – 2012 Baghdad) lived in this area. She was one of the early settlers, and it is said that when she would recognize her neighbours who had attended one of her performances, she  would walk to their table and sing to them.

Public figures who lived in the area included Major General Ghazi Dghstani, Nassrat Al Farisi Minister of Economics (1936), Minister of Justice and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1948) and member of parliament, Dr. Matta Akrawi first president of Baghdad University (1957-1958) and Dean of Higher Teachers College (Dar Al Mua’lameen Al U’lia) (1941-1945), Dr. Hashim Al Witry Dean of Medical College (1937-1939, 1941-1942 and 1946-1953). It is remembered that Mr. Al Faris, Dr. Akrawi and Dr. Al Witry lived along the same street at the north part of the park. In the  area lived, Dr. Rose Khadoury Dean of Women College at Baghdad University (1958 -1963), Ms. Suad Al Omari who was Head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and Director at Orozdi Back. Immediately to the west of Nidhal Street opposite Al Sadoon Park was the residence of Mohamed Hadid Minster of Finance (1958 -1960) and father of the renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The Hadid’s house was designed in the early 1930s by the Syrian architect Badri Qadah.

Iraqi Engineering Society, completed 1950.

Iraqi Red Crescent Society completed 1947, by architect Ellen Jawdet.

Dar El Salam Hospital, completed 1954, By the Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Afifa Iskander, the well known Iraqi singer

There were many houses that stood out. One in particular – a house that imitated Villa Um Kalthoum in Cairo, designed in the 1930s by the Egyptian architect Ali Labeeb Jabr. The Baghdadi version belonged to the businessman Mahdi Saleh Ta’ayma and his family, and was built in the early 1950s. Another house that is different than the others in style, was  owned by Mr. Salman Al Sheikh Daoud, member of the Iraqi parliament, whose  wife was from Hungry. I always wondered about the house style, until recently when I saw a similar one in Budapest. Mystery solved !

My parents designed and built their house in 1953 in Al Sadoon Park neighbourhood, opposite to grandmother’s house which was built in 1948 when they moved from Mosul to Baghdad. Grandmother’s house was designed by Niazi Fetto a structural engineer, who later designed a similar but more elaborate house for Dr. Fathalla and Nazhat Akrawi in Kardat Mariam – today’s green zone. This house was one of my favorites at that time with its avant-guard architecture, interiors and landscape.

Ta'ayma Villa in Park Al Sadoon neighbourhood, Baghdad.

Villa Um Kalthoum in Al Zamalek, Cairo. completed in 1930's By Architect Labeeb Jabr

Park Al Sadoon Neighbourhood

Al Sadoon Park Neighbourhood map index:

1) Al Sadoon Park, 2) British Council Kindergarten, 3) Maji supermarket and Horse Carriage Station, 4) Spanish Ambassador Residence, 5) Green Palace, 6) Taima Family House (Umm Kalthoum Villa), 7) Afifa Iskander House, 8) Dutch Ambassador Residence, 9) Malaysian Ambassador Residence, 10) Iraqi Engineering Society, 11) Auberge Night Club, 12) Oil Cultural Club, 13) Al Andalus Square 14) Al Samarrai Hospital, 14a) Al Samarrai Hospital old location, 15) Al Nidhal Street, 16) Red Crescent, 17) Syrian Embassy, 18) Seventh Day Advent Church, 19) Dutch Embassy, 20) Madam Adel school, 21) Al Haidary Hospital, 22) Dar El Salam Hospital. Note locations are approximate.

Handsome street cats wandered around the area, and some people had dogs. Healthy frogs used to enjoy swimming in the raw water in the ditches (saqi), their “ribbit” very clear and loud, especially at night.  Some houses had chickens for fresh morning eggs and we had a neighbouring rooster whose crow was the alarm clock; he stood proudly on the house fence and crowed every morning. I still remember his personality and style. Hamam groups (pigeons), raised by a couple of neighbours on their homes’ flat roofs, used to make their daily rounds in the sky. A large flock of sheep passed regularly in front of our house on their way to the river for a drink, chewing the leaves dangling over the houses fences as they walked. This did not sit well with our dogs who were always annoyed. Local birds such as the little asfour and bulbul lined up along the electric wires, waiting for their morning breakfast of properly-sized bread crumbs to be scattered on the lawn.

We always had pets in our house. We had two dogs Satuta and Anter, (named after the Egyptian movie titled Ana Satuta 1947, and the other after Anter Ibn Shadad, the poet 525 AD – 608 AD).

Followed by Banana, a beautiful cocker spaniel who later had three puppies. Banana came from my brother’s class friend Omar Araim and the puppies were also given to school friends. Our dog Mishmish (meaning apricot which was his colour) was our last dog. He came from my brother’s class friend Yousif Al Bustani. Mishmish was a well-known and prominent figure in the neighborhood, and children would stop by and have a friendly chat with him.

We had a pair of chukar partridges locally named Qabij, the national bird of Kurdistan, Iraq. These birds are known for their sound rhythm, as if they are reading. We named the birds Cabochard (after the perfume), and they used to “read” a long poem every morning! Inviting her self to the group was Bobolina the street cat, named after Bobolina in “Zorba the Greek”.  Our cousin raised rabbits and when he visited us, instead of bringing house gifts such as flowers or food, we used to get a pair of rabbits as pets. Most of the time we had a pair of love birds, and a small fish tank, but that was not successful.

Next Step

Many of the children from Ms. Saywell School went to Al Mansour Primary Private School, so did I. After all these years Yasmin Gabriel, Ghada Al Madfai and myself who attended the school and were in the same grade, have stayed good friends until today.


Yasmin Gabriel and Nadia Tobia, Dubai, UAE 2017

Part 2:  Al Mansur Primary Private School 1960-1966

The School

Baghdad city is divided by the river Tigris into the Karkh / west side and and Russafa / east side of the river. The location of the school I attended from 1960 to 1966 was in Al Karkh, and our house was in Al Sadoon neighbourhood in Al Russfa. It was quite a distance and a long daily journey.

My brother Zaidoon and I were bussed to school every day. Our daily route was through Tahrir Square and crossing the river by Tahrir Bridge. We had the same wonderful and reliable driver, Qassim, for six years, who first drove an old-fashioned bus, that looked as if it were made of wood. After a couple of years, we rode in a brand-new Mercedes bus. Each morning my father would greet Qassim and oversee the boarding, and in the afternoon the return of his two children from school. One strict bus rule was not to speak or make noise, and the punishment was severe for those who disobeyed the rule.

Aerial view of Al Mansour Primary School

Al Mansour Private Primary School, completed 1960's, by architect Sa'ed Ali Madhloom.

Al Muthana Airport, located east side of the School

Aerial View index

1) School Entrance, 2) Administration, 3) Dining Hall, 4) Courtyard for first grade, 5) Multipurpose Hall, 6) Courtyard for second grade and third grade, 7) Art studio 8) Courtyard for grade four, five and six, 9) Courtyard for e-classes, 10) Sports day back field.

The school was established with the name Al Ta’sissiyah School in 1950 in Al Sadoon Park area in a rented house that belonged to Al Haidary family. It started with 19 students in grade one graduating in 1956. It was established by the British Council and the efforts of the students’ parents. The pioneer students in the first year, starting 1950 and graduating in 1956 included; The twin sisters Layla and Aysar Akrawi, Nabil Juweida, Samiramis Al Orfali, Huda Al Zahawi, Pano Ignatiadis, Farid Fetto, Ibrahim Oral (son of Turkish Ambassador), Yezan Nashaat and many more. The students starting in 1951 and graduating in 1957 included; Salam Khadoury, Basil Al Aswad, Mano Ignatiadis, Zaidoon Ahmed Hafidth, Wisam Seleem Hakeem, Sabeeka Oral (Daughter of Turkish Ambassador), Roger Issawi, Hanaa Al Orfali, Walid Abboo, Nadheer Al Aani, Jihan Kamal Al Samaraee and many more. The principal was Mr. Lester and his pioneer staff were; Ms. Sofi Mubarak, Ms. Leyous, Ms. Mary Bakhaya (Science), Mr. Ibrahim Al Khoury (Arabic) Ms. Bahiya (Arabic), and a few others.

After a short closure between 1957 and 1958, the school re-opened for grades 1 to 4 in a new building in Al Mansour / Karkh  in 1959. The first graduation at that location took place in 1961. The school had an elected board of directors, and the board president, during most of the 1960s was Mr. Abdul Jabar Ismail. The school name was changed from Al Tassisiya to Al Mansour Private Schools after its move, and later another name change to Al Mansour Al Tasissiya School. In 1967 the school was expanded to include a high school for boys and girls in a new building at the same location. A new kindergarten was also established in a new building on the same premises. The School was nationalized in 1969, and similar to other private schools became public in that year.

The school was located just to the east of Al Mansour area. It was off Damascus Road opposite Al Washash Military Campus, which later became Al Zawra’a Gardens and Zoo. The school was behind the Iraqi’s Fine Artist Association building (built in1967 by Architect Qahtan Al Madfai) and immediately to the east was Al Muthana Airport / Baghdad International Airport (built in1935 by architect H.C. Mason).

The school architect was S’aid Ali Madhloom (1921 Baghdad, Iraq – 2015 UK). The school design was spread out and very simple, low in height and a good scale for small children, with an easy wayfinding approach. The design was based on four courtyards each surrounded by classrooms. One of the courtyards was mostly dedicated to foreign students, where all the subjects were taught in English and it was called the e-section. The courtyards were green spaces with trees but not overly landscaped. The school had a multi-purpose hall, dining hall, drawing and craft studio, and a small library on the mezzanine level of the main hall.  There was a very large back yard where the most important annual event took place: Sports Day.

Mr. Lester and his wife, School Principal in 1961. Image Courtesy Nada Sulayman.

Mr. Hatley School Principal, Ms. Mubarek and Mr. Reynolds in the 1960s

Ms. Sofi Mubarek at the school hall. 1960s

Mr. Lester was the principal from 1950 to 1961 followed by Mr. Hartley from 1961 to 1967. Their executive assistant was the very distinguished Ms. Sofi Mubarak originally from Lebanon, who became the principal after Mr. Hartley finished his term in 1967 and until her retirement in 1991. She was extremely dedicated to the school and to her students and kept the school’s high standards, discipline and quality maintained. She had an exceptionally strong personality and was admired by many generations of students.

We had some excellent teachers. There was Mr. Yousif Ateeq who taught us that a cubic meter is the size of the water tank located on the roof of each house in Baghdad. He made us, with our parents, visit the roof to measure the tank. Mrs. Lester the principal’s wife, taught us embroidery in grade one using big mesh and wool yarn. The well-known contemporary Iraqi painter, Suad Al Attar, was our art teacher. Ms Mary Bakhaya taught us science and we sang with Mr. Sherman “Three Blind Mice” and “Row Row Row your Boat”.

Our first text book was “Al Qira’a Al Khaldouniya”  by Satt’a Al Hussari (born in Yemen in 1879 to Syrian parents living and working in Yemen – and died in Baghdad in 1968).  The book was named after his son Khaldoun, and followed a teaching method based on pronouncing the letters first and then the words containing those letters.

It was the custom at the beginning of the school year, all text books were covered with brown paper and labeled, a very important activity for parents and students that took over the entire dining table. We got pencils holder, pencil sharpener, rubber eraser and a ruler. There were no backpacks then, we had box-shaped bags with metal locks.

Ms. Niran Al Samarraie and Mr. Reynolds directed and produced a play of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves of Baghdad “, where Ali Barbouti from my class was the Sultan and I took a two minute role as one of the dancing performers. One of the play highlights was when the cave opened, and Mr. Reynolds had to make a noise like that of rumbling stones behind the stage by vibrating a big sheet of metal.

Sample page of Al Khaldouniya reading text book, 1960s.

Khaldouniya reading text book, 1960s.

Ms. Sua'ad Al A'ttar, the well known Iraqi contemporary painter.

Sports Day was the most important day in the entire school year. There were four sports teams; red, blue, green and yellow. The red team was usually the winner during my six years at the school.

On Sports Day, all students wore stunning and spotless white outfits with their team colour ribbon, neatly tied with a bow to the left side. It was a happy moment when our mother made the final touches to the red bow before the school bus picked us up for the big day (a sheet of instructions would have been sent to the parents prior to the event). We would arrive at the school, the tribal-style tents were up, one side for the students and the other side for the parents and invited dignitaries. A military band played marching music, flags were everywhere, the field marked with white chalk lines and Mr. Hartley, Ms. Mubarak and Mr. Reynolds all very busy getting ready for the parents’ arrival and the start of the Sports Day.

The teams competed in many sports and collected points for the individual sport activity. I used to compete in high jump and my brother got the trophy for 100 meters every year.  The most exciting and important race was the 4×400 relay, and the one I liked most was the tug of war between the colour teams, and the screams that came with it.  The final moment was when the colour team leaders, a girl and a boy from the sixth grade, received the big trophy. They were true heroes!

Ali Barbouti receiving a trophy 1961. Ms. Layous and Mr. Abdul Jabar Isamil . Image Courtesy Ali Barbouti.

Sawsen Akrawi and Mohamad Abdul Muna'am Al Gailani receiving the Red Team trophy 1967, from Mr. Rajab Abdul Majeed and Mr. Abdul Jabar Ismail. Image Courtesy Sawsen Akrawi and Mohamad Al Gailani.

Yasmin Gabriel front row far left, grade three, 1962/1963.

Students brought snacks from home such as sandwiches, especially egg, chicken or cheese – mostly Kraft cheddar cheese in the blue tin.  We enjoyed cookies mostly it was biscuits and homemade Klecha, which is the national Iraqi cookie. It is baked before each and every Eid regardless of which Eid you celebrated.  One united recipe and shape, but each household gave their own touch.

For the daily routine, all classes lined up in the courtyard prior to entering the dining hall for lunch.  We first washed our hands and then stood in rows, opened our hands palm side up for inspection by teachers who would send any one with dirty hands back to the washroom, delaying the entire class.

My favorite main dish from the lunch menu was fried Bizz fish with red rice and fried potatoes and the second favorite was Iraqi style pasta, which is long macaroni cooked with ground meat and tomato sauce. It had a lot of juice and was served on a bed of white rice. I guess it was cooked like the Iraqi stew dish but it was pasta. The third favorite was shepherd’s pie. The favorite dessert was chocolate custard. We were seated by class at long tables, and after we finished, the teachers inspected the cleanliness of the tables, with the cleanest tables allowed to leave the hall first to enjoy the long recess.

Birthdays were big events during primary school days, and the entire class was invited by written invitation to the party. Those who had their birthdays in the summer missed out a lot. Students had an autograph book in which wrote short paragraphs and drawings to each other. Collecting stamps was popular, hours were spent arranging them in special books. Exchanging stamps with class friends was similar to making big deals.

Klecha Cookies .

Red Rice, as in the school lunches.

Kraft Cheddar Cheese in a Blue Tin

Next Step

The six primary school years ended in 1966 with a very demanding baccalaureate exam,  but I always managed nicely.

The trend after Al Mansour Private Primary School was that most of the girls went to Baghdad High School (BHS) in Al Mansour and the boys went to Baghdad College in Sulaikh.  I followed this path and attended BHS, for three years from 1966 to 1969.

After nearly sixty years since primary school, only a few of us have crossed paths, and kept in contact regularly. Yasmin Gabriel and Ali Barbouti, from my class and Shuhub Yasoub Rafiq and Sawsen Akrawi from a lower grade are among the friends that we continue to communicate and meet.

Shuhub Yasoub Rafiq and Nadia Tobia, Italy 2015

Part 3:  Baghdad High School in Al Mansour 1966 – 1969

The School

The school was opened in 1925 by Mrs. Mary De Thomas, when the United Mission of Mesopotamia was organized. It was officially licensed in 1945 by the Ministry of Education, first was called the American School for Girls in Baghdad, and later became Baghdad High School in Al Mansour.

It moved several times until it reached its final location in the Al Mansour area off Al Amirat Street in Al Karkh side of the river. In 1925 it was in Ras El Quriah; in 1927 near King Faisal Bridge ( Al Ahrar Bridge); then in a location in Bab El Sheik.  Around 1946 it was located in a rented building in Al Bataween closer to Bab Al Sharji in what used to be the Egyptian Embassy.(6) Land was purchased in Al Mansour and construction started in 1951, and the school opened in 1953 while some construction was still in progress.

The school was even further out from our house than the previous primary school. I was bussed to the school again. This time the path from Al Sadoon Park took us through Karada Dakhel, and we crossed the river over the Suspended Bridge in Al Jaderiya. We drove through Al Harthiya, to Al Mansour Street until we reached the school. The journey took at least one hour each way.

Baghdad High School prior to moving to Al Mansour Location. Echo Book

Ms. Lynda Craver Principal 1946 - 1958 and 1962 - 1965. Image Echo Book

Ms. Mary Ingle, Principal until 1969, Image Echo Book.

The building was designed by architect Ellen Jawdet (1921 India -2020 US), an American Harvard University graduate and wife of architect Nizar Jawdet. It was not the typical school design of courtyard layouts, but rather an entirely different concept, which was fresh and uplifting. The design was responsive to the weather, introducing new but simple approaches. The classrooms were designed in a T-shaped plan, with a grand stair case at the junction of the T.  One classroom wing was elevated on columns providing large shaded outdoor gathering spaces. Cross-ventilation was provided by high windows on one side and full windows on the other side. Classes were oriented to south and east, with shaded open corridors to the west. New uses of materials were incorporated for the school, such as exposed concrete brick in the interior of the classrooms. The gardens were well maintained with simple landscaping and grass fields.

We had a good-sized multipurpose hall for gatherings and performances, many sport courts, a home economics lab, an English language lab, and a science lab. There was a cozy library, and my first borrowed book was “Little Women” by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869.

Aerial View, 1) Drop off area, 2) Administration, 3) Canteen, 4) Classrooms, 5) Multipurpose hall, 6) Sport courtyards.

Baghdad High School, Image Presbyterian Historic Society

Baghdad High School main staircase. Image, Presbyterian Historic Society

Ellen Jawdet, Photo by Rifat Al Chadirji. Image Courtesy Yaqthan Chadirji

When I started at the school in 1966, Ms. Mary Ingle was the principal. She, with  her executive assistant Ms. Matilda Lamy, ran the school efficiently and smoothly with a low-key approach. They led an excellent team of Iraqi and American teachers.

Ms. Lynda Carver (1903-1994) was the principal from 1962 to 1965. Ms. Purchase and Ms. Tylor acted as interim principals a couple of times in the late fifties and early sixties while Ms. Carver was away. Ms. Margret Purchase (1926-2009) was in Iraq from 1956 to1969.

Ms. Carver joined the school as a principal in 1946 until approximatly1958, when she had to  take some time off, due to her mother’s health, (according to her interview in 1980) (6). She had been instrumental in arranging the purchase of the new land in Al Mansour. It is said that she negotiated well with Al Mansour Company owners of the land, to reach a good deal. She left the school and Iraq for the last time in 1967.

Ms. Ingle was British and was the last foreign principal of the school. The 1968 Iraqi revolution forced Ms. Ingle and the American teachers to leave in 1969 in a dramatic way during the school year. The School was made Iraqi -“Iraqization” – by the teachers’ union in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministry of Education. The school resumed in September 1969 with Ghania Al Gatt’a as principal.  While I moved that September to another high school most, if not all, of my class continued at the school, graduating in 1972.

Baghdad High School principal, assistant principal and some of the teachers 1967/1968, Echo Book

Baghdad High School, principal , assistant principal and some of the teachers  1967/1968

Back Row

Ms. Matilda Lami – Assistant Principal, Ms. Carol Guerin, Ms. Mary Ingle – Principal, Ms. Richards, Ms. Jean Al alman, Ms. Rabah Al-Rikabi

Middle Row

Ms. Nahida Talabani Ms. Najiba Ishak, Ms. Amal Askar, Ms. Samia Shammas, Ms. Muna Louca, Ms Joanne Skeen, Ms. Grace Salman, Ms Hind Al Mansur, Ms. Samira Nazo,

Front Row

Mr. George Haddo, Mr. Kyle, Mr Richards, Ms. Margaret Purchase, Ms. Alice Yukhanna.

We had eight classes a day, 45 minutes each, and we moved from one class to the other, which was a new system for us and probably the only one in Iraq.  After every two classes we had a recess for 15 minutes with a long lunch recess for one hour. The last two classes were usually spent on extra-curriculum subjects.   We had home economics classes where we sewed pajamas and learned to crochet. My favorite class was baking Christmas cake, which we wrapped  in aluminum foil and preserved for a couple of months until it was sold for charity just before Christmas. It was a very tasty cake and we adopted the recipe at home.

The school had many traditions established in the 1940s during Ms. Carver’s time. There were school colours; a school motto “you can if you think you can”; a school hymn, “Joyful, joyful. We adore thee.” (Beethoven, “Ode to Joy.”); an alma mater song and a student council with an elected president. A choir named Troubadour accepted interested students after an audition. We met regularly in the school hall to sing along with the choir, following the school song book. During Christmas we sang Christmas hymns. We had a year book called “Echo” which was assembled and published by a group of students and teachers.

There were clubs such as stamp collecting, gardening, knitting, camping, travel, folk dancing, tennis, fashion, drama, arts…etc.  There were societies such as welfare, Arabic language and a girls’ athletic association. There were sports teams for baseball, basketball,  volley ball and  badminton. We even studied the rules and regulations for these sports and sat for an exam.

Food at the canteen was ordinary. We could buy lunch and snacks and the most notable item was the tuna sandwich.

We had a uniform which was updated during our time to a light blue or pink V neck twinset with a white shirt with a round collar underneath, and it had to be round ! – and gray skirt or trousers. We also had a small shoulder purse with the school name on it and a calendar to plan and organize our time. The teachers, especially the Americans wore a blue – greyish robe.

Ms. Ingle rented a small house (mushtamal) about a four minutes walk away from the school while, Ms. Purchase and our English teacher Ms. Catherine Sheidy shared a house on the south – east corner of the school. Ms. Sheidy would occasionally invite students and other teachers for tea, and I attended one of the tea gatherings. It was a very nice gesture. Ms. Sheidy always wore the teachers robe at class, with a brooch pinned on the top corner at her shoulder or on her sleeves close to her hand.

Next Steps

We sat for the baccalaureate exams, at the end of three years and we had to go to another school for the exams.  I was not fond of these exams but again managed nicely.

After many years since the Baghdad High School days, some of us from the same class have crossed paths and have remained close friends with continuous communication and support, especially Ghada Al Madfai and Yasmin Gabriel and Sahar Rassam.

Ghada Al Madfai and Nadia Tobia, Malta 2016. Photo by Nada Zebouni.

Ms. Catherine Sheidy at the school library, 1960s Echo Book

Part 4:  Al Sharqiya High School for Girls 1969 – 1972

The School

The legendary Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali (1921 Baghdad Iraq – 1981 Abu Dhabi UAE) was the principal of Al Sharqiya High School for Girls from 1949 to 1971 (22 years). Her presence and personality were so strong they left a lasting impact and memory with her students and those who knew her.

Al Sharqiya was a large public high school for girls with about 1500 students in 60 classes and 60 teachers. The school was located in Karada off Sadoon Street near Al Fattah Square. It is said that the school was established in the 1940s and expanded in the period prior to Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali when Ms. Adiba Ibrahim Rifat was the principal. Succeeding Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali in 1971, was Ms. Mu’zaz Al Omari.

The school focused on the official curriculum, providing solid education achieved through the Al Orfali policy of retaining the best teachers who remained with the school until retirement. This was the strength of the school. Many excellent teachers taught us; Ms. Fatima Al Hilali was the assistant principal for a very long time; Ms. Shukriya Baithoon was serious and strict math teacher; Ms. Fawzia Al Chalabi who taught history (her description of Napoleon is unforgettable); Ms. Abla Al Chalabi and Ms. Medline Issa who taught English; Ms. Mariyam Al Talbani who taught Arabic as did Ms. Hadya Abbo; Ms. Layla Luka  and Ms. Layla Al Sabi’a who taught chemistry and physics; Ms. Evelyn Zaya who taught life sciences and Ms. Bahija Sha’aban who taught English, both known for their fashion sense, and so many more distinguished teachers.

My mother, Afifa Akrawi, was a geography teacher at Al Sharqiya, which was one of the reasons I moved to the school from Baghdad High School in Al Mansour. We used to commute together in the 10-minute drive by car. The high school geography text books were divided into chapters, each about a different country. My mother had the approach of visiting these countries, so she can better teach about them. My brother and I, who were at early primary school age, would travel with her to discover the neighbouring countries and Europe.

Ms. Lamia'a Al Orfali, presenting awards to students. Image Courtesy Lamees Al Bazirgan.

Ms Lamia'a Al Orfali at the school sports day. Image Courtesy Lamees Al Bazirgan .

King Hussain of Jordan with Ms. Lamia'a Al Orfali with teachers, students and Kashafa. School trip to Jordan. Image Courtesy Lamees Al Bazirgan.

The building had a typical school layout with two fully paved courtyards and no greenery. There were open corridors providing natural ventilation and the classrooms did not have mechanical cooling nor heating.  Both were typical  approaches to school designs at the time. The large courtyard was used as a meeting place for announcements, speeches and special events, which usually took place early in the morning.  Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali, accompanied by the school teachers, would address the students from the open corridor of the first floor overlooking the courtyard (similar to a balcony set up). She had an amazing presence.

The school had chemistry and biology laboratories. There was moderate sport activity but good Girl Scout activities “Kashafa”; art exhibitions and performances by students. The Kurdish language was introduced as a mandatory subject for the first time in grade six.

There were strict rules about wearing uniforms. The overall dark blue dresses, had to be at a certain length below the knee. Makeup was not permitted. Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali was committed to keep those rules implemented at all times.

Al Sharqiya School Main Entrance.

Al Sharqiya School trip to Egypt , Ms Lamia'a Al Orflai with students and Kashafa . Image Courtesy Lamees Al Bazirgan.

Al Sharqiya Sport Day. Image Courtesy Lamees Al Bazirgan

Aerial View, 1) Main entrance 2) Administration 3) Teachers great room 4) School hall, 5) Canteen 6) Courtyard 7) Sports day field .

Under Ms Lamia’a Orfali’s leadership, spring break trips outside Iraq were introduced, and were the ultimate fun for both students and staff. One or two large buses carrying students and teachers would depart for two weeks. The trips included full board and sightseeing arrangements. It was a big responsibility but it was managed with great enthusiasm. I do not think any other high school offered these kinds of trips. Ms. Lamia’a tried to connect with local authorities and meet the heads of state of the countries visited, introducing her team of teachers and students.

The trips outside Iraq included: Turkey in 1954 and 1959, Egypt in 1962 and 1964, Syria in 1961, Palestine and Jordan in 1967, and Iran in 1966 and 1968. Several trips were organized to visit other parts of Iraq. Starting from 1949 to Mosul, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk, Sinjar and Zakho in the north and to Basra in the south.

Our non- curriculum activity took place when one of the teachers was suddenly absent with no replacement teacher to fill in. We were on our own. The classroom door was immediately closed and the students would organize themselves.  Using their talents as actresses, singers, dancers, imitators and even musicians (without their instruments) they would put on a play or a show. It was as well done as if the cast had been practicing for months.  After 45 minutes were over, all was quiet, the door opened and classes resumed, as if nothing has happened.

Generally we did not bring food from home; we had a small canteen in one of the courtyards,  that sold tea and challah. I had one of those every day for three years, completely delicious! Challah is a soft, slightly sweet bun with couple of raisins inside, shaped into a spiral form, brought in fresh every day from the bakery around the corner on Sadoon Street.

Challah Bun, Photo by Nadia Tobia

Next steps

Baccalaureate exams at the end of high school were really hard due to the volume of material we had to study.  There were six subjects; English, Arabic, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Life Sciences. Exams took place from Saturday to Thursday in a location other than our school each day. We had one month to study at home prior to the exams, and results were crucial for entering university.

After the Al Sharqiya days, I have kept in contact with Anisa Al Touqmatchi from my class (who was also our neighbor).  We remained friends, keeping in touch and meeting in different countries when we are travelling. Lamees Al Bazirgan, Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali’s daughter, who was in my class at the Sharqiya. We recently reconnected and she kindly provided the images and some relevant information for this article.

Anisa Al Touqmachi and Nadia Tobia, Jordan 2015

In 1972 I was accepted at Baghdad University, Engineering College, Department of Architecture, where I was re-united with friends from Al Mansour Primary School, Ali Barbouti; from Baghdad High School, Ghada Al Madfai, Sahar Rassam, Maha Al Bustani, Nadia Al Hakim, Jwan Baba Ali, Nesoum Al-Khudhairy; from Al Sharqiya High School, Artemis Askender. We spent another five years together until we graduated in 1977.

“Golden School Days” was made possible for my brother Zaidoon and me, by our parents. Our mother Afifa Akrawi was a geography high school teacher who studied at Dar Al Mu’almeen in Baghdad. Our father Behnam Tobia studied mechanical engineering in Berlin and then at ETH Zurich, Switzerland (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich; Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich) . Our father started working in the private industry sector and, when the Germans opened the Industrial Mechanical Vocational School in Baghdad, he taught at the school until his retirement in 1977.

Seen in the picture is Jamila the cat.


Cover image by Ms. Margaret Purchase, Courtesy Presbyterian Historic Society.

  1. The Kindergarten in Baghdad, The Children Magazine, July 21, 1945.
  2. Supplement to the – London Gazette, James’s Palace, London S.W.I., 7 June 1951.
  3. Supplement to the – London Gazette, James’s Palace, London S.W.I., 2 nd of June 1962.
  4. Melanie Riches Wixwat and Basim Fargo, “Dar Elsalam Hospital, Many Big Things Stary Small” Encyclopedia of Seventh-Day Adventists, 2020.
  5. Hayder Farouq Salman, “Pages from the History of the Iraqi Societies and Clubs- Iraqi Engineering Society” , 2016
  6. Lynda Carver, Baghdad High School Principal, interview by Alfred Hinn, May 19 1980 – Presbyterian Historic Society.
  7. Margaret Purchase Baghdad High School teacher, Papers, Presbyterian Historic Society, bulk dates 1940 – 2009.
  8. Baghdad High School annual book Echo, various years

Interview, notes and memory:

  • Ms. Nayfeh Ghantous, teacher at British Council Kindergarten.
  • Salam Khadoury, student at Al Taissisya School and resident of Al Sadoon neighbourhood
  • Nada Sulayman, student at Al Mansour Private School and Baghdad High School
  • Hussain Al Rikabi, son of Ms. Al Rikabi, teacher at Baghdad High School.
  • Lamees Al Bizergan, daughter of Ms. Lamia’a Al Orfali, principal of Al Sharqiya High School.
  • Salwa Akrawi, PhD, Education and Psychology , resident of Al Sadoon Park Neighbourhood.

Images that are not attributed have been sourced from the internet and are of unknown origin.

Cheryl Morris and Gillian Campbell, English language review and editing.


About Nadia Tobia:

Nadia Tobia, an Architect was born in Baghdad and became Canadian in the early 1990s. She Graduated from Baghdad University, Iraq and University Collage Dublin, Ireland. She is a principal and founder of Tobia Architects Inc . She has worked extensively as a lead designer on large scale complex projects in Iraq, Canada, Ireland, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and China and with the UN HABITAT for Iraq in Jordan..

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