In any language group the first literature that we read is usually the histories of themselves, by themselves. In Arabic Christian literature there are five such histories: Agapius, Euthychius, Al-Makin, Bar Hebraeus, and one other whose name I can never remember.
Of all of these, the 13th century history of al-Makin has attracted my attention for a while. The first half has never been printed. The second half was printed in the 17th century, but the editor died before finishing it. The remainder of the second half was printed recently. I felt that I would like to make it all more accessible, so I obtained – with difficulty – some PDF’s of microfilms of manuscripts. I decided that the first thing to do was simply transcribe one of these, and create an electronic text. This would make the text accessible, and it would be possible for non-Arabists like me to read it using Google Translate. A transcriber in Syria was engaged, via a French lady, and off we went.
Unfortunately the project simply will not make progress. I have so far spent $600, but I have nothing to show for it beyond chunks of text, pages in the wrong order, and so forth. Small problems become large problems. Trivial issues block all progress. Things simply do not get sorted out – things that, in Roman script, would be the work of half an hour to remedy.
I have decided, reluctantly, to do something that I never do. I am going to abandon the project. Situated as I am, I have no power to make anything happen. So I am simply eating my heart out in vain.
I will lose the money, of course. But I will get my life back.
My life, in the end, is worth much more.
Why, precisely, it is impossible to work with people in the middle east, to do even the simplest tasks, I do not know. I suppose that this is why those countries are poor, and will always remain poor.
I apologise to anyone who was hoping to see this. But unless I actually learn Arabic myself and do the job myself, it seems that nothing will be done.