Thursday, January 22, 2009

a triumphant return


long time, no see.

i am in beirut right now, back from my trip to syria and turkey with sarah (gsi sarah). my parents are here too, and they're coming back to cairo with me on the 25th.

i didn't update at all last semester. i tried a few times. the truth is, i was not very interested in anything, which made me feel uninteresting. and uninteresting people should not write blogs.

the truth is, cairo defeated and deflated me.

but now, it's time to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off" and get happy.

traveling was pretty awesome, but i don't feel like writing all about that right now since it is 12:36am and i am sleepy. but since i've been back in beirut i've had some time to (once again) read more random things on the internet, and i wanted to record some that i thought were especially cool.

first of all, i've read a few comments on the inaugural poem by elizabeth alexander from people who were less than impressed. i actually really liked the poem, but then again i'm not much of a poetry reader, so that's just an under-informed emotional reaction from someone who was pleased as punch to drink in any little piece of that inauguration ceremony. to me, it captured the mood of the day perfectly. it felt like a series of snapshots of a national community of ordinary people, all frozen "on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp," ready to take the next step in unison. i especially loved the last stanza. i wasn't a big fan of her reading, but then i don't think poets are really used to reading their work in front of a million and a half people, and all of america and the entire world on television, so i think i'll give her a pass. plus, turns out barack obama is a tough act to follow. here's the text, as posted in the new york times:

"Praise Song for the Day"

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

and a commenter on a times articles about the poem suggested this carl sandburg one (which incidentally is from a collection called chicago poems) that i liked, too. but it has a totally different mood.


Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blend
To form the city's afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of hope
Lean ones written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love.
Records of great wishes slept with,
Held long
And prayed and toiled for.

Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.

okay, so that's great.

and THEN i saw an awesome slide show essay in slate today of photos by robert frank, who went on a road trip across america in the 1950s and published his pictures in a book called the americans. it's here.

i really like the last one. it's kind of strange though: i think if anyone else took a picture like that, with random people staring at the camera, and all crooked like that, they would just throw it out and try again for a proper shot of the view of san francisco from that hill. i mean, i have a ton of pictures sort of like that one from my trip, and i call them mistakes, not art. if i ran across a picture like this one on facebook (in color, not black and white; black and white turns EVERYTHING into artsyfartsyness), i wouldn't call it art. but i think i would wonder about those people: what they're doing there, what kind of expletives they're about to yell at the photographer, etc. so i guess that's why i like it. it's cool, unassuming, unpretentious. it feels like people-watching, but a step removed. like i'm watching people watch people, because there's a relationship, a fight there between the couple and the camera.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

welcome welcome ya gameela

reuters today published a story saying that two-thirds of egyptian men harass women. and i'm leaving off the question mark that they used in their headline because... there's no question about it. is the question mark supposed to be some kind of cultural sensitivity? don't lie for the sake of sensitivity, that's just stupid.

well, it's not really news to me that two thirds of egyptian men harass women. the most upsetting part of the article was:
Some 53 percent of men blamed women for bringing on sexual harassment, saying they enjoyed it or were dressed in a way deemed indecent. Some women agreed.

"Out of Egyptian women and men interviewed, most believe that women who wear tight clothes deserve to be harassed," the survey said. It adde most agreed women should be home by 8 p.m.

The survey said most of the Egyptian women who told of being harassed said they were dressed conservatively, with the majority wearing the Islamic headscarf. The harassment took place on the streets or on public transport, as well as in tourist destinations and foreign educational institutions.
i'm sorry, but what are women supposed to do? people walk around wearing the hijab and still get harassed. my roommate's teacher who wears hijab got flashed in a supermarket once. like full-on flashed.

i wear my ipod as my armor, then i can't hear them.

on the other side of the women's dress question:

A Veil Closes France's Door to Citizenship

is anyone really surprised? i'm not gonna say anything because i don't think i actually understand anything about france and its laws, but i really hope/don't think that kind of thing would fly in the US.

anyway, my life is good. i am coming home in less than a week for the last week of july and whole month of august! yay!

tonight - well actually in 10 minutes - i am going out to dinner at a yemeni restaurant in doqqi with a bunch of casa people and then to watch caramel, this lebanese movie that is pretty exciting, at tim's. i've never had yemeni food before so i'm excited to find out what that's all about. i spent all day trying to do homework with joseph and t, but it turns out that doing homework with them/other people in general turns into exactly the same kind of mess that ben and ryan (and sometimes sarah) and i always got ourselves into and so we wound up talking about israel and boys.

i miss amer's.

oooh i get to have amer's in a week! oh my god so much honeycup mustard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


so i was in lebanon this past weekend, and that was pretty wonderful. instead of staying in beirut where it's really ridiculously hot right now (it's totally worse than cairo because of the humidity - and this egyptian guy that i met on the plane said something about how all the *good* lebanese are in the mountains in the summer anyway. he was just haughty enough that he could have been lebanese himself if he hadn't said gabal instead of jabal), i was up in a hotel in naas which is just a little above bikfaya with my grandparents and dany (my aunt) and my cousins sandro and silvio, who are 7 and 5.

and the view from my hotel room was pretty excellent.

the first day i was there, friday, i pretty much just did a lot of getting pretty stuff. i got my haircut and my nails done and etc. that was exciting. my grandma wasn't allowed to see my feet before i got my nails done, so it was a good thing we did that the first day first thing.

saturday i went down to my mom's aunt leila's house in jounieh and met leila and her daughter suha and her granddaughter naya who is 2 and so so so cute but kind of shy, then we immediately went back up the mountain to leila's other daughter rana's house in ballouneh. rana has a new baby named antoine and he is SO CUTE.

we ate a delicious lunch, obviously, and drank almaza and admired the incredible view. at lunch i went to take a bite of french fry with garlic dip stuff and my aunt was like "well do you have a date tonight?" and i was like no... and she was like okay, go ahead and eat the garlic. so odd. even weirder, i was at another restaurant on sunday and i met my dad's cousin for the first time and we were chatting throughout the meal. and when the garlic sauce came again i was like "mmm i love this stuff," and took a bite of chicken with it, and her immediate question was "do you have a boyfriend?" so strange. couldn't i just brush my teeth?

then monday i had lunch at dany's friend lina's house with a whole bunch of dany's friends, and lina's daughter joelle whom i really like. she is moving to paris to do a master's in something about physics? very cool.

then i came back to cairo monday night, and as soon as i walked into the gate for the egypt air flight back to cairo, the catcalls started once again. i don't actually get very much harassment myself, but it was just so disappointing. the best thing about the whole weekend was being able to wear whatever i wanted - i wore no sleeves the whole time, and knee-length skirts - and not having to worry about being stared at and bothered on the streets. just that, and the food, made it a really nice break, in addition to getting to see my family.

it was kind of strange that i was back there at the exact same time that the war started two years ago. and big deals happened while i was there, like a new government, so people we all politics all the time, but that's really the usual. because of the areas that i went to, i didn't really see much in terms of political posters the way you normally do in beirut - pretty much everything was kataeb, and bikfaya was all pictures of pierre gemayel. when we went to lina's house there was a big picture of michel aoun at the entrance to the village, just to let you know what that village thinks about politics. but because i was in the mountains and visiting people i know most of the time and didn't really go downtown at all, it felt like hizbullah had disappeared. it's strange how you can sort of create an imaginary situation for yourself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

two years later

i'll update this post later with details about my trip to lebanon this past weekend, but for right now, i wanted to post this from the BBC news coverage of the hizbullah-israel prisoner swap. hizbullah returned the bodies of the two israeli soldiers, ehud goldwasser and eldad regev, whose capture started the july war two years ago (in addition to, as the bbc has it, "body parts" of other israeli soldiers who died in the war), and israel returned five hizbullah prisoners, including samir qantar, who has been in prison since 1979 and is kind of a big deal as far as prisoners go, in addition to the remains of 200 lebanese and palestinians.
The BBC's Crispin Thorold in Beirut says the exchange will be a moment of jubilation for Hezbollah, who are claiming the deal as a victory.

The leader of Lebanon's mainly Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement and former army commander-in-chief, Michel Aoun, said the swap proved Israel had been defeated.

"I believe today is the crowning glory of the [2006 Israel-Hezbollah] war... There is national unanimity to welcome the prisoners and the martyrs' bodies. Everything calls for optimism and a new revival in Lebanon," he said.

But Ehud Goldwasser's father, Shlomo Goldwasser, said he was mystified by the Lebanese celebrations.

"I cannot understand what the Lebanese are so glad about and happy about," he said.

"They sacrificed over 700 of their best warriors and all their economy, and what they get for what they did is a murderer, a bloody murderer of a three-and-a-half-year-old girl and her father - and for this they are making all this glory, for this they sacrificed so much. So I feel only pity for them."
-BBC News

goldwasser is so right. i don't know very much, but i know enough to realize that these celebrations are kind of disgusting. michel aoun disturbs me most of the time (well, most of them disturb me at this point, but he does now in particular), but this is really going above and beyond. what is this new revival he's talking about? is he crazy? revival my ass. people are dead, and your reward is a murderer. this is no revival.

and israel says they identified the bodies - does this mean that they have been alive these last two years in prison, and that they only just killed them, or is that because of some kind of dna test? because it wouldn't be surprising if they had killed them just now, to create this horrifying false victory for themselves.

it's a sad week, a sad anniversary.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

sarah johnson is my hero

in response to the flies on lollipop hijab thing, sarah, my favorite person in the entire world as of this moment, created this:

her translation and comments: "You can't control what women wear, you pigs, but you can protect yourselves from their revenge/vengeance." Hopefully you've noticed the phallic reference in the banana. I'm hoping I"m not the only woman who has beat the crap out of some feely jerk.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

walk like an egyptian

today on my way home an egyptian woman stopped me to ask for directions. i didn't know where the place she was asking for was, but still, so exciting! apparently all the harassment is not because of my american appearance but rather entirely because of my stunning good looks.

last night we went to see a film about hasan al-banna in maadi. it was super long and i wasn't a huge fan, but i think ben would have thought it was pretty cool. the bookstore we were in was really great though, it had books in english and arabic (and i think other languages like french). i read the introduction to a spelling dictionary. apparently those exist. also, there was a book by giles keppel called "bad moon rising," so he officially gets all the middle east nerd cool points.

then we went to metro, one of the big supermarket chains, to try and get sour cream for the chocolate cake katie made tim for his birthday. unfortunately sour cream was nowhere to be found and for the life of us we couldn't figure out how to say it, so katie improvised. more importantly, metro was pretty incredible but kind of unbelievably expensive. i wanted to buy granola bars but they cost 38 LE. insane. katie spent about as much time choosing baking supplies as i do choosing pens and notebooks, so that's good.

then today was just class. i've been kind of exhausted all day because i was up till 2:30 last night for absolutely reason. and i had the delicious taamiya with fries sandwich for lunch again. as usual, although tomorrow might be time for a change.

yup, slow day.

and, to continue to the parade of (really great) new york times columns:

Bob Herbert: Lurching With Abandon

this is pretty much what i'm talking about with the obama problem, so i'm not even going to bother to repeat what he said (way better than i ever could). just this section is particularly important i think:
Mr. Obama is betting that in the long run none of this will matter, that the most important thing is winning the White House, that his staunchest supporters (horrified at the very idea of a President McCain) will be there when he needs them.

He seems to believe that his shifts and twists and clever panders — as opposed to bold, principled leadership on important matters — will entice large numbers of independent and conservative voters to climb off the fence and run into his yard.

Maybe. But that’s a very dangerous game for a man who first turned voters on by presenting himself as someone who was different, who wouldn’t engage in the terminal emptiness of politics as usual.
of course i still plan to vote for him, but i'm worried that, while he means to get more votes by playing the dirty political games and swinging right, he is actually losing a lot of support - and, more importantly, he is losing the appeal he had to independents.

Monday, July 07, 2008

fa3lan waheeda

who knew that maha could be the source of so much anger? she must be feeling pretty popular right about now.

the washington post (come on now, washington post. shame.) published Teaching Arabic and Propaganda a couple of days ago, written by some kid from harvard law school (because that makes you credible).


the bad thing is that for awhile i was kind of right there along with him. why is it that we first learn things like "i'm very lonely" and "my mother died in a car accident." then again, my friends here and i have been talking about how we didn't learn how to say any of the negative words for a long time (we could say we were doing well when asked how are you, but didn't know how to say we were doing badly).

anyway, yes, it's a legitimate criticism of arabic teaching that the characters are just so depressing, but i don't think that needs to be taken quite as seriously as he is taking it. and, perhaps in reality this sad picture points to something a little bit accurate about the sorry economic and social state of a lot of the arab world.

but THEN. then pollak started complaining about the inclusion of a speech by gamal abd al-nasser, an "anti-Western hero," and of footage of rallies for the nasser with narration about the "dreams of my youth." additionally, he talks about the last lesson in al-kitab part one, where we meet maha's mother, a palestinian who grew up in jerusalem and left after the 1967 war. pollak complains that al-kitab ignores "egypt's defeat in the six-day war" and paints a picture of maha's mother as a "refugee, but the images suggest that she left voluntarily after the Six-Day War, when Israel offered citizenship to the Arab residents of East Jerusalem."

according to pollak, these materials should not have been included because they are propaganda. so rather than learning through the original sources about nasser and the people who lived under his rule, we should only pay attention to sanitized, translated versions of these stories. and we should never learn a palestinian's perspective on leaving jerusalem in 1967.

this is ridiculous. al-kitab isn't making this stuff up. that "mournful music" in the jerusalem chapter is an actual song by fairuz (al-quds). to deny these stories would be denying people the ability to speak for themselves. yes, it's a perspective, and you don't have to agree with it, but you have to see all the perspectives.

pollak goes on and on and makes an ass of himself for two pages. he says that most language classes take care to avoid politically sensitive topics, but there are two important problems with this argument. first of all, that's a total lie. i've also taken french and spanish, and in both of those classes we learned about historical and political topics through articles, literature, and discussions. you have to learn about that stuff if you expect to get a realistic view of the culture that speaks the language you're learning (and if you aren't going to learn about the culture, why are you learning the language? oh right. terrorists. duh.).

second of all, if you're going to learn arabic, ESPECIALLY in a post 9/11, war on terror, scary scary world, you HAVE TO learn about politics. regardless of whether you agree with the arab perspective on things like the 1967 war, you have to understand the arab perspective in order to understand arabs. and you have to understand arabs in order to get what you want. so there you go, you don't have to actually care about them - you just have to understand them so you can manipulate them. if you can't bring yourself to be an actual human being who cares about other human beings, that argument at least should work for you.

and this argument about feeling like early language courses should not have any political perspective is actually very much at odds with what pollak says at the beginning of his article.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of Americans studying Arabic has more than doubled. Nearly 24,000 U.S. students enrolled in Arabic classes in the fall of 2006, the Modern Language Association reported in November. In 2002, 264 colleges offered Arabic; as of the 2006-07 academic year, 466 did.

Young, ambitious Americans are responding constructively to our country's new challenges by demanding Arabic classes. But there are not enough teachers to meet this demand, and the available textbooks are suffused with the stale prejudices and preoccupations of the pre-Sept. 11 Middle East.
what are these "stale prejudices and preoccupations?" if they're stale, then what are the new prejudices and preoccupations? you can't ignore pre-9/11 history when trying to understand the arab world. that's absolutely ridiculous. you can't understand 9/11 without pre-9/11 (if you can even understand 9/11). pollak implies that the majority of students who are learning arabic today are learning it out of a concern for history and politics - so how does it make sense to leave history and politics out of teaching the language?

one of the very first words in the first chapter in al-kitab part 1 is "united nations." we asked our teacher why it was like that, and she told us that it's because the majority of people learning arabic are learning it because of the role of the arabic language in world politics. yes, you learn the arab perspective when you're learning arabic; of course you do (show me a hebrew text book that pretends that hebrew is not closely tied in with the idea of zionism and the protection of the state of israel; show me a german text book that doesn't apologize for the holocaust; show me a french textbook that doesn't mention charles de gaulle). but al-kitab absolutely reminds its students that the arab world is tied into the rest of the world with that very first set of vocabulary words.

plus, maha and khalid are both pretty hot.