Thursday, September 11, 2008

What I've Learned

I don't know who will even read this blog, as it has been over a month since I have updated, and three weeks since I have returned from Egypt. But this blog has seen me through so much in the past year, and I like to think that it has brought some new information to everyone interested in life in Egypt, and the greater Middle East. The reason I came to Egypt was because I was searching for knowledge, not just on women's leadership, but for better knowledge on this part of the world which is so terribly misunderstand, or simply not understood at all. There is an Arabic proverb which states,

"One should seek knowledge, not invite it."

As fantastic as it would be for some of these Egyptian men and women to come to the United States blow some minds and shatter stereotypes, that's not the way things work. We as Americans have a duty to learn about the people and the region that we feel we are entitled to guide, invade, and order around. Maybe if we knew more about them, we would realize that maybe we don't really know what we are talking about.

So I went to Egypt, and tried to listen and learn. But I don't think that my duty ends there. Because not every American has an opportunity to go to Egypt on a Fulbright, and not every American has the ability to speak Arabic. So I talk to Americans, and answer their questions as best as I can on Egypt and the issues in the Middle East. But you don't have to take my word for it, as there are a number of excellent books on the subjects. So for anyone who is interested, I have compiled a list of a few books which range from novel to textbook, all of which will give the reader a little more insight on the hottest topics that surround the Middle East. The list isn't exhaustive of course, just a few books that I have found to be helpful, and that you might as well.

On Terrorism and Jihad

"The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global"- Fawaz Gerges (on al-Qaeda)

"Jihad in Islamic History" -Michael Bonner (Medieval History)

"The Crusades: An Islamic Perspective" - Carole Hillenbrand

*You may think its odd, but you will be surprised how much the Crusades come up, so we can't afford to forget about that bloodthirsty part of western history.

On Israel/Palestine
"The Lemon Tree" - Sandy Tolan (novel which balances the two sides)

"History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" - Mark Tessler (textbook but a must)

"Peace and its Discontents" - Edward Said (the peace process is never that easy"


"Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time" -Karen Armstrong (understanding Islam)

"Orientalism" -Edward Said (pretty much the bible for Near East students)

"Pity the Nation" -Robert Fisk (On Lebanese Civil war by journalist who was there)

If you have the time, see what you think. There are other authors, blogs, and journalists out there. Just remember that everyone may claim to be an expert, but the reality is, there are very few out there. Today is 9/11, and one thing we have learned from the murderous attacks and the confusion that followed is that when it comes to the Middle East and Islam, we really don't know anything. We need to read, listen and learn. Thanks for reading my blog, it has been my pleasure and honor to share what I learn with you. Remember, knowledge isn't like cake, you can share it and eat it too :)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rest in Peace, Mahmoud Darwish

The Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, was a man beloved by his people. Considered by some to be "the spirit of the Palestinian nation", many considered him to the be the conscience of the nation. As staunch of a critic as he was of the occupation, he also strongly criticized Palestinian infighting, sharply reproaching the leadership of both Hamas and Fatah for diving the Palestinian people. He loved his country, and that love was clearly returned. Not only by Palestinians, but by readers all over the world. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye describes Darwish as:

"The Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link and shine a brilliant light into the whole world's heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world-his is an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered."

Darwish has passed from this world, but his voice will live on. For he represents not only the national, painful memory of Palestinians, but also their hope for a future state, rich with their culture. This is something that can not die, not even with a figure like Darwish. In fact, he put it best:

"We suffer from the incurable malady: hope" -Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Egyptians in Beijing

Egypt has some high hopes for the Olympic games this year, and its a good thing most of those expectations rest on the shoulders of their champion Greco-Roman wrestler. Karam Gaber won gold in 2004, and the 29 year old is back to defend his big win. Fittingly, this Greco-Roman wrestler was born in Alexandria, a town which manages to maintain its Greco-Roman heritage while remaining distinctly Egyptian. But Egypt also might be able to make a name for itself in other fields. With 100 athletes competing in a number of different sports, Egyptian Olympians continue to proudly represent their country. One of the most promising athletes is Aya Medani, 19 year old modern pentathalete. As a 15 year old, she managed to compete in the 2004 games. Aya has grown stronger, and more competitive, and is likely to medal in the event. Egypt is also proud to boast Sherine El Zeiny, who is the only African gymnast to compete during the games. El-Zeiny comments on her first experience at the Olympics, "Being the only one from Africa is very exciting. It motivates me as I would like to make people from Egypt and Africa proud." Men and women, from taekwondo to synchronized swimming, these athletes remind us what the games are really about. Egypt may not win the most medals, but its athletes continue to give all Egyptians something to be proud of.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fun in the Region

After a long hike up Mt. Sinai under a star light sky, passing camels and pilgrims, we make up to the top to rest and watch an amazing sunrise.

Pauline at the glorious Petra

on my own in Sharm, I had to make up a web of lies about being married, but I was actually here with my sister, but she is sick in the hotel. But it was great traveling solo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crunked in Cairo

I know, extremely important topic of discussion. But you would actually be surprised by the number of people who have asked me about the drinking scene in Cairo. I am by no means an alcoholic expert, but nor am I am amateur, so I will tell you what my own experience has been.

The drinking scene here can be roughly divided into three major categories: nice Restaurants/hotels, shaaby bars, and house parties. Cairo is an international city, a tourist town, and also a multi-religious scene. So despite the fact that Egypt is 90 percent Muslim, there is quite an alcohol flow. Also remember that not all those Muslims adhered to the religious ban on alcohol, just as not all Christians go to church on Sundays. This means that you can get alcohol in pretty much all the nice restaurants and hotel bars. An exception to this is the famous case of the Grand Hyatt, whose Saudi local owner recently banned alcohol, dumped an estimated 8 million dollars worth of the goods, and infuriated the international corporation. My friends and I usually treat ourselves to a few local beers whilst eating out, but it never gets too crazy, as these drinks are a bit pricey. They really hit your wallet if you head to some of the clubs inside the hotels. One club, called "Latex" (thats a whole other blog entry) charges an arm and a leg for water, let alone a martini.

The Shaaby bar is by far your best deal for beer, outside of bringing the goods straight to a house party. Sha'ab in Arabic means "People" so "shaaby" is "of the people" "local" or just "chill-no frills-kinda-place". Its no coincidence that shaaby sounds an awful lot like shabby, as these bars can be perfectly described as tattered. These bars tend to be full of seedy male Egyptians getting away from their wives and kids for a bit, and young Americans, happy to find the closest thing they can find to their local bar. Kicking back $1.50 20 ounce beers, Stellas, the night can be wasted and enjoyed in the halls of this joint. The staff knows your face, if not your name, and is quick with another beer and another dish of "timriz" which are little salty beans, the best drinking food ever. The air is full of the smoke of the patrons, and the exhaust of being located smack in the middle of downtown. As the green bottles stack up--they leave them on the table in order to keep a bill--you begin to get cravings for koshery, the Egyptian street food of choice. Luckily, right down the street is sure to be a koshery stand. What more could you need?

If you prefer the private drinking scene, Cairo is certainly full of house parties. In fact, I would say this is indeed the method of choice for Cairo's drinking expat community. I think these parties function pretty much the same way no matter where you are in the globe, the only difference is that in the middle of the night, you pinch yourself, and remind yourself. "No, you aren't at Alpha Sig, you are in Egypt." and then continue to dance. Also, instead of picking up your goods at the local corner store, you go to either Christian grocery stores, or to the notorious Egyptian chain of alcohol stores, "Drinkies". Seriously, if you already felt guilty about drinking, theres nothing like "drinkies" to make you feel like a college freshmen. If you consider house parties anywhere you can transport alcohol with your friends, you can also include the felluka rides on the Nile. Nothing beats sipping a few cold ones with your best friends in Egypt, and watching the sunset over the Nile.

Before I make Cairo sound like the next Cancun, I would like to say something about maintaining sensitivity. Despite the incredible accessibility of alcohol here, one has to remember that for most Egyptians, drinking is not acceptable. I do think that they maintain a point of view of "Each unto his own" and can tolerate non-Muslims drinking, as they understand that in our culture and religion, it is not forbidden. However, its always important for us to remember that we are guests here in their country. Even if they can tolerate our drinking habits, we shouldn't stumble in the streets and make a spectacle of ourselves and our disrespect for their culture. However, this is of course tricky when alcohol is involved, but this is where your friends come in. My motto has always been, "Friends don't let friends make drunken asses of themselves in conservative societies." Its not as catchy as the M.A.D.D. slogan, but if you ever party in Cairo, it may help to keep it in mind.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Family Affairs

I really can't say when I will next see my Palestinian family. I had the honor of being there for Rowan's wedding, the youngest sibling to get married, and it meant a lot to me to be there. The festivities were endless, the food delicious, and the number of random extended relatives I met and kissed on the check was countless. They treated me like a family member, called me a daughter, and a sister. We laughed, danced, hugged and even cried together. I was gonna hold it together, in the end, its not my real sister getting married. But then, the oldest son, Hamad, who is a 31 year old, tough Palestinian man, just breaks down crying. It was when the family was taking photos together, and it just probably made it real to him that his little sister was grown up and getting married. The rest of the family was already in tears, and I eventually joined them. Just seeing how close this family is, and being a part of this important event, it made me realize how special it was that this family had included me. I know I am not really related, and I am already someone else's daughter and sister. But, I have never been more included, and felt more related to a family who in another life would have been nothing more than strangers in a foreign land. One day I hope to thank them, but for now, the best I can do is remember to call, and come by to visit when I get a chance. I don't know when that will be, but they have already made me promise that I will have at least one wedding in Palestine, even if I have another one in America. I can't wait.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Caught a Lizard!!

You won't believe it, but its true. I totally caught a lizard on Sunday.

I was about to take a shower, when I was startled to find that I was not the only one in the tub. A small iridescent little fellow, with a few green and orange spots. I keep my calm, and go and get my camera. I also call for my roommate, who is terrified of lizards, to come and help me catch him.

"No!" she yells from the living room.

"But how am I gonna get him?" I yell back.

"SPRAY HIM WITH RAID!!" She yells cruelly. Sammy wouldn't hurt a fly, but apparently she digs cruel and unusual punishment for reptiles.

Now, I can definitely not spray this poor guy in raid. I decide I must try to catch him with something, but lizards are fast, and can climb on anything, so its risky as I might end up with a lizard climbing up my arm. I settle on a the giant container of Quaker Oats that is practically empty. I dump the oats into bowl for safe keeping, and head back to the bathroom. The lizard is waiting for me, and so is my roommate who has emerged to watch the scene, but from a distance. I stand over the tub and try to get the lizard to move so I can slam the container over him. He runs, and I move,but a bit of the remaining oats slip out and the unexpected movement startles me and I shriek, which causes my lizard-hating-roommate to scream even louder and she backs out of the project.."I'm sorry, I need to leave, I can't do this..EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF!"

Now it was just me and the lizard, and I manage to pluck up my courage. My roommate had suggested that I open the window just in case I want to throw it out (remember, she is also the one who wanted to spray him with raid). I did just that, not actually thinking I would resort to throwing it out the window. I got the lizard to move again, and slammed the Quaker Oats box over him, scooped him up, covered him half way with the lid, screaming "I CAUGHT THE LIZARD!!!" and promptly throw his ass out the window. The smiling Quaker with the lizard inside went sailing down the 5 stories and I never saw him again. But I am sure he is okay.