When I’m feeling blue: On How Music Saves Your Life When You’re Abroad (or at home)

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We all have those days, the sad days, the days when you wake up and you’re not sure why you have to do anything, why you can’t just sleep a little more, until the storm passes, or when you wish you didn’t have to smile and be polite when you’re world is coming to an important stand-still or impasse. Or at the very least, the days when you just need time to think, to sit by yourself and take a deep breath…

These days, as the posts on this blog might intimate, I have had quite a few… That’s alright, I guess.  Sometimes when I need a moment, particular songs help me have my me time, while still doing all the other daily rigamarole that I need to do.  I was reflecting the other day on how the music I listen to while abroad leaves it’s imprint on me. When I was in Qatar, Luis Fonsi’s “No me doy por vencido” was constantly on repeat, even though it’s a song about not giving up on a relationship that is about to end, I used it as inspiration while preparing my grad school applications, and worrying about my mom when she had emergency surgery and then complications.

This time around is no different. There are two songs in particular seem to give me perspective… and then a third one, came to mind, just during the last day or so.  I will start with that one first.

I don’t speak Yoruba, but thanks to the powers that be, and people I grew up around as a child, I do know quite a few Yoruba church songs, for the most part, I have no idea what they mean. As of late, feeling tired with this program, tired with the home stretch of the educational chapter of my life,  the (culturo-spiritual bust that this Ramadaan, my first one in the Arab world,  turned out to be (and other stuff that need not be mentioned), I started sing to my self a random Yoruba song, that I haven’t thought of in years…

ki lo le se, Olorun mi, Ki lo le se…

Yup that’s all there is to the song…  I kept repeating it over and over again, to the point where I said to myself, what the heck are you singing?

So, I did what anyone in this day and age does, I looked it up.  And finally after 20 some odd years, and at least 5 since I last heard this song, I know what it means…

“What can’t you do My Lord?  what can’t you do”

To me at least, it’s a fitting reminder that I may not be in control of anything, but God is control of everything…  Yet another song that came to me at the right time. Here’s a Youtube video of it being performed by an evangelist lady (she is NOT Nigerian, fyi) ….

As for the second song it’s pretty much in the same vein as the above one, it’s call “Inshallah” and it’s by an Islamic singer (i.e. he sings religious themed and otherwise wholesome music, a younger Sami Yusuf) Maher Zein.

I like this song for a number of different reasons, well first of all it’s in Arabic, and I feel like I get a double benefit of language practice by listening to it. Secondly, the message of the song is one that always helps bring me back to the middle. It’s one of those songs that stops my whining midstream, because I have to think of the bigger picture…

Here’s a rough (very rough) translation of the first verse:

If one day, the troubles are so heavy upon you

and lost on your own, you can’t find an answer

and  your troubles, make night last so long

and throw you out into a loneliness, that only repeats it’s wailing,

stretch out your hand, you will find all around you,

That God, He felt what you were going through before you did,

By God’s grace/will, you will find the way…

I can’t count the number of times this song cameo on on my music player and I stopped to reflect on what it was saying.  Here is a clip of the video, through writing this post, I discovered that there is an English version, but IMO it’s not as good as the Arab version, nor is it a direct translation of it.

But everything not religious/spiritual.  My third song, is one that reminds me that’s it’s ok to cry… it’s called “Respira” (breath), by Spanish singer Luis Fonsi… I love the whole song, and literally look for it on my player sometimes when I feel overwhelmed… A rough translation of some of the most pertinent parts of the song is as follows

Blindly crossing between pain and grief,

Only in faith, you break the wall,

You tear the mantel,

While shaking like a paper sailboat,

I see you, and I know that you’re feeling like less than nothing,

Close to you, I stay without saying anything,

I listen to you without judging, and try to help you breath…

Chorus,

I know how tired suffering makes you,

Rest dear,

Breath, take a second and just breath

Close your eyes and see,

While it hurts, breath out the pain with me…

 

Tomorrow, if this game of life serves you a different card,

A better one, I will be there,

To bet on you and celebrate the fact that you want to be happy,

Here’s the video:

This song is so special to me, I think if I ever met Luis Fonsi, he might have a conniption… because I would do just that as I broke down sobbing trying to tell him how he helped get me through some rough times… Awkward… ha, ha… (hmmm I should put that on my Spain to-do list: meet Luis Fonsi)

Sometimes, unconsciously I suppose, do exactly what the song say to do… take deep breaths.  I wonder how weird that made me look to the women on the tram in Alexandria… oh well.

I fear that my translations don’t do either one justice, I guess they don’t really tap into what I am feeling when I listen to them. but, thinking about these songs made me think about music in general,  the role that it plays in my life. Songs as therapy didn’t start with me as an adult woman making random trips abroad.  Although I think my repertoire has gotten better.  For one, I don’t listen to English language songs for inspiration as much anymore… I’m not sure that it’s because I feel like they’re inferior.  It’s more because as my Arabic and Spanish abilities grew, I was exposed to a whole new world of beautiful figurative language and such that I can’t translate it’s meaning, but I feel it all the same.

Nonetheless, I distinctly remember writing something my journal after hearing the Backstreet Boy’s song “As long as you love me.”… that song epitomized true love in my 13 year old mind I guess.  So I memorialized the fact that when I fell in love, I wanted it to be with someone like the BSB song was talking about, someone who didn’t care about “who I was, where I was from,  or what I did” all that mattered was that I loved them, and the loved me…

 

Ha, ha… yeah I’m glad I don’t use English language songs anymore…

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In Pictures: Christian Images in Egypt

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Iconography from the oldest church in the oldest monastery in the world

The curtain separating the holy of holies in a Coptic Church (the Holy of Holies is where the Holy Communion is kept, I think)

The entrance to St. Anthony’s monastery the first monastery in the world

How most big Coptic Churches tend to look

I just loved this sign it reads: No blessing and not acceptance for anyone who writes on the monastery’s walls…

gotta love the multiculturalism in this carving… Jesus loves the little children….

Jesus

 

the alter at the Catholic churchCatholic Church statue of a saint

On Christian Egypt 2: — Pictures not uploading :(

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I am trying to upload pictures of Christian sites I have visited, but my internet and/or wordpress is not cooperating.  Just wanted to point out that I am not trying to only point out the disconcerting aspects of Christian Egypt as I have seen it… more coming soon.

On Christian Egypt: RIP Pope Shnouda

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RIP ya Baba Shnouda

Baba Shnouda or Pope Shnouda, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church died today… he was 88 years old and in failing health… but it was still a surprise.

He played an important role in fortifying the Coptic Church during some trying times as well as had been pretty active in encouraging cross-sectarian dialogue among different Christian groups.  I know I said I wanted to post about Christian Egypt, I guess quite a few more will follow.

Baba Shnouda’s death to me, feel like Pope John Paul’s death in 2005 I was in Morocco at the time, and although I am not Catholic, he was the only leader of the Catholic Church that I had grown up with.  It was sad.  Similarly as I have bee looking at Egypt and Copts Papa Shnouda figured into my image of the Coptic Church in particular.

I am wondering how long it will take to pick the new Pope, and how all this fits into lent season.  Wow, what a time to be in Egypt indeed. Absolutely everything is in transition.

May his soul rest in peace.

In Egypt: Tatoos for Babies?

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For the first time I am in an Arab country with a indigenous Christian population that does not live in secrecy.

I am still trying to make sense of the nature of Christian-Muslim relations, but today I wan to talk about a phenomenon among the Copts.  Relations between the two groups are not always the best (but that is another blog post).  I personally don’t want to offend anyone so I make it a point of duty to try and learn how to navigate the Muslim and Christian world here.  And in Egypt that means even little things like greetings.

It’s no surprise that although I have studied Arabic for too many years to count, I don’t have much knowledge about Arab Christians.  Most of my teachers were either from 99.9% Muslim countries or clearly never interacted with Christian,  so I have zero Arab-Christian experience.  I am trying to make up for that by attending Arabic-language church services (and that also is a whole other blog entry)  let me tell you, it is plenty different).

At any rate, a key part of navigating the Muslim-Christian world is knowing how to tell which religion a person is.  This is certainly not something that I am used to doing so it was a little hard at first. Someone’s religion is just not the most important aspect of a person’s identity for me, at least not when you first meet them.But it certainly is here.. like much of the Arab world it’s question number 2 or 3 right after “what is your name?”

Needless to say, it’s my experience that Christians have taken offense to my greeting them “in  Muslim way” i.e. saying assalamu alaikum.  So I want to avoid such moments of awkwardness from now on.

Back to the main point this post. As about 95% of the women here wear scarves, figuring out their religion is not hard.  However, there are some Muslim women who do not cover their hair and so, I can not just assume that a person is not Muslim based on this alone.

Copts, the majority of Christians here are making this weeding out/classification process a lot easier because so many of them have Tatoos!!!!!!!!!!!

yup that’s right a lot of them get a cross tattoed to their wrist!  I asked one of my classmates about this and apparently they get them when they are pretty young, although she got hers when she was much older.  I googled the topic as I didn’t realize it was something that people had done in infancy and I found this article with video that was pretty interesting.

A tattoo is certainly the ultimate demonstration of fealty to your confession, but I don’t know what I think about little kids undergoing this procedure.  Tatoos hurt, like a lot.  Then again, so does circumcision.

For now, I guess thic Coptic-tattoo thing will just be fascinating to me!   Unfortunately it’s not the sort of thing that has ever come up in a single Arabic class.   I am even toying with the idea of getting one. But who am I kidding, I am a total wuss… it looks painful.

On Good Friday in an Arabic Church

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So I had the chance to go to a church service in Arabic.  My first experience ever with Arab-Christians… well, not my first ever, but the first time I was  the first Arab church service I’ve ever been to.

Well, the Church was actually just the Arabic Language Catholic church, one of the few (or many) denominations present in Qatar—- as officially recognized churches that is.  The  service was beautiful.  I remember being in Spain for Good Friday in 2008 and going to a Good Friday Service in Catalan… don’t remember if I blogged about it though.  And this was even more interesting and new than that.

I am surprised (although I don’t know why) at how different Catholic services can be, two of my friends here from Poland have had to point out to me that they don’t do this or that… at any rate, it was a beautiful service aesthetically and emotionally, and I’m not an emotional person. Best of all, I understood…. a good deal of it..lol

The service was in fusha, i.e. modern standard Arabic, but It was hard to hear the priest amidst the screams of children and murmurs of adult, but oh well. From what I understood there was a lengthy New testament reading of events leading to the crucifixion by two priests, one narrated and the other did the vices, then they brought out this ivory colored statue of Jesus on the cross and laid it on a grand floral arrangement and marched around the church with it.  I wanted to take pictures, I had brought my camera, but thought that it was inappropriate to do in the church…. well, boy was I wrong, everybody was whipping out cell phones and cameras and snapping away, apparently even one of the priests got on the pulpit to get a better shot from his camera!

Maybe he’s the church historian.  At any rate, the music I think was the most beautiful of all, very different from the Arabic pop mess I usually hear, and distinct from Quran recitations or Nasheeds… they had the words up on projectors, thank God, otherwise I wouldn’t have understood as much.  One of the songs about Mary moved me to tears… the choir, I guess was super on point.

I don’t remember much more, but I’m glad I went, what an experience to have for the first time in a place like Qatar….

I had no idea there were so many Arab Christians here! the sanctuary which was pretty big, was packed!…. it was like little Lebabnon…lol

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I wonder about myself, If an individual can appreciate the beauty of said experience without getting boggled down with details, innuendo and such.  What am I talking about?

a discussion we had in class one day about religious freedom, well it wasn’t a discussion, but it was headed in that direction… and then I think about what Tariq Ramadan said about human rights in Muslim-Majority (read— esp. Arab) countries and what Muslims in the West enjoy/face… then I think about an awesome discussion between Cornel West and Sherman Jackson that was filmed at Princeton last week and how Professor Jackson talked about the African-American community and  how cross-religious interaction was a common thing, because families don’t discriminate against family members of other faiths…. then I think about my family…and then I think about me. But that is for another blog entry.

Needless to say I am thinking about a lot of personal stuff, not that I have shut out the rest of the world, or no longer care about current events (like what is up with all the earthquakes? I hope the D.C. area is not on a fault line..) but Qatar has given me a lot of time to think and reflect on myself, on what I want, professionally, spiritually, and even emotionally to a lesser extent.  But these ideas aren’t flushed out… yet.

At any rate, Good Friday was pretty nice, school is about to be over… (I have to leave early if I’m going to start the next Arabic program on time…Al hamdullilah… 🙂

Sunakati and Rammadan in the Sierra Leonean Community

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I was not this past weekend. So I was able to indulge in one of the most awesome aspects of Rammadan among Sierra Leoneans –Sunakati.

Because of my family traditions, I don’t know if this term/word is exclusively for meals cooked by Christians for Muslims or for meals in general prepared for Muslims by anyone, but either way, you get the idea.

We visited my aunty Ami(na) and she is an awesome cook, and of course one of those people that pulls you into the kitchen the moment you step through the door. She’s an interesting character: a woman cooking during Rammadan while fasting, who supports Christian television ministries and enjoys gospel music… that about summs it all. I felt a little guilty because everyone else in the house had that slightly withered/listless look that can come from fasting in really hot weather… but it didn’t stop me from eating.

Then we went to my uncle’s house, whose wife is a Muslim convert to Christianity. Of course the pots were fired up cooking for her Muslim family members and friends (and passerbys like us too).

Once again, experiences like these bring the whole cross-religious interaction thing that I’m familiar with into focus. I love my people right now… and love the respect, and obeyance that people pay/make for other people’s religious beliefs.

ok, this is not supposed to be another sappy ode to Sierra Leoneans, but I guess I just feel so happy about them right now…. sigh… or maybe I’m just trying to keep my mind off of all the packing, and arranging I have to do.