On Being An (African)American vs. being an AFrican-American…

Standard

I was gonna post about the rest of my car exploits, but something else is on the brain, so that will have to wait.

I will start off with saying, I love black people, I really do (cue the racist rest of the sentence)… but I whenever I meet a group of black(American) ex-pats we seem to get into a funk. Namely, a I am gonna complain and look at everything that happens to me here within the racial framework of the US of A. This is problematic on so many levels.

It’s a hard rope to walk, I of all people know that. But imagine my surprise when an African American woman who could pass (really pass) for Arab was trying to school me on the way people in Arab society look at black people…. Um????!!! Okay!

Pardon my indignation, but you do NOT get to try and school me on how Arab societies view black women with clearly African features…

I am frustrated because I know where their frustration is coming from. This blog is all about that: the lusty gaze of men, the women who look at you like you should be cleaning their houses, the children who are afraid of you or run after you chanting racist epithets. I get it. I’ve been through it, I go through it.

And yet, it doesn’t make me closed off to the world. Maybe the African-Americans I am meeting have had the luxury of being in majority black settings up until they came here, But I haven’t. For at least 10 years, I have consistently been THE black person in classes, programs, work etc. And I’ve made friends of other races, friends I can be real with even with racial issues.

But somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten that others haven’t.

That became all the real for me when I was trying to explain what happened to a blonde friend of mine in Egypt. Sexual harassment all day, everyday (from men and women might I add). This experience I think, made her realize what black folk and other minority have gone through in other contexts.

My AA compadres reaction: oh well. It was interesting that one even confessed that she wouldn’t even feel bad for my friend had she been there in Egypt with her. Another woman saw it fit to school me on the male gaze towards white women vs. black women. Yes, white women are part on pedestals all day, everyday. And Yes, black women are more likely to be used as pedestals.

However, I can safely assume that neither woman went through in the US what my friends went through in Egypt. We would have to go back to at least, civil rights era deep south before we saw ish that crazy!

I have written this before, but being in a place where people automatically assume you are culturally depraved and will have sex with any man who wants it from you, is just as bad or worse as being in a place where people assume you are only a maid, or serve only in subservient roles.  Let’s be real: Both POVs involve dehumanizing the person in question.

At any rate, the lack of empathy, was alarming. Bitterness should not make you a cold, unfeeling b*^#$. Then again, it happens all the time. It is hard when  you feel like no one sympathizes with you, when you have no one that understands what you are going through.

And so, I realized the conversation was useless… they didn’t know my friend, and felt that they probably could never really be friends with a white person. So it’s heavy. It’s really hard.

It’s interesting to be an (African)American vs. being an African-American.

Yeah it’s all about differences in perspective

 

I feel like much of their frustration (and some of mine) comes from looking for people who hold views that are similar to yours.  But being the same shade is not the same as being from the same cultural group. People often remark, why can’t we be like the Filipinos or the Latinos, they have their groups and get along well… But We are on the outside of those communities looking inward. Sigh.

 

In Egypt the Revolution was televised…

Standard

So Mursi is out and the Army is in?

Many (most) of the Egyptians I know are happy with what happened, and I am resigned to the fact that Gazelle has no control over anything.   Hoping for the best, I guess.  After all, my Coptic friends seem to be relieved that the pending encroachment of political Islam on their lives has been stemmed.  As for most of the Muslims that I know, they didn’t vote for Morsi anyway and have been dissatisfied with his leadership style from the get-go.

Many are hopeful that the army’s takeover means implementation of the real transitional plan that the January 25th Revolution was supposed to achieve.

This is all anecdotal of course… but then again, so is much of what is being said IMO anyway…

Viva la Revolucion?

yes, what perhaps is more interesting to me is the plethora of pundits, intellectual bandits and news media people who all have something to say. Much of it is the same thing over and over.  Some of it is randomness.

Let’s face it, Egypt is the story of the hour.  A few weeks ago, it was the Tsarnaev brothers, week before last I guess it was the birth of North West….

No doubt this new chapter in Egypt is going to have long-term implications for foreign and perhaps even economic policy.  But, I wonder what good much of the different commentaries I have skimmed through and heard over the last 48 hours, will be to anyone?

How much of it is just blasting hot air?  How much of is just random people at think tanks who just want to be the ones who called “it” what ever “it” is, first?

I’m not going to point any fingers.  Anyone can Google Egypt right about now and find a plethora of random, organized and not-so-organized thoughts.

Besides, this is not what this post is about.

I fear MB reprisals, news of their tv stations being closed and their leaders being arrested is everywhere.  I also have a friend whose family member, she says was gunned down for being Ikhwani (Muslim brotherhood).

This divide is unsettling. I don’t know if MB leaning people are over reacting or if people who wanted Morsi out simply don’t care about what happens to the MB.  (A big mistake and pretty darn undemocratic IMO)

The Egyptian Experience continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.  In general my attitude towards politics is that

أنا ماليش دعوة بالسياسة

But something tells me that I will be following the ramifications of the newest chapter in the Egyptian Revolution, if only through my Facebook Contacts.

Something tells me the fight isn’t over

This Revolution even had me re-open my personal Twitter account (the password for which I never remember).  The last tweet I had was a reference to my then confusion as to which country I would be spending the second year of my Masters program in. (circa June 2011, to give you and idea of how long it’s been).

While there I stumbled upon this gem of a quote that someone else had tweeted:

This is not a coup d’état; it is a peaceful revolution.” -Colonel J.D. Mobutu, Sept 5, 1960.

Of course, I don’t think Mobutu came in with the kind of popular support that the army has come in with.  Plus, at least technically the army is not the head of state, the interim president is. In many ways this quote is like many others, being thrown out there about Egypt, despite the unique nature of the Egyptian context.

On the other hand, it would be kind of scary to see it ring true. I’m praying Egypt doesn’t rue the day that Mohammed Morsi was kicked out of the presidency.

 

Extra Prayers and Hugs for Egypt

Standard

I am tired and about to go to bed, but I’m throwing a prayer out there for peace and stability in the land that I called home for 9 eventful months.

When the Arab Spring caught up in Egypt, I was like most people, watching from the outside.  I had never been there and so, had nothing personal or tangible to link the events that were unfolding to.

But now, everything has changed. That American that got stabbed in Alexandria?  No, I didn’t know him, but I do know his Egyptian roommates (both great guys who warned him not to go out the protests,  but that is another entry for a time when I am not so sleepy—- Egypt in general was still not as turbulent as this incident might lead you to think, I know… I was there).  Moreover, Egypt is now a tangible place, with names, and back stories of conversations and kindnesses paid to me.  The program I was lucky enough to complete is going to be evacuated, or so I hear. They will probably be transplanted to the program center that I was in while in Morocco. This is all surreal.
And yet, it’s not terribly surprising.

BUt, I will leave the political posturing and ruminating to others.

Right now all I can do is write this blog entry.  And of course,

Yes, indeed I will

I pray for peaceful resolution to this political showdown.  I guess, since it’s my blog I can say what I really think:  Mursi is not the greatest, but he was elected democratically and should be allowed to complete his term.

That’s not what a lot the Egyptians that I knew in Egypt think though.  Allahu ‘Alim. I fear for Egyptian democracy and what will happen if/when the army takes over.  Will they be like the Turkish army, weaving in and out of the direct control of government as need be? I doubt it.

I am helpless to do anything, of tangible effect. No one knows what the end result will be. Somehow it seems that people are making bold declarations,  but I just say Rabna yastur (God help us).

Yeah, more in-depth (apolitical) analysis coming later.

You get the picture, no translation needed…

I can’t count the number of time I  or someone else intimated that Egypt is going to hell in a hand basket (most recently a group of Egyptians told me this).  And in many ways, I still feel like so many indicators point to this being true.  But, as all interested parties are bracing for the worst, and hoping for the best, I will too.

 

On Riding with an Egyptian Cabbie in America

Standard

The ride with the Egyptian driver was different, really different.  And it made me remember a lot of what I both liked and hated about Egypt.

I got into his cab, and noticed the eye of Fatma tasbih hanging from his rear view mirror.  I still didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but I was thinking to myself, this guy is definitely Muslim, probably Arab.  As I retell him my destination address, he goes, “The Cameroonian Embassy”  I had no idea what he was talking about (later on, I would realize that the Cameroonian embassy was actually really close to where I was headed).

Long story short, he realizes that I am headed to an Arab establishment, and wants to know if I am Arab.  I tell him no, but I speak Arabic.

And here begins a pretty nice conversation.  He chastises me for not speaking to him in Arabic when I first entered the cab (how was I supposed to know?… ha, ha…) and then we play the game of guess where he’s from.  His Egyptian accent was not particularly strong, so I thought he might be Yemeni or something.

At any rate, it turns out that he goes back to Egypt pretty frequently and actually goes to Alexandria, so we talked about how life was for me there, and how the political situation in Egypt as a whole sucks.  He professed his apathy for religious extremism. I must admit it was nice  to have a conversation with someone in Egyptian.

But then he goes there, only I didn’t know where the conversation was headed just yet.  He complemented my Arabic, saying my face lights up when I speak it and stuff like that. It’s been so long since I’ve communicated with a native speaker who isn’t Arab-American that the complements felt pretty good.

The next question was  “Are you married.”  My default answer is always no, but I am engaged. He then asked me about my fiancée, and I gave a wonderful description of a 6 foot 3, ivy league  and MIT educated Sierra Leonean-American wonder boy, that I actually have never met (and probably will never meet even if he does exist ha, ha…).

The cab driver then goes on about his American wife and how she made his life hell.  He apparently celebrated when he got divorced, so he advised me to take it slow and not rush into marriage just yet.

We reached my destination and he asked me if I had an aunt or sister that looked like me and was looking to get married.  Apparently he really “likes women who like me.” Surprised at the question, and weirded out by how similar it was to situations I’ve been in other countries, I told him that I do not.  Unfortunately, it was in my “I’m uncomfortable, so I’m going to smile and probably make you think I’m being coquettish” way.  He pressed the issue again, and I tried to be a little more firm.

I thanked him for his time and was on my way… ha, ha….

This was really funny cab ride for a lot of reasons. It really took me back to Egypt and how cab drivers were great language practice.  Actually, I’m not the only one that thinks so, there’s actually a book set in cab rides around Cairo with the narrator focusing on his interactions with them.

At the same time, it really took me back to Egypt and this weird thing that happened there.

The “are you married, I want someone just like you,” thing.  Ugh.  It just makes me wonder.  Dude, you just talked about how your marriage did not work out.  If you pick your partners the way you are trying to pick one with me, then maybe that’s part of the problem…Well, your problem… ha, ha.  If we were in Egypt, I would think that it’s probably more about my passport being blue than anything else.  Well, actually perhaps a mix of passport being blue and people actually getting married that way, after one meeting.

But he’s in the States… and according to him, has been here for a very long time.  Perhaps I underestimate the extent to which traditional practices and frameworks persist.

But to each his own.

What’s the Difference between a Dialect and a Language?: Arabic Edition…

Standard

This was originally an aside in an intended post that nonetheless will appear at some point in the future.  But I felt like it deserved a post of it’s own.

A friend of mine in this program speaks Portuguese. I speak Spanish.  When we want to talk about something we don’t other people to know about, we speak these languages to each other.  Granted for whatever reason, Portuguese is a bit grating to my ear, over the course of time I have gotten used to it… a little. I understand her and she understands me (my friend that is, not the Portuguese language). My point being that their  (i.e. Spanish and Portuguese) roots in Latin enable me to decipher what my friend is saying and  she me.

I’ve heard it said that the difference between a language and a dialect is that languages have armies, as I end my formal education in relation to Arabic language I am all the more struck by how true that is.

As I reflect on how far my understanding of the Moroccan dialect has come, much like I did with the Egyptian dialect, I feel that the entire experience is more akin to learning a new language than it is to just acquiring another dialect.  Wait, let me back track.

When I first started learning Arabic (yikes! 10 years ago) I learned Modern Standard Arabic, it’s like Mandarin Chinese (I hope this analogy is a fair one), the standard form of the language.  In the Arab world, Modern Standard is the Arabic that for the most part, books (fiction and non-fiction) are written in, it’s the Arabic you hear on the news and that you read in the newspapers and Magazines.  It’s a language that is spoken daily, but not on the streets.

That is where the dialects come in.  Every country, and even sub-regions within countries have their own dialect of Arabic.  Each dialect has been affected by the historical, geographical and cultural circumstances specific to that region.  For example, Egyptian dialect in terms of sentence structure and even some of it’s words, is highly influenced by the ancient pharaonic language, that is to say that, when Arabs invaded North Africa, they brought their language with them.  Egyptians (Much like the Phoenicians in the Levant—Lebanon, Syria, Palestine etc. and the Amazigh in the rest of North Africa) didn’t completely do away with their native tongue.  I think of it as each region speaking Arabic with it’s own accent and local color.

If you want to communicate with people in everyday life in the Arab world you are better off learning a dialect.  Even if you are understood (and for the most part you will be) people in a lot of places will think of you as weird.  In Egypt, you will be laughed at… ha, ha.  😦

But back to the point of this post, Are these different Arabics really different languages? Or are they just dialects?   On the one hand, Once you understand how the language changes from Modern Standard to a particular dialect, it get’s easier to apply that knowledge to the context of another dialect.  Take me for instance, it took a full calendar year to get to Advanced level understanding of the Syrian dialect, about 9 months to get to near native understanding of Egyptian and now, about 2.5 months  to get to somewhere between advanced and near-native Moroccan… (only test results will tell).

Sometimes it feels like the similarities between dialects start and finish with the Arabic Alphabet…

Some things in grammar are pretty much the same, a lot of sayings and proverbs are the same or very similar.  For Example, in Egyptian Arabic, if you want to say that the old dog was up to his old tricks again, you could say

رجعت ريمة لعداتها القديمة (Rima went back to her old habits) but in Moroccan Arabic you say

رجعت حليمة لعداتها القديمة (Halim went back to her old habits)

Not much change here.

But like I said, these dialects are highly influenced by the culture and language of the local inhabitants.  In the case of Moroccan dialect, intonation and pronunciation are clearly the vestiges of the influence of the Berber (Amazigh) dialect.  This is why even though many of the words in Moroccan dialect are actually Modern standard words, many Arabs from other countries don’t understand when Moroccans are talking (I have literally seen Arabic-language programming where Moroccan callers/commentators/contestants are subtitled!…. same language?  I think not).

That is why, after 2 years of learning different dialects, and getting better at being able to differentiate between them, I am basking in my effort to learning/trying to master a new language.

The state I have been in since I started learning these dialects…. sigh.

Yes, that it precisely what I consider the Arabic dialects that I have earned to be: Languages.  They have about as much in common as French and Spanish have with each other, and yet someone gets credit for being a poly-glot because they mastered 2, 3 or 4 Romance languages and I don’t because I technically know  only Arabic…. Sigh. It is indeed a strange state of affairs.

My experience learning Moroccan Arabic this summer, makes me recall my one-month intensive Catalan language program that I did in 2008.  I had the same wrinkles in my forehead as I tried to remember the slight differences, the big differences and the similarities between the two languages.  Despite the fact that a very good point could be made that Catalan and Spanish are probably more similar than Moroccan and Egyptian.  Despite that after one month, I pretty much understood Catalan and regarded it (mentally) as just Spanish with a different accent, while it would be pretty hard to do that with Moroccan and Egyptian, One of these pairs is a pair of languages and the other is not.

So yes, I indulged in a little first world problems mindset today… (how come Katy gets to say that she speaks 5 languages and I can’t?) But my point, I think still stands).  Questions of Arab unity aside, different Arabic dialects are not like the differences between British, American and Australian English.  They have their own rules, verb conjugations, sentence structures you name it.   Are Arabic dialects different languages? Or not?

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

Standard

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…

On Getting Older and Getting….

Standard

I found out yesterday that my class is actually hosting a 10-year reunion.  I will not be attending.  It will be two days before I am supposed to leave for Spain,frankly it’s the least of my concerns.  But it was interesting to look at the FB page for it.  Go Class of 2002!  I never thought anyone would actually put in the effort to get it off the ground.  ha, ha….

I guess it was the perfect end to a bad day… ha, ha. Ten years come and gone so fast… terrible litmus test. Ten years ago, I was a lot happier, wide-eyed and full of good expectations about the world and what the future had to offer.  I believed in true love, that man is by nature good, that learning about other cultures is a golden ticket to cross-cultural understanding, that there is a Divine purpose behind human suffering, although may not recognize it… I could go on and on  … Ten years later, none of that applies… I am constantly evaluating and reevaluating everything, every concept, every precept.

As my posts indicate I am in a slump of sorts.  The more it continues the more I realize that it has less to do with quarter life crises (after all, I am practically past my quarter life point… :-/) and more to do with … well let’s just say other stuff.

What does this all mean in the practical.  I am not sure yet.  On one hand this is normal.  It came to me the other day, that my trips to the Arab world always seem to leave me hanging on by a thread on a lot of levels.  The tiredness that comes with looking different and feeling different and doing things differently.  The yearning for what I know to be just there when and where I want it.

It’s like this:  Morocco,Yemen, Egypt, Qatar, each place, and each visit, involved me stripping a layer off.  Sometimes it was naivete, sometimes it was optimism, sometimes it was religious conviction, sometimes it was fear.

After all that stripping, I don’t think I have anything else left to bear!

But it’s not just the Arab world, or rather being in it during the most trying month of the year.  It’s everything and everyone.  I need a break!  I don’t think being on US soil would do the trick…

The fact is, I can’t remember when I last had a chance to sit and just not think.  Just sit and listen to pure silence.  Nowadays, because I share a room, the only place where I can really think for myself and to myself is in the bathroom… ha, ha…

I’ve had ongoing headaches as a result, … actually maybe the headaches are a result of being locked in a house with no AC with over 100 degree temperatures daily… :-(I But whatever, I literally go to sleep and tons of thoughts are still racing in my mind.

Nonetheless, my point is duly made.

This post may seem cryptic, well that’s because it is… Needless to say, I am entering another transitional phase and am not sure how I am going to fare with it, but I’m trying to come out of it a better person, and with my sanity in tact.