On Thanksgiving, the cross-cultural slump and oh yes, the Egyptian elections

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Needless to say the last week was eventful.  While the chaotic events transpsired out in the streets, we (the people in my program) are teetering between conversations about where we would go should we get evacuated and being able to enjoy Thanksgiving… which was a pretty sweet celebration.

We even had a “Thanksgiving Day parade”  Not the one that Macy’s makes, the kind that comes when groups of frustrated Egyptians march down the street en route to the final destination… the military base/building some 30 minutes away.  We watched this from the rooftop of a classmates apartment while eating cakes and such some 7 floors above.

Sometimes it feels like I am in another world.  Life truly goes on as usual for me.  I don’t live near the centers of protest, Allhamdullilah!

 

I suppose I have to go the selfish route and mention my own personal struggle this week with feeling like the entire world continues to turn as I sit here for  year.  My life is on hold and other peoples’ are not.  Perhaps I am at that point in the journey where I really have to question why I am here.  Part of me wishes I had chosen a different path, one that would have me more fulfilled for now, the other part of me knows that this is all part and parcel of being abroad.   I’m sure this part of the post sounds a bit cryptic, but needless to say I’ve been hit with a string of whammies… information, good news for others, but surprising news for me.  I am just a bit taken aback by it all.  There hasn’t been enough time to process all that has transpired during my absense, and during my one-year hiatus while finishing the first year of this program.

It’s almost 3 months since I set foot in the “motherland.”  To be quite honest the experience has largely been good.

And this is the thought I tried to hone in on during the TG holiday.  I have so much to thankful for, time to focus on them and let the rest sort itself out.  Life is not a race, it’s a journey. ..

More external issues to think about, like a peaceful first day of elections tomorrow, Inshallah.

Bombing in Jama el-Ifna

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I was so sad to read this today.

Marrakesh is my absolute favorite city in Morocco, and whenever I went there I stayed in that very square.  I definitely passed through that cafe before.  nothing left to do but pray for the souls of those who died and those who think bombs are a way to get what they want.

ON Arab-African Relations: the Israel factor

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So I watched this video for a class, and it was quite enjoyable (if you understand Arabic) as a matter of fact, I actually am getting into the program Minbar Al-Jazeera because it is one of the few programs that just feature the ideas presented by regular people.

At any rate, yup yup back to Arab-African relations.  The thing that I on one hand understand the reasons behind on the other hand see as a scapegoat for a lot of things is the Israel factor.  Apparently Israel is making a concious effort to strenghten its diplomatic relations with sub-Saharan AFrican countries, which is putting many Arab countries/communities in an uproar.

Well, that is what you would think if you watched this program and read some of the articles for class.

The reasoning goes that anywhere that Israel goes it is trying to undermine the influence and power of the Arab world.  In fact, the main  and recurring question throughout the episode above is does Israeli’s presence in Africa pose a threat to the Arab world?

Which is fair enough I suppose.  But this discussion much like everything else that I  read in Arabic about this completely strips Africans of their Agency!

Africa is still viewed as cake to be divided up, In fact more than one caller says that Africa is being divvied up between America, France and China. (or some variation thereof).

I made it point to tell my instructor today that the Arabic sources are treating Africans as if they don’t have common sense and can’t think for themselves.  As if AFrican leaders don’t have Concerns and strategic priorities.  In fact, for me this discussion reads as if Africa just sits there and will blindly follow whomever will offer some bread for her poor , naked, starving people.

This, I think is a terrible mistake because its not a realistic base from which issues can be resolved.

I always refer to it, but the Southern Sudan issue is the oft-repeated example.  In fact someone on the program says that it’s Israel that encouraged the Southerns to fight against the central government and push for independence.

Really?  I thought it was the 100+ years of degradations, and eexploitation on the part of the ruler of the time (Ottomans, the Mahdiyya, the British, and  then the modern Sudanese state) couple with post-independence antagonism and struggle that was the root of that conflict!  Israel is a cop-out to the government and the Arab League’s inability to face reality on this issue.

Then we have the fight over the Nile.  Which is something I really don’t fully understand the details of up until now.  The Source of the Nile is the Victoria River which is located in a bunch of AFrican countries.  Other smaller sources are located in a bunch of AFrican countries like Rwanda and  Ethiopia and maybe Eritrea as well.  The main problem as I understand it is that Egypt and Sudan will be adversely affected by any sort of plans that these African countries take to use the Nile waters for their own purposes.

This is compounded by the fact that they have banded together to revoke Egypt’s right to veto any decision made by any other country on building dams and agricultural projects and such.

The article my instructor had me read was something so the effect of “x.y and z country band together to destroy Egypt!” What!!!!!!!!!

While I understand Egypt and Sudan’s concern with this issue, after all the Nile is the Life source for both countries, I must confess what intrigued me most about this issue, what I want to know is,

How in the world did Egypt get the right to veto any other country’s development project? Me thinks that the terms of this initial agreement (from 1929) need to be revisited.  Unfortunately it will mean that Egypt and Sudan will have to do with less.

But I would wager that this has more to do with countries trying to find ways to feed their people and develop their economies… than Israel convincing those Africans that they should get those Arabs up North… sigh.

But what do I know?

Africans are a lot more savvy than people give us credit for.  We are not clueless about the true reason behind other people’s interest in the continent.

Ok Let me recant my previous Post… I might maybe be going to Syria… possibly

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Ai, yai, yai…

So I still am not 100% sure about what I am supposed to be doing in just a few months. Or make it a month and a half.

I could be still in the States, I could be in Syria (although It certainly does not seem likely) or I could be in another Arab country either Jordan or Egypt.  Stuff is changing so much I’m not even trying to keep up… it’s hard because I am not particularly excited about either place… lol.

thankfully, should I end up in Egypt I will be in Alexandria, and not Cairo which is what makes me think I could actually survive a year in Um-alduniya (the mother of the world— what Egyptians call Egypt).  And yet Alexandria brings with it its own set of issues, for one it’s more conservative that Cairo from what I understand, I did the conservative thing for 8 months in Qatar and it can be stifling and chafing if it’s not your thing.  Then,  the Egyptian dialect could be an issue as I am not really exposed to it much, don’t really get it and don’t particularly like it (no offense)… I have to admit I have had a bias against Egyptian Arabic  for a while… probably since I started learning Arabic… sigh. I feel like I am finally getting the hang of Syrian Arabic, and now I May need to learn a whole other dialect. Sigh.

I guess the larger issue is that Egyptians are infamous for not being the most understanding of people who don’t speak their dialect… I have heard from countless people that they were laughed at in the streets of Cairo for using Modern Standard Arabic… sigh… Maybe Syrian will be enough for me to get by.

As for Jordan, eh.  I can’t imagine spending a year there, and not even Amman, but a more rural setting (read- conservative and booooooring… for me at least).  But we will see.  I am not shedding any tears for Damascus just yet…

Getting to the Arab world is apparently just half the adventure… who knows where I will end up 🙂 That’s why it’s best to keep my research of the racial factor in my potential host country until I know where exactly that host country will be…lol

طلع مبارك…. ألف مبروك للمصريين

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Viva la revolucion!

The Pharaoh has finally let the people go!

Long live the spirit of the Egyptian Revolution!

A new era has begun!

I guess my next question is much the same for many … who’s next?  will the revolution continue to spread?

My bet is probably Yemen, although many of my classmates think it will be Jordan.  eh, I think the situation in Yemen is a lot more dire, people are more poor, more angry, perhaps… but, really, who knows?

I need to look up how Africans (ahem, sub-saharan Africans) are following the news, are they gonna go on and get inspired too? It seems 2011 is going to be a very interesting year.

Right now, it feels like anything is possible, kind of like the extreme happiness I felt when America finally elected its first black President.  It’s the sensation that whatever you might think or lean political or ideologically you have to be proud of the fact that people had their voice heard.  And in particular, the youth saw what can happen when they aren’t dissaffected.  I’m inpsired… to what, I don’t know… but vamos a ver.

Studying Arabic just got a whole lot more interesting 🙂 …  I’m happy to be in a milieu that forces me to digest this information in its natural habitat.  Of course, I’ve got my eye on Syria, and I won’t lie, whatever happens in the next few will certainly affect the choices I make with regards to Damascus living.  I’m thinking of perhaps living as close to the American embassy as possible (if only I were joking).

But Syria was never as bad as Egypt, so we’ll see.  At this point I think that  “never say never” when talking about the future is about we can do.

On Mubarak Must Go! or Mubarak must go?— Egypt-less Arabic Study Abroad Options

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Yes, but for what?

So, in light of what is going in Egypt I am thinking about another, issue.

If there is a regime change, what will be the fate of all the study abroad and language programs in this Arabic education hot-spot?

Off the top of my head I know that there is a Middlebury College and Arabic Flagship programs in the University of Alexandria, the ALI, CASA and ILI in Cairo and a slew of other international programs.

Egypt, up until now has been a bastion of relative peace and stability.  Unfortunately the opportunity to study Arabic in the Arab world feels like it is slowly diminishing…  sigh.  I don’t lament this for selfish reasons.

But rather I am thinking of the larger implications as Egypt is “Kind of a big deal”.

Case in point, about half of the students in my program have studied in Egypt.  Want to know why?  simply check out University websites like the University of Michigan  for a  list of study abroad programs:  http://www.umich.edu/~neareast/arabicstudy.html

Surprise, surprise. There are significantly more Egypt programs than there are anything else.

The reality is there just aren’t many alternatives…

My beloved Morocco is scoffed at by many who (with good reason and without good reason depending on how you look at it) just don’t want to deal with the Moroccan dialect.

Yemen, although IMHO one of the best places to learn Arabic is a hot mess (I am happy that I got to study there when I did).

Tunisia (which was never a real big Arabic language learning destination, is wobbly right now anyway.

Lebanon is always tip toeing around one political upheaval or another.

Saudi Arabia is just way too conservative.

Sudan is off limits — for most Americans anyway and Libya tooo for that matter.

Algeria— well, although the situation is stable there, the blot of its long, drawn-out civil war plus its North African dialect makes it not a contender.

So who is left?

Qatar/The Gulf region(minus SA of course)— good luck finding people who speak Arabic!  if full language immersion is what you’re looking for, then the Gulf is definitely not it.

Iraq- Are you serious?

Of course there are other places like  Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritania and Niger… but let’s be real, I find it hard to believe that any of these places will take Egypt’s place. Sigh.

The way I see it the only viable options are now,

Syria— Awesome, great programs, great Arabic and tentatively unscathed.

Jordan-— They’ve go some really good programs, but perhaps not nearly enough to hand the demand.

Oman — over looked, but stable possibility as far less oil-infused Gulf Arab state.

Israel* — I think the caveats go without saying.

But I don’t know if these places can handle the overflow.

At any rate, it looks like change is coming… so here’s to being along for the ride.

 

The Egyptians mean business

Well this is it for me and Egypt… I am tired of all the ME heads referencing it on Facebook and blogs and the newspapers… my two cents have been shared.

On Being American– Conversations I Don’t Want to Have

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There is nothing like going abroad to make me realize how protective I am of America.  yes, when I’m home I complain about x, y and z.  But now that I am here, you better not talk trash about my country…lol..

Case in point I let myself get dragged into the dreaded Israel-Palestine argument. I’A that will not happen again. I don’t like it because it’s usually like talking to brick walls.  In my defense I didn’t start it, this girl in the cafeteria did, by saying that American foreign policy never changes and that Obama hasn’t changed the agenda much at all and that “the Jews” own and control everything. Not the Jews as  individuals  or corporations mind you, but rather… well I don’t know what she meant by that…. I think she was implying that they were their own branch of the government… I think.

At any rate, that’s nothing that I haven’t heard before. But she then goes on to tell me that there is nothing for Palestinians to learn from the US civil rights movement because black people were trying to get integrated but “Palestinians are not integrated at all”…hmmm I guess she didn’t understand that the point of the movement for integration was that the black community was not integrated into the white one (and it still isn’t sometimes…but I digress).

Her main point was that Palestinians were 100% right in whatever they do and that they should keep on with their attacks until they win.

hmmm what else? Oh yes, the most important point of all, I don’t understand Palestinian suffering because I haven’t experienced it by living in privileged America.

That’s just about the most ridiculously patronizing thing I have heard in a while. Even after I broke down for her that I’m not some American that has never left US soil, that my family is from Sierra Leone and I could tell you some things from what’s happened to them that would make you shiver, her response was well, I live in the Middle East and have experienced it.

Which Middle Eestern country you might ask?…. Bahrain! freaking Bahrain!  Yes, she is practically in the Gaza strip :(…

Never mind my 2 degrees in Middle East Studies— I don’t live in Bahrain, so I have nothing of value to say.

—- Hence why I almost NEVER discuss this issue— but it wasn’t my fault honest….

The summary of how the discussion/argument went is a bit choppy, but I really didn’t totally disagree with her.  I just didn’t agree with half the stuff that she was saying, and ask people to qualify their statements— which she didn’t do all the time.

At any rate, we don’t have to agree all the time, this is normal, heck we don’t have to any  time.

I really am  tired of trite diatribes and people sounding like parrots…  Maybe it’s just me, but my worldview is all about practical, objective ways to resolve issues…. maybe that’s why I don’t run anything, not even my own life…lol!…

But seriously I think there  is a bit of language barrier going on too, her English is perfectly good,  but sometimes I think messages get cross wired somehow— I know I do that in Arabic too, you sort of latch on to one meaning, perhaps the main meaning of a word, and when someone uses it outside of that context you misunderstand the message. Or maybe it’s just a very different format for argumentation than I can understand.

I don’t know if that girl and I will talk anymore….the conversation did get pretty civil after that.  Although, oh well no free homestay in Bahrain for me…lol—-

My Bahraini is entitled to here opinion, and in the end that is exactly what I told her.  Well I also said that she shouldn’t expect me to accept her point of view as my own.

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This conversation is symptomatic of many things:

I really hate it when people who have never set foot in the US try to tell Americans what America is and what it isn’t.  What US politics is and what it isn’t.  It’s happened in every country I’ve been to and it really makes mad!

I’m not sure whether to roll my eyes or just ignore statements like:

“America is a very unsafe place”— how the  do you know that?— and what does that mean?

“Americans are all fat and eat Mcdonalds all the time”—- Um do I look fat to you? because we’re the same size.

I know Americans get a bad rap for being ignorant.  But I have met plenty of people ABROAD that give the most ignorant Joe schmo a run for his money.  At least Joe accepts the fact that he’s ignorant, heck he may even revel in it.  I think it’s worse to make authoritative, blanket statements that aren’t really rooted in much besides what you think things must be like. Or worse still, tv shows and movies.  I am not one of those “Flavor of love Girls“…. and I don’t hang out with Ross and Rachel in the part of NYC where apparently no black people exist… and I am not afraid of Arabs or Muslims (yeah get that too).

I hate it when people try to define who I am, my society, and what my life experiences must be.

I don’t live, have never lived and will probably never live in Saudi, and as such certain things are off limits in my mind at least, as to what I can say about it. But everybody wants to talk about America and tell Americans what it is, isn’t and should be. Sigh…. too many bad memories of stupid arguments.

I really do hope no more Israel-Palestine— but I can’t always sit by and let people make blanketed, ignorant comments…    that’s just how it has to be.

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and another thing, that strikes me as a  bit weird, why is what religion are you/are yo Muslim like the first question after what is your name?—lol… It’s weird from an American perspective, I guess because religion is a more private affair than it is here…. hmmm maybe this warrants an entire blog entry in itself.

It’s just not a question that I would ever ask someone off the bat.  Maybe after getting to know them for a minute… but different strokes for different folks.

— and another thing… Don’t ask me who I voted for! That’s nunya!

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Wow, this post is more like a streak of grievances with living abroad.