Have you ever been caught without a pen? (No computer or other recording device either). I’m not talking about when you’re taking a test or filling out an application and you can ask the person next to you. I mean when you literally have no means to write.
Maybe you’re outside, see something interesting and want to write it down, maybe you want to remember something, you could be reading something and you want to take notes. Maybe you’re on an airplane or a train and want to journal your thoughts.
I’ve felt completely de-powered in these situations. In the luckier instances, I’ve resorted to using eyeliner, highlighters or anything I got my hands on, which could make marks I could hopefully read in the future–or at least, express myself in the moment. In these situations I’ve always felt surprised. Surprised at extent I’m distressed by my lack of ability to record.
What does writing mean to you? How do you use the skill? To me it’s expressing my thoughts, a way for me to think “out-loud,” a way to sort things out, clear my mind, learn, communicate with others and myself, remember, keep records, schedule and manage my time, state opinions, respond to others, ask questions, create, etc. And then there’s reading, which especially with internet access, is access to knowledge.
In the U.S. and around the world, millions cannot read and write. While there are many other ways to express oneself– think art, dance, talking, etc–not all are as peaceful and productive as having the ability to get ones thoughts out in writing. Think violence, vocal outbursts, etc.
In Afghanistan around 28 percent of the population is literate—out of women, only 12.6 percent. I just watched part of a Frontline piece about the U.S. operation there and in Pakistan. How would it be different if those people in villages in Afghanistan were blogging and reading online? Many likely have TVs, but it is not the same kind of power to actively seek and choose information and there is no feedback. No means to inject one’s own experiences and opinions.Increase cultural exchange, increase cross-cultural understanding….
How many people around the world of all ages have some kind of online expression, whether a blog, twitter, Facebook, even professional communication sites such as linkedin. Writing online, reading online, news online, inter-human connections online. People who cannot read and write cannot participate in this.
Another question, what is the internet like for non-English speakers? What about those who speak uncommon languages. To what extent is information available in different languages (barring government censorship of sites), are translations available and usable?….If Wikipedia is any clue, the numbers are drastically different with changes in tongue. Over 3,180,000 in English, with Dutch coming in second place, (can that be possible?) with over 1,019,000.
Just some thoughts to start the day. Please contribute yours!
Update 4/25/11- FYI I am removing the contents of this post due to the highly personal nature of the content.
Why do we think how we do? What shapes our lives? What can we learn? The following is a series of anecdotes, which in part, explain how I have reached certain opinions. I have received a lot of personal criticism over the last few days. This is my response.
Thanks for reading!
I love going to work in the morning.
Not only because I love my job, but because my trip there (only 20 minutes!) is always filled with interesting sightings and people. Whether an especially precarious load atop someone’s head on a bicycle, clothes waving in the wind or half-understood conversations with the neighborhood tawla champ or a fruit-seller, my walk is never dull. The short journey is always filled with waves, smiles and sabah el-khair (good morning).
As I become more comfortable with the sights and sounds, I increasingly notice how beautiful and unexpected things are around every corner.
I feel like I could walk this way my whole life, and something new would draw my attention each time.
Cutting through the alleys, I stall to gaze at an unexpected courtyard, a nursery? with flowers painted on the walls, men polishing elegant furniture, or knots of garlic or bright clothes catching the sunlight.
I talk about Cairo a lot to friends and family across the world. I want to convey my passion, the beauty, the community, the ‘differentness.’ But there’s only so much words can say.
So today, enjoy the walk with me!
It’s the end of another long workday at RLAP, I rise from my laptop, in conversation with another coworker across the room. As I walk by *Samira, a favorite Iraqi woman who has worked in our office as translator, in St. Andrew’s library and most recently as one of our start cooking teachers, pokes my right hip.
“Ahh you are getting fat!” she scolds me.Her inquisitive eyes look over my stomach, covered by a thin purple t-shirt and draped with a veil going down to my thighs. She shakes her head with concern. “Your form, ” she mourns, “it’s because you sit at a desk all day,” she concludes.
Our legal director, Stephanie, and the other remaining intern in the office look on horrified.
After being in Egypt, and in particular with Iraqis, for over 6 months I’m neither concerned or surprised by Samira’s remarks. At a party a couple months ago a different Iraqi woman poked at another interns fat and similarly advised a course of action. Once, twice in a day, clients asked Stephanie if she was pregnant when she wore a slightly baggy shirt.
A former figure skater and someone who takes pride in her body, I’ve reached the point where these comments are amusing rather than traumatizing. Though I don’t go to the gym here, (no time!) I do yoga at home (occasionally,) walk a lot and eat a relatively healthy array of foods. (Well if you subtract all the oil and frying). Plus, I cannot be too concerned since my clothes still fit!
Not limited to Iraqis, I’ve had similar experiences with Egyptians. After not seeing an Egyptian friend for a couple weeks, he greeted me with an enthusiastic, “You gained weight!”
“What?!” I said, not reacting with the same nonchalance I showed to Samira today.
“No, it’s good,” he tried to assure me. “It’s in the right places. Egyptians like women who aren’t too skinny.”
Though I explained how my American culture typically views weight, how the youngest boys know women don’t like to hear such comments, he was only amused.
As we walked out the door moments later he commented on how my butt filled out my jeans.
Though my Egyptian friend might have approved, Samira is having none of it. ”You must do 10 minutes of Arabic once a week,” she prescribed.
“You mean aerobics,” I correct. “But I don’t think it will help. If I’ve gained weight it’s because you cook me too much delicious food.”
Brendan, a fellow Northeastern student and coincidently RLAP legal intern, draws her attention to his stomach. Our Iraqi friend is undeterred.”You’re a man. It’s Ok…but Lily! ” Laughing, trying not to, I nod seriously in agreement. “Obviously women like men with bellies.” Missing my sarcasm, Samira insists any weight Brendan gained is inconsequential.
I ask Samira if the aerobics can be belly dancing and she raises her hands and slightly shakes her hips.
“So, is your only concern my stomach?” I ask, remembering another time when an Iraqi commented that my cheeks looked fuller.
“Yes,” she verifies, seemingly slightly concerns I’m stuck on the subject. “Here in Egypt, you’re normal, you’re how they like it.” Unlike my Egyptian friend, she at least has one part of American tastes right. “In America they like skinny,”
She does a model walk, raising her hands and shaking her hips slightly. “You must walk like this in your bathing suite in America. I’m tempted to point out I’m destined to spend the next few months in freezing Boston. Instead I just smile, nodding at the severity of my new challenge.
” You’re Ok now,” she confirms. “But I like you. I want you to be number one!”
The last word: I’m looking forward to some belly dancing classes!
*I’ve changed her name in an effort to not put her on the spot. Though, I actually think she’d be flattered by the attention.
Ten students (American, Canadian and Norwegian ), our Iraqi teacher Azhar, a couple Iraqi friends and myself, are squeezed into St. Andrew’s modest kitchen. Some students jot notes, while others cut onions or mix a concoction containing surprising amounts of garlic, spices and oil.
It’s RLAP’s second Iraqi cooking class, a fundraiser to support out work providing legal, psychosocial and cultural advising, as well as English classes to refugees in Egypt.While working as a legal advisor can become completely consuming, we’ve got to escape our endless interviews and piles of testimonies once in a while. Cooking delicious food and earning money to sustain our work seemed like the perfect break from the routine.
One of the best perks of my work Resettlement Legal Aid Project (RLAP) is the constant flow of sumptuous and inspiring Iraqi food. From frequent parties on weekends–whether a birthday, holiday or a resettlement case won–to homemade lunches sent to work, there always seems to be something to celebrate and a willing Iraqi ready to prepare the goods.When the topic of fundraisers arose it seemed natural to share our wealth of food knowledge with the wider Cairo community.
Some highlights of our first two classes are: 19 students (and me!) with hints about Iraqi cooking and newfound lust for Iraqi food, expats buying meat, (there’s a stereotype here that many expats never learn how to cook and buy meat in Egypt) hilarious translation bloopers (the first teacher who taught only speaks Arabic), new friends and connections(everyone seemed to leave the class with someone’s contact info).
And what caught me by surprise?
Cooking was only one of two draws to the class. More than one student loitered outside the kitchen, questioning our Iraqi friends about their lives rather than the culinary traditions. Working and socializing with Iraqis on a daily basis, it seems I’ve lost all sense of what thoughts about Iraqis and Iraq conjure for many other Americans. Will I get a reality shock back in the States in a few weeks?
Classes and menus are arranged on a weekly basis. Let me know if you’re in town and want to reserve a spot.
Otherwise, you better hope I feel like showing off my newly acquired skills the next time we meet =)
My Arabic teacher, Nancy, has asked us to keep our eyes open. You’ll notice all sorts of changes as Ramadan approaches, she said.
From a growing amount of pastries, dried fruit, and special Ramadan lanterns, to clothing vendors shouting something, of which the only word I could decipher was “Ramadan”–Cairenes are seemingly in a frenzy preparing for the month-long holiday.
Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holiest month because it’s when Muhammad Hussein, the prophet of Islam, is believed to have revealed the Koran.
Thinking a month long holiday sounds fun?
From what I’ve learned thus far, a theme of the month is discipline.
“In Ramadan, we don’t only abstain from food, drink, smoking, marital sex, but also we abstain form all kinds of immoral acts and obscenity,”Wrote Dr. Muhammad M. Abu Laylah, a professor at Azhar University, on Islamonline.net.
“Our social, religious, charitable acts are combined in our fasting. So, the month of Ramadan is an intensive course in physical and spiritual hygiene.”
Ok. Really think about this. No water in the 100+ heat and no cigarettes for the chain-smoking taxi-drivers. Though just to clarify, “In Ramadan,” refers to the fasting period–sunrise to sunset only. The prophet specifically permits marital sex outside these hours.
While the fast is a personal challenge, in the land of bowabs (doormen) who monitor all comings and goings, neighbors who all know each other and generations of families who live together, or course the holiday is very community oriented.
As fasting is not an option but required of Muslims (there are exceptions for illnesses, travelers, pregnant women, soldiers and young children) it becomes an obligatory social, as well as religious event.
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (i.e. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.” (2:183-84)
The countdown until August 22nd is on.
This is just the teaser
A couple days ago an Egyptian friend told me the infamous Moulid at Saayida Zeinab mosque was cancelled because of the hoorah over swine flu.
They don’t want big crowds, he said.
Camping out, as hundreds of thousands supposedly do in the weeks leading up to the big day, was declared illegal by the Egyptian authorities.
Moulids, meaning birthdays, are Suffi traditions celebrated all over Egypt.
Not specified in the Koran many Muslims do not know, partake or condone the practice.
This one in particular celebrates Saayida Zeinab, who is the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammed, and therefore must occur only at her mosque.
When my roommate AJ announced it was today and he was covering it (he’s a journalist), I repeated what my friend said and stared out the window, wondering where all the people were.
While the huge crowds might have stayed home, Saayida’s birthday, was not a total bust.
Standing in front of the mosque, with an Egyptian friend, Amr, crowds swarmed around us.
He pointed out the frequency of galabyias–the long loose dresses men wear. It’s a different style than how we dress in Cairo, he said, explaining most of the worshippers are from rural regions of upper and lower Egypt.
A guy wearing a shirt reading, “I’m Noisy” with Elmo and white girl bearing arms, we drew attention from the crowd and the interest of a cop.
Do you want to go in the mosque? Amr asked me. The women go in that way–he pointed to an entrance where a mob of women fought to descend a couple steps into the mosque.
Yeah definitely! Can I…I asked? Our new buddy, the cop, said I could if I covered my arms and hair.
Putting on my veil, I spotted a women, standing with two friends, snapping my picture.
One of the friends came over.
Are you here to see this? She asked in Arabic, which Amr translated.
I live down the street, I told her. But yeah, I’m here now to check it out.
Are you scared of getting swine flu because of the big crowd.
Everywhere in Cairo is crowded, I answered. Plus I’m American, don’t you think I already have it? (Swine flu has been a huge deal here, especially since cases were found among American University students. Co-workers say people have moved away from them on subways out of fear of catching the bug.)
As she began to ask another questions, I became suspicious.
Her questions were well thought out, targeted for a specific angle…her friend snapped another picture and she held, what I’d thought was an iPod in her hand.
She was dressed differently, looked better kept and more focused than the many milling around the area.
Are you a journalist? I asked her in Arabic.
Are you recording this?
She said she wasn’t.
She asked if I was going to go in. I said I was, half hoping she’d join.
She didn’t seem to have any intention.
Her friend snapped another picture as I put on my headscarf and Amr and I headed to the entrance.
I relinquished my shoes to a guy at the door was pushed forward by the masses of woman vying to enter.
Think of the most crowded concert you’ve attended and those lines of people forcibly pushing their way to the front or out. Now imagine there is not one destination, people are sitting on the floor, praying begging for money, eating, holding babies, yelling and grabbing your clothes.
From all sides I was shoved deeper into the congregation.
Eyes ahead, overwhelmed by the masses of praying before me, I felt a slap on my shoulder. An elderly woman was whacking me with some clothe.
Apparently she didn’t approve of my dress. Khalas–”enough” I yelled at her. Another woman tried to help by forcefully rearranging my shawl.
In the deepest room women touched and prayed toward a wall and snapped pictures with their cell phone.
All the incentive I needed, I pulled out my camera and snatched a couple shots.
Out in the street, Cairo air never felt so fresh and clear.
This Saturday afternoon found the majority of the Resettlement Legal Aid staff chowing down on delicious Iraqi cuisine and learning dubka dancing in one of our translator’s living rooms.
A couple weeks ago I posted a video of some Iraqi friends dancing dubka in a park. Apparently it’s a competitive form of entertainment across the Middle East.
After all the kindness our Iraqi friends had show us, and maybe because we were so far from the U.S., Steph and I got an unexpected wind of patriotism.
We wanted to show Egypt how Americans celebrate Independence Day.
Without a BBQ in sight, we decided to cook up a feast at my apartment and bring it to Al-Azhar park–the greenest place I know in Cairo.
We drafted the menu in the micro-bus on our way home from the 6th of October.
Green salad, fruit salad, a pesto pasta, hummus, baba-ghanoush, bread, mashed potatoes, Lousi’s(a co-worker) got the fish, chocolate chip cookies and apple pie.
We’d get a Frisbee and toss that around too.
The morning of the 4th found me off to the market, stocking up on supplies for our cookathon.
Steph was bringing processed ingredients, like chocolate chips and salad dressing from the grocery store in Zamalek. I was picking the fresh stuff from the markets surrounding my place.
Fruit and veggies in hand, I confronted the challenge of pesto. We knew we probably couldn’t find basil, so anything green and fresh looking was a contestant.
“Aye ida?” (What’s this?) I asked a woman selling something, which looked green and rather fabulous.
The irony of learning Arabic is, as long as I have to ask what something is, I probably won’t understand the answer. This green plant, was clearly not in my vocabulary.
She told me it was, “helwa, helwa owi,” very great.
Off I went with it.
Back in my apartment we confronted another problem.
Hey Karen….do you know if the stove worked? I asked my roommate.
She hadn’t used it, AJ hadn’t either. We tried to light it with no luck.
Hey Louis, I called my coworker, can we come over and use your stove? You can cook the fish there too.
I just checked and there’s a sign on my stove, which says do not use.
You never used your stove? ( Did you ever go in your kitchen!?)
Oh boys, oh appliances in Cairo.
Steph is our legal director for good reason.
Why don’t you make them on the burner like pancakes? She suggested.
I poured a bit in a pot on top of the stove. The bottom began to burn, the middle wasn’t cooking.
I poured the rest of the batter in. I grabbed the spatula.
I mixed and cut until the batter was cooked and then pressed the thoroughly chocolately substance into a baking dish, which I put in the freezer.
Obviously we pre-empted and tasted a bit. We were all fans.
Meanwhile, Steph was busy playing with the leafy greens in the blender.
One was turnip the other, something extremely bitter.
We added limes sugar, cheese and tomatoes, mixed it into the pasta and fed it to my roommate AJ.
How do you like it?
He told us was delicious and tasted grassy.
By grassy do you mean fresh? Hmmm…
We dismantled our dishes into tubber-ware containers and headed off to the park.
To be continued as 4th part II