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!
Have you ever had a dream where you standing in front of a room of people talking and no one can understand you?
I have not, but now I can semi-relate to those who have.
Yesterday I introduced myself in Arabic with a microphone to some 100 Fulbright students, professors and organizers.
The students are all going to the United States as Arabic teacher’s assistants. After most will return to the Middle East to teach English. This was the last day of their crash course in teaching Arabic. 3 other Americans and I were the hands on experience.
I arrived a few minutes early and stood in the back while the organizer of the program talked to them about tea.
When Americans go the the United Arab Emirates they are confused when people serve them tea, he said. In the United States everyone gets their own.
In Italy everyone gets to work and then go to a tea bar and drink tea together. It’s part of the culture.
Talk to the Americans about that, he helpfully advised. They’ll be interested.
After he finished talking, me and my fellow guinea pigs took front and center.
I always wonder which language people who speak multiple think in. If they form sentences and adeptly translate.
I do not speak much Arabic but for what I’m comfortable with the words come out naturally.
After the initial introductions we were dispersed to the crowds. Come here, come here.
I chose a table full of eager looking young woman.
I’m going to Northeastern, one of the woman told me. She’ll be working with my Arabic teacher from last semester, Shakir Mustafa.
Another is going to Boston University.
They’re both living in Roxbury and had heard it was sketchy.
We–me and around 30 Arab students–talked for around an hour.
By talking I mean they spouted questions at me in Arabic which I tried to answer in Arabic.
A lot were about teaching methods and what my Arabic classes were like.
They asked me what I thought about Egypt and why I came, cultural differences and specific information about the their destinations.
The point was to communicate completely in Arabic.
A lot was lost in translation.
After the formal session was over, they all swarmed us with cameras, asking for pictures and emails.
People usually stare at foreigners here. What’s your name, I would ask, before taking pictures? Where are you from? Where in the United States are you going?
One guy handed me an apple with my name carved in it in English and Arabic.
I wonder if they will have the same enthusiasm toward Americans after trying to teach them to pronounce Arabic letters for 8 months.
Back at my work our crazy-busy, people-packed office felt relatively peaceful.
I bit into my ridiculous-looking red delicious. Yumm…
Thanks Fulbright students. It was fun.
The first thing Michael Slackman wanted when he took a seat with us, 25 eager journalism students and our professor Carlene, was a coffee. Is this on or off the record? He asked us, before answering the question for himself. I hate when journalists go off record.
Slackman has worked in Cairo as the New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief going on seven years. Here are some interesting snippets from his hour plus chat with the group
You know that annoyingly overused quote about preparation and luck? On August 31, 1997, Slackman, the Albany NY bureau Chief for ?? was in London crashing at a fellow reporters house. Close friends were having a baby and he was in town for the occasion. He wanted sleep but the phone would not stop ringing. When he learned the reason–Princess Diana was tragically dead, he hit the streets in leu of the MIA Herald reporter. His wife, a photographer, was on hand too.
After street reporting he headed to see his friends at the hospital. The same hospital holding Diana’s lifeless body. We pushed our way to the front and they let us in when we said maternity. They must have though my wife was pregnant, he reasoned.
The only reporter inside the hospital, the scenes Slackman wrote earned him front-page coverage and a follow-up trip to London. From there he scored his first international post in Moscow then Egypt and the Middle East.
After about seven years in the Middle East Slackman describes his job as helping Americans understand how Arabs interpret events.
He was in Iraq when Bush announced the invasion and back for the elections.He thinks the Obama administration needs to rethink the word ‘terrorism.” Hezballah and Hamas, labeled as terrorist groups by many in the United States, are political parties here. “It’s really self-defeating not to speak to enemies.”
While his target audience is the United States, that hasn’t kept the Egyptian government from paying him a lot of attention. He said the people who work for him are continually harassed by government security. They won’t touch him directly because he’s American.
Some insider advice he shared after nearly seven years in the area?
Don’t believe people when they give you directions. After being pointed the wrong way many a time, he investigated phenomenon for a story. What did he find? “It’s more of a shame to say I don’t know than to give wrong directions.”