26 May, 2007

Go, Greyhound

I rode Greyhound Friday to visit Om-Taromeet down in bone-dry S. Florida. I've ridden 14 hours on a bus before, but never in this country. The price was right and I was curious. I think the buses are nicer overseas. Sure, I've ridden my share of souq buses and those have their own beauty. And, the ridership does not seem to be as broad based. Greyhound doesn't have to have a higher quality bus, just as your average city bus doesn't have to run on time, because important campaign donors aren't riding either of them. I know I'm not paying for any $5,000 a plate meals. I don't have a car and I don't want one and I spend a lot of time talking about the politics of mass transit with other riders while we wait for mysteriously delayed buses and trains.

My seat-mate, traveling back to our shared hometown with her two kids, agreed with me. She's a recent Florida refugee, fleeing low wages, ridiculous cost of living, a "teach to the test" school system, and few prospects for improvement. She was taking her pre-teens to their grandmother's before starting a new job. Fourteen hours gives you a chance to get to know somebody. How many times have you traded phone numbers with somebody at the end of a domestic flight?

Her son, who asked that I call him "Bubba", won my heart. He's in 4th grade and either wants to be a scientist or a football player. He's a bit heavy set and quick quick with a smile, with a wide moon face. I was reading a collection of essays on Sufism and he was watching me.

"Do you have another book?" he asked.
"Um, yeah," I replied, thinking there's no way a 4th grader would be into reading about "a Sufi path of transformation". "You might not like it. It's not light reading."
"That's ok, I'll read anything," he insisted.
So, I dug the book out of the bag under my seat and handed it over before returning to my reading. Twenty pages in, under the chapter subheading The Annihilation of the Ego, Bubba tapped me on the shoulder.
"This is a really cool book."

He eventually put the book down and challenged me to his own version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Granted he's only in 4th grade, but some of his answers were a little suspect.
"Where is the largest forest in the world?"
"Um, the Amazon, so Brazil," I guessed.
"Noooo," said Bubba, rolling his eyes.
"Uh, ok, where is it?"

I love that kid.

I also made friends with an older man from Chihuahua who was returning to the horse farms of central Florida. He was incredibly patient as I tried to dislodge the gears of my Spanish brain, though he was a bit confused with the odd Arabic word that forced its way into our conversations. He showed me a tiny photo of he and his wife, who lives back in Mexico, dangling from his key chain in red plastic heart.

I had to sprint off the bus in Orlando to use the "facilities" and a gaunt woman was slowly opening the door. She spun around when she heard me coming up behind her and smiled sweetly. "Thank, God! I thought there were no other white people on our bus," she said, sounding truly relieved, as she let me pass her on my way through the door. What could I say to that?

Despite the friends I'd made, I was glad to see Om-Taromeet and her adorable, yet neurotic pound dog when they picked me up.

I'll be there for just over a week, so don't expect too much productivity while I try, try, try to get in a dive or two while I am here. I've been out of the water too long and my gills are about dried out!


24 May, 2007


I spent a blessed day with the amazing children at the International Community School, a chartered public school with a large number of immigrants and refugees in the student body. It was designed that way; to bring local students together with newcomers; to make the foreign less so; to create a better world. I helped out with Ms. Li's 1st grade class. Among the 18 children in her class today there is an Iraqi Kurd, a Liberian, a Bosnian, an Ivorian, some Somalis, and a few locals. This is a truly special place. There are children of every color, creed and, it seems, country. And they all live and learn together in ways we adults seem to have forgotten.

Tiny, but big mouthed Sabrina, the child of Somali refugees, tosses her head back and cackles, the sunlight sparkling along the row of red sequins at the brow of her shoulder length burgundy hijab, as she spins round and round with the other kids until dizziness overtakes her and she falls over giggling. I ask Nazdan, an Iraqi Kurd who has lived in the US for two of her seven years, in Arabic if she speaks Arabic in addition to Kurdish at home and she rolls her eyes at me and smirks before flopping into my arms for another hug. Late in the day it is these two who beg me to stay and play with them during aftercare.

At the start of the day Ms. Li's class sings a simple song, "Hello, Friend", and end the day with a similar song, "Goodbye, Friend." They sing it first in English, then French, then Spanish, then Chinese, and they are working on Kurdish lyrics.

There are children here who have lived through things most of us cannot imagine. And yet here they are, running, playing, arguing and resolving things together. My new friend Huda, originally from Somalia and a 3rd grade substitute teacher for the day summed it up:

"You want to take a picture of these kids as they are together and show it to all of the adults out there and say 'this is how it's supposed to be!'"

With everything going on in the world, these children really give me hope. It was a really lovely day.


23 May, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Maybe you've heard about this show, maybe not. I have and simply assumed that because it is produced by CBC (as in Canada folks) I wouldn't be able to see it. Thanks to a post by HijabMan we can all enjoy it. At least until a U.S. network buys the rights, "tweaks" it for a U.S. audience, and creates an un-funny knock-off. Happy viewing. I love this show.
(wanders off ululating - 'cause she just likes doing that when something good comes along)

Episode 1,Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 2, Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 3, Pt. 2, Pt.3
Episode 4, Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 5, Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 6, Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 7, Pt.2, Pt.3
Episode 8, Pt.2, Pt.3


Cross-cultural communications

I slouched amongst the women and cushions lining the walls in the long narrow salon, my hair catching in the grit of the earthen walls of the house. I had been at the wedding for hours at first enjoying time with a few men and boys from the family and listening to music then gathering with the women in another room to drum and sing.

I wondered if my host family was worried I never returned for dinner. I had stopped by to congratulate the bride and groom, which I now knew was not the way thing were done, around 5:30 and I guessed it was now after 12am. I was cold, hungry and tired, but excited to be some sort of honored mystery guest at the festivities. I didn't know the young couple getting married, but their family was related to the family I was staying with. Of course most everybody in the village was related to my new family. In little Amazigh villages like Hadida, about an hour east of Ourzazate and well off the beaten path, a wedding can stretch for days. I was beginning to wonder which day we were going to be fed.

Everyone was chattering away, weddings being a great opportunity to network with relatives from far off, when a young girl kicked off her shoes and entered the room carrying a brass basin and kettle used for washing your hands before and after meals. Relief seeped down through my bones because food would surely follow.

The young girl wore the incongruous layers of clothing favored in the bled that some of the other women wore; a wild assortment of textures and patters starting with thermal leggings and topped with a spangled headscarf wrapped and tied around the head instead of the neck in what I termed "country style hijab". She took small steps across the many carpets, carrying the basin carefully, the kettle perched on top.

I wore my own post-modern Amazigh get-up: hiking socks and thermal leggings under a traditional tiered and embroidered Amazigh skirt that I never actually saw a single Amazigh women wearing (but Peace Corps staff insisted we purchase so as not to stand out) topped with my funky camouflage print fleece jacket and the black headscarf a few of the women tied on me when I tried to be excused to run home and fetch my winter hat.

I was ready to wash and eat. But then I noticed something odd. The girl stopped in front of each woman and bent slightly as if to ask permission. Everybody always washes before a meal. Everybody. Yet as I watched this time each woman waved the girl off towards the next woman seated beside them. And this was repeated by each woman until the young woman was about three women from my left.

Surely, I thought, I knew what was going on, so I pushed back the sleeves on my jacket to ready myself to wash my hands. The woman seated next to me looked at me, smiled and softly said, "O-ho," or "no" in Tamazight. I smiled back but insisted on reaching out to indicate to the girl I wanted to wash. She looked at me as though totally confused, but smiled and looked over her right shoulder at some of the other women in the room. I was met with a barrage of sweet but insistent "O-ho"s and some explaining in Tamazight that was far beyond my level. Everyone was smiling and the women closest to me laughed and slapped my shoulder a bit in jest.

Finally a large women with a serious face seated across the room from me signaled sternly for the girl that she would wash. As she washed her hands, quickly and roughly, two more girls entered the room, one lugging a portable gas burner and the other carying a huge tray with rows of tiny, jewel-like glasses and the ingredients for tea: a large tin of gunpowder green tea, another tin with chunks broken from a sugar cone, and stalks of fresh mint. The girls lay the items in front of the woman, who began the process of making tea for the 50 or so women in the room.

Finally I understood. By agreeing to wash you are agreeing to the task of making tea for a room full of connoisseurs. These women had already accepted me for me and shown me every day that they loved me, but there was no way they were letting the foreign girl (taromeet) make the tea yet.

It was delicious.

22 May, 2007

Lebanon/Nahr al-Bared Updates

Just a wrap-up of updates on developments in and around Nahr al-Bared in Lebanon:

Exclusive Al-Jazeera Images from Inside Nahr Al-Bared
UN Relief Convoy Attacked While Attempting to Deliver Aid to Camp
Thousands Flee Besieged Lebanese Camp
Residents Say Militants Armed, Reclusive
'Massacre' at Lebanon Refugee Camp
BBC In Pictures: Clashes in Lebanon
Rami Khouri Opinion Piece from The Daily Star
Arab Governments Promise Military Help for Beirut
Hezbollah backs Lebanon's Army in Standoff with Sunni Group
US mulls military funding plea from Lebanon
Responses from Lebanese bloggers (incl. Ashraf and Golaniya)
Some translated reactions from Arab Press

Be sure to read these articles from Robert Fisk from The Independent:
A Front Row Seat for this Lebanese Tragedy
The Road to Jerusalem (via Lebanon)

Be sure to look at updates from Ashraf on Palestine For Us.


Headlines and hate

Compare these headlines:
Some US Muslims Justify Suicide Attacks
Muslims 'well integrated' in US
Poll: 1 in 4 young U.S. Muslims support suicide bombings
Most U.S. Muslims reject suicide bombings

Each of these headlines refers to the same story, a recently-completed Pew Research Center survey of Muslim Americans, the first of its kind ever undertaken. Here is the result in a nutshell, according to Pew:
"The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."

You can download the complete report and view the results here.

People will report the Pew study they way they want to, as is the nature of statistics. You can chose to highlight that a strong majority of Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, believe newcomers should adapt and integrate into society, and reject extremism and terrorism, or you can highlight the 5% that expressed favorable views of Al-Qaeda. I am not saying ignore the 5% or any of the other parts of the survey, but please put them in context.

One result that everybody in the U.S. should pay attention to:
53% of those polled report it has gotten to be more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. since September 11, 2001. With incidents like this, or this, or this, or this, or maybe if you ask Alia Ansari...it's not hard to see why those respondents feel this way.


5 Confirmed Dead in Ankara Bombing

News reports are just coming in about a large explosion in Ankara's Ulus district. According to reports so far there are 5 dead and 80 wounded. I am waiting to hear from people I know there, who I was with just a few months ago, and am very worried. I deeply hope this is not a sign of things to come for Turkey. I don't have anything constructive to add, just venting about my worries.


21 May, 2007

Blogging About the Situation Inside Nahr al-Bared

Ashraf Shouly at Palestine For Us is posting reports he is receiving from friends inside Nahr al-Bared, the Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, Lebanon that is currently being shelled by the Lebanese military as they face off with members of Fatah al-Islam, an armed Palestinian group with alleged links to al-Qaeda and Syria, which Syria denies. Caught in the crossfire that began Sunday are the noncombatant residents of the camp. According to the ICRC, the general population of the camp numbers 40,000. Casualty figures vary, about 70 so far, including 27 Lebanese soldiers. ICRC and aid groups are struggling to evacuate the wounded and get food and water to residents of the camp.

While I understand that a 38 year-old agreement bars the Lebanese from entering the Palestinian camps and thus limits their options, I am concerned about shelling a camp of 40,000 from a distance, inevitable civilian casualties, and the effect of all this on Lebanon as a whole. Sunday brought a bombing in a Christian area of the city and Monday a bombing of a Sunni Muslim district.

In the mean time, head to Ashraf's blog and read for yourself.


Disneyland al-Sharqiya

I am pretty sure I know how I would feel if I were an Iraqi, living without so much that we living elsewhere take for granted, and saw this behemoth going up in my city. Of course, it's in the not-actually-so-safe Green Zone ("Incoming, Mr. Prime Minister."), so most Baghdad residents will not actually be able to get anywhere close enough to see it. I don't care how nice the pool is if it's in mortar range.