15 June, 2007


ُI was trying to decide between the maroon embroidery of simple design or the garish cotton candy pink embroidery in a more fanciful design. Though beautiful, the reason for buying the skirt annoyed me and made this trip through the souq in the medina of Rabat far from enjoyable. Someone at Peace Corps had decided we needed to "blend in" as we traveled south towards Ouarzazate, our second training base. The women in our group were directed to purchase a traditional Amazigh skirt from the souq and wear it on the train ride to Marrakech and subsequent grand taxi ride across the mountains to Ouarzazate. There was no explanation of why they felt we needed to "blend" or why they felt this was the appropriate way to handle it. Even better is that none of us thought to ask. Because nothing is as inconspicuous as 25 American women standing around Marrakech wearing Amazigh skirts, Tevas, sunglasses, and wielding gigantic backpacks with water bottles carabinered to the side, portable CD players, and cameras.

I tagged along with a trainer and a group of about ten women as we wound through the alleyways of the medina finally reaching a small courtyard with the wooden doors of the shop stalls opened wide into the spotty shade of the space, sunlight spilling through ragged holes in the flimsy roofing above our heads. These were the stalls for the tourists - Rabatians don't go to souq to buy such things - and the sellers seemed quite happy for our appearance so early in the morning.

The skirts are made of somewhat thin black nylon, like finely woven netting, never so thin as to be see-through. They are segmented into the main, ankle-length skirt and a shorter top skirt that falls to the top of the thighs with a slit cut halfway up at the center front of the skirt. The edges of both layers are trimmed with a variety of scrollwork-like patters in gold and bold colors. They are unique and lovely.

We stuffed ourselves into the stall of of one seller, sorting through colors and designs and trying to bargain with the help of the harried trainer. All of a sudden a crash erupted from one of the stalls behind us and I turned to see two men, arms locked around heads, wrestling on the ground knocking over a few small display tables full of tiny wooden boxes and brassware that lay in their way. One broke away and stood, face a tight mask of rage, only to be grabbed by the other who tried and failed to land an effective punch. The men pushed and pulled at each other, their weight as they nearly fell taking down another vendor's table. By now a crowd had gathered though no one stepped in to halt the fight. Rather we all stood and watched, a few murmurs of worry or disgust. Suddenly the two pulled apart again and this time of brandished a medium, rough-hewn knife. A woman in the crowd shrieked and the murmurs grew louder, but the courtyard was silent except for the crashing of tables and the items atop them and the scuffing of the men's shoes on the stones. The man thrust the knife wildly at the other who managed to keep several inches from the blade bowing his torso away from the blade. We had been herded deep into the shopkeepers stall and I stood in the doorway as the men battled in front of me, looking at each other as though neither would be satisfied until the other was in the ground. The knife was knocked out of his hand and the two fell to the ground again, locked in an angry embrace. Someone in the crowd shouted something in darija and I turned to ask the trainer what was said.

"He said 'It's o.k. They are brothers'," the trainer told me, shaking his head in disbelief.

I hadn't thought of this in a long time. The memory came to me this morning after reading the news from Gaza over the last few days. Of course it could have just as easily come from the news from Iraq or Lebanon or.....


PS: Not one Tamazight or Tashelhit woman in my villages ever wore one of those skirts, though they did love to compliment me on mine.

13 June, 2007

Be a Part of History. "Be the Change You Want to See in the World."

I attended volunteer orientation for the US Social Forum this evening. The Forum is an offshoot of the World Social Forum begun as a response to the G8 summits. I was looking forward to the Forum, sure. However, the energy amongst the people was electric and I am now dragging out my soapbox and shouting, pleading for you all to VOLUNTEER! This will be the first EVER Social Forum to be held in the U.S. Organizers are expecting 10-20,000 people to attend. This will be history in the making and those of you who are willing and able can be a part of it for free.

The Forum does not accept governmental or corporate sponsorship and is donation and volunteer-based. This means we REALLY need VOLUNTEERS! To sweeten the deal, if you commit to 4 four-hour volunteer sessions, which you can serve anytime between now and Sunday July 1, organizers will waive your registration fee for the Forum. They're also dangling the status of Super Volunteer in front of us, which means you commit to at least 6 four-hour volunteer shifts. Do that and organizers will be so over the moon about you there's no telling what you'll go home with! You can sign-up online at the Volunteer Information Page.

Most exciting to me is the fact that amongst the over 1,000 workshops to participate in are several regarding the Middle East, Islam and environmentalism, even a workshop on LGBTQ Muslims. Not to mention the Arab Movement Building, Arab-American Racism & Islamophobia, Multi-racial Organizing for Justice in the M.E., Hydropolitics of Palestine & Israel, and a lot of useful trainings from direct actions to grassroots media to nonviolent communication. I would love to help spur a good turn out amongst you progressive, social change/justice-minded folks out there. The motto of the Forum is "Another World is Possible. Another U.S. is Necessary." Let's be that change.

If you can attend, great. If you can join me in volunteering, even better. At the very least, please help spread the word. For those of you on a budget, several local groups are providing alternative sleeping arrangements. The co-housing community near me is partnering to organize camping in a lovely land trust.

I'll be blogging it, but I really hope to see you there.


قلبي في الشام

I've been drinking lots of tea from my Turkish double boiler teapot and missing Damascus these days. What do I miss? Here are a few things......

The adhan here, the adhan there, the adhan everywhere. I loved the different voices of the muezzins rolling across my neighborhood.

The crop of green neon lights that sprouted in the evening and spread across the city marking the minarets. I always felt like they were little reminders to look up and look beyond.

"Stoh o themaneen khayzan" or the Mighty 86th, as I called it, and my little apartment with the huge balcony that overlooked Jbel Qassiyoun and most of the city.

Having to work really hard to convince a taxi driver that I really did live down the tiny alley near the souq in Kafar Sousa behind all the new high-rises. He kept asking if I was sure I lived there.

Takkia Suleymania. Hanging out with Omar the weaver, who made me tea whenever I stopped in. Also, eating lunch and preparing my lessons while sitting by the fountain. Also, having the caretaker let me into the graveyard to see the grave of the last Ottoman Sultan, who rests beneath lovely orange trees. My little oasis in the middle of the city where I could quiet my mind and soul.

Getting the offer of a "free" taxi ride across town, from a driver old enough to be my grandfather, if I would just give him my phone number. I paid the fare.

Getting a genuine offer of a free fare from a driver closer to my age after a long conversation about his wife and children and life.

The officials at the passport office, who gave me chocolate with my first residency stamp.

The officers with whom I spent (cumulatively) days with at the Bab al-Hawa crossing into Turkey. They never cut me a break, visa or no, but once after making me wait 14 hours they did find me a cab to Halab and insisted I sit and eat fresh watermelon with them before I left (well after 1am).

The efficient maitre'd at Chammiat restaurant with the Donald Trump hair. And the Lebanese family, in the city for the day on business, that insisted I join their table for lunch when I couldn't find a seat for lunch one day.

Two of my young students, both boys, who would walk with me to Jisr Rais to catch our services after class and ask me also sorts of hysterically bizarre things about the U.S. and life.

The kids I taught English to who would only call me "Teacher" and possibly never learned my real name. They were both fascinated and amused to hear me speak Arabic outside of class. To them it was my "dog & pony show".

The awesome, remarkable Syrian women I worked with at FIRDOS who are/were trying to change their country for the better.

Abu Muhammad in the canteen at the University. The man cared enough to buy mammoul, even if I was one of the few people buying it, and apologized when he was out. Just don't drink his coffee.

The Umayyad Mosque. One of my favorite structures built my humans. Every time I went there I found something I had missed. One of the best places to simply sit, watch, and take it all in for hours. Magic.

My friend Fatima's father joking that I would marry his son, Abudeh. He's not yet 10. Dad's plan included his young son moving to America and being elected President and, he said, "Then you'll be like Hilary Clinton."

Making taxi drivers guess where I was from. They never guessed correctly. Usual response: "You cannot be American. You speak Arabic!"

The top-heavy bodybuilder who ran the tiny shop downstairs from my apartment and always wanted to talk about anything and everything.

The Shi'a pilgrims who deemed me, the girl in the screaming pink scarf sitting outside the Umayyad mosque at 6am, more interesting than their tour guide and his portable amp and just stared at me and refused to smile.

The children playing in the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque. Pure joy.

Jogging at al-Jalaa with the soccer teams and house wives and old men.

Lunches in a courtyard that stretch into dinner amidst the narghile smoke and glasses of tea.

Walking the old city early in the morning, just me and the bakers, the smell of baking bread everywhere. Finding shrines in every nook and cranny.

Speaking Arabic.

The little old woman who lived next door to the hovel laughing when I said the dark carnelian sky of the sandstorm made me feel as though we'd landed on Mars as we stood in our shared doorway to the alley and marveled at the world turned to mud.

Seeing Zara in concert at the opera house and The Epic of Gilgamesh performed at the Workers Union Theater.

Showing up a day early and alone to an exhibit of paintings at the National Museum and being let in by the curator as she was setting up and who kept coming over to talk with me about the artists and their works.


12 June, 2007

For Boulos Maamari & Haitham Suleiman

The news of these two men's deaths (thanks Golaniya)has hung over my head for the last few days. They were their to help. So much is going on "over there" right now. Whether Gaza, Tripoli, Baghdad, Iran or Damascus, it's all leaving me angry, depressed, worried...And then you wake up to read this. Enough to make you want to scream.

I miss Damascus, but things are changing and not always for the better with housing in short and expensive supply and food prices and overall inflation on the rise. Read this report on the refugee crisis there, please (you can download the entire report). I am left wondering what I will find when I return there . Not that things are all that great here, either, with housing & health care just two examples.

I don't want to sit here, feeling powerless, and harp on how terrible things are. I've sat through enough meetings like that, thank you. I'd rather circle the wagons with like minded individuals and start talking about constructive responses and get out there and get to work. Any takers?


Newfangled technology...Aaarrrggh!

I do not own a mobile phone. People look at me as though I am downright mad when I tell them this. This is the only mobile I'll consider buying (at least stateside). Did I ever mention I wanted to be a pirate when I was a little girl? Or a mermaid. Or both....


How the U.S. Military Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gays

I saw this story last night I had a difficult time believing it. I still do. Yet there's plenty of press
on it today. It really does sound like something from The Onion. Or maybe Austin Powers. So, you have the U.S. military trying to "turn" their enemies gay (and/or flatulent). What are we in sixth grade? Maybe we can give the enemy cooties while we're at it! If that was to be the strategy, can all those Arabic linguists get their jobs back, guys? Or is it still not o.k. to be gay in this military, rather only o.k. to be gay if this military is trying to defeat/kill you? Is there a lesbian bomb? And, as J. Robert Oppenheimer told us about nukes, you can't put that genie back in the bottle and the world would be changed forever. Gay bomb secrets would be leaked leading to gay bomb stalemates in the world's hot spots...Next thing you know somebody like North Korea or Iran will have the gay bomb!

I am exceptionally intrigued as to the feedback I'll get on this from those of my friends who are gay and lesbian because this story is causing my brain to come up with all sorts of silly, silly vignettes.


Update: Email response from a friend who is a lesbian:
"so far the lesbian response (all 3 of us) has been delight (and all of us
want to drop that bomb) -- none of that "how dare they say we're not
combat-ready 'cause we're queer" stuff the boys were harping on (who
cares?) I know it's a tired stereotype about both queer men and
women that all we do is have sex, but in this context it's simply
hysterical :) "

11 June, 2007


I enjoyed Fareed Zakaria's essay in the June 11 issue of Newsweek, which surprised me with an article on Arab bloggers (specifically Ammar Abdulhamid and Sandmonkey) and Muslim Punk rockers. The latter provided me with one of my favorite quotes of recent days, from Michael Muhammad Knight (who is always a good read), "The Prophet Muhammad was all about smashing idols. And what's more punk rock than that?"

The main thing I liked about Zakaria's essay was that he writes about something I've been trying to engage people in discussion about for the last six years - fear as a cancer that is eating this country alive. Jon Stewart jokes about the "fear music" that accompanies news broadcasts, but he's right. We invaded Iraq because of it. The media caved because of it. Rudy Giuliani has been campaigning for President since September 12, 2001 based on it. An absurd, racist and useless 700 mile wall is being built on our southern border because of it. Bush is still President because of it. The administration has crafted and sold their policies based on it. The real problems facing this country remain unsolved in part due to it. And I shudder to think what lies in store if we don't start dealing with it.

I have been dismayed by some of my experiences with so-called progressive, liberal, and leftist politics in this country. I was told by a local leader of a well-known national environmental group that her group didn't want to partner, as I suggested, with a local neighborhood-based African-American environmental group because "some of our members don't like to go down to that part of town". I walked out and didn't look back. I have heard and corrected anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and "polite" racist comments made by people who consider themselves quite the liberals. If that's what's coming from the "Left", and we know what's coming from the Right, where are the rest of us supposed to make a stand?

I totally understood Cindy Sheehan's anger, frustration and disappointment expressed in her "resignation letter" last week. People ask why I want to head back overseas, especially shocked that I'd like to return to the North Africa and the Middle East. I am not naive. I watched friends in Syria look around at empty hallways before suggesting we instead speak outdoors. There is no "last great place". I love the ideals of this country, I just wish we remembered to act on those ideals more often. I think that's what Ms. Sheehan meant when she wrote, "you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it."


Tom Tancredo, in his own words

A show of hands, please. Who was underwhelmed by last week's presidential debates?

Aside from the elementary school feel of the "raise your hand" questions the overall format left candidates either speechless or grasping at their microphone while trying desperately to condense speeches to soundbites. It was a bit stressful to watch and even my debate bingo wasn't as much fun this time around. Not much of substance got through to those of us on the other side of the glass. And the media failed to call the candidates out on their total misrepresentation of the facts, also known as "lying".

I try to keep the average American in mind as I watch these things; somebody who maybe gets 30 minutes of news a day, but that 30 minutes may include Entertainment Tonight; who can tell you all about Paris' legal travails or the latest inflated local news tragedy, but doesn't know Shi'a from Sunni from Suri or Iraq from Iran from iRack. The average American also probably didn't watch the debates and may or may not vote come November 2008.

After watching the Republicans continue their knock down drag out cage match as to just how much of the Earth they would use to build more Gitmos and the like, I was reminded of a letter I wrote Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo back in 2005. In 2005, during a radio interview, he advocated bombing Mecca in response to a nuclear terrorist attacks on US soil. So while Mitt wants to double the size of Guantanamo and Giuliani wants you to stay vigilant (and scared) that "they" really, really want you dead, Congressman Tancredo is your man if you want real action, I suppose.

I sent him a polite letter and "introduced" him to my lovely and amazing then-mother-in-law who had travelled to Mecca on Hajj a few years earlier and explained the significance of the place and the Hajj. I didn't rant, rave, or call him an idiot, but did ask him to reconsider his views and outlined the reasons such a policy would be rubbish.

Here are some excerpts from Rep. Tancredo's response letter to me, which I found while going through my files this week:

"My comments have prompted strong reactions from many quarters, but they have also served to start a national dialogue about what options we have to deter al-Qaeda and other would be Islamic terrorists....

Many critics of my statements have characterized then as "offensive," and indeed they may have offended some. But in this battle against fundamentalist Islam, I am hardly preoccupied with political correctness, or who may or may not be offended....

Few can argue that our current approach to this war has deterred fundamentalists from killing Westerners - nor has it prompted moderate Muslims and leaders of Muslim countries to do what is necessary to crack down on extremists in their midst who perpetrate these grisly crimes...

While I realize that some people around the world may be offended by my comments, I do not believe that the U.S. should take any option off the table, regardless of the circumstances....

Fundamentalist Muslims have advocated the destruction of the West since long before the attacks of Sept. 11, long before the Madrid, London and Bali attacks, long before the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, long before the attack on the USS Cole and the 1993 WTC bombing. In many respects, the decision of the Islamic world to acquiesce to these actions and even provide tacit justification for them is just as damaging to global safety and security as the attacks themselves...

Until Islam can bring itself to stop rationalizing terrorist attacks and start repudiating and purging people like [Tariq] Ali and [Dr. George] Hajjar from its ranks who do, this war will continue. And as long as this war goes on, being "offended" should be the least of anyone's worries."

Luckily, it sounds like he's about to quit the presidential campaign. However, he still managed to be elected in the first place and that's disturbing enough for me.


To keep an eye on Tancredo and his unhinged rantings and ravings, go to TancredoWatch.