26 December, 2010

Bonjour, y'all

Reading: Just Kids by Patti Smith
Currently: House sitting for new friends in Gland - pron. Gloh according to my new friend Vincent, aged 5.

Just another lazy quick post to say I made it to Switzerland. It's not been a terribly fun first week, but it's getting better.

After a not so fun journey here, I landed in Geneva at about 2am. I was supposed to land in Istanbul, but it's a long, dull story involving standing in a queue with 2/3s of humanity in Frankfurt, with occasional flashes of remarkable, small generosities from strangers. My bags finally made it from Frankfurt on Christmas Eve and new friends invited me to stay at their home outside of Geneva while they went skiing. And, best of all, I may have found a decent room to rent for an actually reasonable price - no small feat in this town. Learning something new about this place and how to make my way every day. For the next few days I'm going to take it easy, read, walk, and rest.

I managed to do the two things I said I'd do on my first day here: paid my respects to Vieira de Mello and Borges at Planpalais and stopped by UNHCR to take in the place from the outside.

I'd been staying at the hostel, which hasn't been so bad, though a top bunk at 36 is not what it was at 10. The weather's been cold and we even enjoyed a decent snow on Christmas Eve. Most everything shuts down by about 5 for the holiday weekend, so I ended up at a kebab shop having durum and ayran for Christmas dinner. Since I actually can manage more Turkish than French at the moment, I was able to chat up the proprietors, who even had me stay for a spot of tea.

Best thing has been walking along the lake under low, gray clouds late in the day, listening to Scriabin and Coltrane. I'm sure there are others whose music will suit, but for now these are my guys.

If all goes well, I'll be moved in and start really settling in next weekend. My first day at UNHCR will be 7 Jan.

13 December, 2010


Watching: sad news of the loss of Richard Holbrooke
Working on: packing and repacking and repacking...(it's like editing, but with stuff)
Looking forward to: Wed of friends, stone crabs, and Key lime pie
Wishing: I could shake this cough!
Reading: has stalled for the moment

The wind is whipping the palms about outside. There's a hard freeze blowing in tonight; manatees and crops are at risk from the record lows. And local media is nearly as giddy as when a hurricane approaches.
Rearing my head from the sands of the SE Florida coast to say I don't have much to say at the moment, really.
Running like made to get things sorted and spend time with friends and family before flying to Istanbul a week from today.
Finished entering grades for my undergrads and really appreciate receiving emails from them wishing me well at the UN and thanking me for being "the coolest TA".
It's been a whirl with the end of the semester, this pit-stop at home...
Looking forward to setting my bags down in Istanbul for a bit before, I hope, taking the train to Geneva. Yeah, I know flying is faster, but it's not the same.
Anyway, check back in a week or so. Give me a chance to have some tea and clear my head.

06 December, 2010

From the mouths of cartoon dogs...

So, this little video's been making the rounds amongst students here in my department. I hear faculty and admin are catching on and some even have a sense of humor about it.
It was made by a student here, but I've no idea who. No, not me, though several asked.
Rated PG for a bad word or two.

Last one out...

Gorging on: MOVIES! Caught up on a lot I've been meaning to see for ages.
Reading: The Rebel by Camus and, most wonderfully, ANYTHING ELSE I WANT!
Leaving on a jet plane: Friday, bound for FLA
Listening to: Motown
Scrambling: to get my Swiss visa before 20 DEC

Well, that's about it here in Austin. If you're reading this, I've walked out of my department for likely the final time. The air is likely cool and sweet. Now, I'm not quite finished...not until May. However, in honor of a lot of things, here's a wee video. Embed's disabled, so you'll just have have to go look for yourself.
High school or grad school - sometimes the distinctions blur significantly - this just fits.

18 November, 2010


Listening to: Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Scriabin

Geneva it is, folks. Off to UNHCR HQ to work on program development for my internship. More news to come...
Wheels up to Istanbul and old friends on 20 December. Likely off to Geneva by train just after the start of the year.

14 November, 2010

It's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock 'n roll...or do most anything else, really

Getting me through: proper tea & Doctor Who
Favorite quote of the moment: "Tea! That's all I needed! Good cup of tea! Superheated infusion of free-radicals and tannins, just the thing for healing the synapses!"
Lusting after: the books I bought in San Francisco and the others in my queue. Oh, to read as I please again! Crichtley, Camus, Pogge, Conan Doyle...

Spending this chilly evening sharing my workspace with a friend from Latin American Studies. She came to commiserate over the Grand Canyon-sized gaps in our respective educational programs.

I've got little spiritual, temporal or psychological space to write anything deep here. What I am writing is the third version of the application essay for my final field internship. Yes, those who decide in the department are having me and the other student who would have interned in Armenia write glorious new versions of our "Why should you get an international internship?" essays so they may decide which of us should get the Community Services internship in Geneva. I guess it's fair, but it feels a bit daft. Having started this whole process in mid-2009 in pursuit of a student-initiated placement, this will mark the third time I've explained things, in a way. Yes, I still want to work abroad, still want to work on forced migration and refugee issues as a part of the new generation of the global refugee regime. Still want to work on Convention Plus-type notions and use of soft law to expand protections, solutions for urban refugee populations, and dabble in some other issues such as climate change migration and emergency education. Still reading voraciously to learn things like research methods - coding in qualitative research is the new one, thanks to my friend Pamela and her Nicaragua research - and international law and global policy diffusion and lots more.

Yep. Same ol', same ol'. I guess I should just try to think that the third time's a charm or something.
Oh, and, still have a ticket to Istanbul dated 20 December. So there's that to look forward to, certainly. Now, what happens after that? I've no idea.
For now, it's head down and do as I'm told.

01 November, 2010

And the bands played on...

Currently: Procrastinating on some program evaluation work
Listening to: Radiohead, Coltrane, Britten's Cello Suite #3
Still loving and rewatching and quoting...: Sherlock
Reading up on: scary cuts in the UK

Something tells me this election night won't be near as fun as 2008, if for no other reason than I won't be chowing on oxtails with the great folks at Pritchard's in Lake Worth.
Yes, everything goes a wee bit better with music. Even make-you-crazy things like elections. The band on the Titanic didn't keep on for nothing, yeah?
Top of my head here, but did have to edit a bit since most of my playlists end up sprawling things that only I can see as relating to the theme. It may get updated as the day goes on...
I would love it if those of you out there in the ether would add your own tunes in the comments.

Electioneering by Radiohead
Beautiful Struggle by Talib Kweli
Love Me, I'm a Liberal by Ochs/covered by Jello Biafra
Democracy by Leonard Cohen
We Love Your Apathy by Skunk Anansie
Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon
2+2=5 by Radiohead
Yes, It's Fucking Political by Skunk Anansie
Dad's Gonna Kill Me by Richard Thompson (Supposedly we're fighting at least two wars. Who knew?)
You Hate Me & I Hate You by GG Allin
Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols
Paranoia Key of E by Lou Reed
Who Invited You? by The Donnas
Mr. Bad Example by Warren Zevon
None of Us Are Free by Solomon Burke (R.I.P.)
Hard Times Come Again No More by S. Foster/covered by Nanci Griffith
Headless Heroes by Eugene McDaniels
Intervention by Arcade Fire
Monkey Island by 13th Floor Elevators
The Pill by Loretta Lynn (because lots of scary people still think they deserve a say in what a woman does with her body)
You Ain't Been Doin' Nothing if You Ain't Been Called a Red (and old IWW song)
Rednecks by Randy Newman (Post-racial? No. Not even close.)
Christ for President by W. Guthrie/covered by Billy Bragg & Wilco
This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie (or just about any of his other songs)
People Have the Power by Patti Smith

27 October, 2010

Where did it go?

Watching (and rewatching and loving and rewatching...): BBC's cracking new Sherlock
Listening to: Mc5, 13th Floor Elevators, Staple Singers, Coltrane, & fair bit of trad. Kurdish stuff
Reading for fun: The Psychology of Proof
Pondering: election night playlist - everything goes better with music (even inevitable, demoralizing wins by troglodytes & philistines); MacBook Air 2.0; some proper tea at 10

Dear, God. Wow. Nigh November now, which means almost December, which means almost finished here. My. Really, it's too deep in the semester to have much of importance or clarity to report. Still not sure where I'm going for my final internship now that Armenia fell through. I mentioned that, right? Turned out they want to do surveys & need interns with language skills other than mine. Thus, flux. Do know I land in Istanbul on 21 December and grateful to be back in the great city with friends. From there is anyone's guess at the moment. Which would be fun, if this internship wasn't so important to me. Not just a feather in the cap and all.
Anywho...back to working on policy briefs (urban refugees, survival migrants, Iraqi refugee crisis). I do love my policy briefs.

24 October, 2010

Sharpening focus

It's a rather profound thing to figure out what you're doing in a grand sense. I think, after all these years, I've gotten there or at least am headed in the right direction. It's a been a long process of pulling the bits and pieces together and discerning patterns, meanings and messages.

Who am I? A believer. I believe in multilateralism. Yeah, I do. My passport may say USA, but my vision is quite a bit wider than the horizon. As people have noted, I'm so macro-focused I'm meta.

What do I work on and want to keep working on? Forced migration and refugee issues.
It's no longer 1951, but the global refugee regime is a bit stuck there. Some are advancing some interesting ideas as to how we dislodge the regime from the mid 20th-century and I want to be in the middle of that discussion. "Survival migration", the urbanization of the world's refugee population, global policy diffusion, updating responses, use of soft law to expand the UNHCR mandate - Should we? Could we?...these are the things I love to wrestle with.
This is what I've dedicated my time and efforts toward recently and the direction in which I hope my work leads.

Some people find their focus naturally. Some are born with it. Figuring out mine has taken a bit of doing, but I think I'm getting there.

28 September, 2010

Bad day on campus - UPDATE

UPDATE - I'm going to leave the last word on this week's suicide on my campus to John Woods, a fellow UT grad student and all-around remarkable person. By Tuesday afternoon, it was apparent this was, in fact, a suicide and not a school shooting. There have been a lot of discussions in my classes and just amidst colleagues about guns, but more often about finding new ways to reach out to those in need of help, how to be allies to those in trouble, for young people to counter stigmas and know when and how to seek help themselves. I hope we can work together to come up with solutions.

In the midst of an unsettling incident on campus. Apparently there were two armed suspects on the UTexas-Austin campus in the main library (PCL). Campus is CLOSED at the moment and everybody's on lockdown. According to UT announcement one suspect is dead in the library and campus police are looking for another.

Please, UT folks, stay home and give first responders a break!
Will update with more when I have it.
I'm locked down in my department and in a meeting where few of us are really focusing.
Hope everybody out there is safe.

23 September, 2010

Everything's better with mariachis

My thoughts on this semester, as expressed by mariachis. Hat tip to the friend that sent this.
Feeling not so much like a brick in the wall as someone felled by a brick from the wall.
Is it December yet?

15 September, 2010

Next stop Armenia

I am officially headed to Armenia come January for a 6-month internship with the UNHCR to round out my MSW program. I'll be working with the protection unit but should get more of a briefing now that things are finalized.

This means I'm brushing up on my limited Russian and starting to learn with the Armenian alphabet. I took a year of Russian way back in high school, but our teacher was more interested in telling us countless stories involving women and Gauloises. I do remember him mentioning Russian grammar as being akin to 52 pickup.

I'll likely leave the U.S. in mid-December and stop through Istanbul to see friends. My plan is to head East via train and may stop in Ardahan to see a friend's family before continuing overland through Georgia with a stop in Tiblisi. For now, I've classes to take and teach until the start of December and a bit more time to spend with friends and family.

09 September, 2010

Moving on

Listening to: Lots of Zevon
Reading: For class, always for class
Staring at: stack of untouched personal reading on the table *sigh*
Lauding: Kurt Sutter & SOA

First off, Çok mutlu Bayram, Eid mubarak and Shanah tovah to friends and family out there.

Slowly getting into the groove of this final semester. Had to sort out a classroom for my Friday classes after the Uni double booked my class with another, but we ended up with a better room. The students and I are happy to have exterior windows, though the building throws off a distinct higher ed circa 1950 vibe from the hospital green tiles and hourly bells down to the serious lack of women's bathrooms. And I dropped a class of my own yesterday. Didn't need to take it and it was not coming close to meeting my expectations, but it was still difficult for me. I think some part of my brain interpreted it as failure, which is silly. I'm moving on just fine, mind you.
That leaves me with three classes and the independent study in program evaluation. My advanced policy class is excellent and I love that my professor green lit me to develop my projects around my Fulbright proposal and migration/refugee policy improvements in Jordan and Turkey. My other interesting course involves us working with a rural Texas community on a few targeted projects. My group is working with a group of kids on some digital mapping projects, which I'll write more about once we drive up there on Monday.

Best news is that I am have some idea of where I am headed next year. I am still waiting to hear back about one possible placement with UNHCR I designed. However, if that falls through, I am headed to Armenia for my final internship. My department selected me and a friend for the UNHCR field internship. Bottom line, either way I'll be interning with UNHCR for six months, fleeing the U.S. in December with a very likely stopover my beloved Istanbul to see friends. Beyond happy, but think I'll finally let it in when everything's sorted for sure.
For now, have to run catch my bus.

27 August, 2010

Act of Kindness That Made My Day

UPDATE: Monday morning post from Velveteen Rabbi says over $1,000 raised.

Came across word of this effort on the Internets today.
A rabbinical student blogging as Velveteen Rabbi is, on her own, collecting donations to pay for the cleaning and/or replacement of the prayer rugs at al-Iman mosque in Queens, New York, which were ruined when an heavily inebriated man barged into the mosque earlier this week and urinated on the prayer carpets. The man was arrested and charged with criminal trespass. Initial reports claimed the man shouted anti-Muslim slurs, but latest reports from the NYPD are that congregation members said the man did not make slurs.

As of Friday night she'd raised about $600 from nearly 40 people.
The plan is to present a check to the congregation of the mosque next week.
If you would care to contribute, follow the link in the first sentence to her post and follow the instructions.

She admits they may have already dealt with the rugs, but wanted to do something for the congregation anyway.
It's the spirit of the thing, given all the rhetoric and worse these days.
That's what I want to believe this country is still about.
Something bad happens to your neighbor, so you help them out. Simple as that.
Make of it what you will, but it made my day.

26 August, 2010

Yes, we DO have a problem

As you've probably read, things are not well here at the moment when it comes to religious freedoms, constitutional rights, common sense and basic decency towards others.

Anti-mosque sentiment seems to be growing across the nation, well beyond the site of the Park 51 project. The latest case involves a store-front mosque in Kentucky. The property owner claimed he had no problem with Muslims worshiping there, but they couldn't park right. When asked what his feelings would be toward Baptist worshipers if a church opened in the space, he responded that those people would know how to park right.
Fear the Muslims, America! They may ding your car!
I might add that this man has obviously never met some of my Baptist relatives who are terrifying behind the wheel, though I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with their religious beliefs.

And, this morning brings news of a man barging into a mosque in NYC, berating worshipers and urinating on the prayer rugs.
That story follows the horrible and bizarre story of the NYC taxi driver stabbed by his fare after responding to a question about his religious beliefs. Some people emphasize that both men were drunk. A lot of us have been inebriated at some point in life. As a result, we've been stupid, rude, silly, nauseous and maybe even gotten in trouble. However, I'm pretty sure most of us have never stabbed somebody for their religious beliefs or relieved themselves in a house of worship. Much like other drunken behavior roundly condemned recently - anti-Semitic and racist remarks - there are certain lines most of us won't - CAN'T - cross even if under the heaviest of influences.

I was relieved to read that people in Gainesville, in my home state of Florida, have organized peaceful, interfaith actions to respond to a small, fringe church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on 11 September. The pastor claims he is burning them because they are "full of lies", which is rather ironic since the Quran is full of many of the same characters and narratives found in the Bible.

I can tell you from experience, this is not an issue solely of the Right. I have corrected false and, occasionally, pretty wretched comments from people who self-identify as being progressive or of the Left. And, as many have noted, those speaking out against all this anti-Muslim sentiment come from across the ideological spectrum. Who actually acts on misinformation and hatred is a different issue, beyond political division.

Stabbing people, burning sacred texts, urinating in houses of worship, denying worship space for reasons beyond real zoning issues, smearing an entire religion and all 1.5 million followers of that religion goes quite a but beyond "phobia", stupidity or lack of awareness.
This is hate, pure and simple. It is disgusting. It is dangerous. It is cancerous. It must be countered. And this goes for any issue of hate and discrimination.
If somebody says something that you know is not true, correct them.
If there is a movement to deny rights to members of your community, get active.
If you don't know enough, go learn, ask.
Don't know a Muslim? Call your local mosque and ask for a tour.
During the month of Ramadan, many mosques hold iftars (meals to break the daily fast) that are open to the whole community.
Aside from being a nice way to get to know others in your community and great learning opportunity, the food is often amazing and the mood joyous.
Just do something. To do nothing is to be complicit.

19 August, 2010

On World Humanitarian Day, a remembrance...

Today is World Humanitarian Day. This is a day to celebrate the remarkable work that people are engaging in together around the world to try to make the world a better place for everybody.

This day was selected because on 19 August, 2003, 22 people were killed, including SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello, when a truck bomb was detonated outside the UN mission HQs in Baghdad.

Humanitarian work, development work, social work, whatever you want to call it...comes with risks, for those who practice it and those who benefit from it, in much of the world. So today is a day to remember those who have lost their lives and to celebrate the ideals and work they were willing to risk their lives for in the first place.

And here, again, is the awesome video for the campaign:


16 August, 2010

Hanging out with kids: good for the soul

At the moment: Grape-nuts, it's what's for dinner...at nearly 11pm. *sigh*
Listening to:
People Have the Power by Patti Smith
Working on:
Fulbright proposal & personal statement

I may not have any of my own, but I sure like kids. On the whole, I like them way more than grown-ups. All that non-linear thinking and such.
For example, anytime you ask my cousin's three year-old twins a question of "Why?" they will immediately and unfailingly answer with the deceptively simple, "That's why."
I can't figure out if it's more like a Zen koan or a politician's hollow non-answer.
The boy is a bit blasé about it, as though I should have know whatever it is all along. The girl sells the answer hard, punctuating with a jab of her hand and a roll of her eyes.
For three, they're pretty sure of themselves.
I'm going to try it out on my colleagues this semester.
That's why.

So what if it IS a mosque?

There are a lot of things going on out there right now to think about and write about. Social Security, one of our most effective anti-poverty efforts, just turned 75 years young. One fifth of Pakistan is underwater with all the attendant humanitarian tragedy. U.S. combat troops are trooping out of Iraq - all done, lights out, thanks for the memories! The Lebanese and Israelis are really jumpy about tree pruning along their borders. People are once again laying bets about the likelihood of somebody - us, Israel, us, Israel...- striking Iran within the coming year. Russia is on fire. Darfur is still a mess. The UN is returning to Somalia, but there's still no functioning government. Yemen may run out of water. Gaza is still Gaza....

A lot of arguing and debating and work to be done, for sure.

However, one story that is not about a real debate at all is the so-called "debate" over the erroneously named "Ground Zero Mosque". I bring it up again because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today came out in favor of relocating the project. In short, he failed to lead and instead caved to the bigots.

No, it's not simply a mosque, it's a community center. Now, I kind of always think of mosques as community centers anyway. I've seen pilgrims sing and picnic in the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. Beat the midday heat with men and women under the eaves of al-Azhar in Cairo. Laughed at children chasing each other through countless prayer halls. I've watched groups of women conduct classes together at Eyup Mosque and had tea with the bawab of Kuçuk Aya Sofia and an amused group of elderly Turkish men who were respectfully curious about the foreign girl who had stuck around for the Friday khutba (sermon). They aren't like houses of worship that are primarily open one day a week for a few services. They are centers of their community and neighborhood. You come to meet, learn, laugh, eat, sleep, maybe do a little business...and often pray.

No, it's not at ground zero, but rather a few blocks away. It's in an old building that last housed a Burlington Coat Factory. And there's been a prayer space there for some time now. And the sky has yet to fall. To quote someone from the Internet, "When can we start calling it the Burlington Coat Factory mosque?" Did I mention there's a Muslim prayer space inside the Pentagon? You remember - the other site where people were killed on September 11th, 2001. Where the U.S. Department of Defense is headquartered. And nobody there seems to mind.

I met Faisal Abdul Rauf briefly, several years ago, after a wonderful interfaith worship service he'd participated in at the ornate cathedral in Louisville, Kentucky. I introduced myself, welcomed him to town and talked with him about Islam and Sufism a bit. He shook my hand, was a thoughtful speaker, generous with his time and unfailingly polite. Not big news, unless you're somebody trying to make him an evil demagogue. And, if you know anything about Cordoba under the Arabs...

And yet, even if it weren't something akin to the YMCA or the JCC. If it were solely an Islamic house of worship. If it were smack atop the World Trade Center site....
Thanks to our constitution and the rights guaranteed by that document that we ALL are supposed to enjoy, the developers would have every right to open their doors. I am reminded of Colin Powell's laudable comments regarding Muslim-Americans and the rumor mongering by some during the 2008 presidential campaign that, gasp, Obama is a Muslim: "So what if he is?!"

In fact, I'm incredibly tired of people pushing back with those two arguments: it's not at "Ground Zero" and it's not just a mosque. The simple fact is, it should not matter. Push back on the fact that it is against the intent and beliefs of our founding fathers, one of our founding documents, the rights we like to flaunt to the world to show how advanced we supposedly are. Push back against the fact that it is simply wrong. No caveats needed.

Living in majority Muslim countries, I sometimes meet people who are shocked when I tell them we have Muslims living in the U.S. I've corrected people who believed Islam is illegal here, that mosques are banned, that there are only Christians here. And I have corrected people who believe Americans hate Muslims.

"You can't be American," people declare. "But you speak Arabic!" "But you know about Islam, about our history!"
"Your father or your grandfather must be Arab," they insist.
Nope, I'm just an ajnabia, just an American girl who fell in love with the place and people. Somebody who believes both are so much more than most give them credit for. Who believes that the region will not be helped with guns alone. And I've been proved right on both counts again and again.

So all this cowardly, bigoted talk - let's be honest - against the Cordoba House project and Muslims in general hits me especially hard. And it leaves me supremely disappointed in those who love flying a flag on their car, but who obviously don't really believe in the founding principles of this country. I am disappointed in those who should know better, or who do but refuse to speak out, or who couch the argument in mild terms.

You want to fight al-Qaeda and the like? Support Cordoba House and when it opens hold the mother of all opening ceremonies: lots of crowds, VIPs and global media coverage. Corporate sponsorships, even. Lots of quotes and video clips on the importance of tolerance, freedoms, spaces for dialogue in our society. The fact that we are all Americans. All of us.

This isn't just about a mosque, though, it's about all of us in this country.
Are we who we claim to be as a country, as an ideal?
Right now, I'm not so sure.

PS: Here's something to consider...

Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary


As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

12 August, 2010

Social Media and Crisis Response

Social media is a big nebulous thing that is not always useful (Lookin' at you Facebook). However, I've been following the live stream of the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit today and it's been very exciting to listen to all the uses of and possibilities for social media in emergency response and, I'd say, international aid and development. If you're into it, you can catch the replay here, I think.
And there's a really interesting ongoing conversation on Twitter at #crisisdata.

11 August, 2010

Where were my drummers this morning?

Ramadan karim to all my friends and loved ones out there.
Though I'm subletting in a clatch of cottages full of musicians, no drummers came around to wake me up in the pre-dawn hours.
Hope everybody makes it through these long, hot summer days alright. Enjoy those great nights together with friends and family and food.

09 August, 2010

19 August - 2010 World Humanitarian Day

19 August is World Humanitarian Day. The date was selected because on that day in 2003 a truck bomb was detonated beside the UN mission HQ in Baghdad, killing 22 people and leaving many more wounded.

This is what I study. This is what I do. The world is my country and this is my community. And, damn, was I excited to see they included social workers in this amazing group.

Into the final leg

Re-reading: Alf layla wa layla (trans. by Haddawy)
Reading: Anything and everything on Iraqi refugees in Syria & Jordan and urban refugee populations overall (toss me anything you have).
Listening to: News in Arabic
Just watched: Restrepo (highly recommended)
Hoping: the rains stop in Pakistan; Israel & Lebanon keep their you-know-what together; Iraq forms a government, the UN's return to Somalia goes well.

I'm settled in my wee subletted cottage on the Southside. Settling in took about 30 mins. of unpacking my two bags. It's rather strange living alone again after so long. I keep expecting somebody to walk in the room yet they never do. You have to love a place where Woody Guthrie, Charles Bukowski (holding a glass of something, kissing his typewriter, bless him) and Rickie Lee Jones are all smiling at you when you walk in the door. I finally feel very Austin living in a cluster of cottages populated by musicians, only they're all on tour for the summer so it's pretty quiet.

Fall semester starts in a few weeks and it will be my last semester of graduate school classes, alhamdulillah! I'm interviewing soon for the final field internship I designed in the Middle East, which I shamelessly, desperately want. No matter what, I'll be on the road again come December for at least a semester-long internship (though may extend through summer) before receiving my shiny MSSW in May, inshallah. At the moment I am scrambling to get my Fulbright application finished. In my standard geeky fashion, I've crafted my own ambitious self-study syllabus for pushing ahead with my Arabic and already checked my course books out from the library. Should have them read by the second or third week of classes if I start now.

It was interesting to totally unhook for one last time this summer, but I'm ready to get back to work. I think it was a good choice given that I was ill the first few weeks, then exhausted, then dragged to visit relatives...next thing I knew I was slapped on an Austin-bound flight. Where did it all go? It was lovely to spend real time with friends (and their amazing, adorable offspring) and Um Taromeet. I got to revisit some of my favorite places, which is always special.

It's going to be a typically nuts semester and, as usual, it's my own fault. I like to be busy, to be working, planning and one thing is never enough. I'm a bit of an addict. Four classes - maybe five if I push on with an independent study - a TA position, two committee positions, my insanely intensive Arabic self-study program, an ongoing project...But, it's all good.

So what about this old blog? I'll keep chugging, posting when so moved.
Stewing, brewing and very disturbed over the NYC (and nationwide) mosque "controversy" (aka bigotry, intolerance, hypocrisy...). If you haven't read Mayor Bloomberg's great speech from last week, track it down and do so. It's on his Web site and there's a like from my Twitter feed. Juan Cole has an excellent post on what the Founding Fathers really thought about religious freedoms. I don't even want to talk about the upcoming Quran burning "festivities" in Florida other than to say that if there is going to be a second coming, I look for Jesus to be rather displeased with those folks, to say the least.

While all that hate has me down, I was incredibly pleased to see Prop 8 reversed (though certainly headed for SCOTUS). As a divorced hetero, I'd say my crowd is doing more than its fair share to "endanger" the institution of marriage. And yet the institution just keeps on ticking after all these zillions of years. And, since marriage here is a civil matter, please get your religion out of my government or your chocolate out of my peanut butter or whatever. Again, it's a right, you don't get to vote on those, folks, an you don't get to squirrel them away from others like nuts (or gold, canned goods and guns, in your case) for winter (or whatever tyrannical government/UN takeover fantasy you buy into).

Oh, and one last rant...Supreme Court Justice Kagan is now a baddie for not having had children? People, we females cannot win with you! If she had kids, you would be on a tear because she was leaving them in daycare and not spending enough time at home. As with so much else, damned if we do, damned if we don't. So, I offer those self-righteous, nosy folks the two-fingered Churchill salute and bid them adieu. Really, go do something useful. Go.

11 July, 2010

Sunday Briefing

Watching: What do you think? Viva, España!

Some things are moving in positive directions:
I managed to find a sublet for my last semester that meets all my needs and I can move in as soon as I get back to Austin at the start of next month. It's just of Congress not far from the famous S. Congress strip, but not having a car I'm more jazzed about having a grocery store in walking distance. I don't think my back could have taken much more of my playing Sherpa. So, that's a huge relief...

And, of somewhat greater importance, there has been some positive movement on my final semester internship that has left me guardedly optimistic. I just found out I'll interview in a few weeks. To be able to work for the agency it is in the place I would be...it would just be amazing, personally and professionally. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed. It'll be a long few weeks, though. I just don't want to let myself get too excited...

Back to the match.
Trying to work and watch is not working. I give up.
Viva La Furia Roja!

08 July, 2010

No, there is no such thing as "polite racism."

When I was young, in the days before there were, to quote Springsteen, "57 channels and nothin' on," you trusted the men who brought you the news each night on one of the three major networks. You just did; it was something ingrained, like sea turtle hatchlings heading towards the full moon. I'm old enough to remember watching Cronkite. Though Brian Williams' appearance in comedy skits makes me like the guy way more than his somewhat stiff anchor style - or is it really some sort of attempt at hipster irony - the times have changed. And the changes have not all been good, save a few things. One thing is the rise of The Daily Show.
For the below clip alone, I would like to hug each person who worked on the segment and Stewart himself.

The fear, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, violence and stupidity spins on and we've slipped backwards since 2001. Yes, blocking your neighbors from building their house of worship because of something somebody told you they heard from the Internets or from their cousin who heard it from a friend who heard it from Fox News, is not just stupid, it's discriminatory, and pretty blatantly racist. Oh, and, it's pretty damned un-American. Well, I guess it's not un-American according to your narrow, isolationist, bigoted conceptualization of the place, but hey. Am I angry? Yes, as an American AND a human being. I think you should be able to worship (or not!) and not have to worry about people tossing pipe bombs at your building. Silly me. I take that whole "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" thing seriously. I know, crazy! And, I love and am proud of what most of this country aspires (and sometimes, admittedly, fails) to be. Maybe, MAYBE, someday everybody can crawl out of their trenches, cross the minefields, shake hands and actually work together to solve the real challenges. I know - radical! And, these days, I'm thinking not bloody likely.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Wish You Weren't Here
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

07 July, 2010

Why, yes, I'll hold.

Watching: the post-game analysis of the ESP-GER match. Viva, La Roja!
Reading: Cosmopolitanism by Appiah
On Deck: World Poverty & Human Rights by Pogge (gonna finish it this time!)
Recently really enjoyed: I Am Love
Excited about: Diving with friends on Friday

Not as exciting a match as I'd hoped, but Spain is on to the final Sunday, so it's all good.

I'm still on hold for my self-designed final internship for my graduate program. Heard back that they can't give me an answer until three months out, but my department says they need to know now due to their procedures. Note sure what will come of it, but I really hope it can be sorted out. It would put me back in my favorite place in the Middle East and (I suspect) give me a good launch for my post-academic life.

On the other hand, I'm having a hard time mustering in regards to my Fulbright application. Not sure if I am just burned out and ready to be gainfully employed or if I've just psyched myself out. I'm sort of running a parallel track at the moment researching ideas for either Egypt or Jordan. Both columns have pluses and minuses.

Not much going on really. I am just laying low and hiding out. It's what south Florida used to be famous for. It's a nice change, but I am getting itchy. I think I'm just feeling a bit on hold and ready to move forward.

Oh, and trying to find a place to live in Austin for 3.5 mos. If anybody has a room for rent...

28 June, 2010

Fight Like a Girl #4

Happy belated birthday, Em.
We had some cake in your honor. Red velvet, of course.

15 June, 2010

دقيقة, من فضلك

Reading: Nature Girl by Hiaasen
Listening to: The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan
Recently seen: Manatees and dolphins around my kayak - awesome!

Yes, yes, I know. I haven't said a peep and there's been so much to peep about, as usual. I have some writings I'm working on and should get them up here soon. It's been so nice to have the time to sit and think, though I'm still trying to retrain and reclaim my brain from the skimming & scanning of school work. And I've been off kayaking in the lovely Ten Thousand Islands the last few days. Be patient. I'll get moving here soon.

27 May, 2010

Educational TV

You may be wondering what's going on in the live video embedded above. It's live feed of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig about a month ago. Eleven men working the rig were killed.

I've already posted my opposition to offshore drilling. This isn't the first spill - how inadequate a word, no? - and it won't be the last. Someone on the news noted that if we were serious about ending spills we would ban shipping oil in tankers, since they are the source of most spills, which I thought was an interesting point. Though I grew up on the Atlantic coast in Florida, I've spent plenty of time on the Gulf. With family in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, I know some of the areas that are making the news each night. My own state is holding its collective breath since our economy is pretty much entirely based on service industries and tourism, to say nothing about our seafood industry. Since I've been home, we've already had relatives cancel a planned trip because they thought the beaches here were affected (they aren't, nor the majority of Gulf beaches!). We're still waiting word on whether the latest attempt to stop the geyser of oil, the "top kill", have worked. I hope so, but we already have oil in the marshes of Louisiana that likely can't be cleaned out (image gum in your hair), brown pelicans and their eggs coated in oil not long after leaving the endangered list, gallons of chemicals being dumped into the Gulf with no real idea of the long-term effects, and the possibility of losing generations-old family businesses. And to think, just a few days ago BP CEO Tony Hayward was saying he thought the impacts of the rig disaster and spill would be "minimal." For starters, tell that to those eleven families who lost loved ones, Tony. Tell that to all the businesses along the Gulf linked to fishing. Hell, go try to scrub all that oil off those pelicans flailing about, unable to fly. And it's only been about a week since the US government told BP to cut back on dumping Corexit 9500 disperse the oil, due to concerns about environmental and health impacts, and the company all but blew government officials off and just kept dumping, creating a soupy mess that was highlighted by a news crew diving into the mess with Jacques Cousteau's grandson this week. Add to that the fact that members of Congress had to demand BP loosen their control on the video feed of the spill and provide access to the feed, even during this attempt to plug the well.

To claim that the Gulf was pristine prior to this would be a lie. There are red tides, dead zones and all sorts of man-made messes. But for about a day's worth of US oil consumption, we gambled with all this and lost. And we won't know everything that's lost tomorrow or the next day...some losses will take years.

Again, I hope this worked. I hope they stopped the flow of oil. Unfortunately, just as people stopped asking about and lost interest in New Orleans post-Katrina, people will lose interest in this story as they do all others when the drama fades, but the story will carry on for so many. Just don't let anyone fool you into thinking that protecting the environment is a choice between jobs and nature.
Anyway, enjoy the show.

20 May, 2010

Sand in my toes, water over my gills

Listening to: Celia Cruz; Los Van Van; Warren; old Buffett; Rhythms and Songs for the Orishas
Reading: On the Beaten Track by Lippard; Ecosystems of Florida ed. by Myers & Ewel
RE-reading: The Everglades: River of Grass by Stoneman Douglas

Good morning and salutations. Writing this over tea and toast before heading back across the street to the beach for a swim. Yes, I am back in the banana republic that is my home state of Florida for a few months this summer. Plans abroad didn't shake out, no summer classes to take and after a very long academic year in which I oh-so-typically overloaded, nearly three months in the tropics sounded pretty good. Awaiting word on where I might be for my final internship come January. This time next year I'll have finished graduate school and be moving on to who knows what.

For the first time in a long time there are no plans...well, few plans, for the immediate future. I have to be back in Austin for my final semester of classes by 24 August. It's an odd feeling and I haven't quite adjusted yet. I got to meet a friend's amazing baby girl last weekend. I'm reading and rereading for pleasure, kayaking, swimming in the Atlantic, diving, fishing, camping, gardening...all the stuff I've been cut off from for a long time. And trying very hard to just be. I'll let you know if I figure that last one out. Maybe I can figure out this "balance" thing I hear so much about. And, like so many others, I'm keeping a wary eye on the spill in the Gulf.

Stone crab season just closed. It's sea turtle nesting season. Atlantic hurricane season starts on 1 June. Supposedly, once you get sand in your toes you'll always come back. I truly have a love/hate relationship with this place, which I'll probably write about here since most of what drives me mad are some of the same socio-econo-political issues plaguing a lot of places.

Right now, I need to get back in the water and wet my gills.

27 April, 2010

11. 5,000! 3,000.

UPDATE: NOAA just revised their figures today in light of the discovery of an additional leak. 5,000 barrels a day spilling into the Gulf, or 210,000 gallons/day. Projected to make landfall in two days, despite today's burn off efforts. This is serious.

Shrimp and crab seasons are about to open in the Gulf. It's oyster spawning season. The Mississippi delta, barrier islands and wetlands are full of birds on their northward migration. Right now the slick is about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast, but nobody really knows where all this oil will end up. There's talk if conditions were right the oil could make it as far as the Keys. Today there was talk of burning the slick, but nobody seems to be able to answer what unintended consequences that might lead to, the impact on marine life. And, just like with the recent Massey coal mine disaster, there was industry pushback on safety regulations in the months leading up to this explosion. All of this on top of the already hurting Gulf's dead zone and red tides.

The Deepwater Horizon blew just after the Obama administration announced a plan to open more of the coasts to drilling. Certain groups in this country like to chant "Drill baby! Drill!" Damn the consequences and full steam ahead and what not.

11 dead, about 1,000 barrels leaking from the sea floor every day, over 3000 km of the Gulf already tainted and threats that, if they can't figure out how to cap this leak (about a mile under water), this could be one of the worst oil spills in US history. This isn't a choice between the environment or jobs, wildlife or people. This very much about jobs and worker safety. This is very much about coastal communities, currently holding their collective breath. And, yes, it's also very much about warblers, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, grouper, jacks, tarpon, Mahi and cobia...

Surely we can do better.

19 April, 2010

Fight Like a Girl #2

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas
I'll be back in the Glades, one of my favorite places on Earth, soon.

14 April, 2010

Before I go off to collect dubloons in the sewer...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
That's Tariffic
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Pretty good description of trickle down econ. Of course they missed a chance to highlight the fact that in the U.S. the largest group in poverty are children, with the numbers for very young children (under 6) increasing rapidly.
Click on the post title if you have trouble with the embed.

13 April, 2010

Rube Goldberg & Selection Bias

David Roodman, from the Center for Global Development, was the guest professor for my Development Econ class last week. Great session and here's the post to his CGD microfinance blog (good read) about some of it including his fun example of selection bias:

Roodman said NASA engineers worked on this video. To which I say, "Excellent, but where are my Martian colonies and hyperdrives?"

09 April, 2010

Fight Like a Girl #1

Lalla Fatma N'Soumer

One That's Stuck With Me

From a little paperback anthology of American women poets found on a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop years ago...this one has stuck with me.
The Poet's Wife Makes Him a Door So He Can Find the Way Home
by Nancy Willard

Nobody else makes doors like a poet's wife.

If she made a revolving door,
summer and winter would run like mice in a wheel.
If she made a door for the moon,
the dead would cross over alive.

Each door is a mirror.

So when the poet loses his way,
crossing the desert in search of his heart,
his wife hoists her lintels and straw on her back
and sets out, feeling his grief with her feet.

She calls up a door that shimmers like water.

She unfolds her palm trees and parrots.
And far away, his belly dredging the dunes,
the poet hears his heart spinning
straw into gold for the sun.

The palms bow. The parrots are calling his name.

He remembers the way home.

07 April, 2010

The More Things Change...

Nefarious War
by Li Po (c.750)
Translated from the Chinese by Shigeyoshi Obata
Last year we fought by the head-stream of the So-Kan,
This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan’s snowy slopes.
The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home.
Our three armies are worn and grown old.

The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
On his yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but blanched skulls and bones.
Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
The beacon fires burn and never go out.
There is no end to war!—

In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.

Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.

Remembering Namir and Saeed

“We talked about photography and what we would do after the war. Namir was good, he was a kind man, he was brave.”
Namir Noor-Eldeen was the Reuters photojournalist killed by U.S. forces, along with his driver, Saeed Chmagh, and ten others, in the shooting documented in a classified military video recently released by the Web site Wikileaks. Lens, the photography blog at the NYTimes Website has this remembrance that includes some of his amazing work. And here are the tributes from colleagues and friends on Reuters' blog from the day after the shooting in 2007.

06 April, 2010


I grew up by the ocean in south Florida. I learned to swim early enough that it's been said I spent nine months in the water (the womb), nine months out, and hopped right back in. Another friend once said God must have screwed up in the lab because I obviously should have been born a fish. I've been a diver since I was a kid and even spent a stretch working as an instructor after college. Even these days, when I'm away from the ocean for far longer than I'd care to be, I find ways to surround myself with little reminders - a bowl full of grain of rice-sized cowrie shells and quarter-sized sand dollars I picked up on dives back home, some paper-thin, deep purple shells I collected in southwestern Turkey, an intact seagull skull scavenged from the beach near my mom's, and lots of sea glass and sea beans. These days it may be a year or more between dives for me instead of the six or eight a day routine I kept up while working on dive boats, but the feeling is always the same when I hit the water and swim straight for the bottom - like going home.

Given all that, you can imagine my reaction to Pres. Obama's announcement on the expansion of offshore drilling. It's not a solution to anything and including it in climate change legislation is insulting. We've still only managed to explore about five percent of the world's oceans and seem intent on destroying them, one way or another, before we can even get a glimpse at the rest.

(images from the Surfrider Foundation, map from NYTimes)

"Collateral murder" and Langston Hughes

Wikileaks reveals video showing U.S. air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians

Let America Be America Again (1938)

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

05 April, 2010

Happy National Poetry Month

OK, I'm five days late, but...April is National Poetry Month in the U.S. Unfortunately, the way most people are introduced to poetry in school seems to lead to them swearing off it forever for fear of not getting it. I keep poetry books by my bed the way some drunks stash a bottle. Gets me through. I'll try to share some of the good stuff over the next few weeks. Loosen up, read a little, and try to stop worrying about "getting it" and focus on feeling it. Also try this in front of certain works of art and at the opera or ballet. I've converted more than a few in my time.

Eating Poetry
by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

03 April, 2010

P is for Procrastination

My housemates are throwing some sort of Easter fête for our block and friends farther afield tomorrow. It's less about Jesus and more about lots of food, games and activities. And Bloody Marys. They went a bit nuts. Our kitchen table is buried in little plastic toys, chocolates, jelly beans, stuff for dying eggs...and somehow celebrating Easter now involves a goat piñata. I am reminded of trying to explain to my then-husband, new to the U.S., how bunnies, chocolate and eggs related to Jesus. So, I guess a sacrificial paper goat fits right in, really. In the interest of putting off work, I'm making two Key lime pies. Because why do the work you should be doing today when you can put it off for tomorrow? And you can never, ever, have too much Key lime pie. Ever. No, really, ever - I once brought a KLP to a haggis dinner.

01 April, 2010


My mental bandwidth is gummed up and my thinking is scatter-shot, but I still want to communicate. So, for now, I'll take a cue from If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger..., one of my favorite blogs.
Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, Paris, 1935.
Gerda Taro at work during the Spanish Civil War.
He survived Spain, became famous, but never married. Thankfully, she's finally beginning to get the attention she deserves.


31 March, 2010

Four by Dorothy and a Pastiche for Gamze

Because my friend said she still hadn't gotten around to reading Dorothy Parker...
News Item
Men seldom make passes
at girls who wear glasses.

Indian Summer

Song of Perfect Propriety

Chant for Dark Hours

And a Dorothy Parker pastiche I whipped up in barroom on-the-spot poetry challenge years ago:
Typical Man
A typical man I met on the street today
asked me,"What do you do for your pay?"
"A writer," said I.
And like a sock in the eye,
he said, "Oh, my dear, what a shame."


29 March, 2010

Blame the Jet Lag... or Florida

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Not that anyone should care, but I'm completely knackered, extremely slap-happy, and a bit consistently dizzy at the moment. I woke up at just before 5am this morning. Full-on woke up; just got up and went downstairs for coffee. And yet I still accomplished next to nothing today. My brain feels like it's been run through the blender like a piña colada...man, I loved those as a kid (sans rum!)...I digress. I blame jet lag and my own stupidity and lack of boundaries in taking on perhaps too much this semester. Oh, well. As my mother helpfully noted, "It's just another five weeks." At which point I dropped into full-on panic mode. Somehow my preferred use of the term "month and a week" had buffered the reality of my situation.

Anyway, I felt compelled to share this story I came across today from my home state, which only serves to highlight the truth in our unofficial state motto: "All the nuts roll down to Florida."
Not surprisingly, "The Impaler" is now running as a Republican. Should fit right in with the Grand Old Party.
Do yourself a favor and go read some of Hiaasen's books and then you'll understand where I'm coming from in more than the geographical sense.
At the moment I must present myself to the poor souls who are in a project group with me. Nothing like working with the living dead!

28 March, 2010

Gone to Texas

"You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas."
Davy Crockett

Back in Austin at the end of a long, wonderful, busy trip. Woke up this morning and it me a few minutes to register where I was, whether it was day or night and what I was supposed to be doing. My brain felt like one of those little comic strip flip books.
I dive right into the final five weeks of the semester and several tons of related assignments. I'll break down the trip and resulting summer plans at a later time. Right now I have a mountain of readings, research and project tasks to stare at and try to make sense of...and likely procrastinate about a bit more.

24 March, 2010


Just a quick posting before I head off to another meeting. One week goes by much faster than I expected and I'm already feeling that heavy, creeping sadness as my departure date gets closer. It's been a very busy week, with at least one meeting every day with a different organization. One meeting may lead to my designing and implementing an outreach and evaluation project with refugees in late summer. Looks certain that I'll be dividing my summer between projects (and improving my language skills) in both Cairo and Istanbul, which thrills me.

I've managed to see squeeze in visits with just about all my friends here, too, which has been wonderful. Staying at a friend's pad overlooking the Bosphorus in Arnavutköy. A few people have commented that it's as though I never left or that it certainly didn't feel like a year and a half. It certainly felt a long time to me.

Off to listen to Selim Sesler with a friend tonight. Ricocheting between meetings on the European & Asian sides starting early tomorrow, but how I do love my ferry rides.

18 March, 2010


I was kidnapped this evening, not by extremists but by a tiny old man. I'd waded back into Khan Khalili to try to find a few specific mosques and historic sites and ended up wandering the tight back streets south of al-Azhar, where I'd walked around a few days ago. Didn't have a destination in mind, but all of a sudden a wiry little man appeared at my side and sputtered quickly in broken in English that he would show me the way out, his name is Fatih, the fact that his photo was published in a guidebook, that he has friends all over the world, that I would come with him because he was going my way to mosque and would I like tea or coffee. That he managed to cram all this information into about five seconds time was impressive. He insisted, insisted, I let him show me the way "out". "I not guide," he said, "no money. No money!" I knew this meant a sales pitch for something was inevitable. We were nowhere near the souq and on a rather dirty little back alley, so I figured he couldn't be selling anything, or at least not much. I kept insisting that I knew where I was going and was just out for a walk, but he would have none of it, ever so sweetly insisting I have a rest and some tea with him. He walked at a rapid shuffle of a pace and quickly arrived at a worn wooden door, which he unlocked with great flourish to reveal a downmarket Ali Baba's cave the size of a bathroom stall stuffed with old brassware, old found items and some inlaid boxes. He insisted I sit and ran off to fetch tea for us. I figured I'd sit for a minute and move on. I was wrong. As soon as he returned with a glass of dark tea, he launched into a sales pitch for the inlay work he, his father and grandfather had all produced (the few remains of which he indicated were all he had left to sell). He also seemed to be recruiting me, asking me at various moments to bring him a new version of the guidebook to Egypt, a camera phone for his daughter and more customers when I return to Egypt. All of this was delivered in his breathless, rapid-fire manner of speech while I just sat and listened and tried to figure out how to leave. He pulled out a few of the tiny boxes and just as quickly explained their merits while I tried to explain I hadn't intended to shop and didn't bring much money, that I'm just a student and I really was not in the market for anything. Of course that was just another form of engagement and he somehow interpreted this to mean the duel was on. With every protest from me, he lowered his price until he was willing to give me the little box and "you pay next time you come back." No matter what I tried he just smiled and continued his one way haggling mixed with questions about my family, studies and work. He kept gesturing to the collection of photos of himself with foreigners over the decades and business cards from around the world to emphasize his claims of fairness. It made for an interesting conversation but for the fact he didn't listen to a thing I said. It was getting late and I realized I wasn't going to win this one. I even tried explaining in Arabic that taking something without paying or paying such a low price made me feel shameful. No dice. With great flourish he finally stated that he would only take what I felt fair. In the interest of ever leaving the place, I paid him about 1$, more for the tea and conversation then for the little box. I am no expert in inlay, so for I know it'll be like the tourist items I saw in Istanbul and the stickers will fall off in a week. With that he jumped up and grabbed an old copper bowl, green with age and full of junk - buttons, scrap bits of inlay work, beads, coins... He declared he must give me some gifts to go in the box and quickly picked out a few choice items, put them in the box and wrapped it tightly in newspaper. And just as quickly we were off down the alleys, which actually made for an interesting tour. He showed me a few graves of principal early figures in Islam along the way and introduced me to the butcher, backer and lattice work maker along the way, again all at lightening-shuffle speed. He left me with an energetic handshake and many thanks at the old gates and I was left to drift back towards downtown through the souq and ponder what had just happened. Sure, I felt taken advantage of, but somehow Fatih managed to do it so I didn't much mind.

17 March, 2010


Sitting in the lobby, having tea and eating the last of the little, round loaf of bread some Copts gave me today when I visited the Christian district. I've loved these little loaves and the tradition of giving them to the congregation since the Coptic fathers in Jerusalem gave me a stack at Gethsemane.

Tomorrow is my last day in Cairo before heading to Istanbul for a week. Then it's back to the U.S. and a very busy end of the semester. I'm more than a little worried about getting back on the wagon with my courses. The larger issue is just not wanting to go back to the U.S.

The visit to the village scheduled for tomorrow was pushed back, so I'll not be able to go this trip. The organization assured me they'll expect to see me when I return in May or June, insha'allah. A few meetings fell through, but overall I think it was a good way to start getting a feel for the place and the work being done here. Spent a productive hour with several staffers from an intergovernmental organization this morning. Decided to hit the library Thursday morning and instead walked along the Corniche to enjoy the cool weather, from my meeting in Maadi to the Coptic churches. Of course the enjoyment of the walk was somewhat tempered by the fact that I was walking beside a six-lane highway, but it was pleasant none the less. The Coptic quarter is a bit odd because it's essentially an enclosed area. Not that there are not churches elsewhere in the city, but this little cluster of historic churches unfortunately ends up feeling a bit Disney-ish with everyone herded together. Still there are some lovely details to be seen and as there are active congregations meeting in these churches, some while I was there, it provides a nice glimpse into a different and often overlooked element of Arab culture. By the way, for those who don't know, the service is (obviously) conducted in Arabic, which means reference is made to Allah. Yes, God is God, no matter how you say it. Visited Ben Ezra synagogue, but again, no photography is allowed.

So, tomorrow I'll hit the library for a bit when it opens and see if that bear fruit. I'll likely spend the rest of the day kicking around the old city. Somehow, calling it "Islamic Cairo" seems a bit silly and redundant. I may even brave the Khan again. There are a few sites I've missed, but mostly I just like kicking around that part of town. I'm certainly not as anonymous as I am downtown, but I get along just fine. Other than non-threatening stares and the random English word - usually "Welcome." and "Hello."- the only "harassment" I've received so far has been the throngs of school girls who have mobbed me at every site I've visited, wanting to talk and have me pose for photos with them. They've been surprised and amused that I speak Arabic, even if only Fusha, and it's never a chore to blow some stereotypes. They've also been quick to steer me away from school boys, who they typically describe as "stupid" and "dirty" though they seem fine to me, if a bit hyper. Always funny to see universality of "boys are gross". At the citadel, some of middle schoolers I'd talked to inside spotted me on my way out as they were getting ready to board their school bus and shouted me over to introduce me to even more of their friends. Their teachers were a but mystified, but gracious.

Also gracious was the older woman on the metro women's car who, after exchanging only a few words with me when we got on the train, ended up finding a seat and somehow making space for both of us and insisting that I sit with her. And then there was the woman who let me share a tiny both with her and her daughter at the koshary place I popped into this evening at rush hour. The little girl might be kindergarten age and spent the rest of our meal staring at me while her mom tried to get her to finish her meal. The girl and I finally gave up the fight to finish at the same time and my teasing agreement and gestures that there was simply no space left in us to stuff koshary met with a big smile and giggles.

When I moved to Syria in 2006, I'd actually considered going to Cairo instead. I'm glad I didn't. I feel like, for me, I made it here at the right time. I like it here, am getting my bearings, and will be glad to come back, though the summer heat will undoubtedly be a major challenge (to say the least). Yes, the place is mental, but it's somehow manageable. Yes, it's dirty and sometimes smelly, but it's somehow - even at it's worst - what I might call lush. It's a city of sensory overload. You smell dust, frying oil, bread in the oven, shit, exhaust, the damp of the river, the stink of the river, grilling meat, sweets, mint, incense, diesel, sweat...sometimes in sequence, sometimes all at once.

Unless it all collapses tomorrow and I have some horrid experience to radically alter my opinion, I've found people here to be generous, kind and helpful. They are also very blunt at times. Some may be rude, like the angry man in the ticket office at the pyramids who chewed me out about trying to use my school I.D. for a discount instead of an international student I.D. (though my card was accepted everywhere else), but those folks are not endemic to Egypt. Walking the Corniche today, I was rather sure I was close to the Coptic quarter and stopped to ask directions from an elderly man sitting in the gateway to one of the lovely gardens along the Nile. He said I was indeed close and gave me the brief directions I needed. As I stepped off the curb to run the gauntlet of traffic, he called me back and asked several times if I'd like him to walk me there and insisted he didn't mind. I declined with profuse thanks and he reiterated the directions before asking if I was certain I would be alright and waving me off.

The place is a good lesson in going with the flow, or as I've been joking to myself, going with the crazy.
So, one more day of floating in the current and sometimes swimming for an eddy.