This blog was originally designed to keep me sane as I began learning Arabic. It morphed into a blog of musings about Arabic, the Middle East, and the Islamic World, as well as book reviews about those topics. Then, the blog became a place to keep my family and friends updated on my adventures while I was living abroad. During May and June of 2012, I had a 6-week long internship in Cairo, Egypt through a international student organization called AIESEC. I taught English at the Awladi Orphanage in Cairo, home to several hundred children. I lived in an apartment in Nasr City before moving to Maadi (each is a distinct area of Cairo). I experienced President Mursi's election, camped in the western desert, rode camels by the pyramids, and had countless other experiences. I have since moved past this blog, on towards new endeavors, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment! Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

End of Semester

Alexandria, Egypt

This is my first post in ages. I finished up my first official semester of Arabic class. I know that I wasn't the absolute best in the class, but I also know students who fared worse than I did. Unfortunately for me, most of my class had had an Arabic class before, and almost everyone either had parents who spoke Arabic or they had had experience reading the Koran.

I was so nervous for that final exam. I spent days studying, nervous to make a good impression on my professor. He is currently writing me a recommendation letters for several government scholarship programs I am applying to. I really, really want to study Arabic through the Critical Languages Scholarship Program, and I know that as a freshman, my chances are slim. A good recommendation letter from him is crucial! I'm also applying for a Boren scholarship and an FLAS scholarship. My goal is to study intensive Arabic this summer and then to go to Egypt in the spring of 2013 to study.

I really love the looks of Butler's study abroad program in Alexandria. I'd probably go there, or the Middlebury's program, for the spring. Then, for the summer, I'd like to go to the American University in Cairo to take more classes. This is, of course, all dependent on financing.

With all this time I've put into the scholarship essays lately, I should probably work on my Arabic a bit! However, I figure that it isn't always about being the best and the smartest. I have to be able to put myself out there and get attention/scholarships for what I want to do, otherwise it'll never happen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

U.S. Government Employment Opportunities

*Image Courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times

I find the idea of working for the U.S. government in a security-related position interesting. I am currently thinking about going into nuclear non-proliferation, arms control, disarmament, international security studies, etc. I feel that not only will there likely be a demand for a person who can speak Arabic in this field, but also that it would be an interesting area to study.

Besides government and conflict resolution type studies, I only have a couple other choices. I find human rights compelling, but I am not sure I could make a career out of it. Cross cultural studies are the same way.  I realized that after looking at the classes I could choose from, the political science ones interest me the most. Thus, my major, a combination of classes from majors including Anthropology and Nuclear Engineering, will focus on international relations and security studies. I'm getting really excited for my classes next semester!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alphabet Poster

I absolutely adore this poster! I bought it on Etsy a couple of weeks ago, and it has been (sticky)tacked to the wall above my headboard ever since. The poster is so cute hanging in my dorm room, and it really inspires me to look at Arabic as a child would: with an open mind and an open heart. It has been the starting point of many great conversations about what I have learned so far in my Middle Eastern studies.

College and Arabic

السلام عليكم
(As-salamu Alaykum: a common greeting meaning "peace be upon you"). Okay, so I'm officially settled into college life and college Arabic-learning. We've made our way through the first 6 sections, learning everything up until ghayn (Which looks like: غ ). I'm actually using a different edition of the textbook than I thought I would be. They've updated Alif Baa since last year. For the connoisseur of Alif Baas, this book is much more user-friendly. The vocabulary actually relates to one another, and the drills/listening exercises seem to help a lot more than they did then. (Although, this may be because I hardly ever did them last year). The CD that comes with this is kinda crappy though. It doesn't have as nice of an interface.

Anyways, enough of the boring logistical stuff. I really have gotten into the swing of things again with writing in Arabic. Being able to read things, like-

It says "Coca-Cola." Pretty cool, huh?
I've also decided to apply for the Arabic Critical Languages Scholarship. It is a long process, and they only accept like 10% of the people who apply, so I'll just have to cross my fingers. If I don't do that this summer, I'll go teach abroad/ work on development issues through AIESEC. I'm not sure if I'll go to the Middle East or not though. I'm not sure if I'll get much out of it after just one year of Arabic. How much will I know after a year of college Arabic? Enough to hold a full conversation? If that is the case, then I'd definitely go to somewhere within MENA. AIESEC has a great program called Salaam that works in many countries throughout the region. I'm super excited! :) I'll be upset if I end up at home for the summer.
I'll have to ask my Arabic professor for a recommendation letter when I apply for the CLS. He's such a funny man. It is his first year teaching in Champaign, and he's all about taking us out to coffee and talking about cultural topics. He wants to take us to a mosque and out to a Middle Eastern restaurant. He is Muslim, and has no qualms about explaining details of his culture to us. After we asked where he was from, he launched into a talk about the recent history of Palestine and what brought him to leave. He has really grown on me a lot.
After that discussion, I talked to several of my classmates. Many of them (over half, at least) have Arabic speaking parents. Three-fourths are Muslim or half Arab. Parents are from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan, Malaysia, and Syria. The random non-Arab, non-Muslims (like me) are mainly in the class for career-related reasons (like me). It makes for an interesting mix of people! I enjoy having that class everyday.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Learning on my own

When I get a chance to go into my local library, I always like to check out any new additions to the language-learning section. While it is obligatory that they have the basics in Spanish, French, and German, I am always interested to see what other languages they see demand for among their patrons. This time, they had 2 items for Arabic! One was a dictionary, and the other was this: Michael Thomas Method, Speak Arabic, Get Started Kit.

I have to say, I have been quite impressed with it. The method involves nothing more than sitting and listening to a couple CDs. It is a great way to learn to understand the very basics of spoken Arabic. On the CDs, there is a British woman and an Egyptian man working to teach two students (neither of which has ever taken any Arabic classes). By listening to them respond to questions and walk through the building of an Arabic sentence, the language becomes easy to remember. "Ana" means "I am." After hearing that a half dozen times within their sentences, it is impossible to forget. However, I did not have to sit and memorize it at all. I have completed the first CD, and I will go on to the second within the next couple of days. They do not teach a ton of Arabic (at least not in the "Get Started Kit"), but it is enough to get started. The repetitive nature makes it easy to remember all of the oddities that are being taught. I quite enjoy the method, and I may listen to the set of CDs again before school starts, just for fun!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Damascus: The Eternal City

After doing a post on the modern happenings in Syria, I was inspired to go and find out more about the country. I have come across descriptions of Damascus that I find fascinating and beautiful. There is such an allure to these romantic ideas of what the Middle East once-was. The Damascus of days gone by is such a bright, cosmopolitan city, but current descriptions paint it as a place that has lost its former glory. While I'm sure that Syria is still a beautiful country to this day, I would very much liked to have seen the far away place as it was so long ago. The following are descriptions of the idyllic Damascus from various eloquent travel writers.

“Through a gap in the rocks, my eye fell on the strangest and most fantastic sight which man has ever seen: it was Damascus and its boundless desert, a few hundred feet below my path... first the town, surrounded by its walls, a forest of minarets of all shapes, watered by the seven branches of its river, and streams without number, until the view is lost in a labyrinth of flower gardens and trees.” -Alphonse de Lamartine

"Damascus dates back anterior to the days of Abraham, and is the oldest city in the world. It was founded by Uz, the grandson of Noah. "The early history of Damascus is shrouded in the mists of a hoary antiquity." Leave the matters written of in the first eleven chapters of the Old Testament out, and no recorded event has occurred in the world but Damascus was in existence to receive the news of it. Go back as far as you will into the vague past, there was always a Damascus. In the writings of every century for more than four thousand years, its name has been mentioned and its praises sung. To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time, not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise, and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality. She saw the foundations of Baalbec, and Thebes, and Ephesus laid; she saw these villages grow into mighty cities, and amaze the world with their grandeur--and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted, and given over to the owls and the bats. She saw the Israelitish empire exalted, and she saw it annihilated. She saw Greece rise, and flourish two thousand years, and die. In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it overshadow the world with its power; she saw it perish. The few hundreds of years of Genoese and Venetian might and splendor were, to grave old Damascus, only a trifling scintillation hardly worth remembering. Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies. Though another claims the name, old Damascus is by right the Eternal City." -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

"This Holy Damascus, this Earthly Paradise of the prophet, so fair to his eyes that he dared not trust himself to tarry in her blissful shades —she is a city of hidden palaces, of copses, and gardens, and fountains, and bubbling streams. The juice of her life is the gushing and ice-cold torrent that tumbles from the snowy sides of Anti-Lebanon. Close along on the river's edge, through seven sweet miles of rustling boughs and deepest shade, the city spreads out her whole length: as a man falls flat, face forward on the brook, that he may drink and drink again, so Damascus, thirsting for ever, lies down with her lips to the stream, and clings to its rushing waters.” – A. W. Kinglake, Eothen: Traces of Travel in the East

Syrians Protesting in Spain

When checking Al-Jazeera earlier for their take on the attacks in Norway, an opinion column on the side caught my attention. It was called "Living in Spain and Fighting for Syria." Basically, the article talks about Syrians (and other supporters of the "Arab Spring" movement that has spread into Syria) who live in Spain and are pressuring the Spanish government to take a hard line against the current regime in Syria. I find it interesting to read anything that ties together my second and third languages (Spanish and Arabic), and seeing these protest videos/posters/t-shirts is really pretty cool. I watched this video, which (if you don't speak either language) has one guy asking the other, "What are you afraid of?" and then gives examples of things that the man may be afraid of, first one being the "mujabarat" (which the video defines as the Intelligence Agency of Syria, but the word can be used to describe any number of government intelligence collecting groups throughout the Arab world), and other fears being "hunger" or "death." He is saying that the young must take up this fight for a hope of a better life.

According to the article author, Leila Nachawati, social media has lead the way during these protests, and the Spanish-Syrian community is planning protests on the 24th and 30th of July. They wish for the Spanish government to take a stand for the Syrian people, and not wait for the larger European powers like England and France to do it first. She quotes journalist Mazen Yaghi as saying, "We ask the government to remove the Spanish ambassador in Syria and have the Syrian ambassador in Spain resign. We also ask them to take a stand on the drama of the Syrian refugees and to demand the free access of Spanish journalists into Syria."

I have to say that I find it quite interesting how little the U.S. news seems to be covering those kinds of stories now. Now that we are well into late Summer, media outlets have moved on to more "pressing" news stories, like... how Kim Kardashian is suing Old Navy? right...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Destiny Disrupted

In preparation for my Middle Eastern history classes, I went into Border's with the idea that I would pick up a solid, interesting history of the area to read during my trip to Europe. I, being an entirely indecisive individual, sat on the floor between the "World History" and the "Sexual Health" shelves to contemplate the single row of books about the Middle East. (The fact that they can fill up shelves of books about sex, but only have one shelf dedicated to the history of a region that has had such an impact on the modern world is really beyond me).

After about 30 minutes of reading the covers of each book and laying each of my favorites on the floor next to me, I had a ring of books circling me like flower petals. After 45 minutes, my boyfriend came over to help me decide (I was making him late for watching some sports game or another). After talking about it, I decided that I wanted to read a history that wasn't so cut and dry that it would put me to sleep on our long rides through Scandinavia. I also wanted a book by someone who had actually LIVED in the Middle East. Somehow, reading a book written by a Harvard scholar with no practical experience among Middle Eastern people has no appeal to me. Finally, I settled on this book: Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary.

Ansary, someone familiar with both East and West, took a wonderful approach in writing this book. He explains that there are two narratives of world history: the world from the western perspective and the world from the "eastern" perspective (not including the Far East). He explains that even our notion of what is "west" and what is "east" is different (everything is relative, is it not?). Anyways, it is such a great book, really touching on the main topics that have influenced the Islamic world. I highly recommend it!

Learning Letters

The art that people manage to create by using Arabic calligraphy is really amazing. While I know that I will never be able to draw the letters quite so beautifully, I would like to make sure that I master the letters, both in written and in spoken word.

Arabic writing is much like cursive writing in English; most letters can be connected together in one, fluid motion. The interesting thing is that the letters change form. Each letter looks a certain way whenever it is by itself, but once you place it into a word (either at the beginning, middle, or end), it changes. So, not only must one learn the 28 letter alphabet, but they must also learn to recognize all 4 variations of each of those letters.

Last summer, I taught myself the Arabic alphabet by using flashcards. Conveniently enough, I still have the flashcards, but I do not remember all that I learned.

Thankfully, some are easy. The letters that sound like English letters are pretty simple. I know alif (A), baa (B), sin (S), shiin (SH), nun (N), and lam (L) the best. The problem that many of the other letters share is that they represent sounds that would use the same letter in English. For example: "ta," "taa," and "tha," sound much the same; "ha" and "kha" have the same problem; as do "dal" and "dad." The only difference is in emphasis. I'm convinced that learning to hear the difference in spoken word is much the same process as a classical musician must face when learning to identify slight differences in music.

Monday, July 18, 2011

First Post

This blog has been designed for the purpose of keeping me sane as I begin my adventures in learning Arabic. It will stray a bit from the actual focus, but I want this to be a collection of my thoughts about what I learn in regards to Arabic, the Middle East, and the Islamic world in general.

I took my first Arabic class last fall at my local college, and I immediately fell in love with the snail-like squiggly letters. My teacher was from Morocco and had come to the states on a Fulbright to teach; it was funny to listen to him pick up colloquialisms that we use in America. During that class, I realized that I wanted to make Arabic a greater part of my life. It was only a semester long class, but after four years of learning Spanish, I realized that I was ready for something different and more exotic.

When people found out that I, a redheaded midwestern girl, was taking Arabic, there were a couple of different responses. I was told that I'd never be able to use the language, because, "as everyone knows," Arabs "don't respect women." I was asked if I was trying to "pick up a terrorist." To me, this represented all kinds of ugly strains of ethnocentricity. It angered and saddened me. Several times, I got blank stares, and I was asked, "What are you going to do with that- exactly?"

There were, of course, a handful of people who were enthusiastic and supportive of my choice. For the record- I'm really not sure what I'm going to do with this language. At this point, a job working for the State Department seems like it could be a good fit. I've read several books about the history of Islamic civilization, the current political situation in the Middle East, and all of the things that are wrong with current American foreign policy. I like to think that, someday, I can be involved in fixing the problems.