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!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Public Relations Department at Hezbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday

Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East
by Neil Macfarquhar

This book is fantastic. Really one of the most interesting books I have read in quite awhile, the name caught my attention immediately.

The name and cover photo by themselves made me think that this would be a light read, something filled with anecdotes about Macfarquhar's experiences as a reporter. While there are many anecdotes scattered throughout, the most engaging parts of the book (at least for me) were when he commented on the perception of the U.S. in the Middle East and how the U.S. could go about changing it. From his perspective, it wouldn't take much more effort than we are giving now, but it would take a different type of effort.

He worked as the Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, and, because he speaks Arabic, he is able to speak directly with the people, bringing a different perspective to reporting in the Middle East. His ability to speak with the locals reveals the variety of opinions among average people, as well as highlighting the differences between the official government stance on issues versus the public stance. What I found the most interesting is the way that he predicts the revolutions to come in the Middle East. The book was published in April 2009, just two years before the "Arab Spring," and, as I read it, I thought wow, I wonder what he thinks of all of this now? What would he say about what is going on? What worries me about all of it is that along with his prediction, he says that many of these societies are not ready for pure democracy. Human rights? Yes. But democracy is a whole different animal. Democracy would require people to become engaged in their government, something that many of these people are not used to doing. I can only hope that a sense of purpose and responsibility is present within these revolutions. Only time will tell.

The author grew up on a compound in Libya that was designated for westerners who worked in the oil business, and he returned to the Middle East as an adult, working as a foreign correspondent. His take on Arabs and Persians, showing that the Middle East a place where blanket statements about religion, culture, and lifestyle are inaccurate, is quite refreshing. He interviews many people, showing the questions that they, within their own culture, are asking themselves. I found the part about the female Kuwaiti sex therapist quite entertaining. This book helped me understand the difference between interpretations of Islam as a religion and a political force.

Here's a quote from the Booklist review: "He speaks Arabic, and the openness and immediacy of his on-site reporting reveals the diversity in country and culture as he explores current Arab attitudes toward the U.S., the oppression of women, the power of the Internet and satellite TV, the stifling control of the secret police, and much more. The professor forbidden to pluck her eyebrows sums it up: “They focus on the trivial . . . so we don’t worry about the big things.” Those big things will grab American readers, from religion’s blocking of science to U.S. expediency in backing the powerful and, always, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Friday, March 16, 2012

How to remember feminine versus masculine conjugations.

Just took my oral exam in Arabic yesterday!
That's always the hardest part of the semester.. memorizing paragraphs and getting graded on conjugation and pronunciation is bad enough, but then he decides to ask us questions. So I had to have a conversation with him in Arabic, trying to think as quickly as possible. 
I did alright, as well as I could have hoped for, at least! 
Unfortunately, for awhile, I had a habit of mixing up the feminine and masculine forms of verbs. One starts with a ي and the other with a ت. I mixed them up until I realized that the feminine has dots on top (like a woman) and the masculine has dots hanging below (like a man). It's a bit crude, but you won't ever forget which way they go!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

If you will excuse my language, I must say that this book topic pissed me off. 
Rajiv Chandrasekaran does an excellent job of showing what an absolute mess the U.S. is leaving in Iraq. I would recommend this book to people studying foreign policy, cultural interaction, and how not to conduct your military force.

Here is a review that seems almost generous to the people in the Green Zone:
" This revealing account of the postwar administration of Iraq, by a former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, focusses on life in the Green Zone, the American enclave in central Baghdad. There the Halliburton-run (and Muslim-staffed) cafeteria served pork at every meal—a cultural misstep typical of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which had sidelined old Arab hands in favor of Bush loyalists. Not only did many of them have no previous exposure to the Middle East; more than half had never before applied for a passport. While Baghdad burned, American officials revamped the Iraqi tax code and mounted an anti-smoking campaign. Chandrasekaran's portrait of blinkered idealism is evenhanded, chronicling the disillusionment of conservatives who were sent to a war zone without the resources to achieve lasting change." -New York Times

There were some parts of this book that I found so infuriating, I had to stop reading it for a couple of days. These parts detailed things like this- "Bernard Kerik’s ludicrous attempt to train the Iraqi police and brings to light lesser known but typical travesties: the case of the twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of reestablishing Baghdad’s stock exchange; a contractor with no previous experience paid millions to guard a closed airport; a State Department employee forced to bribe Americans to enlist their help in preventing Iraqi weapons scientists from defecting to Iran; Americans willing to serve in Iraq screened by White House officials for their views on Roe v. Wade; people with prior expertise in the Middle East excluded in favor of lesser-qualified Republican Party loyalists. Finally, he describes Bremer’s ignominious departure in 2004, fleeing secretly in a helicopter two days ahead of schedule."

There are SO many things that were done wrong in the planning (or total lack of planning) that happened in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. The fact that the Bush administration had no competent people to assist in nation rebuilding makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. Millions of dollars were spent, and they managed to ruin all of the good things about Iraq that could have been kept around for the new government to run with. 

I cannot possibly recommend this book more highly. Though I realize that it is not directly about Middle Eastern culture, it perfectly shows the type of influence that the U.S.'s invasion is leaving on the area.