Archive for January, 2011

In life, there are two types of spectators: those who watch from afar and those who watch up close.  You may be tempted to believe that those who watch from afar are those who are geographically far from the game, the fight or the show of affection while those who watch up close are physically present at the event.

This isn’t true.

Those who watch with their eyes, whether at the event or at home on their TV screen, watch from afar.  Those who watch with their hearts, watch up close.

I’ve made this observation as the large-scale demonstrations have begun to unfold in Egypt.

I am amazed, and I feel empathy for the people involved.  I take interest in the story as a news item and as a major story that is currently capturing the attention of the world, much like I did when the miners were trapped in Chile or when State Representative Gifford got shot.  While I am strongly interested in the situation, I am watching with my eyes.

But it’s obvious to me that there are those who watch in a different way than I do.  A blogger in Jordan that I follow, named Roba, shares her impressions of the situation in Tunisia and Egypt here.

My Egyptian students, colleagues and friends are watching with their hearts.  For those under the age of 30, I am realizing that this is the only governing system they have known.  Some are worried about how this will affect their religious freedom, in the wake the demonstrations.  Others are worried about family members and friends.  I have yet to hear any of the Egyptians around me scream for freedom or display any of the jubilant solidarity that is being reported on the news.  What I see is a sliver of fear in their eyes.  What I hear are students who are worried as they ask that we whisper a word of prayer for their country at the beginning of class.  I see some grappling with the reality that has become their country.  They watch with their hearts.

What kindof spectator are you?

My quest to learn Arabic started about 2 years ago….or maybe it was 4 years ago.  I started taking classes at Language Loop in Chicago.  I learned the alphabet and then had to quit because of my demanding work schedule.  In fact, my Senior at work asked, not so subtly, if I planned to quit the class during busy season started. Well, I guess you have your answer right there.  I quit the class before busy season.  Besides, I thought, when would I ever find myself in the Middle East.  Fast forward 2-4 years, depending on who’s counting.  Now I find myself in Lebanon, trying to juggle multiple methods to learn the language.

For those trolling the internet hoping to find ways to learn Arabic, here’s a list of my favorite resources so far.  I’ll update as I find additional things:

1.  Check out YouTube.  Many people have posted lots of great children’s videos in Arabic.  It’s a quick way to learn the letters, numbers, colors, family members, etc.  I really like Syraj Arabic Books’ videos.  Here’s one that teaches you the numbers

2.  If on the off chance you’re in Chicago, I really liked the classes I took at Language Loop.

3.  Amazingly, the Institute of the Language of the Quran, based in Toronto, Canada has free online video lessons that you can watch.  The purpose of the videos are to teach non-Arabic speaking Muslims so that they can read the Koran.  The classes are great for anyone who’s looking to learn Arabic grammar.  I quickly learned the 14 prounouns from a catchy tune the professor sings.

4.  Both cute and entertaining, I love watching Maha teach Arabic via her Youtube channel.  It’s great because she’s never scripted and comes off so human while she’s teaching.  If you’ve never been interested in learning Arabic before, Maha’s sure to change your mind.

5.  Although The Arabic Student is pretty advanced and presents very detailed information.  It’s still quite helpful and gives me something to strive for.  Most interestingly, the man teaching is an American, who when through a Language Institute.  He said when he travels, he often gets mistaken for being Lebanese because of his Arabic accent.  Even still, he understands the innerworkings of MSA as well.

6.  I’ve got my own Mr. Miyagi.  Wax on.  Wax off.  Only mine speaks Arabic.  Since arriving in Lebanon, I’ve gotten a tutor, who I affectionately refer to as my Mr. Miyagi, just because of his age, his wisdom and his excitement for the language.  I realize that this is not an internet resource, but I’m sure you can find something similar by doing a quick Google Search.

7.  Transparent Language has lots of interesting information and explains little tidbits you might be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  The blogger often posts things of cultural interest as well.

8.  The Global Language Online Support System is a program run by the US government that offers free lessons in a myriad of languages, including Arabic.

9.  If you’re interested in giving and receiving, check out LiveMocha.  A place where you can share your native language while learning the language of your choice.

10.  Though short on bells and whistles, Babel is practical and contains information that will be helpful in your quest to learn the language.

Besides these things, I try to watch Sesame Street in MSA and I’ve bought a few children’s books that I’m slowly picking my way through.  The process can be long and tedious, as is anything else in life, but I’m hoping that it’s worth it on the other side.

Participate in a quick poll!

I woke up this morning to the sound of gusts of wind banging the doors around, like a tempestuous child who didn’t get his way.  Then, as part of my morning routine, I rolled over and checked my e-mail.  With my 8 hour advanced schedule, sometimes things happen over night.  I was greeted with the following e-mail:

How was your day?

How is Lebanon? I heard the news about Lebanon’s government. Any changes to daily life in Lebanon?

My response:

Still in bed, so i dnt know yet. : )

“The news” being referenced is that 11 of the 30 ministers in the Lebanese government resently resigned, causing a collapse in the government and a vacuum of power. However, upon checking CNN.com, Aljazeera.com and BBC.co.uk, I realized that this was far and away not the day’s top news story.  CNN was focused on the shooting in Arizona; Al-Jazeera on a story in Israel and BBC on the floods in Brazil.

Having grown up in America, I wasn’t sure how to react to this news, but as I set off for class, I noticed that life was in tact.  I realize for most, this is life as they know it.  I’m definitely new to it all.  I’m familiar with a different type of unrest.  Americans refer to a crisis as bickering of politicians across the aisle.

Granted, I live outside of the city, so I don’t have an accurate feeling of life on the ground, in the heart of the city. But as far as my eye can see and my ear can hear (which isn’t too far considering I don’t speak Arabic), life seems to be marching on like normal.

So this is what crisis feels like?

It’s been a long time since I was in love….with a book.

Let me explain.  My prized possession in life is my bookshelf and my collection of books.  I hope to have a library in my house someday, inshallah.  So it should come as no surprise that I am in love with a book.  But I must provide you with some context.

Anyone who knows me knows that I always like to be at the top of my game.  My dad drilled it into me. As a child, if I brought home an A- from school, he asked why I didn’t earn an A.  If another student was doing well in a class that was challenging for me, he told me if they could do it, I could too.  Some may see this as being too hard on a child, but as an adult, I have a deep appreciation for his penchant for me to be a high achiever.

This career shift that I’ve made (however long or short it may be) has come with its own challenges.  The primary problem is that now, my ability to be a high achiever, depends on so many variables: students studying, students caring…..skip that…what about students showing up for class or not showing up because someone died, they got into an accident, they were sick, they collectively decided to boycott or any other excuse they can wrangle up.

But then there are bright spots.  There are days when you see a ray of promise.  At the beginning of the semester, I showed “The Danger of the Single Story” in class, and now, months later, they recall the tough Nigerian name of Chimamanda Adichie (hopefully they remember her message as well.)

Even still, as a neophyte in the teaching game, sometimes I need a sounding board.  I need the opportunity to reflect, question, learn and grow.  Honestly, I need my mentor, who is an Education Superintendent, but she’s so far away.  So in her absence, I’ve recently found this book.  The object of my affections.  I’ve only just begun to read it, but already it’s proven to be helpful.  And hopefully it’ll help me reach my goal of being a high achiever.

Maybe this is the foreign love affair everybody warned me about.

Though neither of my grandmothers ever traveled outside of the United States, they each had commentaries for me about the outside world.

One summer I spent a few weeks with my paternal grandparents in Alabama.  Upon seeing me write a letter to a friend in the Philippines, my grandmother smiled and told me in her sweet matter-of-fact tone, “It’s good to have friends across the water.”

Grandma, I concur.  It is good to have friends across the waters.

She passed away before I made my foray into traveling.  So it was my maternal grandmother who eventually opined on my travels.

She was a straight shooter, who never hesitated in speaking her mind.  When I prepared to catch yet another flight to only-God-knows-where, she commented to my mother, with a bit of anxiety, “that girl never lets any grass grow under her feet.”

Living in the Middle East, while reading news from back home, I find her fears to be understandable and perplexing all at once.

Somehow in America, we have become immune to the spate of shootings, killings and violence that plague our country.  Just today, I saw that yet another student has found solace in a gun, this time in Nebraska.   As many have most likely heard, a student shot and killed his Assistant Principal and injured his Head Principal.

Similarly, I read that ex-Pentagon official, John P. Wheeler III was found dead in a garbage dump. As I read on I saw investigations being made to find a missing woman in Illinois, a mother failed the polygraph test about her missing child and a convicted killer could inherit his victims assets.  And still the list goes on and on and on.  One fails to realize how graphic and morbid American news is, until one is away from it.

Which is funny, because I think that was the root of my maternal grandmother’s fear.  It was her fear of my proximity to the news.  She was scared that as I traveled, I would travel closer and closer to the areas where bad things were happening, though the reality of the matter is that I was close to the headlines right where I was.

Though I’ve changed my time zone, and the crime du jour is different on this side of the world, I now find myself in close proximity with different headlines.

Each day I ask students if they have any prayer requests.  Since our return from Christmas break, the top three requests seem to mirror the front page of the New York Times.

  1. My Egyptian students asked that we pray for the families affected by the church bombing in Alexandria, Egypt. (talk about proximity.  I was a tourist in this city the Wednesday before the bombing)
  2. My Sudanese students asked that we pray for the country of Sudan as they prepare to vote on a referendum that will allow South Sudan to cede from the north.
  3. My Iraqi student asked that we pray for the Christians who are suffering in Iraq

In light of my grandmother’s concern, I’ve come to learn that no matter the location, the sting of death, loss, terrorism and violence is just as sharp.

Pray for those around the world who are presently suffering, whether for the freedom they seek, the possessions they own that others covet, the God they worship or the land they inhabit. No matter the language, religion, region or social standing, everyone longs to be free.

It’s funny because I DON”T want my old life back.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was by no means a bad life.

1.  I had a great job.

2.  I was surrounded by friends and family members who loved me.

3.  I had a car, a house, food and fun.

4.  I just finished writing my first book that will be published in two years.

5.  I was preparing my PhD applications.

6.  I traveled regularly and shopped fairly regularly at the BCBG outlet store (man I miss that store!!)

There was nothing noticeably out of place in my life.  And even though I don’t want my old life back, I still find myself grappling at pieces of the familiar.

Recently I was chatting with my bestie back home, and I asked her to tell me jokes about my our friend Tim (reference guy in the green striped shirt)

She laughed, but didn’t tell me a joke.  She only mocked me for grappling at the familiar.  Longing for small slivers of my old life.

The same is true as I read newspapers from home, appalled at the lack of intelligence displayed in American politics these days.  Is it just me or has everyone turned into a lemming?

I look for the familiar in TV shows.  I followed the group Committed, who hails from my alma mater, Oakwood University, as they trailblazed their way to the winner’s circle of The Sing-off.

And the Batchelor.  Really?? They’re bringing Brad back?  Or am I super late on draw?  Maybe all of you Yanks see this as really old news.

But as much as I long for the familiar, I know I’ll never have my old life back.  As much as I grapple for those things that I miss, I know things will never be the same.

I’m coming to understand that that’s not always a bad thing.

They were tired.

Actually, all of me was tired, but it was most noticeable in my shoes.  My beloved Pumas.  My walking shoes.  I never imagined they’d see much action, but by the end of the week in Egypt, they had done it all.

Trekked the Sahara desert atop of a fancifully garbed camel to see the Pyramids,

walked the winding paths of the Khan al Khalil marketplace,

picked through a winding alleyway following a character named “El Genteel”,

followed the steps of native Egyptians aboard a train to Alexandria,

followed a local guide on a tour to see the Saqqara pyrmids followed by a “perfume tour” where we weren’t “obligated to buy anything”, but it sure would be nice.

No wonder these dogs were tired.

Being strangers to this new land, required guides and there were plenty.  You never realize how vulnerable you are until you’re dropped off into a foreign land and told to survive.  This is even more true of a country like Egypt where tips, palm greasing, favors and giving your cousin, auntie and momma a cut, is an integral part of the society.  With this understanding, I can say for the most part, our guides (sometimes salesmen in disguise) worked hard to make their daily bread.

Guide in Giza to see the pyramids

“Guide” AKA Salesman at the Perfume Factory

Restaurant Owner and dispenser of advice

All in all, it was an adventure that I wouldn’t trade.  After all the stories, advice, warnings, etc that I heard before I went, I’m glad I can say I experienced it for myself.