A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for October, 2006

mocking, mock, a mockery

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 31, 2006

UPI is running a story that Israeli warplanes ran “mock raids” over Lebanon on Tuesday:

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Israeli warplanes carried several runs of mock raids over Beirut and all Lebanon Tuesday in the second such provocative action since the war ended Aug. 14.

Lebanese army sources and witnesses said eight Israeli planes carried the fake raids over the capital, flying at a very low altitude, before repeating the same maneuver over the eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border, as well as north and south Lebanon.

The army said it opened surface-to-air guns at the intruding planes over south Lebanon as Israel continued to ignore international calls to stop violating Lebanese air space in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. The resolution ended the 34-day war between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel, wrecking havoc in Lebanon.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, whose number was increased to 15,000 troops to help implement 1701, has been complaining to Israel about the latter’s repeated and almost daily violations.

Lebanon asked the United Nations on more than one occasion to put pressure on Israel to end its blunt breaches of Resolution 1701.

France, which is contributing a large battalion to UNIFIL, has been most outspoken against the Israeli violations and hinted it might take action to stop them. (http://www.upi.com/InternationalIntelligence/view.php?StoryID=20061031-054621-2390r)

There are several interesting aspects to this short article – not least, the casual mention of French involvement in the closing paragraph. Two weeks ago, the French UNIFIL commander told the Israelis to stop overflights or the French would take action (despite UNIFIL’s no-violence mandate). Israel said: you can’t tell us that! UNIFIL said: oh, we didn’t! the French said: oh, but we did. Overflights stopped for 48 hours, but have resumed.

Perhaps the most interesting bit is the word choice: mock raids. Word Reference, my favorite oh-help-I’m-chatting-in-French-and-want-a-broader-vocabulary instant translation site, also gives English word definitions. For mock, it offers:

A noun
  1 mock
    the act of mocking or ridiculing; “they made a mock of him”
    Category Tree:act; human action; human activity


behavior; behaviour; conduct; doings

discourtesy; offense; offence; offensive activity

derision; ridicule


B verb
  1 mock, bemock
    treat with contempt; “The new constitution mocks all democratic principles”
    Category Tree:act; move


treat; handle; do by

mock, bemock


ridicule; roast; guy; blackguard; laugh at; jest at; rib; make fun; poke fun

tease; razz; rag; cod; tantalize; tantalise; bait; taunt; twit; rally; ride

  2 mock
    imitate with mockery and derision; “The children mocked their handicapped classmate”
    Category Tree:produce; make; create


imitate; copy; simulate


spoof; burlesque; parody


caricature; ape

C adjective
  1 mock
    constituting a copy or imitation of something; “boys in mock battle”


Deride, make fun, tease, ridicule, treat with contempt: these are the characteristics of a mock raid.


Posted in Beirut, Israel, Lebanon, media, news, politics, words | Leave a Comment »

the joys of SANA

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 31, 2006

SANA is the Syrian Arab News Agency, which reports on major national events such as (quoting today’s main page headlines)

Syria and Germany enjoy continuous progress in their joint ties [progress no doubt aided by Israel’s ‘misunderstanding’ cum missile attack on a German boat off the coast of Lebanon earlier this week]


Syria and Yemen to sign agreement in fishery field

Every so often, though, a more intriguing bit of news – and commentary – appears. Today that bit was

Press in Syria became more daring in criticism, journalists’ chairman says (http://www.sana.org/eng/21/2006/10/30/80043.htm)

The first part is good, suggesting that the Syrian government is now taking a greater interest in promoting and supporting changes in its press laws:

Chairman of the Journalists’ Union Elias Murad said on Monday that press in Syria has become more courageous and daring in criticism and talking about mistakes in order to correct them.

“Syria has taken important steps in order to transform press in Syria from a governmental press into a social and state one,” Mr. Murad added during a meeting with a delegation of foreign journalists accredited in Spain.

He underlined that newspapers in Syria include daily articles that criticize government performance, noting to the absence of an absolute media freedom in any country of the world.

The closing paragraph, which follows directly on the paragraphs above, takes Syrian journalism in a different direction:

“Journalists in Syria are distinguished by their high national emotions as they always defend issues of the people and homeland,” chairman of Journalists Union said.

In other words, if you are a Syrian journaist, think carefully before you decide to write one of those articles critical of the government’s performance.

As an aside, I must note that the nadi al-si7afiyeen, the Journalists’ Club, was a very welcome source of good food, well-packed argilehs, inter-table conversation, and Nasrallah appearances on Jazeera this summer. The staff generously extended the warmth with which they treat my friend and then-host A., a local analyst, to me. Sometimes I wondered how they categorized me: did they think, oh, she must be a journalist so we will extend that warmth as a professional courtesy. or did they see A. ordering plates of mezzeh for me when he was dissatisfied with my performance in ordering for myself and think: oh, she must be his wife so we will treat her well in his absence, as she is clearly here because she is too incompetent to take care of herself. probably the latter.

Posted in Arabic, Damascus, media, news, politics, Syria, words | Leave a Comment »

the tortilla aunt.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 29, 2006

last night I had supper with my parents, brother-in-law, and very pregnant younger sister, who is due with their first child in January.

as we waited for our food, we talked baby – one of our favorite topics these days. this time, the theme was: best practices for baby sleep. according to my sister, the current advice is not to cover babies with blankets, because they can suffocate under them, unable to move a blanket if it covers their face. instead, they should be put in ‘sleep sacks’ (basically nightgowns stitched shut at the bottom) and put to sleep in a warm (but not hot, since that apparently contributes to SIDS) room.

my father asked: so no blankets at all, then? no, my sister said – you can swaddle the baby in a blanket, folding it into a triangle, setting the baby on it, and tucking the blanket corners around it. like a burrito? I asked, wondering about the logistics of swaddling in the 21st century. yes, said my sister – that’s exactly it. you make a baby burrito.

this new term in turn resolved another ongoing baby discussion topic: what to call a receiving blanket once the baby has been received from the hospital. my brother-in-law has been quite concerned about this, pointing out the illogic of calling a blanket used for so many things by its first – but only one-time- use. in the stores, they are sold as baby blankets – functional, but a bit generic. now, though, we have another name for them: tortillas.

on an unrelated note, the restaurant at which we ate had perhaps some of the world’s most thoughtful fortune cookies.

for my mother: your intuition and guidance will be helpful.

for my father: your ideas will be totally acceptable. (my mother altered this to: your ideas will be totally questioned, apparently a manifestation of her helpful guidance.)

for my sister: you will travel to an exotic location. (motherhood?)

for my brother-in-law: your situation will change for the better. (fatherhood?)

and for me: you will be called to fill a position of high honor and responsibility. (well, I am invited to appear as a guest speaker at a local university’s war and peace in the middle east seminar tomorrow … !)


After the much anticipated baby was born, we joined my sister and brother in law and their new little son in the delivery “suite”. He was swaddled up in six blankets – adding another 7 pounds, at least, to his birth weight. When my brother-in-law handed him to me to hold he said: here he is, the little burrito.

I still thought that we were being witty and creative by calling the swaddled little one a baby burrito – but google set me straight. A quick check of “baby swaddling burrito” turned up hundreds of references, including proud parentals photos of their own burritos, instructions on how to properly do the “burrito roll”, and pre-formed burrito swaddlings that take the guess work out of rolling one’s baby up oneself. hmm!

Posted in family, food | 1 Comment »

finally, the summer ends.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 28, 2006

from today’s IHT:
Summer time ends in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon Clocks in Lebanon are to be moved back one hour at midnight Saturday, ending seven months of daylight-saving summer time.

This puts Lebanon two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Standard time remains in effect until the last weekend of March 2007, according to a Cabinet decree.


In Syria, clocks were moved back one hour last month, putting the neighboring country two hours ahead of GMT.


Finally, Lebanon’s summer is officially ended. What a pity the country’s rebuilding cannot be accomplished as easily.

Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, media, news | Leave a Comment »

the power of fruit

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 28, 2006

several years ago, a friend and I sat over the remains of supper at our favorite upper west side Vietnamese restaurant, talking dreamily about the upcoming summer in Damascus. stuffed with sticky rice and peanut sauce, my tummy nevertheless happily contemplated the riches of the mezzeh options that awaited it: tabbouleh made with fresh bekdounes, salad with pomegranate dressing, and (from Lebanon) sliced baladi tomatoes, as delicious as they are ugly.

my friend said: oh yes, these are all good, as is the halabi kabab. but what I am longing for is the sultat fawakeh. do you know it?

I said: the what? and no, I don’t know it, but I love the name. my mother, who is always after me to eat more citrus, would be thrilled to hear that in Damascus there is a best selling dish called the power of fruit. where does that name come from?

my friend said: oh, I don’t know, its just a name. haven’t you ever had it? chopped fruits with nutella and chocolate bits sprinkled over it, with fresh whipped cream on top if you are feeling truly decadent. I can’t wait for my first one!

several weeks passed. my friend made it to Damascus, while I stopped over in London (research), Oxford (more research), and Doha (beloved aunt and uncle). finally, I arrived in sham, and saw my first sultat fawakeh on the menu of my favorite comfort food restaurant (well, comfort food syrian style – no mac and cheese but lots of tangy hummus).

sulta …. sulta … sulta … hmmm.

I realized that my friend’s previous trip to Syria had occurred when he was still wrestling with the basics of Arabic. nor, apparently, had he been any more fond of salads than he was now. the mysterious “sulta” was in fact “salata”, and ‘the power of fruit’ was really a chocolate topped fruit salad.

tee hee hee there are some linguistic advantages to being a vegetarian in the Arab world.

and below, another local fruit: the qubbad (also known by other names), a sour naranj used for marmalade. photo courtesy of my friend M, who took this photo as a sampling of the harvest from her Damascus courtyard.

The qubbad (also known by other names), a sour naranj used for marmalade

Posted in Arabic, Damascus, food | 3 Comments »

al-kalimat al-`Arabiya al-mufaddala: favorite Arabic words

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2006

Taking attendance in university classes is an art form. No instructor wants to go through a checklist of names (and then, what, follow it up by asking who is taking hot lunch and who has brought their own?), but knowing who is present is critical for assessing grades. As a consequence, many at the university have adopted a more ‘adult’ manner of attendance taking: they send around a blank piece of paper, and ask everyone present to sign his or her name.

I think this is a bit dull, so I try to make attendance taking work double, by asking students to answer a question each week (the weekly “poll”). it turns a checksheet into a means of communication – I learn something about each of them, and they learn (I hope) that I am interested in them, genuinely.

Because this is an Arabic class, I try to make my questions course-specific. Last week, I asked them all to tell me their favorite word in Arabic. They don’t yet know all that many words, so the available pool was somewhat limited, but … I love their answers. Many are words that are fun to say, particularly for a beginner. Djaj, which means chicken, is a total hoot – and was the most popular choice among my 90 students. Other words are those that they have heard from friends or visits to Arabic speaking countries, and know are “real” (as opposed to formal) Arabic – but not words that they have learned in class. Habibi, `ayb, and y`ani all fall into this category. Some students choose words that they learn in class, words that either recur frequently in lessons, like the expression fil-haqiqa, which means in reality or in truth and is gravely overused in the text book we use, or that appeal to them for some reason, like hadhihi, the feminine “this” marker. Finally, some students choose words that reflect their faith – several chose Allah or bismallah, or their heritage – one girl wrote Lubnan wa Djibouti, reflecting her Lebanese-by-way-of-Africa family history.

The questions I ask make my attendance sheets special to me. I keep them, folded in half and ordered by date, in a manila envelope, as memories of my teaching and mnemonics for my students.

Poll results: favorite words

autobees (autobus)

waraqa (paper)

bab (gate or door)

jami`a (university)



`ayb (shame)


sabah (morning)

kuliyya (college)

maktab (office)

doktur (used for anyone with a BA … )

Lubnan wa Djibouti

harr (heat/warmth)

raqs (dance)

al-sharq al-awsaT (the Middle East)

Talib (student)

laHam (meat)

shatranj (chess)

masr (Egypt)

al-layl (night)

mustaHeel (impossible)

shams (sun)


bayt (house)


fikra (idea)


khala (maternal aunt)


khubz (bread)

mushmas (sunny)


mutakhasas (specializing)

mabrouk (congratulations)

fi al-Haqiqa

al-Huquuq (law)

ustadh (teacher)

mutaHida (united)

tawla (table)

wajibat (homework)


meshghoul (busy)

sufuuf (classes)

mustimti`a (listener)

siksoukeh (goatee)

shubbak (window)

shurTa (police)


mumtaz (excellent)



ya`ni (an all-purpose expression, literally “it means” and used for “that is”, “I mean”, and other colloquial sentence bridgers like “you know” and “um”)

jar (neighbor)

Posted in Americans, Arabic, teaching, words | 3 Comments »

our relatives, our real estate: adventures in elementary Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 26, 2006

This term I took a position running the listening comprehension labs for the university’s elementary Arabic program. the students are delightful – hard working and committed despite the many challenges this language presents.

for me the position has turned out to be a never-ending fountain of malapropic delights. this weekend, while grading sentence dictations, I found that one student had transformed the sentence I read in a particularly entertaining manner.

I read: `a’ilati `ainduha suar kathiira min aqaribna fil-bayt – my family has many photos of our relatives in the house.
He heard: `a’ilati `ainduha suar kathiira min `aqaribna fil-bayt – my family has many photos of our real estate in the house.

I had to set down my pen lest my laughing manifest itself in spastic squiggles all over his paper. I can just see the Hariris or any of the other ‘big families’ throughout the region sitting down to supper, surrounded by real estate photos and self-congratulation.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Lebanon, teaching, words | 1 Comment »

two minutes.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 26, 2006

an old car in the old cityThe first time I heard the expression “two minutes” I was in Damascus, on my way to meet friends for a nice game of shidda (I’m a terrible player, thanks to my total lack of strategic sense but I happily play on, losing cheerfully because I love the game) at Haretna. By “on the way” I mean “on the Mezzeh Autostrade” – i.e., at least twenty minutes in nighttime traffic. When I heard “habibti I will be there in two minutes”, I panicked.

Twenty two minutes later, having pled my case incessantly to the cab driver and run from Bab Touma to the cafe, I arrived, breathless and utterly askew, gasping my friend’s name to the maitre d’. he smiled and said: oh yes – she’ll be here in half an hour.

Two minutes – to an English speaker it sounds intimidatingly precise, unlike the much more rounded (and to us, looser) five. In Arabic, though, two minutes IS five minutes – or perhaps ten, if by ten we really mean ten plus twenty.

I’m smiling as I write this, because I am waiting for a friend’s return call. twenty minutes ago, I called and heard: “I will call you right back! in two minutes!” I know what this means, even though we are both currently in the states. I am smiling because “two minutes” brought me back to Damascus, and because “two minutes” means I still have plenty of time.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Damascus, friends, Syria, time, words | 3 Comments »