A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

at the opening of the year

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 3, 2007

Owlfish has been my friend since I was seven; we met in a drama class put on by the Des Moines Playhouse. Realizing that no theatre career could eclipse the high of our closing production, “The Practical Princess”, we each turned to academic pursuits.From her master’s thesis on the siting of early medieval British churches I learned the original meaning of the verb “orient”, which, as the OED states, is:

1. a. trans. To place or arrange (a thing or a person) so as to face the east; spec. (a) to build (a church) with the longer axis running due east and west, and the chancel or chief altar at the eastern end; (b) to bury (a person) with the feet towards the east.

1728 E. CHAMBERS Cycl. s.v. Oriental, In most Religions, particular Care has been taken to have their Temples oriented. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus is said to have made a Mountain give way, because it prevented the orienting of a Church he was building. 1884 Science 11 Apr. 469/2 The coffins were of plank or stone, and were not oriented. 1896 Classical Rev. Feb. 22/1 The primitive Aryan in taking his bearings literally oriented himself and turned to the east. 1993 J. E. TAYLOR Christians & Holy Places 236 The basilica is, like other Byzantine churches, oriented to the east.


As someone whose linguistic exposure to the orient comes via critiques of Orient-alism, I found this etymology fascinating.

Last year, she and her partner visited me in Paris. While he waited patiently, we pored over the artifacts of the Institut du Monde Arabe‘s L’age d’or des sciences arabes exhibition. I read the letters and words inscribed on medieval astrolabes and maps and she “read” their layouts, making sense of them for me (medieval maps, Arab or otherwise, are magical but quite opaque to the untrained viewer).

Now I see that she has written a summation of her 2006 on her blog: “At the closing of the year”.

As she is both older and wiser than me, I have no qualms about imitating her structure for this post. 2006 was a very long year; I hope this precis helps make sense of it for me :-).

In 2006 …

I completed one full-year traveling research fellowship and snuck in another one just before the year ended.

I published one minor encyclopedia article, several book reviews, one review essay, assorted features and reviews for Syria Today, and one small article for Time.com. Needless to say, this last one gave me far more credibility in the eyes of family friends than anything academic I will ever write!

My sister had a baby, making me an aunt, with all the grave responsibilities that aunthood carries for women in our family.

I went to Kuala Lampur for the first time, which forced me to learn that despite Google’s rich collection of Kuala Lampur related sites, the city’s name is properly spelled Kuala Lumpur. This was my first trip to a non-Arab Muslim country, and I was enchanted. (My aunt IntlXpatr‘s blogosphere friend Skunk is moving here this month – lucky, lucky him!)











I traveled more than 80,000 miles, including trips across the United States, across the Atlantic, across the Mediterranean, and across the Gulf. Once I get back to Beirut, I am going to just sit and sit and sit and let my luggage collect dust in the corner for a while :-).

I somehow persuaded two cousins, one cousin-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law, and seven friends that coming to Iowa in the middle of August was not only a reasonable but also an appealing thing to do. They endured less than deluxe accommodations –






– in exchange for the very dubious pleasures of a day at the Iowa State Fair.

I obtained my first residency card in a country other than my own and am currently in possession of a Lebanese iqama that, my friend noted, “looks exactly like the one my maids have”. Maids, scholars: we both try to keep house.

I organized two conference sessions, presented in both (not super-star but solid papers), and chaired one. I presented a third paper at the WOCMES II in Amman, which was … a delightful opportunity to catch up with friends and favorite Jordanian restaurants, but not (yet) an academic blockbuster. Someday, though, it will be a powerhouse, and finally the Middle East will be a place of research and scholarship rather than merely a repository for raw source material.

I served as “invited speaker” for two classes: one, a friend’s course on the Qur’an, and the other, a colleague’s Middle East conflict course. Both were fantastic opportunities; in each case I wish I could do the whole thing again, speaking more cogently and more profoundly. I can’t wait for the next opportunity.

Building the ‘circle of love’ in which I live, I arranged one anniversary and several birthday celebrations, including one massively over-subscribed soiree in Beirut (I reserved a table for the 6 who rsvp’ed and the maitre d’ kindly made room for the 30 who arrived!). It succeeded and exceeded the birthday boy’s expectations despite my poor planning.

After finally feeling settled in Beirut, I fled the city thanks to a war that was stupidly begun, more stupidly escalated, and still more stupidly allowed to continue unabated for more than one month. Never having been one to idly wonder whether a backfiring car sounded like gunfire or a truck rolling over a steel plate on the road sounded like a bomb, I now know the answers for certain: no, and no. I do know that the sounds of F-16s, which I found comforting in 2001 when they flew constant patrols over Manhattan, now make me deeply uneasy. And I know that the taste of foul reminds me of the sight of military helicopters opening fire on Dahiyeh – a breakfast my stomach no longer welcomes (too bad it wasn’t fatteh I ate that morning – finding the taste of cumin, chickpeas, yogurt, oil and tahineh nauseating would be easy!).

I lost my grandfather and gained a new adult perch in the family tree, balancing years of a well-deserved reputation for spacey-ness with freshly forged proof of a more helpful me. Perhaps this was a side benefit of turning 30 :-).

I started 2006 in Iowa, and ended it in Seattle, like Owlfish sans passport.

I start 2007 in Iowa as well, with high hopes for a bright new year, filled with adventures, love, and more opportunities to grow in wisdom, kindness, and faith. (Hopefully the fact that I am starting on January 3, rather than January 1, indicates my reflective nature rather than any always-already behind-ness for the year!)

And I start it with plans for another Iowa State Fair weekend. 2007’s itinerary promises to be even more exciting (tho sadly with the same Y-camp style accommodations), featuring various pre-Iowa caucus events in addition to the butter cow sculpture, midway rides, prizewinning steer, and llama show. This year, the weekend will kick off with the Iowa GOP‘s presidential candidate straw poll:


I’m not a Republican, but I am a believer in fresh starts and new beginnings. Our country could use both – August can’t come soon enough!

2 Responses to “at the opening of the year”

  1. Intlxpatr said

    Love the photo of the “marrieds’ room!” You did a great job organizing so many things this year, and, as you summarized, attained a new, more responsible position in the family as you shouldered so many functions in a terrible time. Blessings, Little Diamond.

  2. thank you though honestly I’m not sure that my new position as Responsible Adult is all I imagined it to be. so much work! so little time for self-indulgence!

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