A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for November, 2008

good parenting

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 30, 2008

I saw this advertisement in the online edition of the Daily Star, the English-language Lebanese paper, on Wednesday, and it made me terribly sad:


This is a legal notice to Hassan Trabulsy that his child or children are about to be placed in foster care or an orphanage. From reading it, I could tell that he obviously hasn’t been around to take care of him/her/them in some time, since his address is listed as “parts unknown” – but also that someone must have reason to think that he returned to Lebanon. And the court is trying to let him know what is happening with his child/children, and to give him one last chance to come back to the United States and be a good father to him/her/them.

In the US, when parents split up, custody generally goes to the mother. We see mothers as the primary, care-giving parent.

In the Middle East, when parents split up, custody almost always goes to the father. Children are his responsibility, but also his right – and they belong to him. Hence as my friend M told me years ago, when I asked him how his mixed-marriage parents decided which religion he should follow, Religion follows the father. And religious courts automatically award custody to the father.

Its a tragedy whenever either parent chooses to abandon his or her responsibilities towards his or her children. But coming from a culture in which fathers are so centrally involved in raising their children, I found it all the more heart-breaking that Trabulsy should abandon his.

Except that when I googled his name to find out more, I learned that he didn’t – or at least, he only abandoned one of them.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Hassan Trabulsi had three children with his American wife Holly: Tristan, Afif, and Serena. Afif and Serena are fraternal twins, and Serena has Down’s Syndrome.

Holly and Hassan, who went by “Richard” in the United States, divorced in 2004, and Holly received full custody of the their children. In 2005, Hassan asked Holly to allow the two boys to come to Lebanon to spend the summer with him. At the end of the summer, he told her that he was not sending them back.

I suspect that this loss-of-custody notice is for Serena, in whom Hassan/Richard seems to have taken no interest. And knowing that he abandoned one child while abducting the others is even more heart-breaking. This is not an example of good parenting. Hassan Trabulsy should be ashamed of himself, and so should the rest of his family.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, babies, childhood, family, Lebanon, parenting | 6 Comments »

giving thanks

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 28, 2008

I hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful holiday yesterday, food coma and all. We – my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and dog – had a delightful, relaxing day filled with a mix of old and new.

The old: the same debate about how long to cook the turkey, which has been a feature of Thanksgiving and Christmas since I was little. Experience it again … for the very first time! I always find myself thinking, and wondering about deja vu.

The new: a delicious sweet potato tart, courtesy of the New York Times:


And, thanks to my mother’s generous sweet potato-purchasing (she kindly did the grocery shopping before we all arrived), we have enough shredded sweet potatoes for our decorate-the-tree breakfast tomorrow. If you’re in the neighborhood (and don’t mind an equally long-running family debate over lights and tinsel), feel free to stop by.

And if not – happy Thanksgiving weekend to you. I’m thankful for each and every one of you: for reading, for commenting on, and for linking to and forwarding these blog posts. Your comments inspire many of my posts, and I learn so much from all of them. Thank you.

Posted in Americans, food, holidays, home, Iowa | 5 Comments »

Arabic in public

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 26, 2008

Thanks to a last-minute email and blog check before I headed off to work this morning, I was that person on the subway who makes everyone nervous. You know: the one who keeps bursting out every so often with a few chuckles.

Ordinarily, this happens because I am reading something funny. But today I had no reading material – I was kept busy enough by the task of balancing over-stuffed handbag and rolling luggage. So you can imagine that the sight of one solo traveler – with two bags full of who-knows-what – might cause alarm.

I blame snarla for it all. It was her comment on my Dubai post that I saw just before powering down, and it was her comment that made me giggle my way from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

When you are traveling by plane, she wrote, are you ever compelled to write something in Arabic in the margins of the in-flight magazines? I am. But I haven’t done it yet.

Loooooooooool. I have never thought of this, but imagining it now makes me laugh out loud. Of all the totally mechant (yet ultimately harmless) ways for the country’s Arabic-speakers to carve out a bit of retaliatory space for the racial profiling they face in airports and on planes, this is the best I have heard. I can definitely see writing city names on the “where we fly” maps towards the back, or a “to-do” list on a full-page ad. Too, too funny.

Snarla’s comment also made me think about an issue I do face more frequently: that of reading, writing, or translating Arabic in public places.

For the first two-three years after 2001, I never took Arabic texts with me on a plane – and if I did, I certainly didn’t pull them out.

When I did start working with Arabic in public, it was on public transportation: the subway. A friend had told me that he used his subway rides to review Arabic words using flashcards, so I decided to do the same. At the time, I was taking a medieval Arabic class – far exceeding the boundaries of my professional interests, but it was the only one available at my level – so the words and their usages were fairly esoteric.

But pulling out hand-made flashcards with Arabic words on them made me an instant hit with my fellow subway riders. On every ride I took, someone began asking me questions about Arabic: what I did with it, how long I had studied it, where I had traveled, it. It was great public outreach, but it wasn’t particularly conducive to learning.

More recently, I have become a bit blase about working with Arabic in public places. I am currently working toward a professional certificate in Arabic-English translation (news that may frighten Houssam and others who disagree with my translation in yesterday’s post 🙂 ), and this past weekend was sufficiently pressed for time that I completed my entire translation assignment on the plane back to New York.

And … no one looked at me funny. No one looked at me with interest. In fact, no one paid the slightest bit of attention to me. And while I didn’t mind the lack of scrutiny, I did miss the celebrity status of my 2004 subway flashcard days. So snarla’s suggestion may have come at the perfect time 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arabic, friends, travel, words | 1 Comment »

a pen from Sukleen

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 25, 2008

I have mentioned Sukleen’s advertisements/PSAs in several posts in the past couple of years – primarily because I find that the company/public utility/gift of the Hariri family takes interesting positions on the array of issues that Lebanon and its people face.

This is from yesterday’s newspaper:


And here is my translation of what the text says (with apologies as I am not sure that I have gotten the first bit entirely right – so if you are a native speaker, please feel free to jump in with corrections!):

We’re getting by with a green pen*

*the green space in Lebanon has shrunk to only 13%

Between forest fires, unregulated development, pollution, and generally weak environmental policies, the size of Lebanon’s forests has shrunk dramatically from year to year. (You can see a surprisingly good story that CNN’s Brent Sadler did earlier this month on this same issue here.) Sukleen’s ad suggests that using a green crayon to draw a cedar will be an adequate replacement for the actual tree.

This ad is intriguing on a textual level as well. The Arabic used is Lebanese Arabic – “pen” is spelled “2alam” and not “qalam”, for example. Yet the words are highly voweled: I count four fathas and two shaddas. As Arabic speakers know (and I have mentioned before), vowel markers are used when a word is unfamiliar, or might be mistaken for another word with the same consonantal spellings. In other words, they are used for clarification, and for formal writing.

Although I’ve seen vowel markers used with spoken Arabic in other advertisements, I still find it a bit jarring – an odd mixing of language levels. I’m also a bit surprised by the use of the alif in “2alam” – it looks confusingly like “alam”, which is a regular Arabic word meaning “pain”.

I think here that the similarity might be intentional – after all, losing Lebanon’s cedars is a source of pain for many people – but in general my understanding is that the hamza’ed qaff is written in Arabic as just that: a qaff with a hamza over it, so readers recognize both the original Arabic word and the regional pronunciation of it.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this – either the ad in general, or on the use of colloquial Arabics in standard Arabic script?

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, cedar, fire, humor, Iowa, Lebanon, words | 3 Comments »

the power of Dubai

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 24, 2008

I was out of town this past weekend and largely Internetless – my apologies to you and my now-overloaded Gmail for the silence.

On my flight home, I noticed this advertisement in my in-flight magazine:


The advertisement is for a company called Energy in Focus, a company that evidently produces a newsletter that reports on trends in the energy industry. The website is a bit bizarre: the URL energyinfocus.net defaults to another one called secureyourfinancialfuture.com; includes only the home page; and has a short video that focuses heavily on military images and praying Muslim men. Apparently the “protein for your portfolio” that it promises is fuel for the fear its reportage inspires.

Anyway. Fascinating as this company is, it wasn’t the sample text of its newsletter that attracted me to the advertisement – it was the cocktail napkin from the five-star “Hotel Regent Geneve Dubai”.

Let me start with what is really a side-note issue: This hotel doesn’t seem to actually exist. At least, I can’t find any mention of it online, which is rare for five-star hotels.

Why do I say that this is a side-note issue? Because most people reading this magazine would not have heard of the “Regence Geneve” hotel brand in any case. But they can see the five stars, and they can see that the name is French. And they can definitely see “Dubai”.

What this tells me is that “Dubai” and accompanying signs of luxury living are now becoming signs that the American public is expected to recognize. Here I would argue that the reader is meant to take away the message that the business professionals who truly know the oil and gas industry read Energy in Focus as a briefing document when they travel the region on business trips.

I can’t imagine a Dubai reference appearing in an advertisement five years ago – much less a Dubai hotel napkin. Its fascinating to me how the world changes – both in reality and also in our perception of it.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Dubai, economics, hotels, media, words | 3 Comments »

reading when I shouldn’t be: The Return to Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 21, 2008

Last night I had dinner with my friend S, who not only shares a birthday with Owlfish but shares the distinction of being my two oldest (as in “longest-running”, not as in “getting on in years”) friends.

What have you been reading lately? S asked as we waited for our entrees to arrive. (I know: entrees are appetizers in French. But in the US, we use “entree” for the main course.) This is one of the many reasons why we are friends: we both love reading.

I told her about Body of Lies, and she told me about Lonesome Dove, which she has been working her way through each night before bed. And we both admitted to bargaining with ourselves, in exactly the same way we used to bargain with our parents when we were girls.

I tell myself: just five more minutes, S told me. And then 45 minutes later I think: I really need to go to bed.

I do the same! I said. Or I promise to turn the lights off once I reach the end of the chapter. But then I want to know what happens next, so I keep reading.

Of course, I’m proud that each of us recognize the importance of getting good sleep. But the fact that we are reduced to wheedling extra pages out of our better selves does strike me as a bit odd.

My latest reading-when-I-shouldn’t-be book is a short novel originally published in France in the mid 1980s and translated for English publication in the early 1990s: Andree Chedid’s The Return to Beirut:


The novel is not bad: it tells a beautifully elliptical story of a 50-something Lebanese-Egyptian returning to Lebanon in May 1975 to spend two weeks with her American-Swedish granddaughter, marred by a slightly overwrought parallel story-line and a crash-boom-bang ending. Chedid interweaves memory and present deftly, but the story has some very odd bits. For example, Kalya, the woman, has only been to Lebanon once before; and although she does not seem to be estranged from her son, she has never met her granddaughter.

I also suspect that a certain amount of “ethnic” marketing went into the US edition of the book. For one, the French title is La maison sans racines, or “the house without roots” – a fitting title given how much of the book is devoted to Kalya’s memories of various interior spaces. But I imagine that the US publishers felt that a book with “Beirut” in the title would sell better.

And look at the image on the cover. Yes, there are two girls in this novel who wear yellow. And yes, Lebanese men and women come in all shapes and colors. But these young women do not look particularly Lebanese – and nor do they match the description of the girls that the novel gives. Again, I wonder whether the publishers were trying to market the book to a particular type of “world literature”-loving audience.

Despite these quibbles, the book definitely kept me up past my bedtime, and thanks to some very sleight-of-hand finagling with myself I went from “I’ll just read the opening” to “well, I’ve finished” in one night.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, books, childhood, friends, Lebanon, women, words | 1 Comment »

lighting up Levantine TV

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 20, 2008

This is a total cheerleading post, so if you were hoping for something more analytical, like an analysis of yesterday’s IAEA report, I happily refer you to A.

A dear friend of ours, Nour Malas, has now written three excellent pieces for Variety about the political impact of Lebanese and Syrian television.

Nour is going to be a powerhouse in the field. Read her work now so your 2018 self can have the pleasure of saying: Oh – Nour Malas? Of course I know who she is. I’ve been reading her since she first started.

Posted in Lebanon, media, politics, Syria, women | Leave a Comment »

Defining the Middle East

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 19, 2008

Yesterday MESH (the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog) had what seemed to be a delightfully time-wasting post on online quizzes about the Middle East.

I didn’t find any time to waste yesterday, but while stuck on a phone call this afternoon, I decided to try my hand at two geography quizzes aimed at testing my ability to correctly identify each Middle Eastern country on a map: Geo Quizz Middle East and Rethinking Schools’ Map Game.

Some of my errors were totally my fault. What was I thinking, forgetting about Libya? Or putting Oman where the UAE should be?

But others I would argue were the fault of the designers, and the general US tendency to leave “Middle East” as an ill-defined catch-all region.

What was Pakistan doing on these map quizzes? Why was Mali included?

Should North Africa be included (or central Africa, for that matter)? Should the ‘stans?

The two quizzes each listed roughly 35 countries as belonging to the Middle East. I find this fascinating, but I wish they had included a working definition of the term. Is it geography that connects all these countries? Culture? Religion? Language? When the scope is this broad, it seems to me that what they end up sharing is simply the “middle-ness” of being in the catch-all bin.

Anyway. Take the quizzes and enjoy – and if you do better than I did on in Africa and Central Asia, chalk my request for a “working definition” up to sour grapes 🙂 .

Posted in education, internet, maps, research | 1 Comment »

a watch named Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 18, 2008

Things seem to be heating up a bit in Lebanon, as what Naharnet is jingoistically calling “the war of the magnetic tapes” shifts into a higher gear. So maybe that’s why the latest Lebanon-related mention in my inbox suggests going underground for a bit – or to be more accurate, going under water.

Did you know that there is a surfing watch model called the Beirut? I certainly didn’t – but now I know that it not only exists, and is made by a company called Rip Curl. I also know that it costs anywhere from $120 to $150, and that it is water-proof to a depth of 100 meters. And its a pretty watch (although sadly it only comes in a men’s version):


If you’re a surfing male looking for a stylish watch named after a mildly dysfunctional Mediterranean city, you can buy it here.

To be fair, the company did not single out Beirut alone. It sells a series of watches named after cities (Munich, Zurich) and neighborhoods (Bel-Air, Bronx).

And I suppose I would prefer to own a surf watch named “Beirut” than one named “Atlanta“.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, Lebanon, sea, words | Leave a Comment »

Bank Med gets serious

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 17, 2008

Those of you who follow the Lebanese and Syrian news are well aware of the allegations flying back and forth over just which party funded Fath al-Islam, the Salafi terrorist group that took up residence in Nahr al-Bared until its slow and painful three-month routing by the Lebanese army in summer 2007.

Allegations that the Hariri family had helped fund this group surfaced when the conflict erupted, in May 2007, but then largely disappeared. But the “confessions” of several militants broadcast recently on Syrian television has reinvigorated the issue, with various media outlets (and particularly the party-affiliated print media) scrambling to report allegations and counter-allegations.

And now I see that BankMed, the Hariri-owned banking conglomerate, has posted a “i3lan”-style advertisement in the Daily Star and (more logically) the Arabic press:


This sure looks like one of the government announcements that the papers post from time to time, since it has no corporate branding. And its opening line suggests that the paper’s editorial staff is presenting the text, rather than the bank: What follows has come to us from Bank Med. But the signatory at the bottom is the bank, and the use of the first person plural (“our bank”, for example) is used throughout.

To give a very crude summary, the “announcement” basically says that the media have been publishing unsupported accusations that the bank has funded terrorist groups and participated in “other crimes”. Which is a valid point: media outlets tend to take the word of “their” politicians at face value, and “proof” can be anything from one man’s public statement to an obscure document brandished at a press conference.

I don’t object to BankMed defending itself, but from a marketing perspective I am a bit skeptical about the format used here. I think branding this “announcement” as a BankMed piece, with logo and proprietary font, would have been appropriate – after all, the bank is defending its own reputation as a corporate institution. But using this “generic” format to me suggests both government announcements and the absence of any institutional affiliation: in font and graphic design it is totally neutral.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a requirement for corporate announcements? Sukleen, another Hariri entity, also uses this format to make its announcements, which are also different from its advertisements (although when I checked my last post on this, I realized that the Sukleen logo does appear in the announcement).

Does anyone know whether the format differences are the result of legal restrictions, rather than (as I assumed initially) a design choice? I am eager to learn more :).

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