A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘Americans’ Category

Arabian nights, Christmas-style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2009

Santa stockings are a great source of fun for our family. Stocking stuffers run the gamut from nail files and travel earplugs to magazines and golf balls. And they include goofier thinking-of-you items as well. This year, my stocking included this bag of candy:
An “Arabian Nights” candy mix? Total, total mystery. All I see on the corporate website is that this is a “classic Christmas candy”. Perhaps it has something to do with the Nutcracker?

I have no idea, but I laughed with delight when I found this bag in my stocking. The more Arabian nights, the better!


Posted in Americans, Arab world, food, holidays | 2 Comments »

Logorrhea, Mufti-Style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 2, 2009

When it rains, it pours. and pours. and pours. and sometimes pours out so much that it starts to sound rabid. or maybe just very, very, very post-modern.

When I clicked on Naharnet’s evening headline, Jouzo: Let the Lebanese Maronite and the Rest of Lebanon Go Back to Syria, what I hoped to find were a few mis-translation gems. It never crossed my mind that this headline might in fact actually be what Mufti “dare to spell differently” Muhammed al Jouzo said. But apparently it was.

So. Let’s take this step by step.

In a statement on Sunday, Lebanese Sunni Mufti of Mt. Lebanon Sheikh Muhammed al-Jouzo said that “Lebanon has turned into an Arab Babylonian tower with its folkloric leaderships and new parliamentary faces only fit for exhibitions and decorations while the losers turn into sectarian symbols standing on the government’s doors” with their conditions hindering the formation of the government.

It must be hard to be the Sunni mufti of Mount Lebanon, an area historically low in Sunnis and high in other groups with elevated senses of their own importance. But sometimes getting up on a soapbox does more harm than good. Ancient Babylon was not Arab, and Lebanon’s leaders are not folkloric, unless “za’imi” now translates as “folkloric”. On the other hand, a MP campfire singalong would make for a priceless photo op. And I bet Sheikh Saad has a guitar.

“There are politicians who move from right to left and vice versa while their slogans change with the stock exchange. One day you see him a Gulf Arab and another day a Persian Iranian when a third time he becomes an American and then again a Russian. One day you see him an enemy of Syria and then again Syria’s best friend and so on. There are no principles, no morale, no charters and the ‘unity’ presidency stands bewildered before the political “Sufi-sectarianism”; next to the allies or to the opposition!” he added.

The Lebanese stock exchange changes basically only when Solidere does. The U.S. stock exchange, on the other hand, has been on a pleasant upward tick, Friday’s 250-point decline aside. Which bourse is he referring to here? And the only political figure who might possibly qualify for the bewildering khaliji-ajami-amerki-russi raqs is, of course, Yoda Bey. But even with him I’m skeptical. As for “Sufi-sectarianism” … hunh. I just don’t get it, but I’m trying. (Sunni Mevlevis twirl with hands up, Shii with hands down?)

“There’s no civilized nation in the world like that of our Great Lebanon. The Lebanese people abhor this category. To those I ask you, what’s your true identity? Who robs the electricity money, the foreign, internal, sea and land telecommunications’ money? A nation that lives the culture of hate with leaders leading them to sectarian wars, hating each other; hatred in the name of religion, in the name of sectarianism and in the name of the parties,” he added.

I’ve read this bit several times now, and I’m still wondering: which category is it that the Lebanese people abhor? Civilized? Nation? Great? Lebanon? And are they the “those” whom al Jouza addresses? (I think we all get the point of his question about robbery, but I don’t understand its connection to this bit about categories and abhorrence.) Condemning hate sounds more equitably distributed – “hating each other” – and hate is a good thing for a religious leader to condemn, even if his words are a bit vague.

“Our educated youth is faced with only one exit, that of emigration. They have grown to hate their country and their nationality and have traveled in quest of finding another one keen to protect their integrity and protect them from the politicians and their resentment,” he continued.

What? I’m not questioning the fact of emigration, but what other types of exits might there be? Mental? And as for “hating their country and their nationality” and journeying on some heroic quest to find another (a much nicer way of putting it than “trying for the American passport”), most overseas Lebanese I’ve met want nothing more than to return home.

This is the Lebanon of today, so why don’t all the people emigrate and offer our country as a gift to Syria and their infidels? Did not the Maronite come from Syria, so why not go back to it and along with them all of Lebanon and not just those who have missed Syria?,” he concluded.

Ah, the sectarian fun begins. Here’s where an Arabic original would be helpful (and here’s also where we reach and exceed the limits of back translation …), as well as a history lesson. By “infidels” does he mean the Alaouites who run Syria, or is suggesting that Syrians in general are irreligious? And what’s with the jibe at Maronites?

Finally, and just as a minor point: historically speaking, the Lebanese who wanted Lebanon to go back to Syria were the Sunnis. And only the Sunnis.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Islam, Lebanon, religion, Syria, Uncategorized, words | 1 Comment »

firsts: Hariri in the New York Times

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 17, 2009

I find firsts interesting. When did someone we now consider famous first attract the notice of major media outlets? How was he or she portrayed, and how has his or her image evolved since?

Some time ago, my interest in firsts intersected with my interest in Rafiq Hariri, and I began poking around a few news outlets, starting with the New York Times.

I bet you won’t be surprised to learn that Hariri’s name first appears in the Times in 1982 – but I also bet that you will never guess why. Will it help if I tell you that he appears in a section titled “Middle Western Journal”?

Yep – that’s “Western”, not “Eastern”. Hariri appears in an August 25, 1982 story about a stalled dam project in Missouri. The dam project put pressure in turn on the economy of nearby St. Louis, which had been anticipating good things:

It was to have been a boon to the St. Louis area: a large, $200 million complex with a 400-room hotel, three high-rise office buildings, a shopping mall and condominium apartments, all to be built on choice land in Clayton, Mo., just west of St. Louis.

Instead, the complex was described as a “six-block-long crater”. And guess who was behind the project?

It all began with considerable fanfare a few years ago when Rafik B. Al Hariri, a Saudi developer, put up money to get the project going. There was a flurry of activity: Architectural plans were drawn, Western International Hotels became involved and work crews began gouging the earth to prepare for a major parking lot that was to be the project’s first stage.

But Mr. Hariri encountered snags, according to Gyo Obata, a partner in the architectural firm that designed the project. ”It was one of those absentee ownership deals that was made worse by problems with getting financing as interest rates went up,” Mr.  Obata said. ”He kept putting up more money for the project and probably spent $30 million. Finally he said he could go no farther and the project stopped.”

The article noted that Hariri was “said to be looking for another developer”, but that few might be interested given the raised interest rates and lack of interest in the complex’s office space.

I’m amused but happy that Hariri’s first appearance in the Times has to do with the Midwest, rather than the Mideast. And I’m delighted to have a new spin to put on the old phrase: “Meet me in St. Louis”!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, construction, Lebanon, media, news, Saudi Arabia | 1 Comment »

loving thy neighbor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2009

Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.

When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.

I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.

My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.

That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States  might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:

Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.

But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.

“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”

Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.

But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”

This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:

“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”

“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”

Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:

He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”

Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?

The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.

I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be  deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see  any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, religion, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

imagining a big bottle of water

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 28, 2009

Generally speaking, I prefer not to be a spectacle. In public, I like it best when people look at me once, decide that I am of no particular interest, and move on to look at other things.

But sometimes a little spectacle is a worthwhile price to pay for a great outing – as when my aunt and I go out with some of her Doha friends.

The morning after I arrived in Doha, we went to the beautifully restored Souk al Wakif for breakfast with Umm M and three of her daughters. I hadn’t seen any of the Umms in four years, and it was a delight to reconnect.

Our outing was a delight for everyone in the souk that morning as well. To the untrained eye, we don’t look like a group that should belong together. Some of the Umms wear niqab; some wear abayas with headscarves. I dress in the Gulf in what might be best described as “bohemian music teacher” style: long swoopy skirt, long-sleeved shirt, and hair left to its own messy devices. The khala wears tea-length linen or cotton dresses. As a group, we look like a live-action staging of Sesame Street‘s “One of these things is not like the other” series.

We know this, and we accept that together we are indeed spectacular. (The six of us think that the stares are kind of a hoot, actually.)

After gracing the souk with our collective presence, and providing its merchants and shoppers with ample topics for morning chats, we entered one of the nicer restaurants and sat down for a heart-healthy breakfast of hummus and falafel.

Our waiter, a young Levantine man with beautiful eyes, did his best to act nonchalant, and to cope with the fact that each item ordered prompted extensive discussion among the five of us, in a mixture of Arabic and English. And this is where things got tricky.

Umm M had been doing most of the ordering – in Arabic. But when he asked whether we wanted anything to drink, our ordering was derailed by the need to count and recount the number of women who wanted tea. I love tea, but only with milk, so I wanted to be sure that we had water as well.

Ou 2aninat mai2 kabireh, please, I said.

It didn’t seem like a difficult request. After all, I was the person nearest to him, I was speaking clearly, and I wasn’t whispering.

I’m sorry? the waiter said, looking at me as if I had just broken into Japanese.

Sigh. I’ve mentioned my troubles with the Arabic word for “water” before – but the problem was one of having a culturally awkward pronunciation (Syrian rather than Lebanese), not one of having an incomprehensible pronunciation. And “large bottle of water” is a phrase that I have said at least one thousand times – so I didn’t think that I had mucked it up too badly.

I tried again, in English, with Umm M backing me up in Arabic.

When the waiter left, she burst out laughing.

Did you see, IntlXpatr? she asked my aunt. The waiter looked at her and couldn’t imagine that she was speaking Arabic – so he didn’t understand her.

Thank you, I said. I was beginning to wonder whether I had really lost my Arabic.

I haven’t lost it, but I did forget how jarring it is for people when I speak – a total face and language disconnect. In Beirut I used to find that people were much more willing to take me as an Arabic-speaker when I kept my sunglasses on.

So: lesson learned. The next time we have breakfast with the Umms, I’m going to add to our collective spectacle by wearing a pair of massive sunglasses inside the restaurant :).

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, family, food, friends, Qatar, women | 2 Comments »

20,000 students “just like that”: American universities in Kuwait

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 20, 2009

This post isn’t about the upcoming Lebanese elections, or funny words in Arabic, or even about my prospects as a dictator. Its about Kuwait, and by extension about the many countries around the region who have been working over the past few years to partner with American, Australian, French, and UK universities as a way of making world-class higher education available to students within their national borders.

Its a tricky process, I think, and requires a great deal of trust on both sides. The article is long, but if you are a student, an educator, or simply an interested citizen, I think you will find it a good and useful read.

New Private Universities in Kuwait Pin Their Hopes on U.S. Partners



Sharply dressed in black suits and bright red ties, the two recruiters latch onto high-school students as they walk through the gates of Exhibition Hall No. 8 at the Kuwait fairgrounds.

“I want to tell you about the American University of the Middle East,” one of the recruiters says, following a visitor into the university fair.

“We’re affiliated with Purdue University, from the United States. Do you know Purdue?” his sidekick adds, brandishing a clipboard emblazoned with the Purdue logo. “Would you like more information? Just fill out this card and visit our booth. We have a coffee bar there.”

These recruiters have figured out that the key to selling private higher education in Kuwait is to emphasize what may be their year-old institution’s most important asset: its affiliation with a top foreign university.

“The international affiliation is very important. Purdue is a good American university. Its reputation is known,” says Ahmad Al-Jaber, one of many high-school seniors who swarm around the American University of the Middle East’s booth. “And it’s not going to put its name with a school that is not good. Is it?”

This implied assurance of quality is more than just an institutional strategy. It’s a national one. When Kuwait lifted a ban on private higher education less than a decade ago, it decided that the best way to ensure the development of academically sound universities was to require all new institutions to have foreign partners.

That policy has helped the country rapidly build a credible private higher-education system where none existed before. In only eight years, eight private colleges have opened in this sprawling city-state, catering to some 13,000 students. Nine additional institutions have been authorized to open in the next few years.

Two other Kuwaiti universities have paired with American colleges. The Gulf University for Science and Technology, a polytechnic, teamed up with the University of Missouri at St. Louis; and the American University of Kuwait, a liberal-arts college, is in partnership with Dartmouth College. Other private colleges have Australian or European partners.

To be sure, Kuwait’s private universities have not yet established the kind of academic profile needed to place the small nation on the academic map. When it comes to the Middle East’s higher-education renaissance, nobody mentions Kuwait’s colleges in the same breath as New York University’s soon-to-open campus in Abu Dhabi or Qatar’s Education City, whose six U.S. branch campuses have established Doha as a college town on the Persian Gulf.

But here in Kuwait, the private universities have transformed the local scene.

For more than three decades, private higher education was banned in Kuwait. The giant, state-owned Kuwait University was the only option for students who wanted to earn a college degree in this emirate at the northern end of the Persian Gulf.

But as the number of Kuwaitis edged close to a million during the 1990s, Kuwait University simply could not keep up with the demand.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates faced similar challenges. But the unopposed rulers of those petrodollar-rich monarchies could set aside the kind of public money needed to build flashy campuses and lure top foreign universities to fill them up.

Politics are much more complicated in Kuwait, an aspiring democracy where a tumultuous parliament frequently exercises its power to oppose the ruling family’s decisions, including on the national budget. Public money has never been as easily available as it has been among Kuwait’s neighbors.

So the Ministry of Higher Education settled on a more cost-effective approach: It turned to the private sector.

The government has set out a number of requirements for private investors wishing to develop their own universities. The foreign partner must be ranked among the top 200 by The Times Higher Education Supplement or appear on U.S. News and World Report’s top tier of colleges. The relationship between the Kuwaiti institution and its foreign partner must be a meaningful one.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re buying degrees — fancy degrees, with fancy names, but not enough meat,” says Imad Alatiqi, secretary general of the Private Universities Council, which regulates all private universities in Kuwait. “We want substantive relationships, where there is a commitment of quality from the local people and from the international people.”

Within those requirements, though, there is quite a bit of variety. The University of Maastricht Business School, in the Netherlands, and the Box Hill Institute, in Australia, have opened branch campuses or franchises of their home institutions in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti partners take a back seat when it comes to day-to-day operations.

Other local investors have chosen to seek advice from their foreign partners, but manage their own academics and operations.

In those cases, the Private Universities Council requires the foreign partner to submit a formal opinion every time the Kuwaiti university makes a major academic decision, such as starting a program or hiring an academic officer.

The council, which licenses and accredits all institutions, also sets the standards it expects private universities in Kuwait to meet.

“Any arrangement between the two universities that can deliver those standards, we welcome,” Mr. Alatiqi says.

A Liberal-Arts Alternative

In 2003 a group of investors led by Sheikha Dana Nasser Al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, wanted to establish an American-style liberal-arts college. They approached Dartmouth, which offered the kind of curriculum and approach to teaching they hoped to emulate.

They first called Dale F. Eickelman, a Dartmouth anthropologist. It was clear to him, he says, that the Kuwaiti investors wanted to develop a deep relationship.

“From the start, their instinct was to say to us, ‘We don’t just want you to sign off on things for us, we want you to help us aim for the highest level,'” says Mr. Eickelman, who has spent more than three decades working in the Middle East.

Dartmouth found the idea of helping build a liberal-arts college in the Middle East, a relatively uncommon concept here, hard to resist.

Six years later, hundreds of students now mingle in the shaded courtyards of the American University of Kuwait, switching seamlessly from Arabic to English and back again.

The compact campus on the outskirts of this dusty city, with its palm trees and glass buildings, could not seem farther from Hanover, N.H. But inside its classrooms, the approach to learning is similar.

The largely Western-educated faculty members do not expect their students to memorize lectures, as is common in Middle Eastern universities. Instead, Dartmouth has helped the American University of Kuwait set up the kind of curriculum and structure that, Mr. Eickelman says, encourage students to learn how to form their own opinions.

The university emphasizes a broad liberal education. After the Private Universities Council concluded that Kuwait had no need for anthropologists, Dartmouth worked with university officials to successfully argue that degrees in anthropology and sociology would prepare students for a wide variety of careers.

Dartmouth’s agreement with the American University of Kuwait, which extends until at least 2013, is intentionally vague, says Laurel R. Stavis, executive director of the Dartmouth College-American University of Kuwait Project. There is no pro forma checklist of things the two institutions must do for each other.

Instead the relationship is an “organic” one that changes to meet the Kuwaiti university’s needs as it matures, Ms. Stavis says.

Administrators and faculty members from the American University of Kuwait are able to turn to a group of Dartmouth consultants, selected by Ms. Stavis and Mr. Eickelman, for advice on issues like governance, faculty recruiting, and communications.

Students from both universities have begun traveling back and forth. This summer an American University of Kuwait faculty member will be awarded a fellowship to spend a month conducting research in Hanover.

Ms. Stavis is also helping develop a dual-degree program that would enable Kuwaiti students interested in engineering degrees, which are not offered by the American University of Kuwait, to complete their studies in New Hampshire, earning a Dartmouth degree.

The Kuwaiti university covers all of Dartmouth’s expenses, but it is hardly a money-making opportunity for the college, Mr. Eickelman says.

“The amount of money is a joke. Let’s just say it’s tremendously little for the work that is being done,” he says, declining to say exactly how much money Dartmouth has brought in.

Building Up the Sciences

Joel Glassman, associate provost and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, says his university is more interested in helping to build indigenous institutions overseas than in cloning the home campus and transplanting it to the other side of the world.

“It’s not so mysterious,” says Mr. Glassman, who heads up Missouri’s work with the Gulf University for Science and Technology. “They’re asking for our advice. Academics are not shy people. There is nothing we love more than being asked for advice.”

Administrators and faculty members from St. Louis have helped the Kuwaiti university develop academic programs and curriculum, recruit faculty and staff members, and build the university’s administrative organization.

The Gulf University for Science and Technology, which opened in 2002 and enrolls about 2,600 students, modeled its programs after those offered in Missouri. Students can earn undergraduate degrees in computer science, English, business, and mass communications, and a master’s in business administration.

Like the American University of Kuwait, it requires all undergraduates to take a set of general-education courses.

The university has ambitious plans to spend $100-million to expand its campus to house a full-fledged engineering college.

This is Missouri’s second such partnership in the Persian Gulf. It has advised the Modern College of Business and Science, in Muscat, Oman, since it opened in the early 1990s.

Now Missouri is helping the science-and-technology university as it seeks accreditation from AACSB International: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Robert Cook, vice president for academic affairs at the university in Kuwait, is in the process of hiring 38 faculty members.

He says the relationship with the Missouri campus has given the university’s recruitment efforts a boost. Attracting quality faculty members is often the biggest challenge new universities face in the region.

“For potential faculty members who have never been to the Middle East before, Kuwait can seem an intimidating place,” says Mr. Cook. “So we did all the interviews for American candidates on the St. Louis campus, and a University of Missouri-St. Louis faculty member in the same field sat in on the interviews.”

That assured candidates that the Gulf University for Science and Technology is a serious institution, strongly linked to a serious U.S. university, Mr. Cook says.

The Kuwaiti university has not yet built much of a regional reputation, but here in Kuwait its skills-based programs are highly regarded.

Mr. Cook boasts that 80 percent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Unlike most public-university graduates, who are automatically given government jobs, graduates of the Gulf University for Science and Technology typically find work in the private sector, where employers demand the best candidates, he says.

Gaining Credibility

Back at the university fair, the American University of the Middle East’s recruiters have done their job: The university’s booth is surrounded by teenagers filling out applications for next fall.

The campus is still in its first year of operation. About 100 students are enrolled in three degree programs — business, design, and information technology — which operate out of a single building at the edge of a windswept stretch of land.

Purdue has agreed to help the Kuwaiti university design and build “some very Purdue-like programs that will, over time, morph into the kind of programs they need in Kuwait,” says Andrew Gillespie, Purdue’s associate dean of international programs.

Kuwait’s private universities face a clear challenge as they continue to expand. The best Kuwaiti students still prefer to study abroad. And two out of every five students — 20,000 of them — take advantage of generous overseas government scholarships every year.

Mr. Al-Jaber, the Kuwaiti student, says that his first choice is to study abroad and his second choice is to study at the American University of Kuwait. But, he adds, the American University of the Middle East is not a bad third choice.

While that suggests that many Kuwaiti students still don’t have confidence in the quality of their own higher-education system, Mr. Alatiqi, of the Private Universities Council, prefers to see the students as an untapped market.

“So you can see why we’re so concerned about building quality universities,” says Mr. Alatiqi, snapping his fingers. “We can pick up 20,000 more students just like that.”

Posted in academia, Americans, Arab world, education | 2 Comments »

hummus for the Homsis

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 17, 2009

Its been a work-weekend for me, and I’m afraid that I have nothing witty or even vaguely interesting to contribute to the blogosphere. On the other hand, I did manage – barely, but still! – to make several key deadlines, which is making me inordinately impressed with myself.

When not work-working, I’ve been working on straightening up my apartment. My parents, Big and Business Diamond, are arriving on Friday, and while they aren’t staying with me, they certainly will not be impressed by the amount of paper debris collecting on my desk, side table, and coffee table. What can I say? I am a paper magnet.

Buried in those paper piles are several old issues of Aramica, which I skimmed before adding to my recycling. Those of you who read Arabic may get a kick out of this issue’s collection of Homsi jokes:


My understanding is that Aramica’s audience includes Arab New Yorkers from all around the region, although skewing slightly Lebanese in its coverage thanks to the publisher. Evidently the market for Homsi jokes is broad enough to amuse all of them – Egyptian, Yemeni, Palestinian, etc.

The jokes are a little stereotypical for me, but they were certainly a change from everything else I had been doing 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, humor, Syria | 1 Comment »

Arab American Comedy Festival:ها ها ها

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 9, 2009

If you’re in New York this week, you might be interested in the Arab-American Comedy Festival, which starts tomorrow and runs through Thursday. (It got a nice profile on WNYC – the local public radio station – yesterday, which you can read or listen to here.)

The design for this year’s festival is a hoot:


I’ve got tickets for some of the events next week, and I can’t wait. This past week was a doozy – time for a few laughs.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, humor | 1 Comment »

fancy falafel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 4, 2009

I spent this past weekend at a kind of family-and-friends reunion – a hoot of a time, but one that left me little opportunity to get online.

And this morning I’m swamped with a combination of odds and ends, each claiming to be urgent and to require my immediate and personal attention. (Not to mention all the dying Kuwaitis/Cote d’Ivoireans/ Nigerians requiring other things from me.) I have my doubts about some of them, but I’m turning my attention to them anyway.

Before I do, I thought I would share with you a photo I took last week, when another division on our floor brought in an outside caterer to consider for a large event they are hosting later this summer. The would-be caterer brought an abundance of food, so they invited us over to taste the offerings as well.

All the food was fresh and well-spiced (no limp rubber chickens here!), but my favorites were the designer’y, cocktail falafel:


Aren’t they cute? They weren’t the world’s best falafel (the bad ones always stint on the bekdounes, I could hear H saying in my head), but I love their style-y shredded lettuce bed and mini-pita homes. Any chance of seeing this on Bliss Street one day?

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, food | 2 Comments »

Les hommes de ma vie: Dalida at Bardo

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 30, 2009

It was a warm spring evening in 2007, and G and I had no real plans. K had just returned from two days in a place I think of as ‘Maronite Central’, without being converted OR raising sectarian tensions, – an achievement that we thought deserved a drink in honor of religious diversity.

But given that it was spring 2007, and late spring at that, we were still wary of heading out to the marquee boites. So we met at the usual spot: Bardo, whose out-of-the-way location and bunker-like appearance had made it our number-one choice for bomb-free evenings out.

We arrived to find people spilling out into the garden walkway: Bardo was packed, and mostly with young, well-manicured Lebanese men. It was so crowded that not only were neither of our two usual tables available, but nothing was. We sat outside, at one of a set of makeshift garden tables brought out to accommodate the overflowing crowd.

What is going on? K asked.

A “Dalida tribute night”? G asked, horrified, after reading the chalkboard. I don’t think we want to stay at this place.

But I was hungry and lazy, and in any case our options were somewhat limited. So we stayed through a quick dinner and a round of drinks, as the volume of the speakers inside the restaurant increased steadily to the point that we had to lean in to hear one another speaking. And meanwhile we found ourselves eyewitnesses to at least one segment of Beirut’s vibrant gay culture. Dalida isn’t my favorite singer, but she clearly resonated with the young men around us, who sang along enthusiastically.

You too can enjoy an evening dedicated to video clips of such hits as “Helwe ya baladi” and “Je suis malade” sung by a woman who appears to be the Levantine gay male answer to Bette Midler. According to Time Out Beirut, Bardo is hosting another Dalida tribute this evening:

A tribute to Dalida
9pm Bardo, Mexico street, Opp Haigazian University, Clemenceau, 01 340060 Reservations recommended.
Bardo invites you to come celebrate the Egyptian Italian singer Dalida. With DJ Laila playing her tunes accompanied by clips from Dalida’s movies, this promises to be a nice evening full of nostalgia for a never forgotten singer.

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