A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘friends’ Category

hummus: where satire and reality blur

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 25, 2009

Have you ever heard about someone reading an article from the Onion and mistaking it for a genuine news article?

Today J sent me a genuine AP article whose headline made me wish the reverse were true:

Lebanese to Israel: Hands off our hummus!

Ah yes: another bizarre Lebanese food contest. Poor Zeina Karam, having to report on this.

BEIRUT — Lebanese chefs prepared a massive plate of hummus weighing over two tons Saturday that broke a world record organizers said was previously held by Israel — a bid to reaffirm proprietorship over the popular Middle Eastern dip.

“Come and fight for your bite, you know you’re right!” was the slogan for the event — part of a simmering war over regional cuisine between Lebanon and Israel, which have had tense political relations for decades.

[I agree that having Israelis and pseudo-Israelis try to correct my pronunciation of “hummus” as “KHumus” – say it with extra phlegm for full effect – is beyond irritating. But claiming a dish by cooking an obscene amount of it? And being PROUD of this? And creating an embarrassingly lame slogan – in English, no less? Good God.]

Lebanese businessmen accuse Israel of stealing a host of traditional Middle Eastern dishes, particularly hummus, and marketing them worldwide as Israeli.

“Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel by registering this new Guinness World Record and telling the whole world that hummus is a Lebanese product, its part of our traditions,” said Fady Jreissati, vice president of operations at International Fairs and Promotions group, the event’s organizer.

[Ah yes, the Guinness World Record: a world-renowned battleground.What, the UN Security Council wouldn’t hear their case?]

Hummus — made from mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic — has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, though it’s generally seen as an Arab dish.

[Ooooooooooooh. An Arab dish. Zeina, did you warn your AP editors about the flow of Phoenician hate mail that’s about to start flooding them?]

But it is also immensely popular in Israel — served in everyday meals and at many restaurants — and its popularity is growing around the globe.

The issue of food copyright was raised last year by the head of Lebanon’s Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Fadi Abboud, when he announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli.

But to do that, Lebanon must formally register the product as Lebanese. The association is still in the process of collecting documents and proof supporting its claim for that purpose.

[I can’t wait until someone tries to register olives. We could witness a full-on Mediterranean war.]

Lebanese industrialists cite, as an example, the lawsuit over feta cheese in which a European Union court ruled in 2002 the cheese must be made with Greek sheep and goats milk to bear the name feta. That ruling is only valid for products sold in the EU.

Abboud says that process took seven years and realizes Lebanon’s fight with Israel is an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, he says, events like Saturday’s serve to remind the world that hummus is not Israeli.

“If we don’t tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don’t remind the world that it’s not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they (Israelis) will keep on marketing it as their own,” he said Saturday.

[Someone needs to tell this man that in the United States, the hummus contest is not between Lebanon and Israel. Its not between Lebanon and anyone. Hummus here is sold by nationality as Greek or Israeli, and by region as Arab or Mediterranean. No Lebanon. No cedars. No national dish awareness whatsoever.]

Some 300 chefs were involved in preparing Saturday’s massive ceramic plate of hummus in a huge tent set up in downtown Beirut. The white-uniformed chefs used 2,976 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of mashed chickpeas, 106 gallons (400 liters) of lemon juice and 57 pounds (26 kilograms) of salt to make the dish, weighing 4,532 pounds (2,056 kilograms).

It was not clear what the former Israeli record was, and organizers gave conflicting reports on when it was made.

But chefs and visitors broke into cheers and applause when a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records presented Abboud with a certificate verifying Lebanon had broken the previous record. The plate was then decorated with the red, green and white Lebanese flag.

A similar attempt to set a new world record will be held Sunday for the largest serving of tabbouleh, a salad made of chopped parsley and tomatoes, that Lebanon also claims as its own.

*Sigh*. So much food in one short weekend. But again, a bit misguided. Before Lebanon can claim tabbouleh, it needs to take it back from all the U.S. cooks who think of it as a bulgur-based side dish.

Since I’m now in mourning at missing my chance to attend an all-you-can-eat tabbouleh fest, I’ll let my friend B have the last word. B found Al-Manar’s take on the hummus-a-thon, which described it as “mark[ing] a new victory on Israel” and noted that “organizers have hailed this event as “a patriotic event of national scale”.”

Finally, B noted, Mughniyeh is at peace.


Posted in advertising, Arab world, food, friends, Israel, Lebanon | 8 Comments »

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 »

the two-week vacation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 23, 2009

Here in the United States, a lot of media talk recently has focused on how inexpensive air travel has become, thanks to the tanking economy. Summer flights around the country have dropped to mid-2000s levels, and flights to Europe, the Caribbean, and even Asia are much cheaper than even 2007 prices.

Flights to Lebanon and the rest of the region, on the other hand, seem to have stayed stubbornly high. I’d like to book a ticket to visit my aunt in Kuwait and assorted friends in the Levant, but in my head I keep expecting those delightful 2002 prices to crop up whenever I hit “go” on my favorite search engine.

Instead, what crops up are 2002 prices, doubled.


These are the times when I wish that I were Lebanese.

For once, Robert Worth has written a story about Lebanon worth reading: a piece in today’s New York Times about vote-buying and other “typically Lebanese” (or maybe “typically Saudi”, given what his Saudi source says) electoral activities. Here’s a sample of what is a horrifying yet highly readable article:

The parliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe.

Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt.

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

They sure are. My friend S, who knows of both my desire for a “big summer” vacation and my penny-pinching habits, sms’ed me last week with the news that:

8 March will send you back for ten days. 14 March will send you for three. Get your voting card!

S didn’t mean me, of course: I’m not Lebanese. But if you are, and you seem neutral enough to be courted by both parties (and why is March 14 being so cheap, anyway? Where are all the hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars that Worth’s source mentions going?), you could start your summer with a nice two-week vacation.

Bring on the suntan oil and the sequins (and a listing of your favorite candidates, if you have them). Lebanon awaits 😀 .

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, citizenship, friends, politics | 2 Comments »

ancien regime spam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 16, 2009

This morning I received a fetching email from another new friend: Ali Ibrahim, who describes himself as working in Iraq with an “international organization” otherwise known as the “20th Armored Brigade in Basra”. Ali’s sense of ethics is strong but flexible: he is asking my help to “evacuate” the $18.523 million he received as his share of a group find at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, which he describes as “no stolen money” although he also notes that “this was quite an illegal thing to do. No word on what he and his compadres did with the “piles of weapons and ammunitions”, although I bet that you and I could come up wtih a few likely scenarios :).

When it comes to friendships, I believe strongly in the concept of: “the more, the merrier”. So if you are looking for a new friend, allow me to share my friend Ali Ibrahim with you:

Dear Friend,

With a very desperate need for assistance, I have summed up courage to contact you. I am from(will disclose this later), presently working in Iraq with an international organization that I will also disclose later, I found your contact particulars in an address journal. I am seeking your assistance to evacuate the sum of (US$18.523 Million Dollars) Eighteen Million, five Hundred And Twenty Three Thousand US Dollars to your country or any other safe country of your choice, as far as I can be assured that my share will be safe in your care until I complete my service here, this is no stolen money,and there are no dangers involved.

Some money in various currencies was discovered concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunitions at a location near one of Saddam’s old palaces during a rescue operation, and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us, this was quite an illegal thing to do, but I tell you what? no compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole. The above figure was given to me as my share, and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a German contact working here, and his office enjoys some immunity, I was able to get the package out to a safe cation entirely out of trouble spot. He does not know the real contents of the package,and believes that it belongs to an Asian/American who died in an air raid, and before giving up, trusted me to hand over the package to his business associate. I have now found a secured way of getting the package out to a safer country for you to pick up, and will discuss this with you.

Your full name:
Your country:
Contact phone number:

I await your urgent reply

Ali Ibrahim

20 Armoured Brigade in Basra

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, friends, Iraq | 5 Comments »

becoming a bab

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 2, 2009

Yesterday morning I found myself in another animated online discussion with my friend H, about assorted religious issues. We often disagree, but we are usually able to do so – as negotiators suggest – without being disagreeable. Yesterday we covered a wide range of topics, most swirling around the tension between ecumenicalism (which accepts other faiths as they are) and conversion (which does not).

We had been chatting for at least half an hour, and our conversation  while friendly – after all, we have several years invested in one another, not to mention assorted family connections – had grown fairly heated. It – and we – needed a little leavening.

So when H Arabicized a Christian sacrament, I couldn’t help but laugh.

You’ve been babtised, diamond, haven’t you? H wrote.

I mean babtized, he wrote in the next line, changing his spelling from British to American.

As many of you know, Arabic does not use the letter “p”. And as many of you also know, the word “bab” in Arabic means “door”, in both the literal and metaphoric senses.

And, of course, in the US, people jokingly ask someone to move out of the way by saying: “You make a better door than a window”.

I don’t like to think of myself as an obstructing force, so I’ll focus on the other aspect of the word bab: that like all doors, it opens onto something else – a home, an adventure, a new thought.

In that sense, I would like to think that yes, I have been babtized. I would like to be a door for others 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arabic, church, friends, Islam, Qur'an, religion, words | Leave a Comment »

the sajj-maker of D.C.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 18, 2009

On Sunday, A and I met M and two other friends for lunch at one of the several Lebanese Tavernas that pepper the D.C. metropolitan area.

Are you two going to be alright here? M asked kindly. M lived in Italy for several years, so she knows what it is like to face Americanized interpretations of cuisines one knows in their local forms.

Don’t worry about us, I said cheerfully. We’ll be fine.

And we were, at least until I discovered “Camel Wings” on the menu. There are no camels in Lebanon – well, except for the camel-for-tourists stationed outside Moussa’s Castle. But Americans know that the Middle East has camels, so I guess at some point the Lebanese owners of the Lebanese Taverna decided to put “camel wings” (i.e., buffalo wings) on their menus.

And we were okay again, until A discovered the mana2ish – or “Lebanese-style pizza”, as the menu describes them.

How much would you pay for a man2oushe? A stage-whispered to me from behind the menu.

Depends on the topping, I said.

How about $7.50 for a man2oushe with zaatar? A asked.

Good God. In my neighborhood, the street mana2eesh were sold for 750LL each, or about 50 cents. At Zaatar w Zeit, I think they were more like 1,750, or $2.16.

Sticker shock led me to revisit something A had mentioned earlier during my visit: that his mother had recently sent him a crepe-maker.

When am I ever going to make a crepe? A asked, showing the gadget to me.

As we looked at it, we realized that this was no ordinary crepe-maker. This was a potential sajj-maker, man2ouche-maker, and even mar2ou2-maker, all rolled into one.


At $7.50 per man2oushe, A could have an incredibly lucrative second job as the neighborhood sajjci. Even at $5 per man2oushe, if A worked for two hours and made twenty man2ouche per hour, that’s $200. (If a Beirut sajjci made the same number, that’s 2*20*$.50=$20.)

Nice work, if you can get it – or if your loving mother sends you the fruits of her kitchen shopping 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Beirut, economics, food, friends, Lebanon | 2 Comments »


Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 16, 2009

This morning A and I went for a walk around A’s neighborhood before I headed back home to New York. A pointed out the different aspects of the neighborhood, including some of the embassies and other notable buildings.

And the neighborhood over there, A said, gesturing, tends to attract more foreigners.

Foreigners? I thought, confused. I heard what A was saying, but it just wasn’t sinking in.

And then I realized why.

I still think of “foreigners” as meaning people like you and me, I said to A.

A, who returned to the U.S. a few months after I did, just smiled in that I’ve-known-you-a-long-time-and-still-wonder-what-planet-you-come-from way.

I don’t miss being defined as A Foreigner, or living with the hyper-visibility that accompanied it – but I do clearly need to work harder to get the label out of my head!

Posted in Americans, citizenship, friends, words | Leave a Comment »

the post-workout shwarma

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 14, 2009

We East Coasters have a three-day weekend in honor of Presidents’ Day, which is Monday. This wasn’t a holiday celebrated in the Midwest, for some reason. I remember asking my father, a native Bostonian, once as to why we didn’t celebrate Presidents’ Day in Iowa. We’re just more patriotic on the East Coast, was his tongue-in-cheek reply.

And since I am now in more patriotic parts, I decided to celebrate the holiday with a visit to A and our nation’s capital.

D.C. is much different from New York. For one thing, there seems to be much more sky here, courtesy of building laws that limit building heights. For another, the neighborhood food options – at least where A. lives – are a far cry from mine.

I feel like having a snack, A said as we walked back from a morning workout.

Mmmm, I said, surveying the street to see what portable, tasty options might be for sale at 10:00 on a Saturday morning. Where are the delis? I wondered to myself.

And then I saw a sure-fire option, one that would remind A. of many years spent in the Middle East.

How about a nice post-workout schwarma? I asked brightly.

How about we pretend not to know one another? A replied.

Sigh. As a vegetarian, what do I know about the eating habits of gym-going carnivores?

I do know where I am going for lunch today – a chance to reconnect at long last with J, another relocated American from Beirut. Its a Turkish restaurant that J likes – yum! – and appropriately enough, its motto is:

Mediterreanean bounty, beauty, and modernity.

Sigh, again. What a motto. If I were a pop psychologist, I would have a field day.

The “Mediterranean bounty” I can understand as a term to draw in foodies – after all, it sounds much more culinarily tempting than “Asiatic steppelands”.

And the “beauty” I can understand – with eye rolls – in much the same way that I could understand if a Lebanese restaurant put “beauty” in its motto. The bella figura impulse definitely seems to have made its way around the Mediterranean.

As for “modernity” – oh, you poor Turks. So much energy – first Ottoman, then Turkish – has been expended in trying to “prove” to Europe that Turks are modern.

No one “owns” modernity – not the French, not the British, not the Americans, not anyone. But the Mediterranean world definitely owns meze, and I am looking forward to lunch.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Beirut, food, friends | Leave a Comment »

Waving the flag

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2009

This week has been one inordinately rich in flag imagery. On Wednesday, B kindly pointed me to this article from Now Lebanon, about a new “Arab Islamic Resistance Party” founded as a Shia alternative to Hizbullah. The party, which seems to have come out of nowhere, burst on to the scene last week with the claim that it has over 3,000 armed fighters, and that it might – it suggests coyly – have had something to do with the rockets fired into Israel during its bloody Gaza invasion.

Despite the press coverage, AIR-P (my suggested acronym) is having trouble getting itself taken seriously. Even Now Lebanon, which slavishly supports any non-Hizbullah Shia group, titled the article “Party of Odd”. As for Hizbullah (which translates to “Party of God”), its spokespeople have had nothing to say. As the article states:

Despite the Arab Islamic Resistance’s open and vocal opposition to Hezbollah, the Party of God has remained silent. They have not threatened Husseini as they are accused of doing to other anti-Hezbollah Shia politicians and religious figures. A Hezbollah press spokeswoman told NOW the party had no comment on Husseini or his new Resistance.

I don’t think AIR-P requires threats. In this case, I imagine that silence equals pity. The chattering class of Lebanese political commentators seem to have had much the same reaction:

Resistance watchers – analysts, authors and journalists – contacted by NOW said they’d never heard of Husseini and found it strange it took a television interview to bring a 3,000-strong actively-training force to come to light. Wouldn’t someone have noticed them earlier, was the resounding refrain.

As the author finally concludes:

it was quite a challenge finding people who knew much about Husseini.

“I doubt his wife supports him,” one religious leader said, after making yet another phone call on the ancient Panasonic fax machine at his side to a colleague in search of information on Husseini. In fact, interview after interview ended with the same conclusion: This is mostly talk.

The only person who seems to take AIR-P seriously sounds like a total oddball:

One person contacted for this article, Sam Bazzi, a Lebanese living in America who runs a website that monitors terrorist activities, claimed Husseini’s money comes from Iran and that he is, in fact, an undercover Hezbollah agent.


As far as B and I are concerned, the best part about AIR-P is its flag:


Where to begin?

First, the new resistance is partly armed with a pencil. As a writer, I am a strong believer in the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. But a pencil? In the age of computers, this seems seriously retrograde. Also, this pencil has no eraser. Is AIR-P infallible?

And – not to quibble – the pencil and the gun are the same size. AIR-P is either planning to resist with one giant pencil or one very small gun.

Ah, the gun. I’m not an expert, but that looks much more like a M16 (American assault rifle) than an AK-47 (Kalashnikov). What self-respecting resistance uses U.S.-made weapons?

Next, the lettering. This script to me looks like the Arabic equivalent of bubble letters. I don’t find anything fierce, strong, upright, or resistant about those rounded qaffs and taa marboutas – they look like they belong on a twelve year-old girl’s school notebook.

Finallt, the rose dripping blood. Leaving aside the fact that the rose should also be red (historically, a yellow rose means happiness and/or friendship), the red of the blood means that this flag is a three-color print job – which is much more costly than a two-color job. As a budding resistance movement facing a tough economic climate, shouldn’t AIR-P focus on demonstrating fiscal prudence?

AIR-P is the most entertaining resistance movement that Lebanon has had in some time – or at least since Wiam Wahhab faded back into the woodwork. I can’t wait for Husseini’s next interview.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, friends, Lebanon, politics, research, rumors, vanity, words | 2 Comments »

a treehouse in the sea

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Has anyone else heard about this? Qifa Nabki wrote in a group email that I received this morning. Am I the last one?

QN was talking, of course, about Cedars Island, a planned cedar-in-the-sea more-Dubai-than-Dubai development. I had heard about it, thanks to a Facebook status message that M posted last week:

M wants to move to Cedar Island.

Okay, I thought – M is fairly peripatetic – after which it slipped from my mind. Luckily, QN was a bit more on the ball – and has a hysterical, very on-point post about the development, which you can read here.

The project’s website is a laugh-out-loud hoot to read. Its news section recounts Tourism Minister Elie Marouni’s recent visit to developer Noor Holding’s offices, in which he “expressed his blessing” and wished them “big success”.  The project promises residents an “exotic, pleasant, and peaceful environment”, which will “mainly consist of 8 distinct zones.” What are these distinct zones? you might ask.  They are “zone a, b, c, d, e, f, g, & h.”

Curious to know what a cedar in the sea might look like? Me, too. After all, how one draws a Lebanese cedar often tells much about one’s political affiliations.

Here is the official rendering of the project:

cedar-islandSigh. It looks like a joke, doesn’t it? But as QN says: this is the real thing. And it will be located on the coast of Damour, between the airport (easy exit in case of troubles: a plus. distance from Beirut: a minus.) and Jiyyeh (easy access to a power station: a plus. increased likelihood of Israeli bombing raids: a minus.), where cedar imagery has been few and far between.

So.  Which cedar do you think Cedar Islands should most resemble?

Chamoun’s cedar?


The Kataeb cedar?


The Ouwet cedar?


The Lebanese Communist cedar?

lebanese_communist_party_flagThe national flag cedar?

lebanese-national-flagOr – my favorite, thanks to its slightly goofy shape – the AUB cedar?aub-logo

Cedars are a serious topic in Lebanon. If Noor Holding doesn’t fully understand what it is getting into, the lifestyle it promises residents could be “exotic” indeed.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, cedar, construction, economics, friends, Lebanon, media, politics, tourism, vanity | 5 Comments »