A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

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 »

“learn Arabic like a spy”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 13, 2009

I know how much you love Lebanese spam, H emailed me the other day. After forwarding me a gem of an ad from his Gmail account, H emailed me again.

Look what just came up as an ad on my Gmail toolbar, he wrote.

World’s leading Arabic method.
Same course used by FBI & CIA.

Oh, Google AdWords. Once again, your sense of targeting and timing is so close – and yet so far. H doesn’t need to learn Arabic, and he certainly isn’t aiming to be “like a spy”.

Nor, to be honest, do many of us who have spent time in the region have any confidence that speaking “like a spy” implies any degree of fluency. Or even proficiency.

When I looked into the “Pimsleur Approach”, I must confess that I was a bit disappointed. Apparently “Learn like a spy” is Pimsleur’s generic tag line, although I’m not sure that its as successful with other languages. To me, “Learn Spanish like a spy” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In any case, if you’re looking to learn Arabic, I suggest you think twice before paying for any program that promises to help you speak “like a spy”. How about a program that teaches you to speak “like a native”? After all, one major trouble with being mistaken for a spy is that your reception among native speakers is likely to be less than welcoming 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, humor, politics, teaching | 8 Comments »

starting from scratch: a new beginning

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 21, 2009

My aunt has posted the full text of President Obama’s inaugural address yesterday – you can read it here.

The elements that I found most inspiring were his call to service, his reference to the United States as a country of multiple faiths, his invitation to the Muslim world to seek a “new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect”, and – thanks to my friend A, with whom I had a long conversation yesterday evening – his call for what I would term a kind of moral realism: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” This is an approach more nuanced than the Bush Administration’s “you’re either with us or against us” regime-changing steamroller, and less cynical than the “don’t ask, don’t tell” acceptance of dictators that characterizes flat realism.

And anyone willing to fight against corruption and deceit – putting transparency in the place of wasta, putting honesty in the place of lies – is fighting the good fight, as far as I am concerned.

And for our part, here in the United States we have our homework cut out for us – particularly when it comes to partnering with the Muslim world.

This was the “Joke of the week” in last week’s Time Out New York. Read it – its hysterical:


Or it would be, if most Ethiopians were in fact Muslim. The CIA World Factbook, my go-to online reference source, states that Ethiopians are:

Christian 60.8% (Orthodox 50.6%, Protestant 10.2%), Muslim 32.8%, traditional 4.6%, other 1.8%

Not that I think we shouldn’t exclude Ethiopia from this new climate of “mutual interest and mutual respect” – but perhaps we could demonstrate our respect by first getting our assumptions right :).

Posted in Americans, citizenship, humor, Islam, media, religion | 3 Comments »

Seek, and ye shall find

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 9, 2009

Its a cold winter Friday in Manhattan. I’m sad about the ongoing attacks on Gazans, as well as the fact that it took two weeks for the UN Security Council to call for an “immediate ceasefire” – a call which BBC earlier this morning described Israel as “snub”-ing.(Not that Hamas seems to have been jumping up and down to endorse it, either.)

And I’m peeved that my new thermometer tells me that the temperature in my office is 64 degrees F (that’s 18 C for you metric fans). Brrr.

So to warm myself up, and to take my mind off more substantive issues, I have taken a look at the search terms that have brought new readers to my blog this week.

I always get a number of searches for Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese culture, hijab, Islam, etc.

And I always get a few stumpers, like mayonnaise. I think my blog must appear on this search because I have written about toum – but who knows.

My blog brings in people looking for particular Arabic words – this week, “arnabeet” and “tatari” were popular (go figure).

And sometimes I think I can see the same searcher refining his/her search, as with “ghida fakhri”, which was followed by “is ghida fakhri Christian”. Cue eye roll, please.

Some searches make me laugh out loud, like “escort service in amman jordan”. Boy, is this a perennial search term favorite – and I am sure that most searchers are terribly disappointed to learn that my post on “The Dangers of Women” does not provide contact information.

And some just make me wonder about the searcher’s education, like “beaches in damascus”. May I suggest trying another search first: “Syria map”.

Enjoy your Fridays – and let’s hope for better news soon.

Posted in Amman, blogging, Damascus, humor, research | Leave a Comment »

Lebanon envy: the “Lighting Lamps” exhibit

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 2, 2009

If I were in Lebanon this week, I know what would be on my calendar: a fantastic exhibit of Arab cartoonists. “Lighting Lamps: Cartoons from the Arab World” will be at LAU Beirut January 8-18, after which it moves north to Tripoli for another short run (where, I do not know, although I imagine Balamand).

Editorial cartoonists, as they are called in the U.S., have a very important role to play. They use satire and other forms of humor to make people think: about world events, about local injustices, about hypocrisy. Lebanon is very lucky to have this exhibit – and if you are in Lebanon now, you are very lucky to be able to see it (and I am very envious of you!).

A sample of the cartoons you are likely to see – this one by the very courageous Ali Ferzat:


Here’s the review from the Guardian, which hosted the exhibit in its news offices this past summer:

It could be an airport security check or a border crossing and the subject could be anyone — a heavily-moustachioed everyman patiently opening his suitcase for inspection while an armed, elaborately-uniformed guard peers instead deep into the traveller’s brain, which is hinged open absurdly across his bowed head.

The image is a universal one but it has a special resonance across the Arab world. Its creator, Syrian Ali Ferzat, is the doyen of Arab cartoonists, justly famed for highlighting the absurdities, miseries and injustices of daily life. And the drawing’s the thing: no words or captions are necessary to make his point.

Ferzat, one of the stars of Lighting Lamps, a new exhibition at the Guardian’s Newsroom, has produced thousands of silent cartoons that speak volumes by lampooning corrupt leaders, torture, venality and oppression — yet (with some gaps) has still managed to carry on working in a political environment where creativity, wit and strongly-held views do not always sit happily together.

Other cartoonists from Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia may be blunter. But all tiptoe to some degree around the sensitivities of regimes which will tolerate mild criticism of social and economic issues — and hostility to Israel and America — but do not hesitate to censor and punish when domestic taboos are tackled.

On their home turf, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt are never caricatured like Gordon Brown, George Bush or Nicolas Sarkozy. The authoritarian Arab republics have made lese-majeste a crime, as it is in monarchical Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco. Steve Bell, the Guardian cartoonist, worked with the participants in this exhibition. But none have produced the equivalent of John Major wearing his underpants outside his trousers.

Mustafa Hussein, a veteran of Egypt’s semi-official al-Akhbar newspaper, deploys his caustic talent to expose the multiple failures of the state — over unemployment, price rises, bread queues and sheer inefficiency — that exploded into riots earlier this year. Hussein’s cartoons are wry and troubling images in a country where the gap between rich and poor has never felt so wide and the sense of stagnation in the political system is crippling to the point of paralysis.

Jordan’s Imad Hajjaj takes well-aimed potshots at western power in the Middle East, drawing bloodstained Christmas stockings for the suffering children of Palestine and Iraq and a fine rear view of George Bush and Osama bin Laden milking the cow of the 9/11 attacks for all it is worth. His Wedding Security cartoon is a poignant take on the al-Qaida suicide bombings that killed 60 innocent wedding guests in Amman in 2005. Israel, as ever, is a source of anger and resentment: one recent Hajjaj cartoon portrays Barack Obama declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel — while collecting a shower of banknotes marked with a Star of David.

Jalal al-Rifai, a Palestinian-born cartoonist with Jordan’s ad-Dustour, also keeps up withering eye on the Americans in Iraq and Israel in the Palestinian territories. But he is renowned too for tackling unemployment and poverty, favouritism, the use of connections (“wasta”) and malpractice in the public sector. Zan Studio (Amer Shomali and Basel Nasr) in the West Bank town of Ramallah focus sharply on the conflict on their doorstep — producing bold graphics in support of ending the occupation and pressuring Israel.

Lebanon’s Armand Homsi, who works mostly for the Beirut daily an-Nahar, takes a darkly humorous view of the volatile confessional and political divisions that have seen assassinations, sectarian incitement and fears of a return to open civil war. Yazeed Alharthi from Saudi Arabia stays closest to the “safety zone” drawn up by the British Council sponsors of this exhibition — looking exclusively at “soft” social issues such as marriage, charity and conspicuous consumption. Politics and religion do not even get a look in in that most conservative and deferential of Arab societies.

It’s a reasonably representative selection, though it would also have been good to see some of the recent cartoons from Morocco and Algeria condemning takfiri terrorism as a distortion of Islam and criticism of the clergy’s acquiescence in the face of violence.

Lighting Lamps grew out of the British Council’s four-year Media in Society project, designed to improve “the effectiveness of the media in raising awareness of key social issues” in six Arab countries. Iraq was unable to take part because of the security situation.

Rereading this review’s description of the cartoonists and their work as I paste it in to this blog post makes me envious all over again. If you are in Beirut or Tripoli, please make a point of stopping by this exhibition. These artists are very brave, and their work does a great service to society.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, art, citizenship, humor, politics | Leave a Comment »

a bicycle built to view

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 20, 2008

This morning when I checked the Lebanese news I learned that a “spy bicycle” – one equipped with a camera – had been found “between Jumblatt’s residence and Future TV“. Hunh? I used to live in the next neighborhood over, and I can tell you that no bicycle – not even a bicycle built for giant – would be large enough to monitor the two buildings at the same time. They’re in the same neighborhood, but they are still at least half a mile apart from one another.

But that wasn’t all. Apparently this super-bicycle was also monitoring the headquarters of BankMed, the Hariri-owned bank, which is located on Clemenceau and the road leading up from the Phoenicia. Again: one bike, able to do all this spying?

Now Lebanon posted a photograph of the bicycle in question on its website – and when I saw it, I burst out laughing:


What espionage professionals would use a bright purple, women’s bicycle as a spy vehicle? How many people have you seen biking around within the city of Beirut? How many of them have been women? And how many of them have been riding technicolor bikes?

I wonder how long it took the ISF to notice the bicycle, and to “confiscate” it.

And I wonder whether the disclosure that the bike belongs to David-Munir Nabti, the recent face of the Democrats Abroad – Lebanon group, will have any impact on President-elect Obama’s popularity in Lebanon.

Posted in Beirut, espionage, humor, Lebanon, photography, research, women | 6 Comments »

the namesake chicken

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 10, 2008

Two days ago, I received a group email from my friend H, who was brimming over with excitement about his new role in life: uncle.

[My niece] is less than 48 hours old, and, like all babies, is believed by her family (us) to be the cutest thing alive, EXTREMELY bright for her age, and very interactive, H wrote.

As an aunt, I know exactly how H feels – and I was delighted that he wanted to share the news with us.

But I was flummoxed by what came next:

P.S. Diamond, H added, you get a chicken because the baby has your name!

Don’t worry – H’s niece isn’t really named “Diamond”, although “Massa” is used as a girl’s name in Arabic. Her name is my middle name, which is much less flashy.

And while I have been thinking about getting a pet – there are so many animals in need of loving homes in New York, as in Beirut – I wasn’t exactly dreaming of a chicken. (Nor, I imagine, are my landlords.)


H very kindly promised to keep the chicken until my next trip to Lebanon (which I imagine will please his roommates even less than my landlords). Apparently the giving-a-chicken-to-people-with-the-same-name-as-a-newborn was a new tradition for him, too.

As for his family, they have a lot of chickens to buy. My middle name isn’t the most common in Lebanon (imagine the truckload that families naming their son Fadi must order), but I do know a few women with it as their first names.

I wonder whether farmers give volume discounts: Namesake Chickens! 10% off if you buy six or more!

Happy uncling, H – and please take good care of “my” chicken!

Posted in advertising, animals, Arab world, babies, Beirut, friends, humor, Lebanon, parenting | 3 Comments »

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 »

bulls gone wild

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 20, 2008

I’m de-fragging the computer that hosts our office’s shared files, and there’s not much work I can do until it finishes. Thank goodness for Naharnet, which is reporting on a major, crisis-inducing Resolution 1701 violation – an attack Israeli bull:

A bull which had infiltrated Lebanese territory from Israel has attacked Spanish peacekeepers and headbutted their vehicles before being shot dead, An Nahar daily reported Wednesday. It said the UNIFIL troops were erecting an electric barbed wire to prevent Israeli cows from entering Lebanese territory at the Baathaeel pond when Israeli soldiers unleashed the wild bull on the peacekeepers.

A Spanish soldier shot the bull dead after it ran towards the U.N. troops and began headbutting their vehicles, the newspaper said.

The peacekeepers then buried the bull and continued their work to erect the wire, which according to An Nahar, it has stopped the infiltration of Israeli cows to the pond area.

I’m dying laughing at the idea of a bull “infiltrating” enemy territory, not to mention the accusation that the IDF “unleashed” it on UNIFIL. Can’t you just imagine the discussion in Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office?

We couldn’t get Hizbullah to surrender when we used our F16s, and we couldn’t get them to surrender when we tried a land invasion – but by God, we will get them to surrender to our attack bull.

Given that the Israeli government is currently threatening to target “the entire Lebanese state” (not to mention “all the Lebanese” people) if it “legitimizes” Hizbullah, I think that it is planning something more than a livestock invasion.

As for the poor UNIFIL soldiers who had to first defend themselves from attack and then bury the bull, my heart goes out to them. I’m sure that many days in Lebanon are a bit surreal for them – but today must have reached a new level.

Posted in animals, Arab world, Beirut, dairy, espionage, humor, Israel, Lebanon, media, neighbors, politics, UNIFIL, words | 2 Comments »