A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘Iowa’ Category

fun with citrus fruits

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 10, 2009

Earlier this week H and I had an argument about tabboule. Well, not really about tabboule: about what goes into tabboule. And not even that: what we argued about was the word.

H is teaching an Arabic course at a local institution, and this week they were focusing on food and kitchen words.

Sorry to bother you, H said when I answered the phone, but can you tell me what “parsley” is in Arabic?

H doesn’t cook, clearly. And nor does he remember the name of my laptop: Bekdounes.

But isn’t that also cilantro? H continued. I was stumped: I had no idea. But I knew how to find out – and so I looked it up.

Its kuzbara khudra2, I said. And coriander, cilantro’s cousin (coriander comes from the dried seeds; cilantro comes from the fresh leaves), is plain old kuzbara.

So: we were good with green things, and we were also good with banadoura and burghul, the other two critical components of a good tabboule. But then H said something I didn’t understand:

And of course zeit and hamoud, H finished.

What? I asked. What is that word?

Its lemon, H said, surprised.

Amoun? I asked. Can you say it again?

Hamoud, H said.

How do you spell that? I asked, still mystified.

I have no idea, H said – like many Lebanese, able to speak Arabic fluently, but unable to read or write.What would you say for “lemon”?

Um, I said. I would say “limon”.

Oh, you Frenchies, H said sighing. And I do like French: but “lemon” in French is “citron”. Where did I get “limon” from?

I looked up “lemon” in an English-Arabic dictionary, and found that – surprise, surprise – we were both partly right. According to my dictionary, the word for “lemon” is: حامض ليمون. “Hamid” means sour or bitter, and “limon” means “lemon”.

I’m still a bit confused, though. I thought that citrus fruits were effectively native to the region, or at least to North Africa and Palestine, having come over from the Iberian peninsula. Hence the name for “orange” in Arabic is “burtuqal”, i.e., “Portugal. Does “limon” indicate a Spanish/Portuguese origin for lemons, as well?


Posted in Arab world, Arabic, food, Iowa, words | 9 Comments »

(U.S.) AIDing the Daily Star

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 7, 2009

Still anxious about the future of Lebanon’s Daily Star? Me, too.

Or at least I was, until H kindly forwarded a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Awkar, announcing the latest round of USAID grants: $50,00 for the Bakers’ Syndicate, $50,000 for Kunhadi, and $49,900 for the Daily Star.

I am a strong supporter of Lebanese bread, seatbelts and road safety, and investigative reporting, although if you scroll down to the description of what the Daily Star grant will cover, you may agree with me that its quite a bit to address in a weekly one-pager. And there are a few mysteries here, like: Why does the Daily Star get $100 less than the other two organizations? Why isn’t its grant mentioned in the press release’s headline?

U.S. Embassy Announces Grants for Workers Health and Traffic Safety

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Lebanon awarded three new grants through its Transparency & Accountability Grants (TAG) program implemented by AMIDEAST.

The TAG program is providing the American University of Beirut, Faculty of Public Health, working in partnership with the Syndicate of Bakery Owners and the Syndicate of Bakery Workers, with a $50,000 grant. The grant will increase awareness about existing legislation which addresses workers’ health and safety issues and encourage the enforcement of legislation.

The U.S. Government continues to support the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities by giving KunHadi, a non-governmental organization, a $50,000 grant to work in partnership with the Ministry. With the grant, public awareness materials, including television shorts, will be developed to promote road safety and respect for driving laws.

The Daily Star, the only English-language newspaper in Lebanon, will use its $49,900 grant to produce a weekly one-page section for six months. This special page will increase access by readers to information on issues such as education, environment, health, women’s rights, consumer concerns, protection of minorities, migration, migrant workers and government reform.

The TAG program, initiated in 2001, is a $9.3 million project that awards small grants to civil society organizations throughout Lebanon. The grants focus on increased transparency, accountability and good governance, and mobilize organizations to take initiative and play an active reform role.

Posted in Iowa | 2 Comments »

“It is a rare position indeed”: more international opportunity

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 3, 2009

If helping out the United States’ spectacularly unsuccessful Arabic-language broadcasting initiatives doesn’t excite you, how about running a theme park in Saudi Arabia?






[I’m not sure what the going rate for theme park general managers is, but that seems okay to me – although I notice that no schooling or driver allowance is specified.]

This world class multinational company oversees a portfolio of Theme Parks, 5 star Hotels, Residential and Retail Developments, Shopping Centres, Chain and stand alone upmarket Restaurants.

For the position of General Manager Theme Park Operations, the person we need will have a history of Senior Theme Park experience and Operations, this is essential.

[… and awkwardly phrased. Who wrote this ad?]

You will have held or already hold a senior position within Theme Parks.

You will have hands on experience in all facets of Theme Park Operations such as Rides, Ticketing, Retail, F&B, Sales and Marketing, Finance, Budgeting, dealing with Suppliers and vendors and more…

We need a proactive hands-on Theme Park GM who leads by example. Who is in a senior Theme Park Position, who has international experience.

[I love the ‘leads by example’ part. Some of the theme parks I remember seeing in the Middle East had rides that looked less than safe. Does leading by example include going on these rides? or doing maintenance on them?]

This Billion dollar company is putting in multi millions to up lift their parks to a true international standard, the parks are mid size to large with large food and beverage and array of internationally recognised rides etc.

This company is very well respected indeed and has interests all over the Middle East from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, to Oman, to Jeddah to Qatar and more….

The position is family friendly and the package is exceptional ,as there are no outgoings, no taxes no levies, no fees.it is money in the pocket. ( $150k us net p.a)

[Again, I’m not up on salaries but I would describe $150K for an executive-level Gulf job as “okay”, not “exceptional”. As for “family friendly”, I do know several people of various nationalities who grew up in KSA and have fond memories of the country. But I’d ask for a test visit before signing the contract.]

As mentioned, if you are from the Theme Park industry, hold a very senior Operations Position, then this could be for you.

It is a rare position indeed.

[Love, love, love this bit of employer editorializing.]


Then contact in complete confidentiality:

Stuart Mullins

Executive Search International Pty Ltd


For those of you theme parkers’ out there, contact information and directions on what information to submit in your application can be found on the original posting.

Posted in Iowa | 1 Comment »

Scrabble Gets Fair Play in Bahrain

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Yesterday an intriguing item came across my Google alerts: the news that a Bahraini champion Scrabble player had been found guilty of cheating and banned from playing in tournaments for the next four years. Today I saw a follow-up article in Abu Dhabi’s The National, which I have pasted below.

Its a bit long, and Scrabble is not the world’s most pressing concern (and no, I am not saying this just because I lost a family Scrabble match over the Christmas holiday. Grandma, your unchallenged string of victories was well-deserved.). But I think this story is important, because it offers an example of an organization willing to enforce the rules of fair play – not something that happens in the Middle East all that often, and certainly not to Gulf citizens.

Even if you aren’t interested in Scrabble, I hope you will be interested in this article and the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association’s (who knew!) message that cheating is unacceptable.

The Scrabble champion banned from international competitions for four years for cheating will not be stripped of his local and regional titles, it was announced yesterday. The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee believes the ban “is punishment enough”.

Mohammed Zafar, 19, beat Akshay Bhandarkar from Dubai last June to win the Gulf Scrabble championship. He is also the Bahrain national champion.

Mr Zafar, who denies cheating, was barred by the game’s governing body, the World English Language Scrabble Players Association (Wespa), for breaking the rule about how players draw their letters while playing in a tournament in Malaysia in December.

“The decision is not to strip Mohammed of his titles,” said Roy Kietzman, a member of the Bahrain Scrabble League Committee and a special panel of four that met on Monday night in Manama to discuss Wespa’s decision.

“We felt it was humiliation enough to be charged with being guilty and being banned from Scrabble.

“For him, this is public humiliation in the Scrabble community. We feel this is punishment enough.”

Mr Zafar was accused of taking his tiles from the top of the bag and having a quick peek at them before letting go of any he did not want during the Causeway Challenge, held in Johru Bahar in Malaysia.

The rules of the game state that although players may give the bag a vigorous shake, they must draw tiles at shoulder length while looking away from the bag.

Mr Zafar is also banned from the Malaysian tournament for life.

The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee says it “fully endorses the Wespa decision that he was guilty”.

Mr Kietzman confirmed that Allan Simmons, the chairman of the Wespa inquiry and Britain’s national champion, had been willing to lower the penalty and cut the time of the ban by half if Mr Zafar had admitted his guilt.

“We are urging Wespa to make strict guidelines on what to do in the future. This was a precedent.”

Last year, Mr Zafar faced the two-time defending champion of the regional Scrabble title, Mr Bhandarkar, in a thrilling match that saw the use of plurals, bingos [when a player uses all seven letters at once] and plenty of theatrics.

Posted in Arab world, Bahrain, Iowa, vanity | Leave a Comment »

a dimmed star in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 23, 2009

Pssst, Diamond, K (for “knowledgeable” – not her real first initial) said to me online on January 15.

I have been sworn to secrecy, but an anonymous source tells me that the daily star officially went bankrupt yesterday,

H used to say that it has been on the cusp of bankruptcy for years, I replied. I’m not surprised.

And I wasn’t. I wasn’t surprised to see unofficial confirmations appear on various blog’s, including Qifa Nabki’s – nor to see the three official articles that appeared yesterday on Menassat, Gulf News, and the LA Times websites. But I am sad.

The Daily Star, for all that I love to make fun of it, has been a rich source of news and analysis for English-speakers around the Middle East since its founding more than 50 years ago. Its editor, the legendary, Kamel Mroue, was murdered for his work with the paper – and yet it continued publishing, with little effort to curry favor with one or another political faction.

It hasn’t done well in recent years – a partnership with the International Herald Tribune evidently ended when the IHT realized that the Daily Star was pocketing the moneys allotted for publishing the IHT each day, rather than printing it, which the DS explained was due to its need for funds. And advertising – as everywhere in the Middle East – is sparse. But the thought of English-speakers in (and interested in) Lebanon having only Naharnet and Now Lebanon as their sources for news and analysis chills my blood.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that the paper’s economic woes were perhaps best forecast by its massively confusing economic and business reporting. I’ll close with a link to one of my all-time favorite blog posts: an analysis of an article on the Lebanese banking scene that Riemer Brouwer did in July 2007. I read it at work, laughed until tears came to my eyes, and then read it out loud to H. Here it is – enjoy.

Posted in Iowa | 2 Comments »

“Happy New Yea”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 1, 2009

Last night my parents and I went to the local symphony orchestra, which was hosting a “Cirque de la symphonie” night for New Year’s Eve: a symphony orchestra concert complete with a (largely Russian) troupe of jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, rope, and balancing acts.

The performance was wonderful – the music was well-chosen (we particularly liked hearing Ravel’s “Bolero” as the counter-point to a soaring, elegant aerialist), the performers were magnificent, and the symphony’s conductor was goofily charming, in a down-home Midwestern way.

We had only decided to attend the concert on the 29th, prompted by the sudden realization that we had no New Year’s Eve plans. Well, I had invites to assorted parties in Beirut (too far) and New York (too many tourists), but we had nothing arranged in Iowa. So we were delighted to realize that we all thought that a night at the symphony sounded like great New Year’s fun.

Realizing that the only seats available were in the “nosebleed” section (of the 2,735 the symphony hall seats, we estimated that 2,650 of them were in front of us) dampered our enthusiasm slightly – but not much. After all, my mother has multiple pairs of binoculars, thanks to her neighbor bird-watching hobby. And I have a beautiful pair of antique opera glasses, passed down from my grandmother when I was 11:


They don’t have quite the power that contemporary binoculars do, but they were fine for me!

Before the symphony, we had dinner at a local restaurant, whose tables had been decorated with New Year’s horns and other items. My mother picked up one of the razzers and spun it around a few times, while I tried on the “Happy New Year” headband.

Diamond, my father said, smiling, I love the headband, but the “R” is bent back. It looks like you are saying ‘Happy New Yea’.”

Happy New Yea indeed: yea to a new year, and all the opportunities for bright beginnings (a new political course for the US; better spending habits for our citizens; stability and peace in Iraq) and endings (to the attacks on Gaza – and all the other, less in-the-headlines violations of human and political rights that occur around the world) that a new year brings.

Posted in Americans, family, holidays, Iowa, time | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Years’

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 31, 2008

For the past few years, the major holidays of the Abrahamic faiths have been all bunched up together – which I love.

Two days ago was the Islamic New Year – or Hijri New Year, since Muslims follow what is known as the Hijri calendar, which starts from the flight of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community from Mecca to Medina. Western Christians follow the Gregorian calendar, named after a 16th-century pope who decreed that one October would be short a few days in order to correct miscalculations made by the previous Christian calendar, the Julian. Guess this “clerical error” in calculation is one more reason to be grateful that the Arab world kept Greek traditions of math and astronomy alive!

In Arabic, “the New Year” is “Ras al-Sinna”, or “head of the year”. “Ras” also means “top” or “apex”, but I like “head”. After all, the New Year is the time when we reflect on the course of the previous year and try to map out our course for the year to come.

(For those of you who find “head” and “top” boring, my dictionary also suggests the more poetic “noggin”. Happy noggin of the year to you, too!)

For more on the topic of hijri and Gregorian calendars, Saudi Aramco World has a wonderful little article summarizing the history of both. I’ve pasted the article text here, but if you want tips on converting the two calendar years back and forth, click on the link to the original article, which lists calculations and helpful websites.

Here is the article, “Patterns of Moon, Patterns of Sun”:

The hijri calendar

In AD 638, six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar recognized the necessity of a calendar to govern the affairs of the Muslims. This was first of all a practical matter. Correspondence with military and civilian officials in the newly conquered lands had to be dated. But Persia used a different calendar from Syria, where the caliphate was based; Egypt used yet another. Each of these calendars had a different starting point, or epoch. The Sasanids, the ruling dynasty of Persia, used June 16, AD 632, the date of the accession of the last Sasanid monarch, Yazdagird III. Syria, which until the Muslim conquest was part of the Byzantine Empire, used a form of the Roman “Julian” calendar, with an epoch of October 1, 312 BC. Egypt used the Coptic calendar, with an epoch of August 29, AD 284. Although all were solar, and hence geared to the seasons and containing 365 days, each also had a different system for periodically adding days to compensate for the fact that the true length of the solar year is not 365 but 365.2422 days.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, various other systems of measuring time had been used. In South Arabia, some calendars apparently were lunar, while others were lunisolar, using months based on the phases of the moon but intercalating days outside the lunar cycle to synchronize the calendar with the seasons. On the eve of Islam, the Himyarites appear to have used a calendar based on the Julian form, but with an epoch of 110 BC. In central Arabia, the course of the year was charted by the position of the stars relative to the horizon at sunset or sunrise, dividing the ecliptic into 28 equal parts corresponding to the location of the moon on each successive night of the month. The names of the months in that calendar have continued in the Islamic calendar to this day and would seem to indicate that, before Islam, some sort of lunisolar calendar was in use, though it is not known to have had an epoch other than memorable local events.

There were two other reasons ‘Umar rejected existing solar calendars. The Qur’an, in Chapter 10, Verse 5, states that time should be reckoned by the moon. Not only that, calendars used by the Persians, Syrians and Egyptians were identified with other religions and cultures. He therefore decided to create a calendar specifically for the Muslim community. It would be lunar, and it would have 12 months, each with 29 or 30 days.

This gives the lunar year 354 days, 11 days fewer than the solar year. ‘Umar chose as the epoch for the new Muslim calendar the hijrah, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and 70 Muslims from Makkah to Madinah, where Muslims first attained religious and political autonomy. The hijrah thus occurred on 1 Muharram 1 according to the Islamic calendar, which was named “hijri” after its epoch. (This date corresponds to July 16, AD 622 on the Gregorian calendar.) Today in the West, it is customary, when writing hijri dates, to use the abbreviation AH, which stands for the Latin anno hegirae, “year of the hijrah.”

Because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar, it is therefore not synchronized to the seasons. Its festivals, which fall on the same days of the same lunar months each year, make the round of the seasons every 33 solar years. This 11-day difference between the lunar and the solar year accounts for the difficulty of converting dates from one system to the other.

The Gregorian calendar

The early calendar of the Roman Empire was lunisolar, containing 355 days divided into 12 months beginning on January 1. To keep it more or less in accord with the actual solar year, a month was added every two years. The system for doing so was complex, and cumulative errors gradually misaligned it with the seasons. By 46 BC, it was some three months out of alignment, and Julius Caesar oversaw its reform. Consulting Greek astronomers in Alexandria, he created a solar calendar in which one day was added to February every fourth year, effectively compensating for the solar year’s length of 365.2422 days. This Julian calendar was used throughout Europe until AD 1582.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian liturgical calendar was grafted onto the Julian one, and the computation of lunar festivals like Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, exercised some of the best minds in Christen­dom. The use of the epoch AD 1 dates from the sixth century, but did not become common until the 10th. Because the zero had not yet reached the West from Islamic lands, a year was lost between 1 BC and ad 1.

The Julian year was nonetheless 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long. By the early 16th century, due to the accumulated error, the spring equinox was falling on March 11 rather than where it should, on March 21. Copernicus, Christophorus Clavius and the physician Aloysius Lilius provided the calculations, and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII ordered that Thursday, October 4, 1582 would be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Most Catholic countries accepted the new “Gre­gorian” calendar, but it was not adopted in England and the Americas until the 18th century. Its use is now almost universal worldwide. The Gregorian year is nonetheless 25.96 seconds ahead of the solar year, which by the year 4909 will add up to an extra day.

And here is the link to the original page.

Happy belated and soon-to-come New Years to all of you. I’ll be celebrating with family this evening, and looking forward with hope to a better 2009/1430. Given that both years ended with this terrible Israeli assault on Gaza, it may be time to invoke the cliche: “there’s nowhere to go but up”. We can only hope.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, Iowa, Islam, time | 3 Comments »

Life in the wintry mix

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 29, 2008

The forecast calls for a “wintry mix” tomorrow, I said Friday evening, looking up from my computer screen. What do you think that means?

The icon under the forecast descriptor showed snowflakes, rain, and funnily-shaped blobs that looked a lot like my memories of cellular mitosis.

When we awoke the next morning, it was to the sound of a constant stream of little taps on the windowpanes. Apparently, the mitotic cells represented rain pellets: freezing rain in which each raindrop carried a frozen hail pellet at its core.

Roads are often described as “sheets of ice” during Iowa winters – but in this case, the rain pellets really did create a thick ice glaze over everything.

I think this is a day that the State Patrol advises “no unnecessary driving”, my father said as we creeped our four-wheel-drive way to the gym. I wonder whether going to the gym qualifies as necessary.

Well, I said, noticing that Perkins’ (a local diner) parking lot was fairly full, If breakfast at Perkins counts as necessary, surely going to the gym does!

Driving wasn’t too bad – but getting out of the car was a challenge. My father’s car is a bit tall for me, so when he let me out on the street on our return home, to pick up Friday’s mail and then walk to the house, I put my foot down on the icy road and kept on going.

Happily, my backside turned out to have enough padding to keep my fall from involving more than a few light bruises, but it was a good reminder of the dangers of ice.

This is one of the living room windows, thickly coated in ice:


The west-facing windows were totally covered, while the east-facing windows had only individual ice splotches:


It was a nice day to be inside, and to be grateful for cozy indoor heating.


Posted in home, Iowa, weather | 2 Comments »

diversity where you least expect it: Arabic lawyering in Iowa

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2008

On Monday, my father sent me the scanned image of an advertisement he had noticed in the Des Moines paper: an English-Arabic language advertisement for a bilingual tax presentation to be conducted the next evening:


We were both a bit surprised: Iowa has a measurable Lebanese- and Syrian-American population, descendants of the immigrants who came here in the early 1900s. But their Arabic is generally limited to food words. And Iowa has a long-standing Muslim population, as witnessed by Cedar Rapids’ Mother Mosque, but not necessarily an Arabic-speaking one.

My father offered to go to the presentation, since my flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later that night. But thanks to the country’s weather woes, he instead spent the evening driving halfway to Chicago, thinking I might get stranded there. I didn’t, but my flight to Iowa was delayed long enough that he was able to drive all the way back and still reach the airport before I did.

So: no answer to the Arabic tax advice mystery. But we hope that there was a big turnout: we like seeing diversity in our state! And thank you, Dad, for devoting your evening to your daughter’s interests: first in Arabic, and second in getting home for the holidays :). (And thanks to my mother as well, who kept me updated on my changing flight status, and waited up until the wee-est of the wee hours to make sure we got safely home!)

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, home, Iowa, travel | 2 Comments »

the danger of family gatherings

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2008

The danger of family gatherings like Christmas is that while you are having so much fun together, small details get neglected.

After opening our Santa gifts, my parents, grandmother, and I moved to the kitchen to put breakfast together.

In the midst of the breakfast bustling – getting out the coffeecakes, cooking the little smokies, making oatmeal – I decided to make a cup of tea. In the microwave, which for me is a luxurious treat (I haven’t had a microwave since 2000 or so – no space in New York, and not enough wattage in Beirut).

What’s that smell? Big Diamond asked. Big Diamond could be a perfumier, her sense of scent is so nuanced. I rarely smell anything when she asks that question.

I think its the sausages, I said, lifting the lid so she could get a better smell.

It smells a bit like bay leaf, my mother said, unconvinced – but since none of us smelled bay leaf, she agreed that it might just be the sausages.

When the microwave beeped, I maneuvered around my father, who was giving the sausages a good stirring, opened the microwave door and took out … an unusually hot, unusually light mug.

This is the danger of family gatherings: that because you are having so much fun together, you neglect small but critical details like adding water to your cup of tea.

This is what a tea-bag looks like, after spending two minutes in a microwave with no water:


And yes, nuked tea bag does smell like bay leaf.

Posted in family, food, home, Iowa, women | Leave a Comment »