A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘women’ Category

“When the midnight camel leaves for Tripoli…”: Bing Crosby’s “The Road to Lebanon”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 23, 2009

Inspired by QN’s recent musical turn (“it took five minutes,” he claimed when I spoke with him yesterday. “Much less time than researching and writing another analysis for the blog.”), I thought I’d share another musical gem with all of you: The Road to Lebanon, a bizarrely enticing 1958 television special. Think “movie of the week” meets “vaudeville”, with a splash of camels and some belly dancing.

The entire production is viewable online at Retrovision, which describes the show as follows:

A rare, television-produced “road” picture which most fans don’t know about. Bing Crosby is scouting locations in Beirut to do another road picture – without his [usual] partner, Bob Hope! When he runs into Danny Thomas, who is judging a local beauty contest, Bing and Danny are kidnapped by a sheik who is out to punish Thomas because one of his ancestors committed the sin of getting a nose job. Many musical numbers, live camels and even Bob Hope himself add to the fun in this TV rarity.

The twist here, of course, is that Danny Thomas was Lebanese – and spoke Arabic. He plays all the male Arab characters, including Ali-Ali-Oxen-Free, the sheikh who seeks to put him to death because Danny’s emigrant ancestor supposedly got a nose job after arriving in the United States. While the story itself is beyond light, and the stereotypes are rife (the title of this post is taken from the opening song), the Arabic is hysterical. Clearly, he and the producers anticipated at least some Arabic-speakers among the viewers, and cared enough about them as an audience to give them a good laugh.

Let me give you an example.

While wandering through the desert (I know: its not Lebanon. But in the story, its a desert) to escape the sheikh, Danny tries to plead his case before an unsympathetic armed guard. “Amil maarouf,” he starts. “Bt7ibb la7m bi-tanjara, kibbe nayyeh, ou baba ghannoush?” The guard nods, grinning, and turns away.

“What did you say?” Crosby asks. “I don’t know,” Danny replies. “I either said, ‘Take me to your leader’ or ‘someone’s taking a bath in the water hole’.”

But he did know, and so would any Arabic speaker watching, and so will you.

Happy watching!

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, cedar, music, women | Leave a Comment »

eau d’abaya

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 16, 2009

Americans whose knowledge of the Arab world – and particularly the Gulf – comes solely from television and other media miss out on one crucial aspect of life in the region: the delightful way that women smell. This is a perfume-friendly region, and while walking past a man has often left me choking in a plume cloud of the local version of Drakkar Noir, walking past a woman has more often left me just plain envious.

The perfumes I smell aren’t ones I associate with Americans – and certainly far from the ones I wear (Opium, Narcisse, Liberté). They’re full of baby powder and light florals, which should smell nauseatingly sweet but instead smells delightful. And they instantly make me feel that my perfumes smell heavy and overdone.

So when I found myself at the Four Seasons spa in Doha, cleaning up after spending an afternoon on its beach, I clustered around the grooming table with several abaya’ed women. We dried our hair, fussed with face creams, and … tried on the spa’s suggested perfume.

It wasn’t anything like my usual perfumes. It was full of baby powder and light florals, and it had a name that suggested both a spa experience and an ESL moment: Pure Treat Blossom. I loved it.

I smell like an abaya! I told my aunt happily when I returned home. She smiled – she knew exactly what I meant. And I was even happier later that evening, when a short Amazon search told me that I could smell like an abaya for some time to come, for only $12.99 plus shipping:

060_PureTreatBlossom

Pure treat, indeed :).

Posted in fashion, Qatar, women | 3 Comments »

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 »

new views, new worlds

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 21, 2009

When I was in graduate school, I took a number of courses outside my immediate field for auditor credit, rather than full course credit. I had no background in petrochemicals, for example, or the oil markets of the Gulf, but I thought that as long as courses were being offered in those subjects, I should try to learn what I could.

One of these “I don’t know enough about this subject but I’d like to” courses was a semester-long class on the region’s political economy. I didn’t know anything about political economy – in fact, I didn’t know what the phrase meant. And I certainly knew nothing about terms like “ISI”, the “rentier state”, or the “tertiary sector”. But I stuck it out, and have been grateful ever since for the opportunity to develop at least a basic understanding of the mysterious world where economics and political science meet.

I have been equally grateful for the professor, Steve Heydemann, and his many memorable classroom quips of – including one that has resonated with increasing urgency over the past few months.

I believe, he said in response to a question about the credibility of another scholar’s recent op-ed, that in-country knowledge has a shelf life of about six months.

In other words, one can write about one’s experiences of the country as it was six months or a year or whatever other point when one was last there, but after a certain period one can no longer claim to have the intimate experiential knowledge of the country in its current state.

Six months isn’t a magic number – and for those with permanent ties, like H, perhaps the time limit is irrelevant.

But for me I find that it is time to make the switch from experiential writing – recounting the goofy bits of my daily adventures – to analytic writing. And quite frankly, I can take only so many analytic blog posts, either my own or others’.

I look forward to reading about the Lebanese elections, the Kuwaiti parliament, and other issues dear to my heart on your blogs, and I look forward to either resuming this blog or starting a new one when I feel that I have more daily-life anecdotes to share.

Posted in academia, blogging, women, words | Leave a Comment »

words and things: what’s in a car?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 18, 2009

I’ve been slowly working my way through a thin but rich family memoir: Grace Dodge Guthrie’s Legacy to Lebanon, about the various contributions of her paternal and maternal families (the Dodges and the Blisses, both deeply connected to AUB and to Robert College in Istanbul). Grace, who was born in Beirut in 1915, writes sweetly of her childhood there and her parents’ work while her father, Bayard Dodge, served as AUB’s president.

She describes her father’s arrival to Beirut during a family trip in 1910:

After being ferried ashore by red-tarboushed boatmen rowing forward to prevent colliding with other boats and being waved through customs under President Bliss’s wing, the Dodge family would have ridden to the college in arabiyehs, open carriages manned by colorful drivers urging on their scrawny horses with cries and whips.

I’m rolling my eyes a bit at this depiction of AUB extra-legality (though under Ottoman laws the Dodges were likely exempt from most customs scrutiny in any case), but what really makes me curious is the word “arabiyeh”. When I studied Arabic in school, I was taught that “siyara” was the word for car.

As my aunt says, sometimes you don’t even know what it is that you don’t know. I didn’t hear the word “arabeh” in Damascus for some time, because I didn’t know to listen for it – just like I didn’t know to listen for “bagnole” when listening to my Parisian friends, because I knew that the word for “car” in French was “voiture”.

But I did begin to hear it – both as “arabeh” and “arabiyeh” – and I did begin to wonder. Why would there be a word for “car” in Arabic that sounded just like the word for “Arabic” in Arabic?

My short attention span meant that I stopped wondering at some point – probably when I grew enough accustomed to Lebanese car culture to refer to cars by their model and make, rather than simply as “car” :). But Guthrie’s use of the term reawakened my curiosity, and I turned to my dictionary and to Google.

My dictionary confirmed what I already knew: that “araba” and “arabiyeh” both refer to a “carriage, vehicle, araba, cart, car, [or] coach”. And Google produced a Wiktionary entry, which gave me a sense of 1) just how much the Wikipedia empire has expanded and 2) the origins of the term. It defines “araba” as: a carriage used in Turkey and Asia Minor drawn by horses or oxen.

And – just like the OED – it includes historical illustrations of the word’s usage:

Quotations

  • 1836: No one but a native of the luxurious East could ever have invented an araba, with its comfortable cushions, and its gaily painted roof, and gilded pillars. The prettiest are those of brown and gold, with rose-coloured draperies, through which the breeze flutters to your cheek as blandly as though it loved the tint that reminded it of the roses of the past season amid which it had wandered.”— Julia Pardoe, City of the Sultan; and Domestic Manners of the Turks, in 1836.
  • 1845: I found the examination of these antiquities much less pleasant than to look at the many troops of children assembled on the plain to play; and to watch them as they were dragged about in little queer arobas, or painted carriages, which are there kept for hire. William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1845
  • 1898:There is, however, such a thing as an “araba,” a vehicle drawn by oxen, in which the wives of a rich man are sometimes dragged four or five miles over the grass by way of recreation. The carriage is rudely framed, but you recognise in the simple grandeur of its design a likeness to things majestic; in short, if your carpenter’s son were to make a “Lord Mayor’s coach” for little Amy, he would build a carriage very much in the style of a Turkish araba. — Alexander William Kinglake, Eothen, 1898.
  • 1917:Whenever I mounted the araba, he would whip his horses to a sharp trot or canter for half a mile, and then at a word stop for me to get out. — W.J. Childs, Across Asia Minor on Foot, 1917.

I love these quotes, and even though I’m not a wiki’er, I love knowing the origins of the word “araba” (or “arabiyeh”). I see so many Ottoman influences in Lebanon and in Syria and am delighted to have found one more.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, research, time, travel, women, words | 4 Comments »

Beirut in poetry

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 29, 2009

I must be on an artsy kick these days – well, if La dama de Beirut counts as art. (My suspicion is that it falls more into the Levantine definition of “artiste”.) This time, my eye was caught by a new book of poetry, titled Beirut Summer:

9780980233919thumbnail

How lame, I thought at first. Someone took a 2006 war image and decided to capitalize on Beirut’s reputation without knowing much about the actual city.

Shame on me for being so quick to judge. Apparently the author, a woman named Catherine Evans Latta, does indeed know Beirut – and her time there very much coincided with the city’s war days.

According to the “about me” section of a writers’ website to which she belongs, Catherine Evans Latta is a graduate of Cornell University and the American University of Beirut.  She studied at Stanford as a graduate student with poet Denise Levertov and, later, author Nancy Packer.  Catherine’s poetry has been published in numerous journals: The Beloit Poetry Journal, the Stanford Literary Quarterly, Fresh Hot Bread and elsewhere.  She was a feature columnist for Beirut’s The Daily Star, the largest English language paper in the Middle East.  She taught in the English Dept. of the American University of Beirut where she lived for ten years.  Prior to that, she lived in Cairo for three years.

One day when I have more free time, I’d like to spend a few weeks reading through the old Daily Stars. I understand that its archive is honored somewhat more in the breach than the observance, and that accessing it requires a lot of sweet-talking. But still – it would be interesting both to see the articles and to trace the genealogy of the paper’s many writers. I get the strong impression that most of the foreign writers have been less trained journalists than literate English-speakers who found themselves in Beirut and in need of a job – and that many have gone on to equally interesting post-paper careers.

Back to Latta and her poetry. An account of an interview she gave to a California-based local cable program called “Arab TV” states:

The poems are a series of powerfully disturbing and vivid images detailing the pains of people living under fire in Beirut. She has included poems that cover several wars from 1967 to the present. Written from a woman’s point of view, the poems provide insights into the torn lives of ordinary people.

During the interview, she said that while the events in the poems are told in the first person, they were not all her personal experience “…there is poetic license after all,” but all the people in the poems were friends and it is their experiences and stories, as well as her own, that she drew upon for the collection. One poem tells of the extreme penury of two maids who came from the camps to work for her. She remarked how many had broken lives: — the gardener who moved his family to live in a tent in the garden because it was safer than in his neighborhood; — the friend whose farm was burnt to the ground, but felt obliged to remain to show her commitment to her country; — or the mother whose child could only sleep to a cassette playing the call to prayer.

Latta let her imagination take flight to describe the psychological pain of war. In fact, she sat under fire in 1967, sat out the 1972 War and in 1974 while teaching at AUB had bombs going off in nearby class rooms. She was in Beirut during the beginning of the 1975-1990 Civil War and again in 1983.

I’m not much of a poetry fan: I appreciate poetry, but when looking for a book to read, I prefer novels or biographies or … anything other than poetry, with the possible exception of an economics text. And I’m slightly discomfited by the idea that Latta waited until 2008 to publish her poems on Beirut. To me, this suggests that she or the publisher thought that there might be a larger market for them thanks to the 2006 war, even though (as I understand it) she wasn’t in Beirut then.

The writers’ website includes one brief excerpt:

I saw dawn briefly

quiet

in the hills

above Ba’abda,

But now my eyes ache so

I cannot mend

the sound-rent sky

to see the day.

Um. If I were better at literary criticism, I am sure that I would have something interesting to say in response. I remember 2006 skies broken by above-the-sound-barrier fighter jets and bunker buster-i bombs, but I missed the boat, clearly, on wanting to mend them.

In any case, I’m interested to see what she has to say, although I’d like also to put in a plug here for a series of poems about how ordinary life in Beirut is most days. And I’m still cheap: the book is $12.95 on Amazon. I can wait for a used copy :).

Posted in Beirut, books, women, words | 1 Comment »

hair, water, and taxis: Syrian triggers in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 15, 2009

This morning, an article in The National by Rasha Elass caught my eye – and brought back memories. Rasha writes about her reception at a posh Beirut hair salon, when the stylist learns that she is Syrian.

Having lived in Damascus for some time before moving to Beirut, I too learned about the perils of my accent. Unlike Rasha, however, my learning was generally ex post facto. Hence in summer 2005 I was booted from a Beirut service for saying something too shami; and when I moved to Beirut, I avoided saying “water” for months after seeing the looks on waiters’ and shopkeepers’ faces when I asked for “moy” rather than “mai”. And I only learned to stop saying “lissa” one evening when the person to whom I had been speaking drew back from me as if I were diseased.

Ahh, memories.

In any case, my experiences were those of an outsider: someone who had committed the offense of learning Arabic like a Syrian, rather than a Lebanese – and not someone who had committed the evidently graver offense of being Syrian, like Rasha.

Here is her article – enjoy!

The Lebanese hairdresser had a sleight of hand typical to his profession, alternating quickly between his left and right hand as he cut, razored, pulled and tugged the strands of my hair. He came highly recommended by a friend, so I wasn’t worried about the way my hair was going to look when he was done.

But I was worried about him picking up on my Syrian accent, given that I was in an area of Beirut where many hold strong anti-Syrian sentiments.

And then came the inevitable.

“Are you Lebanese?” he asked.

Sometimes I purposely don’t speak Arabic when I venture into anti-Syrian areas in Lebanon. During a road trip to Batroun, a charming small town with a staunchly anti-Syrian community, my Lebanese friend made me promise not to say a single word in Arabic.

“They’ll pick up you’re Syrian from the minute you open your mouth,” she warned.

Though her concern was exaggerated – violence motivated by hatred is extremely rare since the end of the civil war in Lebanon – times were tense, and people might have been rude or snooty towards us if they had found out that I was Syrian.

Your accent in the Arab world is like an identity card. Even the unfamiliar ear can place you in a region, be it the Gulf, the Levant, Egypt or North Africa. The familiar ear can even figure out if you’re an urban or rural Syrian, a Damascene or from Aleppo, a Kurd from northern Iraq or a Shiite from the south, an Algerian or a Moroccan, and whether you grew up locally or abroad.

Accents also often are the butt of political jokes, like the popular favourite for Lebanese and Syrians taking political jabs at each other.

It pokes fun of the words moo and ma, Syrian and Lebanese slang for “right”, as in: “You’re coming to dinner, moo?”

“‘Moo’? What are we? Cows?” goes the joke.

“Better than ‘ma’,” it continues. “‘Ma’ is for sheep.”

Given my propensity to say moo, I couldn’t lie to the hairdresser, so I confessed that I was Syrian.

“Emm,” he muttered, his face visibly annoyed. I briefly worried he might purposely ruin my hair, which would be a disaster given I was to attend a posh Syrio-Lebanese wedding later and needed it to be flawless.

“You’re Syrian from both parents?” he asked.

Here, I thought, could be my way out. I could lie and end the conversation amicably, guaranteeing a good haircut. Or I could keep playing cat and mouse and see where the game took us.

“Umm, no. My mother is American,” I lied.

“Aaah, OK,” he said, looking relieved, as if everything about me finally made sense to him.

The most striking thing when travelling from Syria to Lebanon is how politicised everything is in Lebanon. While Syrians are bashful about discussing domestic politics, the Lebanese think nothing of asking you where you stand on their domestic political spectrum the minute they meet you.

“Are you with or against?” is probably the most common question in Lebanon after “what’s your name?”

I was still at the hairdresser’s watching my transformation in the mirror when I was asked this question.

“Are you with or against the Americans?” the hairdresser said.

Before I could answer, a customer in her mid fifties walked in frazzled, her short blonde-dyed hair brittle and uncombed. According to my friend, this hairdresser is known to the stars and the wives of politicians.

“Je suis en retard,” she announced to the hairdresser, her head appearing in my mirror. She spoke the French typical of Sodeco, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood.

How their conversation moved from “I’m running late” to comparing political affiliation is beyond me. But after exchanging the usual “ça va” and “walaw”, the latter being colloquial for no worries, they vented politics at each other.

“I know you’re a supporter of Aoun,” she told the hairdresser. “But I’m not,” she announced, her head’s reflection still floating in my mirror.

“And that’s why you were late,” he said in French, laughing.

The conversation ended as quickly as it started, and the woman sat herself down in a chair for a shampoo.

Turning his attention back to me, he made a reference to one pro and one anti-Syrian Lebanese politician and asked:

“Are you with or against Aoun? Or do you prefer Geagea?”

I mumbled something about not caring a whole lot for internal politics in Lebanon.

“Ah, mais vous êtes Syrienne. Vous aimez Hariri,” he concluded, half testing if I understood French, another telltale political sign for some Lebanese.

Fortunately, he got distracted and forgot to wait for an answer. When he finished my hair, I paid in US dollars, then thanked him in French. I walked out into the street, and my hair looked fabulous.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Damascus, Lebanon, neighbors, Syria, vanity, women, words | 6 Comments »

the Shia of Bcharre: fun with election stats

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 18, 2009

OMG I love Tayyar, B wrote during a Sunday morning chat. Hunh, I thought – B has never seemed particularly Aouni. But it wasn’t the party’s political views he was embracing: it was the interactive elections map available on the Tayyar website.

Its a great map: you scroll over each electoral district to see the number of electoral votes and the number of registered voters.

To be honest, seeing the stark reality of the Lebanese electoral system gives me a chill. Seeing voters divided into categories as:

Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox

Armenian Catholic

Minorities

Evangelists [the Arabic term for Protestant]

Druze

Sunnis

Shiites

Alaouis

Catholics

Maronites

turned my stomach. It appears uncomfortably close to what I imagine a voter registry from Nazi Germany would look like – although I was of course happy to see that the voter lists make the theologically correct distinction between Catholics and Maronites :).

The map could use a little tweaking: there’s no legend, for example, so its up to you to figure out that the dark grey numbers listed after some of the sects indicate electoral seats. And its not the only elections map around – a number of organizations have been creating them, with slightly different voter counts.

As I scrolled over the different districts, a few numbers began jumping out at me.

Does this map’s table mean that there is only one Druze voter in Akkar? I asked B.

Druze voter? B replied. I suppose. Not sure where they are getting this information, but I really want it to be legit.

I do too – and I want the study of election maps and voter registration to become a regular part of Lebanese elections.

And in the meantime, B and I would each like to get to know some of the solo sect voters.

Who is this Druze guy living in Akkar? B asked. I kind of want to meet him.

I do too, although I am guessing that “he” is really a she. My understanding is that Lebanese women are required to transfer their voter registration to their husband’s village when they get married, so I imagine that this lonely Druze is the wife of a native Akkari. (Please, please, please correct me if this is no longer the case. I would be thrilled to have one example of a way in which Lebanon does not discriminate against its female citizens.)

As for me, I’d really like to meet the one Shia of Bcharre 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, women | 1 Comment »

my sister in the Islam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 17, 2009

This morning I received word from two friends: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the husband of my old friend Princess Amira, invited me to buy a new Mercedes, and Mrs. Muna Habib offered $3.5 million to me to use for dawa.

Here’s the word from Prince Alwaleed, who obviously hasn’t seen my driving, which – surpassed only by my parking skills – certainly fits one definition of “spectacular”:

cclass2009

And here is the note from Muna, with commentary in brackets:

Assalamn aleikum I am Mrs. Muna Habib from South Africa, married to Alhaji Habib Nasser who was until his death an exporter of antiquities based in Cote d’ivoire, we were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only two weeks. Before his death we were both faithful Muslims.

[Faithful perhaps, but clearly unable to spell “assalam aleikum” properly. There are many alternatives, but none add an “n” to “salaam”.]

Since his death I decided not to remarry or get a child outside my matrimonial home which the holly Quaran is against. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of ($3.5 Million U.S. Dollars) in one the famous financial institutions here in Abidjan capital of Cote d’ivoire.

[Holly is a plant. The Qur’an does not have two “a”s. Having had a friend who worked as a consultant in Abidjan, I question Muna’s description of the financial institutions there as “famous”.]

Recently my doctor confirmed to me that I have serious sickness which is cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness.

[A stroke-causing cancer: who knew!]

Having known my condition I decided to donate this money to an Islamic institution or individual that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein. I want a muslim that will use this money for orphanage homes, hospitals, mosque, schools, and propagation of the word of the mighty Allah and to endeavour that the house of almighty Allah is maintained. The holly Quaran made us to understand that Blessed is the hand that gives.

[Fair enough – and thanks to an earlier bout of historical training, I do indeed know how to properly establish a waqf.]

I took this decision because I don’t have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are not Muslims and I don’t want my husband’s effort to be used by unbelievers. I don’t want a situation whereby this money will be used in an unGodly way. This is why I am taking this decision.

[Um, okay. Your husband converted to Islam? Then why did you receive all of his money when he died?]

I am not afraid of death hence I know where I am going. I know that I am going to be in the bosom of the almighty Allah. As stated in the holly Quaran (Surah xxxvi Yasin) Thou wariest only him who followeth the reminder and feareth the beneficent in secret to him bear tiding of forgives and a rich reward.

[Sura 36 is spelled Ya Seen, after two discrete Arabic letters, not Yasin as in the name. How about this translation instead, which actually makes sense? “You will be heeded only by those who uphold this message, and reverence the Most Gracious – even when alone in their privacy. Give them good news of forgiveness and a generous recompense.”.]

I don’t need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health hence the presence of my husband’s relatives around me always. I don’t want them to know about this development. With almighty Allah all things are possible.

As soon as I receive your reply I will direct you on how this vission will be realised. I want you and the Islamic institution to always pray for me because the almighty Allah is my shepherd.

[God as a shepherd – one of my favorite Christian analogies. I think Muna’s in-laws are influencing her metaphors.]

My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Muslim. Whoever that wants to serve the almighty Allah must serve him in spirit and truth. Please always be prayerful all through your life. Any delay in your reply will give me room to sourcing another Islamic institution or a good muslim for this same purpose. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I Stated herein.

Your Sister in the Islam.

Mrs. Muna Habib

Technically, the word in Arabic is used in the definite: “al-Islam”. But just as in English we do not speak of “the Judaism” or “the Christianity”, we do not speak of “the Islam”.

But what a bad friend I am, correcting Muna’s grammar rather than replying to her email.  Guess I’ve gotten lazy ever since agreeing to help my Gazan-refugee-in-Spain friend, Princess Amira, and – of course – Ali Ibrahim from the 20th Armored Brigade 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Islam, women | Leave a Comment »