Cairo has turned me into a shameless eavesdropper. In an effort to acquire vocabulary and learn grammar, I listen to Arabic conversations around me all the time. As I learn more Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, or Amiyya, I can actually understand some of these conversations. I’ve learned how to negotiate a lease, buy fabric, and compliment people’s clothes.
Normally, you wouldn’t think of “I’m sorry” as slang. In Italy, however inflection is everything and scusate or “I’m sorry” is something of a chameleon word. By the end of my first day of Italian classes I’d learned three things: Carlo was to be my Italian name, my professor and I shared an undying love for 50’s American jukebox music, and apparently scusate would be the one phrase I needed to know for the next 24 hours.
“In Italy, scusate is more than sorry,” Nicoletta (my professor) explained matter-of-factly. “It is an apology. It is an assertion. Scusate is a foreigner’s best friend"
In my work with the TOMODACHI Initiative I have been focusing on reaching out to young potential members of a TOMODACHI Generation. We are trying to connect interested young Japanese and young Americans to collaborate on short term goals like working on projects in Tohoku together or on our larger goals of improving cross-cultural relations between the US and Japan.
"Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." -Mother Teresa
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela is more than just a politician- he is a national hero. And every year his birthday is celebrated through service; people take time to honor Madiba by helping others. For Mandela Day, CIEE, along with a local organization, took us to a township about 20 minutes outside of Cape Town. This was my first trip to a township, and while I understood poverty in theory, I don’t think I was entirely prepared for the state in which people lived. There is very limited access to electricity and water, none have indoor plumbing. Unemployment in the townships surrounding Cape Town is an average of 50%, schools are overcrowded, and residents have little hope for a brighter future. Faced with such daunting conditions, I wasn’t sure how a group of fairly privileged American students could possibly empathize with and in some way help these people.
Last week I took a trip down to the northeastern side of Patagonia to a little coastal town called Puerto Madryn. The town is famous for the whales and other marine life that populate the “Golfo Nuevo” to mate and give birth as the climate gets warmer around this time of year. After a 20 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, my three friends and I dropped our bags off at the hostel and signed ourselves up for a tour of Península Valdés an ecological reserve that serves as the main attraction of the area. We spent all day driving around the arid Peninsula, which happens to look a lot “like the Australian outback, but with funky llama things instead of kangaroos,” according to one of my Aussie friends on the trip. We stopped at various beaches and were lucky enough to see the very first penguins of the season. Having never seen a penguin in their natural habitat before, it was awesome to be able to get up close to one of these goofy animals. One particular penguin was scratching his side with his webbed foot like a dog scratches his ear.
There were protests planned for Jordan. Now nothing dramatic or horrifying had happened here, such as in next-door Egypt or Libya, but there was a nervous feeling in the air as Friday approached. Emails were sent to our parents, the State Department gave us a debriefing, and we all waited to see what would come out of it. Some students claimed they wouldn’t tell people they were American, others planned to stay out of the downtown area; each had their own plan to deal with the seemingly impending chaos.
Friday came and went, and some small protests materialized in front of the American Embassy, mosques and a gym. The police had come out in full force to quell any potential riots, but those riots never appeared.
I am an American, but I do not visibly look like one. Because I am a Muslim, I wear Islamic dress which has give me a “pass” to blend in with the local Jordanian culture. This has its pros and its cons. It’s great to have people automatically speak to you in Arabic and give you the local price for things, but it can be a little confusing trying to explain to them why you have no idea what they just said. As a Muslim American, I have two identities, which are often in conflict with one another. In America, Muslims are the “other”. We are not welcomed in politics or mainstream society. Ours mosques are targeted and infiltrated; some do not even consider us American. I have walked in the streets of DC to have people tell me “Go back to your own country”, even though I am in it. On the other hand, Muslims view America as the big bad monster in the room. Due to American foreign policy abroad, America is often seen as an antithesis to Islam and our Prophet. The recent film uploaded on YouTube did nothing to help that reputation.
At the moment I’m living in a building with about two hundred eighteen-year-old students. These are students who for the first time are living without parental supervision and in a city where you can basically do anything you want…expensively, but really, anything.
In America this building would be considered the worst place in the world, a place criminals should serve their entire existence and people who you hate should reside for the rest of their lives but like the entire British population…it’s lovely.
It might be the fact that their parents raised them more maturely or that their cultural immersion basically rocked from day one but these kids are cooler than I’ll probably ever be. The girls are nice and the boys are kind and every weekend is fun in a way that you don’t want it to end. In Saturdays in America you’re exhausted and usually yearn for Ben and Jerry’s and a child-size onesie from Target (not that I’ve totally got one or anything) because Friday night was too much for you.
Two things in Petersburg are absolutely unpredictable: the weather and the traffic. While I’ve learned to carry an umbrella and a scarf with me at all times, I haven’t been able to make sense of the traffic patterns simply because there is no sense to be found. Which is why the following St. Petersburg transportation guide must be digested with a rock of salt rather than just a grain.
My classmates at NUS are fairly different than my classmates back home...their typical lives differ vastly than what I am used to in many ways.
The first difference I noticed was that these students appear to study MUCH more than what I am used to. The students in some of my classes can be seen at the library reading and sometimes re-reading the required texts/articles. When asked why they re-read assigned readings, I was told something interesting. I was told that since these classes are based on a bell-curve, only a couple of students can obtain the top mark of an A+. Thus, a lot of the students spend countless hours trying to practice memorizing the readings and create their own conclusions in hopes of being able to obtain a great grade. I, however, have never re-read a textbook unless I was studying for an exam and did not understand some of the material. I noticed that some of the students are used to memorizing texts rather than applying and understanding the significance behind some of the readings. After discussion with some local students, I found out that they have been raised to memorize. Their college entrance exams, called the A-Levels, apparently require some level of memorization. One local student mentioned that having a great memory would secure a very good grade on the exam. Overall, there are far fewer essays/assignments in my classes here than back home, but the weekly discussions in tutorials or in classes require great understanding of the readings.
Since my last post, I have gained so many new understandings of the complexities of Bolivia that, as I read it, I feel almost childish. But I guess that is the point of naïveté. I'm sure the same will be true for my next post as well.
While I haven't started my research, and won't for a while, I have been exploring other research questions and topics, all within the general subject of the relation between Catholicism and revolution in Bolivia. I have been able to do this in the context of what we are studying in the program. So far, we have heard speakers on the Mexican, Cuban, Bolivian, and Venezuelan revolutions. We have dug deep into the history of indigenous to peasant back to indigenous struggle in Bolivia, and the differences between highlands and lowlands, the complex overlap between Aymara and Quechua languages. We just got back from Brazil, where we studied the Landless Workers Movement (MST), a 30 year old movement that occupies unused land for rural peasants, and then establishes communitarian agricultural settlements on the liberated land (also was founded in the context of Liberation Theology!) This week, we are back in Bolivia in Santa Cruz, looking at the movement for autonomy by the landed elites (quite a shock, coming from landless movement in Brazil, who fed us in tents on the side of the road). Spending a few days in uber-rich Santa Cruz by the pool has given me a chance to write this and think more about my potential Independent Study Project topics.