Friday, 31 July 2009

The way I are

“But you don’t look Lebanese”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told this. In the beginning – trying to be clever – I would respond with a “what exactly do Lebanese people look like then?”

I now know better than to ask because there does actually seem to be a universally recognized look for Lebanese women.

So, to look more Lebanese apparently I need to:

• Wear loads more make up. Loads. Yes, even to go to Tesco’s because ‘who knows who you might run in to?’

• Get a nose job – slim line that septum baby and pinch those nostrils in. So what if my breathing is labored (no pain no gain right?). Fortunately, Lebanese banks provide financing options for this and any other 'improvements' I might need

• Desperately try to keep up with the latest in fad diets and exercise. Don’t worry, there’s no danger – I will be using celebrities as my primary source of research and everybody knows they know everything. Thankfully, they are also around to tell me how to vote.

• Leaving my hair curly was clearly poorly thought through and almost sacrilegious – I apologize

• While we’re on hair – what was I thinking not going blonde in the summer and black/red in the winter? How on earth am I going to blend in if I look different?

• Buy only branded, upmarket clothes and bags. Of course everything must be skin tight – there is no room for comfort here.

Glad I’ve compiled this list and can get started. Looking not Lebanese so that everyone knows I am Lebanese is crucial. How else will I find a husband?

It’s just more practical you know –should things not work out with my discerning future husband, he can easily find another prĂȘt a porter Lebanese woman to take my place. Who knows, she may even be thinner.

Now excuse me while I go perfect my pout for Facebook pictures.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

H1N1 panic : media frenzy, health ministry confusion

So Gulf News announced that if you live in the UAE, and you're currently abroad, before thinking about returning, you better get yourself a medical certificate that states you do NOT have the H1N1 virus.

I read this on Seabee's blog and alarm bells rang. My parents are currently out of the country, returning some time in the next few days (they got robbed and need new passports & residencies, but that's another story). So , I desperately wanted more information.

Interestingly, none of the UAE Arabic newspapers mention anything about the need for a medical certificate clearing inbound passengers to the country of H1N1. They all carried the story of the Saudi death, and the Ministry of Health's announcement warning anyone with symptoms to immediately visit a clinic or hospital and avoid crowded places.

In Emarat Al Youm, however, front page story about the MoH announcing it will give anti-H1N1 vaccines to all school students as of September. And in case of an infection, the concerned school will be closed and all students, teachers & school staff will be quarantined in their homes for a period of 5-7 days.

Now, as far as I'm aware, and according to the latest update from the World Health Organisation, there isn't yet an H1N1 vaccine. So are they just going to give all the kids flu shots? Does that help?

Friday, 24 July 2009

Stop cramping my style

Hijab is a topic of much disagreement. It is a complex and deeply personal (often emotional) topic and common themes include:

1) Does the hijab come from a cultural or religious imperative
2) Is it in the Kor’an or the Hadith and do they hold the same authority over Muslims
3) Which types of hijab are acceptable and which are ‘going too far’ or indeed ‘not far enough’
4) Being fashionable with hijab

So… a complex debate and certainly not one I will add much value to. I won’t even touch on religious governments or the women’s rights aspects of enforced veiling. I do however have something to say about CHOICE… more specifically – a WOMAN’S CHOICE.

I came across this facebook group advocating the hijab. At last count, the group has 1,614 members comprised of both men and women – covered and uncovered. The comments make for interesting reading I suppose, but there is a lot of very rigid thinking out there.

The creator of this group is:

1) Mehdi

The moderators are:

1) Abdul Rahman
2) Ibrahim
3) Ziad
4) Mervet
5) ‘Proud of her hijab’

Two women and four men. Moderating a debate on a women’s issue that affects women’s daily lives and is essentially (or should be) a woman’s decision.

We know that often times it is the family/husband/brother etc that enforces the hijab but there are also many women who take up the veil by choice and through the strength of their convictions – all the more power to them.

Now, I’m sure that Mehdi, Ziad and Ibrahim are lovely, well intentioned guys. But frankly, if they insist on spending their time making sure that Islam is being well served; surely they should start with themselves? And after that – how about focusing on morality within their own gender? There’s a lot going on in male circles to keep them busy I’m sure.

Back off guys… we can figure it out without you…

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Consultant speak

I came across this article through the Spot On PR Netvibes page, and decided to create my own list of similar terms. Terms that you'll almost never go to a client or agency meeting and not hear. Some of these are also common in all press releases. Try scanning every single press release posted on AMEinfo and you're bound to find common terms. In fact, maybe we can play spot the difference one day. Like pick 10 press releases about a similar type of product, for example, a new uber cool plasma TV, and look at how many adjectives are commonly used across all 10.

But to begin with, here are a few 'consultant' words, what they actually mean, and why I hate using them:

1. Retrenchment
Definition: cutting down / reducing expenses. Very commonly used now thanks to the economic crisis.
A.k.a : cut cost. There. nice and simple.

2. Pragmatic
Definition: practical. 'nuff said.

3. Streamlined
Definition: flowing steadily.
A.k.a.: optimal.

4. Paradigm Shift
Definition: change in approach / trends.
A.k.a.: change.

Then there's of course all the wonderful superlatives, which the Dubai advertising industry loves so much:

I'm waiting for someone to use "Bestest".

Contributions, please!

Monday, 13 July 2009

A woman's place...

Every once in a while I’m reminded that, despite giant strides forward, there’s still a long way to go in achieving genuine, grass roots equal rights for women in the Middle East.

It always happens unexpectedly – a random comment in an unrelated conversation that highlights the discrepancy between how far women have come versus a male (and sometimes cultural) perspective that still lags behind.

While scolding a young Algerian man for trying to follow me home as he narrated the journey in misogynistic Arabic, I asked how he would feel about his sister being badgered in this way – he replied:

My sister would not be out on the street at this time of night.”

Obviously, my voice then went up several octaves and we had a lengthy debate in Arabic much to the bemusement of passing tourists and Tuesday night pub crawlers.

On paper at least, women can vote and run for office all over the Middle East – and we are (slowly) seeing more women take part in the political process.

In 2007, Saudi Arabia announced plans to give women one third of government jobs and expand their career options. A UNDP report has seen progress on these fronts.

Queen Rania of Jordan (who by the way is on Twitter) has been pretty much spearheading the movement to change the perception of women in the Middle East through her use of new media.

In the UAE, women entrepreneurs are launching extremely successful businesses and, in many cases, expanding them regionally. In 2007, the International Finance Corporation (a subsidiary of the World Bank Group) released a report outlining the barriers to entry facing women in the Middle East.

While there are concerted efforts to help women access business opportunities, they still face gender discrimination and are often asked by banks to provide male guarantors.

There are so many issues affecting women right now in the Middle East. To name a few: weak legislation around honor crimes, circumcision, arranged marriage, protection against domestic abuse - the list goes on.

So yes... the region has come a long way, but today's Arab women must keep fighting to gain more ground and play more of a part in shaping not just our world but that of future generations.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Summer's here!!... actually, maybe not

For our regular readers – a little update on my breathless blogging about the stunningly beautiful weather we’ve been having. As luck would have it, mere days after my wildly enthusiastic post about the arrival of summer, London experienced torrential rain with about a month’s worth of rain in one hour…. How fab…

I seem to have endeared myself to some eager little rain cloud that’s been following me around lately. Mai can vouch for me on this - every holiday I’ve taken in the past two years has been hit by unexpected rain storms.

Erm… bella Italia? More like rainy Italia.
Dubai – DUBAI! Where it rains for like two weeks every year poured it down when I went to escape London’s harsh winter
Another Italy trip – this time to Verona. Can’t think of any clever word plays on this one but I think you get the picture.

Sometimes I think the universe just doesn’t take me seriously.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A Facebook Conversation: Marwa & Egypt

This interesting, yet slightly inconclusive, conversation took place on my Facebook profile, which isn't for public consumption. So I decided to copy it here, and maybe get some further comment on it. It started when I posted a link to a blog about Marwa El Sherbini's story (can't find that post anymore so I'm linking to Bikya Masr, which offers a much better account anyway). A great view of the media coverage is also on Alexander's blog now.

This was the resulting exchange of comments on Facebook, mostly between myself and Mahmoud El Lozy, my number one favourite university professor. Here we go:

Mahmoud El Lozy
It can all be solved through dialogue. Maybe we can have a party and cook some fatta for them. I think this will help create understanding and mutual respect within a globalized environment.

You know what? This man is a homeless, ignorant criminal with, allegedly, a record of prior racist incidents. So, I'm not calling for his public execution or anything. I'm simply horrified at the lack of media coverage. Granted, hundreds die daily at war and in riots (China today). But it doesn't excuse the atrocity of this incident, that it ... Read Morehappened inside a court of law, that it took 8 minutes for him to stab her 18 times, and no one budged. And, the cherry on top, her husband gets shot by the police instead of the stabber. Go figure.

Aiwa. Fatta fil shatta wil lamoon.

Mahmoud El Lozy
That's because the media in the West is responsible, mature and civilized. It doesn't waste its time on issues that can only lead to more violence from people who have been raised in a culture of violence. We have to learn moderation and rationality from the West, so that we can become people too. Don't allow yourself to become caught up in a cycle of violence that is so typical of the turbulent area of the world.

disgusting that security guards didn't nothing to help except, of course, to shoot the one person who was trying save her. Fuck the little courts in buttfuck country bumpkin germany - for all the reservations i have about egypt's justice system - would this have happened in an egyptian court?
the german civil service and justice ministry must apologise publicly to egypt and sack some fuckers now. bitter and angry - and this is coming from a "responsible, mature" journalist (who cares about shit

Mahmoud El Lozy
The Egyptian regime is to blame because it allows for its citizens both at home and abroad to be treated as third rate beings. There is something called reciprocity in international affairs, but Egypt hasn't applied it since 1970 when it became the West's streetwalker in Africa and the Arab World.

That's true. I don't know of a single incident where an Egyptian embassy came to the aid of its people in a foreign country. If a story didn't make news headlines, they'd probably not even know what's happening with Egyptian citizens.

Mahmoud El Lozy
In the last thirty years or so I have seen Egyptians developing a self-hatred and contempt for themselves as Egyptians that smacks of racism. Intriguingly enough, this has been coupled with a jingoistic and narcissistic view of themselves that bears all the marks of fascistic self-satisfied supremacy. It is really very disturbing.

On one hand, poverty, oppression & widescale corruption can drive people to a very disturbing state of mind. One of utter selfishness, disregard for humanity and disrespect for any kind of morality. On the other hand, the country and its people have so much good & beauty that are being lost in the middle of the former environment. Is education at the root of it all? I don't know. But it's probably a sensible place to start

Mahmoud El Lozy
I have a feeling the sense of despair and the cynicism that is so prevalent has much to do with the fact that we are a nation whose possible futures are being constantly aborted. We are no longer even allowed to dream outside of the confines of our cells. Egypt is a prison.

I don't know, Mahmoud. I completely agree on the despair & cynicism. But let me play devil's advocate for a minute. How much of that is self-inflicted? I sometimes get the feeling we give in too easily to circumstances as an 'excuse' rather than try.

Mahmoud El Lozy
I agree. My students always tell me when I confront that "they are victims of circumstances." When I tell them that this is a silly excuse they get very angry, but they don't know what to say.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Access for the Egyptian

I think I've become obsessed with traveling. I now have a Schengen visa valid until April 2010, a 5-year US visa and a 3-year UK visa. So those territories are covered. I've now researched all the countries to which I do NOT require a visa, or can obtain one 'on arrival' . So here they are, but not in the order I plan to visit them in. I'll think about that later. I am however, VERY excited about the number of countries I can visit without submitting my entire life story, fingerprints and witnesses that I am a decent law-abiding human being. So kudos to these countries and their wonderful governments.

Of course some of these have limitations on the length of stay, but that's ok.

Visa Obtained On Arrival:
St. Lucia
St. Vincent Islands

Hong Kong
Trinidad & Tobago
Cook Islands
Ivory Coast
Netherlands Antilles

Update: The website I found this list is not a very reliable authority on foreign affairs & traveling. So if anyone knows any better, please do advise!