Category Archives: Inclusion or Redefining Exclusion?

Where Do We Begin?

Today, like many others, I am walking on the razor edge of complete despair and profound hope. Deep in my heart I am trembling with fear that tomorrow Mubarak will order his thugs to massacre any protesters. In my bones I am certain–just as the quivering voice of Salma speaking from Tahrir Square declared–that if Mubarak remains in office until September (or November as PM Shafiq later mentioned) many Egyptians who had the courage, nerve, and dignity to demand their human rights will be rounded up, tortured, and imprisoned–if not assassinated.

How have we created such a world? How is it that so many of us move along happily ignoring the numerous injustices plaguing the planet. I just cannot stop caring. Where do we begin to build peace? Where do we begin building cultures and societies that simply do not allow such atrocities to take place. This is not an Egyptian crisis, nor is it simply an Egyptian uprising. This is a global crisis and in my opinion it is a very private crisis too. All I can come up with, all I can grasp, is this: We must each make it our foremost duty to actively build peace in this world. I’m not talking about going to Yoga class and claiming bliss–I mean action. Action at home, action at work, action in our communities. Each one of us holding ourselves accountable and honestly reflecting on our own behavior, choices, and thinking.

This massacre is not being carried out by Mubarak alone but by many people. There are the thugs, of course, who have fallen in love with their power and have lost touch with their humanity. Hell-bound sycophants who eagerly assault unarmed innocents so that they may hold their grip on their positions. Some people enable the massacre by hiding away in their flats and growing revolution fat. Others enable the brutality by leaving the country and trying to forget about the chaos. Further away, some of us simply ignore the atrocities and justify our apathy in various ways: I am so busy, I have my own problems, that’s just a crazy part of the world and I don’t get it. LOOK INSIDE YOUR HEARTS!!!!!!! What is there! Aren’t you aching for this man above?! Aren’t you aching for Egypt? Aren’t you aching for this entire human mess? Look into your heart and pull aside that dark curtain that prevents you from seeing, from feeling. Look inside your heart and recognize–finally–that there you CAN create infinite space and hold within it every being on this freaking planet.

I cannot stop caring and I am praying that you will have the same affliction.

In honor of the brave Egyptians protesting in the dangerous streets, I am reposting this article so that you may be aware.

Here are the signals I picked:

Omar Soliman claimed the youth in Tahrir now are NOT those honorable ones on 25th! ( A BIG LIE )

Then all int’l reporters started getting calls to leave the square tonight ‘as gov. Can not guarantee there safety!!!’

And all live camers (at least from one side of tahrir have been confiscated!!)

Earlier the military police stormed the Hesham Mobarak center for human rights (not related to Mubarak) and detained at least 24!!

And a probaganda plan started about a foreign groups behind the protests continuing till now!!

I feel They are keeping (who are the foreigners! behind it?) open so they choose later who will not side with the reports after massacre is over by the mafia of Mubarak (US cia or HAMAS or Israili intelligence)

I tried to suggest protestors now to be aware and hide or leave and choose another form of protesting NOW suddenly like hanging a black cloth from each balcony but idea was turned down



Will you begin caring now? Will you look into your heart? Will you make this commitment to yourself and to your community? We must begin building peace in ourselves and doing that requires us to look into our hearts and realize that it DOES hurt to witness atrocities. It is our duty to bear witness, it is our duty to care, it is our duty to take action.

Please share this.

Cracker Barrel with a View

(Can’t decide where this post belongs, so I’m posting on both my blogs 🙂

We see different things. It sounds so simple and so trite but I don’t know if personally I have ever really sat and reflected on this truth and the enormity (or simplicity) of its implications. We see different things because we look from different angles but too often forget that our perspective gives more space to some elements and misses other elements altogether. We become accustomed to our seat—our view—and we settle there and convince ourselves that what we see is the world, that it’s reality.

Yesterday I was in rural Missouri at a Cracker Barrel restaurant off Highway 44 on my way back to St. Louis. When the waitress came to our table to take our order I asked for clarification about ingredients used in the macaroni and cheese (because the menu warned me I should!) and told her that I’m vegetarian. Soon after she left, I noticed that a young man wearing a T-shirt that read “Got Freedom” on the front and “Compliments of the US Army” on the back had turned around in his chair to look at my husband and I and was telling his wife (I could hear him clearly) about my being a vegetarian. His parents were also at the table and all four of them spent the next ten minutes scowling and griping about vegetarianism. I was baffled; it started me thinking:

What do I assume about these four people when I look at their physical appearances, the message on the young man’s shirt, the morbidly obese and visibly angry (assumption?) father? What do they assume about me when they look at me, my husband, hear that I am a vegetarian who has pitched herself into rural Missouri for some unknown reason.

The funny thing is, on some level—and I think that this assumption is present in a lot of conversation related to language politics—I really think I expected that being in my ‘home’ culture and surrounded by people with whom I share a native language (for the most part) that I would feel connected, some common ground, a similar perspective. The fact is we see different things but easily forget that the history of events; the tragic-comedy of politics, its demagogues, its victims, and its flocks; and the spiral of ideas is not wholly contained in what we can personally grasp, experience, or even begin to comprehend. This human experience is vast—as vast as we are many—but somehow it is still one connected, continuous experience. How then, do we even begin to embark upon evaluating education—every aspect of education from teaching to learning to expectations to outcomes to policies to financing to testing to on and on—with any sort of authority when we represent just one tiny bit of perspectival real-estate from which to view this massive and wholly organic enterprise that is tied up in personalities, economics, power struggles, the bureaucratic power of social systems and the social institutions that remain dedicated to their own continuing existence…

This quarter I deliberately chose to write a paper from a theoretical perspective that I found annoying, counter-intuitive, and lacking. What I found is that the more time I spent thinking from this perspective, the more it began to make sense to me—the more I managed to fit information into its form.

(This was my final reflection on a graduate course I recently completed. During the 10 week course I moved from my house in Japan, to a hotel in Japan (for one week), to my parents house for a 2 week visit, to Maine for five days, and then–nearly on a whim–relocated to St. Louis Missouri. I am deeply culture-shocked in the country in which I was born.)

Translating Pat-a-Cake

Kelsey is now fourteen-years-old and has been lucky enough to have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. She and her brother lived with her father, Laco, and me for one year in Cairo, Egypt. Just like anyone else her age, Kelsey has already had many experiences that have helped shape her worldview and her personality. When she was nine, we shared an experience together that I still remember fondly.

The four of us had left Cairo for a long weekend in Dahab, a small town in the Sinai peninsula that is situated directly on the Red Sea. One afternoon, we were hanging around The Blue Hole, where Laco and Alex were having an adventure snorkeling and identifying various fish and other marine life. Kelsey and I had decided to get out of the sun and hang out in the open cafe, which was wall-less but nonetheless afforded us some shade. We were lounging around on the thick blankets and cushions that served as seats and which required us to either sit cross-legged or to stretch out completely and eventually snooze off. While we were waiting patiently for the waiter to bring us two glasses of cold lemon juice, we were each reading from books we had brought with us on the trip. Soon, four young Bedouin girls ranging in age from about six-years-old to twelve approached us and began to show us their bag-full of hand-crafted bracelets. Some were made of beads and others were made of colorful, knotted string.

Immediately, I recognized how open Kelsey was toward these girls and how she happily looked through their bracelets not as a customer would, but as a young person appreciating her friend’s artwork. It didn’t take long for the girls to respond to that receptivity and forget their work of selling goods. They all filed in around the table alongside us and began to play what appeared to me as their version of what I grew up calling Pat-a-Cake (or Patty Cake).  The three younger girls explained to her, in Arabic and a tiny bit of broken English how to play the game and she made a strong effort to pick it up and play with them. As I watched them, I thought to myself: How beautiful and amazing this is. Is learning culture–or not being side-railed by cultural differences–similar to language learning in the sense that younger people are better able to wrap their heads, non-judgmentally, around what is new? I was so impressed by Kelsey’s intelligence, openness, and sense of adventure that day–I will never forget that experience.

As the younger girls and Kelsey were teaching and learning from one another, the older girl in the group had scooted up next to me and engaged me in conversation. She had a very strong grasp of English and seemed very mature and intelligent for her age. Her clothes were dusty and didn’t fit her properly, her face and hands were dusty–as one might expect since the girls were wandering around in sand all day–, and her eyes were bright, intelligent, and curious. She told me that she loves to speak English, she can’t wait for the school year to recommence, and that she plans to be a doctor one day. “The first woman doctor,” she beamed “in my town.” At that moment her face, her wit, and her intelligence made a deep impression on my heart and I sent a prayer to the universe that this girl would indeed have the opportunity to go to university and then on to medical school. How would she manage, I asked myself. And Then I looked at her again, her eyes filled with excitement, confidence, and hope and I glanced at Kelsey and the three younger Bedouin girls sharing, laughing, and playing together. At that moment, the sun seemed to shine even brighter, I perceived the breeze more keenly, and the taste of my lemon juice was intensified.

I bought a round of lemon juices for all six of us. Let’s drink girls and dream about our futures.

To your health!

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment! ;-)


Painting on Walls


“Village artist Ali Said in front of his murals in El Ballas in 1954. Photo: Göran Schildt.” Image and Caption Source

When I was an undergraduate I was especially fascinated by one of the five pillars of Islam: The Hajj. Quickly, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Islam, the five pillars of Islam are considered the main tenets of the religion and all Muslims are called upon to do their best to practice each. The first pillar is to proclaim the shahadah: There is no God but God and Mohammad is his Prophet. This pillar designates Islam as a monotheistic faith and by proclaiming the shahadah Muslims identify themselves as adherents to that faith. The second pillar relates to prayer (salat); in order to practice this pillar Muslims are expected to actively engage in prayer. Some interpret this as a requirement to engage in formal prayer at five designated times throughout each day. Others interpret this simply as one’s responsibility to pray to God in order to nourish his or her faith and offer his or her devotion. The third pillar, sawm (fasting), calls upon Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan. The fourth pillar, zakat (alms), requires Muslims to share their earnings with the community and especially during Ramadan a time during which Muslims are expected to take care of and consider those who are suffering and impoverished. Finally, the fifth pillar is making the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s life; this pilgrimage is referred to in Arabic as the hajj.

All five pillars are powerful and interesting in their own ways and bear striking resemblances to practices found in other religions. However, it is the fifth pillar that I found most interesting for a few different reasons.

It is understood that only those who are reasonably able to perform the hajj will do so. That is, if one is too ill, poor, or otherwise unable to carry out the journey she will not be *punished* for having failed to do so. Too, people scrimp and save for years in order to carry out the hajj–some hajjis (the honorific term awarded to those who have made the pilgrimage) live very simple lives in which they work very hard to make ends meet. When I lived in Cairo I was continuously blown away by the hajj paintings adorning very humble homes on the outskirts of the city. Imagine the faith and devotion required to put aside money to make the pilgrimage when you and your family are already struggling so hard to survive. When I stop and imagine the sustained and faithful effort a person must sustain in order to save a penny here and a penny there along with a devoted intention to make that pilgrimage, the spiritual power of this pillar begins to emerge. Pilgrims have recorded their experiences carrying out the hajj in wall paintings (upon their return) for centuries. I came across this very cool slide show of hajj paintings, their history, and an overview of symbols commonly found in hajj paintings around the world:

There is one last aspect of the hajj that I have always found particularly intense: the constant movement of Muslims back to the physical (and some would argue intellectual and spiritual) hub of the faith. Millions of Muslims from all over the world travel to Mecca and Medina, carry out a very specific ritual, mingle with other devout Muslims from around the world, and return home to share their experiences. Some Muslims take the opportunity to remain in the country to study Islamic law for several months and then return home. We often enough here about the ‘awful’ aspects of the hajj (people getting crushed, people getting linked up with the more extremist legal schools and carrying those messages back home) but imagine too the potential for growth, intercultural exchange, and a deepening of one’s faith.

I’m not Muslim, it’s just not my frequency. Neither am I Christian, Jewish, Hindu, nor Buddhist for none of the above are quite my frequency. However, within each of the above and from other sources I have found elements of that longing for union with the Divine (and indeed for social cohesion and community) that are beautiful, admirable, and inspiring. Hajj paintings are one example of the ways in which we paint our devotion in public places. I find it intriguing.

(I wasn’t sure if it made more sense to post this article here or on my other blog Particular Notes on a Practice. Sometimes it’s difficult–if not impossible–to make a distinction between culture and religion.)

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment! 😉

Critical Networking

In the last few weeks I have enjoyed watching bloggers and readers of blogs from all over the world exchange ideas on various topics from a portrait of human stress in mechanical engineering terms, to an articulation of laughter, an intense back-and-forth about the politics of the niqab, and reflections on social media. It’s exciting to plug into an ongoing conversation about just-about-anything and hear voices from all over the world weighing in with different perspectives, worldviews, and insights as well as different biases, baggage, and fears. Blogging–and I’m a very green blogger–is an incredible tool for hashing out ideas, putting them through peer-review, bumping into strangers, making sweet and bitter connections, re-reading, re-writing, and maybe even deleting what we think, dream, and feel.

This morning I opened my gmail to find that there was a new post on confessions of a nymphet entitled If We’re Always in the Kitchen, I Guess You Won’t be Seeing Us in the Bedroom . As I dug into the prose I found an incisive review of the ways in which we use social media to not-so-cool and inspiring ends. Specifically, the proliferation of groups on Facebook that are formed around sexist ‘jokes’ or ideas. Tanya writes,

If you’ve got Facebook, you’ve probably noticed all the sexist groups on there, usually related to women either being in the kitchen or making sandwiches.

Do I really need to spell out why I’m writing this post?

They’re just not funny, it’s as simple as that. Okay, so you get the odd one that’s slightly amusing. I get that part of the humour would come from the fact that we’ve advanced so much that people feel that we can joke about things like that, because we live in a ‘post-feminist’ world where statements like that are funny because they’re so ludicrous, so it’s obvious that it’s a joke. And the fact that there are girls that join these groups just make it all the more difficult for girls who don’t think it’s funny to say anything about it without being accused of being a feminist with no sense of humour.

Maybe if we really did live in a world where there was no need for feminism, these groups could be considered amusing. But we don’t, and what’s more, I’ve seen some pretty disturbing pictures on these groups, like pictures of women with black eyes, all beaten up and captions like ‘This is what happens when women leave the kitchen’. If you think that’s funny, there’s something seriously wrong with you. How is domestic violence funny, exactly?

Tanya’s post brought many questions to my mind. Aside from the issues she directly addressed, namely, the trivialization of domestic violence and the so-called post-feminist world in which there is “no need for feminism,” it might also be useful to ask ourselves the following questions:

How much do I reflect on the ways in which I engage social media and those whom I encounter in virtual spaces?

Social networking is lauded as a means to make connections, share ideas, and broaden our perspectives; to what degree am I entering that medium with my arms, heart, and mind flung open?

Now that those of us with access to a computer, basic computing skills, and an internet connection are empowered to put forth a stronger voice and presence, are we using that opportunity responsibly or simply dumping on the fodder pile?

I’m not suggesting that the world we be a better place if we were all stuffy and self-conscious. Not at all. I am suggesting that the world would be a better place if we each made the effort to really consider what we LIKE (do I really like women getting punched in the face for “leaving the kitchen”?), what we JOIN, what we BLOCK, because though it may all seem a stream of digital confetti, in the end each of these bits is part of what composes your voice, your presence, and your content. In short, I’m waving a flag for REFLECTION.

Check out Tanya’s entire post here:

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Páĉila sá vám tá komédia?

Kubo! How could I forget Kubo?! Since my first visit to Slovakia, Laco’s nephew Kubo has learned A LOT of English. Two summers ago he traveled to Japan and stayed with us for a month. During that time, he had a crash course in English much like the crash course in Slovak I’m taking now. (Strangely, neither of those language immersion courses taking place in Japan were concerned with Japanese :-). Kubo’s mom was hoping that a month-long stay with us—during which he was expected to communicate in English as much as possible—would help prepare him for his new school, where the language of instruction is English.

When Kubo first arrived, he was completely focused on X-box and “energeeya drink.” He slept a lot and when he wasn’t sleeping he was often a bit edgy…and thinking of that summer with Kubo—as I undergo my own immersion lite (it doesn’t really count as a full immersion if I’m still in my own house and can run to my husband to translate!)—I feel ashamed that I was not more compassionate, patient, and kind toward him. Both Laco and I had forgotten just how much havoc language and culture shock can shake on a brain. Surely his fatigue and resistance had much to do with the constant onslaught of foreign-ness and the relentless search for language to communicate even the simplest thoughts. It is exhausting. Still, Kubi was a trooper. He worked hard to communicate, and he even used the bit of language he had to crack us up (Kubo, I’m so proud of you!!).

It seems that Kubo found his connection with English through Ron Burgundy. Yup, that’s right: The Anchorman. Let me tell you something: If you have not had the pleasure to hear a 14-year-old with a strong Slovak accent recite strings of dialogue from Anchorman…well, my friend, you are missing out on  hours of belly laughter. Here’s a snippet of Kubo’s blooming love affair with English:

“Big box emotions and scotch is velmy dobre and I had funny with skateboard and I love Baxter and poetry and big sandwich with chicken and Brick it is dobre.” Laco and I would howl with laughter as Kubi threw together every bit of English he could muster and as he goofed around with the language he knew, he became more courageous and got more and more practice.

We all notice other people’s accents but few of us are cognizant of our own. Even fewer—if it’s possible at all—can conceive of how silly he or she sounds when learning to communicate in a new language. God, I wish I knew how funny I sound when I plug poorly conjugated verbs to unmatched subjects and mispronounce and misplace an adjective (if I’m bold enough to even throw one in the sentence). On second thought, it’s probably better that I don’t know how ridiculous I sound in Slovak—I might lose heart!

Yesterday I memorized the ever-so-random question (curiously included in the phrasebook that Mama brought me): “Shall I put on a dance record?” Having discovered the previous evening that Otec is a master of the random thought, I figured he might appreciate being matched with equally random questions. So, yesterday morning I greeted him nicely with a dobry rano (good morning) followed by “Màm pustit’ platňu s tanečnou hudbou?” Otec really got a kick out of that! He clapped his hands, repeated the question and insisted, “Ano, Ano!” Yes! Put on that dance record! Little does he know I dance about as well as I speak Slovak!

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