Save Aqaba and Imagine Whirled Peace

I wanted to share the the story of Aqaba village and the kindergarten and my thoughts on the Palestine. I have had long discussions about Palestine and the Israeli Arab conflict over the past few months. My Arabic text book, Kitaab al-Assassi, cites the issue of Palestine as the number one issue that the West and the Arab world disagree on. I’ve seen stickers posted on the metro expressing solidarity with Gazans. Bookshops are filled with books on Zionism, Palestine and Israel, and critiques of American policy. Of course, the media overs the daily conflict and the images from Arab media are often explicit and gory. Sometimes, I feel like the polemics and widespread anti-Semitism in Egypt is more about posturing than action. But then again, the solidarity that many Egyptians feel with Palestinians is something that is real. My friend told me that her teacher broke down in tears after learning that most Americans are pretty apathetic to the suffering going on in Gaza and the West Bank. It wasn’t fake tears. She put her head down and sobbed over the heart breaking situation. And Egyptians have been deeply involved in the conflict over the years. You’ll meet many people who lost family members in the 1967 war. You can’t get any more real than going to a funeral or remembering the birthday over a dead uncle, cousin, or brother.

My first teaching assistantship was on this very subject. I tried to highlight the human experience of the conflict during discussion sections. I had students from a wide range of perspectives. I didn’t agree with everything my students wrote, or even with all of the reading material. It was a history class, so there was nothing really in the course that showed us a real roadmap to peace. Students from all sides expressed frustration over the continual stalled peace process and failure of diplomacy. So, it seems once again that violence may escalate, and we are just as far away from a solution than we have ever been.

While many of us on the outside may have our opinions. We are still not living the conflict as our daily experiences. I have met a number of international students from Palestine who are actively trying to create a positive future for their country. I have seen Israelis and Palestinians come together to work towards pushing back encroaching walls. When you meet people who have had to go through checkpoints day in and day out, who have missed graduations, weddings, birthdays due to closures, have had their clothes stained with the blood of their friends, you realize just how heartbreaking it can be.

I still I can’t imagine what it is like for a children growing up under continual conflict. How do we create a positive future? How do they maintain their innocence? He can we reverse the culture of conflict, hate, and revenge? Knocking down schools is definitely not helping build a culture of peace.

So, please check this story out and support the efforts of creating a safe place where children can flourish.

A kindergarten — built with the help of the Rebuilding Alliance, the Japanese and Belgian Embassies and Norwegian People Aid — and its village of Al Aqabah, located in Palestinian West Bank, have been issued demolition orders.

To keep their spirits up, the teachers and children at the Al Aqabah Kindergarten are making “Pinwheels for Peace” (http://www.pinwheelsforpeace.com). Join them and post a picture of your pinwheel here!

Please call your elected representatives – where ever you live in the world – and ask to speak to their senior staffer for foreign policy. Ask THEM to call the State Dept and the Israeli Embassy on YOUR behalf and call you back. For template letters and call scripts go to http://www.RebuildingAlliance.org.

I think the pinwheels for peace is a positive way for children to express their thoughts about conflict and the continual insecurity they feel due to war, violence, and conflict. I also think that we can share in expressing our hopes for a better future. I’ll be back in the states in September, so I’m hoping to work with some local schools. If you are interested, do you part, I’m hoping we’ll have millions throughout the world. Can you imagine, world peace?

The Project…

In today’s world, peace needs to become more than just a word.

Today’s students are bombarded with television images, video games, and magazine articles/newspapers that give importance to conflict and war. Violence has become commonplace and accepted as part of our society and, for some students, it is a way of life. It is our hope that through the Pinwheels for Peace project, we can help the students make a public visual statement about their feelings about war/ peace/ tolerance/ cooperation/ harmony/ unity and, in some way, maybe, awaken the public and let them know what the next generation is thinking.

Students will create pinwheels, pinwheels of all shapes and sizes – as part of the creation process, the students will write their thoughts about “war and peace / tolerance/ living in harmony with others” on one side. The writing can be poetry, prose, haiku, or essay-style – whatever writing form is appropriate as the children express themselves. On the other side, the students will draw, paint, collage, etc. to visually express their feelings. They will assemble these pinwheels and on International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, 2008, everyone will “plant” their pinwheels outside (at the schools, museum, public places, etc.) as a public statement and art exhibit/installation. The spinning of the pinwheels in the wind will spread thoughts and feelings about peace throughout the country, the world!

The first Pinwheels for Peace were installed on Sept. 21, 2005. Since then, we have grown from 500,000 pinwheels planted the first year, to 1.2 million pinwheels in 2007!

Please plan to join us again, on Sept. 21, 2008, as we once again celebrate International Day of Peace with “whirled peace!”

You can find links here

Niqabi Women are Putting a Stake in Cloaking Devices

Since I’ve been in the Middle East, I’ve seen all sorts of varieties of niqab. Here is an example of one style I have often seen on the streets of Cairo.

One of the major goals of niqab is for women to not draw attention to themselves. Despite efforts of draping tons of material from their heads or wearing many many layers in scorching temperatures, it seems like the presence of niqabis is still known in society. Still yet, it is possible to get a sense of their form. One can tell the difference between skinny niqabis, heavy set niqabis, tall niqabis, and short niqabs, top heavy niqabis and, at times, those with wide child bearing hips. I can often tell if a niqabi is young or old, and many times whether she is wealthy or of a lower social economic status. Niqabis still draw a lot of attention. And in certain parts of Cairo, such as Abbas al Akkad street men try to pick niqabis up assuming they are street walkers.

In a long conversation about purdah, seclusion, gender segregation, and niqab, a young woman finally proposed a cloaking device for niqabis. You know, the kind that Frodo had in the lord of the rings.
Frodo beneath his cloak

While we know that the technology has not been developed, two scientists have theorized that cloaking devices are possible. Check the articled out here. There is growing evidence that wealthy women from the Gulf are investing in the development of new technologies, as well as high end clothing lines. Perhaps the technology has already been developed. Maybe next time when you spot that Khaliji princess at the club, she’ll throw on that Frodo cloak so you can’t recognize her….