Archive for May, 2015

Perspective, please!

May 31, 2015

Imagine you are in an airport, eagerly waiting to board the plane- Disneyland is just a short two hours away. If you are anything like me, you love to people watch. I often think about each person’s story. I imagine where they are headed, if they are alone or with family, if they’re traveling for business or recreation, and, where my brain usually goes, if they are currently content or displeased with their life. Now imagine you see a man walking toward you and he’s wearing a turban. Be honest with yourself for a second. What is your initial reaction? Perhaps pre 9/11 you wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Unfortunately, post 9/11 westernized thoughts often jump to “terrorist”.

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I’m not assuming that all Americans jump to this right away. But I’ll be the first to admit that I recall having these thoughts as a child. Granted, the only image I had of Muslims were often directly related to one event that was tragic and invasive. However, I believe that Muslim extremists have hijacked the image and reputation of all Muslims. It’s an unfair representation of a large people group. It wasn’t until recently that I began to really dive deeper into this issue. I wanted to discover why such judgmental thoughts could parade one’s mind when simply seeing another human being. Hence why I decided to study abroad in SPU’s Spain and Morocco Program. The idea of traveling to Morocco seemed entirely invigorating to me. Not because I get to travel with 11 other girls, or because I get to eat delicious food, or because I get to see new places. (Now don’t get me wrong- these things get me PUMPED). I’m embarking on this journey because my perspective is going to be changed. I get the chance to enter in to someone else’s story, to discuss life, to hear individual perspectives. Imagine twelve women from SPU examining and comparing hearts with Muslim college students. I am confident we will find more similarities between us than dissimilarities.

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My biggest hope and deepest prayer is that I would never be set in my ways- that I would always have a spirit of learning and asking hard questions.

How beautiful would it be to people watch and not have one single thought of judgment or fear prevail in our minds. How RAD if we could see ALL humans as individual people, as children of God, and as loved.

This is why I am simply seeking stories.

Changing the Conversation: Veiling

May 28, 2015

“It makes me sad that they feel like they have to cover up like that…”

my mom says to me as we take a cdbc970ba3351aad8c2c98a1bd1c1345stroll around an outdoor mall near my house. We had encountered two veiled, Muslim women who were having ice cream together on a bench. After getting over my initial annoyance at her false impressions, I was excited by my mother’s comment and the opportunity to have a conversation about the many misconceptions we western women hold of veiled women from Islamic backgrounds. The truth is, many of us have had this thought.

Most important to understand is, veiling is a choice. It is not sad because they feel like they have to. Quite the opposite. For many women, veiling is a way in which they can express their feminism and independence. This is a stark contrast from our stereotypes of women in Middle Eastern countries being forced by their husbands or their male dominant societies to cover themselves up. In a novel I read in preparation for our trip to Morocco, there was a story of a teenage girl from a wealthy home in morocco who made the decision to veil. Her father was furious that she was ‘covering up her beauty’ and held his own stereotype about the types of people who veiled being beneath him in status and wealth. The young woman in the story decided to veil, against her father’s wishes, as an expression of her own independence, feminism, and religion. This choice was not made for her.

Something that I have found very interesting to ponder is: what do these women think of us? What do Islamic women think of American women and their constant striving to be thin, pretty, well dressed…all for the approval of others, especially men. Maybe, in reality, we are the ones that are looked upon with the thought “that’s so sad that they feel like they are never good enough, striving for perfection.”

Something that I have found very interesting to ponder is: what do these women think of us? What do Islamic women think of American women and their constant striving to be thin, pretty, well dressed…all for the approval of others, especially men. Maybe, in reality, we are the ones that are looked upon with the thought “that’s so sad that they feel like they are never good enough, striving for perfection.”

The Jittery Feeling in My Legs

May 28, 2015

Lately, I’ve been struggling with every English major’s worst nightmare: writer’s block. I feel defeated every time I crack open my journal or notice the Word icon lit up at the corner of my laptop’s screen. I know there’s a blank page waiting for me but it’s not comforting; it’s intimidating. Writing used to be my absolute form of release and it was my crutch through years of loneliness and depression. Every thought and emotion that would stick to the back of my throat during intimate conversations could later be peeled off and laid out neatly onto a page. But now, I feel like my writing isn’t me. I feel like the tiny voice in my head who knows who I am, is silent. Without the tiny voice, I feel anxious. I can’t sit still and I walk around aimlessly for hours just praying that my thoughts will sort themselves into something easy to comprehend and fix.

I feel disorganized. I feel off-center. I feel homeless and without purpose for the first time in a long time.

My mind is silent but my legs are screaming at me to go.

I want to go.

I can completely understand how poor little Ali Zaoua felt when he dreamed of being a sailor. To sail away to a new place where you could be anyone and be free of responsibilities and stereotypes for just one summer- can you imagine? And the jittery feeling in my legs won’t stop until we go. I can’t wait for Morocco.

This week, I wrote a paper on the US welfare system and why it is inherently beneficial to American children. The required narrative had me thinking of every sacrifice my parents have ever made just so I could grow up to be the person I’m supposed to be. That paper had me crying for every child born stateside who would never be able to reach their full potential just because of the circumstances they were born into. Ali Zaoua had me crying for every child born outside of the US who would also never be able to reach their full potential just because of the circumstances they were born into. But, cry as I might, what will that do to help those children? What will me being aware of their poverty, being aware of their existence, change? Maybe this will be a turning point. Maybe my jittery legs and quiet mind will lead me to a nation whose people I can listen to.

Maybe this isn’t about finding myself, but about finding them.

Feet, don’t fail me now.

Unsure Hypotheticals and Thoughts on Travel

May 28, 2015

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

– Caesar Pavese

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“Why are you traveling to Spain, to Morrocco? What is it that you seek?”

I suppose I am trying to live more fully. More intentionally. To learn how to love more deeply. To seek the heart, the desires of my maker. I am trying to lean into the curves. I seek to live a life of many pilgrimages, and I’m adding this to my list.

“Where else have you travelled?”

Oh, well, nowhere really. I drove a couple hours north of Vancouver, BC once to backpack through the mountains. Almost five years ago I left Chicago, the only home I’ve ever known, to seek the wilderness of Washington. I did not have much of a plan. I suppose I was looking for adventure, for newness. I’m still looking for those things.

“What, if any, are your reservations for doing this study abroad?”

I’m going to miss my husband. He has been incredibly encouraging about me taking this trip. We met in 2009 when I was twenty-one, we have been inseparable since. We share everything. He called me today to tell me how his croutons in his salad got soggy before he had a chance to eat it, silly, little things like that. We will have been married for two years in a couple of weeks, he is my dearest friend. I’ve experienced so much life with him, large and small. It will be odd to not have this experience with him there. I think I live a very different daily life than some of my trip-mates. I don’t know the women in our group all that well. I can be overly independent sometimes, so I know I am going to have to be mindful about building relationships.

“What do you hope to learn?”

Gosh, a little bit of everything. I know so little. And what I do think I know–I have a sneaking suspicion–will all be turned upside down. That is how it always seems to be. I’ve learned to be as open as possible, to be willing to not have any answers. I’m looking forward to experiencing Spanish and Moroccan culture. I want to practice listening well. I want to immerse myself as completely as possible in the small amount of time I have. I want to make space for my writing. I hope to be so overwhelmed with beauty and struggle that I can’t stop the words from flowing. I want to have stories to tell. I hope to learn about the sojourner, the transient, the pilgrim. And I want to become all of these things.

Peace with the Unknown

May 28, 2015

I’ve recently found that when people ask me what my summer plans look like, I have a monologue prepared: I’m shooting eight weddings, going to Montana with my dearest friends, and studying abroad in Spain and Morocco. People’s reactions range from general excitement to fascination, sometimes paralleled with an overwhelmed look in their eyes. I can watch as some people try to find Morocco on their mental map, eventually placing it in that general middle-eastern-African-eastern-Europe region. When people ask what I’m studying, I typically have to take a deep breath before jumping into my mini lecture on what my honors project will look like, and halfway through I hastily finish up so as not to take up too much of their time.

I’m going to Morocco. What a strange and wonderful daily re-realization. I picture myself in the markets, camera in hand, eyes wide, surrounded by language different than my own and my white skin feeling awkwardly bright in the African sun. How out of place I will feel, yet how I almost expect to feel a sense of homecoming when I enter that land. Living in transition and the unknown almost always feels safer to me than living in complacency and monotony; feeling fully alive and outside of my comfort zone is where I tend to thrive. So when I picture my 21-year-old, Orange County raised self in Morocco, although I cringe at my own ignorance and Western mentality, I also feel relief at the prospect at experiencing the world in a way that I cannot even visualize right now.

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An important part of the trip for me will be the process of formulating my University Scholars honors project from theory and outline into an actual thesis and photo series that will help define my undergraduate career. Critically thinking about images of Islamic men and women and how Western media has portrayed them will be one challenge of the project, but in Morocco, I will face the challenge of photographing these people and creating portraits that revert the stories we’ve been told since 9/11. Sometimes I try to prepare my heart for this task, but I have no idea where to begin. Scenarios run through my head of coffee shop conversations with locals or bartering with vendors at the market. I eventually come to the conclusion that there will be no way to know the right way to approach these portraits until I’m in the moment with someone and realize that I have an opportunity to capture the face and soul that I am experiencing.

I am not used to feeling unprepared. Although I thrive in spontaneity, if I do not have everything I need to survive or feel out of control in any way, I tend to shut down. It’s new and interesting for me to be preparing for this trip and realize how I cannot anticipate what is ahead of me, I have to just let it happen. It is the most unknown experience I’ve had up to this point in my life, and although I am filled with every possible emotion, I am ready.

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Images of Hope in Ali Zaoua

May 28, 2015

The opening image of Ali Zaoua is disturbing, yet somehow typical.  It shows a grimy little Casablancan street kid with a horrific past, his life tragically cut short by a rock thrown by another street kid.  And, sadly, this image of hopeless tragedy is all too often the one we are shown of the non-Western world.  In mainstream media, the non-Western world, especially the Arab world, is often portrayed as oppressed, poverty-stricken, and desperate. Ali Zaoua, being a story of homeless children, contains plenty of oppression, poverty, and desperation, but that is not all there is.

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In Ali Zaoua, we see the struggle of homelessness through the eyes of Ali and his three friends, Kwita, Omar, and Boubker. We witness their vulnerability to violence, sexual abuse, and addiction. We sense the psychological toll that the harsh situation takes on them. We see the continuation of a cycle of rejection and trauma, illustrated in a scene where Kwita is approached by a stray puppy attempting to show him rare affection, but each time the puppy reaches Kwita, he tosses it away. The desolation is even shown in the catchphrase of the street kids’ gang: “Life…is a pile of shit.” But even in the midst of this heartbreaking image, we see a glimmer of a dream. Ali Zaoua has a dream of being a sailor, of assembling a crew and sailing far away to an island with two suns. Ali’s dream offers his friends and him an escape from their gritty life on the streets, an escape far more satisfying than a sniff of glue. Even when Ali dies, his dream does not die with him; it captures the boys’ hearts, and they resolve to bury him “like a prince.”

In this we see a revision to the initial image of desolate trauma. Horror is juxtaposed with scenes of hope. There are moments of childish silliness and joyful play. There is fierce loyalty in the boys’ friendship and their steadfast determination to give Ali a proper burial. There are serene escapes created by Ali’s dream of sailing away to his island and by Kwita’s surreal fantasies of having a beautiful girlfriend and living a happy life with her. There is help offered by an old fisherman who validates Ali’s dream and assists with the burial. And there is love from Ali’s mother who cares deeply about her son despite having an unsavory profession.

The tone of the final scene of Ali Zaoua starkly contrasts that of the first scene, pushing back against Western media’s pitying gaze. In the final scene, Ali’s mother, the three boys, and the Captain come together to give Ali the most noble burial possible with their limited resources. We see the creation of a new family, bonded by their love for Ali and their belief in his dream. Instead of a boy who is rejected and stuck in an impossibly tragic life, we see Ali as someone whose dream brings people together, creating an alternative image with a renewed sense of hope.

The Power of an Individual

May 28, 2015

The film Ali Zaoua shines light on the forgotten “street kids”.  It shows the children who spend their time sleeping on the hard concrete, begging for money and sniffing glue to suppress their hunger. There are many powerful depictions and saddening images throughout the film, but they are joined with themes of hope that often run through the childrens’ minds.  Throughout the film, there is the character of the sailor who brings a new beacon of hope to the boys lives, showing that they are not entirely forgotten, but at least one person cares.

This scene shows the mourning of Ali Zaoua on the sailors boat, it brings together the different worlds- the world the street kids live in and that of the mom.  It shows the reconciliation that can be brought about and the collective hurt/suffering that they go through.  The sailor brought them all together, he offers his boat and helps the boys to have the proper burial for Ali Zaoua.  It ends with them sailing off into the distance with new symbolism of hope for the future.

I think we live in a society that is so focused on huge, fast change that we often forget how powerful one person can be.  How much of an impact one person can have on another’s life through caring and noticing.  Just as the sailor gives hope to Ali Zauoa, he later helps care for his friends as well.  He notices that these boys are indeed still children and they need help, someone to show them the way.  In contrast to the harsh words and negative views their old leader Dib fills them with, the sailor changes everything by helping them to see another side again, a side of hope, joy and regrowth.

The film brings humanity back into the picture.  It shows the laughter of these kids. It shows the games they play and that even though they have these horrible lives, they are not ruined.  All it takes is at least one individual to care and treat others like the humans we all are.  We all can notice, listen and bring hope to change lives like the sailor did for these often forgotten street kids.

Transforming Perspective

May 28, 2015

I heard a story on SPU campus that shocked me: from what I remember, a female student who is Muslim had wanted to protest Ferguson in light of recent events, but chose to consult a teacher first to see if it was a safe decision. This woman had an acute fear of repudiation and even prosecution in light of a past experience she had in either a middle school or high school in Seattle with a bullying incident. Another boy at her school had been unrelentingly harassing her on the grounds of her Arabic ethnicity, telling her that she was related to Saddam Hussein and was by association a terrorist, to which, after much aggravation, she rightly responded to with a punch that alone challenges today’s gendered perceptions of the oppressed Muslim girl. The case was taken up to the principal’s office where it took an infuriating turn of events. Long story short, police showed up to thoroughly investigate whether the bully’s thoughtless and racist accusations in regards to the girl’s relationship with Hussein were true. This Seattle school took the bully’s word – the thoughtless jibes of a kid – over her, the real victim here. And apparently everyone overlooked the true nature of this occurrence as plain old cruel harassment that had no substantial grounds for threat. tumblr_nfbh4ml1Yi1sesaigo1_1280Post 9/11 the Western perspective of the Middle East is still severely marred by the single story characterized by ‘fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.’ However, there is hope for a transformed way of seeing. The impetus is located in the various creative forms of local revolt and protest against autocracy that is budding in Middle Eastern regions. As a case study, Morocco is a phenomenal example of the Arab Spring movement, from the fiery stories of Fadwa Laroui to the incredibly courageous film work of Nadir Bouhmouch to right now, where I’ve heard about Moroccan youth putting together a professionally crafted video of young Moroccan rappers declaring the utmost importance of voting and encouraging the next generation to actively take part in blossoming forms of democracy. We need to begin listening to these kinds of individuals who are fighting for their own rights and start to rectify our perceptions shaped largely by Western media that has chosen to designate narratives that never do justice to the full story. If anything, we need to bring attention to ongoing anti-Arab racism as well that seems to serve as this age’s current blind spot.


 

Hope Amidst Suffering: The Ethics of Images in Storytelling

May 28, 2015

How do you acknowledge the truth of a story and portray suffering accurately, without making a story too unbearably gruesome or full of despair?  This question of the ethics of images is one inherent in the process of telling someone else’s story, and it has continuously plagued filmmakers working to connect and educate audiences to difficult realities and social issues.  Recently, I had the pleasure of watching Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets, a Moroccan film directed by Nabil Ayouch, which speaks to this question of finding a balance between how much is too much for an audience to see and how much is necessary to tell an accurate story.  The film, which revolves around the lives of Moroccan street children, touches on a number of heart-wrenching issues, including homelessness, poverty, child sexual abuse, gangs, violence, prostitution, drugs, and even death.

Dib, the leader of the gang of street children (center), is a vicious character, but also another victim in the cycle of poverty and abuse.

While many scenes definitely saddle that line, one thing that keeps the film as a whole from totally crossing over into unbearable territory, and a testament to Ayouch’s skill and vision as a director, is the way in which it interweaves fantasy with reality.  Kwita, a young boy trying to find a way to bury his friend, Ali, after a gang kills him, starts to imagine a boat taking him and a girl away to live happily ever after on an island with two suns.  This dream, which was originally Ali Zaoua’s, becomes Kwita’s as well, and as we watch the film, billboards, walls, and pictures transform before our eyes into squiggly lines and cartoons.  This fantasy not only gives us hope that one day Kwita will have their dream of escaping life on the mean streets of Casablanca become a reality, it also gives us a break from the very real images of horror speckled throughout the film.  Indeed, perhaps the most important feature that ensures this movie ultimately becomes one of hope, is how it intertwines fantasy and reality in its ending.  In the last scene, the gang looks on as Kwita, Omar, and Boubker, along with Ali’s mother and a kind elderly fisherman, sail off to bury Ali at sea.  As the boat sails away, the film is again transformed into fantasy, and then, it finally settles somewhere in between, the last shot two suns shining over a very real shot of Casablanca, paying tribute to human resilience and the importance of following your dreams.

Orientalism and the Fear of Traveling

May 28, 2015

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“Mom. Dad. I’d like to go to Morocco!”

“What? No, no no nononononnonoonooooooooo. It’s too dangerous.”

“You could be killed.”

“Didn’t an American just die over there?!”

The decision to travel to Spain and Morocco for a study abroad opportunity was not met with an open mind by many of my friends and family.  Many were only capable of viewing Morocco through a lens shrouded in ignorance and stereotypes.  Through continuous education and discussion, both on my own and with my parents, I was able to enlighten my parents on the true society and culture of Morocco, rejecting stereotypes and the persistent remnants of orientalism still present in Western society.  However, while my parents have become educated, most of Western society, including peers and friends, continue to hold uninformed stereotypical perspectives pertaining to Morocco and much of the non-western world.  This has opened my eyes to orientalism and the problems that continue today despite the modern society we live in.

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Orientalism is a framework in which the West perceives Arab people to make them seem threatening.  While this framework can be explicitly exemplified through depictions of Arab people throughout historical media, film, art, and literature as barbaric, backwards, and exotic, there continues to be an instillation of orientalism within today’s society.  This is most evident in the way the West presents the Arab world in the media and how the West discusses and speaks about the Arab world.  This instillation of orientalist thought within society has created, promoted, and established racism, stereotypes, ignorance, and lies about the Arab people that is present in many Western individuals’ beliefs.  This is related to power and how the West is able to maintain it, as well as maintains firm “us versus them” mentality in a global society that needs and demands community and acceptance.

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When thinking about the hopes and goals for this trip, educational opportunities are at the top of the list.  These educational opportunities include becoming more educated about cross cultural reconciliation, diverse cultures, and traveling in general, as well as becoming educated enough to inform others about important problems that need to be addressed in our society.  Therefore rejecting orientalism and making strides toward a more unified, accepting society. Hopefully through my participation in the Spain and Morocco study abroad trip I can begin to inform my friends and family about the humanity, individuality, and lives present in the Arab world often missed through the installation of orientalism that causes racism, stereotypes, and misinformation to remain.