Archive for the ‘SPU’ Category

There is hope in every story.

August 10, 2015

Western Media often restricts our greater global lens. In Dr. Segall’s Performing Democracy, she fights to reveal the truth about Arab Springs, defined as a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests, civil wars and riots in the greater Arab world. An estimated 151,000-600,000 civilians were killed just in the first 3-4 years of conflict in the Iraq War. In 2011, though omitted by Western media, thousands of people have protested throughout Iraq. “Iraq became central to Arab identity” because of “arguments in the new Arab media”. What fascinates me the most is the unprecedented amount of stories that go unheard and unseen. Thankfully, Dr. Segall highlights Khawla Hadi, an Iraqi woman with a heartbreaking yet hopeful story. Just a few years ago, Dr. Segall worked closely with Khawla in a public workshop, revealing a lost testimony, all while raising awareness and support for Iraqi refugees. Over two million people fled from Iraq across Middle Eastern borders. The United States is now permitting more Iraqi refugees after years of limited admission. Khawla was told to leave Iraq and lived two years in hiding before escaping across the border. Every week she relocated from garages, dusty back rooms, or concealed spaces of relatives. She had to be extremely secretive, use code names, and report to security (and her children) that her husband was dead, in order to securely take her children out of the country. Now living in Seattle, she bridges the gap between two regions, translating for newly arrived refugees.

Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar head towards the autonomous Kurdistan region on August 4, 2014, as they seek refuge after Islamic State (IS) Sunni militants took control of their hometown. The Islamic State (IS) raised its black flag in Sinjar on August 3, 2014 after ousting the peshmerga troops of Iraq's Kurdish government, forcing thousands of people from their homes. AFP PHOTO / STR-/AFP/Getty Images

Her story of revolt has often been told at workshops through discussing poetry. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, poetry was a very popular way of expressing resistance to the state. It still is. Khawla identified with a particular poem, titled, “Bombardment” that imagined Iraq as a mother who is unable to hold onto her children. The author, Haider Al Kabi, writes, “The city cannot gather in her children.” The people of Baghdad desperately cling to their homes in what should be a safe haven. The maternal city is described as “vainly reaching to gather her little ones”. However, for refugees, the pain doesn’t end once having left their country. It’s extremely painful to be away from home while their relatives are still experiencing reckless violence, often witnessing this violence through a Western Media lens.

dr segall and khawla

Khawla’s story as a refugee is just one of many. Her perspective has and will continue to teach and inspire. We are fortunate enough to have Khawla chaperoning us on the trip. To say I’m excited is an understatement. This past spring Khawla came into our classroom to teach us some Arabic. You would have never guessed that this kind spirited, gentle woman experienced such atrocities. We all laughed together as we attempted to speak Arabic and a random man walked into our classroom offering giant red balloons. Of course we accepted. It was a beautiful childlike moment, made more beautiful by the fact that Khawla essentially had her innocence stripped from her, yet was able to experience this lighthearted joy. There truly is hope in every story.


Crossing Cultures: A New Dialect

October 1, 2013

We arrived on a long air conditioned bus, one that all of us didn’t even fill up, around twelve in the afternoon. As I went to grab my purse, which housed my wallet, sunglasses and expensive new cell phone that I had purchased before leaving to Spain, I felt uneasy. I pulled my hand back -grabbed only what I thought I would need-with my two-liter water bottle in hand I hopped off of the cool bus into the Moroccan sun. The previous day we had purchased school supplies and soccer balls for the kids of the institute, a majority of them poor. The side of the white bus opened up and each of us grabbed a small backpack or two. The sweat was already forming on my forehead; I picked up a bright pink one, fixed the straps and went on my way up the steep hill leading to the school.
We walked up the lavender painted stairs to see an open courtyard with smiling faces of all shapes and sizes, who greeted us and walked us to where the children were. We dropped their gifts off by the shade of two large trees, and I put my water down hoping that it would stay somewhat chilled. Turning around I saw their faces, the colors of their veils all different, but their eyes all the same, buoyant and blissful, hungry for something new. I was amazed with how willing and sociable all of them were, they were the ones who lead us out to the courts to play games. We split into two groups, basketball and soccer. Hania, Natalie, Katie, Mouhsin, Jordan and I went off to play soccer on the upper court. As soon as the worn out ball hit the hot cement we were off, sprinting from left to right all in efforts to get the ball away from our goal. The boys were all yelling in a playful manner, taunting one another with their innocent grins, showing the pink of their gums, and some even sticking their tongues out. All of them were aggressive with one another and in no way did they hold back against any of us girls. Before I knew it the score was 1-1, I was wearing my sandals- I found it difficult to make any clear passes or suave moves like everyone else was, instead, I dribbled.
Another goal and we all high fived, there was a common ground among the team. We all had that feeling of delight, the adrenaline rush, even though it was just a game of soccer. A boy from the other team dribbled, lifted his head and shot, it bounced off of someone’s foot and then Mouhsin knocked it in effortlessly. In no time at all the score changed, 3-3, someone had declared that the next goal would be the winner. At this point all of us were exhausted, not because of the amount of running, but because of the skin seeking sun, it craved our energy. The ball went from person to person and then got stuck in the middle, each and every foot within a meter radius were kicking, trying to gain possession. Jordan passed the ball across the court and I felt it hit the outside of my foot, I dribbled and took a shot. The goal was composed of two large rocks and I watched as the ball left my foot and skid right by the rock. GOAL! We had won. A short boy in red came up to me, as I went in for a high five he stopped me, he grabbed my hand and smiled showing the whites of his teeth. *Right hand, left hand, inside, out, fist bump, fist bump, high five*, our eyes met and I let out a laugh, which in turn caused him to laugh along with me. That handshake accompanied with a smile meant the world to me. He couldn’t understand the words I spoke, and I couldn’t understand his, yet the communication was there. It doesn’t matter where in the world one travels. A smile is an international symbol of happiness that everyone is able to comprehend. I came into his country and picked up one important thing that I will carry along with me wherever I go. The dialect of happiness is one that can be expressed without words.

Confident Vulnerability.

October 1, 2012

If you would have asked me about my upcoming trip to Morocco in July or August, I would have told you about the camel safari in the Sahara desert that I was so excited for.  I would have told you that I was pumped to try the new and different foods. Or I would have told you about the huge market in Marrakech in which I could not wait to experience and shop in. However, I am one hundred percent sure that I would not have been able to tell you about one of my favorite places of the trip; the hammam. The hammam is a traditional Arab bathhouse in which Muslim women go at least once a week for deep cleansing. Islamic culture was and is huge on personal hygiene and cleanliness. When the Moors took over Spain they actually introduced hygiene, because before two baths a year was the Spaniards definition of cleanliness. The hammam is a tradition and ritual for both men and women. However women use it as a social outlet to communicate and catch up on each other’s lives, some will spend up to three or four hours in the hammam.

There was such a degree of beauty within the hammam. It was a community of women gathering together, relaxing, chatting and taking a break from the outside world. From a western women’s perspective it was so different from anything I was used to. As westerners we are shown through the media that to be skinny and thin is to be beautiful. However the women we see in the magazines are airbrushed and do not truly look like that. In the bath-house, it is what it is. Slender, curvy, plump or skinny each woman in there was declaring that her body in fact was hers. It was a place where all women are on the same playing field. It was place of control and letting go at the same time. Control in a way that you are taking care of your body and you are choosing to be there. Letting go of the insecurities that your clothes usually do a decent job of covering up. It was a reminder that we all are human. We all have the same anatomical make-up give or take a few differences.  The hammam put me into a state of vulnerability that installed into me a sense of trust and confidence with the women who were sharing the experience with me.

Calat Alhambra

September 29, 2012

I cannot even begin to describe how breathtaking that Alhambra was. Many times throughout the tour I was so overwhelmed with awe and emotion that I had tears going down my face. Let me bring you into one of the many rooms in the palace, where there was detailed carvings and stucco work on the walls. In the corner, where Allah was engraved on the wall hundreds of times, were two Islamic men staring at the name and taking pictures. How defining of a moment it must be to see a 750 year old form of worship and to know that your very own brethren stood in that same spot, worshipping the same God hundreds of years ago. That thought alone is so powerful. The details in every aspect of every inch in the castle were awe-inspiring. Not one piece of wall or ceiling was left out or forgotten. How could one not be blown away by this scene. Walking through the palace and knowing that each piece of marble, every inch of the wall, was a form of worship is one experience that you will never forget.

And then we walked into the harem. This walk was different. There was a dark shift in the mood as soon as one realized that this was the place where women were at the mercy of their sexualities. How ironic the juxtaposition! How could one walk around such a place of beauty and yet feel so suffocated? Were there ever any women who enjoyed living in the harem? The details were no less amazing than other parts of the castle, but the knowledge that this was a room of oppression once darkened that experience for me. This brings us back to the ideas Mernissi talks about in Scheherazade Goes West. The West has a tendency to sexualize the harem and perceive it as a sexual playground. In the East though, the harem is not treated so lightly. People know what happened there and almost seem to sweep that part of their culture under the rug. It was quite an experience to be in the presence of such beauty and know that the floors and walls were haunted with women’s sexual exploitation.

Our Adventure

September 26, 2012

A video of our 21 day adventure. No photo or video could ever do justice to the things that we saw & experienced, but it’s a fun way to reminisce, anyway!

& we’ll go back again one day, enshallah 🙂

<p><a href=”″>Spain and Morocco</a> from <a href=”″>Caitlin G</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Most Obvious Form of Barbarism

August 27, 2012

Two years from now, I will be able to say, “I spent a month in Spain and Morocco.” I will also have an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education in hand. Each day, my professors open my mind to new perspectives and shed light on histories that I never knew existed. It is through these professors that I’ve formed my own teaching philosophy: a goal of sorts. In my classroom, students will learn about cultures outside of their own. Through this, my hope is to aid in forming a generation of people who will respect one another by means of understanding.

Five days from now, I’ll be on a plane heading to a part of the world I never thought I’d get to explore. To prepare for this trip abroad, I read Fatema Mernissi’s Scheherazade Goes West. It was as early as chapter two of the book that I was able to draw a connection between my trip abroad and my future as an educator. Mernissi, a Muslim woman, states, “…[W]e Muslims know very little about Westerners as human beings, as bundles of contradictory hopes and yearning, unfulfilled dreams. If we could see Westerners as vulnerable, we would feel closer to them” (Mernissi 25). She admitted in the following sentences that Westerners have been somewhat dehumanized by Muslims and that prevents them from becoming close to each other. It isn’t because Muslims are arrogant, but simply because they think they already fully understand Westerners, seeing as their lives are so heavily influenced by the West (24). It’s just like the West has a collective view of Muslims. How petty of us all, to judge what we don’t really understand.

Later in the book, Mernissi goes to Paris. She dines at a French restaurant with her editor, Christiane, and finds it to be as pretentious as she’d been warned. She recalls, “As I entered the restaurant, I felt as if I were stepping into a very exclusive French household whose rituals I was likely to violate, just because I came from another culture” (181). Mernissi did not feel welcomed by the aristocrats seated around her at all. In fact, she was belittled by them and assumed inferior based on her outward appearances. To those French aristocrats, there was absolutely no fathomable way that this Moroccan woman could ever fit into their high society. When Christiane walked in, however, the people greeted her with looks of admiration. Why? Because Mernissi wore bangles and colors as opposed to her more refined French colleague? Again, the idea of judging what we don’t understand comes full circle. This is the type of thing I want to prevent in my future classroom.

These quotes tie together the essential ideas of Mernissi because her whole book is about discovering why two opposing cultures have contrasting views on women. To do this, she had to immerse herself in a culture that she thought she already understood. She discovered early on that “the most obvious form of barbarism [is] the lack of respect for the foreigner” (25). Respect is the first step to understanding; how I wish the rest of the world could realize this.

The Transformation of Trans-Generational Identities to Trans-National

June 2, 2012

Trans-generational identity is the story of how our place in life affects the perception of who we are. What we have experienced throughout our lifetime and how we view the world and those in it also contribute to this dynamic sense of self. This idea is seen in Le Grand Voyage, a film about a father and son who travel to Mecca from France. The son, Réda, reluctantly agrees to drive his father to Mecca for his pilgrimage that is a pillar of the Islamic faith.

Réda and his father in Le Grand Voyage

Throughout their journey, you can see the strain and tension between these two men as they realize there is so much that sets them apart, and a large portion of it is trans-generational. As the film progresses, the juxtaposition of Réda’s generation and his father’s becomes more apparent, and the generational gap seems to create a greater divide between the two. With time, however, the father and son begin reconciling their broken relationship and Réda learns the values of Islam from his father before it is too late. This process of relational reconciliation is one concept that is central to Islam.

While trans-generational identities greatly affect who we are, they are not a static state of being. I have learned in this class that every interaction we have and place we travel is yet another thread woven into the fabric of our being. We are constantly weaving our trans-generational identity, and when interacting with other cultures, we are indeed weaving our trans-national identity as well. These two identities are intertwined, and there is a relationship seen between them in Le Grande Voyage. I argue that the trans-generational gap between Réda and his father is so severe that it surpasses generations and begins to morph into a trans-national divide. There is such a disconnect between Réda and his father that it appears they have different national identities. This is the most profound idea I have learned in the class: our trans-national identities are always subject to change; everything around us and everything that we experience contributes to our trans-national identity, and this is a thing of beauty.