Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry/Happy [Insert holiday]

It's hard to believe that it's been over a year since I graduated & almost a year since I moved to Washington, DC. Over the past year, I have amassed many memories & have developed a bittersweet relationship with the city. So, as 2005 draws to an end, I've decided to share some of the things I've learned this year!
  • Living in DC has made me a professional jaywalker
  • Even if you have never suffered from allergies before, you will develop them in DC
  • It's great living in a city with a good public transportation system so I don't need a car
  • Washingtonians freak out when it snows 2 inches, which causes many accidents and federally issued delays
  • The city is extremely transient which makes it hard to make long-term friends or establish a community because people are always either coming or leaving
  • Women in the city like to wear high heels even if they are uncomfortable - so when they walk to and from work, they will wear sneakers or flip-flops even if it looks ridiculous with the suit they have on
  • Transitioning from being a student to working a 9-5 schedule can be challenging; but I love that I don''t have to worry about papers & exams in the evenings & during weekends
  • You are surrounded by politics 24/7 and it's not impolite to talk about political issues over dinner
  • Living so close to the center of power can be overwhelming & empowering at the same time
  • It feels horrible to have worked on an issue (in my case Darfur, Sudan) for a year & knowing that the situation has become worse
  • "The bill has moved out of HIRC and is still in SFRC" is a part of the English vocabulary because it is very common for people here to speak in acronyms
  • Two popular sayings in politics: "It produces strange bed follows" and "there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies - just permanent interests."
  • Most people in power are white middle-aged Christian men
  • When Republicans & Democrats work together, a lot can be achieved
  • Not everyone who works for the government or in the military supports the Bush Administration - I've met amazing government & military officials who strongly disagree with many of the government's policies
  • It is easy to develop an elitist culture within political circles - after a while, people are just "preaching to the choir." Thankfully, organizations like the one I work in work really hard on reaching out to the general public & empowering Americans
  • When youth are given an opportunity to create change, they can do amazing things
  • Art, music, films & pop culture are great avenues to talk about important issues & affect social change
  • The diversity within Muslims has taught me so much about Islam
  • "The Daily Show" by Jon Stewart is a great way to unwind at the end of the day
  • I'm surrounded by some of the most amazing people in the world who work really hard to make a positive difference in this world & inspire me to be a better human being
  • And my favorite one of all: "In our increasingly interconnected world, countries need to work collectively to solve global problems that no nation can solve alone."

And to get you all in the holiday spirit, I want to share something one of my co-workers passed on to me – enjoy!

I head out of town tomorrow to spend Christmas with Catherine & her family in NY & then off to Minnesota with my family until January 8th. I'll try to blog when I'm away, but if not, I'll see y'all when I return.

I hope you all have a great Holiday/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/New Year/whatever else you celebrate! May this year bring you all much happiness & peace.



Historic Peacebuilding Commission established at the UN

From Citizens for Global Solutions:

On December 20, 2005, the UN Security Council passed an historic resolution establishing the Peacebuilding Commission. The Commission will identify states on the verge of collapse, provide assistance to prevent such collapses, and sustain efforts of the international community in post-conflict peacebuilding, especially after global attention wanes from the crises. It will also provide a forum in which major stakeholders can share information about comprehensive post-conflict recovery efforts that take into account political, security, development and economic spheres. The Peacebuilding Commission will work on:

-Improving coordination of all relevant actors to mobilize necessary resources for early recovery and medium- to long-term financial investment;

-Advising on integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and promoting sustainable development;

-Focusing attention on reconstruction and institution-building;

-Developing best practices;

-Helping to ensure predictable financing;

-Extending the period of attention the international community places on post-conflict recovery.
The Organizational committee of the Commission will consist of 31 members:

- 7 members of the Security Council: the five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States – and 2 non-permanent members;

-7 members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC);

-5 of the top 10 financial providers;

-5 of the top 10 top providers of military personnel and civilian police to UN peacekeeping missions;

-7 additional members elected by the UN General Assembly to ensure regional representation and give a say to countries with post-conflict reconstruction experience.

In addition, a representative of the Secretary-General, the World Bank (WBG), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other institutional donors will be invited to all commission meetings.

The concept of a Peacebuilding Commission was introduced in December 2004 in a UN High-Level Panel Report and gained momentum in March 2005 when Secretary-General Kofi Annan released his report, In Larger Freedom.

In the report, Annan noted a “gaping hole” in the UN’s efforts to help countries recovering from war build a lasting peace. Currently, half the countries emerging from violent conflict slip back into instability or violence within five years. Since no part of the current UN system is directly responsible for helping countries rebuild quickly after a conflict ends and establish peace, the Secretary General proposed creating a permanent Peacebuilding Commission.

This proposal was given the green light by over 150 heads of state that came together in September for the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The creation of this commission is an important step toward creating space for countries to come together and work cooperatively in solving global problems.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The "African" in me

A few months ago when I found out that I had to get a new Tanzanian passport, I groaned. This is the 2nd time in about 10 years I've had to get a new passport due to fraud - what does that mean you ask? You see, all the information in the current Tanzanian passports are written in. No, you read it right - they are written in - with a pen.

About a month ago, I sent a $10 money order to the Tanzanian Embassy so they could post me an application form. It arrived a month later - all in Swahili. So, I had to call my dad & get him to translate the form over the phone while I filled it out.

As per the instructions on the embassy's website, I got 5 passport photos with a sky blue background, colored copies of my passport, a $40 money order and set an appointment to come in and give my documents and get finger printed.

Today at about 10:45, I walked into the embassy at Dupont Circle & told the lady at the main desk I had an appointment at 11. She checked off my name & asked for my documents, which I handed over to her. She looked at them and started to speak to me in Swahili. When I interrupted her to tell her that I don't speak Swahili, she glared at me. The differences in our ethnicities were pronounced by the fact that I was wearing a desi kurti while she had a leopard print jacket on & a beautiful matching head dress.

"The form asks you to fill out the information in capital letters which you have not done," she said. "Here's some white out - just refill the forms."

I proceeded to the waiting area & painstakingly refilled my form and handed it over to her. She asked me to go back into the waiting room and well, wait, which I did for about 15 minutes. While I was in the room, I caught phrases of Swahili while she explained to one of the officers that I could not speak the language. A few minutes later he came into the room saying "Habari!" I know enough Swahili to understand that he was saying hello but did not have the confidence to respond in the same manner and just said "Hi!"

"Where were you born?" he demanded.

"Dubai," I said.

"Which of your parents is Tanzanian?"

"Both!" I replied defiantly.

"How are we supposed to help you if you don't understand Swahili?" he asked.

I didn't respond but I could not understand what the big deal was since the whole conversation had taken place in English! I told him that the forms had already been filled, so he headed back into his and asked me to wait.

I think it was about twenty minutes later that the first lady I had talked to told me that because my form had been messed up with the white ink, I would have to purchase another application form. Thankfully, I had $10 on me. She then proceeded to fill the form for me while other people (mostly black Tanzanians) looked on. When she was filling my mom's birth information, she asked me where my mom was born. "Arusha," I replied. "WHERE in Arusha?" she demanded. I was tempted to tell her that my mom probably did not know that herself! I asked her to wait while I called my dad.

As I spoke to him in Katchi (the language of my ancestors), I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I can understand the frustration and maybe even resentment they felt that I speak an Asian language, not Swahili although I am a Tanzanian citizen. I just wanted to explain that I wish I did, but it's not my fault that my forefathers decided that the native language was not as important as the language of our ancestors.

I jotted the information down my dad gave me but must have misspelled it because the lady at the desk couldn't recognize the name of the street. There were people in the room who knew the area I was talking about & provided her with the correct information. She was quick to point out that I was lucky that those people knew what I was talking about.

As I completed my forms, the lady at the desk looked up at me and said "You should be ashamed of yourself that you can't speak Swahili although you're a Tanzanian." I was so shocked I didn't know what to say to that.

It was soon my turn to go into a room for finger printing and was introduced to another officer this time. As soon as I entered the room, he also started speaking to me in Swahili. I told him that I didn't speak the language.

"How can you call yourself a Tanzanian?" he demanded.

"I was born in Dubai," I replied.

"Well, I was born in China," he shot back.

By this time, I was so frustrated that I just remained silent. He then asked me what my profession was. A "Fellow at a non-profit organization" was not acceptable. When he found out I had a B.A. in Political Science, he told me to fill in "Political Scientist" as my occupation. I did as I was told.

I had to wait a few minutes before everything was ready & I could leave. As I was leaving, I asked the lady at the desk if she needed anything else. "Just learn Swahili sweetheart," she said. "It's not my fault. Happy Holidays!" I responded sweetly.

I walked out of the embassy into the freezing weather and did not quite know how to feel. I was angry because I had been humiliated about something I had no control over. I am proud of my African heritage because it is a part of me but I don't feel Tanzanian in any sense since I was not born in Tanzania nor have I ever lived there.

My memories of Tanzania are blurry because I was 11 the first & last time I visited the country. I can't wait to go back to visit, to see where my parents lived, to travel the beautiful country and connect in some way to the country of my forefathers. However, the fact remains that no matter how many times I visit Tanzania I will never be Tanzanian. To me, it's just a legal status because the world requires me to have a passport. And that's ok.

People wonder why I want to become an American citizen and this is why: I am tired of being treated like I don't matter. In the UAE, I was not good enough because I'm not Arab; for Tanzanians, I'm not quite African because I'm Asian and I can't really consider myself an Indian. People may argue whether the US is a melting pot or a salad bowl; but for me it is just a place where I can retain parts of all my identities and still be an American. Not to mention that it will be a lot easier for me to travel and I will be eligible to vote!

Cost of new passport: $60

Cost of humiliation at the embassy: Priceless


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

When victims become victimizers

The concept of individuals or a people who have been victims of oppression or injustice becoming victimizers has always fascinated me - don't ask me why, I'm just weird that way! Although I don't know much about the history of Liberia, it is interesting that the liberated African Americans that moved to the country to settle began dominating the indigenous people who they considered inferior.

For me, the most glaring example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However,I get really annoyed when people compare the treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust which is ludicrous because one is oppression, the other is genocide - two very different things. Nevertheless, since the collective history of Jewish people has been of oppression, I find it very interesting that Israelis and non-Israeli Jews are not phased by the oppression of Palestinians.

So you'd expect Palestinians to understand & not inflict the same on others right? Wrong.
A news article today talks about how Iraqis living in Jordan have been facing discrimination after the Amman bombings in November. Here is one example from the piece: "When a taxi driver recognised my Iraqi accent, he forced me to get out, shouting that I was a terrorist," said Sundus Ahmed, an Iraqi resident of Amman. This one is even worst: "My friend said that Iraqis should all die because we killed their Jordanian brothers," said Jamal Salah, an 11-year-old student in a private school in the capital. "I'm just a child, but I'm paying for the acts of bad people."

And since almost 50% of the population in Jordan is Palestinian, I find this report really frustrating. Palestinians of all people should know how it feels to be collectively punished & stigmatized for something they did not do!


Sunday, December 04, 2005

6 yrs and counting...

Today, at 4:09pm, I marked my 6 yrs in the United States - 5 of them under President Bush!


I love you...although you are of inferior birth!

I finally watched Pride & Prejudice on Friday night with Zahir, his die-hard fan wife, Saba and some of their friends. All of them had watched the 6-hr BBC series & kept on comparing the two versions which was amusing. I personally really enjoyed the movie - it is beautifully made & Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden) is really cute. He only smiles about 3 times in the movie & looks amazing when he does! It's always hard to make a movie about a book that covers so many issues & in such depth, and for a 2hr movie trying to pack all that info, I think it was a good production. The only thing that was annoying is the last scene, which is cheeezzzy & almost embarrassing! It is a kissing scene that is very un-Victorian and did not flow with the movie at all. Apparently, the scene was added to the American version to please American viewers! My favorite pick up line ever is (not direct quote): "I love you...although you are of inferior birth!"

I read Jane Austen's classic last year for the first time & loved the book. I find the issues about educated women, marriage, the role of women & class particularly relevant to me. Although I love the story, I still find it hard to believe in falling in love with Mr. Right. No, I'm not a cynic, but once I hit 22, I just decided it was in my best interest not to expect my knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet & ride into the sunset! For my commentary on educated Muslim women and marriage, check out my entry How can something that feels so right be wrong?

A Bollywood version of Austen's book was released earlier this year called Bride & Prejudice. I was really disappointed by it although I had really enjoyed the director, Gurinder Chadha's, first film, Bend it Like Beckham. I think Chadha could have done a lot more with the movie & explored the issues that Austen does in her book, in more depth with an Indian focus. Instead, the movie was catered more towards the regular Bollywood movie-goers with the regular song & dance routine which was unfortunate. A Bollywood version true to Austen's message would have gone a long way.


Random musings

So I'm finally feeling better after I suddenly came down with a cold last Sunday, which means I haven't been able to work out in about a week and feel really pudgy with all the fatty holiday food around me all the time!

One thing I've realized about DC is that people talk about politics 24/7 & after a while, it gets overwhelming & draining. Sometimes I just don't want to talk about religion, culture or politics! And although I realize that my blog is meant to be a political one, this entry is going to be a random commentary of things I have done or things that have been on my mind in the past few days.

1. Yesterday, two of my friends & I went to Starbucks & while they wrote Christmas cards, I worked on my cross-stitching that I've been working on for about a year! Most of my friends both Muslim & non-Muslim find it funny that I love Christmas. I love the festivities, the lights & decor, the colors, the music, the spirit - all of it! And of course Starbucks holiday specialties - for instance, yesterday I had a Soy Eggnog Chai & it was good! But my all-time favorite remains the gingerbread latte.

Most people wonder why I like the holiday season so much & I am really not sure. However, I do remember that back in Dubai, malls were decorated during Christmas more than they were during Eid and my dad would take us to see the trees, the decorations & Santa Claus & it was always so much fun! Unfortunately, I think Eid can be so boring some times because there have been times I've gone to work or college on Eid or we don't decorate - although my host family in Jordan did. In addition, Christmas always falls during Winter Break & Ive always just associated it with the end of exams & a chance to chill. And the fact that I love churches, church music & Christmas songs just adds to the spirit! Not to mention that living in Minnesota, I am a big fan of WHITE Christmases! This year, I'm going to spend it with my dear friend
Catherine & her family in upstate New York, which should be fun. On the 26th, I fly to Minnesota & will be home for about 2 weeks which will be a nice break from DC.

2. Last night I went to the
Council on American-Islamic Relations annual banquet. Although it was pricey, my friend & I decided to go for the experience - ater all, how many times do we get a chance to be at a CAIR event in DC right? Well, it was an experience for sure - most of my Muslim, friends were there which was fun, but the event was really loooooong. There were way too many speakers who went on & on & on & on & on - you get the point. By the time, it was time for the Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen to perform, most people had left or were too tired to pay attention! Moreover, I tried to be a Washingtonian & bought these cute high-heeled shoes on sale & my feet were killing me. I definitely won't be wearing those very often - I have no idea why women put themselves through that!!

I was particularly impressed by a video message by King Abdullah II of Jordan - he specifically addressed the diversity within Islam & actually mentioned Shias, which I appreciated. One thing that did upset me about the event was that one of the sponsors of the event was the Sudanese government. I understand that other sponsors like Saudi Arabia and Egypt also oppress their people, but the difference is that Sudan is openly committing a genocide & we need to make a statement that we won't comply with that government whenever we can.

3. Since I've been in DC for almost a year, I no longer plan touristy or fun visits to the museums, monuments or just a lot of the other places this city has to offer. So today, my Dutch friend & I visited a used bookstore & an interesting records store in Adams Morgan - I had never seen a record player in my life, so it was pretty exciting! We ended up eating at a Dutch falafel & fries place - something that is apparently very popular in The Netherlands!

Well, this is a longer entry than I anticipated - I will be back blogging on politics soon!