An Italian friend of mine was talking Arabic last semester and invited me to attend one of the Arabic club meetings. I was reluctant at first because I speak zero Arabic but e eventually convinced me to come with him. Most of those in attendance were taking an Arabic language class but others were allowed to be there as well.
When I went they served pastries and some small sandwhichs that I think had lamb in them. It tasted somewhat similar to a gyro and I was a big fan. I had feared that everyone would want to have conversations exclusively in Arabic but this was not the case. A great many of them were in Arabic 1 and II so they weren’t in the mood to try to string together complicated sentences. They had been doing so in their coursework and it wasn’t what they really wanted to do during a social event. The meeting didn’t have a set itinerary, it was basically a quiet party with good food.
I ended up being taught the Arabic phrases for “hello” and “this meat is good” (which sadly I do not remember). To be honest, I’m glad I’m not taking Arabic because the pronunciations are pretty complex and were very much beyond my abilities. French is more my speed.
Last semester, I was able to attend part of the Day of the Dead celebration put on by OU students. There were various events throughout the week and I was able to be there for one of the days. Since I had not attended in the past, I didn’t really know what to expect. I asked around and none of my close friends had attended the celebrations before so for the most part I was going in blind.
There were large numbers of Latinx students running the event and they seemed to be having a great time. I wasn’t too familiar with the culture behind the event so I did some reading on my phone on my way there. I learned that is was predominantly celebrated in Mexico but other countries like Brazil celebrated it too. The holiday is traditionally held just after Halloween until November 2 and draws large crowds (which have gotten quite excited in the past).
The OU celebration was more subdued. I spent an hour or so going from booth to booth learning about ways the holiday was celebrated. There was a station for designing your own day of the dead mask but the line was long so I chose not do. If I go again, I will definitely try to do this. Perhaps I may even bring along some of my friends.
This last semester I joined I book group. We decided that we wanted to find a book that was at least marginally related to Iran giving the rising tensions at the time (a trend that has continued). We decided to read the book The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You by Dina Nayeri.
The book begins shortly after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 during the Iran-Iraq War. Nayeri’s mother converts to Christianity after a trip to London which makes life hard on the family as the new revolutionary government distrusts those who aren’t devout Shiite Muslims. They ultimately emigrate to Oklahoma where they continue to face discrimination because of their Iranian heritage.
Nayeri recounts her experiences of trying to be grateful for her new life where she is safe from governmental persecution but suffered at the hands of the American citizenry. This led to conversations in our book group about discrimination against people in the U.S. today and what groups tended to be the most affected. We more or less decided that generally, immigrants from Central America and the Middle East tend to be the most marginalized in the U.S., similar to how other ethnic groups have been discriminated against (Irish, Italians, etc etc etc).
For me, the book showed a unique insight into how to the American dream does not always apply to those we welcome into our country. It is possible for refugees to be physically safe in our country but that does not mean that they feel safe or welcomed. This problem can only get better as time goes on if American prejudices change, albeit gradually.
The government of India has recently passed a law that allows some illegal immigrants from neighboring countries to attain citizenship. The new migrants must be from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan and face religious persecution as a Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist, or Christian minorities. The new law would pave the way for potentially hundreds of thousands of new Indian citizens.
The law is controversial, particularly among those living in the border districts who expressed concern about being “overwhelmed” by those seeking asylum. The concern is partly based around the distribution of economic resources in the region while others believe crime increase as poorer migrants cross into India.
Others are opposed to the bill for its seemingly deliberate exclusion of Muslims, particularly Rohingya Muslims from neighboring Bangladesh. The Islamic minority has undergone what human rights advocates argue amounts to ethnic cleansing. Villages have been burnt to the ground and millions displaced in the violence. The new law could greatly benefit these refugees but as of now the law is unlikely to change.
The current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has defended the measure, highlighting how many it helps in its current form. He has argued that it would be difficult to help the Muslims in these countries as they are the religious majority, potentially opening the door to many he would not consider refugees.
Yesterday, Brits went to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2019 general election. The results left the Conservatives with 365 seats, a veto proof majority. They accomplished this gain primarily by picking off Labour seats. Labour lost some 42 seats in the election and will now have little say in the new government.
This is a win for Brexit supporters as Boris Johnson has been very vocal in his support for the move. He considers it to be necessary to the success of England as a whole both culturally and economically.
To prevent a major upheaval in trade relations, discussions of a backstop have gone on. The backstop would keep the UK in a close trading relationship with the EU and help avoid trade checks that could massively impede items being imported in the UK
Many MPs have been critical, stating that if the backstop was used, the UK could be trapped in it for years. This would prevent the country from striking trade deals with other countries like the United States. This runs contrary to the promises made by conservative leadership that the UK would not be negatively impacted the exit from the European Union.
The finalizing of the British exit deal has some Scots saying that a Scottish exit or “Scexit” could be coming. After such an exit, it is probable that they would request membership in the European Union relatively quickly, with a majority of Scots supporting remain in the 2016 referendum.
Today, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, stated that he was instructing Carlos Vecchio to get in contact with the U.S. southern command. His goal in requesting this was to set up a direct communication with the U.S. military so they could discuss possible options up to and including direct military support. Guaido believes that this may be the best option to oust current president Nicolás Maduro, who he views as illegitimate. Maduro has countered this by claiming that Guaido would make Venezuela a puppet of the U.S. government.
Last month, Guadio attempted a military coup which failed to gain traction after several generals indicated they would not be be supporting his claim. This wasn’t great as generally speaking, a military coup works best when it has the support of the military. President Trump has indicated in the past that he is “considering all options” when it comes to Venezuela and Guaido has interpreted this to mean that while military support is unlikely, it still remains a possibility.
I personally would be very surprised if Trump were to intervene in Venezuela. He does have quite the militaristic ‘big stick’ approach to foreign policy but he also has to contend with an America that is tired of getting involved in foreign conflicts. The common desire stems from the fact that the U.S. has seemingly made no progress in the wars in the Middle East. Sure, democracy has been brought to Iraq and Afghanistan but it is not seen to be stable and the region as a whole is still a hotbed for violent extremism. I agree with the majority of Americans that we should not militarily intervene in Venezuela, if we do, we may be stuck there for years to come.
This semester, I was involved in a book club and we read the book “We Cannot Remain Silent” by James Green. In the book, Green looks at the U.S. grassroots activities against torture in Brazil, and the ways those efforts helped bring attention to the human-rights violations in Latin American countries. He explains how the movement against Brazil’s dictatorship laid the groundwork for later U.S. action against human rights abuses in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Central America. While this book is not solely about Brazil but rather the U.S. action that resulted from the abuses on the people there, it is still an international book worth reading.
It took us about 8 weeks to get through the book and we managed to wrap up before dead week which was really nice. I had learned about the Brazilian dictatorship previously but I had not heard about it how other countries looked at it. It may be somewhat circular for me, an American, to learn about a crisis in another country by reading a book written by an American about the perspective of American citizens. Every perspective here is from an American! Regardless, it was eye opening as the Brazil dictatorship was a good example as to how the U.S. treated Latin American countries: if they be communist, they be evil; they be alright otherwise. However, this attitude was not shared by the the U.S. citizens, they continually showed support for those being oppressed, once they were made aware of it of course.
This last Monday, a friend of mine invited me to the farewell meeting of the OU Arabic club. I personally do not speak Arabic nor am I taking an Arabic course but I decided to go as it meant a nice break from Finals. We went over to one of the members houses in Norman and we had a variety of foods together. I had what I was told was foul meddamas and it was actually pretty tasty even though it looked like mushy soup. I really was able to taste the lemon in the dish!
We continued to eat as we talked among ourselves. Most people tried to speak in Arabic for at least a portion of the evening and this was where it got very confusing. My friend attempted to teach me Arabic phrases beforehand so I could say a few things to the other guests but I don’t believe he taught me the proper phrases. He claims otherwise but I very much believe I said something inappropriate (I’ll never know though as I don’t remember how to pronounce the phrase).
The most memorable part of the evening was when the group sang the song “Ghaltana”. It was quite lively and was a good way to round things out. I don’t know if I will join the Arabic club next semester but I am certainly glad I attended.
A few days ago, the French Cathedral Notre Dame caught fire. It has been reported that the fire alarms in the church started to go off about 6 pm local time and that there was a quick response from firefighters trying to contain the fire. Unfortunately, it appears that a computer glitch led first responders to the wrong part of the building. This means that they were not able to start fighting the fire right away which may have cost them quite a bit in terms of time.
The fire spread quickly throughout the church as even though the outside is stonework, the upper rafters are dominated by wooden support structures. This was why people were so concerned about the roof collapsing, it was all supported by wood. This problem was made worse by the fact that the water from the fire-hoses could not reach the top of the structure, meaning the fire burned unhindered for quite some time. The whole thing hit its peak when its wooden spire collapsed and fell downward into the flames.
The French government has vowed to repair the cathedral with President Emmanuel Macron setting an ambitious time table of five years for it to be fully repaired. This is unlikely but people remain hopeful.
Last week, I was able to attend one of the global engagement day events. I went to the 10:30 session which was a presentation on how to survive as a student studying abroad and in school. I went to this one specifically because the presenter was a girl named Sarah who is actually a good friend of mine. When I got there, the room was decently full so I chose a seat near the back where I could still see. She had a good presentation and shared some good techniques on keeping one’s head above water during the semester. I personally benefited from her bit on time management and keeping a schedule on what we intend to accomplish each day.
A moment I thought was funny was when a student asked her to discuss how she dealt with stress when dealing with a lot of different priorities. She brought up her experience as a member of the Boomer Rocket Club team and having to attend weekly meetings in order to construct her personal rocket. I enjoyed this anecdote because we know each other from the rocket team and we will both be officers of that organization come next year! We talked about it later and she said she saw me chuckling when she decided to use that as her main talking point.
Sadly, I was unable to attend any of the other sessions on Global Engagement Day due to my schedule. I was however, able to speak extensively with another friend of mine who attended the final session on how to handle your mental well-being while studying abroad. He found the session quite handy indeed. Its nice to hear that.