Monday, December 27, 2010
“ I’m never joining Twitter,” I declared to my friends. Then, my father joined twitter and invited me to follow him and my sister joined twitter and became an active user and I was left out of the loop.
I became interested in Twitter mainly after the Iranian elections. The way the elections were covered by bloggers and Iranian twitter users and the way twitter was portrayed as a credible source by international news agencies.
Since some journalists were arrested and many TV channels were blocked in Iran, Iranians used twitter to communicate with the outside world and to voice out their concerns.
Twitter’s idea is simple. It is free and very quick. The messages you write spread really fast. When an American student was arrested in Cairo a few years ago, he sent one word using twitter and this word “arrested” was read by a friend who contacted the US embassy and he was helped in a very short time.
According to the founders, the website seeks to
1. Put a personal touch and human voice on news events around the world
2. Help people enhance their worldview or perspective of global events
3. Increase dialogue about international news both on this site and on Twitter
The website is not concerned with spreading breaking news as much as chronicling daily news and collecting the views of twitter-users on certain events.
Link to picture:- http://oladiab.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/dsc_11541.jpg?w=150038%3Bh=99
Link to picture:-http://tommycox.com/old_books.jpg
I always seem to have pleasant experiences riding an amjad. I was coming back from a night-out with friends and during the 10-minute ride from Bahri to Omdurman, the driver poured his heart out to me. The main topic of discussion was his desire to take a second wife.
“ I want kids and my current wife can’t have more kids. We had one girl nine years ago and now time is running out for me,” he said
His current wife, naturally, does not approve of him taking a second wife. He bought her a house and he gives her rent money on a monthly basis. He feels that she should feel secure by having a house to her name, she doesn’t.
“ I understand how she feels, no woman wants to share her husband with another woman,” he told me.
My main argument was, you have to talk to her. If she doesn’t want you to marry a second wife, you shouldn’t.
I asked myself whether he wants to get married to have a son. Many men in this country still don’t value their daughters; they would go on and marry two or three wives to have that one precious son.
This particular driver was a chocolate expert. For about 15 years, he worked as a sales representative for British chocolate companies. He drove around Khartoum and marketed Mars and Snickers to potential clients. When he started in the 80’s, very few supermarkets in the country had access to different brands of chocolates like nowadays.
I asked him how come chocolate in Sudan tastes different.
He blamed the weather.
“Our weather here is brutal and if chocolate is not stored the right away, the taste will change. Some supermarkets don’t put all their chocolate stock in the fridge. They alternate between storing it in the fridge and in the warehouses. This changes the taste and the color as the chocolate bar keeps melting and freezing, melting and freezing,” he explained to me
In 1986, he was sent to England for a course in sales and marketing.
“ I had a great life, “ he recalled.
Chocolate companies now don’t need sales representatives; his job is, sadly, out-dated.
It was after a long day spent with a colleague editing, re-editing and translating a video report followed by a long meeting that I finally decided to head home. It was about 9:15 pm when I hailed an amjad to go home. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. The work took seven hours and I was ready to go to bed the minute I reach my room. The music player on my phone was on, I was planning to listen to Nina Simone’s soothing voice the whole time.
The amjad driver was entertaining. He was interested in my family, he figured out my family name as soon as I told him where I live. My house is located in a neighborhood named after my great great grand-father. We became engaged in an intellectual
conversation. I quickly forgot my plans to listen to Nina Simone and listened to him recite lines from Oliver Twist.
He spoke fluent English and was an avid reader. We had similar literary tastes. We both liked Jane Austen, he showed me a tattered copy of Pride and Prejudice, one of his favorite books. The book was obviously read a million times and loved very dearly. Every single page was yellow.... it reminded me of how much I love old books, their familiar smell, the specific words and phrases that are underlined and the notes scrawled in their margins. I have bookmarks in all my favorite books.
He told me I was impressive, he said all girls nowadays are shallow. People don’t read, we agreed. It is rare to talk about books in a social gathering, most people are too engrossed in carrying out mundane tasks, they ignore the joys of reading.
Jane Austen wrote some of the best books published in this world; it is a great loss that many in this country are unaware of her books. Her literature is translated and accessible.
I’m glad one other person cherishes Pride and Prejudice and enjoys reading plays written by Shakespeare....
I thought about going back home and writing a book like Khaled Al Khamissi’s popular book, Taxi. I have enough conversations with Amjad drivers to fill a whole book. Should I?
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
She opened the door only to meet Mr. Not-Quite-Right, her technicolor suitor. His shirt was yellow, his pants were blue, and he was wearing purple socks with brown shoes—not to mention the green sweater. "Maybe he is fun and he likes colors", she told herself, in an attempt to convince herself to focus on his personality and brains. The official introduction happened when her father entered the room. "My name is Samy. I'm a physiotherapist," he said. She was impressed until he started rambling about his "imitation skills;" apparently, he could imitate every character in this world. He eventually stopped sharing his talent and asked if the television was working. He turned it on and proceeded to watch a football match. Ghada held in a laugh and tried to pretend that everything is normal, but when her mother criticized his favorite football team, hell broke loose and at the ancient age of twenty-eight, Ghada lost a potential husband. Not only that, she also lost her friend who was angry with her for not being compromising to a "perfect" groom.
I first came across I Want to Get Married! in 2009 and soon afterwards, the blog was turned into a book by a publishing house in Egypt. The blogger/writer is a young Egyptian woman who is a successful pharmacist, but in a country like Egypt, success is measured by your ability to attract a groom at a young age. "The clock starts ticking the day you graduate. Personally, I started feeling like a spinster after I turned twenty-three," Ghada wrote in the introduction to the book.
Currently, Ghada is thirty-two and is still unmarried. After she turned thirty, her family and friends narrowed down her husband wish-list to a man "with a heartbeat." After introducing her to numerous men, from the technicolor suitor to the paranoid policeman who was adamant to get her fingerprints for "research," they gave up on her.
In her book, she chronicles the at least thirty prospective grooms she was introduced to from the age of twenty-five. This is how it works: Someone nominates her to an eligible bachelor, and the bachelor brings his nuclear family to meet her and her family. If she feels something towards him, they start dating to get to know each other. Not only does Ghada hilariously document meeting the men; she also shares the struggles of young women in Egypt who face societal pressure to tie the knot.
Recent statistics state that there are at least nine million unmarried women in Egypt. Social scientists consider rising costs as the main reason to blame for the delayed age for marriage, and they even use the term "marriage crises" to describe the situation of late marriage in Egypt. Diane Singerman, a professor of Comparative Politics at American University, uses the term " wait-hood" to describe the marriage situation in Egypt. She states that women used to get married by seventeen or nineteen in the past and men were ready to get married around the same age or even at twenty-five. Currently, the average marriage age for men in Egypt is thirty-one. Singerman estimates the cost of marriage at eleven times the annual household expenditure per capita. As economic reasons make it hard for couples to marry, women take the brunt of this delay. Ghada is such an example, but she took advantage of the digital age and empowered herself by blogging about her situation. Not only has she established herself as a great social commentator, but she reached out to millions of unmarried women and helped them deal with the social stigma they face.
This Ramadan, after reading the book, I watched I Want to Get Married! as a TV series and today, I will also get the chance to read the book in English as well.
I Want to Get Married!: One Wannabe Bride's Misadventures with Handsome Houdinis, Technicolor Grooms, Morality Police, and Other Mr. Not-Quite-Rights
By Nora Eltahawy, Ghada Abdel Aal
University of Texas Press, Dar El Shorouk
The first suitor was a friend of a friend's husband. Along with his family, he came to Ghada's house. He was a doctor, she was told. Excited at the idea of finally meeting a potential husband, she washed the carpets, mopped the floor, scrubbed the stairs, and cleaned all the windows.
350, an ongoing online international campaign to create momentum and formulate a movement of people demanding climate change justice and solutions by governments and through community work, has grown at an alarming rate over the last two years. This year, on the 10th of October 2010, millions of environmentally conscious people in 188 different countries organized more than 7300 events. Events attracted thousands around the world, hundreds were organizing in Vermont while 10 people got together in Khartoum to support the cause and state their pledges to combat climate change.
It started out as a walk against global warming in Vermont, a small state in the US, organized by environmental activist and writer, Bill McKibben. A Harvard graduate, McKibben is internationally known as a writer on climate change, alternative energy and the need for localized economies.
The organization’s name is based on a statement made by climate scientist James Hansen statement in winter 2008 when he declared that any atmospheric concentration of CO2 above 350 is unsafe. 350 is the safe upper limit, we are currently hovering at 390 ppm.
Recent environmental catastrophes (floods, increasing temperatures that have led to melting of Arctic glaciers, etc) have led many experts and scientists to conclude that at the current level, our planet and us are far from safe.
Last year, in October 2009, the organization was able to mobilize millions to create what the CNN called the ‘most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history’ with 5200 rallies and demonstrations in 181 countries. Foreign Policy took notice and called it “the largest global coordinated rally of any kind”.
What is happening?
Although the year 2010 has been anything but effective in the climate change battle, with the failure of COP15, 350 continues to mobilize supporters around the world.
10/10/10 was declared as “global work party”, individuals in different corners of the world planted trees, installed solar panels and participated in a number of environmentally conscious activities.
I also managed to find old pocket-calendars. I spent much of my university years meeting professors, going to auditions and rehearsals and going to meetings. I was active in extra-curricular activities, hence, the need for 10 notebooks per semester to help keep me organized.
I also found my student-reporter notebook. I became a reporter for the student newspaper in Fall 2006. I walked around with this notebook (and another one, yet to be located) for about a year and a half. In the beginning, I used to use random pieces of paper, but my bag was already littered with scrappy pieces of paper. I decided to try being tidy and note things down on a notebook and it worked. I interviewed the facilities and services department about fire alarms (they kept going off for some reasons) on 2/11/2006. The interview obviously didn’t go very well, I didn’t write much down. I do remember the unbearable heat that day; maybe it just made me too lazy to write things down.
Towards the end of the notebook, I have pages and pages of notes on healthy living. I don’t recall reading them after writing them down. I do remember the amazing creamy (expensive) ice cream I was obsessed with in my sophomore year.
One note written by a friend warmed my heart. The person asked for money to get home. My reply was “sure” in bold. We were all poor students, but you we always helped each other out.
In December 2006, I wrote down “ I can’t wait to get home and watch tv”. I wonder if I had time to watch tv in December. Didn’t I have a paper to write?
In 2007, my handwriting didn’t get any better. It is almost embarrassing, but then again, I was a student reporter and students were always too busy to take their sweet time giving me their opinion. It usually took 5 seconds for them to speak. I had to document what they said, consequently, without became w/o and senior became sen.
In 2008, I wrote down “ Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux”. I stopped using this notebook and I probably forgot about this book. I purchased it in January 2010 to my surprise.
It was a great weekend. I really enjoyed going through a number of notebooks.
They represent memorabilia for me. I don’t have a lot of pictures, but I have notes and notebooks. Memories are written down. I have letters from friends, random notes sent during class, notes in bold reminding me to write, finish or edit papers, one-liners about how university is evil and a certain professor needs to be nicer.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Recalling a 60's experience
A.M.H was circumcised at the tender age of 9. She remembers the nitty-gritty details of this ordeal even though it has occurred over 40 years ago.
Her father, a highly-educated man was in a conference outside Sudan , he has repeatedly warned her mother and his mother, her grand-mother, of taking her to the cutter.
" My daughters will not be circumcised, this is backwards and oppressive, " stated her father, a US- educated Sudanese professional.
The women gathered, conspired and produced a detailed plan of taking her to the cutter while her father, her only savior, was away. The plan was successful and A.M.H was pampered that day and promised a lot of sweets and toys. She was excited, she didn't know what was in store for her.
Two women held her down with all their force and proceeded to cut a part of her body.
She remembers the blood gushing out of her , the overwhelming soreness, the inability to get up.
She wanted to get up and play, but she couldn't move an inch. She felt disabled and helpless.
When her father came back a few days later, he figured out that something was wrong. He asked her and she told him the truth. She shared her pain with him.
It was the 1960's and female circumcision was a widespread practice , hence, when her father announced his decision to divorce her mother for disobeying him, he was brushed off as insane.
The divorce never materialized, but female circumcision was the main cause of conflict between the young couple for the rest of their lives. It has changed their marriage as much as it changed the life of this 9 year old girl.
A.M.H is now a mother. When she married the father of her daughters in the early 80's, they jointly made a decision to not let their daughters undergo this painful procedure. Despite protests from close family members, they've rejected their pleads and ignored their heartfelt advices.
Where did it come from?
Female circumcision is the excision of any part of the female genitalia. A age-old tradition passed down from the Pharaohs , it's a popular practice in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. It's also practiced in certain communities in Iraq, Yemen, Burkina Faso and Kenya.
Until very recently, the Sudanese were known for practicing the most severe type of circumcision, pharaonic circumcision or infibulation, in which all of the external genitalia is removed. However, in recent years, the least severe type, clitoridectomy, also known as sunni circumcision, has been on the rise. Pharanoic circumcision causes serious health problems and complications during pregnancy and childbirth since the sutures are cut and after the baby is delivered, the woman is sewn up again or refibulated.
According to traditional beliefs, the purpose of FC is to reduce a woman's sexual desire to make sure that she remains a virgin until her marriage. It also aims at increasing the amount of sexual pleasure for the male partner.
However, some wholeheartedly believe that circumcision has roots in Islam.
Just a few days ago , M.S., a young Sudanese mother in her early 30's organized a circumcision ceremony for her 6 year old daughter in a country where FC is a crime punishable by imprisonment.
"I've conducted intensive research and based on this research, I believe that this practice is first and foremost an Islamic practice," stated M.S.
Despite attempts from family and friends to intervene, M.S. used a book by an unknown Egyptian sheikh as her sole reference.
Although FC predates Islam, some scholars believe that Islam had to tolerate the practice as it was already ingrained in the society. In a hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) stated that FC shouldn't be excessive and harmful to the woman in question.
In modern times, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Prof Dr. Ali Goma'a announced during a meeting with ten scholars from all over the world that Muslims shouldn't practice this custom seeing that it is a crime against humanity.
In an attempt to understand the relevance of FC to today's urban youth living in Khartoum and its twin cities, I was able to conduct an anonymous survey in which the participants were asked whether they are aware of the practice and whether they are familiar with circumcised girls and their opinion about the practice. Female participants were asked if they had undergone FC.
A.M, a 27 year old Sudanese man believes that we should distinguish between ordinary or sunna circumcision and pharaonic circumcision.
" Ordinary circumcision is common in most Islamic and gulf countries and it protects the female from herpes and infections in the long term," explains A.M.
A.A, a 24 year old Sudanese male agrees with A.M and adds that it's important not only from a medical point of view, but it also ensures hygiene.
M.G , a 25 year old Sudanese male student living in the United States believes that circumcision is a crime.
On the other hand, a young Sudanese woman working in the field of journalism stated that FC is "a traumatizing experience which can be likened to the horror of rape."
She added that FC is based on cultural beliefs regarding a woman's honor.
Other young Sudanese women interviewed used words such as damaging and painful to describe the practice.
From the results of my survey, I realized that Sudanese men are more aware of the different types of circumcision as opposed to Sudanese women who view FC as one barbaric practice and fail to see any variations.
What A Man Wants
In an article written by Meghan Sapp for Women-e-news, she recalls the story of a young Sudanese man, a son of a diplomat who has recently returned to Khartoum. He fell in love with a young lady and was getting ready to marry her.
He was hesitant about asking his young bride about FC so he asked her sister if she had undergone FC. The sister miscommunicated this question and the young woman panicked and before their wedding, she had the procedure performed.
The marriage didn't last, FC was one of the main reasons to blame.
Dr. Babikar Bedri, a prominent researcher in the field of female circumcision at Ahfad University believes that there are no studies tackling how young couples discuss this issue before marriage.
According to Dr. Bedri, contrary to the old days when grooms returned their uncircumcised wives, a study carried out at Khartoum University among male students found out that 75% would like to have an un-excised future wife.
As our perceptions about a woman's right to choice and female sexuality are changing at an alarming rate due to living in the digital age and the government's intervention , I can't help but wonder whether the desires of men to have an "un-circumsised" wife will play a significant role in decreasing the practice in the near future.
Monday, August 2, 2010
My artwork offers a glimpse into my world. I hope that it inspires your imagination and leaves you with a lasting impression. - Suzanne Hilal
Last Thursday, in a small cafe in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, guests sipped lemon juice and lattes and listened to a number of young men perform modern love songs as Suzanne Hilal transported a sizable audience hundreds of years back to an isolated place in East Sudan through her collection of print works. Hilal, a Sudanese-English artist whose work spans a range of mediums including printmaking, pastels, and ink, is known for the way her works are inspired by Sudanese folktales and reflects the country's culture and history.
The name of the exhibition, The Fatal Beauty of Tajooj, is taken from a well-known and tragic love story. According to Sudanese grandmothers, Tajooj was the most beautiful girl in Sudan during their time. She was also the love interest of her cousin, who was known for attacking neighboring tribes. One version of Tajooj's story tells us that the cousin in question, Mohlaq, was forced to divorce Tajooj because she was expected to marry another man. Another telling of the legend says Mohlaq's uncle refused the marriage proposal to his daughter because Mohlaq publicly declared his love for Tajooj in a song, which was against the traditions of his tribe.
Wandering the desert for the rest of his life, Mohlaq was brokenhearted and lost. The beautiful Tajooj was attacked and killed by a group of bandits. A sword was plunged deep into her chest, we are told.
Hilal was first introduced to folktales as an undergraduate student working on a paper comparing Sudanese and Arab stories. During her research, she read five books of these stories from different regions and tribes, and stumbled upon the story of Tajooj in Ali Lutfi Abdallah's The Clever Sheikh of the Butana and Other Stories.
"Her beauty is taken from Tajooj" declares a popular Sudanese song. "You will see the beauty of Tajooj in her people," declares another song about Kassala, the closest city to the town Tajooj was from.
One day, between her artwork and studying law in Chicago, Hilal plans to write and illustrate her own love story. Based on her own multicultural heritage, the story will be set in Sudan, but will end like an English love : happily.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Apparently a Swedish feminist group burned $13,000 to protest unequal pay for women.
According to AP,
"The Feminist Initiative party says the money set ablaze on the Swedish island of Gotland on Tuesday represents the amount of money the country's women miss out on every minute in comparison to men."
It is sad to think of how much could've been done with this amount of money.
Dear Swedish Feminists,
This is not activism, this is just waste of cash.
Flags were burned in front of me, but this hurts a bit more.
I wanna read the book over and over again and watch the movie over and over again and memorize every line.
I didn't expect myself to enjoy it , after all, it offers a male-centric perspective on relationships, but, I did.
Rob: She didn't make me miserable, or anxious, or ill at ease. You know, it sounds boring, but it wasn't. It wasn't spectacular either. It was just good. But really good
Barry's Customer: Hi, do you have the song "I Just Called To Say I Love You?" It's for my daughter's birthday.
Barry: Yea we have it.
Barry's Customer: Great, Great, can I have it?
Barry: No, no, you can't.
Barry's Customer: Why not?
Barry: Well, it's sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.
Rob: Marvin Gaye.
Laura: I know.
Rob: Let's get it on. That's our song. Marvin Gaye is responsible for our entire relationship.
Laura: Oh, is that so? I'd like a word with him then.
Monday, July 12, 2010
“I thought about life, about my life, the embarrassments, the little coincidences, the shadows of alarm clocks on bedside tables, I thought about my small victories and everything I’d seen destroyed. I’d swum through mink coats on my parents’ bed while they hosted downstairs, I’d lost the only person with whom I could have spent my only life, I’d left behind a thousand tonnes of marble from which I could have released sculptures, I could have released myself from the marble of myself, I’d experienced joy, but not nearly enough, could there be enough? The end of suffering does not justify the suffering…”
— Jonathan Safran Foer
Sunday, July 11, 2010
I was slapped across the face yesterday. The ever so surprising “kataha” or sandstorm slapped me as harshly as a wife-beater. I ran from my cousin’s car to my house hoping to get there before it hits me. It out-smarted me and as I was trying to open the door, it hit me with full-force.
I stood there, dumb-founded, wondering why this country is so evil. The next day as I was heading to work, it was so humid; I started thinking about shaving my hair.
Sudan’s weather is cruel, it’s like a mean high school bully ( you are beaten, humiliated and you go home hungry after you were forced to surrender your lunch)
Why am I ranting about the weather?
I just wanted to point out that this kind of weather stifles creativity. It suffocates your mind and your heart and pushes you towards stagnation.
University was my comfort-zone. My friends were like me; we had the same interests and hailed from the same background. I went to the prestigious
On Thursday, I stayed on campus after my classes. Our auditorium was turned into a cinema hall and we had the chance to watch all the new movies from
You just had to show them your ID.
Armed with a number of witty comments, we would head to a café and discuss the movie over lattes.
Sometimes, our conversations shifted and we talked about the real world. In a few years, we would be graduates, getting our MA’s and getting real jobs. We talked about graduation; we claimed to be ready to graduate.
I graduated and it hit me.
University didn’t prepare me for the real world. I’m still shocked, dumb-founded. I still can’t wrap my head around the idea. Getting a job seems like a mystery.
Once upon a time, in the comfort of AUC, we were told we were special. Our parents paid large amounts of money for us to receive quality education. We speak good English and we have a number of extra-curricular activities to brag about. When we graduate, we will get a job in the blink of an eye. Oh how I miss university! The feeling of being unique, well-educated and privileged. The feeling that nothing is out of our reach. You just have to take a deep breath and reach for it.
As I sit at my desk in
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I got to know E through my aunt. A secretary-turned activist, she now devotes much of her time and energy to helping women in prison and she also volunteers with senior citizens.
E was beautiful, a kind of beautiful that defies description. She comes from a middle-class background and lives in the city of Omdurman, 20 minutes away from the capital.
My aunt met her in prison, Omdurman Women’s Prison. The prison is known for the fact that most women there are convicted of selling or making alcohol. Depending on your location, selling Alcohol is against the law in Sudan, if caught; the punishment is a few weeks to a few years.
Al-Manar, an NGO working with women in prison, estimates that 90% of women imprisoned are guilty of wine-making.
Currently, the demographics are changing. Many women are there for embezzling money. E, like other women was only trying to help her husband become a successful businessman when she helped him secure a loan to import furniture from China. Armed with millions of Sudanese pounds , her husband left her and disappeared. With limited resources, E couldn't afford to pay back the loan.
Her petite form crouched together and her head tilted back, she now calls an overcrowded cell her home.
The cell, originally built for 10 women, is now home to 50 women.
When she is asked about her situation, she tries to change the subject; E has accepted her fate and knows that there is nothing to be done about it.
The woman next to her, a mother of two in her early 30’s, knows what it's like to be in her shoes. She owes 150,000 USD to the bank. Like E, she regrets trusting her husband.
After hearing their stories, I couldn't help but feel powerless. I wanted to be rich enough to bail them out. I wanted to pay their debts and take them home to their children. My aunt works hard and tirelessly to raise funds to bail out a few women, the ones with the least debts. With the help of other concerned women, enough funds were raised to help a number of women pay a large part of their debt. Many remain incarcerated while their husbands are free.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The struggle of young Egyptian artists in natural colors
Posted January 22nd, 2010
I was excited. The actor playing Yousef, the film's main character, was my classmate in sophomore year. We took history of the theatre and drama classes together. Yosra Al-Lozy, his co-star, also went to my university. I took a class with her brother and I became acquainted with her mother when I organized a poetry night.
Finally, I believed, my generation, with all its contradictions, frustrations and attempts at escapism, was going to be represented.
The film opens with a clip of a young man by the name of Yousef, played by Kareem Qasim, reading verses from the Holy Quran, then praying to God. His prayer resonated some of my own prayers four years ago before taking my final high school exams.
Yousef is facing a serious dilemma too common to ignore in the Arab world. We are introduced to his mother's dream, to see her son become a doctor, and to his dream, to become an artist.
Yousef is fragile. He is sensitive to his single mother's sacrifices and he wants to please her, but there is one problem. He can't pass chemistry to save his life. In fact, organic chemistry makes him hallucinate. He is living in limbo. He can either pass chemistry to please his mother or follow his number one passion, art.
Yousef, like other young Arab men and women, is torn between his dreams and a society that sees science as superior to social sciences and the arts.
Artists are struggling all over the world, but sadly, in the Arab world, they struggle to secure much-needed resources in the form of grants, residencies and venues to showcase their work. I wasn't an art student, but as a student of journalism and sociology, I struggled to convince others that what I was studying was not easy or unproductive. Art students were met with even more criticism. Not only is art viewed as a major for the eccentric, but its students are written off as elitists living in their own secure bubble.
Chemistry pushed Yousef into the Faculty of Fine Arts. The school is a microcosm of Egyptian society - the ultra-religious with their beards and loud calls for prayers during classes, the westernized urban youth struggling to grasp the glaring contradictions between their religious and cultural heritage and their lifestyle, and the corrupt professors who are willing to sell grades in exchange for sex, money or even valuable resources.
In the film, Yousef leaves the Faculty of Fine Arts to retake his exams. The trigger is nudity as he decides to leave art school because he feels guilty about painting naked bodies. But his inability to do anything other than art eventually pushes him back to art school a few weeks later.
Art is embodied in the bodies of man and woman, declares professor Naeem in the movie. Always in shorts, summery Hawaiin t-shirts, and with a scooter, his chosen method of transport, Mahmoud Al-Lozy shines in his role as Naeem, the hip and least corrupt professor on campus.
He brings in a number of male and female models who strip in front of his class. Yousef is flabbergasted, the veiled girls look away, and the students with beards are too shocked to even utter a word.
Naeem is uncompromising and, like Al-Lozy in his theatre classes at the American University in Cairo in real life, is a master at teaching students about art by teaching them about life.
Art vs. religion
Religion is so obvious in Egypt today that it's difficult not to include it in movies. With Natural Colors features veiled women and we see prayers or gatherings encouraging extremism, as well as many Muslims struggling to balance their faith with a modern life.
In this movie, the struggle between religion and modernity is portrayed through the voice of youth. It focuses on the internal dialogue of Egypt’s youth. They want to party, love and express their love by having sex, but then there is always remorse.
Elham, played by Yousra Al-Lozy longs for Yousef's kisses. She sleeps with him, but cries in his arms after sex. Guilt-stricken, she dons the veil, then covers her face with the niqab. We don't see her face much after that and she disappears from the movie. We only see her tearful green eyes in one scene when she is asking God for forgiveness and then again when she glances at Yousef. She stops returning his calls, because, she says, she has to chose between leading a sinful life or being a Muslim.
The struggle to choose
In my opinion, Elham emulates the main idea of the movie: struggle. All the students and professors are struggling to make choices.
Yousef has to choose between medicine and art. He has to chose between alcohol and his prayer mat. He has to chose between being corrupt and selling his art or not.
There is the gay professor with little choices to make, and the young female professor in tight blouses and short skirts having to chose between money and love. A young artist played by Ramzy Lener has to choose between taking responsibility for a child born out of wedlock or living the free life that he thinks he deserves.
Yousef's struggle is always connected to religion, and throughout the movie, he is pursued by a sheikh. He haunts him like a ghost, appearing in different scenes and trying to lead him onto the right path. He chases him around to remind him that art is haram. He wants him to make the right choice.
Artists, we are reminded, are frowned upon by society. They are seen as enemies of religion by extremists who outlaw any work of art that is not a mere representation of nature.
I was introduced to the film’s director, Osama Fawzy, through his controversial 2004 film, I Love Cinema. Set in the 1960s, the story is told from the point of view of a six year old boy, Na'em, who loves cinema.
The main family in the film is a Coptic Christian family, a minority that is rarely represented in mainstream Egyptian cinema. As in In Natural Colours, it discusses the themes of freedom, the struggle to make choices, religion and art.
Some critics see Yousef as the grown-up version of Na'em, and the movie as a continuation of Fawzy's journey to tackle all the restrictions forced on art in all its forms.
Whether it is film-making, painting, writing or event performing, the significance of art is often overlooked. But art, contrary to a luxury, is a necessity in all societies that helps them grow and reflect on their development through creative means.
According to Fawzy, "freedom of thought and creativity is a victim of change in society, because of the wide incursion of fundamentalists, even in the Faculty of Fine Arts, which is a symbol of freedom of creativity in the country.”
The film was attacked when the trailer came out, and critics established a facebook group calling for a general boycott of the movie. Art students protested the negative light in which art was presented.
Fawzy was shocked at how the movie was received and perceived. He viewed his film as much more than a film about Art students, in his view, it was a documentation of Egyptian society over the last 25 years, the time interval was changed to five years to make more sense.
A reflective film
Fawzy's films tend to suffer. Their production time is usually longer than that of commercial films, and production companies tend to avoid artistic films like his because they don't consider them to be profitable.
Commercial films -the majority of films produced in Egypt- are box office successes because they are embraced by an Egyptian population desperately seeking a laugh. Perhaps the economic woes and difficult life in present-day Egypt forces Egyptians to shy away from more serious and reflective movies. They want a funny movie with one or two good songs to sing along to.
More reflective movies are rare, and this is mainly why I was certain that I wanted to watch this one.
As much as it was criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of art students, the critics should be reminded that any faculty or institution is only representative of the society in which it exists.
And In Natural Colors doesn't present a new image of artists to the Egyptian public. The image of artists here is already negative.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Freedom Sudan is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organization in Sudan. Our organization has been formed in December 2006. Our status is illegal. Homosexual behavior is illegal in Sudan and homosexuals facing the death penalty. That's why our organization was formed in secret and all our activities are carried out secretly, hoping that one day we will get accepted in our communities and even in our families, and hope that we can be FREE to be the way we are. Freedom Sudan is an organization run by volunteers only.
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