Shufimafi grows up.


Shufimafi just turned into a swan :-p

And even learned to spell! Check out the new site below:

Happy 2011!

P.s. Thanks to @Mayyasi for the some help with the header :)

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Japanese Tea Drinking in Jordan


So yesterday I went to a “Japanese Tea Drinking” event at the Jordan River Foundation. We drank something called “Matcha” – it’s almost fluorescent green, has small bubbles in it, and bears no resemblance at all to Green tea.  The ‘tea masters’ – i think that’s what there’re called – explained how it was prepared, how the leaves were selected, softened and ground, and how a bit like wine they were left to mature for several months or sometimes years.

That said Japanese tea-drinking isn’t really about the tea.  It’s about the preparation. Our Kimono clad guides explained how the host would never drink or eat before guests, but would instead dedicate themselves to providing for their needs.  They spoke about the history of tea drinking, and how, according to them, even today many Japanese people see it as perhaps the most authentic route into discovering their culture.

In short, there’s an art to tea-drinking – we were told it was about being silent, revealing oneself through the intricate and subtle art of the ceremony (perhaps whether you want to or not) as well as forgetting the world outside.

I’d always thought there was a strong element of hierarchy and formality involved in these tea rites but apparently ‘Matcha’ is quite a famous exception, designed after decades of feuding to level social distinctions, even if it was principally drank among soldiers….

Thanks to the JRF for this event.  How about next time…. swords!! ;-)

 

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New Year’s Emo


The end of the year is a funny time.  I’ve been reading a lot of blogs recently, in part for a blogs roundup at work.  You start noticing patterns, especially with the regional blogs. The content has become more reflective, wistful, anxious, excited, self-absorbed… in short more ‘emotional’… the closer Christmas and New Year have approached.

Or maybe it’s all projection? The exhaustions of a whacky wonderful year hitting home, whispering memories, added calories, introspection and the warm awareness, that comes with age, that next year you’re going to make the same mistakes… all over again…

Perfect is boring.

Welcome to New Year’s Emo :D

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Meet Abdul.


So while the big event in town was the Sunny Art Fair last night, Darat Al Funun invited myself and a few other strays to a somewhat humbler affair just before…

Meet Abdul.

This little room is where he keeps all his memories.

Abdul came to Jordan after the Palestinian exodus in 1948. He served over 15 years in the Jordanian airforce, and with the Libyan airforce as well.

He wanted to become a  fighter pilot.

But instead he taught himself to become an artist, and found a way to connect himself to his homeland and ‘the resistance’ through art.

This is his workshop.

This is an example of his work – a marriage in Palestine… celebrating traditional and local life.

Today Abdul Hay Mosallam has exhibited all over Europe, and in the States as well. Through his work, he’s recreated the memory of a world he was forced to leave behind.

Thanks to Noura and Petra Swais for organizing this. Check out the @daratalfunun twitter channel if you’d be interested in attending or hearing about events like this.

As for SAF… well, stay tuned!

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“Sentences on the Banks” in Video


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Social Media @ Sweet 16


For many of us born in the early 1990s or before, social media is unquestionably a good thing. This is especially the case in the Middle East – here fewer press freedoms mean networks such as twitter or facebook are viewed not solely as networking or self-promotion tools, but as a largely free arena in which to connect, debate, and articulate.

Our generation is not only addicted to social media – we believe it in.  Some even use words like “liberating” or “revolution.”

But then we’re not 16 and in High-School.

For a good couple of years now, I’ve watched my sister and her friends using social media. Beginning with MSN, then BEBO, and eventually of course Facebook.  It’s pretty much changed the way i see digital interaction, perhaps even the internet in general.

Before going further let’s go back a little.  The internet was supposed to make the world more democratic. Remember the Declaration of Independence in Cyberspace? As the latest tool in the age-old battle against the restraints of class, color, tribe and creed cyberspace was supposed to render the world horizontal, and create a level playing field. Open source philosophy preached, and continues to preach, collaboration over the shibboleth, and access to information as a profound right.

But the reality is more complicated. Facebook began as an elite networking tool. Global Voices have found that even online, users find themselves almost without knowing operating in predetermined national, linguistic or social spheres. Stories of wikileaks are set against the spectre of a two-tier internet. The point here is not to undermine the fundamental changes the internet – or open source theory in particular – have brought about, but rather to show things are nuanced.  The digital world is powerful, but its freedoms are constantly being fought over and negotiated.

So back to teenage girls. Based on years of watching my sister I’ve come to suspect that just as the internet can act as a force for freedom and self-expression, it can also be used as an incredibly powerful tool for censure and oppression.

There are lots of stories i could tell. I could chart how a facebook turf war in Jordan ended up with me picking my sister up at Heathrow one night, or how the implicit (or explicit) competition between the girls to look their best resulted in her spending hours every day beside a mirror photographing herself.  How looks and social popularity became the most important thing, and how any interaction was meaningless unless it was photographed – and branded online. How the taunts of the school yard could find their way into your home, or phone, like never before, or how real world behaviour – from cliques to bullying – could be replicated or even enhanced online.

I’ve watched the existence of a knowing digital life conflict with the controlled circumstances of life at home, and how the insecure and impressionable can turn to social media, particularly Facebook, for encouragement, love, self-affirmation, and a sense of constancy. I’ve seen it become a drug, more real than the real world: a fountain of identity, a place where you can reach out to everyone anywhere but also a place you can’t quite control, where every comment, indiscretion and mistake are recorded. A place that is literally anywhere at any time if you have the right device. The perfect fix.

Seeing all this, i’ve come to suspect that perhaps its only kids like my sister that really understand the power of the internet and social media.  They’ve grown up with it.  We haven’t.  For them it’s something all-embracing, something that shapes their behaviour, psychology, relationships and character.  It somehow seems more inextricably a part of their being… and as a result something far more ambivalent. Our generation can still (almost) exist offline. That’s not the case for those born 10 years later.

Perhaps the architects and early adherents of the internet underestimated the extent to which it would come to reflect human behaviour; the refuse of our psyche’s and hundreds of years of history.

Of course just because teenagers abuse social media doesn’t make it inherently bad.  But nor can the capacity of social networks to entrench social misery and injustice be ignored.  As with the advent of television in the twentieth century, the results of this new digital paradigm may well change the future far more than even its loudest proponents can imagine.

Social media is not innocent: it’s very human.

 

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Reconnecting with #Amman


So last week was heavy. It occurred to me i hadn’t spent time with myself, or the city, for a long time.  It was time to “reconnect.”

Here are some of the places i found myself.

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NB. Many of the locations were visited as part of a “Postcards, Stamps and Steps” tour organised by Rami Daher and affiliated to Makan’s upcoming “Utopian Airport Lounge” exhibition. To all those involved – thanks for the ride :)

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Wikileaks: Getting Personal. Juicy bits 1


Wikileaks shows that there’s a big difference between suspecting what goes on, and actually seeing some evidence:

  • President Barack Obama is revealed in one damaging cable as having ‘no feelings for Europe’ and preferring to ‘look East rather than West’.

  • The revelation that repeated private calls from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme and ‘cut off the head of the snake’ risked destablising the Middle East, experts warned.

  • The U.S. branded France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy an ‘emperor with no clothes’ with a ‘thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style’, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an ‘alpha dog’ and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as ‘Hitler’.

  • The documents released tonight show Saudi donors remain chief financiers of militant groups like al Qaeda

  • Chinese government operatives have waged a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its allies, according to a review of the WikiLeaks documents published in the Times.

  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is referred to as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader” by a US diplomat in Rome.

  • In 2008, the Moscow embassy describes Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as playing “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s) Batman”.

  • The cables also comment on the extremely close relationship between Mr Berlusconi and Mr Putin.

  • North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is a “flabby old chap” suffering from trauma from a stroke, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is referred to as “Hitler”

All of which  = ouch.

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Dreams: The Deadline?


Keeping track of dreams is probably a very good idea. Blogging about them perhaps isn’t.  But yesterday i woke up with one that struck me:

A long beach. There’s a stone wall on the left, to the right is the feeling of the Ocean, but you can’t see it.  The beach bends into the horizon, endless like a desert.  There’s someone  – a functionary – waiting at the end of that horizon for something.  It’s not something mysterious or magical, but something heavy and modern. Information, feedback… something for a deadline.

But the sand keeps changing.  Sometimes it’s the soft kind and your feet sink right in, slowing you down, and you slide and slip a little.  Other times it’s the wet sloppy sound, the kind that’s uncomfortable and sticks to your feet.  All the time the person waiting at the end of the beach feels further away, and you’re getting more tired, but you keep going.  The sky feels funny, too.

 

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Bitesize Movie Musings


It’s about time for some general-stream-of-consciousness-almost-think and write movie reviews.  Blogging is becoming a little formal and over-edited, perhaps as it becomes more broadly recognised, but maybe that’s a bad thing?

Anyway, chief culprit first:

EAT PRAY LOVE –  6/10

Travel, keeping a diary and painting your inane thoughts and lifestyle as some kind of “hero journey” (“quest physics”) is the way towards karma, enlightenment, and a multi-million dollar book deal.  Despite all its talk of meditation and prayer Eat, Pray Love is basically about looking outside yourself – what psychoanalysts call the “extroverted attitude” – rather than sincerely looking for the answers within.

Lurking behind the new age references, this movie had some surprisingly traditional elements. Despite being a chic, articulate, educated New York Times writer, the story revolves less around the heroine’s search to find herself than to find a soul-mate.  A man. Yes, the big scary enemy.

Was the movie suggesting that, for a women, completion can only come from a Spanish hunk with a very annoying accent? Or was this in fact an unusually honest and thoughtful assessment about the importance of family, love and friendship in a success-obsessed age?

Maybe I’m being a touch unfair: if this manuscript landed on a publishers desk, they’d probably be quite mad not to go for it (with the exception of the appalling section in Italy).

THE SOCIAL NETWORK 7/10

Because everyone was going to this i decided not to watch it – no-way – on any condition.  Social media is nice but i’m with Malcolm Gladwell, it’s not some dark art that only the initiated can use, and people need to stop following those that have gone before them – Mark Zuckerberg did not make his Benjamin’s imitating Bill Gates.

So i watched it the day it came out. Coincidentally Zuckerberg himself said that the most accurate thing about the movie was the clothes the actor playing him wore – they pretty much nailed that.

Generally this movie was a pleasant surprise.  I really liked the idea that even once “thefacebook” began they “didn’t know quite what it was”… and still don’t i guess.  The building or evolution of a website or social media platform never really finishes, which in itself does seem something quite revolutionary.

Justin Timberlake was excellent as the Napster guy.  The percentage of hot girls dancing on tables and generally misbehaving around Harvard was dubious.  In real life, they’d be in the library or drinking pimms with the Winklevoss brothers (funny how the American upper class are basically English).

SCOTT PILGRIM 7/10

It’s a video game-movie with excellent one-liners, very slickly put together, and kind of weird and off-beat in a way that works – which i guess is pretty hard to do.  It’s original.  Also the conceit – that the hero has to fight 7 evil X-boyfriends for the heart of “Romona”  - is amazing.  So simple and instantly funny.

My favourite evil X is Matthew Patel (because he wears eyeliner, seriously who would do that :-P) and the one with “vegan power.”  At the end the hero gets a love “power-up” and a “self-respect” power-up, and the latter turns out to be the most powerful.  Interesting.  Or is reading too much into these kind of movies a very bad idea?

KICK ASS 6.5/10

What if you could be a superhero, but in the real world?  Where you go out to stop some guys beating up on a lady, and end up getting stabbed? Where it’s not a video game, where you bleed?

Actually here the concept was pretty tired and unoriginal, but somehow mafia bosses, neat structure and a certain naivety made it work.

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