Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pre- Cairo Blues

Salaams. I have to come to the Arab world out of heartbreak. Three semesters ago, I read Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism” and realized that I have been making an age-old academic faux- pas: romanticizing my subject. I took a Middle Eastern studies class, although I was at the time a Latin American studies student. It was because I was fascinated by the distinct silhouettes of veiled women and the harsh beauty of desert sands portrayed in the 1962 Oscar-winning film “Lawrence of Arabia” that I wanted to draw back the curtains of the Arab world and feast my eyes on the misunderstood oasis of a society that was the Middle East. Said told me otherwise and wrote about the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture." I realized by fetishizing my interest, I had been refusing to see the dimensions of post-colonial societies. These societies grapple with the collisions of modernity and tradition whether it is cheap Bollywood knockoffs of Hollywood blockbuster titles or the selling of lacy lingerie in a souk. Globalization is most visible in details that are taken for granted and missed. As an anthropology student and a diasporic individual, I am fascinated by the subtle contradictions and absurdities that bring us together and set us apart as global communities.

It is through the constant motions of communities coterminous of imagined borders that mold and adapt culture. We are constantly in the midst of reconfiguring our world. This spirit of deconstructionalism is what drives me in my academic strata every day. I feel that I need to see the world from the ground up, to look deeper with my senses as to what creates the world around us. Culture is as organic as the skin we are in. As we stretch our hands out from us, trying to grasp symbolism and semantics, the quick prick of fear of the unfamiliar holds us back. Though heartbreaking, I must come to terms with contradiction.

(Essam Marouf)

The musallsall unfolds from the very cores of desires- oil, fragrance, veils. The orientalism is all around us, we just need to pull away at the cobwebs. I cannot help but see similarities and differences across the globe- from Chiapas, Mexico to Delhi, India to Cairo, Egypt. The semantics, the symbolism, the nation-building. “Imagined communities” are not landlocked. The same trails of broken treaties are no different from Mexico to Palestine.

Here I am with heartbreak and an Umm Kulthum song, bags all packed for Cairo. As a contemporary art junky (Frida Kahlo is my favorite) I am most excited about exploring the art and literature scene(s) here in Cairo. Recently I have been interested in graphic design and the Arabic script is so inspiring. I can’t wait to gawk at labels on things. I also really enjoy eating and reading about all the yummy Egyptian food has made me quite hungry- especially Molokheya soup, which Lonely Planet describes as a ‘sexy slimy soup’ has peaked my interest. Yanni. On my way to Cairo. Ya allah, let’s go.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! I'm learning Arabic at a local college as part of my Dual Enrollment! I love the Arabic script too! The calligraphy is so beautiful. The part about the "cheap Bollywood knockoff of Hollywood Blockbusters" hurt though. :( I love Bollywood!
    Have fun in Cairo!