Hello Hello! Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve actually been traveling the Middle East. I received a couple scholarships to study intermediate Arabic at the American University in Beirut so I took the opportunity to plan trips for before and after. I spent about 10 days in Istanbul, Turkey and Damascus, Syria before arriving in Beirut and I’ve been here for about 2 weeks now. After the program, I hope to go to the UAE and then I’m flying back home from Egypt. It’s been a fulfilling yet exhausting few weeks. I’ve met some of the most random people and have had some of the most random conversations in many places. In my upcoming posts, I will share with you my experiences in the region but I must give you a disclaimer: In no way do my experiences and the people I’ve talked to represent all of Turkey, Syria, or Lebanon. They just represent what I’ve seen and what specific people have been willing to share with me. I dislike it immensely when people travel and talk to like 5 people and pass of their views as representing the whole populace and I will not be doing that here.
In any case, while in Turkey I had the good fortune of meeting with a Kurdish friend of mine and his friends and family. It was interesting to hear them discuss the issue of identity. One insisted that he was a Turkish citizen and that the Turkish flag was his own, while the other proclaimed he was Kurdish first. I talked to secular and religious Turks who expressed nothing but admiration for Ahmadinejad and Shaykh Nasrallah. One man barely understood English but when he heard the name Ahmadinejad, he just flexed his muscle signifying that the Iranian president represented strength. The image I had of Turkey before I got there was that Turkish society had been rendered non-religious after decades of Kemalist ideology but it was interesting to see, at least on a superficial level, how religious some of the most westernized segments of Turkish society remained.
I played backgammon with shop keepers (who had nothing on me by the way :)) and it was interesting to see how apolitical individuals nevertheless expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause and expressed nothing but disdain for Israel.
What else? While in my hotel room, I tried to go on youtube.com to watch some Dave Chappelle stand up comedy and I was little surprised to see youtube blocked in Turkey (Both youtube and facebook and many blogs on blogger.com were blocked in Syria).
I should also say that Istanbul was very geared towards foreign tourists, almost to the point where it seemed like it had lost its identity. Not that I know what Istanbul’s identity was before the rise of its tourism industry, but I am sure that it has lost much of its character in the process. I can’t say the same about Damascus but I will tell you about the Arab capital next time.