Posts by Natasha Tynes

Transatlantic Arabic reading

My friend Bassam disagrees with me. He tells me he avoids reading any Arabic publications on planes heading to the US.

“It’s out of respect for their fear,” he tells me. “What’s that supposed to mean? ” I ask.

“Well, you know. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable while flying. You know how things are now.” “Come on, you’re not doing anything wrong,” I reply. “You should read the book that you like. It’s your right.”

Of course, we didn’t agree, because very few people agree with me on anything but that’s okay.

Unlike Bassam, I didn’t have any respect for anyone last month and decided to take the Egyptian bestselling novel Azazil (عزازيل) with me on a flight from Amman to DC. The first leg of the flight was from Amman to London. Reading a book that clearly displays “the scary language” was not a worry for me leaving from Amman. ِAfter all, the plane was filled with Arabic speakers who are used to seeing and reading “the language that should not be named.”

It was a great flight. I had three seats to myself. I kicked back and read for five hours while drinking wine and being served food and snacks. Nothing was expected from me and I felt elated.

The second leg of the flight was when I became nervous and started thinking about my friend Bassam and his no-Arabic-publication on-US flights policy. Do I really need to do this? I mean, I could just watch the in-flight entertainment and save myself all the trouble.

Cover of 'Azil'
The cover of 'Azazil'

Of course, as soon as the plane from London to DC took off, I pulled Azazil from my carry-on bag and put it on my lap. I had to get myself in trouble because that’s who I am. The middle-aged, all-American looking woman sitting next to me was reading a book that had the word Afghanistan in its title. A good sign, I told myself.

Somehow, I felt I needed to explain myself before I started reading my scary book. I felt I needed to talk to her to make her feel comfortable as she will be spending the next eight hours of her life in very close proximity to me (you know, United economy can get very cozy) .

To my surprise, she was the one who broke the ice and started the conversation. She started telling me about the book she was reading and how much she was enjoying it. Of course, that was my chance to show her my true colors. I showed her my novel and told her point blank that I was a bit nervous about reading it on the plane.

“Why”? she asked.

“Well you know. It’s in Arabic, and I have been reading lots of stories lately about people being stopped at airports and taken off planes just for carrying Arabic books. You know, some passengers get nervous if they see Arabic script on the plane.”

“Quite honestly, I’m very impressed that you actually can read it,” she said.

This is a very good sign.

A few minutes after our brief conversation, the flight attendant passed by us offering drinks.

“I can’t believe that on US flights they make you pay for alcohol,” I told the woman next to me (whose names I can’t remember now because I’m old). I felt I had to say something to keep the conversation going.

“I know,” she said. “You know what? let get me you a drink.”

” What? No you shouldn’t. Come on. You hardly know me”

“What do you like?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course!”

“Okay. I will have some red wine.”

Just like that, a total stranger bought me a drink for absolutely no reason. It was such a random act of kindness and a nice welcome home to my newly adopted country, where people are genuine, friendly, and generous. Somehow, I proved my friend Bassam wrong. Not only can you read  Arabic on the plane, but some flyers find this impressive and might even buy you a drink or two.

I was hoping that by reading on the plane, I might shatter some people’s stereotypes of Arabic readers, but what happened was the other way around. My own stereotypes of Americans being scared of my native language on a transatlantic flight was deconstructed. There is no reason to fear or hide from who I am.  The fact of the matter is I am who I am and it is a great thing. After all, people buy me drinks!

Thoughts on courage from an angry person on a snowy day

My nickname in high school was the “angry smurf.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s me, the angry one. I hate things, issues, and people. And worst of all I’m very vocal about it. I’m just not your typical happy, optimistic person, and this drives many, many people around me crazy. So, of course, when the “epic snowstorm” hit the DC metro area I got angry. I was stuck home, with no internet, no cable TV and nowhere to go. My work got delayed and my plans for my upcoming work trip to the Middle East got shattered. All this talk about the snow and how wonderful it is annoyed me to no end. All of these pictures of happy people playing in the snow and enjoying Mother Nature made me furious. How can you enjoy anything when your life just gets interrupted with no back-up plan? How can you be cheerful when you have this unplanned extra time with nothing to do?

I was angry and suffering from a sever case of cabin fever. I cursed the snow, and Mother Nature. I kicked the cats and yelled at the husband. I started harassing Comcast through Twitter (via my phone) telling them that their service is mediocre and that they can’t leave people stranded with no internet and no TV (OMG!) for days like this. I sent angry emails to the office of the mayor in my city complaining about their failure to plow our street in a timely manner. The angry smurf in me was in full effect.

Since I had no TV or internet to distract me, I picked up a book. Yes, a book, one of life’s pleasures that I have been ignoring lately, and replacing with reruns of  Lost and Desperate Housewives.

The book I picked was Rana Husseini’s Murder in the Name of Honor. The book tells the story of Rana’s courageous investigative work to expose the heinous ‘honor’ crimes that happen in Jordan. It also sheds light on the unjust judicial system that allows the killers to walk away unpunished. This courageous journalist continues to face a setback after a setback but keeps going. She was threatened, called a traitor and a Western agent, but worst of all the crimes continues to happen with no end in sight. See, she is not as angry, jaded, and cynical like me, which is really good news. I saw the injustices and the violation of human rights in my hometown and instead of staying and fighting the fight like Rana, I cussed and yelled and shouted, and then packed my bags and left. Just like that I gave up and left everything behind me seeking a better life in a new country, where I continued my yelling and cussing.

See, Rana might have shouted, yelled and cried, but eventually she decided to stay and continue the fight. This needs courage and enough determination and will-power that I don’t have. For this, Rana is one of a kind; a courageous journalist that had a mission and kept pursuing it. She is someone who has done service to many female victims not only in Jordan but also over the world. I’m still on chapter five and I have already been inspired by her work. Yes, this book has managed to move even the angry person in me. Rana deserves kudos. Rana is not angry. She is a doer. Read her book.

Steve Jobs is my Obama

The night President Obama decided to address the American people I was home, on my sofa, under a down comforter. On the table across from me were a bottle of Chianti and some chips (with zero trans fat!). I was tired, cold, and cantankerous. I had had a long day at work and was dwelling in self-doubt and engaged in a prolonged session of self- flagellation. The last thing I wanted to do was to listen to the president tell us how things were horrible. All I wanted to do was watch crime shows and fall asleep on the sofa.

My husband didn’t like my plan. He wanted to watch the State of the Union. “You can’t miss it, come on, you are journalist. It only happens once year.” I resisted, of course, saying that I was tried of politicians and their speeches, and that the only thing I really, really wanted to do was watch crime shows. He let it go since he is a nice guy, unlike me, and let me flip channels to my heart’s content. I never got to watch anything. I fell asleep before nine, right before the president’ address started and right before any crime show began. Husband wins –  once again!

The next morning, I grabbed the Washington Post, jumped on the metro, and headed to work. The main story was, of course, about the State of the Union. Apparently, the president talked the night before about unemployment, green energy, and the economy. Yawn! For someone who grew up in the Middle East and who was weaned on political speeches and patriotic songs, the article didn’t offer anything new or unique.

The story that was right beneath it, though, was one that made my eyes light up. It was about Steve Job’s latest toy, the iPad. Of course, I read the article with great gusto, thinking of the day I buy this toy and how it will enrich my life.

That’s when it hit me that it is actually Jobs not Obama who is altering the way we live, bringing the much needed “change” to our lives. He is the one making us more efficient, more connected, savvier, and eventually happier. Yes, ladies, and gentlemen, Steve Jobs is my Obama.

‘The Geography of Bliss’ makes you happy

One of the best books I read in a long time is a travel book called “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. It is really not your regular travel book, it is one with a twist. The author of this book travels the world looking for the happiest place on earth. This might sound cheesy to some, but trust me,  it is far from it. The author is smart, genuine, funny, and extremely witty. He takes you to faraway lands while making you delve into the deepest corner of your soul. He makes you think and reflect. He shocks, and fascinates you. He makes you laugh ad cry. In a nutshell, he makes you happy.

I read this book a few weeks ago on the plane on my way to Kathmandu, and it was a perfect choice for entrainment on that long flight. My favorite chapters are  his adventures in Qatar, Moldova and Bhutan.

The conclusion of the book might sound like a cliché to some: Money can buy happiness but not necessarily, happiness is relative, and happiness mostly comes from your family and friends. Some might argue that there is nothing new to this conclusion. I tend to disagree, it is not really the conclusion that matters, it is mostly the journey to get there.

Read this book!

What I learned during lunch

People's Mujahedin of Iran protest During my lunch break yesterday, I decided to take a walk about in Lafayette Park, next to the White House, to get away from my computer screen. As usual, there was a demonstration; same old, same old. However, this time the demonstration was organized by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) and it was about Camp Ashraf. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Camp Ashraf so when I saw the demonstrators I was intrigued. I stood with them and listened to their protest.

It turns out that Camp Ashraf is a famous political prisoner camp from the time of the Shah. According to Wikipedia, Camp Ashraf is currently an Iranian refugee camp in Iraq guarded by the United States military. Here is a bit more:

Ashraf is the seat of Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) or People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), PMOI members in Iraq. It was in 1986 that the PMOI came to Iraq. The camp houses members of the PMOI who are regarded by coalition forces as protected people under the Geneva Conventions. This recognition was due to the neutrality and co-operation of the residents of Ashraf, before, during and after the war. The US General and commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Ray Odierno, referred specifically to this positive cooperation from the residents of Camp Ashraf.

PMOI Lafayette Park protestPutting my interest in the demonstration aside, the demonstrators were noisy, I have to admit. They had speakers, drums, and played loud Iranian music. After I had learned enough about their story I decided to walk back to the office. On my way back, I saw other Washingtonians on their lunch breaks. Some were eating sandwiches, others reading magazines, and some played chess in the park. Life in the park seemed normal as could be despite the intensity of the demonstration just steps away. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Life continues in Washington as normally as can be, despite the intense politics that keeps this city ticking.