Last Dispatch

Dear Mariya,

Because of the schools I have gone to (one a German based philosophy that attracted people of all sorts and the other an International Baccalaureate program) I have spent my life encountering people from other cultures and ethnicities. My parents have friends from all over the world, many who lead vastly different lifestyles than I am accustomed to. I think most of my knowledge – at least the knowledge that I know to be true and not propaganda – of other cultures/ethnicities comes from firsthand experience. I do not often watch or listen to the news, and I know enough people from the Middle East that I know the negative stereotypes are untrue. In general, I get information about the “other” from people I know – friends, family, professors. As a child, I learned a lot through stories that these family friends told of their travels or homelands. Having been in school for the majority of my life, I have also spent a lot of time taking classes in which we discuss other cultures, so this is another way that I have learned about places and people that are different from me. I am currently studying French, and through this I have learned a lot about not only French culture, but Cajun, Creole and African cultures as well. I am constantly learning new information from my peers here in Albion as well, because many of them come from different backgrounds than I do. Tonight was a perfect example of encountering someone from another culture – I got to meet the chief of the village in Cameroun where one of my professors was born. It was such an honor and so interesting to meet this man who lives a completely and utterly different life than I do.

This specific experience of communicating with someone across the world via email has been extremely interesting for me. I have learned a little bit about Lebanon, and a lot more about the ways in which someone my age thinks about the same issues that I do. Based on our backgrounds we approach issues in a very different way on a surface level, but fundamentally we believe in the same things – freedom, taking care of the environment, being understanding etc. This experience has been awesome in the sense that it has allowed me to discover this “other” in a more intimate way than I would have had I just done some googling or gone to the library. Having the opportunity to express my thoughts about tough and often touchy subjects without fear of judgment and to hear those of one of my peers has been freeing and interesting.

While I feel like I did not necessarily learn any new “facts” from this correspondence, I learned something even more interesting and cool and important, and it is this. Two girls, roughly the same age, living in very different countries that are allegedly supposed to hate each other based on a set of culturally ignorant, media created preconceptions have very similar beliefs when it comes to big, important topics.

While this could be surprising on some level – we come from two cultures that, on the surface, appear to be very different – it also makes perfect sense. The world has become more and more globalized in recent years, resulting in the sharing of information and ideas, primarily through the use of technology. Because the two of us both have access to the Internet and are both attending college, we also have access to not only social networks on the Internet, but physical social networks as well, which allow us to share ideas with our peers in an educated way. I think that the fact that we agree on so many fundamental and essential questions is indicative of the reaches of both technology and globalization, as well as the way that people are being educated today.

I do not think that I have ever used terrorism or the environment as topics to get to know someone, but bringing up these big issues at the beginning of this relationship has allowed us, I think, to be less censored and really get down to the meat of our ideas and thoughts. In all honesty, I was not sure what to expect from this exchange, especially on the topic of terrorism. What I received (obviously) was a well-written and thoughtful dispatch expressing essentially my own sentiments about terrorism – that it is a response to fear and anger, and is unfairly tied to the Middle East essentially through the fault of western media, creating stereotypes that are unflattering and untrue.

There is so much war in the world, so much hatred and division and unnecessary violence, but somehow it seems like the random acts of violence and terrorism have the potential to bring people together, even across cultural and geographic borders. It seems to me as though our generation is becoming more and more understanding and open, and due to our educations we are beginning to see these acts not as acts committed by a culture, but by a frightened individual. Discussing terrorism with someone who comes from a culture that is consistently and unfairly stereotyped as violent and aggressive has been such an interesting experience, because it has really made me realize just how unfounded many of the stereotypes are about the Middle East. I feel that using the topic of terrorism as starting point gave us the opportunity to talk about culture, race and identity in a way that is not always addressed between people our age. When we talked about land, and what we would do to protect our land, it made me realize that a lot of people would fight tooth and nail to protect the land with which they identify. This makes sense – protecting what you hold dear is a natural response – but it also made me realize that these cultural distinctions are not necessary. Fundamentally we are all the same – we are all human beings. And this is the most important thing to remember – that race, cultural identity and geography all play a role in who we are, but these are not the important things. What is important is to remember that we are all the same deep down, and that together we can work to protect this planet that we all call home.

 I am so glad that we have been able to communicate throughout the semester, and it has been great to read your writings!

Thank you!!

 

genevieve

My final dispatch – Adnan

From: Christina Hallam
To: Adnan Sidani
 
I wanted to tell you Adnan how much I have loved doing these dispatches. I know at the end you have had a hard time getting to the internet. Believe me, I know how that feels. I think my family went a few weeks with no word from me when the internet went out in my town in India.

But thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me: for being honest in your thoughts and words while challenging mine. It has been an absolute delight! I wish you the best in the rest of your time at college and into the rest of you life.

I will begin this last prompt talking about my past as I so often have. It starts in Kansas which is smack dab in the middle of the United States where I grew up.

I remember in middle school I had a friend whose family was Iranian. Her name was Paradise and most people called her by that name. After the first time I heard the actual pronunciation of her name I refused to call her paradise. Her name was Par-deece. I was an odd-ball then who didn’t fit into most crowds. I thought I was punk and refused to wear pink. Being that we went to school in Kansas at a 95% white school, Paradise stood out too. We were both odd-balls so it seemed natural that we developed a strong friendship. However, I never quite saw her differentness: she wasn’t preppy so I thought she was “cool.” I don’t mean to say that I didn’t understand and “us” and “them” dynamic: I very much did. However, I did not understand it in a traditional sense. The “us” was me and any other loner I became friends with. The “them” became the preppy, popular kids. These were arbitrary lines that often fell along the lines of music taste.
Over the course of just one year we became extremely close friends. She invited me over for her birthday celebration. It was the first time that I had been the only white person at a gathering. The party was mostly filled with family: aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and the aunts, uncles, and cousins you aren’t really related to. That whole night I remember being absolutely astounded by how welcoming her family had been. Every single person in that house treated me like I was a part of their family. The food which they piled on my plate was unlike any I had had before (or since) and blew my taste buds away. When my dad came to pick me up, her father insisted that he come in for some cake. My father ended up staying for another hour and a half talking with Paradise’s father. Their hospitality they showed to me that one night has stayed with me to this very day.
Sadly, a year after we had formed a friendship, I moved to Michigan. In Michigan where I went to high school I began to realize how unusual our friendship was. I went to a semi-diverse but still mainly white high school. I met many students with Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Hispanic heritages. It was completely new to me but I soon learned that these groups did not always mix. Yes, we all had friends with these groups but people with similar heritages tended to stay together. It was also in high school that I learned stereotypes I had been unaware of before. For instance, the only two Jewish people I knew in middle school were both white-blond haired and blue eyed. I made a few blunders before I learned what the rest of the world’s stereotype for Jewish people was.
It was also in high school that I learned who the other was. In an International Issues class the teacher worked to break down assumptions of Arabs caused by the terrorist attacks. It was then that I realized that most people would have put my friend Paradise in the “other” category. She was from a country where “those people” were from (even if not directly, we still don’t have friendly relations with Iran). It had never occurred to me to see her as an “other”, she was simply my friend. Only when I look back now do I see how she stood out from everybody.
It seems odd to me looking back now about how my peers had to teach me about stereotypes about the other. Previously the only two stereotypes I knew were really preppy/jocks and goth/punk/emo. I can point out the specific time that other ingrained in me that Japanese and Indians were supposed to be really smart. It was also then that they ingrained in me that the black students didn’t try as hard in class. My high school tried to explain to an “other” that I had never thought of or really been exposed to before.
Then I entered college. Albion college works towards a diverse campus (how well the achieve that is another issue). Once again, as people came together I had to learn certain stereotypes that others worked with. However, college allowed for more constructive avenues. I quickly joined an interfaith organization and attended as many intercultural events as I saw advertised. If there was an “other” I wanted to understand it. What I found, from Ethnic Studies classes, Women’s Studies classes, Anthropology classes was simply that the idea of an “other” is socially constructed. In my middle school years I was naive about the other. In high school I learned as cultural understanding of the other. In college I have been invested in an academic understanding of where the other comes from. And the more I seek, the more I find human beings that have similar concerns to me. I even traveled to India to find that the people there are just people with daily concerns who work to get by.
All of this is to explain why I still don’t understand, emotionally, the other. Intellectually, I can analyses it and point out where it is present. It is a privilege I have been given. Many people have to live their lives being considered the other. But with this privilege, I must do something with it or it has been wasted privilege. I work now to understand why this is; why there is an “other” and what is the “other.” And no, we are very much discouraged from looking and befriending the other. It is hard to bomb someone you know and understand. It is hard to go to war when you look someone in the eyes. But it is easy to go to war with a concept. A “war on terror” is easier than a war on a group of people. This is often a problem I have with eco-terrorists: they go to battle with “corporations” without understanding that corporations are made up of people. What often and sadly results is that neither side fully understands each other and have made each other out to be something they are not.  The scary part is how can there be an “us”, will there be an “us”, with not “them”? This is the same as me and the other. Often we define ourselves by the existence of the other. People often are afraid, I believe, of what the us, the me, becomes when you break down the other.
To close off I will bring this back in: how to get rid of the other. Stories. Our world from the beginning of what we know has been shaped by stories. I believe in their power to move mountains and hearts. Stories can break down the other or build it up. Either way, stories become a part of us when we hear them. Put stories out there and take ownership of their ideas. I have seen the power in testimonies in the faith I grew up in. I believe that it can work here. If both sides could just listen to the other’s stories, raw emotions and anger and all, just maybe we could break down the “other”. That is what we are doing here. We tell stories and put them out there. We have an obligation now to keep telling them until the “other” is gone. This is not to erase diversity, but to understand different cultures and ways at looking at the world. Fear often comes from the unknown, the dark places in our brains. Even if it is just a candle, let us illuminate the wonders of each other’s cultures whether it be the logger and the tree hugger or the American and the Arab. When understanding is found, solutions will soon follow.
Many Blessings,
Christina Hallam

 

 

From: Adnan Sidani

To: Christina Hallam

 

Hey Chris!

 

I just wanted to start off by again, apologizing for the delay, even though you’re clearly understanding of it, which I genuinely appreciate. I’ve officially gotten my internet connection installed, finally, and can continue our correspondences. In Lebanon, internet service providers are known to be the laziest, most lucrative and inefficient workers around. I think it goes without saying since yesterday marked about five weeks since we’ve contacted them to install our internet routes. Anyways, again I apologize. But I’d really just like to say that these dispatches have been as rewarding as it gets to me, and really weren’t what I thought they would be when I first signed up for this course. I’ve rarely met people who are as open-minded and thought-provoking as you are, and I can only feel grateful to hear that you thought I was any similar to that.

Your story regarding the other is one that is rich, since it’s filled with your personal experiences. I couldn’t really see what you described on TV as it would probably be considered taboo and frowned upon that any sort of racism, discrimination, or just racial groups being formed on the schoolyard exists. I’ve been reading American books, watching American TV shows, exploring the American culture for probably about eight years, and I can honestly tell you that I didn’t expect you to describe what you just did. On TV, you can always see how diverse the US is and how much it seems to be embraced over there. I never imagined the fact that groups with one unique racial background being formed on campus, and that’s a real eye-opener. I can’t say it’s not the same here though, but I thought it was our problem only.

Here, you probably can’t distinguish someone’s religious beliefs at first glance, you might need to ask them to speak or ask what their name is to identify what secular group they’re a part of. And it shouldn’t be surprising, with that being said, that groups just like the ones you described are formed according to the common religious belief, and secular group. But in Lebanon, it’s not just a social issue that comes in the way of the wellbeing of a campus, but it’s a ticking time bomb that once erupted, in May 2008, when those secular groups just simply took it to the streets of the capital, and let their guns settle their differences. It was the closest thing you’ll get to a civil war, since the actual Lebanese civil war in 1975, when Christians and Muslims battled it out. What was remarkable this time around, was the fact that it was a Muslim-Muslim conflict, which put Sunni Muslims and Shia’a Muslims on opposing ends of the street, and began a turf war. This was probably the hardest few days of my life, since I live in Hamra, known for its diverse population, so it was the center of the battlefield. Social norms were ripped to shreds, religious ones destroyed as well, and the Other was out to kill us. A similar tradition to the Civil War was applied, with armed men marching into houses and asking for ID. The thing about Lebanese ID, is that it displays your religious beliefs, for some odd reason, and that resulted in people getting killed and taken out of their houses. That part of my life was the most gruesome experience in which I felt like there was a genuine Other out there, and it wasn’t my choice to be their enemy, but they saw me as one.

On a larger scale though, this correspondence has not exactly revolutionized the way I think of the Other, since I never actually thought of anyone as an Other. It always frustrated me to feel like a lot of people here aren’t as well-informed as I’m fortunate to be, and regard the Other as a malicious creature. Extremists here see Americans as the Other who is an enemy, because of their political affiliation with Israel. Lebanon has suffered over the years because of conflicts with Israel, so some people kind of adopt the “The friend of my enemy is my enemy” policy regarding the United States. But rarely are the people I personally interact with who think that way. I consider people who have a xenophobic hatred towards the US as ignorant, since they shouldn’t generalize a whole population because of an action a government made that didn’t please them. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most of my education about the Other came from watching TV in all honesty, though I’d really like to say it was from my days at school, but I couldn’t. I’m fortunate enough to have been raised in a household where one of my parents is a Muslim and the other is Christian, and they’ve managed to get married at the time of the civil war (Which would’ve gotten them killed had anyone known) so tolerance was really an essential pillar in my coming of age. I always felt like there was no real Other, and I knew that not all people could relate to the thought of that and would agree with me. The first time I felt like I was personally the Other, was when I went to Los Angeles in 2009. Back then, I was so excited to visit a city that was already my favorite, although I’ve never even visited it or any city in the US for that matter. But it’s the moment I arrived at the airport when I felt like I was the Other and I was not welcome here. I think you know what I’m talking about… My family and I were picked up from the big line of people and taken to a secluded room, which was pretty embarrassing as we hadn’t realized why until a few minutes in. It was because we were Lebanese, and we posed a threat to the country we were visiting, and we had to answer questions like we were incarcerated and ever done anything unlawful. It’s at that moment that I realized that there is a wall between the East and the West, and that that wall wouldn’t be torn down like that of Berlin, since it was much larger, and would take decades in order to begin to eradicate. That made me feel pretty humiliated, and if there’s anything I’d change about the relationship between Arabs and Americans, it’s that they generalize millions of people from the opposing side just because of the opinion of a few. When that happens though, those few grow in numbers and in power.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from exploring other cultures, especially that of the US, since I take pride in the fact that I’m more informed, more intellectually and morally equipped than that, and I really enjoy reading Americans’ blogs, following them on Twitter, subscribing to them on YouTube, watching their movies and TV shows, and embracing their culture. Writing on the other hand, is more intimate than simply following them on social media, since I got a figuratively face to face interaction with an American who was more fascinating than TV shows, where I’m on the outside looking in, since I actually got to explore the thoughts and the identity of one week in week out. This has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve engaged in, and I can only thank you for showing me sincerely who you are through these dispatches, and embracing my identity as the one I’ve tried to paint for you.

Final Dispatch: A learning experience

Dear Rich,

This semester has been very interesting. As I’ve told you before, I did not think this experience would actually be interesting. I thought that we would repetitively be talking about terrorism and environment and share the same views over and over again. But the way we handled each subject and the way we were asked questions to ponder upon was eye-opening and very educational. The questions presented taught us how to think, reflect and understand each subject. It was also great to share my ideas with someone else, and a pleasure to hear from you every week. You always gave me great insights, and shared with me your information, opinions, and hopes. At first, I was intimidated when I found out you were majoring in English and thought I couldn’t keep up with you, but in the end, I am glad to say I extremely enjoyed this experience.

“Middle Easterners and Americans aren’t supposed to be friends”. I never saw things that way. I always look forward to meeting new people. Whether Asians, Africans or Americans, I think connecting with the rest of the world is primary. In fact, being from the Middle East, I seek these connections. It is in a way something very new to me. All I watch on television is American: Hollywood stories, American movies, American comedy, Disney, American series. I have a large idea of what Americans are about. But that’s just television. Many things might be exaggerated or grown out of proportion, and I might misread some traditions and not understand what Americans are really about and so I was lucky to have this opportunity. It was not what I was expecting. We ended up sharing a lot of views and agreeing on many points. When talking about tree huggers and the environment, I learned new things while reading many texts about these subjects. I didn’t realize before that there was eco-terrorism. During this class, I learned there are many forms of terrorism and how each is important in its own way, whether the government talks about it or not. The teachers made us think in a way that almost got us feeling guilty, that made us want to step forward and change what is going on in order to save the planet. In our daily life, we forget how urgent this matter is. Through the semester, we got deeper and deeper into the realities, and the more each student in the class was talking, participating, and demonstrating his ideas the more interesting it got.

Our tastes in music are not different and that only showed me that the distances that separate us meant nothing. I think you would be more surprised than me regarding that fact. Because I listen to your music more than mine. What was more important for me was this: we both looked at the world, if I may say, in a similar way. We are not interested in politics, we want a better, more peaceful world, where there is no hatred and unnecessary violence. You also were very respectful to me. You did not make any judgments about me. Arabs are regarded differently. Lebanon is not like Syria, Israel… I hope you can see that now. I like to believe Lebanese people are more open, improved, modern and educated. And you gave me the chance to explain and show you that. One of my favorite dispatches is when we were asked to demonstrate more deeply who we are in our culture and ask questions to one another to understand the other culture more too. In that dispatch you wanted to know how Arabs regarded Americans and also about our food, music and art. In contrast, I asked you about American politics, obesity and the crime rate and you indulgently put some light on these subjects and tried make me see how you view your own problems which was interesting and fascinating. You were very modest in admitting some things about your country and correcting other thoughts I had wrong. Now, it is true that our values are not the same. Each country has several religions, different cultures and many ideologies therefore many values. I would not consider it a deal breaker. Just as we learn to live with people from different religions, it is that easy to be friends with people from other cultures. In the end, people within a single culture and religion have different views and ideas too. Living with each other is as hard as it is for a married couple to adjust to their differences for example. We just have to accept how the other person is, and respect his values.

How can I know someone better? For me, the best means is talking. Not chatting about unimportant matters but searching someone’s soul, heart and mind. I enjoy deep talks that enable me to understand my friend better. Personally, I used to be a fan of Facebook but not anymore. It is not a good way to understand someone better. This technology actually masks the personality of the person. Anyone can write anything on Facebook and not dare to say the same in person. It is never a good way to get to know people better. For me, I like psychology and philosophy. The study of these two classes is what helps me understand human kind and minds. It has always been a fascination to me, and a hobby. What is behind someone’s actions, gestures’, and words can always be explained. That is how I learn to get people and read them. Technology is just a way to see someone’s surface not his interior.

This is why, I think this experience was extremely educational and beneficial. I gained a new friend I hope, an understanding of a culture different than mine. Furthermore, these dispatches have enforced my English skills and helped me communicate with someone from another country. I also know more about eco-terrorism and acknowledge the importance of my actions in saving the nature no matter how personal changes are limited, and hopefully they will affect political and social change.

Best regards

Marietta Yammine

 

My Final Dispatch

Dear Sara,

            I would like to start by telling you that I really enjoyed writing to you this semester, it was a big pleasure and I am really happy that we communicated in a smooth and friendly way, and I think that I can comfortably call you a friend now. Then I would like to thank you for your great dispatches I found this a great opportunity to get to know someone from the US directly, and it is the best way to learn about the American people. At the beginning all I knew was what I heard from TV, people, and what I read over the internet, but after this experience, I feel like I got to know the real deal, I learned everything directly from the source, and I would love to know even more.

            As for what you said about “othering,” I think that everyone is disposed to it. However, I believe that your type – being a writer – is more likely to “other.” I am not going to talk about it from the point that you are a poet, rather from the point that you are a journalist, because poets from my view do not need to say the truth, they are artists, and art does not require truth to be appreciated. Journalism however – even though it’s not always the case – is based on truth and is the means to show it. Sadly, nowadays journalism and social media are the only ways through which we find out about events that happen around the world and through which we learn about other cultures on our planet. I said sadly because, as you said, journalists are susceptible to “othering”, and this implies some truth to be hidden, it might be an insignificant truth, or it might be something dramatically important. The saddest thing about it is that people who are seeing this truth don’t know about its omitted part; they are missing the other side of the story, which may be radically significant to the understanding of a certain event, but more importantly in some cases, they are left ignorant of the truth behind someone who is part of that story, therefore this person may be judged according to the obvious and not the actual. But there is a worse case, where the reporter alters the original truth instead of just hiding it or forgetting to state it. This is more dangerous than the first case because the spectator will have misconceptions about the other, not only missing knowledge, leading to things like stereotypes.

            Unfortunately, in our time we find both cases that lead to not knowing the “other,” either through classical media (radios, televisions…) or through social media (Facebook, twitter…) ,the information that is being submitted is rarely accurate and therefore puts us in a state of ignorance when it comes to people from foreign places. Personally, the only way I learned about people from other countries before was through media, specifically TV shows and Facebook. Last summer, a group of ten French teenagers came to the village where I live for a summer camp. We greeted them normally at first like anyone coming to visit the village, then day after day we got to know them better and better, we learned about their culture, their beliefs, what they do for fun etc… the reason I’m telling this story is that the exact summer before this one, I used to say that I hate France and the French people, I even refused an opportunity to go study there. This idea I had of the French people came from television and the internet, and how wrong was it! After I met this group of people I understood how misleading information can be, and they used to say the same to us, they admitted that we are not how we are shown on televisions in France.  As for our case, dear Sara, I must say that this experience has been significantly enlightening for me. I understand that knowing one person is not enough to understand the whole American people, but at least it drives away some stereotypes that might have been present before having those conversations with you.

            This opportunity has been very unique for me, I have learned so much about you and I enjoyed it. I was really delighted in reading your dispatches; you are a very good writer, while reading what you used to write I felt like I didn’t want to stop, because it was interesting and very well structured, exactly what I would expect from a person who has passion for writing as you told me in our first dispatches. And I think that the topics we were discussing added to the interest I had. Long before I took this course I was interested in the topics related to the environment, as I had some interest in terrorism. But what we did was a whole new level, combining both subjects into one exciting theme encouraged me to dig deeper into the topics and discover activism like I never did before.

            I have so much more to say about this great experience I had this semester, but I don’t want to make my dispatch too long. To sum up, I found that exchanging dispatches with an American was a far better way to learn about the culture than checking what’s available on media. I hope that this experience helped you understand more what kind of people is available in this part of the world. It has really been a pleasure Sara, and I hope that we stay in touch even after this last “official” dispatch.

With loads of respect,

Rodrique.

Final Dispatch

Dear Olivia,

I would have to say I mostly learn and discover about the Other through the media such as the internet and television. Thinking about it now, I have to agree with you and I don’t really like it either because as you said we don’t get the whole picture and many of the times this can lead us to grow to be bias about the certain things that are different from us. But I guess these are the times where our own mind should over come that biased approach that the media shows and we should look at the whole to understand the actual truth instead of just what is being displayed to us. Unlike you, I actually grew up in an international school with people coming from all around the world. Even though our we were all friends, from time to time we did form our own groups which usually consisted of people from the same area of the world, religion and such. I was fortunate enough to have had some close friends who were from America, Europe and also the Arab world. This allowed me to directly learn about their cultures and lead me to be much more understanding of whom these people are.

My parents always taught me to accept anyone and everyone no matter where they come from, who they are and what their religious beliefs are. I do try to carry on what they taught me, but unfortunately sometimes this can be hard. To be honest anything can influence you without noticing it: friends, tv, the web… when I watch something on the news or read an article on the web or in a magazine, it can be very one sided and limited which encourages me to be very judgmental and ignorant sometimes. I can’t say everything I learn from these sources is all negative, on the contrary I believe that all of these different mediums have the ability to educate us and teach us about so many things.

Last semester I was taking a Sociology and Anthropology course, which taught us how to approach the learning of different cultures around the world and provided us with such interesting examples. When you say you don’t like the cultural distinctions we make, I believe the reason you feel this way is because we see different cultures as something negative or a threat to us. But if we were to take our time and understand the different cultures around the world, we would see that we could learn so much from one another. We wont have to see “different” as a negative thing but we could see it as bringing us all together. One example is you and I, we come from completely different parts of the world and have completely different cultures, but this didn’t stop us from coming together or agree with one another about certain areas of discussion.

I must agree with you, these dispatches have been a great learning experience. I believe I got the chance to learn so much from what you wrote to me in these dispatches. Two people coming from different worlds, and both have such a different culture, who would of said that we could agree and share so many similar thoughts about the environmental and terrorism topics? To be honest, I had never heard of Albion before, and when we were told that it is a small town, I thought you were going to be very closed minded about certain topics but I was very wrong. When we first had to describe what a terrorist really means to us, I really wanted to show you that us Arabs aren’t so bad because I know in the States, many people refer to us a terrorists. I wanted to give you the chance to learn about the Arab culture directly from an Arab perspective in order for you to get the full picture and get to know a bit more about our side of the world, and I really hope I achieved in doing that.

 I especially really enjoyed reading your dispatches, the language and certain words you use, make it so much more enjoyable to read. Even though these dispatches were mostly about exchanging thoughts and ideas about certain topics, I got the chance to learn from your way of writing and I thank you very much for that. I’m glad I got to know you and work with you this semester, it has been a great experience to hear from someone who has a completely different background than I do.

-Maya.

The Final Dispatch

This semester, I think we have used technology as the medium in which we have gotten to know “the Other.” Obviously, we have been corresponding through e-mail, probably the oldest form we have used, oddly enough. Each dispatch has been sent this way, causing it to be our most effective and extensive form of communication. From there would have to be Facebook. Some of us have added our partner as a friend and learn through Facebook mediums, like their profile, or status updates. Further into the Facebook medium is the group that was created for us. This group is probably the best way of learning about “the Other.” This group is where we can connect as a whole rather than just the one-on-one e-mails we have had. We can communicate with a larger audience via the Facebook group. Also, the group allows us to use an extensive variety of mediums. There are news articles, political cartoons, YouTube videos, video clips, and so on. I don’t think I can even begin to imagine all of the random sources that people posted in the group. Not only did the group allow for various mediums, it allowed for many more topics. Not everything posted in the group correlated to that week’s dispatch topic. This was great, because anything that we thought was relevant or cool, we could post and let others in on our fascination.

If you are looking at how we get to know other people, or cultures in general, and not specifically our partners, then the answer is still very similar. I don’t think it would be e-mail based, but we would use similar mediums. Facebook would play a role certainly. But I think mediums like YouTube, Twitter, tumblr, books, movies, music, television, and so on would be the main things. The mediums that would be most important would be ones where you do not necessarily need a connection or a set up. Where the information is freely given or thought of. I also think the most important medium is education or knowledge. I would not be writing this if I was in Terrorists and Treehuggers. I wouldn’t even be writing it if I was at Albion College. I would even think this was a possibility if it wasn’t for higher education. So, thinking about it, I think the most important medium that we use to get to know “the Other” is education. Without education, we wouldn’t be able to have the capacity or need or want to learn about “the Other.”

I guess I would hope this education about “the Other” happens daily. That would be my ideal. Do I think that this is true for everyone? Probably not, I’m just being realistic. I would love to have people learn something new about another culture or person every single day. I think that would help humanity. I try to learn things like that every day. I want to make sure that I can learn as much as I can about as many things as possible, including people and cultures and everything else that comes along with that. And because I learn something, I can then turn around and teach it to someone, and so on. Everyone could create this chain reaction of learning. Tell one person something and it continues down the line, reaching more and more people.

Writing is a good way to do this. Language might not be universal, but there is a way to make it universal. Something can easily be translated and given to someone. Knowledge or information is not only for English speakers, or Spanish speakers, or Arabic, or Hindi. It is for everyone. I love language; it is something that can express anything. That is how we communicate. It is just a glorious thing. And the concept that a word is written or spoken one way to be is something foreign and completely obscure to someone else is fascinating. But there is a connection to be made; it can be translated to make sense to “the Other.”

For instance, think of the word “terrorist.” The American connotation is surely different than the Lebanese connotation. It was the very first topic that was discussed. There is always a definition offered by a dictionary, but that doesn’t mean that it can be something else to another person. A dictionary just gives the basic idea, but not anything else. “Terrorist” can have numerous, possibly infinite, meanings. There is such blurriness to it. And thinking about it, would it be better to have a solid definition and no in-between, or to able interpret individually? Would being able to clearly define and sort things into a category that everyone would agree on make things that much better? Would things like war or discrimination decrease? Of course. But then we would be suffering from the lack of other things. There would be no individuality. How would art work? What about literature? Writing would be drastically different. How would cultures work? Or religions? Yes, the concept of culture and religion would be the same. But would that mean every culture and religion would have to be the same, right? I think that is better to have this blurriness, we get more that way. We can understand better. I don’t think we would function as well as a species if everything was the same for everyone.

 -Raysha Stacey

Aside

Final Dispatch: Reflecting on the Other. Mariya MoussalliEng

Final Dispatch: Reflecting on the Other.

Mariya Moussalli

Eng 204

May 11, 2013

 

When Ms.Rima told us that we are going to be communicating thoughts with someone from America, I wasn’t exactly thrilled; I had an idea of it as being homework and something that had to be done, a slight burden. When I received my first dispatch I was surprisingly engaged in my partners work and felt like knowing more about this person that was so far away with different ideologies and thoughts about life. This was a unique experience because it’s something that I never thought of doing, it didn’t cross my mind, but Ms.Rima allowed us to write freely and in an informal way which allowed us to explore each other easily.

The topics that we covered in the dispatches made it easier, because my partner and I didn’t mind talking about terrorism or tree huggers nor about our feelings on different topics; instead we were quite intrigued to write more and more as we sometimes had separate emails concerning different issues.

I was happy that we were going to discuss terrorism because I like changing the idea that the west has of us. I also think that the dispatches helped us see that there is no “other” and that we are all the same. My dispatch partner did learn from me as I did from her, she was pretty open-minded and accepted ideas that I had to represent.  Talking about tree huggers was interesting because I got to see how important it was to her, and how she really admired nature and her surroundings. It allowed me to think of ways in order to improve my surroundings and my environment.

The dispatches only prove to the world that Middle Easterners and Westerns can be indeed friends and acquaintances. We don’t have to live up to this stereotype that we are both supposed to be enemies and neglect each other. Throughout my dispatches, my partner said now I know that “ we should never judge someone unless we have walked a mile in their shoes” this always stood out to me and her showing us that we should never judge each other but learn more about one another.

Moreover, I noticed that my partner and I do have similarities and differences. We noticed that we have a lot of similarities that stem from the same background. Our ideologies for instance have the same background.  The thing I loved telling my partner the most in the dispatches dealt with Lebanon, I always liked to express how much Lebanon means to me and how it is represented negatively. I assured her that Lebanon is no different than where she comes from. That we both have human rights issues, terror issues and environmental issues. Also, we both try to overcome these issues.

Previously when I think about westerners, I had a different idea of them. I didn’t necessarily care about knowing too much, the media has framed my mind completely.  I think the most common way for anyone including myself to get an idea about the west roots from movies screened all around the world or even the school in which I graduated from was affiliated with the United States.  The media helped shape the idea of the west into the Arab minds such as myself but I think since I am educated and have had this experience of sharing thoughts and ideas I have grown to know a different side of the Western people.  Learning about cultures, ethnicities and races can really affect a person and change the outlook they have towards a certain subject. With my dispatch partner I was able to see a different and softer side of the West. Although I was just talking to one girl from the States, I was able to capture and see how her life is like and how she viewed the world and represented herself.

Sometimes my dispatch partner was hesitant about asking certain things, but I was able to comfort her and so we would ask each other questions related to various topics in which we were interested in. She once went about asking me about the women in the Arab world and particularly Beirut. I went on telling her how I live my daily life and what obstacles I face, then I told her about other Arab countries and how they live. She then came to the conclusion that the Arab world is filled with different thoughts, ideas, religions and norms. I told her that anything someone does is not normal but may be normal to them, which is why we try not to judge the people in our society.

Finally, I have learned a lot through dispatching and have seen that people can communicate from different places around the world and actually learn something rather than argue and bicker over sorrowful topics. I have learned that the West should not be seen as the others and that they shouldn’t view us as others , and that we should be all equal entities trying to survive. Furthermore, I see myself as more open-minded to foreign ideas and thoughts proposed by the West.  Dispatching this way also helped me get my message through in a calm and appropriate way rather than trying to send a message with aggression.

It has been really nice getting to know you just through these brief dispatches. For any future questions or concerns you can ask me anything.

Thank you and congratulations on graduating

Dear Mariya, 

Because of the schools I have gone to (one a German based philosophy that attracted people of all sorts and the other an International Baccalaureate program) I have spent my life encountering people from other cultures and ethnicities. My parents have friends from all over the world, many who lead vastly different lifestyles than I am accustomed to. I think most of my knowledge – at least the knowledge that I know to be true and not propaganda – of other cultures/ethnicities comes from firsthand experience. I do not often watch or listen to the news, and I know enough people from the Middle East that I know the negative stereotypes are untrue. In general, I get information about the “other” from people I know – friends, family, professors. As a child, I learned a lot through stories that these family friends told of their travels or homelands. Having been in school for the majority of my life, I have also spent a lot of time taking classes in which we discuss other cultures, so this is another way that I have learned about places and people that are different from me. I am currently studying French, and through this I have learned a lot about not only French culture, but Cajun, Creole and African cultures as well. I am constantly learning new information from my peers here in Albion as well, because many of them come from different backgrounds than I do. Tonight was a perfect example of encountering someone from another culture – I got to meet the chief of the village in Cameroun where one of my professors was born. It was such an honor and so interesting to meet this man who lives a completely and utterly different life than I do.

This specific experience of communicating with someone across the world via email has been extremely interesting for me. I have learned a little bit about Lebanon, and a lot more about the ways in which someone my age thinks about the same issues that I do. Based on our backgrounds we approach issues in a very different way on a surface level, but fundamentally we believe in the same things – freedom, taking care of the environment, being understanding etc. This experience has been awesome in the sense that it has allowed me to discover this “other” in a more intimate way than I would have had I just done some googling or gone to the library. Having the opportunity to express my thoughts about tough and often touchy subjects without fear of judgment and to hear those of one of my peers has been freeing and interesting.

While I feel like I did not necessarily learn any new “facts” from this correspondence, I learned something even more interesting and cool and important, and it is this. Two girls, roughly the same age, living in very different countries that are allegedly supposed to hate each other based on a set of culturally ignorant, media created preconceptions have very similar beliefs when it comes to big, important topics.

While this could be surprising on some level – we come from two cultures that, on the surface, appear to be very different – it also makes perfect sense. The world has become more and more globalized in recent years, resulting in the sharing of information and ideas, primarily through the use of technology. Because the two of us both have access to the Internet and are both attending college, we also have access to not only social networks on the Internet, but physical social networks as well, which allow us to share ideas with our peers in an educated way. I think that the fact that we agree on so many fundamental and essential questions is indicative of the reaches of both technology and globalization, as well as the way that people are being educated today.

I do not think that I have ever used terrorism or the environment as topics to get to know someone, but bringing up these big issues at the beginning of this relationship has allowed us, I think, to be less censored and really get down to the meat of our ideas and thoughts. In all honesty, I was not sure what to expect from this exchange, especially on the topic of terrorism. What I received (obviously) was a well-written and thoughtful dispatch expressing essentially my own sentiments about terrorism – that it is a response to fear and anger, and is unfairly tied to the Middle East essentially through the fault of western media, creating stereotypes that are unflattering and untrue.

There is so much war in the world, so much hatred and division and unnecessary violence, but somehow it seems like the random acts of violence and terrorism have the potential to bring people together, even across cultural and geographic borders. It seems to me as though our generation is becoming more and more understanding and open, and due to our educations we are beginning to see these acts not as acts committed by a culture, but by a frightened individual. Discussing terrorism with someone who comes from a culture that is consistently and unfairly stereotyped as violent and aggressive has been such an interesting experience, because it has really made me realize just how unfounded many of the stereotypes are about the Middle East. I feel that using the topic of terrorism as starting point gave us the opportunity to talk about culture, race and identity in a way that is not always addressed between people our age. When we talked about land, and what we would do to protect our land, it made me realize that a lot of people would fight tooth and nail to protect the land with which they identify. This makes sense – protecting what you hold dear is a natural response – but it also made me realize that these cultural distinctions are not necessary. Fundamentally we are all the same – we are all human beings. And this is the most important thing to remember – that race, cultural identity and geography all play a role in who we are, but these are not the important things. What is important is to remember that we are all the same deep down, and that together we can work to protect this planet that we all call home.

 I am so glad that we have been able to communicate throughout the semester, and it has been great to read your writings! 

Thank you!

 

Building Blocks

It surely has been a tiring semester. On the contrary, it surely has been an exciting and challenging experience. Time is going too fast for us. We have no time to sleep, not enough time for most of our activities. Fun passes by within a range of a click. Well, I think it’s because the world with it’s population is advancing in various ways whether its technology or culture.

What was interesting this semester is that every week, I had to send my Albion correspondent Josh an essay that ponders about a certain topic and each week is different than the other. In other words, I got to know what my friend Josh believes in and what are his views on Arabs especially when talking about the environment, the way we relate to it and about terrorism perspectives. Of course, I believe I did my best to let him know my own image of terror and a tree hugger. Nevertheless, I believe this kind of correspondence developed new opinions and new views between us (the two classes) and maybe changed some misconceptions into accurate beliefs.

There are definitely different ways or mediums people could communicate to.  I’ve had conversations on the “comments” section on some YouTube videos where people from different regions shared their ideas and some experiences. In Facebook, you are just one click away to find out about people’s interests and activities. I mean, I wanted to know what my correspondent Josh looked like and how he engages in activities through Facebook. Above all this, I believe that the best way to establish a concrete and honest relationship is when two people would have a face-to-face conversation about a certain topic. We can use Skype!

My friend today studies in Hult University in London and we skype occasionally. I met his Irish friend called Andrew Walsh online while skyping and now Andrew is paying me a visit this August.  We can encounter different cultures so easily and sometimes unconsciously. I mean, I didn’t plan on getting to know Andrew.

Writing has truly been a refreshing and intellectual way of expressing my feelings and ideas and most importantly my arguments. Personally I was exposed to reading environmental texts and articles that I have never thought of doing. I found them brilliantly interesting. If it weren’t for Terrorists and Tree Huggers, I wouldn’t have read the book “Children of Hiroshima”. Today, I actually related to nature and the environment. I watch the leaf falling slowly on the ground. I observed the formation of concentric waves of water as drops of rain hit the small craters of H2O.

Honestly, my favorite dispatch was when we had to describe the environment around us and relate to it as a scientist and as a human being.

In the end, I would like to say thank you to all of my classmates and beloved Albion correspondents for this interesting semester. Miss Rima, I will surely recommend your English sections to my friends entering AUB next fall because it’s an exhausting, yet joyful English experience with you. Thanks a lot.

 

NabilJ

Understanding Each Other

   At the beginning of the semester I found this assignment extraneous. I felt that there is no use of it. I kept asking myself questions like “how is this going to help me in English?,” “What am I going to tell my correspondent?,” “what will he think about me?.” It’s true that this assignment did not help me improve my English skills, but it sure made me understand maybe today’s most exclusive culture, the American culture. At first, I was sort of an intolerant Lebanese citizen. I had this image about the United States in which it is all based on propaganda and certain agendas. Its true that the U.S government does not have the best reputation in our world, but it does not mean that all Americans are this way too. When I first started this course, I thought that all Americans are the same, “jar heads”, they only think about themselves and do whatever their government tells them to do. I was wrong! I was definitely wrong. After the first dispatch, I felt connected to my correspondent Richard Morgan. We somehow thought the same way, we had a lot of things that we agreed on. When I fist wrote my first dispatch, I still remember we had to introduce ourselves  and define terrorism according to how we see it. When I first emailed Rich, I got to admit i had no interest in sending the email, I sent it because I knew it was mandatory and its homework. After I read Rich’s reply, it felt more interesting and I started relating it to various subjects and topics. we started sharing our ideas and our point of views of different topics. We thought the same way, had the same perspective on terrorism. My purpose now was to set a clear image about Lebanon and how Lebanese people are the way they’re reflected in Western societies. I wanted to make a change, I wanted to change Rich’s view of Lebanese people and Muslims! I started discussing the lifestyle people in Lebanon usually live on, I also discussed our love of living. Beirut is a city that literally never sleeps, you can pass by “Hamra” street at 3 am in the morning and find people still present in pubs, cafes and restaurants. I wanted to prove that we Lebanese people and Muslims are not terrorists. And I hope, he changed his perspective about us as much as I had a different one on American people and their society. I’ve learned a lot in this course, and I’m grateful for meeting new people in my class and outside in Albion College. I hope we can still reach each other on our own group “Terrorists and Treehuggers”. It was a nice experience and I have to thank Ms. Rima for it. I would also like to thank Rich for providing a clear image of his society and for listening to what I had to say about Lebanon. And finally I want to thank my new friends that I met in English 204 class this semester, it was my pleasure meeting you . Thank you !

Sincerely,

Mustafa Sabbagh

Aside

Crossing Graveyards

Brother Dan,

This semester has passed by so fast, yet it was so exhausting. I don’t know, I kind of feel that the day itself passes slowly, but the days collectively are passing REALLY QUICK, does that make sense? I don’t know man.
I’d like to think we’ve learned a fair amount from and about each other this past semester. It was a nice experience to contact someone I knew nothing about living across the Atlantic and just exchanging our thoughts about various topics from nature to politics, and sort placing another brick in the bridge between the two cultures.
We were required to give our final dispatch a title, mine is “Crossing Graveyards”. Now that may seem a bit harsh, but I really think we did somehow somehow try to cross graveyards. It is an unfortunate truth that between our two cultures (and probably between every human being and the other) there are graveyards full of murdered people, from the innocent Americans that were killed on 9/11, to the victims of the invasion of Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan/etc..This game of politricks my friend, continues to widen the gap that is these graveyards, and mutual hatred has risen from the flames of our ignorance.
And every time a concerned but ignorant Lebanese person, or a concerned but ignorant American person, tries to look upon the other, his fragile near-absent and empty vision trying to cross a sea and an ocean, all he can spot is his fallen comrades that were buried in that graveyard. It frightens him, disrupts the whole of his stability, shatters his soul into little pieces afraid of looking anymore, he stops, and turns away, with that vivid image that he still remembers, he starts to form his assumptions. Both being on their own sides lacking both empathy and strong vision, they can see as far as their own murdered comrades, but the eye of their mind refuses to extend its vision across to the other side and see that the tragedy has scarred both ends of the graveyard and all that is in between with death and sorrow. Why? Because it hurts, because the truth can kill, the truth strikes and splits mountains in half, and every time the lightning produced by the friction of lies exchanged as bullets, strikes, truth strikes back with double the force, and only the willing can see the eminent light that strike radiates. Those who live in fear, will blame, the other end and will propagate hatred, those who live for love, will harness the energy that is that strike, and use it to fight back, but fight who? You? Me? Who? The King has always been a monster, a monster with several heads and each head with several faces, and only the sophisticated have seen all his heads and faces, all the blood that leaks out of his pockets full of gold and other false riches. But what can the sophisticated do?
“What position was available for the sophisticated, in the light of this continuous split between thought and reality, the position of the outcast, or the position of the servant of the king?…There was no choice for the sophisticated in a world like this, except between conforming or death. Between speaking the language of oppression and its regime or to speak the language of silence.”  – Mahdi Amel.
I have never been to the US, so that direct exposure to the American culture has not been available to me, but I’ve met a lot of US citizens whether face to face or through the internet, and have engaged in many conversations with them and some of which are my friends. Lebanon is one of the most Americanized countries in the Middle East, a lot of people here are often afraid of speaking Arabic and rarely use it. I was like that, but I’ve recently started changing that, I’ve been reading books in Arabic, writing in Arabic, and using it much more frequently. The main medium I use to learn about the American culture is through conversing with Americans whether face to face or through the internet. Some other ways are reading books written by American authors, some of the TV series I’ve watched etc.. I love exploring other cultures and I frequently attempt to cross those graveyards and add more and more images to the whole album and just put these pieces together. I’m still 18 years old, so I have some years left to gather more and more pictures.
Writing, to me, is one of the most important if not the most important medium of them all. Everyone should write, whether they’re good or bad at it, they should write. Put down some eternal words on a paper and let them live on through everyone that reads them, even if the reader is only yourself. This course allowed all of us to open up more and more and collect more and more pictures to add, and I’m glad about that. I’ve personally learned a lot of things about the environment. There was this one topic that appealed to me the most when one of my classmates presented it, ecofeminism.
It was interesting seeing terrorism through your own glasses, that can never hurt.
Anyway, it was a great experience, and I loved it. We should all work on giving those murdered comrades a better burial, a better more close to the truth image reflecting them, and to behead the beast that killed them all and will continue to kill if we allow him. And if I die placing one brick, or contributing in placing one brick in the bridge that has yet to be built between human beings, then I am content.
Have a good life brethren. I salute you.
Peace.

Your Comrade, Ahmad El Amine