Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Words! Uhh! What are they good for?

The gift of literacy along with conscience is probably what sets us humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom (more for some than others!). Our ability to play around with words be it in speech or prose can trigger an entire host of emotive reactions whether deeply or superficially. And sometimes what we say and write can be compelling enough to give our audience more than just 'food for thought', it can have the power to mobilize the masses.

Case in point: Bush's ever-escalating and desperate rhetoric about Iran's nuclear ambitions and Amhmedinajad's almost instant rebuttals are equally evocative for their respective followers to the extent that you have what we currently have in the shape of Iraq and its possible far-reaching consequences for the entire region.

But I digress, this post is suppose to be about something on a much smaller yet equally evocative scale. Something that starts from the gritty grassroots of your average community- be it divided by race, religion and now increasingly money - but has the artistic flare and delivery to bring even a small amount of people together for the greater good. That something is Spoken-Word Poetry. I know I know, you're probably thinking 'Is that all?' and you wouldn't be alone in thinking so as I was debating this same idea with a friend of mine recently and he refused to think that poetry has a place in making a positive change in anything and to an extent I'd agree because it all depends on the content.

Granted its all subjective and you either agree with what one Spoken-Word artist has to say or you don't and even though the history of this form of poetry is relatively new, poetry and prose in general has been around a lot longer and has definitely made its mark in human civilization. Perhaps a good example of this is the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius and how his works still have a tangible affect on the everyday running of the huge and growing Chinese economy, an impressive feat not doubt!

Spoken-Word poetry and its public exhibition in the form of Poetry Slams began in America in the 1980's and was a popular way of expressing oneself on pressing issues such as crime and gang violence and it has since spread much further afield to places like here in the UK to Bosnia to New Zealand. Granted too that its sheer international appeal doesn't necessarily make Spoken-Word poetry (and those who perform it) as effective as brute force for the greater good but I really don't think we should all lose faith in the natural goodness of the human spirit. And while it is true that most Spoken-Word poets are activists FIRST and artists second they still have the ability to move their audience in making a positive change no matter how small that change may be. Collectively this can be the kryptonite needed to put an end to the unjust powers that be in the world.

And to all the cynics who still refuse to see this and think I speak of a Utopian dream or sound like a Disney commercial, I don't blame you but at the same time if we don't have dreams or aspirations in life, then what's the point of living? In fact human civilization wouldn't get as far as it has if it weren't for the pioneering few who lead the uninspired and quiet masses to share their aspirations.

People like Martin Luther King, Shakespeare and Gandhi are simply the latest in a long line of influential individuals who just happened to have dreams and aspirations. People of different faiths, cultures and principles follow those because a pioneering person set an example in their life.

As lengthy as this entry is I feel it sheds light on a hugely overlooked and underestimated power of human-beings: The spoken or written word.

Here are a few of my favourite Spoken-Word artists whom I hope will inspire you to do something positive in your life and the lives of others.

Taylor Mali - "What Do Teachers Really Make?"

Brian Dykstra - "Pushing Bush"

Suheir Hammad - "First Writings Since" (revised)

This last but one brings back childhood memories of me and my sister and it's up here for no other reason but to share the innocence of just being a kid.

Rives - "Op-talk"

Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm not a mussel virgin anymore!

Dear oh dear oh dear, I've been having a rather crap few weeks lately so meeting up with a few school friends from back in Doha (Capital of Qatar) was a nice way to break the monotony that is life in London. We all decided (I use the word 'decided' loosely) to go to a Belgian seafood place called Belgo in Covent Garden in central London. I was quite apprehensive about not only meeting up with these people who I haven't seen in nearly a decade but also the menu...mussels! I was constantly thinking to myself 'Should I try and order something less-adventurous or just go crazy and give these slimy sea-critters a try'.

In case you're wondering what mussels are

Suffice to say I stuck it through and ordered a plateful of steaming hot mussels in a red Thai sauce. I was quickly shown how to eat them by taking one them out of its shell and eating it and then using the empty shell as a tong to get at the rest.

As for meeting up with old friends it was great because two of them were family friends who just happened to know my class friends. It was great just reminiscing about everything from a multi-lingual pet parrot one of them has back home to the crazy speed of urban development and rent hikes in that part of the world. In case you're wondering where 'back home' is for most of us 'expat kids' here are a few photos of the country where we all grew up:

Contrary to this scene from the set of the new Transformers movie, Qatar cannot be summed up as one big Bedouin camp made of mud huts. Incidentally whilst searching for this photo I came across this interesting take on the whole film

A View from Doha bay looking out at the Sheraton (the pyramid-like building) and other developments

A panoramic view of the main business district in the West bay area of Doha

And so even though these oil-rich Arabs still don't know how to drive or wait patiently in a line and that their urban planning leaves much to be desired, Qatar or for the most part the entire Arabian Gulf region does not consist of mud huts, camels, tents and any other romantic notion of the 'Orient' my Western readers might still have.

And to finish off this little entry here's an excerpt of a "You Know You're an Expat Kid in the Middle East or Have Been When..." list as a fitting and candid bit of background information.

1. You can't answer the question, "Where are you from?" (And when you do, you get into an elaborate conversation that gets everyone confused and/or makes you sound very spoiled.)

2. You flew before you could walk.

3. You have a passport, but no driver's license.

4. You think California is cold.

5. You watch National Geographic specials and recognize someone.

6. You run into someone you know at every airport.

7. Conversations with friends take place at 6:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night.

8. Your life story uses the phrase "Then we went to..." five times.

9. You can speak with authority about the quality of various international airlines.

10. You feel self conscious around all white people.

11. You get offended when someone turns down an offer for food.

12. You live at school and go home for vacation.

13. You treasure pork and root beer as highly-valued commodities. (totally doesn't apply to me!)

14. You have ever had to wait for prayer call to be over to finish shopping.

15. You are fascinated by any wildlife bigger than a gecko.

16. You know the true meaning of "football." (and in your mind can hear the shout, "GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!")

17. You know that it truly is a small world.

18. You have ever gone to the "hammam" or endured a "shamal."

19. You get all the jokes in Aladdin.

20. Rain is still one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.

21. You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price.

22. Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: hot and warm.

23. Your school memories include duck-and-cover drills.

24. You are used to being stared at.

25. You think VISA is a document stamped in your passport, and not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.

26. You call a chicken burrito a "shwarma."

27. Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks a little like a museum with all the "exotic" things you have around.

28. You've heard of or tried "hubbly bubbly."

29. You've woken up in the middle of the night to watch the Superbowl on cable.

30. You have sat in a "men's" or "women's" section in an airport, hospital, or restaurant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Can't think of a title for this one

I find it highly irritating to be left alone with my own thoughts in the mistaken hope that somehow some epiphanous thoughts will miraculously permeate through to the old gray matter. Of course that hardly ever happens at least during the hours of the day that I am at least conscious! I don't know if this happens to anyone else but I find that I tend to get my thoughts of near-perfect clarity just as I am swinging between being awake and asleep or when I'm in the middle of some mundane task which probably is the same thing!

The very fact that I can't recall an example of this is testament to how fleeting these thoughts are, yet I try and make rough notes of these as and when they come. If you're still following all of this well done!

Anyhow I'm sure some of these fleeting thoughts of clarity have somehow translated in blog entries over the years (this not being one of them!). I'll make it a point to keep track of anything interesting that pops up in my crazy head.

--- End of filler ---

On a more meaningful note, here is another helping of random yet interesting things I've come across over the past few weeks.

An amazingly beautiful film I recently watched was Baraka (1992) (meaning 'Blessing' in many languages). I'm a little annoyed that I had never seen this film before now as it came out 15 years ago. It is probably one of very few films that completely captivates your imagination without ever having a single bit of dialogue in it! To call it a cinematic masterpiece is a feeble attempt at fathoming its sheer profoundness. You'll just have to watch it from beginning to end to see what I mean whilst suspending a natural urge to vocalize your inner thoughts or worse: dismiss it as a 'Documentary'.

While I was at work the other day I came across a copy of a monthly health club management magazine (yes I was that bored) and it had some interesting stories on the world of fitness products and services. The strangest one I came across was that of an Israeli snake massage that's suppose to be very therapeutic....


Anyone want a California King snake to slither away those aching back muscles and dare I say nether regions? Wow and I only need to shell out $70 for the privilege! I'm sure Mybrid will be loving to share this little story with the kiddies at summer camp!

And finally imagine you didn't have to bother with accessorizing your Myspace or Facebook every 10 minutes in order to 'define' yourself and hopefully find like-minded individuals - because lets face it it's too tedious. But instead you make first contact purely by clicking on a series of pictures that best describe a given feeling or situation for you.

This is one of the pages used to compile a 'visual DNA' of you

The site is called Imagini and this is the first step to becoming a part of it. its called your 'Visual DNA'. The idea is to gather a collage of the pictures you instinctively click on in order to find someone with similar...instincts really - and by extension, personality. An interesting addition to the world of social-networking nevertheless. I found this site through a link at a friend's blog so thanks for that 'V', you know who you are.

That's all for now, I'll get back to getting stuck into Imperial Life in the Emerald City and some other DVDs and books I haven't had a chance to watch or read. I'll probably do a mini review of all these once I've gone through them all. I'm currently watching the PBS Frontline special called News war which is compulsory viewing for anyone remotely interested in how media is used and abused by the powers that be.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Airport bomb attempts, rural floods, forest fires...How will you remember Summer '07?

Well what a strange few weeks its been, we've had a new administration take over at 10 Downing street and then soon after some crazed doctors try to blow up at least the front entrance to a terminal at Glasgow airport in Scotland. It's also been the very wettest summer the UK has ever seen but nothing on the scale of what's happening in South Asia right now. In sharp contrast, Southern Europe has been sizzling in temperatures reaching the 40's (Centigrade).

Not one to jump on any particular bandwagon, I'd say we've got some seriously freaky weather this year and how funny it's all coinciding with the whole 'Climate change' a la Live Earth lobby. I smell a conspiracy here people!

Oh and who can forget the latest Foot and Mouth scare currently doing the rounds in the national media. All in all it's shaping up to be another memorable summer albeit for morbid reasons. Are there any less depressing bits of news that have fallen by the way said lately? There sure is, behold the return of the DeLorean aka 'The car from Back to the Future'.

John Z DeLorean's DeLorean DMC-12

If you were an 80's kid you'll recognize them gull-like doors anywhere. Its the 'Doc's car' you might even say reminiscing about the Back to the Future films. If ever there was a seemingly bland looking sports car from the 80's that could turn heads nearly 30 years down the line, this would be it. There's something strangely magical about it that makes you think it's going to either fly off somewhere or race down a street at exactly 88 miles an hour before disappearing in a flash and leaving two streaks of flaming rubber in its wake.

And the good news is John DeLorean's one-hit Irish wonder will be back in limited production with 21st century improvements (alas that doesn't include that much coveted 'flux capacitor' thingamajig or trash powered jet engine).

Staying on the theme of time, have you ever wondered why as we grow older there's less and less time to get things done in a day? Well there's a pretty simple yet well researched reason for that according to Personal Development tutor Steve Taylor. The premise is the older you get the shorter your perception of time is. I can especially relate to my summer holidays when I was in primary school or even kindergarten, where 1 month would seem like an entire year for me.

As always I urge readers' input on whatever has been covered in this post, especially on how you'll remember this summer and how you're perception of time has changed over the years.