Building Bridges

building bridges

I met my wife, Azza, when I was employed by the American University in Cairo as an Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, a position I held for seven years.

When Azza and I started going out, she owned a successful catering and food vending business in Cairo.  She’d been trained by an Italian chef named Samantha.  As soon as Azza became proficient in the kitchen, the two of them started making money together, and eventually Azza went “rogue,” breaking away from her mentor to open Azza’s Italian Kitchen, a one-woman operation that helped her earn some really good dough.

In 2015, I left Egypt, bringing Azza with me to the United States.  After a month or so of looking for work, I landed a position in San Antonio, Texas, my birthplace and a city with a cool, international vibe.

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Less than a month ago, after scheming and dreaming and filling out scads of paperwork, Azza opened up a home bakery—Zoozoo’s Sweet Treats (and More)—in accordance with the Cottage Food Industry laws of the state of Texas.  During the intervening weeks, we have done a few events and have made a pretty good start to her little kitchen enterprise.

Last Saturday, we sold Azza’s baked goods at a first-Saturday-of-every-month farmer’s market that had sprouted up in the parking lot of Marbach Christian Church, located on Marbach Road in southwest San Antonio.  We threw our tent up in the middle of a huddle of other tents and then covered a couple of tables with delicious, homemade edibles.  Right next to us, Ayse, our Turkish friend and a neighbor, sold some of her paintings and a few lovely ceramics that had come over with her from Istanbul.

During the course of the day, the church’s pastor, a fifty-something fellow named Darnell with a greying beard, came over to welcome us to the market and then chat.  He was a loquacious fellow with a bass laugh that came directly from his core.  He told us about the halfway house—he pointed at it across the street—that his church was sponsoring.  Then he told us about all the other initiatives—for instance, he acquired and repaired old bicycles for those in the area with no other form of transportation—he and his parishioners were involved in.

My wife and Ayse are both practitioners of Islam.  Ayse quite conspicuously covers her hair with a hijab, so the pastor, quite surprisingly, greeted her with a “hamdullah,” an Arabic word that means “thank God.”  A more appropriate greeting would have been “Salaam Ahlaykum,” but we were all thrilled that he’d even made the attempt and were surprised that he knew as much Arabic as he did.

When I told him that Azza was also Muslim but that she didn’t cover her hair, he seemed a touch baffled.  “So why do Muslim women cover their hair anyway?” he wondered.  Then he followed that up with, “And why does one woman choose to do so and another one not?”

We explained that it was all personal preference and that the idea that all Muslim women were required to wear the hijab was a misunderstanding of Islam and its precepts.  It was an example of a misconception that many have about the religion.

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As you might guess from what I wrote earlier, Pastor Darnell is a busy man, so one thing and then another kept pulling him away from our tent; however, after tending to whatever needed looking after, he always came back to where we’d set up shop, and we eventually invited him to pull up a chair and spend the day with us which he ended up doing.

One of my favorite pastimes these past several years has been educating Americans about the Middle East—I lived in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt for about a decade and a half—and the predominant religion of the region.  Given the current climate in America, where fear of “the other” is being used for political purposes, this pastime has become a vital mission.

After learning that I am a published writer and interested in the arts, Darnell started presenting ideas about projects he and I might collaborate on.  For example, he wanted to know if I would like to help him organize poetry readings.  For another, he asked me if I’d like to help him edit some of his writings.

All these ideas sounded interesting, but they prompted me to make a proposal of my own.  I told him that I thought we ought to organize a kind of “mixer” that would bring Muslims and Christians together for the purpose of building interfaith bridges.

He liked the idea a lot and we exchanged telephone numbers.  In my mind’s eye, I can even see Azza and I doing a little presentation on Arabs, Islam, and Muslims at his church.

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The idea of bringing people together during the Age of Trump excites me and fills me with hope.  Speaking of hope, I think everyone should check this out as a way of becoming a bit more informed and enlightened.

The Total Unfairness of Conservative Thinking

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In my last blog I wrote about a Twitter exchanged I had with @SamGipp, a Baptist “preacher” who thinks that it is his Christian duty to hate Muslims, political progressives, gays, lesbians, immigrants, and “perverts”—a catchall phrase he likes to use to describe anyone who doesn’t look like him or live like he does.  He would not use this word to describe a president who gets off on stomping on the downtrodden or having sex with porn stars or grabbing women by their pussies or participating in extramarital affairs.

Sam Gipp lives in a very twisted world and practices a very twisted logic.  According to his way of thinking, Republicans cannot be perverts, no matter what sort of behavior they engage in.  It’s only political progressives who are capable of perversion.  If I think about his reasoning for a moment, I see that the idea of perversion is not tied to the sort of acts or behavior a person engages in; instead, it’s about who it is that is acting.  If a political conservative engages in sexually predatory behavior, then such behavior is acceptable because of the perpetrator’s political affiliation.  As we all know, conservatives are godly people and thus incapable of behaving wrongly.  Godliness, therefore, nullifies the predation.  This is circular reasoning at its finest.

On the other hand, if a progressive acts predatorily, then no one should be surprised because liberals are just inherently sinful people.  In other words, political conservatives can do no wrong because they are children of god, and even if they do stray away from the straight and narrow, it’s just because the devil made them do so.  Progressives, on the other hand, can do no right because they are devils themselves.  Because liberals are inherently evil, everything they do becomes sinful.

Politicized evangelicals of Sam Gipp’s sort have really shown, in a multitude of ways, that the Bible has become subordinate to the Gospel of Conservatism.  And in the age of Trump, the Gospel of Conservativism looks frightening like the Gospel of Authoritarianism or The Gospel of Fascism.

By the way, Madeleine Albright, a woman who knows something about politics, international relations, and fascism, has just written a Book entitled Fascism:  A Warning.  When asked, in a recent televised interview who she was trying to warn, she spoke up very clearly and said, “Americans.”

Gipp, the asshole, has been tweeting again and he’s really got my dander up this time.  He sent out an obnoxious and hateful tweet about Muslims.  The gist of his posting is there is no such thing as a peaceful Muslim and that they should be wiped off the face of the earth.

Does he really think that Jesus would be in favor of his followers committing genocide?  I’d like to ask Gipp where, in “The Good Book,” genocide is advocated.

Being married to an extraordinarily kind Muslim and having lived among them for approximately fifteen years, I responded to Gipp by tweeting, in effect, that his hatefulness would help him find his way to the front of the line of those being ushered into hell.

I know this was harsh, but sometimes harshness must be met with harshness.

He then responded by telling me that unless I had nail holes in my hands and feet, I had no business telling him who would, and who would not, be going to hell.

I responded by asking him to show me his nail holes—I actually asked him to post photos of them.  I said that since he always seemed to pass judgment on others and thus enjoyed playing at being god, he surely had the marks of Christ on his body.

It’s been two days now and he hasn’t responded.  I think it’s because the cat’s got his tongue.

 

Weirdness of the Weirdest Sort (Or on Being a Trump Supporter)

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I really want to remain civil.  I really do.  I try hard.  But in this age of Trump, an era when so many celebrate irrationality, it’s hard to be patient and humane.

I am on Twitter.  I like tweeting but probably not as much as your average sparrow does on a typical day.  I certainly don’t tweet as much as America’s douchebag president does.  (By the way, that’s probably a first for me; I don’t ever remember using the word “douchebag” in anything I’ve ever written.)  I do have one rule of thumb while on Twitter:  I try to send out things that are not stupid or nonsensical.  This puts me automatically at odds with Trump.  He seemingly prefers to tweet dumb and absurd things.  I recently heard Eugene Robinson, well-known columnist at The Washington Post, say that Trump is certainly venal and probably senile.  That sounds about right.

Lately, I’ve gotten my back up against the evangelicals.  Many claim to be supporters of an immoral and sadistic president while simultaneously (and piously) referring to themselves as “children of God” or Christians.  At least they’ve got the “child” part right.  Many are childish, and they see Trump as their “daddy,” the one who’s going to protect them against everything and anything that’s scary (think caravans of scary foreigners coming to America).  The question is, who’s going to guard them against daddy.  Being children, it’s likely they haven’t gotten that far in their thinking.

When I was a boy and going to church, I naively thought that a person was automatically good because he or she would spend a few hours each week warming a pew in some house of worship.  Now that I’m a man, I realize that some of the very worst people warm pews on Sundays.

All this has been a roundabout way to mention that I recently ran across this Baptist preacher who tweets some of the most bigoted, ludicrous, and dishonest stuff you can imagine.  His Twitter handle is @SamGipp.  In a recent tweet he misquoted George Washington as saying, “When government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms, it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.”  I thought that sounded weird—like some kind of NRA slogan—so I looked it up and found that the authenticity of the quote had been disproved.  I pointed this out to Gipp, and after doing so, even more people who’d seen his tweet began to like and retweet it.

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This is just plain old weirdness of the weirdest sort.  It’s odd that adults, when presented with evidence that contradicts something they believe in, would continue to cling to that which was clearly shown to be crap.

Perhaps it’s a new form of derangement, some kind of Trump Syndrome?

Unfortunately, I Give a F*ck

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I rise and shine quite early, get myself dressed, usually donning shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and drive over to a Barnes and Noble, the one located just off 410 and across from North Star Mall in San Antonio.  I do this to meet a Venezuela woman who wants to develop her conversational skills in English.  When we first started working together, she was pretty cryptic when I asked her what she was doing in Texas.  She said things about visiting family and wanting to be a tourist.  Slowly, she began to open up, and I’m now convinced—though she’s never openly said so—that she’s trying to leave her home country because of the chaos there.  I guess she thinks the political and economic situation in the US is better.

Of course, I frequently remind her that America is being led by one Donald J. Trump, Russian agent and head of a crime syndicate, as a way of subtly reminding her that she might want to think things through before making any rash relocation plans.

As usual, it’s taking me forever to get to my main subject.  I’m really hoping to blog about a book that I saw while working with my Venezuelan friend this morning.  It was shelved directly in front of the table we were sitting at.  Its title—one of the best I’ve seen adorning the cover of any book in recent memory—The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:  A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life— immediately grabbed my attention.

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As soon as my English lesson ended and my student had taken off, I walked over to the shelf and got a closer look.  I saw that it was written by Mark Manson.  I picked it up, opened up to the first page, and saw a reference to Charles Bukowski.  (The author immediately scored bonus points with me.)  I then turned it over and saw that it was selling for $24.99.  Because I am a cheapskate by nature, I decided I’d see if I could find it at any of the libraries I have access to.  Free, in my way of thinking, is always preferable to $24.99.

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This is certainly a book I very desperately need to read.  For almost my entire life—I did have a brief “bad boy” phase that doesn’t count—I’ve given too much of a f*ck.  From just about the moment I exited my mother’s womb, people have used words like “conscientious,” “responsible,” and “meticulous” when describing me.  Of course, these aren’t necessarily bad things, but when taken to the extreme, such attributes can turn one into a neurotic perfectionist who obsesses about everything.  Such a person wakes up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat because the water bill is due in less than five hours and the possibility that the online payment might not be processed in time fills him with existential dread.

Such a person is me.  That’s yours truly in a nutshell.

 

 

 

A Third-Rate President

 

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In Wadi Gedid, Egypt

I have a tendency to go on and on when I blog, but I want to be short and to the point on this one.  I am an American man who couldn’t be prouder to be married to an émigré from Egypt, an African country and one of those places the “President”—I don’t find him one bit presidential so I’m required to use quotation marks—recently besmirched by referring to them as “shitholes.”

I am proud because my wife is kind, honest, hardworking, creative, and generous, just to name a few of her positive attributes.  I find it ironic that a day after the “President” belittled those who’ve come here from other places, my wife completed the paperwork needed to start her own sole proprietorship, a home baker business she’s calling “ZooZoo’s Sweet Treats.”  She owned and operated such an enterprise in Egypt and did very well, mostly because she is an artist in the kitchen and a skilled entrepreneur.  I expect that she’ll be a smash here as well.

By the way, has the “President” seen this country in its entirety?  There are places in these United States that could use a little enrichment and beautification.

Why, one wonders, did Trump choose the term shitholes?  He could have referred to locales in Africa and such as “beautiful places,” but he didn’t.  He used such a descriptor because he thinks of large swaths of everywhere else as the “Third World” which equates to “third-rate.”  (Unfortunately, this whole “first-world-versus-third-world way of thinking is widely held in America.)  Those from the Third World are thought to be third-rate because they are poor and backward, which says a lot about what Americans put value on.  Such a way of looking at the world fails to take into account the fact that many in the Third World are actually first-rate when it comes to their spiritual development and the like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOOK

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I wrote this a little more than a year ago, but it seems, once again, very apropos…

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I can’t believe I’m being dragged back into politics.  But that is exactly what’s happening.

In 2015 I quit visiting all the political websites that had held my interest for many years.  I stopped thinking about politics and discussing the topic with others.

2015 is also the year I left Egypt after living and working there for seven years.  During that time, I was very political, at least from 2008 to 2014.  In 2011, I witnessed the mass uprising against Hosni Mubarak and found myself swept away by the euphoria that followed his deposing.  Then, two years later, during the month of July, I watched in horror as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown in a military coup.  Some very scary characters referred to it as a “second revolution,” but the more apt term was “counterrevolution.”

The counterrevolution crushed my spirit but not because I was a Morsi fan.  I was devastated because I had seen how hard brave Egyptians had fought to free themselves.  And I saw the sacrifices they’d made.  Suddenly, though, they were right back at square one or even worse.  The only way I could survive such devastation was to numb myself.  So, I withdrew from politics and became apathetic, which takes me back to the point I was making about myself in the second paragraph.

I had a bit of a revival when Bernie Sanders decided to run for president.  The old political juices began to flow again.  From the moment he declared his candidacy, I felt the Bern.  Eventually, he built an incredible following and I began to see a glass that was half full.  Egypt had certainly lost its way but America, it seemed, was on the verge of finding its soul.

Then the Democratic Party machine decided that Hillary Clinton was somehow owed the nomination.  Bernie was treated unfairly and his supporters were pushed aside.  Many of us warned that Clinton was too compromised and therefore vulnerable.  Too few listened to those warnings.  Too many people were too certain about what they thought was a foregone conclusion.  There were many ominous signs for those with the ability to see and read them.  With Bernie out of the race and everyone saying Clinton was a shoo-in, I began to lose interest again.

But I never drifted entirely away.  That weird sense of foreboding I felt wouldn’t let me turn completely off.  The mood of the nation reinforced the sense of dread I felt.  It seemed all too possible that something catastrophic might happen.  And it did on November 8, 2016, a date that go down in infamy.

Now that the world as we’ve known it is in the process of vanishing, the old jump-up-on-a-soapbox Troy has reawakened.

I grew up during a period when Americans smugly believed that the nation and its people were somehow special—or exceptional.  They watched as other countries fell apart or came under the influence of evil powers but felt that such things could never happen in the greatest country the world had ever seen.  America would always remain the beacon.  It would always set the model for others to follow.

But just look where we find ourselves now.  Just look.  Look long and hard.  And while doing so, make sure not to turn your eyes away.  Don’t delude yourself into believing that what you see isn’t as bad as many are suggesting.

The truth is, it’s every bit as bad as people are saying.  We cannot know for sure how bad it may get, but it is already way beyond horrific.

 

#NotMyPresident #TheResistance

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I have this friend named B*** S******.  We got to know each other while we were both teaching at The American University in Cairo.  I returned to the US in 2015 and he did so a year later.

When I came back, I got a pretty lucrative education and training job with the Department of Defense as a private contractor.  I was hired to work with foreign military personal—both enlisted and officers.  I had students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritania, Togo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Georgia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Mongolia, South Korea, and Indonesia.  I might have left out a country or two, and I apologize if that’s the case.  Then, student enrollment declined, beginning in the springtime, and I got laid off exactly one year after hiring on, making me collateral damage which sounds a lot better than a bullet-riddled corpse that had been mutilated beyond all recognition.  It was the first layoff of my life and it came at the worst time imaginable.  In fact, it’s left me with ugly scars and something akin to PTSD.

B*** came back and got a job at a community college in some Podunk in the Midwest, an area sometimes called “flyover country,” and for good reason, because to land there puts one at risk of contracting a deadly form of ignorance, the sort that turns the brain to mush, making someone like Donald Trump look like a reasonable human being who might make a good president.

I might be giving my friend’s current place of abode away by saying it garnered national news a while back when the police arrested three scraggly, lily-white, neo-Nazi-looking guys who were in the midst of plotting to blow up a building inhabited by Somali refugees who had committed the heinous crime of leaving their troubled homeland to start life anew.  I’ll go back and look at the reports again, but I believe one Donald Trump, the fellow who froths at the mouth like a rabid skunk when you suggest he’s opened up Pandora’s Box of hate in the country, had been the rednecks’ primary inspiration.

To quote one of my favorite writers of the 20th century, a kinky headed dude named Kurt Vonnegut:  “And so it goes.”

B*** and I talk about politics on the phone from time to time.  During one of our pre-election conversations, I said, “There might be a silver lining to the election of DT if it happens.”

“What the hell would that be?” B*** asked incredulously.

“Well, in the short run, I agree it would be catastrophic, but in the longer term, it would likely be a powerful impetus to kick start a truly robust progressive movement the likes of which American has maybe never seen before.”

Do I see such a coming together of progressives happening now that we are living in the alternative universe known as Trump Reality?  Quick answer:  Hell yes.

The last time we talked—about two weeks after that very flawed presidential election—B*** was terrified.  (I could hear him quaking in his boots through the phone.)  His fear was that we were entering a phase where the fascist brutes, aligned with law enforcement, would just start rounding people up or mowing them down—whatever was most cost-effective and convenient.  I advised my buddy to get on Twitter and just have a look around at the pushback that was taking place against the Chief Nihilist of the US and his fascist minions.  If he did so, I exhorted him, he’d feel a lot better.

I have always felt that STEP ONE in the resistance of despotism can only come after millions of people have linked arms—this linking can start virtually, on places like Twitter—become comrades, and have declared a common goal.  This is happening as I write this.  If you’re feeling alone, hopeless, and isolated, reach out to others who are your political brothers and sisters.  Once you do this, you will begin to feel a part of something that is much bigger than yourself.  This will embolden and inspire you.  You’ll see that lots and lots of people have your back.

You will also discover resistance movements and find out about street protests and planned acts of resistance and civil disobedience.  Join one and become an activist.  Use your feet to move through the streets.  As your feet carry you along, your voices will rise up to say “No!”

My feeling is the fascists are really mostly bluster.  (It is no accident that the most obnoxious ones hide behind fake Twitter handles, afraid to show their true identities.)  Stand up to them.  Get in their faces.  And they will ultimately slink away.