Moroccan Mint Tea and Henna Designs

Morocco is an Arabic country in Northern Africa. Beautifully ecologically diverse, Morocco is characterized by regions of both mountains and deserts. Today, the Arabic Flagship program at OU held a celebration of Moroccan heritage, complete with traditional Moroccan mint tea and henna designs. Moroccan mint tea is hot green tea flavored with sugar and spearmint leaves and it’s completely delicious. It’s poured from a special teapot, which makes the drink especially foamy and flavorful. Traditionally, it’s served three times, and the amount of time the tea has been steeping gives each glass a different flavor. If you want to make it at home, it’s fairly simple:

  • In a teapot, combine two teaspoons of tea-leaf with half a liter of boiling water, then allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes.
  • Without stirring, filter the mixture into a different stainless steel pot, so that the tea leaves and coarse powder are removed.
  • Add sugar (about one teaspoon per 100 milliliters).
  • Bring to boil over a medium heat (this helps the sugar dissolve).
  • Fresh mint leaves can be added to the teapot, or directly to the cup.

While we were drinking the delicious tea, we were given henna designs. Henna is  a plant that, when mashed and mixed with water, stains the skin a dark brown color. It’s been used for centuries, and is still used in Morocco today, especially on brides. The paste is applied to skin, given time to dry, sealed with a lemon-oil mixture, then scraped off the skin. The stain deepens over time, but fades within about two weeks. It was such a cool experience and now I have a very unique stain on my left hand! Morocco is a country with so many unique and original traditions, and some day I hope to travel there!

henna is squeezed onto the hand drinking some delicious mint tea while waiting for my henna to dry coated with the lemon-oil mixture the finished product

Hazy Horizons

The world is in a state of turbulence; this is a pretty standard belief. But the average standard of living is higher now than ever before in history. The American people are also, on average, safer and more prosperous than ever. So why do we characterize the world as turbulent? It was this question address by Dr. Thomas Finger, a faculty member at Stanford University and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis of the State Department, in his keynote address to round out this year’s International Studies Symposium at the University of Oklahoma.

The world is moving forward and upward, true, but there is still turbulence. This is because, for once, we can’t see the future. We do have enemies today, but they are much harder to identify than in the past. We used to know our enemy, whether Nazi Germany or the communist regime of the USSR. However, using Dr. Finger’s analogy, we have traded in a dragon for baskets of snakes. We cannot focus our energies on a single target, and each of our snakes has to be handled in a different way. Thus, we need to redefine how we deal with the world’s turbulence. Also, part of our problem is the change that has occurred in our definition of national security. We once defined national security in terms of the safety of the US homeland. Now, we have decided that all US citizens must be safe at all times no matter where they are and for what reason. How can we commit to such a promise? Is it even our place to risk our armed forces to save those who intentionally put themselves in harm’s way in the pursuit of glory or riches? I don’t know, but I do know that we need to decide what we can commit to and what is not our battle. The turbulence of this day is different than any we’ve faced before. We need to recognize our new breeds of enemies and develop new methods to fight them while preventing our paranoia from creating more. Our uncertainty cannot be allowed to destabilize us. We must move forward, regardless of the clarity of our horizons.

A Snowy Day

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Today was absolutely magical! Not only did it snow all day, but I also had the chance to walk outside while it was snowing for what it felt like the first time. It seems as if on any snow day, classes would get cancelled and I would end up at home all day; today was not like that at all. I enjoyed some tasty Thai food for lunch with a sweet friend of mine at Thai Delight on campus corner, and it was just fantastic! Here’s a picture of our food:2015-02-27 23.27.44 I was also invited on my friend Elena’s (the girl in the middle) radio show “Café Del Sol” along with Sara (the girl on the right) and another friend of Elena’s, Mauricio . This week’s theme was International and we all had an awesome discussion about it! (If you enjoy listening to great international music and/or music from local artists, make sure to tune in at wire.ou.edu or use the tune in radio app available on ios and android at 3:00 p.m. central time every Fridays!) It was such a great experience to be a part of the radio show and I hope to be back on the show again sometime in the future.

Happy Friday everyone!

Sadaf xo

AP U.S. History

This post isn’t really international in nature, but I think it’s still important to write about. Recently, the Oklahoma House Committee on Education approved a bill that would cut all government funding for AP United States History courses, essentially removing AP U.S. History from public high schools in Oklahoma. Supporters of this bill say that AP U.S. History is “anti-American” and emphasizes the negative aspects of American history, rather than painting American historical figures in a positive light. The bill’s main supporter, state representative Dan Fischer, said in a committee hearing that the AP US History curriculum “trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of Constitutional government in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” according to a CNN report. The bill also proposed a curriculum for a replacement U.S. History course, which emphasized the documents important in laying out the ideal values of American democracy. AP U.S. History has sparked controversy in other parts of the country as well. In my home state of Colorado, student and teacher protests were sparked when the Jefferson County school board mentioned plans to change it’s district’s AP U.S. History classes to be more favorable to the U.S..

The AP U.S. History controversy brings up a lot of issues regarding education. I think we would all agree that “education” as an abstract idea is a good thing. We’re always talking about how education can pull somebody out of poverty, or how education can promote peace. But we have to think about what exactly education is. What exactly is it that we are being educated about? Historically, governments have used education as a tool to advance their agendas and beliefs. For example, the other day in one of my classes, we were looking at a math test from a school in Nazi Germany. The word problems on the test were pretty straightforward – simple multiplication and division – yet they still advanced a political agenda. The first question asked students to calculate how much money was used to care for mentally and physically disabled people in government institutions. The next question asked them to find how many houses could be built with this money. Though the questions were simple mathematically, they were still subtly telling students that money spent caring for those unable to support themselves could be spent for the more useful purpose of building houses, thus making students more likely to accept discrimination against, or even elimination of, people in government funded institutions.

The influence of an AP U.S. History course is even less subtle than this. What we learn in a history course forms our belief of what actually happened in the past, which in term influences what we will do in the future. Ask anyone why learning history is important, and the go-to answer is always “so that we can learn from our mistakes”. The AP U.S. History curriculum is being criticized for it’s emphasis on the United States’ mistakes, but isn’t that the point? Aren’t we supposed to learn about our mistakes so that we don’t make the same ones again? Yes, I agree that it’s important to learn about the positives as well, about the democratic ideals that made this country distinct, but those ideals aren’t the only aspect of our collective past. Maybe our history isn’t quite as pretty as we want it to be

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Kinzer Iran Lecture

When I walked into Mr. Kinzer’s lecture, I knew very little about Iran. I was slightly familiar with the culture, but had absolutely no knowledge of the country’s history. He stated that prior to his first Iran assignment, he was in the same situation. As he began to speak about how he learned more, I became more and more appreciative that he learned about the history of the country by speaking to the citizens of Iran. I honestly had no idea that Iran had coup in 1953. I completely agree with his assertion that for the US, US-Iran relations begin with the hostage crisis, but for Iran, US-Iran relationships begin with the 1953 coup. I do believe that the Western world is at fault for the state that Iran is in currently, but then again, messing up the progress of developing nations is nothing new to this hemisphere. Kinzer also emphasized the cultural differences between the United States and Iran, a distinction I found important to the context of his argument. I feel like the overall outlook and feelings of the United States are immature compared to Iran, which has centuries of historical experience under its belt. Kinzer specifically pointed out that Iran knows that other countries will not be powerful and influential forever, a knowledge not shared by the United States, and is more or less content with taking a backseat for a little while because Iranian society knows that a time will come when Iran shines in glory yet again. Overall, Kinzer’s lecture enlightened me as to what the historical background of US-Iran relations is and I am now more educated and can form an informed opinion about the current situation in Iran.

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Chinese New Year (春节)

Last Thursday (February 19th) was the Lunar New Year. At OU, the holiday was accompanied by a variety of fun events hosted by a combination of the Chinese Department, Chinese Language Club, Chinese Society of Students and Scholars, and Confucius Institute. There was free Chinese food on the South Oval, food, games, and the CCTV Chinese New Year show in Wagner hall on Thursday night, and a Chinese New Year Gala complete with food and performances by the CSSS on Sunday. There were also events and cheap authentic Chinese food at local Chinese restaurants. Of all these events, I unfortunately only made it to the free food on the South Oval (by chance) and the event on Thursday night.

Even though I only made it to one of the many fun events I could have gone to, the Chinese New Year celebration was a lot of fun. We ate a variety of Chinese food, including delicious rice rolls made by my Chinese teacher and, of course, 饺子 (dumplings). After we ate, there were several Chinese cultural activities, including calligraphy, Ma jiang, and contests to see who was the best at using chopsticks. I finally learned how to play Ma jiang, which might be a valuable skill to have when I study abroad in China. One of the people I was playing with had been to China, and said that Ma jiang is, in fact, quite popular in Beijing. Since I spent so much time learning how to play Ma jiang, I didn’t really get a chance to do any calligraphy or chopstick competitions before the event ended, but I still had a great time.

Throughout the entire event, the Chinese New Year show, which is broadcast on CCTV in China, was playing. The show is basically a collection of songs, dances, acrobatics, and sketches that lasts for about five hours, so we didn’t get to see the whole thing. In China, the show is watched by just about everyone who has a TV and includes most of China’s biggest celebrities. As my Chinese teacher said, a Chinese person will know they’re truly a celebrity if they are on the New Year show. What I saw of this year’s show included a confusing sketch, that would have probably been funny if I were better at understanding Chinese, and a mash up of several of this year’s biggest Chinese songs. I didn’t really recognize any of them except for a few lines of 小苹果 (if you’re into confusing music video experiences, this song is for you), but several of the people who had been to China and were more aware of popular Chinese songs were able to sing along. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and next year I’ll definitely try to make it to more Chinese New Year Events.

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Italian Ambassador Luncheon

On February 4th, I had the honor and pleasure of attending an invite-only event welcoming the Italian Ambassador to the United States to the University of Oklahoma campus. The luncheon was held in the Sandy Bell Gallery of the Fred Jones Museum of Art, a very unexpected location. I had the interesting, albeit slightly uncomfortable, experience of sitting in assigned seats, not among friends but among professors, visitors to the university, and postgraduate research fellows. Although at first I was worried to be among strangers, I soon struck up a very interesting conversation with an Italian postdoctoral fellow who came to OU to work with the library to create open source documents of historical scientific works. I spent a very enjoyable lunch chatting with this highly intellectual man, who I would not have ever met otherwise.

After an hour of lunching on lamb and potatoes, we finally heard the ambassador speak. He discussed Italian-American relations, and, not having an extensive knowledge of this topic, I had a bit of trouble following his highly condensed historical account. Surprisingly, this main event took up only 15 minutes of the entire luncheon.

However, I was honored to be invited and glad to have spent much of the hour discussing life, travel, religion, and science with a complete stranger.

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Bailey, Gabrielle and I in front of a very interesting painting in the gallery.

 

Trains: France/Italy vs. Japan

While I enjoyed using the train systems in all of these countries, there were some major differences between the two in Europe and Japan. First off, the stations were generally built in 2 distinct styles. The major stations in Japan were very organized and clean, each part put into a logical place. The stations in France and Italy were sprawling things, leading you deeper and deeper underground, oftentimes with large empty hallways or open rooms. Furthermore, the atmosphere was completely different. I nearly always felt underground in European train stations: there was not often much lighting and, as mentioned above, there were always wide open areas. The bigger stations had stores drastically different than what was above ground, enhancing the sensation that I had entered into a different world. Japan’s stations felt more like nexus’, simple a node where many things came together. They weren’t their own place so much as a combination of all the places meeting there. Still, the largest difference between the two regions is in the organization. In Japan, a train later than a few minutes was an anomaly. Even Shinkansen, travelling at hundreds of miles per hour, were regularly within 1-2 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.  The people getting on and off the train were very polite and practiced, letting people off before getting on and never getting rough. I cannot accurately describe how crazy this is considering the size of the traffic. During rush hour, the stations would become solid masses of people. Still, I would stand in a line that showed where the doors would be and wait my turn to get on, trusting that everyone would keep their end of the bargain and the system would run smoothly. In France and Italy it was a brawl. You could generally count on the train arriving. Eventually. Unless there was a strike-there were three during my two week stay. If it was rush hour you better be prepared to push and shove your way in or else stand in the throng until nightfall. Lines may have once existed, but once the amount of people wanting on the train got too large the columns melded together into a mob pushed in among itself. Signs were often posted to warn about pick pocketing, but I had to pay $50 for a lesson in how real the problem is. I don’t mean this to come off as bashing on the subways in France and Italy. I would still take either of them over having to drive, and the lack of organization allowed me to develop a more personal connection with the stations. I was spoiled in having my first experience be with Japan’s system. In the already stressful experience of travelling at high speeds underground in a pressurized tube filled with strangers, it is nice to have the reliability of the trains to lean on.

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Experiences: Trains

One of the best things about travelling to a new country is getting to try their public transportation system. Aside from some of the major cities (like New York), America is very lacking in public transportation. In most parts of the country, it is the norm to own a car and use that as the main method of travel. As someone who hates to drive, the train systems in places like Japan and Europe are incredibly valuable. You can quite easily get all around the city without owning a car. In fact, I would hesitate to even try driving a car in some of the major cities. France has such narrow roads with cars parked on either side and an unusual use of stoplights that I would likely cause a wreck in my first day driving. Tokyo gets so busy I would waste the day just trying to get to where I wanted to go. Using trains gets even better if you have a train pass, because then it feels like your own little taxi service. All you have to do is find a station (never difficult), locate the right train, and swipe your magic card to get anywhere in the city.

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Experiences: Japan #2

My most recent trip to Japan is the one I remember most clearly. It was the longer than the first vacation, lasting 3 weeks. This was spent travelling between some of the major cities: Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, etc. and experiencing some things that you cannot do anywhere but Japan. One of these is riding the famed Shinkansen, or bullet trains. Interestingly enough, the bullet trains do not live up to their name for those riding them. Don’t get me wrong, watching one move is amazing; but when you actually ride one you dejectedly realize how advanced Japan’s train system is. The acceleration and deceleration are smoother than a regular train, and once you reach top speed you don’t even realize you are moving quickly. There is no sensation of haste, no great rumbling of the engine beneath your feet.  Worse, if you are riding a Shinkansen it likely means you travelling far away, so the journey is still going to take several hours. Personally, I find subways to be a much more exciting means of travel. Having to balance yourself as the train makes a tight curve, watching the walls and lights pass by with blinding speed, and reaching your destination in a matter of minutes creates a much more personal experience in subways than in the bullet trains.

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