Omar Khayyam Day

I am embarrassed to say that I have walked past the mesmerizing white statue in front of Farzaneh Hall multiple times and had no idea who the sculpture portrayed. I was quick to recognize the beauty of the statue and was correct in assuming that the statue was a portrayal of a great thinker. Little did I know that the statue portrayed one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of the middle ages, Omar Khayyam.

Omar Khayyam accomplished much during his life time and I am glad I had the chance to learn more about him at the Omar Khayyam Day put on by the Persian Studies Students in tandem with the Iranian Student Association. The event was well attended and consisted of many fun elements. There was a poetry recitation put on by the Persian language students, great speeches on the importance of Khayyam and his effects on Persian literature, great baklava and other food, as well as Persian calligraphy.

All in all the event was fun, educational, and delicious. Next time an event is hosted by the Persian Studies students I will be sure to mark it on my calendar.

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Refugee Crisis in Europe

I also wrote this one for a class.

I attended “Journey to Europe: Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis,” which included a screening of the movie “4.1 miles” and a presentation by Dr. Smith, Dr. Raymond, and Stefanie Neumeier. The movie is a documentary that focuses on the struggles of one man to help safely bring families across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Even though the island is small and relatively poor, the native inhabitants still generally feel it is their responsibility to give aid to the desperate refugees who continue to arrive in vast amounts every day.

The main purpose of the presentation was to show that the vast majority of people seeking refuge in Europe are truly desperate victims of the tragedies of war. They are not lazy people who simply want to enjoy the pleasures of Europe, and they are not terrorists looking for an excuse to cross borders. These people risk their lives to escape their native countries, and none of the journey is easy. Furthermore, becoming an official refugee is not nearly as easy as it is popularly described. An individual must be outside his own country and be unable to return, and the country in which he seeks refuge must accept his refugee claim, which often does not actually happen. Surprisingly, the countries who accept the most refugees are not the rich and prosperous ones, but the poor, fragile ones who are at risk of falling into political and economic turmoil themselves. This situation may be caused in part by the citizens of the rich countries who fear that accepting refugees will downgrade their high society. However, this fear is in no way supported by the numerous studies which test it. In fact, the main source of violence is from natives against refugees and from refugees who are not well integrated into society. Thus, it is not the refugees who are the problem, but the natives who refuse to accept them.

The greatest insight I gained from the presentation was realizing the shear mass of the people who are trying to escape the violence of their home countries. It was also very interesting to hear a different perspective of the crisis from the one usually heard from the media. Although I do not follow the crisis regularly, the information I had generally heard previously mostly expressed the concerns of the Europeans who did not want to have to manage the arrival of so many refugees. Realizing that poorer countries – even those that can barely support their own native population – are forced to accept the refugees simply because the prosperous countries do not want to deal with them certainly offers a different view of the situation.

This problem clearly relates to power and inequality. The countries that have more power are able to refuse to accept the refugees because there are enough powerful people in the countries to keep it from happening. These powerful individuals likely believe that they are in some way better than the poor refugees who cannot seem to do anything for themselves. To them, the refugees are clearly coming to Europe to beg for help simply because they are too lazy to solve their problems on their own. The burden is then passed on to the “lesser” countries who accept the refugees either because the people can relate to their struggles and truly wish to help, or simply because they do not have the resources to keep the refugees from coming. Thus, there is a clear inequality between the refugees and the natives, and also between the rich and poor countries accepting refugees.

I cannot say that I entirely agree with all the points made by the presenters, but I certainly do not disagree with them either. There are always two sides to a debate, and it is generally impossible to know which side is actually correct. Certainly, it does not seem right that refugees are being stereotyped as lazy terrorists, and it does not seem right that the poorer countries are the ones who are forced to handle the burden when the richer ones clearly have better and more plentiful resources to share. However, if I were to attend a different presentation supporting the opposite position, they would likely have a plausible argument as well. Perhaps there really are instances where refugees are cheating the system for personal gain, and that is certainly a valid concern that needs to be considered. At the bottom line, the situation is not nearly as simple as either side would like it to be, so the problem can only be solved if both views are equally addressed.

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The Complexities of the Yemen Crisis

I wrote this as extra credit for one of my classes.

I attended “The Yemeni Conundrum: Who is who, dynamics, and the way out,” presented by the visiting physics professor Dr. Mustafa Bahran. He first explained the history of the conflict and offered several common explanations for why the conflict exists. The legitimate government is fighting a rebel group led by leaders of the former government. One theory says that the conflict arises from dissension between Muslim sects, as one group believes that they are entitled to lead because they are descendents of Mohammed while the other believes they are entitled by the vote of the people. Another theory says that it stems from a conflict of interest between the north and the south, as the south is rarely represented in the government, and the only southern official was recently forcibly removed from office. Yet another theory claims that it is simply a power struggle between the new, legitimate government and the old one that is not content with giving up its power.

Dr. Bahran believes it is really a combination of all these factors. However, the situation is not quite as simple as it may seem. He also claimed that the one thing the two groups have in common is that they include thieves and war lords. And beyond that, the groups supporting each position are also giving aid to the opposing side as well. Ultimately, leaders of both groups do not have any desire for the war to end because they are profiting from the war, so there will be no winners in the end except the crooks. Because of this, Dr. Bahran concluded that the only way the war will end is by some form of outside intervention, either by a global super power or by a divine power.

While the talk was certainly interesting, I had hoped that he would incorporate his physics background a bit more. Occasionally, he did relate the dynamics of the situation to physical dynamics, but he probably could have gone a bit further with the analogy. I would like to ask him how his academic background may have influenced his view of the situation in comparison to how the uneducated population of Yemen may view it. I also wonder how an outside global power could possibly help this situation when such intervention has generally proven to be more harmful than helpful in the past.

Cost of American University for International Students

In English Composition II, we have to write four papers over a societal issue. I have two classmates who are writing about the high cost of tuition for international students in American universities. I have read at least one paper from both of them. Both students were good at explaining how international have to pay more in tuition and fees and have fewer opportunities to work since they are not American citizens. Both were good at showing the reader how international face additional struggles. International students can be homesick, they don’t always have a strong support system, they can face culture shock, and often they are taking university level courses in their second or third language. However, something that bothered me about both of my classmates’ projects is that they don’t provide any solutions. They both call for more compassionate treatment towards international students by lowering education costs. But I fail to see how we will do this. International students disproportionately study business and STEM, which is beneficial for the United States as we are in a STEM major shortage as our economy rapidly shifts. However, why would the government or schools want to lower the cost of education for international students? What incentive do they have? The stereotype is that international students have a lot of money from their parents, and many don’t; however, there will always be countless international students whose parents can afford American education. There will also always be international students whose parents cannot really afford American education, but sacrifice everything anyways for their child to receive their education. College is a business, and international students are a good demographic for charging a lot a money. What would have to change to make the lives of international students easier?

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International Organization: Americanah Reading Group

Each semester GEFs are required to join a campus group with an international focus. In past semesters, I have been a part of CESL, OU Cousins, and OU Spanish club as a part of this requirement. This semester I went a slightly different route and joined an honors reading group with some international friends to read Americanah, a book about a Nigerian woman who returns to Nigeria after spending a good chunk of her life in the U.S. The book, by the incredible Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, touches a lot on the racial tension in the U.S., the culture shock experienced even upon “going home,” and the complexities of life as an immigrant. Overall, I have really enjoyed the novel and would definitely recommend it. It has a very interesting perspective on many serious issues facing America today even though it is fictional.

I feel especially lucky to have read the book with the group I did. The group moderator is actually an exchange student from Nigeria which I felt added a whole new level of meaning to the readings. She was able to offer insight into the culture in ways that really enriched the novel. It was also kind of funny because throughout the book she was really keen on getting the “American perspective” on Nigerian culture as presented in the novel. It was fun to read it with so much context for the Nigerian culture in which much of it takes place and I am grateful I had that opportunity.

On the whole, this book confirmed my love of Adichie and I look forward to reading more of her writing.

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What makes wine so different?

Every wine is different. The same wine can taste different just hours apart from each sip – this is probably the greatest characteristic about this drink. With soda or beer, one knows what they will taste. The mystery behind every bottle of wine makes it so special.

As science has progressed so has the chemistry of viticulture. With the ability to separate yeast strains, winemaking can now be controlled to get a desirable outcome.No matter how fancy or expensive the bottle, every wine is compromised of mostly water and alcohol – only 2 percent of the chemical composition allows for any variety. But oh, how that 2 percent can vary.

Last week I went to a restaurant in Sorrento, Italy and tried these two different wines. The one on the left was a 2013 Chianti red ($5/glass) and the one to the right was the house red wine ($8/liter). Although I know nothing about the origin of the house wine on the right, I could tell it was a young wine, most likely from 2015. It was not the sweetest of wines. It did have a high acidity which means the alcohol content was lower; this was also represented in the slow viscosity from the tears on the side of the wine glass. Acidity in wine is the taste of tart and zesty. The glass on the left had a dark body, rich and complex. It had a low acidity and was sweet. It also had a bitter and dry aftertaste. This is due to tannins that dry out your tongue.

Each wine had its pro’s and con’s. The red wine to the left was complex and sweet but had a very bitter and dry aftertaste. The wine to the right was very acidic but also fruity. However, my favorite was the one to the left since it had a greater complexion and was lest acidic which is what I like in a wine.

 

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Mother of All Bombs – Afghanistan

On Friday, the 14th of April I awoke to news that the US military dropped its most powerful non-nuclear 11-ton bomb on eastern Afghanistan. The bomb targeted an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in Afghanistan and had a one-mile radius. The bombing caused great criticism and controversy from civilians in the United States. The bombing was to rid Afghanistan of militants who have sworn loyalty to ISIS which ultimately marked a dramatic change for the Trump Administration.

ISIS is a worldwide threat that needs to be stopped by any means necessary. ISIS has recruited thousands of motivated fighters who now cover thousands of square miles in Syria and all over the world. In my opinion, ISIS is barbaric and horrible. After reading many articles as well as watching videos over ISIS, I have honestly become terrified of what could happen within our world. It has become a war zone, and I am hoping that one day things will be different.

The most crazy part (well to me) about this is the fact that I had met the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States a few days before the bombing. You can read about my experience with the Ambassador in my older blog. But because of this, I have become more interested and involved with the relations between the United States/Afghanistan and how we plan to stop ISIS.


Semana Santa

Semana Santa is a holy week celebrated in every Christian country throughout the world even though each country that celebrates it has its own traditions to celebrate this religious week. Specifically, in the post I will be talking about the traditions of Semana Santa in my home country of El Salvador which was celebrated April 9th through the 15th.

This by far is my favorite holiday to celebrate, mostly because of the traditions my family has as well as the traditions that are done in El Salvador. My country is well known for its street carpets or “alfombras” made of colorful flowers and colored sawdust that are created on the street. In the town of Concepción de Ataco, my family gets together and makes delicate street carpets which portray creativity and spirituality. Families work in teams, and by the time they are finished the entire town is filled with beautiful street carpets. The making of these street carpets represent one of the greatest traditions for the Roman Catholic Church, especially because entire streets all over the country are closed for this religious holiday. After the street rugs are made, it is used as a path for a holy funeral procession, which further symbolizes the dead body of Christ. There is an unbelievable amount of work and effort put into these rugs, and families spend there time together in order to finish them and do their part.

Even if some people do not participate in the making of the street carpets, civilians from all over El Salvador come outside on Good Friday to see the beautiful rugs and take pictures of them. They truly are a work of art.

Although I was not able to be there this year for Semana Santa because of school , I celebrated Easter with my family in Texas – but I did receive pictures of the street carpets that were created by my family members (pictured below),


Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance Concert

As part of the Masala World Music Concert Series, the University of Oklahoma hosted a Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance concert that featured singer and dancer Lavanya Raghuraman and mrdangamist Poovalur Sriji. The first half of the concert featured several different songs in different styles, melodic modes, and rhythmic cycles, while the second half featured different styles of Indian dance. Some of the songs that were performed were written by Dr. S. Ramanathan, the grandfather of Lavanya Raghuraman, which made the concert a very personal and emotional one unlike any I’ve ever attended. The soundscape was very unique because while the singing and the drumming were live, the rest of the instrumental music was recorded, and the same pitch was used for each of the live songs. Another part of the soundscape was the soft tapping of hands on legs as members of the audience kept the tala with Lavanya Raghuraman.

The first half of the concert was a showcase of classical Karnatak music in several different genres which praise different Hindu deities. Matthew Allen Harp writes that these songs to the gods were written for both spiritual and political reasons: “This one particular manifestation of Hindu deity was to take on the character of a master metaphor for…the Indian nationalist movement as a whole” (74). The primary focus of the songs was not the mrdangam (except for a brief solo piece), but rather the voice, which demonstrated what Amanda Weidman called, “the ‘fundamentally vocal’ character of Indian music” (6). The most interesting part of the vocal performance for me was the brief pauses Lavanya Raghuraman would take between each song to explain its significance. She dedicated the entire performance to her grandfather, Dr. S. Ramanathan, who she spoke very high praise of throughout the perfmroance. This, interestingly, brought to mind a quote from Weidman’s work on gender and the voice in which she writes that “after a few words about the greatness of her father” a prominent Indian vocalist began to speak about her own work (111).

The second half of the concert again featured Lavanya Raghuraman dancing in the Bharatanatyam style of dance. It was interesting to watch this dance after learning about its origins in the Devadasis earlier this week in class because while the dance was set to religious music, it was taken out of its original context of Indian temples and made to be more of a performance than a religious act. Author Richard Schechner writes in a chapter of his book on performance studies about this phenomenon of Indian dance being taken out of its original context and used as a performance in the act of what he calls “reframing” (84). It is really amazing to be able to experience other cultures and their music and dance traditions without having to leave Norman, but it is also unfortunate that these acts have to be reframed so that they are no longer viewed in their original context.