Mystery Religions and Plague in Egypt

This semester I took a course called Origins of Christianity, in which we explored the ancient world leading up to and surrounding the time of the early Christian church. I love learning about the ancient world — so much of history, most of history, really, is glossed over in most history courses, because the connections to the world we live in today aren’t so obvious, but I think learning about the ancient world is very important. Studying the ancient world can teach us more about our own than most people think, because it reveals the history of ideas. That’s a huge part of why I decided to pursue a degree in Letters. Anyway, small rant over.

My professor recommended that I attend a lecture called Mystery Religions and Plague in Egypt: Excavations at the Cenotaph of Harwa in Luxor (7th Century BCE – 3rd Century CE). I primarily study Greek and Roman history in my classes, so I am only tangentially familiar with the history of Ancient Egypt. So, learning about an twenty year long international archaeological dig that explores an Egyptian necropolis was very exciting. The dig in Luxor has been made possible because of collaboration between local Egyptian archaeologists and archaeologists from Italy, and hearing about global efforts in the pursuit of knowledge about our past will never fail to put a smile on my face.


Future Study Abroad Plans

This is the end of my third year at OU, and I have been thinking a lot about the future. I am still not 100% sure what I want to do after graduation. I have been leaning away from applying to med school, not because I don’t think I could get in, or because I don’t think I could cut it in med school, but because I feel like I need more of a work-life balance then I would be able to have if I was in med school, then residency, then in suffocating debt from med school…

I have been thinking about applying to PA school, or pursuing something in conservational biology, but I’m not sure yet. I started pursuing a biology degree as part of a double major with my letters degree. I am really happy with that decision, but I am also running a little behind because I decided to double major so late in the game. It looks increasingly likely that I may take an extra semester to complete the biology requirements and my honors research. If you had told me when I was a freshman that I would not be graduating in four years, I would have been shocked, because I had a decent amount of AP credit. Still, I am surprisingly okay with the prospect of taking extra time. I love the opportunities I have to study very broadly as an undergraduate, and I don’t think anyone will hold it against me that I stayed more than four years because of that.

The best thing about potentially staying longer than four years is that I would get to use my full semester abroad. I have really been wanting to go back abroad for a longer trip, and it feels increasingly important to me personally that I do so. Maybe its a consequence of going to college so close to where I grew up, I don’t know. This summer I am going to start looking very closely at what study abroad opportunities OU will be offering in the fall of 2019 and.or the spring of 2020.


Green Week / The Global Textile Problem

This year’s Green Week was a huge success. I loved being part of the programming team again and I want to congratulate everyone involved, because I think it was probably OU’s best Green Week yet.

It was our tenth year of having Green Week on campus, and we chose The Beatles as our theme in honor of that anniversary, like a 10 year tour sort of thing. The publicity and design was great and that brought a lot of people to our events, which I was very grateful for.

As you may know, I like to view Green Week through a global lens, because climate change is a global issue. The event that I came up with for this year’s Green Week was a pop-up thrift shop to educate students about the environmental impact of the textile industry. Textile production costs an exorbitant amount of water, most of which is perfectly potable drinking water, uses tons and tons of pesticides, and is usually unnecessary. People, especially in nations like the United States, cycle through clothes for the sake of fashion, and throw away perfectly good textiles. Buying fewer new clothes, either through buying used clothes at thrift shops, or just using old clothes for longer, can have a huge positive effect on the environment.

It is worth noting that while climate change is a global issue, poorer countries feel the effects of it more harshly than wealthier countries. This is certainly true with the textile industry: the pesticides used are primarily in developing nations, and these pesticides get into the water, and are magnified through ecosystems in that region, and ultimately, about 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning are reported in developing countries every year.

I love Green Week because it helps open my eyes about global issues like this, and hopefully it opens other students’ eyes as well.


Spanish Club

This semester I found myself without an international club I enjoyed, but a friend of mine convinced me to come with her to Spanish Club. I took French for 7 years, and now I study Latin, but I have never taken Spanish. Sometimes I wish I had taken Spanish, since it is such a great skill to have, especially in health professions, but I chose French long ago, and I stuck to it.

Still, I decided to go with my friend and check it out. Despite initially feeling out of place, I actually really like going to Spanish club. The club is very relaxed, the members are very nice, and there is often free food, which is a big bonus. A lot of the members are in Spanish courses, but also in pre-med courses, so I have a lot in common with them.

When Spanish language comes up, I love trying to use what I know about French and Latin to decipher what is being said or conveyed. Often times I can! This makes sense, because French and Spanish are both derived from Latin, but it’s very cool to put my French and Latin skills to the test in a really different way. Sometimes there are false cognates or words whose forms have drifted pretty far from their Latin origins, and those are nearly impossible to guess. That doesn’t stop me from trying though.

I think if I have time this summer I may try to learn the basics of Spanish on my own. I think it would come much easier than either French or Latin due to how much I have learned about the way languages work in the past three years.

I’m happy that Spanish club was so welcoming to me even if I seemed out of place initially. I look forward to continuing to be involved.


Puterbaugh Festival

Since I enjoyed the Neustadt festival so much last year, I decided to go to the Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture this year. The Puterbaugh Festival is also associated with OU’s World Literature Today magazine, and the fellows chosen by WLT have historically been some of the most brilliant writers in the world. A shocking amount of Puterbaugh fellows go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature. For this year, which is the 50th anniversary of the Puterbaugh festival, German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck was chosen as the honoree.

I was not familiar with Jenny Erpenbeck’s work, but a quick Google search told me that she was widely regarded as one of the best novelists of her generation. I was very excited to hear her speak at the festival.
I went to the Fred Jones museum for the kickoff of the festival. There was great free food and drinks, and best of all, there were tons of people in attendance. Not only professors, but a lot of students who seemed genuinely excited about hearing Jenny Erpenbeck and learning about new literature. It was exciting.

Jenny read from her novel End of Days. She read it in German and it was a really interesting experience to be in a room with so many people, listening to a reading in a language we don’t understand. It made me appreciate how lyricism and rhythm can be so impactful in prose. A professor read a translation of the text so we knew what it was she was reading. It was a fascinating excerpt about death and what death means for those who die as well as those they leave behind.

I haven’t had a chance to do it yet, but I plan on buying and reading an English translation of End of Days. Maybe I can do it before Jenny Erpenbeck (hopefully) wins her Nobel prize. Fingers crossed for her!

I’m so grateful that OU has placed such a high value on international literature, and while I was excited to see a big crowd at the Puterbaugh festival, I really hope more students become interested and appreciative of what World Literature Today does for our school.


International Group: Arabic Film Club

This semester I co-founded the Arabic Film Club with another Arabic Flagship student. We both wanted to revive this club, which had disbanded when the faculty advisor had left the school. We revamped what ArabicFilmClubpreviously was the Arabic Drama Club into the current Arabic Film Club. We met every two weeks throughout the semester to watch and discuss a movie in Arabic. Our discussions focused on aspects of language, culture, point of view, etc. We selected movies that were produced from across the Arab world in order to present a diverse understanding of the film scene.

The movies we watched included Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebanese film; Barakah Meets Barakah, Saudi Arabia’s first rom-com; Mother of the Bride, an old-school Egyptian classic; Traitors, a Moroccan film, and From A to B, an Emirati dramedy.  I recommend all of the movies listed — most of which are available through the Language Lab in Kaufman Hall — although the first three are among my favorites. I enjoyed each film we watched for different reasons since each brought something different to the discussion than the movie from the week before.

Throughout the semester, we did some collaborative events with other groups on campus. For example, we hosted  a joint screening with the Moroccan Darija Club the week that we watched a Moroccan film. We also supported our faculty advisor, Dr. Mahdi, when he brought Egyptian director Hexham Issawi to campus for a special event.

I look forward to growing the Arabic Film Club even more in the future. We already had a great turnout of students from all levels of Arabic, and we became a registered student organization which means that we are recognized by the Student Government Association and can apply for funding to host bigger and greater events in the future.

A Talk with Felipe Restrepo Pombo

Colombian author and journalist Felipe Restrepo Pombo visited campus on April 5 to discuss his career as a Latin American writer. In 2017 Restrepo Pombo was named to the Bogotá39 list, which is a list published every decade that recognizes the best Latin American writers under age 39. Restrepo Pombo has worked in both journalism and literature. Currently, Restrepo Pombo is the editor-in-chief of the Mexican news magazine Gatopardo. Restrepo Pombo writes in both Spanish and English. His lecture was presented in Spanish, although he read an excerpt of one of his works in English.

Restrepo Pombo began his writing career as a journalist at the magazine Cambio, where the advisor was Gabriel García Márquez. Restrepo Pombo is interested in interviews that get at the heart of the person being interviewed. He described his interviewing process in which he would spend weeks working on the story, sometimes observing for days before asking any questions. This strategy earned him insight and observation that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. He has interviewed people from all over world with a focus on important Latin American figures.

Restrepo Pombo also spoke about his time during Mexico. He spoke about the drug wars that wreaked havoc on the country, and he described how difficult it is to be a journalist in Mexico. He described how Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in because they are murdered for their work. Restrepo Pombo presented a picture of journalism in Latin America as difficult but necessary work.

Modern Iraqi Fiction

Dr. Khaled al-Masri visited campus to discuss and interpret the representation of trauma in modern Iraqi fiction. Dr. al-Masri focused on two authors during the lecture: Muhsin al-Ramli and Hassan Blasim. Dr. al-Masri argues that the collective trauma of events in Iraq (such as the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm, and the U.S. invasion) has shaped modern Iraqi identity and by extension Iraqi literature.

Muhsin al-Ramli, author of Scattered Crumbs, uses his characters to portray varying viewpoints under Saddam Hussein’s rule, ranging from “corrupted nationalism” to complete resistance. Al-Ramli’s own work is an act of resistance since he writes and publishes some of his brother’s work. His brother was executed for an attempted coup in 1990. Al-Ramli lives and writes from Madrid, Spain.

Hassan Blasim is an author living in Finland who writes absurdist fiction about Iraqi expatriates who look to escape their Iraqi past in order to fully immigrate into their new countries. His works “Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes” and “The Dung Beetle” explore the lives of two men who must confront their violent past lives as Iraqi citizens. These expatriates want nothing more than to leave their old lives of trauma behind, but even in death they cannot escape their wounded pasts.

Al-Ramli and Blasim are just a few of the authors who are establishing a genre that explores what it means to be a refugee and to live in exile. This “refugee literature” is unfortunately growing in popularity as more and more Syrian voices add to the genre.

The Mythical State

On Friday, February 9, guest lecturer Dr. Nathaniel Greenberg of George Mason University presented on the topic of aesthetics and counter aesthetics of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He began the lecture by going over the role social media plays in recruiting ISIS members and in counteracting ISIS recruitment. Dr. Greenberg revealed that most of the pro-ISIS members on Twitter are bots that copy and paste Tweets. Anti-ISIS forces also use social media to discourage their recruitment efforts. For example, the French government had a Stop Djihad campaign that ran on various platforms with slogans like “ISIS is lying to you.” Dr. Greenberg argued that the recruiting and anti-recruiting efforts are essentially a case of brainwashing vs. brainwashing.

From 2014 to 2015, Iraq ran a parody TV show about ISIS called The State of Myth. The satirical show was state-sponsored, and it played off stereotypes of ISIS. Dr. Greenberg called it an example of the Arab Spring genre that is part self-defense, part dismissal, and part nationalism. Some might also view the show as an act of provocation.

Iraqi reception to the TV show was mixed. Some saw the show as tacky and callous. Many were skeptical of the show because they believed that it legitimized the movement even though it was a work of satire. Nonetheless the show attracted millions of viewers.

Dr. Greenberg’s lecture is available in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication.