The Yacoubian Building

I recently watched The Yacoubian Building for an assignment in my colloquial Arabic class. The movie, released in 2006, is based off a book by the same name, and both gained immense fame in Egypt where they take place. The explanation for their popularity becomes quite apparent upon watching the movie (as well as reading the book, I’d assume).

Guided by the prose of the author, Marwan Hamed weaves together multiple narratives to create a jarring yet powerful vignette about the modern strife that grips Egypt with a nefarious fist. At the heart of the movie’s criticisms is Egypt’s ruthless social hierarchy which leads to the exploration of a whole host of other problems such as religious extremism, government corruption, and female subordination.

I believe the movie was so popular in Egypt because of its audacity and unapologetic candor directed at topics that had originally been muzzled by people in power for years. However for me, as someone who has never spent any time in that region of the world and whose only knowledge about the area comes from American media and Arabic language classes, The Yacoubian Building served as a tool of cultural edification. For the first time, I witnessed an open dialogue about homosexuality in Middle Eastern culture. The movie also exposes the progressive state concerning gender equality in Egypt as a thinly veiled facade halfheartedly attempting to extricate itself from archaic gender roles; women in Egypt tend to dress more contemporarily than many of their counterparts in the Muslim world, which is proven to be a simple illusion of progressivism as they are commanded to preserve their virginity until marriage while allowing their male supervisors to sexually assault them at work so they may maintain their income and support their families. I observed the existence of painful ironies such as young, intelligent men turning to religious extremism with few other options because they are denied, based on their fathers’ social statuses, access to resources that will help them become worthy additions to society.

Watching this authentic Middle Eastern film gave me more knowledge concerning the societal adversities that riddle the Egyptian citizenry and government alike than any MSNBC broadcast or Arabic textbook ever could. However, if there is anything I learned from watching the movie, it is that knowledge rarely equates to an advantage in a corrupt society.


Reflection #9

What do you think of Peter Singer’s arguments? Do you feel obligated to help those in need? Why or why not? If so, what are you going to do about it? If not, how would you support your reasoning to someone who sided with Singer?

I believe Peter Singer’s ideology about giving to charity is founded in good morals and a solid argument. It is easy to ignore the distress of others when we can’t see them. It is easy to forget their suffering. However, it is also easy to help them if we open our eyes. It doesn’t take much.

As Americans, most of us are in the top 1% of the world in regards to income. Of course, things cost more here than they do in third-world nations, but many of our basic necessities are easily accessible, such as clean, running water. Much of what we buy is luxurious items. And if things cost more here, things cost less there, meaning we don’t have to donate a lot of money to make a large difference in someone’s or many someones’ life. As Singer says, if you don’t buy just one thing that you want but don’t need, you could save a child, perhaps many children.

This week and the next, we are talking in class about and researching charities who use their donations morally and efficiently. I have begun thinking about how I can give once I know more about who my money should go to. This line of thinking has led me to consider what I buy that I don’t necessarily need. One of the things that came to mind is my affection (and perhaps addiction) to Coca Cola. After entering college, I’ve begun buying it for myself more often and have realized just how much money it takes to support this habit, money that could save or vastly improve someone’s life. While I have absolutely no desire to try to stop drinking Coke, if I matched the money I spent on it, I would be donating a substantial amount. In this way, I can get what I want and help others at the same time.

Peter Singer: Maximizing Impact

Peter Singer: Maximizing Impact
Photo by Andrew Wilkinson
Photo by Andrew Wilkinson

Peter Singer’s arguments raise interesting questions about the intrinsic obligation to help those in need.  On one hand, his anecdotal examples are compelling and memorable, and I do believe in his message that we should not ignore those in need just because they are living in far off countries; on the other, he focuses too much the guilt that the wealthy should feel for having the fortune to be born in a developed, Western nation rather than in poverty.

The graphics he includes in his TED Talk do pack a powerful emotional punch: in particular, the visual representation of how much money is required to raise and train a seeing eye dog versus to provide treatment to cure certain varieties of blindness in developing countries was shocking and impactful.  But Singer’s methodology rigidly focuses on the effectiveness of various charities as the sole measure of whether they deserve donors’ support, ignoring the emotional component of donation.  This narrow-mindedness is both ignorant and unnecessary.

In the case of a person who decides to donate time and money to assisting blind people, Singer argues that donors should only donate to effective charities, since they will then impact the most people.  However, isn’t it enough for a person to feel passionate enough about a cause that they will willingly donate their time and money to it?  If a person chooses not to donate to charities for whatever reason, but is passionate about raising and training seeing eye dogs, why should their contributions be ignored or belittled as being “ineffective”?  Certainly, the $40,000 that Singer cites as necessary to train the dog and the recipient ultimately only had an impact on one person; but that $40,000 was donated nonetheless.  Someone was suffering, and someone else sacrificed their own time and resources to help—just as Singer advocates.

In reality, not everyone is willing or able to donate such a large sum of money or an intensive amount of time; most donations will be relatively small sums of time and money that, when added together, can have a significant impact on the recipients.  In these instances, donating to a charity that will maximize the use of your time and money is a worthy goal.  But for those people who are willing to give up thousands of dollars and years of their lives for a positive cause that they are passionate about, I don’t believe that the by-the-numbers evaluation of effectiveness that Singer prescribes is a viable examination of how we should donate.

Reflection #10

We have been discussing charities in class this week.  I have learned that researching charities before donating money to them is crucial to get the most out of your dollar–here is an organization that I believe is a charity to give money to.  This is reflection #10.  The prompt and my response are below:

Review the following four organizations. Which do you feel should receive a $100 donation? Why? You are expected to do some additional research into all 4 groups; their pages are hyperlinked below, and you’re also welcome to bring in additional research.
I feel that the Against Malaria Foundation should receive a $100 donation. I think they should receive the money for many reasons. The first reason is because providing nets for people in places where malaria is extremely prevalent and dangerous is cheaper than actually treating malaria once someone gets it. It is always better to try to prevent infections, rather than treating them. The nets also last 3-4 years, which is a long time. The second reason is because there are so many children that die and get sick. If a child gets sick from malaria many times, he or she will have a weak immune system and a weak body because of constant childhood sickness. It is very important for children to be healthy when they are young to provide a strong body and immune system for the rest of life. Also, if children are constantly sick, their parents will not be able to go to work; they will have to stay home and care for their sick child. This means that the family will not be getting as much money that they need. This means that if the child does get very sick, there will be no money to pay for treatments. The nets would help prevent malaria in the first place, eliminating all of these problems. One last reason that the money should go to the Against Malaria Foundation is that these nets will help the economy in Africa because it will allow people to go to work rather than being sick or caring for sick children.


An Ode to Autumn (Sort of)

autumnAfter years of anticipation, autumn has finally arrived.

For the majority of my life I’ve lived in Texas, where heat is eternal and pea coats are simply frivolous. October 1st is just another date in the midst of sweltering summer humidity and people drink pumpkin spice lattes inside air-conditioned homes to keep up the pretense of autumn.

Ireland is different. Sweater weather announced itself assertively on the first of the month, and Boots converted its entire upper floor into Santa’s workshop “just in time” for Christmas. Lattes are necessary for me to keep warm and I revel in seeing shades of crimson and gold laced into the ivy crawling across the Quad.


The changing of the leaves brings more than a crunch underfoot. Autumn itself is an oxymoron of cool warmth. Strolls in the morning chill are encouraged but cozy chats by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa are undeniably necessary.

However, autumn also brings with it some minor tribulations, which until now I had not often encountered.

  1. Dressing in layers doesn’t work. My day-to-day “getting ready” resembles that scene from “A Christmas Story” (you know the one). By the time I’ve covered the extensive ground between my house and the distant building where all my classes are held, I’m sweating profusely. Commence the awkward stripping off process. The best part is guessing what the state of my hair will be when the beanie comes off.


  1. Wet hair is a no-no. Coming from a family where we seemingly never got sick – or at least not ill enough to merit a visit to the doctor’s office – I’ve convinced myself of my own invincibility to the common cold. Until now. I’ve always cherished my 5-minute morning routine after hopping out of the shower, but now have to face the wrath of my housemates and the insults of my hairdresser by gradually blow-drying my hair to straw every morning.
  2. Sunshine becomes a precious commodity. Suddenly, I find myself longing for the sun I despised so much in Texas to swing by the other side of the world. The days get shorter and shorter until it becomes quite difficult to find real reasons not to sleep all day. Until you remember that you’re here to get a degree.

Autumn is beautiful, but is it worth these hassles?


OU Cousins Pumpkin Carving

Although I was not matched with a cousin, I still attended the OU Cousins pumpkin carving event. It was my first time ever carving a pumpkin because my family doesn’t celebrate Halloween. While I was there, I met a girl from Australia, and it was also her first time doing this. After talking for a while, I learned that Halloween isn’t as big of an event in Australia as it is here. We also talked about the differences between Australian and American candy. She told me that they have Twix and Snickers, but they also have Tim Tams and other unique candies.

When everyone was finished with carving their pumpkins, we all headed into a dark room to see them side by side. There were tons of really intricate and cool designs on the pumpkins. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the one I did because my phone died, but I can verify that it wasn’t as good as some of the other ones haha. Overall, this experience was fun and I’m glad I got to meet new friends. I am now able to say that I have carved a pumpkin.


OU German Club Meeting 10/22/15

This past Thursday I attended my first ever German club meeting. A group of individuals eager to work on German language skills meets every week at the Second Wind Coffee shop. There is always someone from the language department to guide the conversations in a general direction, although side conversations are certainly still encouraged.

This past meeting we had two teaching assistants from the German department attend to lead the meeting. One was an American girl who has mastered German after extensive exposure to the German language and culture during her numerous study abroad experiences. The other was a native Austrian who was helpful and encouraging to all the members in attendance. We began with simple introductions and then broke into a casual time of chatting and coffee-sipping.

I personally spoke in German with the American teaching assistant, specifically telling her about my German language background. I spent approximately two and a half years attending a German international school in California. Before this amazing experience, I was very limited in my German communication abilities. However, now I am fluent in the language (although it is quite a bit rusty as I haven’t had the chance to speak to a German every day since middle school). I told her about my plan to use my German knowledge to study abroad in Germany for a semester next year.

My next short conversation was with an individual who had gone to the Technical University of Berlin to study and live. He was sponsored by the American Fulbright program. Only having been at OU for two months, I have already met quite a few individuals who have had experiences with Fulbright. I am now even more excited about applying for the program my senior year as a Global Engagement fellow.

Overall, the meeting was another great experience as part of my international experience here at OU. In fact, one of the main factors in choosing OU as a university was the availability of many opportunities organized by the university for students. OU is all about making sure all its students gain a global exposure in all aspects of their respective fields. As a new member of the Stammtisch, I am glad to be a part a unique opportunity to refresh my German. It is also great that I get to talk to others about pretty much anything in an entirely different language. I think anyone with any remote interest in German should join as each meeting offers something for language learners of all skill levels!


Meet Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe

IMG_20151015_210028A few weeks ago, our university was visited by Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe. Sister Rosemary is from Uganda, where she works to rehabilitate the child “brides” of the Kony era. Her work has a great impact on the lives of these women and their children and has made her one of Time‘s Top 100 Most Influential People.

While she was here, there was an opportunity for students to meet her. I attended this event. To the left you can see a picture of us together. <-

Sister Rosemary talked about her work with the women and the importance of never giving up before taking questions from those attending the event. It was an intimate scene with all of us sitting on couches and in armchairs around her.

This event was also an opportunity to learn about a trip to Uganda that OU is coordinating with Sister Rosemary’s compound with the help of Pros for Africa. Unfortunately, I am not applying as the dates conflict with another trip. However, if you would like to learn more, you can check out the brochure for the program here.

CInque Terre

Cinque Terre is a region in Italy that holds 5 different towns on the Amalfi coast. One of them, Corniglia, is built on a hill so you have to climb alot of stairs to get to the top. It is very touristy but certainly has its aesthetic value. The towns are all extremely tiny and can be done in a day or two. There is a train that connects them, but many prefer to hike across along the seaside paths. When I went, some of the paths were shut down so we took the train. The towns are pretty expensive but I had some amazing lasagna. There were great rocks and the color of the sea was so blue! I dipped my feet in the water, but it was a little too cold to go swimming all the way. Since the towns are so small, it is difficult to find hostels to stay in so we stayed at a campsite 15 minutes away from Manarola. On the way back from Cinque Terre we stopped at the leaning tower of Pisa to take some photos. It was a great weekend.