Monday, June 30, 2014

The Post-Thesis Zombie

Where's my medal?

Hello dear readers,

It has been a while, I know. Some of you undoubtedly thought my procrastinatory instincts had finally gotten the best of me and that I had abandoned this blog. True, The Wayward Orientalist has been on an extended hiatus while I was busy with the writing I was paid to do (yay journalism!) and the writing I was paying to do (yay grad school!).

But finally, after about a year of trials and tribulations (some of which were documented here), the thesis beast has finally been slain, thus ending my academic career once and (hopefully) for all. This victory, however, came at a price. I have had to sacrifice many things over the past year, including:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Don't blame me

It happens every so often. A male acquaintance will do something that makes me uncomfortable—whether an unwanted touch, an objectifying comment or a wolf-whistle—something that triggers a deep-seated sense of apprehension in my stomach. But as soon as I protest, the expression of my discomfort backfires as it all becomes about their hurt feelings.

"You're exaggerating!"

"That's not what I meant!"

"I can't believe you're treating me like I'm a random guy in the street!"

My standing up for myself becomes a betrayal of whatever bond of camaraderie said person thought we had. In their eyes, I suddenly turn into an overreacting harpy for responding so seriously to something so insignificant.

But for all the men who have ever gotten huffy at me for setting boundaries, those who have joked that "come on, I'm not gonna rape you" when I turned down a ride home, I wish I could have said:

Don't blame me.

Blame them:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Cruel Winter

A Syrian child, wearing sandals in the snow. Photo from Facebook.

Winter made it way to Lebanon last week in the most drastic way. A winter storm, dubbed Alexa, swept through the region, bringing gusty winds, rain, and snow to what had so far been a mild end to fall. In an area already fraught with disaster, the weather has turned out to be the latest violence inflicted on us all, but most especially on the Syrian refugees.

On Wednesday evening, my roommate and I found ourselves in the dark as the storm cut off our electricity for four hours, leaving us shaking from the cold in the living room despite wearing two layers of every item of clothing. And yet, we had a roof over our heads, and walls around us, no matter how poorly isolated they might have been. Across Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of Syrians were trying to survive the night under tents and flimsy shelters.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Wayward Orientalist vs. Media Tropes

As previously mentioned, I read the news for a living*. This means I end up identifying a lot of recurring tropes—conventional storytelling devices—in mainstream media, whose goal is to simplify the narrative(s) about the Middle East in a way that is easily digestible for a (presumedly) Western audience.

As you can guess, the vast majority of these tropes are ridiculous, insulting and just plain stupid. Here are a handful that I happen to find extremely grating.

The Middle East is one big blob.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Two years on

Yesterday marked two years since I first came to Lebanon. It’s still surreal to think of all the factors that contributed to my being here. If I hadn’t felt unfulfilled with my job, if I hadn’t gone through a big break-up, if my mother hadn’t mentioned an article about AUB, if I hadn’t had coffee with my friend L. who had just moved to Beirut… my life would be much different. Much blander.

These two years have felt both very short and very long. I have seen so many things change progressively throughout my stay here: friends came and went, bars opened and closed, buildings rose from the ground and other were demolished. I have seen children slowly crowd the streets of Hamra trying to peddle gum and plastic roses as thousands upon thousands of Syrians took refuge in Lebanon only to live in abject poverty.

A year ago, I had no doubt whatsoever that I would still be here by the time September 2013 rolled around. But now, I'm not so sure. Beyond my yearning to explore somewhere else in a year's time, the situation seems hard to predict on the short term.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Trouble in the land of the lotus eaters

Credit: Tumblr

In Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses and his men spend ten years lost at sea on their way home after the Trojan War. One day, they land in the realm of the lotus eaters, whose inhabitants subsist on a flower so intoxicating those who consume it lose all sense of purpose.

Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return.

Who knows what the lotus eaters were trying to forget? There is a certain comfort in letting go of reality, focusing only on the hedonistic pleasures of life, even if it means ignoring the omens of impending catastrophe.

Lebanon has often felt to me like this mythological land of lotus. Life in Beirut can sometimes seem so easy, an oasis of carefree festivity mere kilometers away from the unrelenting Syrian conflict. For some, obliviousness is a survival instinct after having experienced the trauma of war and its consequences up close. Many foreigners are also seduced by Beirut's heady insouciance, its levity in spite of everything. Beirut can feel like the eye of the storm.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Thesis Paperwork Zombie

Artistic rendition of the paperwork process
Working on my thesis mainly involves mustering the motivation to plow through volumes of theory on inclusive citizenship and feminist praxis (Note to self: memorize what the word "praxis" means).

But in addition to the properly academic work in this endeavor, I must obtain the go-ahead from my university's institutional review board (hereafter known as IRB) to proceed with the interview portion of my research.

After contacting the IRB, I was told I needed to fill in a 17-page form in order to get the green-light for my research. Seventeen pages of exhaustive, detail-oriented questions, some of whom I am sharing with you here, in a worldwide exclusive, along with the answers I wish I had had the guts to write.