Monday, January 21, 2013

Qualey's Review of The Girl Who Fell to Earth

Marcia Lynx Qualey is an American resident of Cairo who writes a fantastic blog about Arabic literature in translation. She also reviews works in that genre for the English language press in Cairo. I'm posting a link to the excellent review she wrote of "The Girl Who Fell to Earth" by Sophia Al-Maria, a coming of age story of east and west. Her review appeared in the Egypt Independent. The story is not what you'd expect however, and Marcia tells why.  I am putting this on my to-read list!

You can link to her review  here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cab Driver in Fez

So Fez is my absolute favorite city in the Middle East. I have not yet visited Jerusalem, so if I ever have the chance, it will likely move to #1. However, for now at least, Fez is my favorite. Why?

Courtyard of the Qarawiyyin Mosque, founded in 859 AD
  • It is the only intact medieval walled city in the Arab world, and I've heard in the whole world.
  • Fez has been a center of learning for over a thousand years.
  • At its center is a mosque called the Qarawiyyin, founded by a woman named Fatimah in 859 AD. It later expanded into a great university. It attracted students and scholars from afar. That university continues to operate; it's the oldest continually running university in the entire world.
  • In the medina (old walled city) itself, no motorized vehicles are allowed. You either walk or ride a horse, donkey or mule.
  • Most of Morocco's legendary handcrafts are made in the Fez medina.
  • You can speak real full-bodied classical and modern standard Arabic, and they understand you.
  • The people are hard-working, and know that what they have, do and are has great worth.
  • The city is full of mysteries. 
  • The city is beautiful.
During my first visit to Fez in the fall of 2005, my friends and I took a 'petit taxi' cab from our hotel in the new part of Fez to one of the gates of the medina.

A 'petit taxi' outside one of the gates of the Fez medina.
I sat in front since I was the Arabic speaker. We got to chatting, the cabbie and me. He was not white haired, so I'd say he was in his late 40's. Yet he seemed older and wiser. He asked where we were from, I explained we were on a tour of Morocco and studying its culture and folk music and folk dance. When he then said he really liked America, I asked why.

"Simple," he said. "On your coins, it says, 'In God We Trust'." 

That conversation has stayed with me for  a long time. Our founding fathers were men of strong principles and beliefs, but they recognized everyone's right to believe what he or she wanted and there was no talk of imposing beliefs on others. Yet that doesn't mean we have to be godless. There were other times in history when this kind of openness and respect was the order of the day, and some of those times took place in Fez. Scholars from Europe, Africa and all over the Arab World - Muslims, Christians and Jews - studied together there and shared knowledge. It was an example to the world. I think we have to hold fast to that openness and make it our banner for the next millenium. We can't survive with religious groups claiming the sole divine correctness. It's just not going to work. Our founding fathers figured that out, and before them, the good people of Fez - and many other places through history. It's not a new idea; it's a very old one that would help us all.