Monthly Archives: May 2008

protecting children

This morning I was extremely saddened and outraged to read the article “Pakistani boy ‘killed by teacher” on BBC.

The story is about a seven year old boy who was hung upside down from a fan for not memorizing his Quran lessons, and as a result of this punishment, died.  The teacher has been arrested, but in no way is this justice for the young boy and his family.

I have visited a couple of these religious seminary schools because, lets face it, it is where you will find  the poorest of the poor children- and in the same breath, they are some of the most determined and gifted children.  I have heard them singing songs and beautifully reciting melodic pages after pages from memory of arabic text from the Quran (try it, it isn’t easy).  They have sat in my lap and played with my clothes.  Many of them come to these schools from hundreds of miles away, at a chance to learn and have a future.  They return to their families only a few times a year, an experience I only endured upon leaving for college at 18.  From the schools I have visited, the children are well cared for, well fed, and happy.  In these schools they have a purpose and are shielded from many ills that perpetuate the cycle of poverty on the streets and in the villages.  Included in their religious education were subjects such as math, languange and geography.  Some who graduate become teachers themselves or learned scholars in their small villages.  But just as we would expect for our own, these kids should have even better. 

Reading the article about this young boy has left a hole in my heart.  Children must be protected and safe from abuse before any enrichment process can begin.

This is a picture I took at one such school.  These are orphaned girls.  They seem shy in the picture since for many of them, this was the first picture anyone had ever taken of them.  Afterwards, they swarmed around me to see the digital image and giggled to each other about how they looked. 


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On the way to a conference last week, I was faced with a more or less challenging situation: an intense dialogue among a few colleagues about the significance of different cultures in world history and development.  This is a complex topic and it’s hard to make simple conclusions on the matter.  I want to write about this experience though, not because I am after advertising or defending a particular nation or want to offend others.  This is simply my way of alleviating pain after hearing highly ignorant and uneducated remarks by supposedly educated individuals in the United States.


I was faced with the question of “who contributed the most to our history” or “whose work we should look for when studying the history of art, philosophy, poetry, architecture, literature, and so on.”

I have often noticed that Europe stands out in the American version of history in many different fields.  For example, I happened to take introductory courses to political philosophy and architecture history at Cornell University as an undergraduate student.  I can confidently say that the majority of topics covered were related to Rome and Greece and some times Great Britain. I, like many other students, left our class thinking that these concepts were first introduced by these nations only and others were mostly followers.  Plato’s Republic was introduced to us as a book that marked the beginning of philosophy and political dialogue and such ideas seemed to begin in a society where thinking and logic were encouraged for the first time. Democracy was shown to be the most mesmerizing concept in a world of chaos. We were introduced to every famous architectural piece in Europe and briefly reviewed a few others (i.e. Ancient Egypt, Japan, and India) in the last couple weeks of the class.  Even specialized courses tend to be biased and negative towards eastern nations, following the language used in ancient Greek historical records.  


I was faced with the same dilemma in the car last week. 


Cyrus’ Cylinder: Considered as History’s First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
©British Museum, London


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Filed under Africa, America, art, culture, development, India, Iran, lessons, literature, poetry, popular culture, sociology, traditions, War


Young street child selling fortunes in Iran. Picture courtesy of Shapour,

I am getting ready to embark on a long trip to Iran this summer in order to begin fieldwork for my doctoral research. This will be the first trip that I will be taking in my life that will be solely devoted to observing how the less fortunate cope with the circumstances of their lives and struggle to make a better future for themselves. As I begin to pack my bags, though, I can’t help but wonder what they will think of my research. How will they respond to an outsider watching them, eagerly taking notes, and eagerly trying to learn about their everyday struggles? And can the writings and musings of one young idealist really make a big difference in their lives?

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We all need a good pair of shoes 🙂  Enjoy this picture!

Blacksmith in Kandahar, Afghanistan

A blacksmith in Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar makes shoes for a donkey.


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taare zameen par

Last weekend I watched a wonderful movie by Amir Khan called, “Taare zameen par”, which loosely translated means ‘stars on earth’. The production, acting and dialogue are wonderful and comparable in creativity and quality to hit independent movies. The story is about a young boy with a learning disability and his parents frustrations due to his explosive behavioral problems. I was so pleased to see a mainstream Bollywood movie tackling such a social issue with understanding and grace. Please watch it. I would love to hear your comments.

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The young man didn’t say a word when I greeted him with the customary salaam. Nothing as I reached across for the warm loaf of barbari bread that he had just taken out of the tanoor and thanked him for his hard work. Complete silence as I handed him my crumpled tomans and asked for change. How rude, I thought, as I slowly turned my back ready to bring the warm and savory loaf to my house. “Miss.” I turned around. “I’m sorry, but I have a stutter. Thank you for coming.” I smiled and walked away, grasping ever more tightly to the bread that warmed my heart.

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