Literature Activity: The danger of having NO story

In my literature class this semester, I had a theme relating to “The Danger of a Single Story”. This was inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, in which she discusses the nature of literature and cultural misconceptions. Why do we feel we know a culture, when all we know is a single story, a single stereotype, a single format within which we lump everyone?

And what if we don’t even have a single story? What if we know nothing about another country, another culture? This was the question I posed in my literature class. I asked my students: Is there any country or area you wish you knew more about? They all wrote down their answers, mentioning places in Asia, Africa, and Australia and Antarctica.

Students later picked these out randomly and were asked to quickly get facts and information about each area. Their next, and more difficult task, was to write a poem or a short story set in these locations or inspired by them. Judging from the results, these poems do depict one perspective of each location, which is quite natural. We are influenced by the stories we’ve gathered…but the way I see it: one story is better than none.In the hope that there will be more where this came from!

I’m sharing some of my students’ writings below (I got their permission of course… and let me quote one of them: “Yeeeey, I’m now a published poet!”).

Would I do this again? Most Definitely! These works (in my biased opinion as proud teacher) were gems of social and cultural awareness. Even though these students are basing their writing on one event or a few facts, they had to leave their current milieu to inhabit another world and stand in different shoes even for a little while, and that’s worth reliving, over and over again.

Are we really that different
When the thing we export most is our freshly-graduates, able-bodied youth?
A diaspora in over forty countries and we still can’t see that the blame is with our
own

From Daniel Ganama’s “Are We Really That Different”. Read full poem here.

A land of twenty-something soils – natural and man-made masterpieces;
India’s Teardrop dressed in green,
The Hermit Kingdom with all its flashing screens,
And The Red Dragon which falls in between.

From Mazen Sleiman’s “Asia”. Read full poem here.

Picking you by chance
You, eastern land
You, hosting 49 countries
You, divided into 6 cultures
You, curry, spice, sushi, hummus, vodka, and rice

From Michele Matta’s “Asia”. Read full poem here.

I read about magic,
in glittering eyes.
Hope,
in a sanctuary of light.
I read about forgotten wars and unsung heroes.

From Mia Melki’s “Chinese Lantern Festival”. Read full poem here.

Far East Asia is viewed to be exotic
To the rest of the world that is
Some stereotypes are quite moronic
To those who know that is
I shall pour me some tonic
And elaborate, list some facts that is

From Mira Sheaib’s “Far East Asia”. Read full poem here.

Those looking for serenity and magic often find Nepal as a refuge for their quest. The 15-year-old knows this; he plans to mediate for a long time.
From Nour Zouya’s “Nepal”. Read full freewriting piece here.

I see worker ants scurrying about the colony roads,
Poor, dirty, and full,
Carrying tea leaves, bamboo shoot trunks, and hickory nuts to be processed for the glory of the State.

From Jade Doumani’s “Revolutions”. Read full poem here.

Plastic dolls,
Squeaky treat
Thousands of people
To compete

From Natasha Tabet’s “Russia”. Read full poem here.

Posted in Education, Lebanon, Literature, Purpose | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Speaker Workshops: An immersive journey

It’s two weeks to event day, and some people are still pitching ideas, hoping to be part of the speaker line-up on the 23rd of August. What many don’t realize is the absolutely mesmerizing creative process that our speakers immerse themselves into while preparing for their talks… This doesn’t happen overnight.

Our process isn’t that demanding, or so we hope ;)…

1. Pitch your idea
2. Audition
3. Give yourself over to this experience as we take you on a one-month ride! And it’s quite a roller-coaster!

To me, this is akin to being placed in the slicer. Your speech slowly dissected and then put back together. One of our 2013 speakers likened this to having your babies taken from you…that’s how emotional this process can be, with every sentence you’ve written being so dear to your heart!

Jasmina Najjar

But the emotional roller-coaster that accompanies these workshops is worth it!

Yesterday, our speakers and organizers cried (lots of crying I tell you!), clapped, engaged in ‘healthy’ debate, and cheered on as they watched one another rehearse… getting feedback from every single person in the room! Our speakers become one another’s cheerleaders… supporting each other all the way. Speakers at TED and TEDx events aren’t paid; this is common knowledge. What is more interesting, though, is that over a period of a couple of weeks, our speakers become full-fledged volunteers in their own right! Need some extra articulation lessons? One of our speakers might volunteer! Need help with the lights on stage? Why not, a speaker can share their expertise! Need some dance tips that can help you look confident? One of our speakers rushes to the task!

Our speaker coach, Rabih el Khodr, shared this hilarious – and quite accurate – video yesterday… a must watch for anyone contemplating public speaking. It’s TED: the Musical

Thank you for being our uncle in this crazy journey of ours…!

And to everyone reading this… the more I get to know these speakers, the more I know that I won’t be letting go of TEDx anytime soon ;)

Join our event and be part of the TEDx movement in Lebanon!

————————

And of course… nothing can be accomplished without food! right?
Thank you CreamdelaCreme for ensuring we remained sane over the past couple of weeks!

creamdelacreme

Posted in Lebanon, Oral Communication, TEDxLAU | 1 Comment

To Grandma Weddo

Why don’t we have eulogies in our culture?

For someone like me, who expresses herself through words, I need that sense of closure. So I guess a blog would have to do.

To grandma,
Who had the imagination to write a love story about the time when Charles de Gaulle saw her in her yellow dress in Damour and fell in love with her. But that she refused him and picked by grandpa instead. (And never let him forget this for the rest of his life)!

To grandma,
Who lived a life quiet. About the things she most wanted to talk about. Oh she nagged about all sorts of crap. But kept silent when she saw the stupid bickering all around. Hoping each of her 10 kids and their spouses and 4-5 grandkids (on average) would resolve it on their own. Oh grandma, you should have spoken. You had so much to say!

To grandma,
Who was so rebellious in spirit that you’d have done wonders if you had been born at a different time. I sit and write this while unconsciously shaking hands with passersby who are here to pay their respect. And I wonder if any of us really knew you.

To grandma,
Who reminds me so much of myself. With her anxieties, her worries, her endless desire to be present. To be seen. And yet she lived her whole life on the sidelines. Someone’s mother. Someone’s wife. Someone’s grandmother. Never her.

Even in death, one can’t be the center of attention.

So this one’s for you grandma. Wish I could say this out loud. For now, this blog will have to do.

p.s. To answer the question you would definitely have asked: yes, we’ve eaten. We’ve had coffee. We’ve had a banana. No. We’re not going to starve.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

On My Mental Health

I have always kept my hair straight, though it’s naturally curly.
I don’t know how to sketch, but I’ve perfected the art of drawing lines.
I’m an onion with layers, but someone told me the best part lies at the center.
I’m a control freak, but it seems to help people around me (or so I like to believe).

These are some of the statements that comprise my “self”, but they’re not me. They’re just extremely important parts of me.

As licensee of TEDxLAU, I’m usually working on a number of tasks, but my favorite is always the curation of ideas. A “curator” in TED lingo could be a fancy word for the person who decides on the talks, speakers, and overall theme of the event. And this time, I knew it. We had to talk about mental health.

They say one in four people suffer from mental distress, and I could easily identify the people around me who were the most vulnerable. But undoubtedly this led to a lot of self-analysis (just ask the rest of the organizers!): though some people are obviously in need of support, others are so much better at hiding it and putting on a “brave face” – a mask.

Why do we mask our feelings? why do we draw these lines? why do we find it so hard to let go and open up? to show that supposedly sweet core?

I, for one, am scared to death of that possibility. I’ve lived my whole life in a state of transition – with very little stability save for my mum’s presence by my side (Yep, I have daddy issues, but who doesn’t?!).

Is my onion layering causing me distress? I guess a therapist might tell me I do have plenty of bugs to work out. But since I’m a control freak, I’ll be my own therapist for now. My layering helps me cope. My layering helps me remain strong enough to support everyone around me when they need it. But my layering doesn’t allow me to live the moment to its fullest potential.

Though I would like nothing more…

I cannot seize the day for I may not know what tomorrow may bring.
I can only analyze the day in anticipation of what may occur tomorrow.

Does my story have a happy ending?
Well.. I’m a fully functioning member of my community, and despite my many hurdles, I’m blessed in so many ways! And this self-assessment due to our upcoming event has allowed me to realize that I seem to surround myself with people who wear their hearts on their sleeves – watermelons who open up and show you their core, and there’s no mistaking who they are after that – and it is these lovely souls that allow me to soar high from time to time… only to quickly get back down to earth (for you never know what might happen!).

Yours sincerely (very sincerely),
a realistic dreamer – AKA the onion.

photoshoot1Photo taken during a TEDxLAU photo-shoot promoting the mental health salon by the lovely and talented Zayna B. Ayyad.

Posted in Purpose, TEDxLAU | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A skill every teacher should have!

Should every teacher have a degree? Well… in this day and age, you’d hope! But does that fashion out a great educator? Of course not! 

I have the degree. I have the emotional intelligence (or so I hope). I’m a communicator. 

But what is my ultimate skill as a teacher? 

…I’m curious enough to discover greatness. 

So many students pass through my classes…some who have learned the rules well, and know how to play the grades game… others who need help along the way. who need someone to clear the path with them…and it is these others… these incredible finds that keep me thrilled! These students who want something, but find it so elusive! It is here that I see potential. 

Some might critique me as being too naive, as constantly finding something to admire, but it’s true! I see people as pieces of a puzzle, with every person having a little bit to add, some more than others. 

And this blog post is a tribute to one of these pieces…one who turns 20 tonight… one who’s finally getting the recognition he needs to find his path…one who has begun to realize the unique glue which binds him to others and places him firmly within the puzzle. As we all complete a beautiful vision together. 

 

One more thing…the minute you find yourself judging a person and consider them as lacking in value, take a brief moment and stop and consider this: maybe YOU aren’t using the right measuring tape. Maybe YOUR vision is the one that’s skewed. And get some glasses for people’s sake. 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Don’t use Darwin’s name in Vain!

…And yes. I’m aware of the Biblical implications of my title.

When you ask some people why they act in ‘selfish’ ways, why they are out to fulfill their own self-interest, many might attribute it to a ‘survival of the fittest’ strategy.

I’ve been reading a book on evolutionary biology, an extension of Darwin’s theories, and the biggest insight so far is the following:

- it isn’t about the survival of the fittest individual but survival of the fittest GENE.

What does this imply? That sometimes selfless acts on an individual level might be just what you need for that particular gene to survive!

Selfless animals that act upon the gene causing them to scream out might suffer on an individual level when a predator finds them, but that gene called out a warning to other animals in the vicinity, inevitably creating a proliferation of that particular gene through saving all those lives.

In other words, we as humans should start wondering whether the way we’ve misunderstood ‘survival of the fittest’ might be causing us to act in contrast to actual evolutionary biology, and whether we’re slowly decreasing the number of genes that can allow us to actually survive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

El Assir is just a name. Shit by any other name could still destroy a country!

I used to post on a political forum…for years all I’d do is have political debates until my energy slowly started to dwindle. After all, it was the same fight, the same argument.

And I took a decision… I’ll remain active, but for education, social causes, attacking the problem from within its components, rather than a collision with the corrupt political system. And I became equally guilty. I have shied away from active political work, from going down to the street because of my frustration. I know so many are in my shoes.

But when I see educated individuals, people within my own milieu, taking sides and bashing one another in support of someone else, I can’t keep quiet. How can I when a close friend considers it right to criminalize one side while totally ignoring another?

El Assir is just a name. Shit by any other name could still destroy a country!

I love this video by Chi N N. They hit the nail right on it’s rusty disgusting head.

To the “educated” Lebanese, take 30 minutes out of your day and make sure you watch this! You owe your country that much. You owe your children some heroes to take them into the future. God knows you’ve destroyed so much in their lives already. Try to stop blaming one side and show them the bigger picture!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Education isn’t a Happy Meal Drive Thru!

Though I still maintain some element of autonomy in my classroom, I dread the day when that will no longer be the case, when we hand out education at a college level as if we’re delivering fast food “happy meals” – quick, easy, relatively cheap, but so bad for everyone involved.

Whenever an administrator mentions the word “uniformity”, my heart skips a beat… is this the beginning of the end? is this the time when I will no longer do things my way? when my classes become a simulated replica of everyone else’s?

I am a fighter, but watching other dedicated teachers, like this one who resigned in the video below, makes me wonder if we’ll have that opportunity to fight in the next few years.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Intaliqi: Running this Sunday!

Image

And here’s the Q&A that I had with the organizers:

Q-Why are you running the marathon to support Intaliqi and what does it mean to you?
A. I participated in the Beirut Marathon, and having an event dedicated solely to women meant so much more! I remember hearing of this back when I was at TEDActive in California, when the idea was still in its early stages, and I’m so glad it reached its implementation stages!

I have a personal connection to Intaliqi. Its motto of empowerment and leaping forward resonates. I also like to actively support NGOs that are just starting out, because this is when they need the most encouragement. I’m sure intaliqi will live up to its name!

Q-What message or advice can you give to socially disadvantaged women?
A. Any message might sound a bit cliché, but I get the best I can do is say: you’re not alone. Every single one of us has reached a point of complete loss, and we picked ourselves up. So can you.

Q- What message do you have to everyone else regarding girl/women power?
A. Girl/woman power is only as good as human power. It’s our humanity that makes us powerful, and our realization that we don’t live in a vacuum. That we need to embrace others to truly live life to the fullest.

 

My utmost love and respect to the incredible Lynn Tabbara who has organized all of this! An inspiration to us all!

Posted in Inspiration, Lebanon | Leave a comment

The Art of Public Speaking: One Essential Ingredient

I’ve taught so many public speaking courses, worked with numerous speakers and speech-writers, and I don’t know why this has only fully dawned on me today. 

Regardless of the amount of work you put into your speech, there is only one ingredient:

Care about the message more than your own personal anxieties. 

Image

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/3877740779/

 

While speaking, the internal monologue is usually as follows:

- what should I say next?

- will they like me?

- Am I looking ok? 

- Will I forget my next point?

- Will the video work?

- Will people leave during my speech?

- etc…. 

And it is only when you get out of your own head that you can truly connect with the audience. 

How can you do that?? 

Simple. Learn to CARE about your example! Care about your main point! Understand why your audience NEEDS to hear what you have to say. 

Realize that the speech isn’t about you (though it is your time in the spotlight!). Once you get that the speech is about the idea, then you will shine even more…and the spotlight will adore you for it! 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments