Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time to Break Away (for awhile)

Things got busy around here for me. Working hard at work, working hard at finding new work, applying, emailing, going in for interviews, working out the commuting system of buses and trains. People talking at me, me talking back, getting advice and dispensing some advice myself. It's just been busy.

Now I'm sick and after a dizzying attempt at going to work, I gave up and got off the bus a few stops later to take a taxi home.

Being sick at home with the internet just makes me feel like things have gotten a little too repetitive and old. Facebook, Twitter, everyone seems to think 9gag is the shit and so it's flooding my senses from every way possible. The news is a myriad of events and explosions.

I feel like I've been so worked up and wrapped up with the news and work and I didn't realize how much I was involved until this illness sapped the energy out of me. Now I feel a little deflated. And I feel like I have a better perspective of what's going on.

My conclusion is that it's a lot of white noise and the cure is to get away for awhile. I'm so grateful that a trip to Bangladesh is gonna work out for me, and just in time too. I think it'll be a refreshing break from the lights and buzz. What's a better way to get away from the SSDD than to go to a new country where everything is different?

I think the best part is that I'll be escaping to the countryside of Bangladesh in their winter, where the mustard flower fields are out and blooming. I like the idea of quiet, removed, and getting to know a new family of aunts and cousins. I like the idea that my internet access will be quite limited and that new cooking adventures await me.

I hope I don't jinx anything. I've heard of people planning a relaxing trip to Egypt just as the revolutions broke out around them. I know that Bangladeshi politics have been a little turbulent (to say the least) and it may sound selfish for me to say this, but I hope the part I go to is unaffected by any political happenings.

So from this quiet room with tea, panadol and Childish Gambino's new album "Camp" playing on low in the background, I wait out this sickness and count down the days to my escape. Green fields, family, new language and food, I can't wait to see you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Alaskan Martial Arts

During a conversation about gap-year adventures, I recalled this story a relative of mine (let's call him Leeson) from Iowa told me a few years ago about his own experience travelling between school degrees. He was about 20 years old in the 80's and had randomly decided to go and work in Alaska after getting his high school diploma. So he hitch-hiked from Iowa all the way up north (don't ask me how he did that, it's several weeks of travel mind you).

When Leeson landed, with only a few bucks to his name, he took a job at a local theater (one of a handful up there). He worked the film reel in the projector room. After working there for a while, he asked management why all the movies they had were old black and white films. They told him that to request, order, and deliver any new film reels would take on average 6 months and nobody had the inclination. Leeson decided to go through that arduous ordeal to introduce some newer films to his theatre. Sure enough, in six months he received a stack of Bruce Lee films and eagerly added them to the film listings.

On the first viewing, he could tell from above in his projector's box how excited the crowd sounded during the film. He sat back, satisfied for not having to stick to the boring films he previously used to play. At the end of the film, he began to pack up but noticed that there was a commotion down below.

From the projector's box all he could see were dark shadows down at the front, underneath the screen. "The hell?" He made his way down quickly from the projector box and went into the theater, pushing his way through a throng of rowdy eskimo kids. When he made his way to the front, he saw several eskimo kids-- kicking the absolute shit out of each other while the other kids cheered on.

When martial arts meets eskimo badassery

For a few days he got reprimanded a little by the mothers in the Eskimo community, but after living and working there longer and picking up some vocabulary, one of the mothers told him that he wasn't such a bad egg after all.

I just thought it was a cute story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Can we all just listen to all his songs now? Right now please? I'm in love with his tracks, the mad beats and explicit lyrics. This sick boy is NOT just a rapper, he is so much more than what those posers on the radio ever will be.

I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.
I got this Sunday, baby.
I wanna spend it with you.

We can do what you like.
I promise that I'll be true.
I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.

I don't really know where to go, don't know where to hide.
Everywhere that I go, you'll be right by my side.
You're the only girl that I have ever dreamed of.
I wanna tell you everything but everything just seems dumb.

I kinda like you girl.
I really wanna dress you up.
I wanna buy you for real.

I kinda like you girl.
I really wanna feel you up.
I wanna feel you for real.

I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.
I got this Sunday, baby.
I wanna spend it with you.

We can do what you like.
I promise that I'll be true.
I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.

I got an upstairs, downstairs in my loft
Check the mixtape baby, I don't talk.
Yes, I run this shit like it's hard to walk.
And you think that I'm dope like I'm ???
I'm recession proof, I work to relax, ho.
Weird voice, catch beef like a lasso.
New Fresh Prince, you can chill in my castle.
Spit real shit so I must be an asshole.
Right? Nah.
That's why I'm makin' out in your car.
These vlogs are a dudes A&R.
Got a big tip for these girls at the bar.
And I don't mean money.
Ever since the money, yeah, they treat me funny.
Girls look good, you can take green from me.
Ain't trippin' if ya got it, know what I mean, honey?

You got your yellow sundress on.
I'm tryin' to right you the best song.
With your wayfarer shades, you drive me insane.
I wanna hold hands and call you pet names.

I kinda like you girl.
I really wanna dress you up.
I wanna buy you for real.

I kinda like you girl.
I really wanna feel you up.
I wanna feel you for real.

I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.
I got this Sunday, baby.
I wanna spend it with you.

We can do what you like.
I promise that I'll be true.
I got this money, baby.
I wanna spend it on you.

You are the bestest, I will obey you
They wanna know what, I couldn't say who
You are the only one who's ever really seen me
I know that I'm the reason that you don't watch any tv
I wanna lay on your stomach so bad
And it gets a little quiet in this bachelor pad
And I don't really understand the thing we had
I wanna try again, but it would just be sad
And oh, oh whoa
You are the only one who's ever let me be me

We can make it easy
We can do it simple
I'll be waiting right there
Promise to be gentle
Sittin' by your window
Girl, you're so fly to me

So fly. Girl you're so fly
So fly. Girl you're so fly
So fly. Girl you're so fly to me

baby girl you know what I want.
Let me do it to ya, do it to ya
Let me do ya like uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh
Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh

Childish Gambino got that swagger
All these pussy niggas 'round here don't matter
All that I know is that I wanna dance with ya
Move in closer before I'm gonna kiss ya

Know that you know me
Don't act stupid
You seem different
Tired of these groupies
I'm on fire, won't find figga
Got big shots sayin, "That's that nigga"

HOV-y with glasses. Weezy but geeky
Girls in the lobby tryin' to meet me
I ain't afraid to say it. Yeah, I love these hoes
With their glasses, and their jacket, and their hipster clothes
Yes, I'm always on tour. Whatcha mad at that fo'?
Slammin' that thing like a Cadillac do'
I love fast women, Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Have your cake and eat it. Baby, it's your birthday

Baby girl, you know what I want.
Let me do it to ya, do it to ya
Let me do ya like uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh
Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh

It ain't trickin' if 'you know'
Baby, I 'you know'
Mama, you are with the right man; Juno
Tell me what you wanna do, I will make it happen
I just wanna get you home and uh, uh, uh, uh, oh

Yes, I'm drinking whiskey
Baby, I am gone tonight
NBC is not the only thing I'm comin' on tonight
Gross! Why the fuck I say these things?
It isn't over, haven't heard the chubby lady sing
Everybody love me. Call a nigga Raymond
These weak niggas always in your face like Raybans

Yes, I bring the heat, girl. Fire, f-fireman
Baby, I'm your hero. Donald for Spiderman
I'm in love with you, but this is not Tennis
And baby stay stacked like she bad at Tetris
Rude boy, I Rihanna that vagina
Tell your boy, good luck tryin' to find ya

Baby girl, you know what I want.
Let me do it to ya, do it to ya
Let me do ya like uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh
Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grey days


Blah, felt like blahing to you, perhaps you can relate (or not). Work is sometimes hectic and sometimes humdrum. Why are you complaining, you ask from your own overwhelming piles of work. BECAUSE, this combination of humdrum and the impending end of my contract plus the fact that I have zero job offers on the other side and no income and at the moment I have no choice but to hang in the balance and wait and see makes me feel... blah.

There are moments I am a flurry of application emails, job searching, and wasta-insuring. Then there are moments where I feel like I should just float on my back with the millions of other people in the ocean of unemployment and see where the current takes me. Other times I feel so at a loss, after having turned to every corner or angle that I thought would take me somewhere only takes me back to where I started, and I don't know what I should be doing- acting or waiting. Maybe today I'll have an acceptance letter in my inbox instead of the usual "we regret to inform you"s. Maybe I'll bump into someone who needed a very good... proof reader. Maybe someone remembers me when a vacancy opens and is looking for my number on their phones but haven't found it yet. Maybe this job needs me more than I need it and will offer to make my time here "worth my while" while it waggles its eyebrows suggestively over paper cups at the office cooler.

This immobility is having the time of its life on my emotional state. There are days I am dazed, free-wheeling gleefully through the good and the bad, accepting that mine is just a rough patch that anyone else goes through. Other days even advocacy videos for investing in health workers (such as this one) can reduce me to tears and I have to excuse myself to go sob uncontrollably in the stairwell (the bathroom stalls woefully lack any privacy).

It's not like my life has any *real* problems, like a serious illness in the family or insurmountable debt like millions of Americans or that I'm fighting for the freedom of my country and people like the millions in the MENA region are doing in this instant.

And because I don't have real problems but I have little nagging ones that build into a daunting pile, my life feels inconsequential, like an indie movie replete with crappy music that has that brown-noise subtune and no beats where there should be and sustained piano notes when the camera zooms in on a corner of my head and there's no composition at all. Cut to scene of me busy with work, then cut to scene of me staring at a wall. Introduce random characters into the frame where they bug me and I'm nodding, voiceless, trapped in a colorless world with no resolvable ending in sight. Cue credits and audience disappointment.

Well, that's how I feel sometimes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011



I am officially working now at the United Nations IRIN office in Dubai, and I feel awesome and anxious, often swinging between both extremes on a daily basis. Awesome because it's the UN! Anxious because my position is temporary and tenuous.

In the last blog update I wrote (in between the song lyrics and reposted articles), I expressed how worried I was about finding a job, and my fear of resigning to a regular desk job and reluctantly bypassing any adventures. But then my desperate tango with odd-jobs and frequenting workshops and conferences led me to this traineeship, for which I'm eternally grateful and relieved for. Not only is the UN the dream of every IR graduate, but it is such a blessing during these hard times. While my stint here will be too short-lived, it's enough to re-enter the UN later when I'm somewhere more financially secure and experienced to handle my own shit.

Oh, but there's always a little room for irony. While the odd-jobs were good work if you can get it, they were just too infrequent and far between. I felt like I was jumping from ice slab to ice slab in the Arctic. I leapt to a solid piece and looked around for the next one to jump onto before the one below me starts to melt, and I always managed to (thank God) find another ice slab to jump on. I managed to 'stay afloat' as it were, but ironically it was securing myself a steady job that meant that I am steadily reaching the bottom of my shallow savings.

There are amusing upsides to the job, like receiving emails from Keisha(maza) and Maradona. After the initial shock I do a double-take and realize that somewhere within this confusing maze of UN agencies we have at least a handful of people who share the same as celebrities and send mass emails, so it's cool. You find out weird stuff like there's a branch of the UN that works with scientists who study strains of algae that could fight malnutrition (that's actually where I got the email from a Maradona from).

In terms of growth I'm surprised at not only how much I'm learning, but how I process the information. It's such a radical difference when you're learning about current events from the classroom and from within the organization. All the logistical planning and the roles of different parties involved come into sharp relief and I began to understand things in ways I couldn't before. And my colleagues are truly great people. I was worried about whether I should take the smack-talk about the UN seriously (the smack-talk being jaded expressions like "oh the UN is mostly staffed with a bunch of idiots that are only in for the personal gains, don't buy into that belief that everyone there is a bleeding heart") so I came to the office a little apprehensive, but I had nothing to worry about. They're all down-to-Earth people and they could probably work in the private sector and make three times as much money, but they're putting their efforts into humanitarian projects and are relatively behind the scenes so there's no glory either. They're always helpful and are ready to answer my random and assorted questions.

Oh and it's a giant large bonus that the office usually comes together to lunch over KARACHI DARBAR take out food or traditional Egyptian koshari! AHHHH! Lunchtime is heaven! When people ask me if working at the UN lives up to all it's hype glamor all I have to do is remember lunchtime and exclaim with a big fat "YES."

Ooh baby baby, la la la la la la

So while I'm here I'm soaking up as much as I can and keeping an eye out for other opportunities after my traineeship. I do a bunch of different things here, but my favorite is helping the translation editor post the articles online. Take a look at the IRIN website and warn me if I've accidentally posted cracked articles or explicit youtube videos instead of humanitarian stories.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Decade After 9/11: We Are What We Loathe By Chris Hedges



Posted on Sep 10, 2011

My Job is to Watch Dreams Die

 [original post taken from reddit.com , original links below]

I work at a real estate office. We primarily sell houses that were foreclosed on by lenders. We aren't involved in the actual foreclosures or evictions - anonymous lawyers in the cloud somewhere is tasked with the paperwork - we are the boots on the ground that interacts with the actual walls, roofs and occasional bomb threat.

When the lender forecloses - or is thinking of foreclosing - on a property one of the first things that happens is they send somebody out to see if there is actually a house there and if there is anybody living there who needs to be evicted. Lawyers are expensive so they send a real estate agent or a property preservation company out to check. There is the occasional discovery of fraud where there was never a house on the parcel to begin with, but such instances are rare. Sometimes this initial visit results in discovering a house that has burned down or demolished, is abandoned or occupied by somebody who has absolutely no connection with the homeowner. Sometimes the houses are discovered to be crack dens or meth labs, sometimes the sites of cock or dog fighting operations, or you might even find a back yard filled with a pot cultivation that can't be traced back to anybody because it was planted in yet another vacant house in a blighted neighborhood. The house could be worth less than zero - blighted to the point where you can't even give it away (this is a literal statement, I have tried to give away many houses or even vacant lots with no takers over the years) or it could be a waterfront mansion in a gated golf community worth well over seven figures that does not include the number "one". Sometimes they are found to have been seized by the IRS, the local tax authority, the DEA or the US Marshal. Variety is the rule. The end results are the law.

If the house is occupied my job is to make contact and determine who they are: there are laws that establish what happens to a borrower as opposed to a tenant and the servicemember relief act adds an additional set of questions that must be answered. Some of the people have an idea of why I am there. Some claim they never knew they were foreclosed on, or tell me that they have worked something out with their lender, some won't tell me a thing and some threaten me to never return in the name of the police, their lawyer, or the occasional "or else/if I were you". During one initial visit the sight of 50-60 motorcycles parked on the lawn suggested that we try again the next day. At a couple the police had cordoned off the area and at one they were in the process of dredging the lake searching for the body of a depressed former homeowner.

If nobody is home I have to determine if they are at work, on vacation, in the army, wintering/summering at their other home, in jail, in a nursing home, dead or if they moved away. It isn't easy. Utilities can be left on for months. Neighbors can be staging the yard and house to appear occupied to prevent blight in their neighborhood. By the same token people will stop cutting the lawn for months, let trash and old phone books pile up on their porch, lose gas and electric service and continue to live in properties that have not only physically unsafe to approach but are so filthy that when it comes time to clean them out the crews have to wear hazmat suits. One house had a gallon pickle jar filled with dead roaches on the porch. Somebody lived in that house and thought that was a logical thing to do. People like me are tasked with first contact.

Evictions are expensive and time-consuming. Ultimately once the process gets that far there isn't much that can be done to prevent it. You didn't pay your mortgage, the lender gets the house back. There are an infinite number of reasons why the mortgage couldn't be paid, some are more sympathetic than others, but in the end you will be leaving the property willingly or not. The lawyers handle the evictions - they churn through the paperwork in the background, ten thousand properties at a time. They have it down to rote function based on templates, personal experience with the various judges and intimate knowledge of the federal, state and municipal laws, along with dealing with the occasional sheriff who refuses to evict somebody, the informal policies established by the local judges and a myriad of other problems that can arise. As a business decision many lenders have determined that it is cheaper to settle with the occupants - instead of going through the formal eviction they will offer cash. In exchange for surrendering a property in reasonably clean condition with the furnace still hooked up, the kitchen not stripped and the basement not intentionally flooded the lender will cut the occupants a check. It costs much less than an eviction, provides reasonable hope that the plumbing won't freeze and can take a fraction of the time to obtain possession. This is where the personal element becomes real.

Some people jump at the chance. They don't want to live here anymore. They may be getting married and moving in but couldn't sell the unneeded house. They have a new job across the country, they're moving to the other side of the planet. They were renting and found a better place in a neighborhood where the thieves don't grin at them through the kitchen window while they disconnect a running air conditioner knowing that the average response time for the police is measured in weeks for a call like that. The cash is a down payment, a security deposit (since their landlord never returns theirs), or maybe a moving van. These are the best cases. Sometimes they are happy to hear from me. Other times, not so much.

When I make first contact and explain that the lender is offering them money to leave sometimes they tell me that they haven't slept for months, knowing that somethingwas going to happen but never knowing if tomorrow was the day when somebody kicked in their door and threw their kids out on the lawn. Their lenders won't tell them anything, they have nothing to go on but horror stories from other people that they never knew. It never occurred to them that they should call an attorney and ask what was going on. I can be the first people to discuss their situation who isn't a debt collector: you can hear the release of a massive weight in their voice. It isn't much, but at least it is something.

Or they can get angry and defensive, tell me that they were never foreclosed on, tell me that I am trespassing and owe them $5,000 in "land use fees" for "using" their property as I walk to the front door. They threaten to sue, they threaten to call the cops, they say I should look under my car before I start it from now on. They send letters written in various forms of English - one time scribed in crayon - detailing their rights and how I am violating some maritime treaty from the 1700s. In my travels I have learned that if you copyright your name you can't be named in any kind of legal action, if you never write down your ZIP code then you aren't a resident of the United States and that if I tell somebody that their lender is offering them money to vacate while leaving the staircase (yes, these get stolen) and driveway (yes, these get stolen) in place then I am guilty of slave trading under some United Nations something or other.

For those who reject the deal, nothing changes. They don't lose any rights and it isn't counted against them in any way - neither the lawyers nor the courts care because the lenders don't have to offer anything - the eviction process continues. I listen to the stories why they can't/won't take the deal. They can't afford anything else. They don't have anywhere else to go. They want to make the eviction as expensive as possible. They're going to get "a big settlement" from some vague lawsuit any day now. They want their kids to finish out the school year. They intend to take the furnace as soon as they find a new house. All kinds of reasons. Some are heartbreaking, others not so much.

For those who do take the deal, at the appointed date and time I meet them at their former home. I walk the yard and enter every room. I open every drawer and cupboard making sure the house is clean and doesn't have old engines, toxic chemicals or dead dogs lingering anywhere. Sometimes the kids are there, maybe waiting in the car, maybe not. I see the marks on the wall showing how the kids grew over the years. I see the anguished poetry scribbled on the wall by stoned teenagers and the occasional hole punched in the wall. One woman handed me the key to her reinforced bedroom door - during the divorce her now ex-husband was still living in the house and she had to barricade herself in at night. Another said "right there is where I found my son - he couldn't handle losing the house".

Sometimes they don't want the money and don't want to be evicted so they sign a waiver stating that everything left inside can be disposed of. Hospital beds. Oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. Hundreds of boxes of shoes. A mannequin. A 2nd grader's homework portfolio. A wedding album filled with pictures with one person torn out. Get rich quick "business plans". 40 years worth of drafting documents. To the lenders and the lawyers, these things don't exist - they close the file and order a trashout. Sometimes I linger as I check the basement for mold and lead. I am the final period on so many significant chapters. To most other people it is just part of the job but in so many other universes this is where I ended up. There is no difference between myself and these people other than the intangible twists of experience.

And so I listen. I feign dispassion but I'm not fooling anybody. Somehow they can tell that I care and thank me even as they admit that it isn't my fault, that it isn't my responsibility to listen. I've stood inside another's dream for an hour as they spoke, not really to be heard but to say goodbye - to leave the ghosts behind.

They go to the car and return with the openers.

The keys are peeled from a ring.

They thank me. Sometimes they cry.

And they're gone.

I wait for their car to vanish before I put up the sign. To most everybody else it is just another house on just another block in just another city in just another financial catastrophe.

But I was there. I saw the dream end.

But at least I don't make them turn out the lights one last time as they leave.

That's my job.



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Excerpts from the wisdom of Isabel Dalhousie 2

"It was very easy to see what was best for one's family, particularly when one did not have many relatives, but she understood how this offended the principle of autonomy, which holds, so stubbornly, that we must each be left to live our own lives as we see fit. This did not mean that we could do anything we like - far from it - but it did mean that we had to make our own decisions as to what to do. And if this meant that we made bad choices, then we would have to be left with the making of those choices."

Excerpts from the wisdom of Isabel Dalhousie

"Isabel understood now that he was in love. When we love others, we naturally want to talk about them, we want to show them off, like emotional trophies. We invest them with a power to do to others what they do to us; a vain hope, as the lovers of others are rarely of much interest to us. But we listen in patience, as friends must, and as Isabel now did, refraining from comment, other than to encourage the release of the story and the attendant confession of human frailty and hope."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spoiler Alert: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy is AWESOME

Forget sleeping or working for 2 weeks: once you've got your hands on these nearly-1000-pages-each books you won't put them down. The dark shadows under my eyes are testament to how gripping these stories were.

If you haven't read them yet, close this window because I'm about to dive into details (and you wouldn't want to ruin the story for yourself. Honestly, even if you won't read them then wait for the movies to come out in English).

SPOILER ALERT (no lawsuits henceforth):

Warning to the Swedes: All my impressions of Sweden come from what I've managed to glean from my political studies and this book series. Unfortunately I don't think I've ever met anyone from Sweden (certainly that's my loss) and the closest I come to is a college professor from Denmark (who, ironically, taught me more about the Middle East than any other place). So if you, innocent Swedish reader, feel that there is an urgent need to educate me to the real life of Swedes and Sweden, do please message me or comment on this post. I am very aware that my view is quite narrow so I am open to hearing whatever you have to say. This post is purely my narrow impression, so all have been warned.

My own experience with these books were a bit jumbled. I had actually read the second book first ("The Girl Who Played with Fire") without realizing that it was the middle part of the trilogy, then got to the cliff-hanging end and realized "AAGHHH IT'S A TRILOGY!" and had to decide whether to continue forth with book 3 before going back to book 1, and eventually went back to book 1. So I read the series in 2, 1, 3 order, which of course left me a little turned-around. On top of that the author writes the series in a turned-around way to begin with so ironically there were times when I felt like "ahh, this was in the other book" and things were clear for me, but I also know that I've robbed myself of some delicious suspense.

Anyways, the books were awesome. I'd heard of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" being bandied about, but I had assumed it was a comic book or something. That's how I stumbled on the second book and didn't recognize it. I had no idea what I was getting into.

So, book 1, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" provides a few characters and their backgrounds, including a Jewish-Muslim, a casually promiscuous journalist Mikael "Kalle" Blomkvist (try saying that name) and others, and all are described in full detail save one character: The protagonist Lisbeth Salander.

This book is no light read: Unless you're familiar with Scandinavian pronunciations, places, or inside jokes (which I'm not), you're going to be scratching your head at parts. For me, the first mystery was "Why are they calling 'Mikael Blomkvist' by the nickname 'Kalle' and why does he hate that?" Well, a quick google search revealed that there was a popular Scandinavian children's story about a young detective boy "Kalle Blomkvist" who astounded grown-ups with his insights and discoveries. After learning that (thanks wikipedia) it finally made sense how the character in the book - a proper journalist who diligently works at exposing crooks - takes offense to the nickname. Ok, yay, mystery solved.

Second, I felt like "man, these Swedes love their coffee." They can't get enough of their caffeine. EVERYBODY'S drinking it in Sweden! And their sandwiches too. I consistently felt like I was on a hurried lunch break while I read about their coffee-and-sandwiches exploits in between their actual exploits.

Also, you learn that the Swedes aren't really first-name people (well, the books definitely give off that impression) and while each character is introduced with both first and last names, they are forever referred later to by only the last name- and I get tangled at bits wondering who all these men are - and it's a host of delightfully northern names and you start to become acquainted with what passes off as common names up there (if you're like me and not acquainted with the "cold north" until these books appeared).

Well, all in all book 1 was mainly about the strange Vanger family and Blomkvist's investigative talents were enlisted to solve the mystery of Harriet Vanger's death 40 years ago. Of course, the deeper he pries the more harrowing the story starts to develop, and each puzzle piece he turns up gives me more cause to sleep with the lights on.

Book 2! Pow! "Girl Who Played with Fire" finally gives us more insight and background as to who Lisbeth Salandar is and why. A side story begins with a couple (journalist and his thesis-writing girlfriend) ready to blow apart the entire sex-trade underground of Sweden, and on the night Salandar goes out to visit them they are... murdered! Ahhh!

Suddenly Salandar isn't part of the narrative voice and as the reader you're clutching at your head going "where is she?!" as you and Sweden go into a frenzied manhunt for her. Here the book shows us exactly how police investigations can quickly devolve into a ridiculous goose-chase while the media makes the police out to be a band of idiots looking for a Satanist lesbian. For several agonizing chapters you don't hear from Salandar again, and you go along with the rest of Sweden trying to piece together a coherent picture of who Salandar really is. It's agonizing because you already know partly who she is and you have to sit through everyone else's assumptions about her and you won't know the rest until Salandar decides to - literally - come out of hiding. For both you and the people of Sweden's sake.

Throughout the book a light feeling emerges that hints at the ineffectualness of the Swedish government when it comes to protecting the innocent and punishing the criminal- which is mad, because we're talking about Sweden here right? Aren't they supposed to be untouchable when it comes to socialistic governments and gender equality? How can the system be so flawed as to create the kind of situation Larsson is writing about in his fiction books, right? Right?

Book 3! Ahh!
Salandar is injured, hospitalized and in custody. Her assailant is similarly injured, hospitalized and in custody, and his hospital room is only two doors down from hers - eek SUSPENSE! They are too aware of how much danger they pose to each other and through the drugs and the treatment they try to find ways to protect themselves should the other decide to make a midnight visit to their rooms while the nurses are gone.
Suddenly and without warning, her assailant is murdered by a suicidal madman who shoots himself after doing the job. Sweden is up in arms, wondering what the fuck is going on. Salandar is powerless as long as she's kept in the hospital, so it's up to Blomkvist to find out what the hell is happening, and as he hunts for clues he finds out that the truth is possibly too big for Sweden to handle. Salandar's history appeared at first to be a misunderstanding between her and the police, but as Blomkvist finds, it goes higher up than that- it goes all the way to the top! A government conspiracy to shut someone up who might know too much- but what is the Swedish government trying to hide? Is Salandar savvy to something even she was not aware that would threaten national security? And is it the government as a whole, or a secret group of government workers with their own agenda and bent on making sure that all who interfere will be dealt with, buried in the darkest shadows of the law?

This final book navigates the reader through Swedish political history as well as the halls and laws that govern that cold northern state, and how the first impression of "the perfect government" may need serious revision after learning the loop holes and catch-22's within the system. As an American with liberal views, I often think that my country could learn a thing or two from the Scandinavian government model- so it was surprising to find instances in the book where the police or people of authority wished that they had the same power that their contemporaries in the US had. So there goes my assumptions. Of course I am aware that there is no perfect government or system, but I had thought that the Swedes came close - and when it comes to various social issues indeed they do - but what Larsson is saying is that if such a situation in his fictional books came about, then the system would be turned on its head, and innocent people could suffer the consequences.

Wow. So there you go, a mindblowing series that is tacitly a criticism of the Swedish government on the macro level, and an intricately weaved murder-mystery plot with varied characters on the micro level. The series deserves at least two readings to be properly appreciated, and I advise readers to be prepared to sleep with one eye open- you never know who might be after you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"I am just despairing, because shit sucks"

During a discussion of relationships with a friend, we discussed some of the disappointing individuals we are semi-embarrassed to admit (even to ourselves) that we dated. This may sound callous and mean (as these men have told us when we broke up with them) but it reaches a point where you want to grab them by their shoulders, shake the hell out of them and yell "Oh come now man! Where are your balls? I am NOT the center of yours or anybody's universe, it goes against the laws of physics! Will you ignore even physics?"

To illustrate my point, I have excerpts from their email exchanges (with my friend's permission). I thought they would be amusing to those of us who are secure and competent people, and at the very least an education to those who, without any practical basis, have decided that their happiness is contingent on you and you alone.

Excerpt from my friend:

"Your very personal status updates are strange and inappropriate. If they are for public consumption, they are an invasion of my privacy, make me uncomfortable and make you pitiable. If you are banking on the fact that nobody else will give them a second thought, then they are directed towards me and are intended to make me feel guilty. It is very unbecoming that you would adopt this route particularly since I have not asked you to stop speaking to me and it was you who did the vanishing act, after, what appeared to me, as an attempt to begin a conversation. If I am responsible for "disgusting" and "contemptible" behaviour - falling out of love with you, and struggling to find an appropriate time and place to make the confession - you reacted with rage and name-calling unsuitable for your age, experience and education and without apology. Although, I empathize with you, you did behave as if you had a right to be with me, gave no concern for my feelings, and were actually, to my shock, worried about what other people would think of the matter. At this point, I don't know what you want from me. I am sorry but I feel relieved to be free of the commitment. I continue to extend my hand in friendship."

Excerpt from pathetic man. Note how he accuses my friend of ruining his life because she decided that the relationship had to end:

"I am just despairing, because shit sucks. I don't know where you got 'disgusting or contemptible' from or why you are saying that. My life with you brought me great pleasure and purpose. Now I can't even get out of bed. I told you any anger I showed you was nothing compared to the endless pain that would follow that I would have to face, alone. It has only begun. Speaking to you hurts me too much, I don't want to be your friend. your foolish delusion that we could just switch to friend mode is just that. it's 'nice' that you made the effort, but it's an ultimately empty gesture. I counted on you, I trusted you, i relied on you, i depended on you, and for that trust i gave you every ounce of attention and compassion and care and devotion I could muster. YOUR feelings? Your feelings are indifference, contempt, disinterest - YOUR feelings, what about MY feelings, my desire to be with you, and my desire to have trust in a female. Had I had any choice, or say, or warning, then perhaps I could faulted for not considering your feelings. But given that you callously disposed of me, left me in the lurch, alone and vulnerable, and that you are not 'happy and fine' and free of the committment to your benefit - all to my detriment. I go out, i have seen a couple of girls, i have seen some people, and everything is a pale shadow of you. it hurts me to try and recoup through bitter pain, effort, and constant humiliation what I thought i could count on when i had you. your prescence brought me such joy, and the gaping hole of your abscence, attempting to be filled by an imposter, just salts the wound. My age, being disposed of, when i thought i could finally have a rest, only to be jolted at the worst possible time, from my vacation from loneliness ... back into lethargic, unsatisfying, neglected solitude. you have no idea. fuck, your selfish reaction that this was about you, it's not. it's about how shitty my life is, your departure being the central fixture of that shittyness, any of these circumstances transplanted to our time together could have been overcome, i could have had something to rely upon, someone to comfort me. now i am once again nothing, with nothing. try to walk a mile in the life of a rejected, solitary, 30 something unemployed, male in complete limbo about his future with NO money. you have only known comfort and indulgence. when you can look past your own 'privacy' perhaps you can fathom how hard things are for me now, and how much our time together meant to me."

This line of argument ("you ruined my life by leaving me alone") might make sense if this relationship spanned a significant period of time (a decade maybe) or if financial dependence on one or the other, or if kids were involved. But no- this was a short one-year-ish relationship, no kids, no shared residence, no financial ties. So... Why is she such a contingent part of his happiness? If he's intelligent enough to articulate his woes in this fashion then he's smart enough to articulate his communication skills for a job. And friends. And whatever he wants to find happiness outside of her.

Anyways, here is her reply (which I have awarded a million points for hilarity and succinct cruelty):

"I apologize for what I did and that I gave you no warning, kept you in the dark. But it is what it is. Shit happens. My only other alternative was to stay with you when I didn’t really love you. I can’t exactly force myself to feel a certain way nor do I run a charity organization to alleviate the loneliness of men around the word. The life you describe as filled with despair, anguish, sorrow, lack of purpose, pain, loneliness, vulnerability, humiliation, lethargic, unsatisfying, neglected solitude, having nothing, are poor or have no money and in limbo is a life that many people in this world would crave for. You are both physically fit and intellectually capable. If you have no money, you can make money by getting a job. If you are lonely, you can make friends. You live in a semi-socialist state, you’ve got most of the luxuries of the world. What comforts and indulgences do I have that you do not? Neither of us are crippled peasants in the third world. So let us not go there. Everybody has their measure of problems. I can’t be held responsible for things that were wrong with your life even before I met you. Is it specifically my fault that you are 30 something, unattached, unemployed, with no money? Should I feel guilty about it or was this letter just a means to despair? Since you are blaming me, I think the former is the case. What if I told you I have always been unsure of my sexuality and I think I may be a lesbian? In other words, are you writing to me this way because of what my leaving you meant for you or because you feel I was wrong to leave you? It is, essentially, the same thing, to you, at least, telling you I am not into you and telling you I am not into men. I am sorry you cannot get out of bed but it is a problem you have to deal with. I don’t see how personal facebook status updates with my name help you do that. But if there is no chance of us being friends, I don’t think we should be facebook friends."
I can't think of a bigger eye-opener than this reply she wrote. If there's one thing I consider a pet-peeve, it's people who claim that 1) They cannot help themselves, and 2) it is YOUR duty to support and love them, and YOU'RE responsible for their happiness. There is a name for a group who genuinely can't help themselves and you're responsible towards them: they're called babies. If you're 18 and above, you're not a baby, and nobody's responsible for your happiness. Grow a set and grow up.

(Author's note: I think some of you would be surprised that despite this post I'm actually a romantic, hah. I do enjoy some drama though, as long as it's not my own. If drama occurs I deftly quash it under my romantic iron fist).

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sidi Bouzid Revolution

Journalists are calling the recent events in Tunisia "The Jasmine Revolution," a revolt that was sparked by a student who doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in front of a government building last December. His act triggered a spontaneous revolt that ousted 23-year regime leader Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi on January 14th.

While "The Jasmine Revolution" is a catchy term for the recent events, I found a post on The Arabist that warns against using that term:

[...] there's another reason to stay away from "Jasmine Revolution." It was the term that deposed President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in 1987 to describe his own takeover, in those initial years of his reign that offered some hope for a democratic transition. To reuse Ben Ali's propaganda phrase at this point seems perverse — whereas something like the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, marking ground zero of the movement that led to the dictator's downfall, seems so much more appropriate.

Horrified that my support for the recent Tunisian uprising against the Ben Ali regime was unintentionally supporting Ben Ali himself, I promptly got on blogspot to warn you all.

Seriously, don't call it that. Let's go with the author of the post and call it the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, where the frustrated 22-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi symbolically protested against his unresponsive government and the rampant structural unemployment that choked his country.

Who wants coffee?

I know that my last post was about a year ago, but I've been fighting the great college battle, and now, I am on the cusp of graduation. But what lies on the other side?

Let me tell you what to expect: A cruel, dark world where cash-strapped organizations can only say "thank you but no thanks" to your bridge to nowhere-employment. Upon interviews you can be met with criticisms on your limited work experience, your choice of major, and your appearance.

Ok, so maybe the above happened at only two interviews, but the reality of structural unemployment is a real one. Living in Dubai I've seen friends who've graduated a few years ahead of me get shown the door. People who are meant to "advise" you wonder who gave you a degree because they think you've got shit-for-brains when they look at your employment strategies (i.e. fixing your CV, going to job fairs, signing up on Bayt.com). The biggest criticism I've heard is "why haven't you established more wasta?"

Wasta. Let me unpack the term. Meaning 'network' or 'connections' in Arabic, it generally refers to laiasing (or schmoozing) with people in higher places to help you make it up into the working world. While I acknowledge that building real connections with people is definitely part of employment, it just feels that getting a job based on merit is seen as the last thing on your priority list, while establishing wasta should be your first.

Awkwardly, I attempted it, but I am really not a smooth operator when it comes to making friends for specific benefits. I make friends the normal way: you meet someone, they turn out to be cool, you make lunch plans and the rest goes from there. Showing up at some function and trying to segue into work conversation, sucking up to someone's company, taking a card and then trying to meet with them for shisha or something in the insincere attempt at bonding (but actually trying to get into their company's pants) is a skill beyond my capacity. I feel like Monica in that one episode where she tries to seduce Chandler with carrots and a box of cereal.

"You're hired!"

In any case, having been reduced to a pile of self-esteemless rubble, I sell myself as a great coffee goffer. Let me tell you, if you're hankering a grande latte from Starbucks, you can't find anyone better than me to speedily retrieve one. Let me be your coffee retriever.

About a month ago, my professor took our class to meet with a higher member of one of Dubai's bigger companies (his daughter happens to be in my class. If you live in the UAE, this is a normal story). He gave us a candid talk, running through the entrepreneural history of the UAE before turning to the recession. "I'm sorry guys. We were growing too fast, making wreckless decisions and we didn't stop to gather info or assess our situation, which is why you guys will embark on a world that needs repairing and we have not done enough on our part to train you for it, and for that I am sincerely sorry."

For the first time in my souless job-hunt, I felt like I was released of blame. All those punishing noises about not having the right wasta or the right job experiences died away when he apologized. I admired his honesty and I thanked him in front of everyone for admiting that and taking the blame off of us, timid fresh-starting graduates. He just shook his head and said that he wished more could be done to prepare us for the recession-fraught working world.

My feelings are mixed at this point, a few days before I graduate. I started out college with hopes that I would own that chic apartment in Dubai with the french bakery downstairs, taking the company car to my awesome job (whatever it was). I'm sure we all started that way, but with the recession and structural employment, I have no choice but to tough it out along with my peers and keep hoping that after every silent rejection there's a joyous acceptance email waiting for me in my inbox.

It's going to be a rough next couple of months.