Pieces of Syria

This time last year I was in Tunisia, breathing the heady air of revolution, and observing curfew every night to stay out of gunfights between the army and the rogue police still loyal to ousted president Ben Ali. Egypt had followed close on Tunisia’s heels, and Qaddafi’s Libya was teetering. But as of yet, despite widespread unrest across the Middle East, Syria was still as silent as the grave.

Today in Tunisia, representatives of over seventy nations, (including the United States, but conspicuously missing China, Russia and Iran) are meeting to consider once again what can be done for the people of Syria. The party (known as “Friends of Syria”) was briefly crashed by several hundred Assad supporters who had been bussed to the hotel where the talks were being held. The infiltrators gained access to the hotel, but were eventually stopped at a security cordon.

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Italian Grandmothers, Plants of the Bible, Rock the Casbah, and Prisoner of the Vatican

I’ve been reading a lot of books about Italy and the Middle East lately, and this week I have some really wonderful ones for you.

Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran by Lytton John Musselman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What did Eve really eat in the Garden of Eden? Which plant produced Christ’s crown of thorns? Are the “lilies of the field” actually poppies? Not your ordinary Biblical commentary, Musselman’s book concentrates exclusively on the flora of the Bible and the Qur’an. The author is a respected botanist who has lived in and conducted research throughout the Middle East for many years. His exhaustive but manageable book presents every single plant mentioned in the holy books of the three major faiths of the Holy Land. I love that he presented the plants of the Qur’an side by side with those of the Bible. It was interesting to see which plants overlapped. Having lived in the region, Musselman can present not only botanical and historical facts about the plants, but also explain how they are eaten, worn, and used by people today. The many lovely photographs in the book are mostly his own, and portray both the plants themselves and their appearances in everyday modern life in Bible lands, whether at the apothecary’s store, the vegetable market, or just in the landscape.

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Mormons and Muslims

I blogged today over at Times & Seasons about what Mormons and Muslims have in common. Pop on over and have a read:  http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/10/mormons-and-muslims/

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Election Day in Tunisia

Words really can’t express how happy I feel for Tunisia and her people today. It has been ten eventful months since Ben Ali left the country, and most of that time I spent in Tunisia, breathing the heady air of new democracy and marvelling at events that seem almost miraculous, and continue to reverberate around the world.

Today brought to first fruition the promise of the Tunisian people’s revolutionary dream. The country voted today to elect a 217-member assembly, which has as its primary purpose drafting a new constitution. The body will also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections, setting Tunisia firmly on the path toward a stable democratic future.

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On the Eve of the Nobel Peace Prize

I was thrilled to hear last week that Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger who was at the forefront of human rights cyber activism ahead of the revolution, is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded tomorrow. If chosen, she would most likely share the prize with one or more Egyptian bloggers.

Along with other activist bloggers in Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Ben Mhenni wrote on issues such as press freedom and women’s rights. But unlike many bloggers, who hid their identities to avoid harassment and detention by government officials, Ben Mhenni defied the press ban, blogging under her own name. For her, daring to speak the truth without fear was the only way to effect a change. As the revolution progressed, she traveled throughout Tunisia at considerable personal risk, documenting protests and regime brutality, and posting photos of young people injured or killed by police forces.

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Keeping Faith, Falling Leaves, and A Thousand Splendid Suns

I love reading, but finding English-language books can be something of a challenge for an expat. Yes, I miss my library. And then a couple of months ago my Kindle broke (sad day!), leaving me high and dry when it comes to reading material. I wrote quite a bit of poetry in the interim, and got some other equally practical stuff done. But I’ve been in serious literary withdrawal.

Enter Jo Ann, who in addition to being a fabulous artist, spearheading the clean beach campaign, and giving us dog care advice, loaned me some books! I must confess that I shamelessly gobbled them, mostly simultaneously. And I liked them all. So in honor of finally getting to feed the inner book monster, I’ve decided to do my very first on-blog reviews.

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Euphoria in Libya; Saif is Safe

Looks like months of desperate fighting and daily NATO strikes have finally paid off. The Libyan rebels are largely in control of Tripoli. We’re not sure where Mad Qaddafi is now, as he’s been missing for quite some time. Rumor had it that last week he’d escaped into Tunisia, but I haven’t seen him anywhere around here. Today he sent someone over to blow up an unspecified embassy in Tunis (the would-be terrorist defected instead), so it’s probably much more likely that Qaddafi will be landing in Cuba or Venezuela within the next few days.

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Ramadan Observations

Now that we’ve passed the full moon halfway mark of Ramadan, I thought I’d let you know how we’ve been faring. I also feel a little guilty about all the good Muslims who’ve landed on my previous Ramadan post via google, searching for advice on when is the last time to eat in Ramadan, whether or not shaving is allowed, how to pass the time until sunset, etc. I’m afraid I answered none of those questions, and provided no helpful advice at all for those who were preparing for Ramadan in a religious sense. I still don’t know about the shaving, and I haven’t personally heard the drum that they supposedly go around beating in the wee hours of the morning to remind people to eat for the last time before sunrise. I do know that my neighbors around here tell me that the best thing to do in the hours before iftar (the sunset meal) is to take a nice late-afternoon swim in the sea.

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Tuga Sunsuits Review

Now that Axa and Dominique have been using their new swimsuits (aka homeschool uniforms) for nearly four months, I thought it might be time to give you  a real review.

As I’d hoped, these swimsuits turned out to be pretty great. They claim to be SPF 50, and I can confirm that after four months in the Tunisian sun, my little white boy is as white as ever, although he has a nice tan below the knee, where the swimsuit doesn’t cover. The fabric seems to be good quality. After a couple of hours in salt water every day this summer, the suits are as bright and stretchy as ever. The only odd thing is that the fabric does get full of sand for some reason. The sand is caught within the tight weave of the synthetic fibers, so if I stretch it (or shake the swimsuit), I get a little shower of sand. My children say the sand doesn’t bother them, but I find it a bit annoying to never be able to get it out. Still, it’s a minor point, and wouldn’t be a concern at all if you are using the suits in a pool. Or if your children are more interested in water, and less in sand than mine.

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Liberty and Justice for All

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thirty-six short words, but what an idea! As Americans, I think all of us have our special reasons for not taking those words for granted. Some serve in the armed forces, defending those very liberties. Others are first-generation immigrants from countries where such civil liberties do not exist. Here is one of my reasons:

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