Saturday, 27 April 2013

April Showers of Blog Love

Think of this as a lucky dip of posts and articles which you may find interesting, useful or entertaining across a wide range of topics: Religion, Ethnicity, Job Seeking, Expat Life, and Uplifting Stories. 

(Image: SXC)

Afia R. Fitriati write a lovely little uplifting story On Being An Ugly Duckling for Aquila Style

IHijabi wrote a very useful post for sisters on how to prepare and dress for a job interview in Job Interviews and the Working Muslimah 

Having been asked many times by my little students whether I'm a witch, bald, a bald witch, or if I've just got bad hair, I enjoyed reading J. R. Goudeau's article, Let's Talk About Hijab: Through the Eyes of Children from Rachel Pieh Jones's Hijab Series which I was delighted to contribute to last week. Rachel's latest post How Islam Prepared Me For Lent is very enlightening and really made me think about y own preparations for Ramadan. As a side note, I also recently re-discovered The Worst Witch children's books by Jill Murphy (as you can see from the cute illustration above) which you can read more about here.

An extended member of my family wrote about the Christian Missionaries In My Family earlier this month and I happened to unexpectedly find my name in the mix which was a lovely surprise. It's an interesting take on interfaith dialogue from a Christian perspective. 

If you'd like to explore the South American connection a little more, you might also like the Ethnicity Tag I did earlier in the year and learn more about the delicious golden caramel treat above. 

And finally, to make sure that you leave this page with a smile on your face, 'come take a twirl' with the lovely new intro video for Amenakin with cute animations by Iloveelhassan. The latter shared a link to the brilliant article Not Brainwashed: American Women Who Converted to Islam Speak Out which is well worth a peep.

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Am I Good Enough To Be Wearing This?

I was delighted that the recent guest post by Rachel Pieh Jones was so well received. I've been a fan of her blog for a long while due to the warmth and heart in her writing. Whether she's speaking about her faith, cultural observations or expat experiences in Djibouti, I find myself amused, moved and wanting to learn more about her unique perspective on life. I've loved these blog swaps because they provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other better and show that having different faiths, birth countries and host nations shouldn't be barriers but instead add to the richness of our friendships. 

So when Rachel asked me to contribute to her brilliant series Let's Talk About Hijab, I immediately said yes. In the article, I reflect on my initial marmite-style relationship with hijab in the early days and how my feelings towards it have changed over the last two years. I'd love it if you mosey on over and take a look. 


"Not all women choose to wear it and there are (as in everything) different interpretations of whether it’s obligatory or not, but in my case the hijab was something I choose to adopt pretty much straight away.  For me, it was part and parcel of the process of converting.  My relationship with the physical scarf was a useful gauge as to how I was progressing in my tentative spiritual journey towards Islam..."  More 

★  ★  ★

This post follows on from great articles in the series including: 

Through the Eyes of Children
Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati
Hijab: The Universal Struggle by Pari Ali
Why Doesn't Your Wife Wear Hijab? 

Discover the warmth of Rachel's Writing in my favourite posts: 

Speaking about her beautiful children in 15 Things I Want to Tell My Children 
How to Speak Somali Without Saying a Word
The 3 Types of Expatriates

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Newbie Muslim's View of Jesus

The Words I Wish I'd Said

Many people have written far more eloquent and well thought out pieces in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon than I'm able to. What follows isn't ground breaking social or political commentary but I hope that it might be a positive response for anyone facing difficult questions about their beliefs in light of recent events. 

I recently observed a conversation among several individuals who were venting steam about all the things they loathed about Islam, muslims and extremists (with each term being used interchangeably) and explaining how Islam was a source of great evil in the world and that Jesus (pbuh) was the only way to Salvation. Not wishing to get involved, I read their comments from a distance and reflected on them afterwards. And, I'm sure you've all experienced this sensation, here are the words which I wish I'd said at the time: 

★  ★  ★

I have a great love and respect for Jesus (pbuh) which was nurtured when I was a Christian and continues to grow and develop now as a Muslim. When Jesus said that he was 'The Way' I believe that he was right. If you follow his teachings about being fair to others, loving your neighbour (always the hardest to love) and showing compassion, then I believe you're on the right path. Just as Jesus showed compassion to the Samaritan woman (who was despised for her religion, race and misdemeanors) he demonstrated that we have a responsibility to each other as human beings which transcends arbitrary labels.  

Every religion has parts of their religious texts which are hard to digest or which seem extreme. We instinctively veer away from them and there are many topics which we avoid putting into the Sunday morning sermon or Friday prayer for that very reason. Instead of worrying about these, it's important for us to foster positive relationships between each other, to focus on the peace which faith brings and to show compassion to others regardless of their religion or race because those are the values which shine out of the Torah, the Bible and the Koran and transcend any unsubstantiated call for violence or hatred. 

So over to you! 
How do you respond to negative views of your faith?
How should we foster positive relationships between members of different faiths? 
Have you read any posts or articles would might be helpful to others? 

★  ★  ★

For more in depth social commentary and personal responses, check out:

Monday, 15 April 2013

Guest Post: 'I Don’t Live in a One-Word World'

Rachel Pieh Jones (DjiboutiJones) is one of my favourite bloggers and so I was delighted when she agreed to write a guest post for my blog. I honestly can't sing this lady's praises enough. The more she writes, the more I want to learn about her experiences as an American expat in Somalia and Djibouti and her sincere exploration of faith. Read on to learn more about this wonderful lady and what will hopefully be the first of several collaborations in the future. 


★  ★  

One of my favorite things to do in Djibouti is to listen in when people talk about me in Somali and then interrupt with a quiet and firm, “Waan ku fahmayaa.” I understand you.

Shock registers, every time. People fall from chairs, trip over their own feet, grab onto one another, cover their faces with their headscarves in shame, kiss me, shout “Maasha Allah!” Thank God! They pull random bystanders into our space and throw their arms around me.

The newcomer invariably responds with “That’s impossible.”

I remain silent while the others repeat what just happened and again, at the right moment, I interject with a proverb or a joke or a rare fact.

A few weeks ago I waited for my coworker Hassan in the front area of the Djiboutian newspaper offices. The lone foreigner. Curly blond hair. Long skirt and billowy shirt, modest but not local. A small group gathered. People wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.

★  ★  

“The white lady is waiting for someone,” the doorman said. We had already spoken, shaken hands, asked after family members.

“But who could she be waiting for?” one of the cleaning ladies asked. She sat next to me, our elbows brushed. “Her skin is white but maybe her insides have become Issa.” Issa is the major Somali clan in Djibouti.

“I’m waiting for Hassan,” I said in Somali.

The cleaning woman gasped and grabbed my arm. “Praise God I called you white and not galo!” she said. The word galo means infidel but is often used to refer to Caucasians.

“I’m not an infidel,” I said. “I have a religion and am very happy with it.”

“Are you a Muslim?”

This kind of conversation happens on a regular basis. If people learn that I have lived here ten years or eat rice with my fingers or dine on goat meat. If I wear a headscarf or turn down alcohol. If I say maasha Allah or Alhumdillalah while speaking Somali.

Living in a rural village, 2003
Am I a Muslim?

The one-word answer is: no, I am not. But I don’t usually give that answer because, at least in Djibouti, the only other option is to be a galo, an infidel. Instead, I give a culturally integrated response.

“I have read the Quran in three languages. I fast. I pray. I give to those in need. I also read the Bible, every day. I love and try to follow Jesus.”

After some discussion, a common reaction to this is either an exhortation to say the shahaadah or an agreement that I’m not a Muslim but I’m not a galo either. 

This is the best way, I’ve found, to develop friendships in a foreign country. Dig deeper than one word, ask questions that draw out thoughtful and surprising responses, answer questions with something unexpected. And follow conversations wherever they flow.

At the end of a 15K walk for peace in the Horn of Africa, 2012

Are you American? What is your religion? What is your expatriate job? The one-word answers could be yes, Christian, and, it varies. But those words don’t define me and don’t satisfy. I’m American, but what kind? I’m a Christian, but what kind? I’m an expatriate, but what kind?

The kind of American who carries a blue passport but isn’t restricted by the rules binding diplomats (like not taking taxis or avoiding certain parts of town), not the kind married to a local. An American who gets sick off McDonald’s and can go entire days barely speaking English. An American who follows African politics as closely as US elections.

A person of faith who goes to church but generally doesn’t use the label Christian. A person of faith who is committed to the religion of my past and childhood but who has learned so much from the religion of my present surroundings. A person of faith who celebrates Easter and who loves to listen to stories friends bring home from the hajjAn expatriate who teaches English one year, coaches a running team the next year, is a stay-at-home mom the next, writes cookbooks and articles, volunteers with the local newspaper, manages micro-enterprise funds. An expatriate for whom the only professional constant is my husband’s job.

Swimming with whale sharks

As an expatriate, I have bounced between extremes. Initially, everything unfamiliar was wrong, scary, or exotic. I learned to appreciate these new things and suddenly everything from my previous American culture felt wrong or offensive. It took a decade to learn how to integrate these vastly different cultures.

Now, people ask which I prefer and they want that one-word answer. Djibouti. America. Somalia. I can’t do that, the categories aren’t so clear anymore. All the boundaries that seemed important, clear-cut and self-evident in the beginning blend and blur. I know my convictions, my habits, my passions, my theologies. But if asked to give one-word responses, I can’t.

★  ★  ★

According to the cultural competence scale, this is integration. Valuing and respecting and incorporating aspects of the new culture without jettisoning the old. It is “ethnorelativism, becoming a part of and apart from a given cultural context.”

Integration has meant I am divided between passport country and host country, between two faith worlds, between multiple career paths. I can’t answer questions about identity with one word because I don’t live in a one-word world.

How about you? What one-word labels are you trying to shed? How?

★  ★  

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti where she swims with whale sharks and loses to her children at hula-hoop battles, foot races, and anything craft-related. She has written for the New York Times, Brain Child, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Literary Mama, Running Times, and Relevant. Visit her blog at: Djibouti Jones, follow her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Forget 70s Caravan Decor and Shapeless Dresses, Apricot and Mustard are Delicious!

I've always associated mustard with the image of 70s caravan cushions ablaze with various shades of orange. In recent times however, I've been ogling mustard from afar and on others but I've been far too afraid to wear it myself. I was afraid of looking washed out or being told it doesn't suit me (most likely by one of the very vocal Italian children that I teach).  

Boosted by a 15% discount, I dared to order the curcuma (turmeric) scarf from Imaan and Beauty. It has a rich colour and pattern that makes it look as though it must be made from a dense material like pashmina but in fact, it's incredibly light and silky. despite being from the Autumn collection - rich, warming colour of turmeric - but the material is so soft and light that I'll wear it in Spring regardless. 

It'll be particularly great for the humid summer period in Bologna where you're entering three-showers-a-day territory. In that kind of weather you need to be in clothes which feel like you're wearing nothing (if you get my drift). As it is rather silky to touch, you may need to use more pins to secure it in place all day and naturally, don't be too gung-ho about taking it off or you'll create holes and (if you're anything like me) weep for days at your recklessness. 

Continuing the theme of food-based colours, Apricot hues have always reminded me of flicking through seventies photos: lots of shapeless wedding dresses and unflattering flared trousers. Now you might think this would put me off but I thought perhaps it's time I put aside my prejudice and give in to the Apricot trend this Spring. So, when the ladies at Imaan and Beauty were looking for new Spring stock and asked their fans for any suggestions, I leapt on the opportunity for anything Apricot. To my delight, I found out the next day that there were not only one but three apricot scarves in stock.

After far more deliberation than was probably necessary, I settled on the Candy Apricot scarf. Although it may look shiny in the photo, in real life it's matte with a little sheen and rather than just being plain, it has several pastel stripes running through it as well. I was surprised by how silky it felt as I expected it to be slightly rough like my other viscose scarves. 

Which colours are you trying to embrace at the moment? 

★  ★  

Previous Review: Bobbles and Pinjabs

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Post-Easter Italian Life

[Source: kitty's kitchen]

Below is a snapshot of what a typical Italian house looks like after Easter. In almost every house you'll find distinctive stacks of Colomba cakes on top of cupboards, dressers and tables. These large boxes are often placed next to the distinctively shaped Panettone which are still gathering gathering dust from Christmas a few months earlier. 

The Colomba di Pasqua is similar to its Christmas counterpart panettone in many ways. They are both light, spongy cakes with a consistency similar to a brioche. The colomba also has candied peel (and no raisins) and the addition of pearl sugar and almonds on top which in my opinion top trumps the panettone. 

[Panettone via Cuisine Addict]

While the panettone forms a dome, rather like a giant muffin, the colomba is in the shape of a dove. The shape gives the cake its name 'columba' which means 'dove' in Italian. Italians give and receive colombas as gifts, often keeping a number of them for emergencies if they happen to visit someone, or stock up on them (at reduced post Easter price) to eat throughout the next month or so. 

If you'd like to try Colomba di Pasqua at home, you can check out this beautiful video and recipe by Walks of Italy 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Present Perfect vs Present Perfect Continuo (in italiano)

Ciao a tutti! (English speakers scroll down to the bottom) 

Ecco la seconda parte di una serie traduzione. Lori Kay Smith ha tradotto alcuni dei miei post per i lettori italiani, e così questi sarà molto utile a voi! Sono disponibile on-line e in formato pdf. Divertiti!

★  ★  

Clicca qui per la prima parte: Inglese Pronuncia: La lettera 'H'

ENGLISH SPEAKERS can click here to see what they're missing out on in translation : ) 

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