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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Nicole and I have enjoyed a busy twenty-four hours. Last night, Christmas Eve, "Dr. Paul" from Nicole's NGO had us over to his soon-to-be in-laws for dinner and festivities. And by "festivities," I mean me dressed up as Santa Claus. Talk about elaborate. During the day Dr. Paul told the gang that I was sick and that "Madame Nicole" would be by herself. I arrived fifteen minutes later than they did--ever killed fifteen minutes in Beirut while dressed as Santa?--and everybody was pretty shocked. Ahead of time, Dr. Paul had instructed me not to speak, since English would give away that I was Madame Nicole's husband. He also explained that "ho ho ho" sounds too American so he taught me a more gutteral version that sounded like the coughs of a sick animal. So Dr. Paul's nieces and nephews, excited to see Santa, were met with me, speechless, gesturing elaborately, giving hugs, and posing for pictures with every possible combination of family members--me (Santa) and the kids, me and the adults, me and the housekeepers, etc. And all the while, I in my Santa outfit said nothing, making the coughing noises that I had been taught. Were the kids scared? Yes, a little bit.

Eventually I took my leave, changed back into civilian clothes, and showed up at the in-laws' place, explaining that I felt better and took a taxi over to join everybody. For the second time, we got to speak Spanish in the Middle East. One of the sisters-in-law is from Puerto Rico. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Lebanese love to party. At one point, I had a glass of water in front of me and the father-in-law (went to AUB and speaks great English) called over a housekeeper and said, "Get that water out of here!," instructing her to replace it with another glass of wine. We had a good time. Dinner didn't start until about 10:30, and consisted of turkey with the usual trimmings, roast beef with the usual trimmings, zaatar and cheese pies along with hummus and tabbouli, a big tray of deli meats, a big tray of fancy cheeses, and loads of desserts. Nothing like the world's most humongous meal, consumed during the witching hour. Definitely was nice to celebrate family style. The NGO is already sad, anticipating Nicole's departure next summer.

Today was round two of holiday cheer. Several of my colleagues from the English Department, and two of my graduate students came over to our place today for brunch. I cooked pasta with olive oil and garlic (a Christmas Eve tradition, shuffled to Christmas Day), picked up some spinach pies at Snack Faysal down the block, and we ate outside on the balcony. One of the grad students is applying to my old doctoral program and I hope my letter of recommendation doesn't weaken his application too much. Kidding. The other teaches Chinese at AUB and is taking English grad classes to strengthen his own written English and learn more about linguistics and rhetoric. Cool guy.

Now, it's all about packing. We fly to Egypt at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, so we're looking at a middle-of-the-night taxi to Beirut airport. We'll be offline for a week or so, checking out pyramids and such. I thought I'd never take a cruise but I've made an exception for the Nile, as an homage to Agatha Christie. See you all in the New Year. Come back to the blog on January 2 everybody.

Christmas Pictures Here

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Many thanks to our new pals Nissrine and Leda who had us to their place last night for a delicious dinner and fun evening. We met Nissrine on our last trip to Syria and became fast friends. Though Jordanian, she studies sociology in Lebanon and lives with her Lebanese cousin Leda on the hilly outskirts of Beirut, an area that resembles the foothills close to Tucson, Arizona. I think we ended up laughing harder than we've laughed since we got to Beirut. Insha'Allah, some day (soon) she will show us around Jordan and (soon but not as soon) we will show her around Detroit.

After last month's first and probably only experience ever of teaching on Thanksgaving, I'll spend most of December 23rd in the classroom too. AUB offers a relatively brief week off school between Christmas and New Year's, then (in Janurary of 2011!) we return for the two final weeks of the "Fall 2010" term. Odd.

From December 26, until January 2, Nicole and I will be in Egypt and likely offline. In early January, expect lots of pictures as well as some reflections on Luxor, Aswan, the Valley of the Kings, the Sphnix, the pyramids, the Nile...not to mention New Year's Eve in Cairo, reported to be one of the most crowded places in the world on regular days of the year. You may or may not know that Death on the Nile is one of my favorite movies; in fact, I recently reread the novel on which it's based. I will let faithful readers of this blog know how the Nile compares to Agatha Christie's representation of the place. I don't expect any British aristocrats to get shot, and asp attacks on Belgian detectives are even less likely. But you never know.

I'm in the middle of William Golding's published journals of Egypt. Golding's famous as the author of Lord of the Flies but, among other things, he also wrote a dry but vivid account of sailing the Nile in the early '80s. I have a few other readings selected to take along on the trip, including a neat "Traveler's Anthology" (in English, thank you AUB library) with short excerpts from both Arab and Western writers describing life and travel on the longest river in the world.

Today has been a long day, as many of my English 204-ers took me up on my offer to read one last draft of papers before I collect final drafts on Thursday. Usually in the States a handful of students will take advantage of such an offer. This term, most of the class decided to revise again. Consequently, I didn't get to the gym, but I did spend some quality office time with student writing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Following The News

Westerners I've met in Beirut have a range of attitudes toward current events. Some read the International Herald Tribute (a kind of "world edition" of the New York Times)and take a global approach, preferring to know a little bit about what's happening everywhere. Some are obsessives about the middle east, and Lebanon in particular, and read all the English-language news sites, following each new development. Others prefer to avoid the news altogether; they aren't necessarily cynical as much as critical of the gossipy and sometimes unreliable reports about the complicated politics of Lebanon.

These are the three news sites that our friend at the U.S. embassy recommends:

The Lebanon Daily Star

NOW Lebanon


I read the Daily Star most days, mainly, I must confess, because it's the most user-friendly of the three. The site is informative but I've found you must read the stories there calmly and somewhat skeptically. For example, the Star will report on standard State Department or Embassy memos as if they signal changes in policy. The usual "be careful when you travel in the Mideast" will become "Secretary Clinton has warning for Americans in Lebanon." And for months all three sites have been referring to "rising tensions" over the tribunal investigating the Prime Minister's assassination six years ago--although most everybody you talk to says that tension, insha'Allah, is quite minimal.

Knowledge and awareness are good things, and so is gathering info from a variety of sources, but so too is avoiding alarmism. My impression is that a lot of good people in Lebanon are working to normalize peacefulness. Peace makes a good carrot. It's right there in front of Lebanon, dangling, ready to be grabbed. Although I love the free flow of information, I worry that sometimes the news can be counterproductive. A guy told me recently that when you're used to strife, sometimes the reports about tension create a kind of adrenaline rush. I think there's some truth to that, but, like I said, I'd like to think that peace can be just as addictive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I remember when I was maybe four- or five-years-old going to the big Christmas party at my Grandpa's work. Grandpa "D" drove a truck for a commercial construction company in Youngstown and kept attending their holiday soirees years after he retired. Loving the open bar with all the pop you could drink, I went at least two or three times with my grandparents. Would have been the late '70s. But the events harkened back to the baby boom years when men worked the same job for their whole adult lives and the companies in turn genuinely seemed to care about them. The parties reminded me of something out of Goodfellas--women with beehive hairdos, a lot of Italian guys drinking 7&7s, everybody smoking. Kids got a mesh stocking full of candy, but you had to sit on Santa's lap. Santa (never a big part of DeGenaro Christmases) was neither my mom nor my sister, so I hated that part. But I did it all for the candy.

Couldn't help but think of those parties this evening while riding the "party bus" back to Beirut from Tyre. The occasion: Nicole's office Christmas party. Now, her office is here in Beirut but in the spirit of Christmas--most of her co-workers are Christian--the attorney who runs the NGO decided to take everybody to the South of Lebanon for a fancy party. No Santa. Definitely no 7&7s. And the smoking came courtesy of nargileh, not unfiltered Chesterfields. I should add that Nicole works three days a week for a human rights organization--actually, a law firm that operates an NGO as a kind of philanthropic arm, doing studies and reports, for example, on women's issues and other middle-eastern social concerns. Folks at the office decided to do it up right, so they rented a big van to take everybody down to Tyre, a beautiful city along the beach. Nicole got snacks for the ride and I thought for sure her choices (potato chips, American chocolate) would be poorly received. I was wrong. Who doesn't love Pringle's? Note to self: if you even suspect that Arab pop music is going to be played loudly, don't sit right by the speakers.

The South is so beautiful. Banana and citrus trees lined the roads. And the oranges are in season right now, so all the roadside markets had enormous bins of many varieties of them. Of course the roads are also lined with markers of the violence that is too often a part of life in that part of the country. At one intersection we passed a memorial-of-sorts that consisted of a parked tank (one of our mates on the party bus told us it was an Israeli tank captured in 2006) with a Hezbollah flag flying over it. And along the road are pictures of young men from the region killed in the various wars and skirmishes along the border. We ended up at a fancy, seaside restaurant, and the head attorney told us that if we wanted to stay there overnight, he'd arrange a separate car back to Beirut for us. We were tempted by the generosity, but stuck with the one-day plan.

We had a huge feast, with all the famous Lebanese appetizers (lebneh, hummus, tabbouli, grape leaves, kibbeh), and delicious fresh fish from the sea. They know Nicole (who won't touch fish) well and ordered her a mixed grill. What a great crew she works with. Like most Lebanese, they love to party. Had a nice time chatting and hearing about Christmas plans, most of which involve the phrase "going back to my village." We moved to a different banquet room for coffee and dessert. Luckily, the hotel had a huge bowl of those fresh organges we had passed on the ride down, not to mention loads of other sweets. Didn't even have to sit on Santa's lap.


Forgive me if I've already relayed this story on facebook, but I can't help but love conversations with our landlords' little boys. Knowledgable about American history and geography, they love to chat in the lobby of the building. Last night, I went downstairs to run down the road for a couple mana'ishe for Nicole and I but got side-tracked in the lobby. Explaining what Nicole does at her office, I used the phrase "civil rights," and that opened a whole can of worms.

You haven't heard the story of Rosa Parks until you've heard it from a little Lebanese boy. After discoursing on "Dr. King" (yes, he calls MLK "Dr. King") while drinking a cup of the tea his mom sends down on a little tray in the elevator for whomever is working the front desk (we sometimes share the elevator with the tray!), his next story started with, "And there was a girl..." and I just knew this one would be about Rosa Parks. I told him I've sat in the actual Rosa Parks bus and he was definitely impressed. He's one bright kid, although we have an ongoing debate now because he insists Lebanon is the smallest country in the world. He also thought that there were no people in Florida. But I'm telling you, about most things connected to geography, he's one smart kid. And of course, he's fluent in English and French, as well as Arabic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Report

My host University, AUB, partnered with the United Nations this past summer to conduct a large-scale study of the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Yesterday, UNRWA (the UN's Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees) released its findings. Follow the link to see results. Two-thirds of the refugees live in camps, concentated either in the south of Lebanon or in the suburbs of Beirut, and over 66 percent of Palestinians in Lebanon are poor, meaning they "cannot meet their basic food and non-food needs." One of the problems is public policy, which keeps Palestinians from traveling, owning property, getting work permits, and becoming citizens. Balance of power among the "big three" (Sunni, Maronite, and Shi'a) is important here, one of the factors making the issue very complex. Despite the complexity, though, I hope that greater awareness internationally and greater empathy within Lebanon can lead to positive change.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three Things More

1. Nicole just posted a thoughtful reflection on birthright citizenship in Lebanon.

2. Last night Nicole and I attended the AUB Christmas Concert. Our friend Thomas Kim directs the Choir and Choral Society here. The program focused on sacred music from various Christian traditions and was great. AUB held the event in Assembly Hall, which always makes you feel like you're in a fancy prep school's chapel. With its huge pipe organ and high ceilings, Assembly Hall is a reminder of AUB's origins as "Syrian Protestant College" in the nineteenth century.

3. We had a lovely dinner on Sunday at the home (actually, the on-campus housing...I'm jealous!) of our friends Alan and Katherine, also recently arrived at AUB from the States. Walking to their place down the 100+ stairs onto "lower campus" (the part closest to the Sea), we watched enormous waves crashing onto the Corniche.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Social Change

Yesterday I spent much of the day talking with students. I held one-on-one conferences with my English 204 students to discuss their progress on their research papers. I interviewed several more Night School instructors and went out to lunch with the student who coordinates Night School. (Night School is a program where students teach English to working adults, and the subject of one of my research projects.) Throughout the day, the subject of civic life in Lebanon kept coming up.

One of my students is writing a research paper on the working conditions of domestic laborers in Beirut. She told me that in one of the dorms where many of her friends live, there is a debate over whether the cleaning woman should be permitted to ride the elevator. Currently, she can ride the elevator as long as no students are currently using it. If the cleaning woman is already in the elevator and it stops to pick up a student and they are all going to the same floor, the cleaning woman must get off immediately. Most students are okay with that arrangement but some are arguing that the woman should never be allowed on the elevator. The building has eleven floors.

Most domestic laborers come to Lebanon on multi-year contracts, leaving behind family in Sri Lanka or Ethiopia, for instance. According to most human rights groups who monitor such things, many of these workers are not permitted to have contact with their families (including their young children) during those years. Many have their passports withheld from them. They have few legal rights under Lebanese law. Many are abused sexually and otherwise. Some try to escape without their papers and face brutal consequences. Suicide rates are skyhigh. Nicole and I regularly see families out with their domestic who must remain standing at cafes while the family eats.

Another student told me about a month she spent working with children at a refugee camp close to Beirut. She told me the camp serves mostly Iraqi and Palestinian children, but also the children of divorced domestics. Most domestic workers leave their children behind in their native countries, but some, this student explained to me, have no choice but to bring their kids and surrender them to a refugee camp for the duration of their labor contracts. Like domestics, refugees at the camps also have few legal rights here.

This particular student who spent time at the camps is one of many of my students who spends and/or has spent a considerable amount of time performing community service, one of several students who has told me she wishes AUB had a mandatory community service program. She is studying political science and wants to go into development work, part of her motivation for getting involved with Night School, a program she thinks has the potential to lead to social change.

Another student is writing about gay/lesbian life in Beirut. Another is writing about the Lebanese Jewish diaspora, as well as the lives of the few Jewish people still living in Beirut. Many are writing about westernization and the effects of capitalism, western military, and fast food on Lebanese life. The student who took me out to lunch--extremely smart, extremely civic-minded, expressed much dismay about social problems in Lebanon. Like others I've talked to, he's disappointed that so much student organizing happens at the level of sect and/or party (e.g., student clubs that do community service but have a political affiliation, which he feels is by definition exclusionary).

Despite the pessimism that some expressed, it's hard not to feel optimistic about so much intelligence and empathy among young people at the University. Is it naieve to think maybe they can reverse some of the unethical trends and practices that affect life in Lebanon? Many students I've met are open, liberal (in the most inclusive senses of the word), and aware of both the world in which they live and the larger world too. And most of them love Lebanon very much. I hope some day, back in the states, I open up a paper and hear about the great things they've done.

Winter Arrives

As I read about snowstorms back home, the rain falls here in Beirut. In the three months since we arrived, we've only seen rain one time. Until two days ago.

For the past two days, it's been raining. Last night, I woke up, looked out the window, and thought someone was standing over the horizon flicking a flashlight on and off. The wind produced a steady moan and branches were falling off the palm trees across the street. I've never seen such a thunderstorm.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weekend In Syria

First I should say that making this weekend happen proved difficult. The Ministry ("of Magic," as Nicole and I call it) had my passport for several weeks as they processed my residency permit, basically a visa but valid for a longer duration. During those weeks, leaving Lebanon was not an option. Also during those weeks, the expiration dates of our Syrian visas were approaching and we wanted to visit the country a second time after our October adventure in Damascus, the awesome and ancient Syrian capital. Happily, the Ministry finished its spells on my passport last week.

The arrival of "low season" also made the trip difficult. Fewer make the trip during the Winter, but I found a rather low-budget operation whose name shall remain nameless but who offered extremely cheap prices. Cardboard covered the floors of the office, everyone there smoked, a lot, and its proprietor definitely put the "it's rude not to accept a beverage when one is offered" custom to the test. As I sat at his desk, he went to a closet-like kitchenette, emptied somebody else's coffee into the sink, examined the bottom for several moments, and filled a tiny cup with turkish coffee whose color made black licorice look pastel in comparison. As I sipped, he made arrangements for us to visit the northern part of Syria, the mountainous area between Lebanon and Turkey. By the way, germphobes, I did not get sick from that delicious coffee, which was strong enough to kill most anything that remained in the cup anyway.

We met up with our "pullman" at 5:30 on Saturday morning and learned the guide, Fetten, did not speak English, contrtary to what Mr. Turkish Coffee had told me. However, due to her brothers having married women from Spain, Fetten spoke Spanish. How's this for globalization...two Americans in Syria, conversing in Spanish with a Lebanese woman? Nicole and I were the only non-Arabs on the trip, not surprising given that few westerners and even fewer Americans visit Syria. The crowd on the pullman was young and super friendly, and by "friendly," I mean, ready to party. Though still dark outside, they cranked up the Arab pop music, sang along, and danced much of the time as we drove north along the coast. Normally a little Arab music goes a long way, especially at high volumes, but when people are dancing in the aisles of a bus, it's hard not to enjoy yourself.

Only a few people on board spoke any English, but Nissrine, a young Jordanian woman studying in Lebanon, took us under her wing. Nissrine has to be one of the kindest people we have met in the Middle East. You know how books about the Middle East describe strangers who will invite you to their homes and take hospitality to what seems to outsiders like an extreme? They are describing Nissrine.

We stopped in Tripoli for breakfast. I swear, it's not just Nicole and I! Everyone here loves bakeries and it appears that Saida and Tripoli are the consensus capitals of tasty sweet things. I enjoyed a little halawat el-jibn (dough made from cheese that you soak to remove all the salt, mix with semolina, and then roll out, lastly topping it with cream and rose water) and then it was back on the pullman. We got to the border minutes later. As the guide, Fetten took the passports of all the Lebanese into the customs station, but Nicole and I (American), Nissrine (Jordanian), and another woman on the pullman (Syrian) had to go in to get exit and entry cards and our passports stamped. A sign inside said, "The bribe takes you to prison" in English and various other languages too. First, you take your papers into the exit station, then you drive a hundred yards or so, over the border, and go into an entry station, and then a customs agent comes onto the bus and double-checks everything. Painless, if a little bit nervewracking.

Coastal Syria is beautiful country in which to take a drive. As you make your way north, the Sea is on your left and the mountains on your right, much like Lebanon, though greener. We saw lots of cattle, even on the beach. As we started to head up the mountains, we passed loads of citrus trees, and not much else. Nissrine, who like us lives in noisy Beirut, talked about how quiet the area was (music on the bus notwithstanding). We got to our destination, Mashta Al Helou, a little village that serves as a resort during the Summer, got checked in, and took a catnap with the windows open and the smell of the mountains filling the room. Rested, Nicole and I spent most of the afternoon walking in the village. A few years ago, the community had an arts fair and the sculptors who competed donated their sculptures to the village. So in addition to the little homes, the cafes, the hardware stores and markets, romanesque statues fill the village. And the sidewalks have the Mamluk influenced white and black check pattern. We found a place to buy two shish tawook sandwiches and pomegranate sodas.

That night, the hotel had a big party. I'm not exactly clear on whether all the people there were actually staying at the hotel, or if many of them were just people in the village there for a little music on a Saturday night, or what. I suspect the latter, because the place was pretty dead until about 9:00 or so, and then it was like being at a wedding. Long tables, DJ spinning tunes, and a massive amount of food. I've never seen so much nargileh in my life. More than anywhere on Warren Avenue in Dearborn. More than along the corniche in Beirut. Young guys ("charcoal boys" I call them) literally paraded out of the kitchen with little buckets full of charcoal and walked around putting fresh briquettes on people's hubbly bubbly pipes. Wearing baggy Syrian pants, cummerbunds, and wool vests, they did tricks with their charcoal buckets too, spinning them around like batons. Strange. After what seemed like dozens of mezze, they brought out mixed grills, with kabob and tawook, later, tiny cups of coffee and corn starch custard. A young woman sang songs to which the whole place knew all the words. Fetten wouldn't hear of letting Nicole and I get away with not dancing, which I think the Syrians and Lebanese people thought was pretty funny.

The next morning we went to Homs, the third largest city in Syria. I had my heart set on visiting the Syrian Orthodox Church with one of the odder church names you'll hear, Our Lady of the Girdle. The place was truly interesting. The church was built in the 1800s on the site of a centuries-old Christian church and during construction builders found a swatch of material inside of a chalice which in turn was inside of a stone box in a catacomb. The Patriarch declared the swatch of material to be from the girdle worn by the Virgin Mary before she ascended to heaven. So the church retains the swatch inside a monstrance. I had never been to a Syrian Orthodox Church at all, so this was a treat. Thanks to Nissrine, we found bargains in the souks in Homs as well. Speaking English, of course, is a good way to get inflated prices, but we had the hook-up thanks to our new pal, who negotiated on our behalf. The souks there are much cleaner than those of Tripoli and the goods are much cheaper than those of Damascus (though, again, that probably has something to do with the presence of Nissrine this time around). We spent much of the day walking, and walking, and walking in the souks, listening to the vendors yelling their prices and watching the action. Great city and if our visas didn't expire, I'm sure we'd return.

That night, we did not encounter long lines at the border so I figured things would go smoothly. Wrong. The four non-Lebanese people on the bus went inside the exit station for the normal ritual and for some reason, Fetten was getting the run-around from the agents. Frustrated, she sent Nicole and I to the tax booth in the next building to pay our exit tax (Americans must pay to leave Syria--I'm pretty sure we're the only nationality on which such a tax is levied) while she dealt with the Lebanese passports. Now normally Fetten would have gone to the booth on our behalf; indeed, Nissrine thought she should have, but we didn't mind. The exit station did NOT have the "The Bribe takes you to prison" sign posted, though, and, wouldn't you know it, our agent charged us an extra one-hundred Syrian Pounds (only two bucks, but still...not nice at all).

Then, back on the bus, thinking we were finished, the agent came on board to check everybody's passports and it turns out that all of the Lebanese passports had been stamped "4 December" instead of "5 December." Nicole, Nissrine, the Syrian woman, and I were all good to go, but everybody else had a passport bearing the incorrect stamp. Normally, such a snafu would be a minor thing, right? Well, on the border of Lebanon and Syria, apparently nothing is a minor thing. It's a tense place. So Fetten had to start over on their behalf and try to sort things out. All the Arabs on the bus seemed to understand that this would take a while because they got out of the bus, right there at customs, and fired up a little butane tank on the ground so that they could make coffee. Not sure I ever dreamed I'd find myself at the Syrian border after dark, huddled around a little gas tank on the ground, making coffee with a busload of Lebanese people. I don't know what went on inside the exit station, but after a while, Fetten returned, we packed up the coffee supplies, and headed over the border.

Don't know if we'll ever make it back to Syria. Our visas expire and Americans can only obtain visas to Syria (our federal government is not a big fan, no matter how beautiful their mosques and churches are and how cool their souks are) while on American soil. Even then, it's a bit of a hassle. So I'm happy we were able to take two excursions there. Special thanks to our friend Ahmad. We probably wouldn't have gotten visas without him.

I'll upload the pictures tomorrow.

UPDATE: pictures here

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three Things

1) More holiday, please. Every email I get from AUB Human Resources announces another day on which classes will be canceled. Next Tuesday is Hijra. The following Thursday is Ashoura. Armenian Christmas is January 6.

2) Countdown. As in, my parents arrive in Lebanon in thirty-eight days. Can't wait to show them a good time.

3) Snapshot of the classroom. Today my students analyzed an editorial in which Nicholas Kristof argues that those in the holiday spirit should be more careful about where they donate their money. In the op-ed, Kristof criticizes specific Christian, Musilm, and Jewish charities that he finds problematic for various reasons (too much money goes to overhead instead of to the needy, etc.). They rewrote the editorial for a Lebanese instead of American audience. Results, as well as the class discussion, were kind of interesting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Having completed their across-the-pond literacy projects with UM-Dearborn students, my AUB 'Advanced Academic English' students are writing more traditional research papers right now. I don't usually assign traditional research papers (which don't have much of an existence outside of English classes), but the entire curriculum here centers on "The Research Paper," so I'm playing along, albeit with a lot of attention to audience analysis and informed advocacy of social change. What, you may ask, do Lebanese college students choose to write about?

--traffic laws (x 3...definitely on people's minds in Beirut!)
--the addictive properties of social networking
--admissions standards at elite U.S. vs. Lebanese colleges
--definitions of "democracy" in Lebanon
--Westernization of Beirut (x 4...also a popular topic)
--female circumcision in the Arab world
--working conditions of "domestic help" in Lebanon
--Arab-American youth culture in Boston
--sex taboos in the Middle East
--the Lebanese Jewish diaspora
--how collectivism informs formal schooling in Lebnaon
--homophobia in Beirut
--a cultural history of tabouleh
--the job market in Beirut

It's been a few years since I've taught "the research paper." In recent years, I've had classes collaboratively critique and respond to a non-fiction text (such as Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) by contextualizing the text's ideas and placing them in broader contexts. So it's been interesting to return to the old-school, pick a topic-analyze an audience-enter into a conversation about a social issue, practice. I'm familiar with the limits of this model, but I'm accentuating what I think is most useful about it. Lastly, I suspect some have chosen topics they think I'll like (you can guess which ones), but, still, good to see them write about whatever they choose.