Friday, October 14, 2005

Mythic Proportions

We're ten weeks from home. Ten weeks. We're distance and time, but mostly just time, away from home, and we're closing fast.

I've started to notice how "adjusted" I am to things here. It's the little things. The way phones ring, the way traffic and pedestrians move, how to discourage men from talking to you in the street, how to buy food, what yogurt tastes like, what's a fair price for coffee, how to stand when you hail a cab - they are automatic now, done/known without thinking.

And then I think of home and things come flooding in. The wall phone ringing in my mother's kitchen. Waiting for the green light at the white painted crosswalk. Smiling at people in the street and the shy smile they return. Supermarkets and price labels. Berry yogurt in ENORMOUS containers. A cupboard full of herbal teas. All the empty seats on city busses.

And all at once they seem mythic, out of proportion, remembered so clearly, and so distantly as to be a favorite passage from the Iliad that you know because you memorized. How can the ring or dial tone of a phone be mythic? But it is. Oh, it is. I remember it fondly, but I don't think of it as a thing to return to. It's just a thing past. Or a dream. And how do you walk out of "reality" and into a "dream"? It's not like moving abroad, to a place you've never been. There's no base, no perception, no memory there. It's new, fresh, confusing and overwhelming. But to go back...

Apprehension of reverse culture shock? Maybe. More like a one-way ticket to the fairy-tale of "before" and an excursion into a place my brain has labeled MYTHIC! What an adventure it will be!

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Well now, here's another interesting tidbit from the Loren-Tiara duo. Once more we're going to brave the crazy month of November and try to crank out 50,000 words... That's right, we said 'once more.' See, last year we managed to write a book. A short book, granted, and one that needs lots of editing, but a book all the same. In a month. Not bad, eh?

Anyone out there feeling up to the challenge? If so, check out The NaNoWriMo Website. Still not really sure what I'm talking about? Okay, I suppose that's fair too.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and was started a bunch of years ago by a pod of geeks out in California. They were thinking, hey, I've never written a novel - and isn't that something that you're supposed to do before you die? Or maybe they weren't thinking that. I don't actually know, but they did start this challenge amoung each other. Since then it's grown a little bit... This year they're looking at something like over 50,000 participants, they have a school program, they have a laptop lending library, they have a cool website...

Check it out, even if you're only moderately interested :-)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Ramadan Revisited

The Ramadan dichotomy...

Ramadan, we get told over and over, is about being with family, spirituality, and engendering a sense of equality. I will lead this blog with the assurance that I am no expert on Ramadan but in what I have been told - and that there's a disconnect between that and what actually occurs.

For the first, The breaking of the fast is spent with family - often with extended family. The evenings are a time for family outings and to experience cultural events. In this, I have no complaint. I think it's a wonderful period for togetherness and celebration.

For the second, essentially, Ramadan is a spiritual period. The fast, the extra session of prayer after the breaking of the fast (where, over the course of Ramadan, they read through the entire Koran), the innate awareness of a religious culture (everybody's doing it)... And yet, part of spirituality is a sense of balance, of tolerance, and of self-restraint. Over Ramadan, tempers flare at the drop of a hat, driving devolves to an even more chaotic and stress-laced mess, and the population seems to settle into an irritable and twitchy constancy.

Then you arrive at more sticky points. Part of what Ramadan is said to evoke is the prophet's long fast through the desert, after which he became inspired and heard the word of God. Certainly, the religion doesn't expect people to go completely without food or water - hence the breaking of the fast - since that would be very unhealthy / dangerous. But it does seem a period for restraint and to experience what it is to have less. Yet many Tunisians talk of gaining weight over Ramadan, of the fact that they spend *more* money than usual on food, that the nights become indulgences in excess - smoking, eating, and coffee... Ramadan is also supposed to be a period where there is less disparity between the rich and the poor - where the rich will give to the poor, and eat more typically as the poor eat. Well, they might give to the poor if approached - but they certainly don't go out of their way, and, as I've expressed, the eating misses this mark.

The whole period seems strange to me. Yet, in the West we have a similarly warped religious period: Christmas. I like the notion of gift-giving, but I'm not sure about the application and practice. Certainly, I don't believe that people should irreperably indebt themselves for it. Nor that the gifts should become the sole focus. But they do seems to cast a shadow over much of the rest... I like the notion of togetherness and family, and I feel that this is one of the few places where Christmas really does stand up. I'm not entirely convinced that I like the religious angle, because unlike Ramadan in Tunisia, the minority religions in Canada are far more prevalent and so the religious pervasiveness feels somewhat awkward, missplaced or even intolerant. I do like it from a spiritual perspective... hmm.

In the end, I'm left a little scattered. I'm not really sure what I think or where I go from here. Do you have any thoughts to contribute to this discussion? I'd be very curious to hear them. In the meantime, I'll stop writing, and let my mind stew a litle.