Category Archives: Friends

The Sónar Music (only) Recap

Oddly enough, I’m about to start this blog post about the oh-so-amazing Sónar music and multimedia art festival I just attended in Barcelona, Spain while listening to Beethoven’s Symphone No. 9.

My friend, Stefanie, has talked to me about Sónar for as long as I’ve known her. Stefanie and I are music addicts, junkies…whatever you want to call us; we love music! So, of course when we both found ourselves living in Europe in 2012 our Sónar talks became concrete plans. Lucky for me a random selection of friends from all over the world and different phases of my life all decided to flock to Sónar this year, too.

In short, Sónar was an unforgettable experience. In an attempt to preserve this amazing memory, here’s a list of favorite tracks from the 3 amazing Sónar days (list is in no particular order):

  • Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Trouble

  • John Talabot: So Will Be Now
  • Metronomy: The Bay
  • deadmau5: Ghosts’n’Stuff
  • Die Antwoord: I Fink U Freeky
  • Laurent Garnier ft. LBS: Jacques in the Box
  • When Saints Go Machine: Fail Forever
  • Maya Jane Coles: When They Say
  • Nina Kravitz: Ghetto
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My science debut at BioVision 2012

I was honored when my long-time mentor and friend, Bob Berg, invited me to speak at a panel on “Fostering Science & Technology in the Middle East” at this year’s prestigious BioVision conference at the beautiful Library of Alexandria. The conference is usually focused on life sciences and brings in an impressive array of professors, researchers, academics, and even Nobel Laureates.

The conference was extremely well organized and the library staff and volunteers could not be more accommodating and helpful. All attendees, participants, and speakers were given name badges with ribbons…different color ribbons. Speakers got red, students got green, volunteers and staff got yellow, etc. This automatically meant that if you were a bearer of the red ribbon closed doors were opened for you, you can claim reserved seats and you can even jump at the front of the lunch buffet line. This made me a little uncomfortable to say the least.

My talk went really well and was very well received especially by younger student attendees.

Speaking on “Fostering Science & Technology in the Middle East” at BioVision 2012 in Alexandria, Egypt.

I met some amazing people from all over the world working on fascinating things. In most cases, other speakers were welcoming and inviting. Especially because I came from the technology side and didn’t have a solid science background. I found myself enjoying conversations about life and philosophy with chemists, physicists and biologists.

There was a small “but” though. In true scientific terms: I discovered something during BioVision 2012 – the Older Male Scientist Syndrome (OMSS)! Let’s examine the OMSS together:

Signs & Symptoms

Patients with OMSS are usually males in their late early 60s to early 80s. They usually suffer from arrogance, intolerance of new ideas and young people alike, heightened sense of self-importance, and a consistent pattern of self-recognition. Less specific symptoms may include: grey hair, an over usage of the words “my researchers”, and the mastering of heavy-text slides.

Causes

Most cases of OMSS are of unknown or unpredictable causes. OMSS can be associated with a lack of self awareness. Other causes of this condition include being set in your ways, a decreasing recognition of others’ opinion and value, and of course being boosted up by others.

OK, enough of the OMSS talk – I think it’s fair to say that variations of OMSS could be found in every field.

I’m still extremely grateful for having been part of BioVision 2012. Some of the people I met there were extremely inspiring.

Calling 112 in Beirut

Last night I went out to meet some friends at a local bar in Hamra. We were having a highly engaging and interesting conversation about women, feminism and sexual harassment. There were three women and 2 men. And we were discussing whether your typical sexual harraser on the streets of Beirut or Cairo is aware of the damage he’s causing. We also talked about the privilege men have. I was trying to explain to one of the male friends that a major retraining of how men and women are raised in this world needs to take place.

After an invigorating, exciting and sometimes even frustrating conversation, my friend, Edy,  gave me a ride home. We were parked in front of my house still full of after thoughts from our conversation at the bar when we started noticing a young man driving on a scooter roaming around us.

I pointed out to Edy the fact that the guy has been roaming around us and is looking a bit suspicious. Edy drove up a bit and the guy immediately got down from his scooter walked up to Edy’s window and asked him what he was doing. The guy was clearly high or intoxicated, slurring his words and unable to focus his eyes on thing. Edy calmly told him that he was dropping me off. The guy proceeded to get closer and asked Edy where he was from. Edy remained calm and told him I don’t need to tell you this. The guy looked at him and said “oh yeah than let me fuck the shit out of you!” Edy immediately backed the car up as the guy opened the door.

We drove off to a restaurant down the street that has a lot of light and Edy called 112 (the equivalent of 911), Lebanon’s police emergency response. He explained that there’s guy that’s being suspicious and violent and preventing us from going up to our house. We continued to drive away in order to loop back. While we were driving Edy and I both looked at each other and made a joke about how the police is probably not going to show up for another hour as we were saying this we saw a police car driving in the opposite direction. And by the time we looped back to my house Edy received a call. The police officer said “We came by and found no one. Are you safe? Are you seeing anyone?” Edy told them he could no longer see the guy. He thanked for their quick responsiveness and hung up.

I was in awe at the speed of responsiveness we experienced. So, when in trouble next time in Beirut give 112 a call!

Working out = Our life is so much more fun!

This past Sunday after a 2 days of a good amount of going out and partying Beiruti-style, I was able to miraculously wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get myself to Martyr Square for to meet up with a group of folks to go hiking in the south, in Hasbaya.

On our way on the bus we stopped to take a look at Qala’at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle, which is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout over the past decades. There are now federal plans to renovate it and open it to the public.

Qala'at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout

We started our  6-hour hike by walking through the narrow alleys and streets of Hasbaya, a predominantly Druze town in the South of Lebanon. Older and more traditional Druze men, often referred to as the ‘Uqqal (the Knowledgable Initiates) wear baggy black pants that are tight at the ankles.

Druze man in traditional clothing in Hasbaya

The trail overlooked large portions of the UNIFIL line (also referred to as the Blue Line), beautiful mountainous scenery and large amounts of crops and trees of all sorts of seasonal fruits. Our guide helped us pick at trees along the way to try the different seasonal fruits that were all over the trail.

Views of South Lebanon from Hasbaya

After completing our 6-hour hike we stopped at a local Restaurant/Bar in Hasbaya where we all had little snacks and refreshments after the long hike. Shortly after everyone enjoyed a short rest Nadine, the hike organizer, and Wael, the hike guide, started a small Debke party with quick lessons. I’m in love with the Debke and wish I knew all the steps better, but I’m determined to keep taking advantage of joining in on the fun anytime Debke breaks out in my presence.

Quick Debke Lesson after 10km hike

If I had to pick the highlight of the day it must have been our very last stop. We stopped in Kfar Kila‘s Fatima Gate, a border town to check out the border between Lebanon and Israel. Before getting there I didn’t really have an idea of what the border town would look like. Never in my dreams though did I imagine it to be what I saw. The border is essentially a fence with a space the size of a one-way road sandwiched by another fence on the other side. On the Lebanese side, the municipality has completely renovated the border town and built a fun and cool promenade along the fence that is decorated with various exercise machines. When I asked Nadine why that particular theme for a border town, she said “We are trying to show that we are having a great time over here on this side. We can easily see Israeli settlements from right here, which saddens us. But we’re sending a message: Life is great on this side!”

Kathy showing her active skills at the border

One of my co-workers at Al Majmoua is from  Kfar Kila and he told me that the historical urban legend on why the gate is called the Fatima is gate is because one day long ago a young woman was walking home and she was attacked by a snake. She immediately started yelling for her sister, Fatima, who quickly came to help her sister and was able to kill the snake and save here sister. No one knows how true this is, but the gate is named after a strong local woman who saved her sister.

Fairuz in the Morning

Fairuz is a national living symbol in Lebanon which sparks Lebanese pride wherever and whenever heard. Growing up in Cairo with my mother and two sisters, I recall Fairuz playing across the house when we returned home from school. One year in the early 1990’s my mom and sisters told me that they had a dentist appointment to go to and since I had school the next morning that I was not to go with them and stay home with the babysitter – I still remember thinking they were dressed too nice for the dentist but I complied with the instructions as any 8-year old would do. Years later I came to find out that they went to see Fairuz in concert in Cairo.

I was able to see her a decade later in Los Angeles and I remember crying when she sang “Zorouni” (Translation: Visit Me, a powerful song that is sure to pull on any expatriate’s heart strings far away from their home. 

Fairuz’s short, sweet and authentically Lebanese tunes speak of everyday life: the mountains, drunken neighbors, and most importantly a unified Lebanon and sad stories of the war. I was surprised to learn that her music is for the most part strictly listened to in the morning amongst the Lebanese people while they’re getting ready to start their day. While flipping through the radio one morning on my drive to work I found several local channels playing Fairuz.

One of Fairuz’s great contributions to the music society is her son Ziad Rahbani, who I should probably write a whole separate post on.

Great NPR report on Fairuz.

Marketing the Egyptian Revolution

I decided to go on a last minute trip to Egypt to attend one of my childhood friend’s wedding. I bought my ticket on Tuesday night and flew out Wednesday morning to attend the wedding that evening.

Last time I was in Egypt was in February during the revolution and the fall of Mubarak. So, as soon as the plane landed in Cairo – I was eager to see what the country is like now that it’s been 5 months since the fall of the old regime. The first sign of post-revolution change I saw was an ad for Mobinil using the Youth Revolution to advertise its service.

Mobinil Ad: "We must raise our children to grow up like the Egyptian Youth" - Barak Obama, US President

An Ad Age Global article explores all the different ways Egyptian marketeers are using the revolution to market their products and services. Later that day, I saw an ad for butter that used the revolution in their marketing slogans. Although this could have a positive impact on responsible consumerism, since all companies are trying to focus on the positive values and characteristics of the Egyptian Revolution – I still think this could easily turn into a case of Pink Washing of the revolution.

On a more uplifting and personal note, I was so happy to be back in Cairo to attend my friends’ Menna-and-Ali’s wedding on Wednesday.

Loza, Sherif, Sakr and I at Menna & Ali's Wedding

And I was so happy to top off my quick trip to Egypt by a quick visit to the Mediterranean North Coast.

Mediterranean North Coast, Rowad

Lebanese Southern Nature

Welcome to Jezzine! A beautiful mountainous town in the South of Lebanon and where my dear friend and Lebanese guide, Edy, is from.

Last weekend we came over for the weekend with Edy’s friends, Joe and Marc, and it was wonderful. We spent Saturday evening at the local bar, Coin Rouge, and woke up the next morning to beautifully sunny day.

Gardening in Jezzine

Edy’s mother needed some help in the garden so we all jumped in to help.It was one of the first times I have gardened in a long time and I really loved it. Working with one’s hands is such a rewarding feeling. I have always thought about participating in WWOOF, but the idea of gardening all the time always scared and held me back. But now that I have given it a try – I’d love to get more into gardening and learning more about it.

This weekend Edy and I returned to Jezzine to a much needed getaway from the city. When we arrived late last night, we decided to go for a hike in the morning. We both were interested in visiting Sur (one of the very few places in Lebanon with an accessible and clean public beach) but due to the planned  The Return To Palestine March we decided that it was best to stay in Jezzine, because security was going to be really tight.

In the morning, Edy drove us about 2-3 miles away from his family’s home up the mountains. We parked the car and started hiking. The geographical diversity that one can find in Lebanon is fascinating. The mountains, the sea, the cedars, etc. We started hiking and  it was very different from the hikes I have been on in the U.S. or Europe – there were no trails, we came across shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and the grass was so high at some points it reached my waist. However, the most shocking and unique part of this hike was coming across empty shells (as in explosive shells). Jezzine was a witness to a lot of the violence during the 1982 Lebanon War because of its strategic geographical location in proximity to the Israeli border.

Old explosive shell on the hike in Jezzine

The hike was wonderful and I had never seen Za’atar before the drying and mixing process. Edy made me taste it straight from the ground and we started to pick some in a small bag he had.

Edy picking Za'atar

I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.

In Lebanese Nature

Ahlein be Libnan!

Ahla! Ahla! Ahla!” which roughly translates to “Hello! Hello! Hello!” is the first greeting I received when I landed in the Beirut International Airport a little after midnight on Thursday from my friend Edy.

I met Edy last winter when I came to Lebanon to meet up with my best friend, Nora. Nora and Edy met while studying in Brussels a couple of years ago. And Edy moved back to Lebanon after finishing his studies. He’s from Jezzine a beautiful mountainous town in South Lebanon, but he know spends most of his time in Beirut working as a researcher and part-time professor. He’s going to be my host until I find a place in Beirut closer to my work.

My flight was delayed and I was a bit tired so we went to Edy’s apartment in Bikfaya. The next morning Edy dropped me off in Hamra, where I did some major walking and exploring of the area. I love the Hamra vibe; it’s very busy and loud. It’s a college town, being close to AUB, mixed with an artsy scene. There are little alleys and side streets filled with cafes, pubs, and restaurants. There’s also a lot of street art, which is something I’m instantly attracted to. Stenciling is very popular here and a lot of the messages right now seem to be political.

Street Art in Hamra, Beirut

Lebanon has a long history of sectarian violence and wars. And walking the streets of Beirut one cannot escape it. There are standing buildings with bullet holes all over them from the recent wars. Despite the tragic recent history and current anti-sectarian movement, the Lebanese people seem to have a resilience and a determination that is hard to miss in casual interactions.

On Friday night, Edy, some of his friends and I went to get drinks at a pub in Ashrafiyeh I visited the last time I was here called Hole in the Wall for welcoming drinks.

Welcome to Lebanon KF15, Hole in the Wall

I am certain the folks at Hole in the Wall will be seeing a lot of me this summer!

So Long, San Francisco!

When I talk about San Francisco and the friends I have made there over the years I can’t help but smile! The Fog City has treated me with nothing but love and happiness the past 4 years and I can’t even begin to describe how sad I am to leave it.

My last days in San Francisco have been wonderful: Spending time with friends, my roommates and I threw a big pre-Bay2Breakers party at our house, there was Bay2Breakers itself with not even a drop of rain (contrary to the weather forecast) and of course lots of eating!

On Tuesday, my wonderful friends came together at Lucky 13 Bar to bid me farewell. Christine, the amazing artist, made me a wonderful poster for people to put their Bon Voyage messages for me. As the night went on the words of love and support filled the poster!

Bon Voyage poster - courtesy of master artist Christine Concho

I’m going to miss everything about this city, even it’s fog, but I’m mostly going to miss my lovely friends!

Until we meet again!

A Little Kiva Time in San Francisco

I should change the title of this post to “INTENSE Kiva Time in San Francisco”! It’s the Kiva Training week – a week packed (to say the least) with learning, talking, excitement, meeting people, social activities, and did I mention learning?!

Every Kiva Fellows Program class goes through an intense week of training at Kiva’s HQ office in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Kiva Fellows travel far and wide to come to this training week. Our agenda is packed with training sessions and social activities. We start every day at 8:30 a.m. and go till about 5:30 p.m. and sometimes later.

There are 20 or so people in the class this time around. We’re the 15th Kiva Fellows Class, hence the KF15 I have been mentioning a lot. Everyone is so interesting and extremely excited. People have traveled from as far as Australia, the UK and Germany to be a Kiva Fellow. And people’s backgrounds differ tremendously from graduate students to finance professionals to fresh grads…we’ve got it all.

Some of the KF15'ers on the last day of training

The week is almost over and I feel so connected to people I met less than a week ago. Maybe it’s the fact that we will all be going through something similar in less than a month. Or maybe it’s the fact that we believe in something…be it micro-finance as a means to achieve economic and sustainable growth in the world, or Kiva itself, or travel, or maybe it’s all of the above. But there’s definitely a connection that is being built with the fellows and the Kiva staff. I think saying goodbye to everyone will not be easy.