Friday, October 30, 2009

I've been spending more time in the CMRS office lately. In addition to the congenial atmosphere, the downtown department digs have professors of whom I can ask questions while I'm working on my thesis or work for their classes and faster internet. But also, it's a great forum for some really interesting discussions.
The class I raved about, Migration and Refugees in International Relations, used to meet on the main downtown campus in a room with awful fluorescent lighting and even worse acoustics. We ended up migrating to the library at the CMRS office one week when that classroom was unavailable for a make-up class and have met there ever since. The readings are the sort that you'd want to undertake even if they weren't assigned for a course. They've certainly stretched my understandings and assumptions about concepts like the nation-state, ethnicity, and culture. as well as about international relations both theoretically and practically. The professor's lectures, which are incorporated into rich discussion of the topics, are the kind that illuminate the readings, rather than summarize.
Yesterday, for instance, we talked about in-groups and out-groups and the idea of a culture as fixed. We interrogated the justness of assimilation and assumptions about the fixity and monolithism of culture. We briefly also considered the idea of dying for one's country, asking ourselves whether we had that kind of commitment to an idea of Canada or the US or Uganda or Egypt or Norway (our countries of citizenship). Instead of sharing my answer, I encourage you to really think about it, about what connects you to the nation and also about your connections and obligations to people outside of the boundaries of whatever country you live in.
Even outside of classtime, the CMRS library is fertile ground for dialog and the tweaking of ideas. Before class, Annie and I had an interesting discussion about sexuality and gender norms in Uganda with our Ugandan classmate after I explained to her my thesis topic. And, while I'd like to think I'm open-minded, I'll admit I have a certain amount of prejudice in terms of my assumptions about the rigidity of post-colonial African societies' ideas about sexuality. (Especially given the story about recently-proposed Ugandan legislation I linked to in the new & issues section before.) And yet, Amoding spoke frankly about the Western gender binaries and how they just didn't fit in Ugandan society. It was these expectations about masculinity and femininity and their relation to sexuality that she found too rigid. The conversation would continue and broaden over Yemeni food after class. (Which in turn was followed by a visit to a party shop selling Halloween costumes, a hysterical place to visit in Egypt.)
Annie and I also got to chat with our professor about class discussion, expectations, and academia. We talked to her about graduate school and writing theses and dissertation and the anxiety over providing an original contribution. There were so many good chats yesterday! It makes me rather keen on the idea of getting another degree sometime in the future. I love the stretching and growing that I've experience both as a result of living in Egypt and attending grad school.

News & Issues

Middle East meets Midwest
  • Speaking earlier of sacrificing for one's country and including a category about the intersections between the Middle East and the Midwest, it's only fitting to inform you that Peoria's Lebanese American community is hosting its annual Itoo supper at the Itoo Hall on 1 November from 11 AM to 7 PM. They're offering 300 free meals to vets and reduced prices for active military personnel.

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