Language Creative Response

By nature, we struggle to connect with those different than ourselves. Whether we speak a different language, come from a different background, or even just have different preferences, the discrepancies create barriers and tensions between the varying parties that can lead to a variety of results. First of all, the differences can potentially spur conflict through miscommunication and misunderstanding. As the blog shows, the language barrier has the potential to blur communication and meaning, therefore creating conflict where there need not be. However, these differences can also cause heightened discussion and questioning of both others’ thoughts and one’s own.

When we are faced with issues or people that we do not understand, an innate curiosity drives us to understand these things, through exploration and communication. The communication barrier is still there, so the answers might be jumbled and incoherent, but the desire to know is still very present. This desire triggers not only the desire to learn about those different from us but also a reevaluation of ourselves and our personal motivations. Granted, the latter does not always occur. Those too insecure with their own culture or background will rather translate that insecurity into indifference towards the other out of fear that the other might have taken a better path. But if one can open oneself to the possibility of immersion and self-improvement, cross cultural exchange can immensely educate and develop our world.

Looking at the issue of language is also fascinating. Referring to the role of the translator, how does learning a new language affect one’s view of the world and the language’s culture? I try to demonstrate that language of course opens up a whole new lens through which to experience foreign culture. Through language, the speaker or listener can grasp the mannerisms, the relationships, and the nuances within interactions. But on the other hand, how does learning a language as a second language affect the impact of these nuances on the speaker, who has already grown accustomed to the nuances of his own language and culture? In my opinion, language is the most definite, tangible aspect of culture. Therefore, one can switch between language and cultures while exhibiting the nuances specific to that language without blurring one’s cultural identities. Not only is it possible to maintain the specific styles of multiple languages and cultures through the differences in language; the differences in language themselves allow for the successful, un-blurred plurality of cultures within one’s identity by creating a clear line between the multiple sides of one’s identity.

Prophet’s Hair

Note Dec 10, 2014

One’s relationship with religion can manifest in many forms. Often, religion serves as the gateway to spirituality, allowing the believer to transcend the physical universe through heightened thought and communal thinking.  Spirituality can also be a very personal exercise, so people look inside themselves for inspiration, using their physical senses to go beyond and reflect on the real state of the world. Therefore, given its potential to transcend the physical side of the world, how can religion inspire people to be more materialistic and superficial? The Prophet’s Hair centers around a religious family and the father who stumbles upon the coveted hair of the prophet Muhammad. Although the father originally adhered strictly to the moral guidelines of his religion, he soon becomes obsessed with the hair and so defensive over it that he (unknowingly) murders his entire family to protect it.
It seems that a large reason why this happens is that although religion allows you to transcend the physical senses, one often needs the physical senses in order to go past them. Therefore, having some sort of relic or physical connection with one’s god heightens the sense that there is a metaphysical connection with that higher power. At this point, one’s spirituality becomes less about personal growth and discovery, and more about the gratification of having some sort of connection with one’s deity. Therefore, the danger of the physicality behind religion is that it can strip spirituality of its spontaneity and inspiration, and instead replace it with greed and coveting.

Swallows of Kabul Creative Response

In this particular blog post, I chose to look at the complexities of mob mentality. As individuals, we develop our own set of morals and preferences throughout our life. Our parents and those we spend most of our time with influence a lot of these factors, but ultimately, we all have been exposed to a specific and unique set of circumstances, so we all have our own unique moral codes, though they may be similar. However, when we are faced with a decision within the context of a larger group, those morals and preferences often go out the door, and the mentality of the group takes control.

What I found most interesting about the depiction of mob mentality in The Swallows of Kabul was that there was no description of the thought process going into the decision to stone the woman—only a description of the experience itself. So did his morals play no part in the decision? And if so, what can we do to protect against this instinct towards conformity?

I think a big factor in the strength of one’s morals within the group context is the transparency of one’s principles. Since the dawn of humanity, man has always had two sides: that which he projects to society, and that which is inside of him. If we try harder to mix those two sides of ourselves by vocalizing our opinions and debating them with others, we will have more confidence in our own beliefs. Without the combination of the two sides, one can easily conform to society, since his morals were always internal to begin with.

Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Camino perfect picture

We spend a lot of time outside of the present. We preoccupy ourselves with future assignments, with issues to be resolved, with plans to be made. It’s natural. Planning ahead theoretically allows us to enjoy the future more when it becomes the present, as we are more prepared for what is to come. By worrying about the problems we have today, we can search for solutions so that they are gone by tomorrow. But in an increasingly busy world, when does the future ever become the present? Have we settled into a continuous journey towards some unreachable destination?

In The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Qindil is dissatisfied with the condition of his society, and sets out to explore the world in search of an example that might solve his society’s issues. This idealism and search for paradise is intrinsic in all our identities. For this particular project, I chose the spot in the world that I consider my paradise; it lies on the Camino de Santiago, a walk across Northern Spain that I did after my junior year. However, I found this place not by searching, necessarily; rather, I stumbled upon it with friends. Personally, I believe that while this determination to find paradise drives us and makes us human, it rarely results in an organic solution that satisfies all members in society. However, it is essential to remember that each society and community in the world has its own nuances and culture, and as a result, the best solution to any societal issue is one that is found through communication and discussion within that society.

This view is fairly unrealistic in our world today. I am not advocating the complete originality of every societal decision. If that were enforced, then democracy would not have spread further than a single country, and most countries would be wrapped in chaos due to the lack of original responses. Copying often is the perfect solution. But I still feel that it’s important to recognize the individuality of each society; each community in the world will respond differently to different systems and policies, and while searching is important, and can lead to the discovery of places like the one that I found in this creative response, the best response can often be found on one’s own.

Sultana’s Dream Creative Response

It’s interesting to look at the inspiration behind utopias. Whenever people find aspects of society that they find unpleasant or unjust, human imagination conjures a contrasting version of the world in which such aspects are different and better. Rarely does any vision of a utopia incorporate every side of a society; to do so would be virtually impossible. Many scholars argue that utopias are impossible to create because someone will always be worse off thanks to the changes. However, I’d like to look at the concept of perspectives within utopias. As the contrasting views within the poem show, people see the world differently, and will thus receive certain aspects of society in their own unique light. Utopias therefore don’t exist for societies; they exist for individuals. As a result, one of the main problems for Sultana’s utopia is that the men remember their lives as the dominant social group. When people suffer from relative deprivation (in other words, when their lives become worse off than they were before), they will not be pleased with such a utopia. Therefore, although utopias will never succeed within the societal mindset, the individual can perceive a utopia when society is benefiting him or her and when they have not experienced a past in which life was better than it is in the new utopia.



Person 1

Life is good here. I take daily strolls through the yard, exchanging greetings with all the friendly, welcoming faces as I take in the final glimpses of a fleeting fall. I have conversations about things I never would have back home; about stigmas, about culture, about aspects of life often overlooked. A whole new side of my brain has opened up, and I have enjoyed it. The classes stimulate me to new levels of intellectualism, my curiosity growing by the day. Oh, the possibilities this place holds!

Person 2

The skies are grey and the world dismal as I look out from the first floor of Lamont, lamenting and struggling over the next words to put down onto the page. Harvard is not just “Harvard.” There is a harsh, hidden reality behind that name that many fail to realize before coming here, but it has haunted me since the day I arrived. As I walk from the library to my dorm, I feel the judgmental gazes of our world’s future leaders, all willing to cut my throat if it will help them get ahead. The weight of their gaze weighs my head down, and I fear to look up lest I awaken their internal drives for competition and superiority. I avoid conversation here; I have found it circles around inflated topics that “you only talk about at Harvard…” I have lost interest in other’s steadfast desire to grow and win.

Children of the Alley Creative Response

=photo (2)

What’s the importance of a leaf to a tree? The roots propel the tree upward and give it a foundation to survive rough conditions. The trunk itself gives the tree weight, gravitas, and stability in times of conflict and bad weather. But the leaves, especially on trees like this that don’t bear fruit, leave the observer wondering about their true purpose. Are they really there just for semblance’s sake? To heighten the aesthetic attractiveness of the tree itself while projecting the same image of the leaves that have come before it? To stick to tradition and genetics, and not introduce anything new to the perspective?

Such a conversation connects nicely with the conflict of family in many of the stories we have read, especially Children of the Alley. Across cultures, there is a sense of familial importance, both in the light of intra-familial relations and interfamilial competition, of sorts. Families are often labeled by a particular descriptor based on their actions and mannerisms, while families also try to maintain certain aspects of their reputation. This valuation of familial reputation seems to have died down in the current century, with more focus being placed on the individual. However, whether it relates to a family or some large idea that people rally behind, this dedication to something bigger than the individual has fascinating implications on the life of an individual. The metaphor of the tree allows for some parallels to be drawn as well. Like the leaves, the individual often loses significance within the context of the cause or reputation, so when they leave or pass away, the cause survives. In addition, given that the tree determines the cycle and the colors of the leaves, how much room for self-definition is there when one dedicates him or herself wholeheartedly to a higher cause? I write not to denounce the importance of communal thinking and contribution, but more to highlight the necessity for individual contribution to such causes so that people maintain their identities within the context of their larger affiliations.


Reluctant Fundamentalist Creative Response

Reluctant Fundamentalist creative

America is a complex place. As one of the economic powerhouses in the world, the nation has an expectation of its citizens to perform at the highest level, uniting the population in a common goal of excellence. However, the culture is also one of the most diverse in the world, with huge immigrant populations throughout the country. Institutionally, the United States has actively chosen not to pursue the “melting pot” route. Looking at the distribution of different ethnic and cultural groups, it is clear both that specific groups choose to move together (for example, Kenyans in Missouri or Ethiopians in Washington DC) and that the government designates the destinations of new immigrants depending on their ethnicity. This decision is controversial, as it makes one’s ethnic identity much more salient than it would be without this system of organization. Within the United States, there are numerous communities that seem removed from the country itself, independent regions that speak their own language and practice their own cultures with no regard of the rest of the country. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Yes, it fosters a disconnect within our country, but diversity and freedom of expression are essential to our national identity. Imagine a society like the one depicted in the painting. All cultures come together into this large melting pot, tearing the individual between two realms: his projected identity, the one that conforms with society, and his internal identity, the one that he or she struggles to cling to within their minds or households. Regardless of societal salience, one’s ethnicity, or at least one’s background will always have a profound impact on ones’ identity and motivation in life. Therefore, the detraction of ethnic and cultural identification will only shift the struggle to an internal one, one that the individual must struggle with without the support of their officially unrecognized social groups. Therefore, although ethnic salience might create conflict between different groups, as it clearly does in America, it also provides affinity where there would not be without the salience, and allows for heightened expression to deepen our national identity and educate the citizens as to the many backgrounds that happen to be heading in the same direction as them. In my mind, that’s what America should represent: endless backgrounds that, through discussion and immersion, can work towards similar directions. We certainly do not have exactly that right now; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A diversity of directions can be just as important as a diversity of backgrounds so that societies can gain more perspective on the different goals within the society and the different possibilities to achieve progress.

The Cost of Flying


Far-off lands can seem so appealing. The elusive scent of possibility, the world where everything seems possible… one simply can’t resist it. In Ambiguous Adventure, Samba leaves his home for the world of French enlightenment: Paris. The book captures the inherent danger in cross-cultural change to one’s identity. Samba grows up in the world of French imperialism, so the culture is not as foreign as others to him. And yet, he faces the same tradeoff that many others leaving home struggle with: either to leave home and his identity behind in search of new horizons and philosophies, or to preserve his culture by remaining in one’s native country. By the end of the story, Samba suffers the consequence of ignoring this tradeoff, losing both his identity and his opportunity to grow. His failure begs the tantalizing yet pessimistic question, is it possible for people to leave their homes with any sort of baggage, or will the weight of their culture-packed suitcases weigh them down into oblivion? A modernizing America presents the possibility for successful cross-cultural exchange; as more and more groups have become represented, people have banded together through communities and demonstrations to express their cultures within the context of the American society. As we move forward in history, we must keep the integration and inclusion of social groups at the front of our minds. Each individual voice can contribute to the growth and diversification of our society. So rather than providing the opportunity for foreigners to come and “learn our ways,” we should be equally if not more focused on learning from them. Let’s stop talking, at least for a moment, and start listening.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

You find yourself at the interim.

Finally free of the chains of your home, you pursue your dreams.

You catapult yourself into the skies for hopes of reaching the stars.

Faith, enlightenment, wealth…

Everything seems just a stone’s throw away.

Find the world, and bring it back to us.


And yet, heritage was your lever.


You no longer are the devoted, cultural harbinger that you hoped to be.

Leaving home, you had hoped to return one day, a better man with more to offer.

But you quickly learn that to get something, you have to give something up.

So you soar into the air, devoid of purpose.

Devoid of all the messages you had hoped to carry.

You see the edge of glory, and reach out for it.


But you are no longer what you were.

What you thought were your hands are now your feet.

All senses have been jumbled, shaken by the disruption of departure.

You reach out, but you no longer can catch hold of what seems so close.

And so, you fall back to the interim.

No longer in the skies,

No longer on the ground,

You float, empty, wishing, lost.





Trust in a Wave

Faith is a beautiful thing. It gives people the strength to define themselves in whichever light they choose and a model towards which to shoot. Faith provides the image of something bigger than ourselves: something that we can look to in awe for inspiration and consolation in times of need.

But what happens to faith when it is forced upon you? In the Islamic Revolution, Iranians stood in mass solidarity against a sultanistic regime that had begun to fail economically, had cut back on subsidies to mosques, and had threatened the destruction of all the bazaars. From these actions, it is clear that it was in the mass interest to rebel. However, combined with the installation of Sharia Law after the collapse of the state, the revolution begs the question, at what point does communal belief shift from strengthening one’s faith to imposing on it? This fine line is one with which theocracy plays constantly. The inherent problem with a theocracy, therefore, is its imposition of a particular interpretation. One of the many beauties of faith and religion is that the believer can read the words and hear the stories, and walk away with his or her own interpretation to guide them through life. With a theocracy, they read the same words and hear the same stories. But it is someone else’s interpretation, so it becomes forced rather than liberating.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Once I was a fish, free to roam the sea.

The Lord gave me light, so I went where I wished.

The world was my playground.
I explored, I smiled, I loved.
And every day I would look up to the surface and thank Him.


Those were the days of calmer waters.


Now, I ride the waves of revolution.

They tell me that God created the waves, so I embrace them.

I ride to unknown destinations but with a steadfast roadmap.

Faith is my rock, my direction, my hope.

Or so they tell me.

God will protect me, as he always has.

God will forgive me, but not the other.

I will do all I do for Him.

Or so they tell me.


The Lord is not the same as before.

His tongue I no longer can understand, but I convince myself that he speaks the same words.

The direction is shaded, but I convince myself that he leads me to paradise.


Because the current will swallow me if I abandon.

And so, I fade back into the crowd and chant the revolutionary verses.

Hoping, praying, needing Him to be what I thought him to be.


The Lord is no longer my shepherd. He is ours.



Splatters of Wisdom

photo (1)

Our scholastic culture around the globe is often one from which you leave with a plethora of dates and facts that you can rattle off in any conversation. This creates a considerably well-informed society with individuals able to carry out most of the standard roles required by their communities. However, do people that have grown up in these systems understand the implications of their learning? Have their lessons left them with a new mindset, or just a few more numbers floating around in the mind?

In An Egyptian Childhood, Hussein recalls his younger days during which he had to constantly memorize the Qu’ran. He eventually started finding ways out of recitation, which prompted him to forget many of the verses. The curious and ironic part of all this comes when both his father and his teacher lie and manipulate the truth in order to protect their pride as holy scholars. A book that so many hold to be the pinnacle of human welfare and integrity brings these two to act in completely immoral ways.

Therefore, what was the purpose of reading all that they read as children? Did the Qu’ran actually give them a moral base, or did it just foster a pride in their own holiness? We all face this challenge in some respects. Whether the teaching is on religion, history, or pretty much anything, we have the choice to either take what we learn at face value or to dig deeper and explore the moral and future implications of the lessons. If we choose the latter, our world will not settle into a stagnant cycle of pride and repetition. Instead, we will continue to grow through new interpretation and through the recognition of the past’s mistakes.

In this particular piece, I used the symbol of the question mark constructed by various Arabic words an overarching “Why” to capture these thoughts.