Tuesday, October 31, 2006

and yet more pictures...

My hosts in Trondheim-Olaf and his lovely girlfriend Berit, chatting it up over a typical Norwegian lunch- shrimp and mayo sandwich with Solo-the popular Norwegian orange soft drink that is more liked than Coca Cola (and, apparently, the two companies came to an agreement not to allow both products to be sold simultanously in stores).

Nidal, me, and the wonderful Ingeborg-who orchestrated this whole thing, and gave me many insights into Norwegian culture- together at Marhaba's restuarant

Pictures of Trondheim

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pictures from Trondheim

Trondheim as seen from above

A casual stroll through the supermarket reveals...

Elk meat. A local speciality, now in season.



and more fish!

In this case, a Norwegian speciality-and somewhat of an acquired taste, to put it mildly: Lutefisk. Basically, fish submerged in lye. Think fish jello.

And pickled fish, in twenty different varieties.

Even fish pancakes!

A road in Tronheim.

Oslo pictures

Finally, some pictures! Tronheim to follow...

With Nidal Hamad, head of Norway's Palestinian Association, and Tariq, fellow Gazan and recent immigrant and student to Norway, at a Palestinian restaurant.

With the whole group

On the receiving end of an interview during a conference panel about "internet activism".

View from my host's apartment in Oslo

The world in beans, a creative display by young students at the conference

Shopping for toys for Yousuf!

Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, formerly headquarters of the Quisling government

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The post on Norwegian politics

In Norwegian politics, nothing is what it seems. Black is white. War is peace.

For example, the party named the “Progressives” are actually the right-wingers who are friendly with Israel.

The parties currently in power in the coalition government are the Socialist left-formerly in the opposition, the Social democrats, or labor. Then you have the three centrist parties-the social liberals, the Christian democrats. So what exactly is the difference between a social democrat, a social liberal, or a social leftist?

Confused yet? Good, it gets better.

To confuse matters more, members of the Conservative party have actually been some of the most vocal critics of the current Prime Minister’s silence in the face of the arrest of Hamas ministers by Israel this summer, among other Israeli actions.

And-the former Prime Minister, a member of the Conservatives, was, Norwegians tell me, one of the most ardent advocate for Palestinians, arguing that being a Conservative is about protecting international human rights.

And lobbying isn't exclusive to US politics:

A lobby group operating within the parliament since the 1970s, known as “friends of Israel”, also has close ties with the International Church..

The Joint Committee for Israel, a group of ten Norwegian organizations, including one church based one, is friendly with the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem-a mainly Norwegian-membered group of Christian Zionists who have triedto use their influence with the Israeli government to prevent a Norwegian Correspondent from covering the Palestinian conflict.

Norway and Chrisitan Zionists-who would have thought? On the other hand, there are alos a great number of church groups that are very influential in advancing better Norwegian policy towards the Palestinians.

Oh and before I leave it there, at least one more observation on Norwegian culture: I’ve noticed the bedroom I was so kindly hosted in was absolutely freezing-and the window open. I was given loads of blankets to warm up, but was baffled why this was so, until a friend explained it to me: “Norwegians like to keep their bedrooms at least 15 degrees below the temperatures of the rest of the house, and keep the window open when they sleep.”

The reason?

“It’s good for our breathing.”

I suppose, if we are polar bears. Or Norwegian. :)

Friday, October 27, 2006

"The only thing we smoke here is Salmon"

That's the slogan put out by Norway's Minstry of Health as part of their year old smoking ban in public places. I thought the ad, which is posted among other places in city guides, was interesting (although notice the men in the picture look more Midwestern than Norwegian, but still).

Of course, the ad refers to public places and restaurants only, not a general ban on smoking. Smoking rates are still alamingly high, especially when compared to the U.S. (a quarter of 15 years smoke up, according to the World Health Organization, which is not of course nearly as hig as in Greeland, where more than half of boys in that age group smoke. In Gaza, its around 15% in 2001, West Bank is higher with around 25%. I am certain the rates have markedly increased since, or are underreported however).

In June 2004, Norway became the second European nation, after Ireland, to ban smoking in public places. The idea is, children are less likely to begin smoking when they are not directly exposed to cigarettes or to people smoking them, a strategy that has proven to reduce smoking rates in the U.S. during the past ten years.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wrapping is all up: Sun, breastfeeding, and mythmaking

Fish and caviar are great. But so is the sun. And boy, is it a rare site in Norway. Today was the first day I actually saw the sun shine in the entire week I’ve been here. The entire week!

Apparently in the summer in Oslo, its reversed: they only get 4 hours of darkness; Further north, they get no darkness at all. In the winter, because the sun shines so infrequently, Norwegians actually buy sun-lamps and use them indoors to stave off depression and get a dose of Vitamin D in the winter.

With that, I will try and wrap up my Norway posts with a few final observations (and pictures) :

Norwegians dress practically, not fashionably; I guess the weather forces them to do that. Their boots are shoes are flat, never healed. Their fabrics durable, not always breathable. I’m sure the Italians would have a field day with their fashion-sense, but then-who really cares what the Italians think when you live in this kind of weather?

Norwegian babies: are rare to find-apparently the divorce rate is sky high here and the marriage and population even lower, but when you do see them they are just little bundles of cuteness, all wrapped up like little polar bears and waddling like penguins down the streets.

And unlike the U.S. (and increasingly, many parts of the world, including Gaza, thanks to Nestle) mothers actually breastfeed here, everywhere! The whopper is: Norwegians get something like 10 months of paid maternity or paternity leave! Or you can divide the time between mother and father. UNREAL. And the US calls itself progressive?

Public transport: Subways and buses like many European cities. But also you can actually rent bikes off the streets here-they are parked in public spots, and you simply buy a “bike card” valid for three hours at a time and return them at some other location.

Oh right, politics. Well, maybe later, I’m exhausted after a long walk around Oslo, but the one major observation I, and I think many of the more politically active young Norwegians at the conference had is that on one hand, the Norwegian government perceives, and portrays, itself as being very progressive/liberal/socialist and as one of the countries that is most sympathetic and in solidarity with the Palestinians; but on the other hand, its policies vis a vis the new Palestinian government is essentially the same: reflexive, absolute boycott.

I also had a chance to visit the Nobel Peace Institute today, which has many fabulous very high tech exhibits about the history of the Institute and various prize recipients, as well as a photo exhibit by an Iranian-Parisian photographer (Abbas) about “the children of Abraham”, chronicling the lives of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities since the 1970s, in addition to an exhibit on child soldiers.

The interesting thing is a video they had running about, among other things, the Oslo Accords, glorifying them to no end, at which I had to smirk. I suppose you can’t very well trash talk the Oslo Accords in the Peace Institute.

Tommorow my journey comes to an end as I head back to North Carolina, and in a few weeks, onwards to Gaza.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From Oslo to Trondheim

After closing up at the Social Forum in Oslo and ending the day with a lovely meal at a local Palestinian restaurant with the Palestinian Association there, I left to Trondheim,

Norway’s third largest city and former capital to the north of Oslo. It’s quite beautiful here, perhaps more to my liking than Oslo, because it is surrounded by Norway’s famous Fjords, very picturesque, with a bit of a country feel to it.

This evening, after giving a talk on the role of the media and the Palestinian conflict, as well as talking a little about my own experience coving Gaza to the Trondheim Association of Journalists, I did the first thing I like to do in any new place I visit: I went to a supermarket!

I always feel it’s a good way for me to understand a little bit more about the culture, as well as get a sense about prices. As in America, there are quite a bit of processed or packaged foods (well ok, not nearly as much as in America). However the overwhelming majority of the projects are actually locally produced-in fact I don’t think I saw a single American product.

Not surprisingly, there are several sections of the fridge dedicated to fish products-smoked and cured salmon in all its varieties, caviar paste (I think mixed with sugar, oil, and something else) in squeezable tubes-delicious if a bit rich, and a variety of shrimp and fish mixed in with mayyonaise.

I’ve also noticed that while Norwegians aren’t exactly famous for their chocolate, they do like their candies; and for those with a sweet tooth, Trondheim is the place to go; from what I can tell, they are a major producer of Norwegian sweets and local chocolates.

My favorite so far: Troika-a chocolate bar made in Trondheim itself which is basically 3 different layers of Marzipan, Chocolate truffle, and strawberry jelly covered in dark chocolate (and no, no Gelatin). Yes, it IS as good as it sounds!

The one I didn’t like so much, and is sort of a Norwegian favorite, is this salty licorice.

I also FINALLY had some local cuisine (ok, it was a bit oompfed up and not exactly traditional, but nevertheless, YUM), after days of eating anything but. I think I could eat the fish here every day.

Oh yeah I was supposed to talk about Norwegian politics, how did I end up talking about Norwegian food?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

(A) picture from the conference

Ok, as usual, I forgot to bring my camera cable (I have the older style compact flash card that doesn't fit into my laptop, so I can't upload my other photos until i return or find a cable). For now, I give you this photo one of the conference participants took of me giving a presentation, (notice the serious presentation face).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Flying while muslim

Writing from a cafe in Oslo, where, surprisingly, very few places offer free wireless-you either have to pay for access or have the passport, a very Capitalist practice for a Socialist country.

So far I've had a wonderful, if chilly, time. My hosts have been incredibly warm and friendly and tried to stuff me full of all sorts of NOrwegian goodies (as my friend Amira asked-what's your suhoor like, "let me guess, combination of cold smelly fish and soft cheeses?"...pretty accurate, but delicious nonetheless :))

Today was the first day of the conference, which went very well, and was an experience for me in Norwegian socialist leftist culture, which I"ll talk more about when I have more time, as well as my impressions on Norwegian discourse on Palestine.

first a little about airport trip over, always as ever adventerous:

You’ve heard the expression “FWM”…flying while Muslim. Well it never fails. I feel like its a self-fulfilling prophecy, I'm alwasy so nervous they'll stop me, and they always do.

So I’m checking into the airport for my flight to Chicago from Minneapolis, and I get stopped by one of the security officials, who casually asks me “ma’am, have you ever been SSSSed before?”.

"SSSSed? What does that even mean?" I wonderered, but I didn’t bother to ask, because I guessed it was probably something sinister. Something to do with stopping people that seemed to be suspicious and probably plotting a terrorist attack (That, or they happen to wear hijab or “look”: muslim). Accordingly, I answered:

“I'm not sure what that acronym means, but if I were to guess, I'd say pretty much every time-its become a routine”.

“We have a female SS here, some help please” the agent bellowed out in front of the long line of nervous onlookers .

So now its only two Ss I thought? I waited, and was escorted by another official for a check before being asked about what potentially lethal liquids or gels I had. IN my possession was a 4 oz strawberry fit ‘n light Dannon yoghurt.

“Ma’am, are you aware with our new security regulations?” he asked staunchly.

“Yes yes sure, just go ahead and toss it out”, contemplating the potentially lethal nature of strawberries, corn syrup, and bacteria.

"You can eat it if you want” he suggested.

“I’m fasting” I replied.

After this my handbaggage was checked, and I was casually asked about what I do for a living, and then torso searched by a female agent who explained, eruditely,

“Do you know you were stopped here today?”

“Maybe you can tell me," I suggested. "I get stopped everytime so I’ve sort of become accustomed to not asking why.”

“Its probably because of the way you booked your ticket, which set off a red light- maybe it was booked in the last 24 hours, or it was booked one way, or you made changes to it at the last minute” she said.

“I booked it nearly a month ago; I’ve made no last minute changes; and I’m flying roundtrip,” I retorted, to her silent stares.

Why do I even bother. To make matters worse there was a big orange sign indicating that today’s terrorist threat level was “high”. Probably people looking suspicously, thinking they had caught the suspect: the strawberry yoghurt toting Gazan on her way to a social forum in Norway-because that all links back to the Oslo Accords, a good cause to sabatoge if there ever was one.


MOre later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

From Mankato to Oslo

As usual so much to blog about, like the US financing Hamas opponents with a a nice fat $42 mill, a campaign projected "to bolster Hamas' political opponents ahead of possible early Palestinian elections"; i.e. Dahlan and co.

But speaking of better things, yesterday I arrived in Minnesota, and delivered the Kessel Memorial Lecture in Minnesota (emphasis on "sooota") State University in Mankato, where corn and empty fields abound.

The Mankato Free Press wrote a humbling article about it here.

It went well, except for the fact that I was ready to topple over by the Q&A session-too many connecting flight, too little sleep, and of course, fasting.

Today I head to Oslo, where I'll attend the Norwegian Social Forum and speak on blogging as activism (and I think, writing tourst guides as activism!), and then on Tuesday, to Trondheim in northern Norway to speak with the Journalist's Association there.

I return to the US on Thursday, inshallah, and two weeks later-its off to Gaza once again (well first to Egypt, then we play the waiting game at Rafah).

For now, I bid you Vi snakkes... (Ingie if you're reading this I hope I got that right..:))

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More Yousuf, by popular demand

Ok, so I've received enough hints lately to get the picture: We want more Yousuf photos! This blog is called "Raising Yousuf", after all. I'll admit, I've been lazy about that lately, namely because I've purchased a new laptop and have not yet gotten around to transferring all the photos. But I'm getting there.

So here, I present to you a few of Yousuf's latest photos, from the late summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, far, far away from Gaza. Enjoy!

A picture worth a thousand words.

Yousuf and his cousins splash around in circles

Yousuf flies a "tayarra waraqqiya", or kite

The kite is air-borne, as Yousuf and his cousin Zade pray for a miracle to keep it afloat

My father and Yousuf, engrossed in a stimulating conversation about who knows what

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A word on internal fighting

I've been meaning to writing about the issue of the infighting in gaza and the west bank for a while, but mulling my approach, as well as thinking about the factors involved. Then I came across this wonderful article by the ever-reliable Amira Hass, "Not an internal Palestinian matter", with which she begins:

"The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other. They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called "what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens."

I've often said that those who are protesting in Gaza, the ones we read about in the paper and see on tv, are not protesting bcause they are hungry-they are Fatah shabeeba hooligans and other members of security forces loyal to Dahalan and co., dispatched as part of "organized anachry", and protesting under the guise of desperation for their own political ends; And rest assured, mr. slimy shells out an handesome sum to anyone willing to take part in a protest "against the government". They want a return to the days of payoffs and patronage.

"The security forces of the Palestinian Authority - in other words, of Fatah, or in still other words, the ones that Mahmoud Abbas is in charge of - are hiding behind the genuine distress and protests of public employees who have not been receiving regular salaries. And they are doing so despite the fact that everyone knows that the failure to pay salaries is not a managerial failure, but is above all due to Israeli policy. These forces were dispatched in order to sow organized anarchy, as taught in the school of Yasser Arafat."

So then, the natural question is, why is this too an Israeli problem? Hass goes on:

" Because those who dispatched these militants have a shared interest with Israel in regressing to a situation in which the Palestinian leadership collaborates with the appearance of holding peace talks, while Israel continues its occupation and the international community sends hush money in the form of salaries for the Palestinian public sector."

Basically, the alternative is going back to one of subcontracted occupation, where the fat cats get fatter, and the disenfranchised get more disenfranchised- but hey, at least there'll be some money to go around and hush them up, right? As long as we have obedient wardens in power, it doesn't matter how corrupt they are.

For more, check out the full article in Haaretz here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What I've been up to: talks, travel guides, and other things

I realize I've been absurdly negligent of my blog lately. My poor, poor blog; once a daily visit would not even suffice, now I'm lucky if I get around it to it even once a week.

But hopefully that will change soon: I'm happy to report I'll be returning to Gaza for a few months in November (assuming the border is open by then).

I've been busy-this time not with potty training, but with making arrangement for various upcoming travel.

I'm scheduled to give a series of talks in the coming weeks: on Thursday, in UNC Chapel Hill with Marty Rosenbluth; the Kessel Memorial Lecture in Minnesota State University on October the 18th, and then speak at the Norwegian Social Forum on October the 20 through the 22nd.

So last week I travelled to DC to apply for my Norwegian visa, which I got in a record two days (I figured the whole "this passport was issued pursuant to the Oslo Accords" line in it might help). I was also meeting with my colleagues in the new Aljazeera International bureau in Washington, arranging for a neat-and bold- project I'll be working on for them on my way to Gaza: a self-filmed "video diary" of the journey to Gaza, across Rafah, with Yousuf.

I've also been working on updating the Gaza section of a (fabulous) travel guide published by the Bethlehem-based Alternative Tourism Group. Its one of those kafkaesque type experiences, an exercise in the absurd.

I write about all of the wonderful experiences in Gaza, where to stay, what to do, and of course, an update on the humanitarian and political situation; yet as I write I realize in the back of my mind no one can GET IN to Gaza in the first place, unless they have a Gazan, Israeli-issued Palestinian ID or are UN staff or diplomats.

And if you try and get a permit through Israel, you are taken on a wild goose chase where, as in Alice's Wonderland, no one can provide you with clear answers and nothing is what it seems: We aren't responsible for Gaza, and therefore don't issue permits to travel there; yet we still occupy it and control its border-including what and who pass through there.

Yet I continue to write anyway, and with conviction at that; Yassine thinks its an exercise in defiance to the occupation, to the political status quo. I think I agree.

Its the same sort of experience I go through when I read about various restaurants or travel agents in the West Bank or East Jerusalem in the al-Quds daily paper: its not physically possible, yet everyone likes to pretend it is. I think its part of trying to psychologically imagine create a reality other than the one imposed upon us.

So in a nutshell, that's what I've been up to. That and fasting Ramadan of course, which is simply not the same as it was in Gaza, where stores fill up with Eid candies, dried fruits and nuts, and other Ramadan staples faster than you can say "bismillah". That, and Atayif stations on every corner. mmm.

But of course there is a black shadow cast over Gaza this Ramadan,quite literally. My neibhour told me today they went 24 hours with no electricity in Gaza City, with generators overburden the limited supply they have. And its bound to continue like this for a while. I'm anxious to get back to tell you more, firsthand.