Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Know a few words in Arabic? The FBI is looking for you...

I had a good laugh at this post on the Language Log. Basically the statistics have come out that there are only 33 people working with the FBI who know "a handful of Arabic words." They insist they don't need any proficient Arabic speakers but yet at the same time are looking to hire "Arabists." So for all you Al Akhawayn exchange students looking for a job....maybe we should all team up and have a reunion at the FBI....here's the rest of the post(and yes watch out for sarcasm).

October 14, 2006
Arabic at the FBI
(Roger Shuy)
Ah, the FBI now has, hold on to your hats, a total of 33 agents with even a limited proficiency in Arabic, reports Dan Eggen in a Washington Post article on October 11, 2006,

"...and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics."
Pumping this number up to include "agents who know only a handful of Arabic words--including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test," yields a minuscule percentage of Arabic users among their 12,000 agents. The article reports that only four agents in the government's two International Terrorism Sections (ITOS) have even elementary proficiency in Arabic.

Should we worry about national security? Maybe not. Our agents don't really need Arbic skills, according to the head of ITOS. Get this from him:

"There are no agent positions, at any level, in either ITOS I or II that utilize the Arabic language as part of their duties or responsibilities."
As John Stewart might comment, "maybe they don't utilize Arabic because they don't have any."

The FBI says we're in no danger because they can make use of translators who are available within 24 hours. Whew! That's good news. Despite this distinct advantage, they say they're trying to hire some Arabists (well, maybe not gay ones). But there just aren't many of them around to hire and those that are have the misfortune to have Arabic families, friends and acquaintences -- and some of them were even born in foreign countries. Trying to hire Arabists seems like an odd thing to do, however, if, as the head of ITOS says, there are no positions at any level that utilize the language. Maybe someone should look into that one.

Who is to blame for this confusing (sorry?) situation? It's American society, says the director of communications at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, because language instruction is "undervalued in the US schools." He's partly right, of course. But since when has the American society been the "Decider?"

Continue Story here:

Iraqi Christians Flee as Persecution Worsens

Apparently in Iraq there has been a big reaction to the pope's recent comments about Islam. Surprisingly in Pakistan it hasn't been such a big issue. Maybe the public here is tired of rioting after the cartoon issue, or more likely people are preoccupied with domestic politics.

To see what's happening in Iraq check out the NYTimes:


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tora sa...so little!

All the women in Sultanabad are quite concerned about my hair. Tora sa? So little! Here the men like long, black, straight and shiny hair. Most women keep their hair at least to their waists, even if it’s graying and getting straggly. They wonder, why is my hair so short when I am getting married in a few months? My poor mehengator (fiancĂ©) will surely be disappointed. Maybe I’ve cut it since we got engaged and he doesn’t know.

I try telling them that in America most women don’t keep such long hair and that I thought mine was actually quite long. Five years ago I cut off 12 inches and donated it to Locks of Love, and I’ve been growing it out ever since. I think it would take me ten years to grow it as long as theirs (maybe 15) but I’m sure I’d get fed up and sick of having such long hair by then anyway.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Yesterday I was watching the movie Lagaan and for some strange reason the subtitles kept on reading "vanilla." After a while I realized that any time there was music it said "vanilla." I don't know about these subtitle writer people, either they having a good time making jokes or they are just clueless. As opposed to most other Hindi movies I've seen the rest of the subtitles seemed to be accurate, so my guess is they were having a good laugh about the vanilla thing.

On a side note, I recommend the movie Lagaan. It is about village life under British rule. "Lagaan" is the annual taxes paid by the villagers to the Raja and the British commanders. The villagers have had no rain and have no way to pay the double lagaan that the British are demanding so they go the authorities to beg for mercy. What ends up happening is that the villagers challenge the British to a game of "kirkut" (cricket) and the story goes on from there...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Begum (Wife) is like Chewing Gum

During my time in Gilgit, I attended a mass marriage ceremony sponsored by Aga Khan Development Projects. Weddings in Pakistan are expensive, including four days of festivities and guest lists in the hundreds and thousands. Traditionally the first day celebrated with the family is a mayyun (bride and groom separate). Then the day before the wedding is the mehendi (usually separate, some couples are now doing joint mehendis). On barat, the day when the bride leaves her family to live with the groom, nikkah (marriage agreement) is usually signed to make the marriage legal. Then after sitting and taking about a million photographs, the bride performs her rukhsati which is a the official leaving of her family to live with the boys’ family. Finally, the groom’s family hosts a party the day after the barat to celebrate the consummation of the marriage. This is called walima.

(skip down to the italicized part if you just want to read the joke)

You can see how that would be expensive, especially with four different outfits and five hundred guests. The government has now put a ban on serving food during barat so as to keep the poor from going into debt just to marry off their daughters. Everything except walima is paid for by the girl’s family. The girl’s family also must provide a dowry, usually in the form of furniture and appliances to furnish her husband’s portion of the house. Due to the ridiculous costs of wedding arrangements, every year the Aga Khan Foundation sponsors a mass marriage which allows different couples to share the costs of barat, which is usually the most expensive day. Also, since most people get around the government regulations (by bribing police officers etc.) and serve food anyway, a meal is served for the guests of all five couples.

I was invited to attend the event as it doubled as a fund raiser and people here have the misconception that all Americans can grow dollars on trees. They should talk to my mother as she was always adamant in insisting that this was not the case. Anyway, I thought it would be an interesting experience so I arranged to go with my friend’s uncle.

Interesting experience indeed! First of all it was set to start at 10am and started around 2pm. The women were sitting on the righthand side while the men sat on the lefthand side, meaning that I had to sit by myself amongst all the local women. I started off by sitting in the back, and then because somebody realized I was a foreigner (despite my attempt at blending in by wearing Pakistani clothes) I was invited to sit in the front row. This was great because from the back I wouldn’t have been able to take any photos! There were over a thousand people at the wedding.

And so from 10am til 2pm we waited. I was sitting next to one woman who spoke Urdu so we were able to chat some about weddings and her numerous sons and daughters and what they are currently doing. It was about a hundred degrees and there wasn’t anywhere to get drinking water except from the boy scouts pouring water into five community cups. With five cups for over a thousand people I thought it would be better to go thirsty than to risk contracting tuberculosis or something of that sort. Around 1pm a local band started playing and the men were invited to come up to the front and dance. Notice the MEN were invited. Women don’t dance or have any fun in public.

Finally around 2pm all the couples walked in and sat on the stage. Then all the grooms were invited to dance and several speeches were given. It was SO long and I was feeling like I was going to pass out due to dehydration or boredom or both. The event finished with some important man sharing this joke in Urdu (this is my translation so it might not be exact):

A student asked his teacher, “I heard that begum (wife) is like chewing gum. How is the wife like chewing gum?”

The teacher thought about it and told the student, “Well you see when you have a piece of chewing gum at first there is a burst of flavor and you enjoy it. In the same way the wife is very sweet at first and you enjoy her. Then after some time, the chewing gum loses its flavor and it is no longer sweet to your taste. Then you ask, ‘Aur kuch?’ (Is there something else?)”

I was happy that I couldn’t understand most of the other jokes, which had been in Burushaski. After the jab at women we went off to eat, men and women separately. The women are quite greedy and I almost feared for my life trying to get some food and water. When it comes to food for these women it’s every woman for herself. They are all trying to pile as much meat and rice on their plates as they possibly can, and they are not afraid to push. Most of them are quite large (I think it’s connected with the greediness regarding food) and so I just grabbed a spoonful of rice and tried to get as far away from the food as possible. I also finally gave in and drank out of one of those cups. I hope I haven’t contracted something…..

See photos here: