Gothenburg Fate

8542606637_37b2cfb7be_cI came to Sweden with a very simple and what may seem to be a very harmless goal – to spend time with 2 of my best friends.  Even though I may have other projects to spent my time worrying about, the previous project to keep on re-evaluating, and daily activities back home on which to focus my energy. Somehow it seemed only natural to put it all aside and come spend 4 days in a city I know little about and help support a friend speaking at a Swedish media event.

Here at the end of my journey I now see this journey as having had a much higher purpose. Through a series of coincidences and good conversations this became a trip that both inspired and educated me through the experiences of old and new friends.  You can’t help but learn something when for several nights in a row you sit down for dinner and drinks with critical, creative, and experienced minds.

As I sat at dinner tonight polishing off some special Swedish dish, I couldn’t help but smile at the conversation going around from person to person at this table.  It was better than most university classes I’ve ever experienced and just as exciting as any podcast discussion I’ve ever listened to with great interest.  As we looked at the world of successes, failures, possibilities, and ideas, I realized I didn’t just come to Gothenburg to hang around.  I came to this place to meet up with this group of friends and colleagues, to help organize my thoughts in order to be ready for my next challenges.

Thank you friends. And thanks Gothenburg.


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The Difficult Part, After the Journey

Over the past 10+ years of traveling and creating media based on those journeys, I’ve discovered that the hardest part is not the journey itself, but what happens after.  After all the excitement and the learning, most journeys end.  And most times, it feels good to come home, examine what has been done, and reflect on that.  This is especially true if you live in a community, as I do, where people love to discuss and reflect right along with you.

The trouble comes with that age old insensitive question – what next?  What more will you do with what you have learned? What’s your next move? Will it be as interesting or exciting as this latest journey?  Can’t you go back and build on the first journey?

Pondering the Pyramids of Giza. November 2012

Sometimes the answers fall into my lap.  An invitation, inspiration or an idea that pull me like a magnet in whatever direction seems to be a good fit.  Sometimes, however, the answer doesn’t come easy.

Budgets dry up. Invitations expire.  Ideas get lost among other ideas. Even the belief in my own self and ability will waver at times. It may all be a natural progression when you’re following a personal mission that is so different from what we normally think of as “work” or “career”.

Thankfully whenever the question of “what’s next” has come up in the past, the answer never took long to appear. The answer sometimes comes from within, but more often comes with the help of good people in my life who understand what this is that I am dedicated to and sometimes see things that in the moment, I am not able to see.

This month will mark the end of the Arab Artists series here on my website.  A five week journey that was so rich in learning and communication, it produced more than 3 months of content.  Making it the longest series I have ever done for the podcast. A series I hope one day will have a part II.  But for now, I’m thankful to have had a part I and that many of you have made the trip with me and enjoyed what came out of it.  I honestly wish more people would give it a listen, I think there is an education in there that you can hardly get anywhere else.  But hey, as my Egyptian and Lebanese friends would say (in different pronunciations): khalas (خلاص), you did your best.” 

Now for what comes next….

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Sounds of the Sultan Hassan Mosque

During our time in Cairo, in between the steady stream of interviews and journeys to different neighborhoods, there were also the moments when we managed to do a little tourism and visit magnificent sights of the ancient city. On one such afternoon, under the guidance of our excellent friend and Egyptologist Shereif Nasr, we visited the Sultan Hassan Mosque, a beautiful Mamluk era structure completed in 1359.

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What I Know About Beirut

Corniche, Beirut
Corniche, Beirut

First of all don’t read too far into the title, I was in Beirut for less than a week and no one who has been in a city for such a short time should be telling you about that city. That said, I spent almost 5 glorious days in that most legendary place of joy and heartbreak. Here’s what I learned in a nutshell:

Beirutians will waste no time in telling you that they live for today, not knowing if society will break down tomorrow and fall back into a state of war.  With this rather disheartening piece of information out in the open, they will then show you their town, a place filled with beautiful activities and inspiring personalities. Sure, the roads leading down the hills to the sea side may feature the occasional machine gun nest or guard post, but once you arrive at the corniche you will be treated to a never-ending array of happy people watching. They’re sun bathing, riding bikes, fishing, playing sports on the makeshift beach. Tomorrow may be uncertain, but you can bet they’re going to enjoy (and look good) today.  And then afterwards they will eat like perhaps there is no tomorrow! With some of the most delicious ingredients your taste buds have ever known.  I don’t usually spend my time talking about food or the role food can play in art or politics, but in Lebanon I learned it can play a part in all of those areas and beyond.  “Food can disarm” I remember Barbara Massad telling us as she fed us during an interview in her cozy kitchen, and she went on to tell us of the time that indeed food did get her out of a difficult situation with a Hezbollah militant.

I’m sure those more experienced as both observers and residents of Beirut would yell at me for only telling stories of happy or delicious encounters. I’m irresponsible, probably, if I don’t mention the infamous tension just below the surface.  And surely life is not ok for a huge amount of Lebanese who feel the economic and perhaps social strains of this moment in the country’s history.  I won’t even try to explain the maddening situation in refugee camps, which I was not able to go into but I did learn a great deal about (for a future post and podcast).

No for now I want to be nice and irresponsible. Beirut is magical. Beirut can pick you up and show you things perhaps you didn’t know you wanted to see. Or perhaps you’ll also notice the things that everyone wishes were not so painfully visible.  However you choose to spin it, my impression was one filled with interesting days and dynamic nights that I hoped would never end.  An brief yet educational visit filled with daily discussions made it very clear that there is much more to learn and do in this country – and a followup is needed soon! In a world that needs so badly to understand differences and resolve conflicts, maybe the key can be found right in one of the most fragile yet inspiringly diverse nations in the world.  Beirut… I’ll be right back.

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