Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Romanticising Ramadan, Or Anything Else

I think of romanticising as creating a prettier face for something than actually is there. You know, "the noble savage" and all that. I don't believe that I romanticise. I don't think that the life the fellaheen live is better or more noble than the life that the urban poor live. Both lives are grindingly difficult, both involve not being able to have many of the pleasures that other people have. But if I were to choose, I would rather be poor amongst the fields than in concrete., I don't believe that there is anything intrinsically more moral about a life spent here as opposed to a life spent in Toronto either. It is a life that I've chosen to live and it gives me an extraordinary amount of pleasure which I enjoy sharing with others.

Do I try to show others the beauty that honestly is around me? I do and it is there. It is around all of you where ever you are. You simply have to go look for it. You have to take the time to wander and watch. You have to stop and listen to the songs around you, to the games of children, and the barking of dogs. Our canals are often filled with old plastic bottles and that most mysterious of Egyptian objects, the rubber flipflop...but only one. No one knows where the other one is. Perhaps it will be found halfway up a wadi somewhere. How can I see past the refuse? When I ride along the canals at dusk they are like quicksilver reflecting the trees on their banks in sharp black. The song of the curlew and the grunt of the egrets as they fly to roost in the evening can be heard over the thumping of the diesel pumps. We choose what we want to see and hear. If you only want to see the dirt, the disorder and the pain, that's what you will see, but it doesn't mean that there is no beauty there as well.

All of the great social holidays in the world have been hijacked by the media, by advertising, by groups with axes to grind. We need to see beyond the media, the axes, the advertising to the soul of the event. A friend of mine commented to me today that Ramadan was presented differently to her when she lived in Kuwait. There it was a trial, a period of difficulty, while her Egyptian friends begin to explain Ramadan with the joy of family gatherings and companionship. I don't know if she was given a skewed perspective while in Kuwait. I've never been there. But for her the difference was vast.

Television programming looks on Ramadan as a gold rush. Families are staying up to visit, to eat, to watch entertainment. Yes, the commercialisation is there, but not everyone is sucked into it. You have the choice. I, for example, don't have a television. Not everyone does. The traditional lanterns were imported from China one year, much to the concern of many newspapers. Yes, but is it that important where they are made?

Look beyond the skin. Try to see beneath the surface. There is no need to romanticise anything if you can take the time to see the true value of the complex life around you.


Anonymous said...

Not everyone has your clarity of thought, you must admit that. The world's systems (whatever those may be) do not judge using the same scales, given the same measures or with the same weight. We live in a concrete world, in a tangible, visible, physical world. I admire your passion, and I would give all I own to be able to see 'past' things. I try, occasionally catching a glimpse of that other beauty. But - as you say - I have been sucked in. I may yet recover, for I know that my passion for Egypt - with her stray flip flops - has grown stronger since I've left her.

To me, romanticising is what you are so apt at doing (where others fail) - seeing the other side of beauty. It isn't so much 'creating' a prettier face than it is 'seeing' that prettier face despite the scars. When I commented on your ability to romanticise Ramadan, I meant it in the best way possible.

Thank you.

Shafaki said...

Romanticism means exactly as you described it. But most Egyptians understand the word differently. They word has leaked into the Arabic language and any Egyptian knows what the Arabic word "romancy" means. The 'new' Arabic word "romancy" refers to pleasant emotions of love for others and nature and it refers to being tender hearted. Usually Egyptians associate this same meaning of the 'Arabic' word "romancy" with all similar English words such as romantic, momanticism, romancing.

Eyes said...

Oh do I connect with you here. I go between the two worlds however.

I love to see the beauty, to stop and smell the flowers. I moved to a place that is heaven -- my own heaven and I love it here. Life is simple and we only focus on what is important (family, friends, love, good food, good conversation, nature, etc). However, the outside world creeps in (perhaps I should can that TV) and I get down - not about my life -- but the lives of others.

Photography is a great way to find the most simplistic joys around you. I find it connects me to the simplist of pleasures.

Heather said...

I live in a society here in the United States where the culture you live in is seen in a negative manner because of the acts of an extreme few. In my opinion what you do here is to open my eyes to the true people of the culture. It is not romanticising in my eyes, it is a bit of clarity. It is showing that things are more than what they seem or what is said about them. I too like to stop and appreciate the beauty of the world around me. It makes the world around me seem that much better and brighter.

You know what they say though, you can't please all of the people all of the time. But you do please some and those you do please love you for it.

J-Birds said...

Some people write well and some don't. Good writers paint a picture that others can easily visualize. Great writers describe what they see from a perspective that is unique and intriguing. This is what do so well and why many of us enjoy your writing. I wonder if there is a book in you somewhere? - Craig