Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pretty sure the Koran doesn' say...

...That you should violently kill everybody who says something about the Prophet you don't like hearing.

Okay, if you don't know what I'm referring to; it's nice to see you crawled from under your rock. Let me give you a little rundown. Recently some people from the US made this really low quality movie about the prophet Mohamed. Portraying him as a killer, rapist, child mollester and every other kind of villain you can think of. I have to admit, I haven't seen the movie myself, but on the news they showed some clips. And boy, is this one badly made movie. It was published on YouTube.
There's been a lot of commotion about the movie, nobody knew who made it, no motive for as why it was made. And I am wondering why these actors would actually want to be in such an extremely badly produced piece of (f)art.
There were all kinds of rumors ranging from the conspirational "Muslim extremists made it to evoke violent actions in the US" to "Some kids wanted to make some prank and get as many hits on YouTube to make a lot of ad-words money". As it seems to turn out, some nutcase who was denied any internet activity in the past made the movie and his motives are still unclear, as far as I know.
Needles to say that all over the world there were violent uprisings of Muslims, roaming the streets killing everybody who even remotely looked American. Or so CNN and the likes would like you to believe.

Okay, first of all I am completely convinced that there has been a significant amount of Muslims who felt offended by the way their religious icon was portrayed. Pretty much the same way Christians were offended by the Hollywood blockbuster "The Last Temptation of Christ" and recently there is a controversy about Paul Verhoeven's initiative to turn his biography on Jesus Christ into a biopic. I think you agree with me that it makes perfect sense that people find it offending when their religion and religious icons are ridiculed.
There's always freedom of speach and freedom of press as well. And when you're opinion is that some icon is a whack-job, you have the freedom to express this opinion. When you state something as a fact, you should be able to substantiate this as well, IMHO.

Where was I going? Oh yes, Muslims killing all Americans because an American made a movie about the prophet Mohamed being a villain. First thing that springs to mind is what about Americans that are Muslim? You see, there is a very distinct group of Muslims that you can depict as Muslim by just looking at them. And this group was not on display in the clips on the news about people violently attacking US embassies all over the world. There were also no interviews with members of these mobs to ask them if they were devoted Muslims. So no way in telling these violent people were Muslim at all. Thank you international press to check your facts.

Ah, you see, I'm in Cairo and on TV there were riots in front of American buildings and I live close to a large compound with only Americans I have let to believe. So of course I was fearing for my life. I could be violently killed any moment. To prevent this, I started speaking English with a thick Dutch accent. Pro-actively taking away any idea that I am American. My survival instinct kicked in and I started mimicking the way Egyptians walk and behave in the streets. Say 'jani' every other word,
gesturing with my hands all the time and act like a jerk while in a car and extremely friendly and considered while not in a car. Then I realized, Cairo is a city of 20 million population, on the news there where maybe 200 riotters. Take any Dutch footbal (soccer) match and you'll have about
10,000 fans out of which 500 will start riotting and attacking the fans of the other team when one of them says something bad about the opposing team's star player. Just to put stuff in perspective. And these people are clearly football fans as they are wearing team colors.

But just to be sure, I went onto the streets wearing orange clothes, the Dutch flag as a cape and using my Dutch accent big time when speaking and I asked my Muslim friends whether or not they were going on a killing spree in the night when they were not praying or smoking shisha because that is
what Muslims do when you offend the Prophet because it's what the Koran says you have to do as a devoted Muslim. Guess what, it's not in the Koran. Yup, I was as surprised as you are right now. So I asked these same friends of mine, with less of a Dutch accept, dropping my cape, why these mobs were on the streets of Cairo killing every Westerner crossing their paths. Their answer; these are most likely ignorant under privileged men and women that are considering the West as the reason for their misery and now have a reason to express their grudge. They have no clue as to who to address in the first place but now they can with the excuse of that YouTube movie go on a violent parade through Cairo.
Huh? You didn't mention Muslim or Islam at all? I asked. Nope, that most likely has nothing to do with it. Maybe they're all Muslim, but about 85% of the Egyptians is Muslim.
Aha, just like football hooligans are mainly Christians, their violent acts during the matches have nothing to do with all the cursing that comes with the match. Interesting.

You see, the point is that it's so easy to just generalize and the media help us in this. Not all Americans are Islamofobes or think that Mohamed is a villain, I would dare to say that the majority doesn't and is quite the opposite. Not all Muslims are violent rioters that go and kill everybody as soon as you say something bad about their religious icons. Actually again I would dare to say that the majority is quite the opposite.
And because somebody belongs to a specific group, their actions are defined by this group. Typically most people belong to different groups, demographics. In many cases media are not taking their responsibility to inform the public correctly, they're always biased and violence, just like sex, sells. A public that is in fear wants to stay informed and the media will have a larger public. The biggest downside to this is that we, as the public, are not enticed to learn and understand more about 'the others', instead we fear them, want to stay away from them. Want to make them stay away from us. And in a day and age where information has no boundaries anymore and is there in abundance, it is even more important that we want to learn and understand more about each other, only then we can live side by side in relative harmony. After all we are all humans, predators and killers by nature. We only started collecting later in time.

I hope you agree with me that we should try to love one another, it is so easy to hate each other. Let's challenge ourselves, shall we.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two weeks into 3 and how that seems long but is too short - part deux

Here's the rest of the story of our trip to the US. As you know this is intended to be a trilogy and we only spend 2 weeks in the US.

Let me first tell you that I love the States, I often refer to the US as the "Promised Land". I've never been to the US and did not like it, I always loved it. But then again, I have always been fortunate enough not having to worry about money. The States are brilliant when you have a great job that pays well and when you don't things go south pretty fast.

So after a week in Orlando we flew to our friends in Waltham. Yes, I know, I've been telling people I went to Boston, but Waltham is this little town close to Boston that most people I know don't know.
There's another little town I've spend a lot of time, Allentown, PA. And strangely enough a lot of people know Allentown. Really remarkable. But I'm digressing.
So we flew into Boston Logan and were picked up by my buddy. A short drive later and we were at his home where his wife and 2 daughters were waiting for us. Now our friends are from India and my wife and I love Indian food, just so you know. And our friends know this as well... A full week of Indian food, almost everyday 3 times a day. Heaven.

The whole week we were doing fun stuff, ranging from driving bumper-boats and eating delicious ice-creams to shopping till we were dropping. From the Boston Aquarium to the Atlantic to see whales in the wild. From a day relaxing at home to a full day in Boston visiting Boston Commons.
My buddy knows an aweful lot about Boston and the whole area. Amazing. We saw the house where J.F.  Kennedy was born and it struck me that Americans are really celebrating their heroes, they put them on a peddestal and keep them there, at all costs it seems. I think that's kinda cool.
Another thing that was really cool was that we went to this really old warship, the USS Constitution, one of those with sails and front loading guns. And the best part was that we got there late in the afternoon and they were just closing up, but we still got a private tour. That was really nice and interesting.

The best part of the whole week was to be with our friends. We hadn't seen them in 3 years or so. You should know that I worked with my buddy for like 3 days or something. That was way back in 2000, when we first met. But we became best friends right there and then. Well lucky me.

Something about this week I haven't written down yet is that my friend's youngest daughter had her birthday that week and there was a pool party at the local YMCA. Our first pool party ever.

So now you know how I spend my vacation in the US. Only one post left to make this a trilogy.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Two weeks into 3 and how that seems long but is too short


Yes I know, I say this every time, but it has been a while since I created a post.

This post will be divided over 3 parts, you're reading part 1 of these 3.

Recently I took my annual vacation. My sons had their summer vacation and of course that means that as a family we had to spend time.
Late last year we bought a little place at the beach in Turkey and my wife and kids spend some time there. Instead of spending the whole summer there. They stayed in our place at the Akbuk'ian beach for about 2 and a half weeks, during which I was working full time in Cairo. No need for me to fly to Holland. Although I have nice neighbors in Almere, I have nice friends in Cairo and a weekend in the Egyptian sun is nice as well.

On a side note, it was Ramadan and this year Ramadan was brutal. Days were long, hot and humid. I tried to fast for a day and decided that being divine-agnostic (that's how Facebook puts it) has its benefits. Nevertheless, the catering at the office was totally geared towards Ramadan, close to not existing is what that means.

We decided to fly to the USA and visits our very close friends in Waltham, MA. It's close to Boston. The week in Boston was preceded by a week in Orlando, FL.
My main reason to go to Orlando was to go to Florida and show the boys alligators in the Everglades on an airboat. The reason we went to Orlando instead of Miami was a matter of logistics. The trip would be Amsterdam, Florida, Boston and finally Amsterdam again and the best schedule was through KLM/Delta airlines. And since I've got KLM gold status and so does my wife we went through the airports smoothly and swiftly.
A couple of days before we went on vacation I arrived in Holland and the next day the family returned from Turkey. 3 days later we went to Orlando.
The journey took close to 13 hours as we had a transfer in Atlanta. No direct flights by any of the Sky Team airlines from Amsterdam to Orlando.
Jay, our oldest, pretty much was done with the whole traveling when we arrived in Atlanta. Fortunately the flight to Orlando from Atlanta took only an hour.
We collected our luggage, 3 suitcases, one filled with presents, and I got the rental car from Dollar. A Ford Taurus, nice car. It's the last time I rent a car from Dollar. "Why?", you ask me? Because their prices on the web are totally misleading. Although in the end not more or less expensive than the competition, the other car rentals prices online were way more accurate. Lesson Learned.
Thanks to my pretty good memory and my Nokia Lumia 800 we were at the hotel without any problems. Well, dusk had set in and I couldn't find the switch for the headights until my wife looked it up in the manual. Nevertheless the driving in the US is kind of different from what you experience in Cairo. The lanes on the roads are as wide if not wider than in Cairo, but the biggest difference is that in the US there is only one car per lane. This is quite refreshing. Of course, in the Netherlands this is the same, but it feels more relaxed in the US.
Our hotel, Wyndham Grand Orlando, was perfect. Not The Atlantic Palm Dubai perfect. But perfect nonetheless. I'm still happy I went for a luxury hotel.
Very friendly staff, swift service and excellent spacy room. The boys slept on bunk-beds and a comfortable bed was set for my wife and myself. All in a single room, but still with enough privacy as needed for a family of 4.
The little cafe in the hotel lobby was actually a Starbucks affiliate, so Starbucks espresso. Very nice indeed. The restaurant in the lower lobby (LL on the elevator button) was very pleasant and very much tailored for kids. And OMG, the Man vs. Dog hotdog at the pool side. Gosh, that was some mean hotdog. Foot long with cheese and jalapeno's and sauerkraut and all kinds of other stuff. I finished it twice.

I won't bore you to sleep with every little detail of the hotel.

This first week of our vacation in the US was spend between Disney parks and the hotel pool. The swimming pool and the pool table in the De kids loved it, especially Jay. He'd rather play pool than go swimming. The Disney parks were very nice and big. But admission was a matter of big bucks as well. Would I say "but worth every penny"? Nope. I think they were over priced. But we had fun.... Until I got my AmEx bill obviously.
The highlight of this week in Orlando was actually not the Disney parks and we enjoyed it our last day in Florida. It was the airboat ride we did at Wild Florida in Kenansville, about 45 min drive from Orlando. We booked a private tour, meaning just the 4 of us and our guide were on the boat for an hour. My reasoning behind paying a little more was that
whenever the guide explained something we could translate it for the kids. Without other tourists that didn't want to wait for translations and go on with the tour. It was awesome, on the boat across the swamps of the Northern Everglades. Looking for gators and we saw some. Not the big ones, but small ones, still 1.2 m (4 ft) nonetheless. And we saw an American Bold Eagle. In hindsight we should've done the night tour, that's when the big gators are hunting. But since it was our last day...
We did see the big ones though. There was a small park as well, very nice setup, with a large pont that had like 6 big gators, by big I mean about 4-5 m (12-15 ft) long.
Whenever you go to Orlando, this is what you must do. Forget about all the parks. They're fun, but you should go to Wild Florida.
The trip to Wild Florida marked our last day in Florida. Next day we flew to Boston to visit our friends in Waltham. That I'll cover in my next post. I thank you for getting this far.

Enjoy the remainder of your day or good night,