Category Archives: Life Abroad

The first from Istanbul

After months of (sort of) planning and anticipating, Helen and I have finally arrived and begun settling ourselves in Istanbul. We’ve got a small but pleasant apartment in a hip and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, not unlike so many of our friends living in New York. The difference is that we have a balcony from which we can watch tankers and ferries glide along the Bosphorus. We’re still getting our bearings in Istanbul, learning how to get around, picking up basic phrases getting familiar with the sights and sounds and smells of Turkey’s largest city.

This seems like an appropriate time to resume my blogging endeavors and to, yet again, attempt to make the upkeep of this blog a regular habit. I’ll start by trying to explain why I’m here. Over the past few months as people asked me why Helen and I were moving to Istanbul of all places, I would often just reply with “Why not?” But there are actual reasons we decided to come to a totally new place where neither of us speak the language (yet) or have any experience.

I’ll admit off the bat that part of why we chose Istanbul is because the city seems fabulous. The weather and the food appeal to us. There is an endless supply of nice restaurants and pleasant bars and places to sit and look at the water. And there’s nothing wrong with moving to a place because it seems like a nice place to live.

There are, of course, more substantial reasons why we chose Istanbul. For Helen, an artist, the city has a large and growing arts community that is innovative and important. The neighborhood where we are now living is teeming with galleries and we’re about a quarter mile from a world-class modern art museum.

But why did I want to move here? As a journalist, I think that Turkey is an important place to be, in many ways much more important than Egypt, where I was living and working last year. This is actually the real point I wanted to make with this blog post, though I’ve kind of buried the lead now.

As the U.S. declines and other countries rise, the world is becoming ever more multipolar. This isn’t a secret and it’s not some kind of out there theory, it’s just what’s happening. For better or worse (I think for better), the United States can no longer be the sole important country in the world and other capitals will have to pick up the slack. Turkey, because of its size, its economy, its geography, is picking up a lot of this slack. I think it will be interesting to see the reconfiguring international order from this vantage point.

So there you have it. A re-inaugural blog post outlining what we’re doing here. I hope you’ll be able to follow along as I blog about my and Helen’s life together on the shores of the Bosphorus and Turkish politics, along with plenty of other stuff about food and Egypt and folk music and everything else.


Photo from my flickr account.



Filed under Life Abroad, Personal Stuff, Turkey, Welcomes

This year in Egypt

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21

Last night marked the beginning of Passover, the holiday where Jews around the world celebrate the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. I am, of course, in Egypt.

I’m not really celebrating this year. In fact, I’m not celebrating at all. Last night I tried to go to a seder at one of the few remaining synagogues in Cairo, but I wasn’t allowed to enter. (I suspect that at least part of the reason I was turned away was because I told security outside that I’m a journalist. I won’t prove them right by writing on the Internet about the seder or the synagogue.)

I understand that security is an important issue for the small (and shrinking) Jewish community here. It was just a few weeks ago that some crazy threw a homemade bomb at the main synagogue downtown. But I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to celebrate one of my favorite holidays—particularly one in which observers open their doors to symbolize inviting guests to the table.

Then again, I’m not sure I how I could celebrate Passover in Egypt. An important part of the seder service is, basically, celebrating the Jewish victory over the Egyptians. At its most grisly, this involves commemorating the ten plagues that God cast upon the Egyptians, culminating in the death of the first-born. The killing of civilians is something I always object to.

Of course we’re dealing with Biblical times here, when things were bloody and there was a lot of smiting going on. But there’s still something uncomfortable about glorifying the punishment that befell the Egyptian masses, especially when you’re in Egypt, surrounded by the Egyptian masses. Yeah, my boss can be a slave driver, but does that mean I want his first born dead? (As an interesting and relevant side note: “Pharoah” is the word sometimes employed by hardline Islamists to describe the Mubarak regime and other ‘secular’ dictatorships in the Middle East.)

And then there is Israel, which has been an ever-present issue in my mind for every Passover in the last few years. Passover is not just about the escape from Egypt, it is about its end point: the promised land of Israel. This doesn’t mean that observing seder is an endorsement of Zionism, but it gives context to notions of Jewish “homeland” in Palestine. The seder ends with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem.” It’s a concept I’ve always found problematic but fascinating (hence the name of this blog).

Jerusalem is the holy city for Jews. Does this justify house demolitions and land confiscation, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on movement? Of course not. But it helps, again, to give a context to the Israeli attachment to the city, an attachment so strong that the Israelis will take their policies to the heights of belligerence. This year, we’re having this discussion even more than usual. For a more a more religious and sentimental take on the situation than I usually have, check out Bradley Burston (a Zionist, but a bleeding heart) on how to think about Jerusalem at your seder this year.

Despite its problematic contemporary subtexts, I love the holiday. I appreciate its message about freedom and oppression and liberation. These are the values I find most important in my religion. And it’s a good opportunity to be with family and friends, drink wine, eat brisket and the gefilte fish (like a fish hotdog), and discuss the finer points of oppression. I’ll miss that this year.

I also like to keep kosher for Passover, something I have done with mostly success for the past ten years. I’m going to try to do it this year, though it will be especially difficult in a country that is one of the world’s largest per capita consumers of bread. (Macaroni sandwiches, while not exactly common, are more readily available in Cairo than they are anywhere back home.) Not to mention the difficulty of getting a decent macaroon anywhere in this city.

But so it goes. I am a stranger in the land of Egypt and I guess I’ll have to adjust to the peculiarity of my situation. Next year in.


Filed under Egypt, Holidays, Israel-Palestine, Jews, Life Abroad, Personal Stuff

My favorite Al-Qaeda member has been captured!

Probably weird to say “my favorite” but I have a good reason.

In January 2007 the New Yorker published a profile of Adam Gadahn, the Northern California hippie child who ended up joining Al-Qaeda and becoming the group’s official English-language spokesperson. For whatever reason, I thought it was one of the most captivating pieces of journalism I’d ever read and I still remember it vividly.

On the occasion of Gadahn’s capture today in Karachi by American security forces, I urge you to read the New Yorker profile if you haven’t already. I’ll be re-reading it.

Also check out these before and after photos:


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Filed under Life Abroad, Terrorism

Way better than Christmas

Want to know what I thought about Police Day? (It was a national holiday here today.) You can read all about it in The Faster Times:

Today Egyptians around the country have off from work and school in recognition of a new national holiday: Police Day. The Mubarak regime, it seems, has a sense of humor after all.

Or maybe it’s not meant to be ironic. Police play a crucial role in this country, which is, for all intents and purposes, a police state. The government wants to celebrate the police for making Egypt the country that it is today.

Read the rest here!

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Filed under Egypt, Human Rights, Life Abroad, Links, Media

The Times (UK) asks the tough questions

like, “Are Nile feluccas safe?

Yup, this is pretty much what Egypt looks like all the time.

A British tourist drowned in Upper Egypt when his felucca capsized during last week’s floods, which is, of course, why the Times cares. Basically, they just say “be careful.” Not that interesting.

I haven’t done a multi-day felucca trip in Upper Egypt (yet), but I’m a huge fan of felucca rides. For about ten dollars you can take them for a cruise around the Nile right in the middle of Cairo. Bring some snacks and some beers and you’re set. There are actually very few things I enjoy more than taking a peaceful nighttime ride on a sailboat around the main artery of this massive city.

And, now that the Times told me to, I’ll be careful!


Filed under Beer, Egypt, Life Abroad

I also went…

In other news, very much related to my last post, Helen and I took a really nice, very short trip to Port Said. You can read about it in Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition here. (Did you know that I work for a newspaper, dear readers?)

The Suez Canal at Port Said. Photo by Helen.


Filed under Egypt, Life Abroad, Links, Personal Stuff

Friends come and go

These are my friends! They are walking around "Islamic Cairo." We went to old mosques, and stuff.

I just finished having a long string of guests come visit me here in Egypt. It was great to see friends from Oberlin and catch up on gossip and talk about whatever. And I won’t even go into how happy I was to see Helen. I think she liked being here, too.

One of the other things that I’ve enjoyed about having friends come through Cairo has been the opportunity to be a tour guide. It’s made me realize how well I’ve gotten to know the city in my first five months here. At the same time, it reminded me how much more I want to do here. There are still tourist sites I haven’t seen, neighborhoods I don’t know that well, restaurants I want to eat at, etc., etc.

Naturally, I miss my girlfriend, my family, and my friends back home. But these days I’m feeling pretty damn good about living in Egypt. (But not the government, of course.)

Anyway, stay tuned.

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Filed under College, Egypt, Life Abroad