Euphrates Spotlight

A Tunisian-Sri Lankan-American Ramadan

by admin on August 7, 2014

Euphrates WC Ramadan tunisia 2014 Youssef_nMy friend Youssef getting ready for Iftar on the first day of Ramadan, Tunis, Tunisia. Photo: Natasha Turak

Ramadan, which began June 29th this year and ended July 27th, is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. For 30 days, 1.5 billion people around the world fasted and prayed in celebration, a requirement of the Five Pillars of Islam. The days and nights are filled with prayers and family gatherings, and when the sun goes down, the feasting begins.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be in Tunisia, my current home, to experience the first few days of Ramadan. What I shared with my friends, neighbors, and the city of Tunis was absolutely priceless. For the first night of Ramadan, my landlord invited me for Iftar—the breaking of the fast—with his family. I decided I would fast for the day in solidarity, and man was it hard! But despite the difficulty of fasting for the first time, it gave me a surprising sense of peace and focus, and a greater appreciation for those who fast for much longer, whether by choice or by circumstance.

Just before sunset, the streets of Tunis became empty, and the air was buzzing with a quiet anticipation. I helped my landlord’s wife cook in the kitchen, and when the Azan—the call to prayer—rang from the mosques signalling the end of the fast, we shared dates, typically eaten all over the Muslim world to break the fast. That was followed by Tunisian seafood soup, chorba, a delicious fried pastry filled with eggs and tuna called Brik, lamb, chicken, peppers stuffed with ground beef called felfel mehchi, grilled vegetables, spicy keftaji, Tunisian cucumber salad, ojja, tea, lemonade, and of course, spicy harissa to put on top of just about everything. After the dinner, everyone made their way out onto the streets to meet with friends until the early hours of the morning, when they eat again, just before the sun comes up.

As if celebrating Iftar in Tunis wasn’t amazing enough, one week later I was back in Washington DC and was invited to break the fast with a childhood friend from Sri Lanka. This iftar was unique—everything from the food, the setting, the number of cousins present, and the communal praying was different from my Tunisian experience. There were so many friendly and welcoming faces of cousins, neighbors, aunts, and uncles that I could barely keep track. There was a communal prayer before the fast, with men in one room, and women in the other. We ate the most amazing food—fried pastries like samosas and pakoras, tomato salad, fragrant beef curry with rice, spicey chutneys, stewed lamb, deviled eggs, garlic naan bread, mango lassi, avocado juice, fresh papayas and pineapple, and so, so many desserts, ranging from traditional sweet puddings made from thin noodles and milk to tiramisu and cheesecake. I ate so much I couldn’t move.

Being surrounded by the passion and spirit of Ramadan in America’s capital was something really special, and for me, truly brought out the beauty of having grown up in such a diverse country. I wanted to know more about Ramadan from the people who have been observing it every year of their lives, so I interviewed a few friends. This is what I found.

What is your favorite thing about Ramadan?

“My favorite thing about Ramadan is the fact that we all help prepare the dinner together each night, to each person is their precise role, and after the breaking of the fast the fact that we are always reunited among our friends and family. It’s a wonderful ambiance.” –Sami, Tunis, Tunisia

“My favorite thing about Ramadan is that we eat together as a family every night, and that the medina just resonates with this festive ambiance of people playing traditional music. I love how everyone is busy eating in the areas of Sidi Bou Said, Lac, and Ennasr—this way I can ride my bike in all the other parts of the capital without worrying about traffic!” –Bacem, Tunis, Tunisia

“Ramadan is my favorite thing in the whole year. Everything tastes better, I can’t say just one favorite thing about Ramadan. I love the whole month, everything about it.” -Zeyad, Alexandria, Egypt

What is Eid?

“Eid is a religious event—it’s a Muslim celebration that marks the end of the fast of the holy month of Ramadan. It’s a sacred day in which tolerance, brotherhood, solidarity, and love are called for among people, and it’s a day of forgiveness and friendship.” –Sami, Tunis

What do you do to celebrate Eid?

“The preparations for Eid generally takes place in two stages: before and after the Eid. After getting ready, families go out together and buy Tunisian pastries like baklava, kaak warka, ghraiba… and we buy new clothes for the youngest children in the family. As a family we go and visit our oldest relatives, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and lots and lot of cousins, and we present them with wishes of a happy and peaceful Eid.” –Sami, Tunis

“Eid in Sri Lanka is slightly similar to Eid in the US. In Sri Lanka we have prayers in the morning at the Mosque, followed by a kutbah (sermon). We then spend the day visiting family members and exchanging gifts and money. In the US we also have prayers in the morning. My family, personally, has a huge gift exchange—kind of like Secret Santa. We pick the name of the person we have to get a gift for two weeks before and we exchange it the night of Eid. We still go for prayers in the morning, but my family has had an open house brunch for so many years now. Eid is all about celebrating and spending time with family, as well as being rewarded for our achievement of fasting the whole month.” –Tasnim, Maryland USA/Sri Lanka

What do you like and dislike about celebrating Ramadan in America?

“For an American Ramadan, I love that I have a lot of family here that makes it so fun! We are practically booked almost every night for Iftar (dinner/break fast) at someone’s house. Being with family is so important during Ramadan. In Sri Lanka I do not have as much family. One thing I dislike about Ramadan in the US is longer fasting times during the summer since the sun sets later—it really can make you thirsty!” –Tasnim, Maryland/Sri Lanka

What makes a Tunisian Ramadan unique?

“Tunisia has its own unique Ramadan in the sense that Tunisians have kept their own traditional preparations, their nocturnal festivities, the ambiance in the streets, the concerts, the festivals… But universally, it’s above all the impression of being in a brotherhood that prepares and lives an event together; a unity composed of many souls in different bodies attempting not only to create but also to live this event together.” –Sami, Tunis

With the spirit of Ramadan in mind, what are your sentiments and your hopes for the future?

“On the last day of Ramadan, my sister and I cried while breaking our fast. Not only because the holiest month was over, but because we are so blessed and sat around a table full of food, with all of our family members. A lot of people around the world do not have that blessing. This Ramadan was probably the hardest, with all the violence going on in Palestine. Each day I broke fast with my family, I almost felt guilty that I was happy, because there are so many children who do not have the simple luxury of family anymore.

Ramadan is not only about abstaining from food and drink—it is also about being grateful for what you have, and feeling the pain that people feel who have much less than you. Going through 30 days of feeling hunger pangs for 15+ hours a day is nothing compared to the things Muslims go through in Palestine and everywhere else around the world. While we sit around a table laid out for a king, about to break our fast, we thought about how there are children being killed, orphaned and so many injured, and all we could do was pray for them.

My hopes for the future is for the world to see Muslims for how they truly are and not what the controlled media portrays them to be, for people to not discriminate by the color of one’s skin, or by their religion. Most of all, I pray for the injustice and war crimes to be stopped.”
-Tasnim, Maryland/Sri Lanka

*

Here at Euphrates, we hope and pray for the same thing, and continuously work to spread the message of peace, of the common bonds between seeming enemies, and of tolerance. Our mission is to amplify the voices of moderation and of progress that the headlines often skip over, because they are numerous and hold unmeasured potential.  With continual forward work, solidarity, and hope, we wish everyone around the world Eid Mabrouk, safety, and health.


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Voices of Reason amidst Violence and Despair

by admin on July 24, 2014

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The devastating headlines coming out of Israel-Gaza these past few weeks have evoked many feelings of hopelessness in, and for, the region. Yet here at Euphrates our aim is to call attention to hope that IS happening amidst this frontline fire. And so we’d like to share with you the examples of our first two “Visionary of the Year” recipients, a Palestinian and Israeli, who are refusing to despair, to give up, or to resort to violence even as they live day to day in the midst of this conflict. They are holding to the everpresent power of hope, and showing a way out of the never-ending cycle of hatred and conflict.

Sami Awad, a Palestinian from Bethlehem, is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust. Earlier this week, Sami issued a five-point call to action entitled, “Entrapped in a cycle of hatred and the way out,” in which he called for “all acts of violence and aggression” to cease, as well as “the language of incitement and hatred.” He also states that it is time for a nonviolent movement to emerge which includes Palestinians and Israelis working together to address injustice and to “work together in building a new vision and model for peace, justice and equality” along with “a strategy that breaks down all the physical and psychological barriers that perpetuate hatred, anger and thus separation and violence–even if the removal of such barriers challenges the core political assumptions and ideological beliefs we carry and whose existence we think we need for our own survival.” Sami points out that this will require creating the “space for healing and transformation” within each community, and his organization is actively working on this component, in addition to bridge-building between the Israeli and Palestinian communities at the grassroots level.

Ronny Edry is an Israeli graphic designer who started the Facebook phenomenon Israel Loves Iran, which in turn inspired others to create social media groups, such as Palestine Loves Israel, Iran Loves Israel, and more. These pages provide an outlet for communication, humanization, and empathy for the other side in the midst of a climate that emphasizes dehumanization and isolation. Ronny is also spearheading the call for a ceasefire of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

A post on the page last week from a man in Gaza, named Eslam, shows the importance of maintaining these channels for communication and understanding:

“I’m from Gaza, I don’t want to die, I have a dream, I want to finish my university, bombs are everywhere, No place that I can be safe, Where I can be safe? In Israel there is a shelter under the ground in each home that can keep them safe, but here there is no shelter, and even if there is a shelter, f16 rocket can destroy anything. I wish my people could understand the idea of peace, we, the new generation in Gaza knows nothing about the Israeli people, most of us have never seen an Israeli, we just see your planes, bombs and other killing tools, and that’s the hatred language. I just see u in TV and internet and just the pictures of ur soldiers, I don’t know if u r humans have children and have feelings, Do u love and hate? Do u think?, Do u believe? I don’t know even u r human just like us or what?”

And here’s an example of one of the many comments in response to his post, this from Tania from Israel:

“Shalom, Salaam Eslam, I hope for your sake and your family that you are safe and this craziness will end and we can all find peace, we Israelis are told the same thing about palestinians- we are only shown pictures of your children with guns saying ‘kill Israel’ and your soldiers swearing they will die in order to kill us all. That is all we are told. But some of us know the truth that we are all human and most of us no matter where we live want peace and safety for our loved ones and for all people everywhere. We believe in peace. Thank you for sharing on this page.”

Watch Sami Awad’s and Ronny Edry’s inspiring Visionary of the Year talks and calls to action.

For information on other groups working on grassroots peace efforts:

The Parents Circle Families Forum - bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families working together for peace. Watch our interview   in Bethlehem with members Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, (also profiled in the documentary, Encounter Point.)
Combatants for Peace - an organization started jointly by former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants who have laid down their guns to “fight for peace.”
Interfaith Encounter Association - dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study. Watch founder Dr. Yehuda Stolov’s Euphrates Summit talk, “Holy Land Peace: Easier than You Think”.
Open House Ramle - a peace education center in Ramle, Israel, founded by Dalia Landau, protagonist in the bestselling book, The Lemon Tree.
Jerusalem Peacemakers - a network of independent interfaith peace-builders dedicated to encouraging understanding and reconciliation in the Holy Land, co-founded by Ibrahim Abu al Hawa, who maintains a peace guest house in Jerusalem open to all and run entirely on donations.
One Voice is an international grassroots movement in support of a two-state solution.
MePeace.org - a network for peace with thousands of peacemakers.
Breaking the Silence - an organization of Israeli veteran combatants who publish testimonies of their service in the Palestinian Territories in order to stimulate debate and expose Israeli citizens to the occupation.
Just Vision uses media to highlight the power and potential of Palestinians and Israelis in the nonviolent action movement.

Join us on our trip to Israel, West Bank, and Jordan this September (15th-28th) to meet some of these groups in person and to support the voices of reason. We have two spots still available!

 


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As Iraq falls apart, youth strive to unite through music

by admin on July 24, 2014

Music unites youth as Iraq falls apart

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National Youth Orchestra of Iraq Founder Zuhal Sultan

It’s strange to be in a place of utter stillness and majestic beauty, with my heart filled with gratitude for the multitude of freedoms I’m enjoying this very moment, and yet to be so conscious of those who are suffering simultaneously on the other side of the globe.  I spent this past Independence Day weekend in the Alaskan wilderness, hiking and camping with family, and taking opportunities to talk about the freedoms for which we’re most grateful—the right to pursue a dream, to travel at will, to have unrestricted access to information, to practice our religion openly, all while being free from violence and war, free of hunger, free really from want of any basic human need… it was a long list.

Yet all the while, slipping through pined forests, gazing into glacial streams, lifting eyes up to the surrounding mountain peaks, my thought was never far from the tragedies unfolding in Iraq and Israel-Palestine as my iPhone delivered post after discouraging post through social media from friends on the ground in all three places.  How could I sit idly by while my Iraqi friends’ country is being taken over by terrorists? How could I ignore the descent of Israelis and Palestinians into yet another violent clash that is resulting in the deaths of many more innocents?  How should I deal with the specter of a broader, regional, sectarian warfare that could endanger the wider world?

Not even in the remote and tranquil wilderness of Alaska am I truly unaffected by these problems “over there.” I pondered this as I greeted the young American soldier with two cutie pie little kids in the campsite next to us, and wondered if he would ever have to leave them to serve in another Middle East war. I thought about the petroleum filling our rented RV’s huge gas tank, and our dependence, in part, on the Middle East for its abundant availability. And I reflected on how all of us in today’s world are connected, that it is no longer an option to hope that our world’s problems will just go away, or to think it’s enough to leave their solutions to someone else.

It would be easy to feel hopeless about what’s going wrong in the Middle East; but perhaps what I can do now for a better way forward is to support those things that are going right. (Indeed, this is the whole point of Euphrates Institute!) Yesterday, despite our geographical differences, I was able to speak with Zuhal Sultan, a 22 year-old young woman from Iraq who started the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq when she was just 17. Zuhal is a pianist who had a dream to promote harmony and unity among her country’s youth by making music together. The result was an orchestra comprised of Shia, Sunni, Kurd, and Christian Iraqi young people who have, in most cases, learned their instruments through instructional YouTube videos, in lieu of more formal training options. Not a mainstream move for anyone in their society, the young women in particular face the risk of criticism and other threats since playing an instrument—especially one of the classical (Western) variety—has been deemed un-Islamic by extremists. Yet they have defied the dangers to come together over the past few years for a three-week music workshop to take lessons, receive coaching, play chamber music, and finally, to perform as a full orchestra.

The results are real, not only in terms of their improvement as musicians, but in the way each sees the other as Iraqi.  This outcome has “kept me going”, Zuhal told me, especially in the past few weeks as she’s watched the country under siege from militants. “I have been so despondent, just laying in my bed and trying to process everything. Was I wrong to think people in Iraq could get along? Was all this work I’m doing in vain? But then I remembered all the results I have witnessed first-hand with the orchestra—how I have seen Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians all playing together in harmony. They don’t have a problem with each other because they see what they have in common. At first, they see that they are just playing the same music; and then they realize they might as well talk to each other. Then they see how much they have in common as young people, and as young Iraqis.”

Zuhal mentioned several examples of Arab-Kurdish reconciliation, of how a member from the south learned to speak fluent Kurdish because of the Kurdish friends she’d made in orchestra; of when the orchestra members were working to raise funds and there was an opportunity from some members of Kurdish parliament who were only willing to fund the Kurdish orchestra members, but the Kurdish players refused it, saying “No, we could never only get funding for us and not our fellow Iraqis! We are brothers!”

Unfortunately, the orchestra had to cancel its tour to the U.S., scheduled for this August, because the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had to reduce its staff due to recent events, and could not process the orchestra’s visa applications. On the home front, their efforts to hold a local concert were put on hold as well when the orchestra’s manager had to take some leave after his brother was kidnapped and murdered by insurgents. Despite these temporary setbacks, however, Zuhal and the entire orchestra cling to a bigger picture, and remain undeterred. “I will keep trying no matter what, and never give up,” she told me as our Skype call came to a close. “After going through so much, there’s little else you can lose. You have to just go for it and put it all on the line.  I don’t mean to make light of the risk and the struggle. It’s not easy, but I feel I have no other choice.”

The latest issue of The Economist magazine caught my eye with its cover article: “The tragedy of the Arabs.” Here’s a snippet from the text: “…Ultimately fanatics devour themselves. Meanwhile, wherever possible, the moderate, secular Sunnis who comprise the majority of Arab Muslims need to make their voices heard. And when their moment comes, they need to cast their minds back to the values that once made the Arab world great. Education underpinned its primacy in medicine, mathematics, architecture and astronomy. Trade paid for its fabulous metropolises and their spices and silks. And, at its best, the Arab world was a cosmopolitan haven for Jews, Christians and Muslims of many sects, where tolerance fostered creativity and invention. Pluralism, education, open markets: these were once Arab values and they could be so again. Today, as Sunnis and Shias tear out each others’ throats in Iraq and Syria and a former general settles onto his new throne in Egypt, they are tragically distant prospects. But for a people for whom so much has gone so wrong, such values still make up a vision of a better future.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Zuhal and the orchestra, striving to make their voices—and instruments!—of tolerance, creativity, and openness, heard. And how we can work together to support each other in these shared values, even from opposite ends of the earth.
–Janessa Gans Wilder, CEO, Euphrates Institute

For more information about the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq:

“Breaking barriers in Iraq and abroad”
NYOI facebook page
National Youth Orchestra of Iraq website
Orchestra of Dreams

If you’d like to help bring Zuhal and the orchestra to the United States, please be in touch with us for ways to help. Also, stay tuned for perspectives on the unfolding conflict in Israel-Palestine in the coming weeks.


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Iran and Algeria in the World Cup!

by admin on June 19, 2014

world-cup-iran-nigeriaIranian forward Ashkan Dejagah during Monday’s match. Photo: northjersey.com

The World Cup is upon us! After four years of anticipation, the most-watched sporting event in the world is finally underway in Brazil. I’ve been keeping up with the games here in Tunis, and can proudly say I cheered my heart out (in a crowded café, alone) when Team USA won their first match against Ghana. This year, Algeria and Iran, widely considered the Middle East’s two best national soccer teams, are taking part. Algeria went from being ranked 103rd in the world by FIFA World Rankings to 22nd in 2014. Their first game against Belgium was a 2-1 loss, but the squad is optimistic about their next match against Korea on Sunday. Iran, the top-ranked team in Asia, has a particularly interesting story in the 2014 World Cup—its fourth ever—and it is much more closely tied to world politics than you might expect.

Back in November, we wrote about Iran’s recently-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, in our article US-Iran Relations: A New Optimism. While progress has been slow, there has been huge improvement in the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran, and much greater cooperation and transparency than under the Islamic Republic’s previous president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Nevertheless, the myriad unilateral and multilateral sanctions imposed by America and the EU in 2012 because of Iran’s controversial nuclear program have significantly altered Iran’s World Cup experience and prospects.

In the year between qualifying for the World Cup and the start of the competition, a team would typically play 12-15 warm-up games with other countries. Up until one month ago, Iran had played one. This is because the Iranian Football Federation has not been able to collect the funds it should have received from international organizations due to sanctions on several kinds of global financial transactions. There have even been reports that Team Iran was not able to purchase extra jerseys for its players, meaning the athletes could not exchange shirts at the end of games. These disadvantages have a big impact in Iran, where soccer is the most widely watched sport in the country. To give you an idea, when Iran qualified for the World Cup last year, the celebrations in the streets were roughly the same size as those that took place after President Rouhani’s electoral victory. Rouhani is well aware of this; which explains why one of his first high-profile international  meetings following his election was with FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Iran’s soccer team was ranked 1st in Asia and 43rd in the world by FIFA’s 2014 World Rankings. The limits put on the team because of international political dealings and the actions of its government seem very unfair, yet Iranians are still hopeful. Mehdi, a current Washington DC resident originally from Tehran, said, “It’s ridiculous that the team should pay for this. We don’t want political problems, we just want to have a chance and to share this with the world. Our team had less preparation than any other country, but they are still fighting hard. I have faith in them.”  Dena, from Shiraz, said, “Iran’s team and all of our fans have nothing to do with the nuclear program. The World Cup is to unite, not to divide. I think Iran will have a great future in soccer when things get better with the talks. This year will be hard, but you never know what could happen!” And why not be hopeful—Iran’s last practice game against Trinidad and Tobago was a morale-boosting 2-0 victory for Iran—its first win in any World Cup warm-up match.

So far, Iran has played one match, against Nigeria. The result was a 0-0 tie. Iranian forward player Ashkan Dejagah said in a recent interview that although they missed two goal opportunities, they defended well. “Of course I am so happy for obtaining our first point in the 2014 World Cup”, he said. Despite the team’s economic and logistical setbacks, the whole country is watching with anticipation and excitement in the hopes that maybe, for the first time, Iran will make it to the competition’s second round. The team will go up against Argentina next, one of the world’s top squads, but Dejagah is optimistic. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the World Cup, and I am proud to show off our football in Brazil”, he said. “Perhaps we will have a surprise.”

Taking part in the World Cup at all is already so much to be excited about, and Iranians all over the world are celebrating. In my hometown, Bethesda, Maryland, Iranian restaurants and kebab shops airing the games have been packed to the brim. My friend Michael, from Iran, said, “I don’t care about the politics and I don’t care about whether our chances are bad—we made it in and I am proud of my team no matter what! So let’s celebrate it!”


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Euphrates Walks in Tunis Fashion Week!

by admin on June 11, 2014

WC Euphrates Fashion WeekHaythem Bouhamed SS14 gowns grace the runway. Photo: Shinymen.com

So I’ve been a freelancer of sorts since my arrival in Tunis last January–freelance writer, blogger, editor, teacher–and, as of recently, freelance model. Through friends, I met some people working in Tunisia’s fashion industry, and when I saw a casting call for Tunis Fashion Week a few weeks back, I though to myself… why not? (Actually, my first thought was, “Tunis has a Fashion Week?!)

I went to the casting with a friend, spent about an hour feeling rather intimidated by all the tall gorgeous Tunisian girls around me, but lo and behold, a week later, I got the call! Now, in what many locals here call “typical Tunisian” fashion, the event was scheduled for one week after we were notified of our casting, giving us a nerve-wrackingly short amount of time to rehearse, organize, and travel around the city to go to different designers’ fittings. At the fittings, I got to meet some of Tunisia’s well-established and up-and-coming designers like Ahmed Talfit, Leila Zrrim, and Tunisia’s number one designer, Haythem Bouhamed. Leila and I hit it off so well that she invited me to her family’s house for Ramadan next month! Score.

The week flew by, and suddenly the three days that comprised Fashion Week were upon us. The event was held at the Acropolium of Carthage, one of Tunisia’s most famous tourist sites, home to thousand-year-old Carthaginian ruins. The enormous church is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean–not a bad spot to set up!

In the hours before the show, backstage was chaotic and exciting, filled with bustling press, cameramen, lights technicians, hair and makeup artists, designers, assistants, and a bevy of models. Most of the girls walking in the show were Tunisian born and raised, along with a few French, Polish, and Ukranian models… and one American,yours truly!

In Pictures: Backstage, Tunis Fashion Week

As the guests began trickling in for Fashion Week Day 1, it hit me that we hadn’t had a single practice walking on the runway… because it was still being built! “Ok, brace yourself Tasha, you can do this!” I told myself. I had walked in a few charity shows in college, but this was different! I started getting nervous–what if I tripped on my dress? What is something goes wrong with my clothes? What if I fall in my heels? Ahhhh!

Hair and makeup was done, we put on our first outfits, took a few selfies (naturally), the lights dimmed… and the show began. I let the music pump me up, and realized what a truly unique oppurtunity this was. “So, Tasha, don’t mess it up!!” I told myself. My walk was a blur–it went by so quickly, hundreds of people watching, cameras flashing–but I made it. And I didn’t even trip once! The adrenaline felt crazy and when I walked off the runway, I couldn’t stop smiling… Even if I did walk off on the wrong side. :)

In Pictures: Tunis Fashion Week Day 1

Days two and three included more rehearsing, which was great.You can see me walking in Day 2 here–look out for the bright pink pants! And here again in my very American attire repping our makeup artists, Mac Cosmetics. And for day three, BCBG‘s Max Azria–one of the biggest designers in the fashion world today–came to the show to watch his Spring/Summer 2014 line debut on the runway! As it turns out, Max Azria is Tunisian! Tunisia’s Minister of Tourism, Amel Karboul, welcomed him by praising his work and praising the work of all of Tunisia’s budding designers, artists, and models–”Fashion”, she said, “is the democratization of art.” At the show, people came from all over the world and from all backgrounds to celebrate creativity and beauty. No attention was paid to race, religion, or sexual orientation–we were all there to celebrate hard work and ingenuity and to marvel at all the diverse and stunning work that came out of such a tiny country.

In Pictures: Tunis Fashion Week Day 2

Ahmed Talfit, one of Tunisia’s top designers and the sole male designer represented in Muscat Fashion Week 2013 in Oman, said previously, “The most important thing is that we all come together to do something positive for Arab women and regional fashion. To empower and raise the importance of women in society – that’s our collective purpose. I’m committed to making women as beautiful as possible, emphasising their elegance and determination.”

Watch all of the catwalk shows and check out all the designers from Tunis Fashion Week 2014 on the Fashion Week Tunis Facebook page! To all of the designers, models, makeup and hair stylists, photographers, technicians, organizers, stressed-out fashion interns, and press… Bravo, and see you next year!

-Natasha Turak, Euphrates Publications Director


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A Visit from Wisdom

by admin on May 26, 2014

EuphratesWC_khalilgibran_232326“This is a portrait of my mother’s soul. The soul is there, the simple majesty.” Khalil Gibran

“You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith – the Spirit.” – Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer who emigrated from Lebanon to America with his Maronite Catholic family at the age of twelve. Due to his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal education in Lebanon, starting school instead at a settlement house in Boston’s South End in 1895.

Over the years, Gibran developed his talent in art and writing and was mentored by teachers and established artists like Fred Holland Day, the first American to advocate the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Publishers began using Gibran’s drawings as book covers when he was only fifteen. He came from a large family, steeped in Maronite tradition, and found some of his greatest inspirations in Christianity, Assyrian culture, and his mother. Close to his roots, Gibran returned to Lebanon for university, where he started a student literary magazine. in 1902 he came back to America, where his writing and art career took off and continued until his death in 1931. His best-selling work in English, The Prophet, a series of 26 poetic essays, has never been out of print and was one of the best-selling books of the 20th century in America. In the Arab world, Gibran was considered a literary rebel for his intense and romantic style, and in Lebanon is seen as a literary a hero to this day. His work was frequently themed on spiritual love, and in particular the universality of spirituality and mankind. He used to say, “I am not a politician, nor do I wish to become one. Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.”

This week we’d like to share with you a poem by Khalil Gibran, A Visit from Wisdom. During times of confusion, stress, and self-doubt, Gibran’s words resonate universally and help to place our troubles in beautiful perspective.

A Visit From Wisdom

In the stillness of night Wisdom came and stood
By my bed. She gazed upon me like a tender mother
And wiped away my tears, and said : ‘I have heard
The cry of your spirit and I am come to comfort it.
Open your heart to me and I shall fill it with light.
Ask of me and I shall show you the way of truth.’

And I said : ‘Who am I, Wisdom, and how came
I to this frightening place? What is this world that leads me whither I know not, standing with me in despising? And this earth
That opens wide its mouth to swallow bodies and
Lets evil things to dwell on its breast? What manner of things
Are these mighty hopes and these many books and
Strange patterns? What are these thoughts that pass
As doves in flight? And these words composed by
Desire and sung by delight, what are they? What are
These conclusions, grievous and joyous, that embrace
My spirit and envelop my heart? And those voices mourning
My days and chanting my littleness, what are they?

‘What is this youth that plays with my desires
And mocks at my longings, forgetful of yesterday’s
Deeds, rejoicing in paltry things of the moment,
Scornful of the morrow’s coming? O Wisdom, what are they?

And she answered, saying:
‘You would see, human creature, this world
Through the eyes of a god. And you would seek to
Know the secrets of the hereafter with the thinking
Of men. Yet in truth is this the height of folly.
‘Go you to the wild places and you shall find
There the bee above the flowers and behold the eagle
Swooping down on his prey. Go you into your neighbor’s
House and see then the child blinking at the
Firelight and his mother busied at her household
Tasks. Be you like the bee and spend not the days of
Spring looking on the eagle’s doing. Be as the child
And rejoice in the firelight and heed not your Mother’s affairs. All that you see with your eyes was and is for your sake.

‘The many books and the strange patterns and
Beautiful thoughts are the shades of those spirits
That came ere you were come. The words that you
Do weave are a bond between you and your brothers.
The conclusions, grievous and joyous, are the
Seeds that the past did scatter in the field of the
Spirit to be reaped by the future. That youth who
Plays with your desires is he who will open the door
Of your heart to let enter the light. This earth with
The ever open mouth is the savior of your spirit from
The body’s slavery. This world which walks with
You is your heart; and your heart is all that you
Think that world. This creature whom you see as
Ignorant and small is the same who has come from
God’s side to learn pity through sadness, and knowledge
By way of darkness.’

Then Wisdom put her hand on my burning brow
And said:
‘Go then forward and do not tarry, and have not fear of thorns on the path, For before walks Perfection.”

-Khalil Gibran


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Strides of Innovation in Morocco

by admin on May 9, 2014

wc moroccoStudents and Professors taking part in Cadi Ayyad University’s Astrophysics program. Photo: Morocco World News

Morocco is the Western-most country in North Africa, and is a monarchy of 33 million people. Although witness to some demonstrations during the Arab Spring, the kingdom well-known for its pristine vacation spots and exotic food managed to keep its government intact, opting to pursue compromise and greater openness instead. Where are they now? Euphrates takes a look at some of the forward-looking efforts Morocco’s leading institutions have set into motion, with a focus on technology and science.

  • Morocco hosts first Open Government Data Forum in Rabat

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution, created in the wake of the Arab Spring protests, established for its citizens “the right of access to information for public administrative bodies, elected institutions, and bodies investing in a mission of public service.” Now, taking after President Obama’s Open Government Directive in 2009, the North African kingdom is officially committing to greater transparency of information between government institutions, private organizations, universities, and journalists. The initiative, launched during a forum organized by the Moroccan Association of Electronic Governance for Development (AMGED) and the National School of Computer Science and System Analysis (ENSIAS), emphasizes both bottom-up and top-down engagement, taking account the needs and demands of many sectors of Moroccan civil society. These steps are hoped to foster greater trust and reconciliation between the citizens and their government. The Secretary General of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council, Mr. Guerraoui Driss, says that “Open Data is the bulk of the new generation of human rights and it has been constitutionalized in order to ensure its legitimacy and equal access to information. It will contribute to the economic growth and upgrading in national engineering.” The new directive will allow Moroccans more access to what their government is doing, in turn pressuring the government to perform more effectively and listen to the people’s demands. Despite a lack of total press freedom, this is a huge step in eradicating the corruption that has crippled development in Morocco and many North African states.

  • Marrakech Cadi Ayyad University hosts bi-annual International Space & Solar Physics Program

Organized by the United Nations, Cadi Ayyad University, the International Space Weather Initiative (ISWI) and the Amateur Astronomy Association, Marrakech’s University of Cadi Ayyad is currently hosting the fifth edition of the Oukaimeden International School of Astrophysics (OISA)  program. The goal of this week-long program, which brings globally-renowned physycists together and collaborates with parters from around the world like the University of Illinois and L’Observatoir de Paris, is to help train the next generation of astrophysicists and encourage young Moroccan students and researchers to pursue careers in the field of physics. One of the Moroccan Physics Society’s most important events, this year’s OISA program is focused on the theme of space weather and solar physics. Understanding space weather, while incredibly complicated to the average person, is essential in the development of satelite equipment and navigation systems. The bi-annual event will provide lectures, workshops, trainings sessions, and excursions for aspiring Moroccan astrophysicists and PhD candidates.

  • 22-year-old Moroccan developing world’s first projection tablet

Moroccan entrepreneur Youssef Taleb, 22, is currently designing the world’s first tablet that will be able to project its screen and keyboard. Complete with a built-in micro projector and laser keyboard, this revolutionary tablet would allow its user to work on any surface. Taleb went to school at the American School of Casablanca and studied at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco and Regent’s University in London before returning to Morocco to launch his project, “Provok Developments”, which is currently working on building the tablet. Taleb’s passion for technology and gadgets goes way back; in high school, he says, “I grew up nurturing my passion for technology by spending nights hacking into my friends’ computers instead of reading Steinbeck’s novel”. Struggling with a bad economy and high unemployment, Morocco relies very heavily on tourism for its revenue and is known more for its scenery and culture than its technology or innovation. Taleb wants to change this. “I strongly believe in Morocco’s tech sector”, he says, “and I think that with a slight push and some guidance things could go a long way for this industry. Hence, developing and commercializing the worlds first ‘Projection’ Tablet is an idea that I would only bring to life in my country.” Planned to be funded through crowdfunding, the tablet is still in early development phases, but appears to be very promising. Check out the promotional video for it here–awesome!

In addition to its impressive strides forward in technology and science, Morocco was recently praised by the UN Security Council for its commitment to consolidating human rights, and is being recognized globally for its efforts to move forward and innovate. The country has also seen a 24% increase in foreign direct investment in the last year. With an often spotty human rights record and a troubled economy, change is not easy–so positive development, achievement, and international investment are highly welcomed. Given what is being accomplished right now, there is a lot to look forward to.


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A Scottish Bagpiper in North Africa

by admin on April 28, 2014

Ross Bagpipes WC_nPiping for a small admirer in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. Photo: @TheFirstPiper

Armed with a kilt, a camera, and his bagpipes, 24-year-old Ross O’Connell Jennings is at this very moment driving around the Tunisian Sahara in a rental 1998 Renault. His mission? To be the first person to play the bagpipes in every country of the world. Raised in Shanghai, China, Ross is an aspiring TV presenter who recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Economics and Chinese. The half-Irish half-Scot has quite the story, picking up new friends and sponsors along the way as he now takes on country number 15. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting Ross while he visited Tunis, and was so impressed and entertained by his project that I had to write about it.

Last weekend, I joined Ross in Kelibia, a coastal town in Northern Tunisia about two hours from the capital. As soon as he began playing his pipes—Scotland the Brave, then the Star Wars theme—an audience formed, and local passersby began whipping out their phones to capture what for many was their first time ever seeing or hearing the traditional Scottish instrument. The impromptu seaside concert ended with just about everyone in the vicinity, teenagers and grandparents alike, taking pictures with Ross and exchanging Facebook contacts—he was definitely a hit.  Despite language barriers, you could feel the good vibes just by looking at the huge smiles on everyone’s faces. Ross was happy to share his adventure with Euphrates–check out our interview with him here!

Euphrates: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a piper!

Ross: I got my first chance to play the bagpipes when I was 13 years old. We were coming to the end of a Monday morning school assembly and in marched a lady playing the bagpipes. After introducing myself to the mysterious lady-piper, Bernie Aitken, I promptly signed down to the lessons that were being offered. 4 years, 4 remembrance ceremonies, 4 school concerts, 150 hours of bagpipe lessons and endless hours of practice later, I had finished school and for a short period of time became the only Piper in mainland China.

What are some of the highlights of your piping career so far?

In China I found myself in various piping positions: Piper for the Duke of Argyll in Shanghai 2008/9, Piper to the Shanghai Royal Salute Polo Tournament 2008/09 and I even led the 2009 Shanghai’s St. Patricks Day Parade. In 2010 I was the official Piper for the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo and acted as the Personal Piper to The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, for the duration of his time in Shanghai.

What inspired you to take on this adventure to pipe in every country of the world?

The idea came to me at the end of 2013. A couple of years ago I started filming myself bagpiping in different countries with the aim of making a 1-minute video, similar to all those travels videos, like STA Travel’s “Move” video, but last year I decided that I should make this a lifelong aim to bagpipe in every country. Like many people I love to travel, but I wanted to mix it up by bringing the pipes along! On top of this I like doing things differently and encouraging people to do the same, so I’m trying to practice what I preach.

How many countries have you piped in so far?

So far I’ve travelled to about 55 countries but I’ve only piped in about 15, so I’ll have to return to quite a few! Everywhere I’ve piped has been awesome, but some of my favorites would have to be Cuba, China, South Africa, and Tunisia.

What is your favorite thing about playing the bagpipes in foreign countries?

My favorite thing has to be how people react. People smile a lot (and cover their ears!), they ask questions, and in some cases even give advice! This sounds super cheesy but it’s lovely how music can bring people together and break down barriers.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bagpipes? And the most challenging part of being a travelling piper?

For me the biggest challenge playing the pipes is tuning them. It’s always easier with someone else’s help. When travelling, the heat and humidity messes with the reeds and drones, so that throws me off sometimes!

When I’m on the road, lugging around all my kit is definitely a challenge. The pipes, kilt, jacket, camera… All this on top of everything else I need can be a bit of a pain, but people seem to help out wherever I go! Also piping in around 100 degree heat and extremely high humidity is pretty hard (and sweaty!).

Tell us about some of your favorite moments in Tunisia so far.

I was piping on the beach in Kelibia and a Tunisian girl who happened to be carrying a drum came by and asked to do a duet! We had a whole audience by the end of it, it was brilliant (photo here!). Just yesterday, I was piping by the old city gate in Mahdia and got all the shopkeepers to clap along, and then got invited for tea! And last night, in the Southern desert town of Tataouine, I was invited to pipe at a charity dinner for the Tataouine soccer team—so unexpected but awesome. Tunisians are super friendly and they seem to love the pipes, probably because they have their own pipes, the Mezoued, so whenever I mention that word they love it! I feel so welcomed here and would definitely recommend a visit to anyone. Sharing a bit of Scottish culture is always so fun and I love seeing how similar people around the world really are, especially when it comes to enjoying music. It’s managed to put a smile on the face of even the grumpiest policemen.

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We wish Ross the best of luck on his adventures, and we’re big fans of his TwitterFacebook, and Instagram updates! Find out more about Ross’s story and whereabouts on his website, TheFirstPiper.com, and see how you can get involved, become a sponsor, or even join him yourself!

More links:

Twitter @FirstPiper

Facebook.com/thefirstpiper

Instagram @TheFirstPiper


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Under the Surface: Yemen Inside Out

by admin on April 10, 2014

Euphrates WC YemenSana’a, Yemen. Photo credit: Rooj Alwazir

“We are Yemeni women and men and we are capable, strong, proud human beings, and we need to be represented, by ourselves, as such. We come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. We have stories and histories.” -Yemen Inside Out

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Yemen”? If the news is any indicator, you may think of Al Qaeda havens, drone strikes, tribal warfare, and poverty. Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country, and consistently finds itself in the lowest global rankings for corruption, human rights, and economic development. But like every society, there is much more to this Gulf nation of 24 million than what you see on the surface. Last month, young Yemeni activists set out to prove just that by launching Yemen Inside Out, a photography project aimed at breaking outside conceptions of Yemen and revealing the true nature of the country’s youth, hopes, and dreams.

The open-air exhibition was completed in early March, with a total of 233 portraits of Yemeni men and women from all walks of life and varying social, economic, and political backgrounds. The portraits are displayed all over the walls and bridges of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Asked to express themselves as they pleased, the individuals in the pictures deliver a powerful message. The project’s vision statement says, “Inside Out Yemen is about using the power of photography as a way to create an alternative space in which counter narratives can be told and shared. The Yemeni people who have been forced to live under a narrative of terrorism and hopelessness which has been destroying our families, communities and this land. We are here to say that we are worth so much more than these misrepresentations and misconceptions.”

Baraa Shiban, my friend and former colleague, helped produce Yemen Inside Out—his face is among those now illuminating Sana’a’s walls. He was involved in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, playing a significant role in peaceful demonstrations against longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and running a media center in Sana’a’s Change Square. A longtime activist for political change, Baraa is now the Yemen Project Coordinator at London-based NGO Reprieve and is a youth representative in Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference. Thanks to Baraa, I was able to interview his colleague, Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American activist who helped lead this campaign and who pioneered the hastag #SupportYemen. #SupportYemen is now an independent collective of filmmakers, web designers, and bloggers who work to document the struggles of a country in transition. Here, Rooj talks about her activism, the inspiration for Yemen Inside Out, and her hopes for Yemen’s future.

How long have you been working as an activist for change in Yemen? 

I’d like to say I’ve been an activist ever since I can remember, but I really began organizing right after the Iraq war. In Yemen, it was recent because I was born and raised in the U.S. and only moved to Yemen about a year ago. I had, however, been doing some solidarity organizing during the Yemen youth revolution in Washington D.C.

Who came up with Yemen Inside Out, and where did the support come from?

A group of us activists and artists came together and asked ourselves what was an issue we all cared deeply about that we felt didn’t get any or enough recognition. The answer was simple: “the U.S. Drone war” and “Yemeni misrepresentation”, so we decided what better way to show who we are as people and what we stood for than through portraits. Each of us have beautiful stories to share. Each one of us are different and unique in our passions, hobbies, emotions, etc. And with a country with so little we felt we had to show how amazingly optimistic, joyful and generous we still were despite all of that. What is especially beautiful about this project was that it wasn’t just important for the community to support us after the project, but that they were central to the whole process to begin with.

How did you decide who would be photographed?

We organized three events and invited people in schools, coffee shops, parks, and via Facebook. Then we just took to the streets and started asking people if they wanted to be photographed. Most of the time people just came up to us once they saw our big backdrop.

What has been the reception toward the portraits inside Yemen?

Lots of love, support and interest. The reaction was amazing and it also fuelled dialogue about the role of art in “politics”.

What are some positive developments happening in Yemen right now that you would like people in other countries to know about?

Families of drone victims have formed a union to stand up against this illegal and unjust drone war and to share their stories. The Yemeni Parliament and National Dialogue have also criminalized airstrikes.

What are your hopes for Yemen’s future, and what do you think must be done by Yemenis to achieve this?

I hope that Yemen will move beyond power struggles and towards a practice of collective liberation.  What we need to do is organize in our communities.

What do you think must be done by the international community to help Yemen achieve its goals?

Solidarity, not charity.

The Inside Out project has taken off in a number of countries around the globe, where people are transforming messages of personal identity into art. Thousands more portraits have been unveiled in the US, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Germany, Taiwan, France, New Zealand, Mexico, and beyond, raising awareness for issues like identity, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, HIV/AIDS, political unity, and more. Check out the Inside Out Project Yemen on Facebook and follow Rooj and Baraa on Twitter for more news on positive activism in Yemen.

“We are not terrorism or hopelessness. We are dreamers.”


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Euphrates Announces T.H. Culhane Visionary of the Year 2014!

by admin on March 29, 2014

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Euphrates is honored to announce Dr. Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane, aka “T.H.” Euphrates Institute ‘Visionary of the Year’ for 2014 and Keynote Speaker at Principia’s 65th Annual Public Affairs Conference.

Never before has the world been more inter-connected and interdependent, where climate change, financial markets, and terrorism transcend national boundaries and affect each member of the human family. This year, in line with our motto to “inform, inspire, transform,” the Euphrates Institute Board of Directors is highlighting the groundbreaking solutions to the global challenge of environmental sustainability pioneered by Dr. T.H. Culhane, who is bringing practical sustainable solutions to some of the world’s poorest urban areas, especially the Middle East.

National Geographic Explorer, T.H. Culhane has traveled the world transforming lives and our planet. Dr. Culhane has taken his skills of invention and ingenuity to bring sustainable energy projects, such as solar water heaters and biogas digesters, to the poorest of the poor in the Middle East, other developing countries, and to those right here at home, enabling them to repurpose natural resources and waste to power their basic needs.

Euphrates first encountered T.H. abroad in Israel and Palestine, where he was working with Bedouin communities to install biogas digesters to use their animal waste and food scraps to generate cooking fuel, and also presenting his work on solar projects to the renowned Arava Institute in Israel. He’s also worked in the favelas in Brazil, the jungles of Borneo and many other places!  A featured speaker at the Euphrates Summit in 2011, T.H. wowed participants with his ingenuity and passion.

Working with residents of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods to install rooftop solar water heaters through his nongovernmental organization, Solar C.³I.T.I.E.S., T.H. describes the process: “The water heaters generate 200 liters of hot water and 200 liters of cold water for each household every day. And since the technology is completely CO2 free, it contributes nothing to global warming. If people don’t have access to enough water, it becomes a serious health issue. And when women spend all their time tending stoves to heat water, how can they go to school or get ahead?”

Culhane stresses time and again that living sustainably is practical and possible in a world where sustainable solutions often seem relegated to those who can afford to care about the environment. “We’re not being idealistic; we’re out to provide solutions. Solar energy plays a principal role in our work because it makes practical, perfect sense.”

Culhane continues, ‘We realize the value of collective intelligence. These neighborhoods are filled with welders, plumbers, carpenters, and glassworkers. We bring capital and plans; they bring talent and creativity. We build these systems together from scratch.”

With the same spirit of collective directed intention, Culhane and Solar C.³I.T.I.E.S plans to design and gift a biogas digester for Principia College. One of his recent biodigester builds took place in Hartsdale NY alongside an international team of innovators. Watch a video of T.H. introducing the biogas digester project.

A quote from Culhane in USA Today sums up his philosophy beautifully: “We feel that biogas is appropriate for everybody on the planet. We’ve done systems in Alaska, we’ve done systems in Botswana, I have one on my porch in Germany. My wife and I cook every day on yesterday’s kitchen garbage.’ 

Learn more:

Euphrates Visionary of the Year award
T.H. Culhane – National Geographic explorer
Biogas digesters: how do they work?


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