Herbal Teas (Tisanes)

Dec 07 2014

I like to blend my own teas during the cold weather months. This year I’ve made the following three caffeine-free blends. I’d love to hear of other favorites to try next year!



Chamomile Flowers

Fennel Seeds

Lemon Peel

Hint of Basil Leaf

Dash of Licorice Root




Red Rooibos

Ginger Root

Cardamom Pods

Cinnamon Bark


Black Pepper




Ginger Root


Fennel Seeds

Licorice Root


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A Tribute to Radwa Ashour, Heroes, and Impermanence

Dec 02 2014


Two days ago, Radwa Ashour passed away. Ashour is my all-time favorite writer of Arabic literature. I discovered her through her trilogy, ثلالية غرناطة / Granada (currently only part 1 of 3 has been translated into English). I was a student in Cairo, and I chose to write my final paper (in Arabic) on this historical novel that tells the tale of a family and related characters in the Iberian Peninsula of the fifteenth century. Her treatment of the expulsion of Muslims and Jews reminded me so much of narratives of Palestinians fleeing occupation. I was neither the first nor the last to find this comparison meaningful. The comparison is important here only because she was able to tell the story in such a compelling way that it seemed to me to capture not only a narrow snapshot of history or an imaginary group of people, but also a hefty range of human experience. Her writing style included all my favorite elements of fiction: a narrative that keeps my attention; characters who maintain their own personalities, while growing with their experiences; and beautiful descriptions of nature and life. I was hooked.

Since then, I read about her studies in the United States (in الرحلة, currently available only in Arabic). Her days in 1970s Massachusetts, where she earned her PhD in African American literature, prepared her for many of her future occupations and preoccupations. She grew as a scholar, and as a student of life. She developed a strong awareness of race, ethnicity, and identity in light of the social changes that she witnessed at that time. She never lost the ability to address issues of injustice and inequality. Her novel سراج / Siraaj provides a fable-like story of a mythical island off the coast of Yemen where an African slave plantation is ruled unjustly by an Arab sultan. Her willingness to tell stories, reflect on history, and raise social issues of concern is unparalleled in Arabic literature. She has many other books, and we will be reading and reflecting on them in our Goodreads group here.

Her passing occurs at a time when many great teachers of whom I know are also nearing the end of their lives as we know them. The yogi B.K.S. Iyengar passed away several months ago. For me, he was a teacher of the ability to train the body and mind. Despite many physical challenges, he developed new methods of practicing yoga poses through the innovation of props that have since become standard. His methodology inspires me to practice yoga with precision and patience. Another personal hero who has been on my mind is the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who I understand is currently hospitalized. His teachings are great reminders to me of the power of gentleness, compassion, and mindful action. Radwa Ashour has struggled with pain and discomfort recently, and she has tackled many of the problems and pleasures of humanity. She remains in my memory as a great teacher, storyteller, and communicator. And her works line my bookshelf to be revisited in the midst of my own life journey.


  • a beautiful tribute by Radwa Ashour’s husband, Mourid Barghouti, here
  • audio collection of excerpts from Radwa Ashour’s writing here (thanks to Goodreads member Muhammad for this tip!)

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Spoken Word

Sep 25 2014

Have you ever heard a poem performed live in such a way that it captured your whole attention?

There are tons of amazing poetry performances in Arabic, both spoken and sung.

Hesham El Gakh


This is my all-time favorite spoken poem performance. Sorry, I don’t have time to translate it now…maybe later! The poet is Hesham El Gakh from Egypt, and the venue is Prince of Poets in the UAE, the biggest live Arabic poetry venue. It’s more competitive and high-profile than American Idol because it’s international, bringing together contestants from throughout the Arab World. The poem created quite a stir.

For anyone wanting a similar experience in English, I can recommend Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad here.


For sung poetry, there are quite a few famous poet-singer teams. Umm Kulthum sang poems by Mahmud Bayram El-Tunsi and other poets. For an example, check out Ana fi Intizarak / I’m Waiting for You, starting at 2:10. Lyrics in English and Arabic here.

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Teaching Arabic Literature in Translation

Sep 17 2014

I’m writing in response to mlynxqualey’s recent post. She provides some great suggestions, and I just wanted to add my two cents:

Classical Poetry: Marcia limits her list to only materials that are free and available online. I agree with her recommendations of Khalidi’s translations of Al-Buhturi’s “The Poet and the Wolf” and Al-Ma‘arri’s “A Rain Cloud.” Then, instead of Arberry’s translation, I highly recommend Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes, translated by Michael A. Sells. The translations and explanations are much more accessible, and this slim volume should be very affordable.

Modern Poetry: I would add Mahmoud Darwish’s poem To My Mother, which is free online in places such as here. I also highly recommend showing a video of Marcel Khalife’s sung rendition because he broadens the poem’s audience exponentially. Also, especially for high school and older, I recommend Ahmed Fouad Negm’s poetry of political opposition and free speech. There is a free book of his poems available at the bottom-left corner on this page.

Classical Fiction: If you can use a book (instead of online materials only), then I highly recommend the imaginative tales in The Adventures of Sayf ben dhi Yazan or Tales of Juha or this anthology of Classical Arabic Stories.

Contemporary Fiction: If you can use books, then I recommend short stories by Salwa Bakr, and the novella by Radwa Ashour, Siraaj: An Arab Tale, translated by Barbara Romaine.

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DIY Laundry Soap

Sep 10 2014

So here’s a departure from my usual posts. I have several recipes for products that I prefer to make instead of buying because my family has found them good and easy enough to be worth their minimal effort. Here is the first. This recipe takes me less than one half hour to make, and one batch lasts my family (of two people) about three weeks.

DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent


1. Soap bar (1/4 bar)

  • Note: I first used a Fels-Naptha Soap Bar, but I didn’t like the fragrance. Since then, I’ve come to prefer Zote. Alternatives that I have seen recommended include Sunlight (from Canada), Zote (best for babies, less chemicals, made in Mexico), Liro (laundry bar soap from Latino / Afro-Caribbean stores), Octagon (by Colgate, maybe same ingredients as Fels-Naptha), and Linda (Italy).

2. Washing soda (1/4 cup)

3. Borax (1/8 cup)

  • Note: You will need a container. I use a 2 gallon bucket with lid that I bought at a hardware store. The lid locks in place. You will also need a small pot. Optional: essential oils for fragrance.


1. Grate 1/4 of a soap bar.

2. Put grated soap in a pot with 1 cup hot water. Stir continuously until dissolved (about 10 min.)

3. Fill a container that has a lid with 1 gallon of hot water.

4. Pour in soap mixture. Add 1/4 cup Washing Soda and 1/8 cup Borax. Stir.

5. Add a 2nd gallon of water (or whatever fills container) and essential oils. Stir. Cover and leave overnight.

  • Note: I use a citrus-smelling soap bar (pink Zote), and then I add several drops of lavender essential oil.

6. Stir again. Transfer into containers using funnel and fill only half way. Fill the other half with water and shake. You can experiment with using a more concentrated form of the soap if you like.

7. Use 1/2 cup for a front-loading washing machine and 1 cup for a top-loader.

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Jul 20 2014

Having started to translate my first novel from Arabic to English, I’ve been inspired to make a post here about translation. It’s a science and an art–tedious, but also very satisfying when you feel that you’ve succeeded.

Here’s a great article about translatability and the work of the translator.
For Arabic-to-English translation, see the premier blog by M. Lynx Qualey. For magazines accepting short pieces, see her post here.


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Israel-Palestine Sources

Mar 14 2014

This is a list of recommendations for people (especially Americans) who want to educate themselves about the history and politics of Israel-Palestine.

1. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which raised controversy for his description of the situation as apartheid.

2. Classic Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky. It can be dense due to so much detail, but if you want lots of facts, this one’s for you.

3. For a summary, see A Synopsis of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Another site of insights is Tikkun.

4. For cultural history of the area, see Time of White Horses by Ibrahim Nasrallah. For a humorous and insightful novel, see Imil Habibi’s Pessoptimist. Available as both a novel and a film (and I prefer the film) is The Gate of the Sun by Ilyas Khouri. For more narratives, see Qualey’s list.

5. For a progressive Muslim American perspective, see Omid Safi’s article from Tikkun.


Art by Abdel Rahmen Al Muzayen.

I did not even know there was a problem until after I entered college–and that’s not because I was absent on the day it was discussed in my school! I began studying Arabic in London in 2000, and one of my teachers (who happened to be Syrian) refused to recognize the state of Israel. I had no idea what that meant, and almost offered to bring her a map to show her that the country existed. I soon realized that it was not she who needed a lesson in geography. It was me who needed a lesson in history and politics.

Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section.

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Mar 05 2014

I’m starting a list of publishers here for literature of the Middle East and North Africa. Tell me if you know of more that should be added…



  • CairoBookStop / محطة كتب القاهرة is a great tool for locating books in Cairo, designed by Nancy Linthicum and Michele Henjum
  • Dar al-Hilal / دار الهلال- affordable paperback literature, also a magazine
  • Dar al-Shorouk / دار الشروق – fiction and non-fiction, in Arabic
  • American University in Cairo Press – fiction and non-fiction, in English
  • For international orders, I can recommend Neelwafurat



  • Dar Saqi / دار الساقي – fiction and non-fiction, in Arabic


  • Editions Le Fennec / دار الفنك – especially for Francophone literature
  • Librairie Samir / سمير – especially for children’s literature, Arabic and French

United Arab Emirates

  • Kalimat / كلمات – children’s and young adult literature in Arabic

United States

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Figure Skating

Feb 22 2014

I just learned of Zahra Lari, an accomplished young figure skater of the UAE:


This could be a great “culture” video in an Arabic class. In fact, I learned of the video from Laila Familiar’s site where she collects videos for Arabic.

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Jan 16 2014

I’m opening a space here for connections to more information about languages and cultures that neighbor Arabic: Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew to start. Feel free to send me any recommendations!

For Persian culture / art / history, see Caroline Mawer’s blog. For literature in translation, Words without Borders (July 2013) has an issue dedicated to literature post-(1979) revolution.

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