Archives for the month of: September, 2011

While trying to make progress on my policy memo yesterday, I went out for a walk to get food from one of New Jersey’s prime gourmet retailers: Wawa market. On my way, a coursemate alerted me that there was some raucous action going on at the Seminary down the road. It turned out to be true. Much to my bemusement, they were dancing the night away to the tune of “Single Ladies”. I don’t know much about Presbyterians, but that is definitely not what I thought Scottish Protestants do at night.

Today it was the day of lawn parties, a local tradition whereby all the undergrads get dressed up, start drinking at 1 pm and invite some cool bands to play on campus. I decided to tag along, partly because I have not been to a drunken lawn party since 2005 and partly for the ethnographic value of witnessing the mis-education of America’s privileged youth first-hand.

After getting dolled up for the privilege of seeing drunk teenagers produce seizure-like body movements, I showed up with a group of friends after the main act had played. We were sober and five years older than the average. It was kinda anti-climatic so we ended up going back after a little bit.

On the way back, a Mexican friend and I followed the sound of salsa music to find out that the Seminary next-door was having a lawn party of their own, possibly to kick off the academic year. Said Mexican friend is a salsa pro and I am determined to get enough sunshine before the East Coast gives me a taste of the glacial era, so we decided to stay. It looked like a family event, so it was a very diverse crowd: babies, ethnic minorities (is this a PC thing to notice?), good dancers. There were booths of various student associations, including a LGBT society (where a clown made balloon animals for children. This would have not gone down well in a Catholic seminary). There was a BBQ and a popcorn machine, just in case I needed to be reminded I was in America.

I find many things in America odd in a European judgmental-kind-of-way, but one must give America credit for doing diversity very well.

Being raised a Catholic in a country where the Vatican talebans have a say in our internal politics and after living for 4.5 years in the Middle East I have come to realise the following:

clergy ‚Ȇ fun

Besides, the only free food I ever got out of the Catholic Church was tasteless wafers and a sip of wine (and that only if you did not misbehave since your last confession).

At some point two men pushing a stroller stopped to get some fliers by the LGBT booth. I felt like I was hallucinating. Someone has slipped a roofie in my Pepsi Diet, I remember thinking.

Not only the Presbyterians are fun and open-minded, they are also very friendly. We outed ourselves as party crashers to the people sitting at our table (as we were eating their BBQ food) only to be met by smiles and encouragement. It turned out our fellow burger-eaters were the Reverend and the Head of Admissions. Ooops! They seemed very pleased that we had stopped by. The Reverend produced a business card. The live salsa band had announced they’ll be playing a round of merengue. My Mexican friend was asked if I was her husband. I don’t know what she replied, I was gone for seconds of food. We both rejoiced that we had dressed up, so at least we didn’t feel like total party crashers. Occasionally we would look at each other with a puzzled look and say: “This is surreal”.

As we were leaving I noticed a very hot man, manning a booth calling for more missionary spirit and such things. I’ll spare you the obvious crass joke, but I still have a question: in America, is it politically correct to say a seminary student is a DILF?

PS: Totally irrelevant, but you should not miss this video. Do not try this at home.


I went to watch the movie “The Help” with some other people in my programme yesterday. The movie is very good, but one scene made my mind wander and would eventually result in this insomnia-induced blog post. The main character’s family (and domestic help) all gathered in the living room to watch the news of JFK’s death.

Being in the States on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 prompted a similar reaction in my head, as I tried to piece together the last ten years of my life in relation to the various events of History I have had the fortune to witnessed.

Italy, 11 September 2001

I am putting on my boy scout uniform (ha, now you know my dirty secret!). In my town the boy scouts are responsible for providing a human cordon for a religious procession that takes place every year. It’s a sticky late summer afternoon and at 3 pm I am watching Ally McBeal on TV. I am already indifferent to the Catholic Church and its obsolete rituals, but for the sake of tradition I just put that uniform on. It is around 15:45 pm and we are late. The Ally McBeal episode is interrupted by news footage of planes flying into the twin towers. I do not think much of it, it all seems distant and surreal to me so I just hurry up and leave the house.

London, 15 February 2003

I was studying in Wales and kids in my (very liberal, tree-hugging, fantastic) school organised buses to join the anti-Iraq war protest in London. The other students are all more politically aware than me and more outspoken against the Blair-Bush decision to invade Iraq. I am really puzzled and do not know what to think. Having grown up in a politically-conservative family, my political journey towards the left had been one of self-questioning a lot of what I had been taught and exercise critical thinking. I was jealous of my friends for their unshaken beliefs. On 15 February approximately one million people went down to protest in London, the biggest protest ever recorded in the history of the city. On that day, it is estimated that between six and ten million people around the world protested against the decision to invade Iraq. I was one of them.

Cairo, July 2007

I finally  managed to get an internship in an international organization. It is my first day and my supervisor is showing me the ropes. As I sit at my desk doing a press review of regional newspapers, I can see the waiting room where five/six families of Iraqi refugees are waiting for their resettlement interview to go to the United States. I suddenly feel like history is not something you just witness on TV. I remember all the doubts I had when I marched in London four years before. I was right, but I did not know it back then.

Benghazi, April 2011

I have always thought of myself as a pacifist. It seemed a pretty obvious thing to me. Whenever asked, I would just say that war is wrong in that it violates the sanctity of human life. It had all been a purely intellectual exercise, that pacifism of mine. I am working in a transit centre for displaced people in Libya. It’s Easter Sunday and we have a bit of a management crisis. The camp is full to over twice its capacity and people are getting edgy. I call my family to wish them a Happy Easter and to tell them that everything is ok. I ask them what they are having for lunch and I secretly wish I could be there. I feel bad my parents are worried about me. A few minutes later my colleague and I are sandwiched in between one hundred angry people and a security man armed to its teeth. We try to talk to the people to diffuse the tension and avoid that the security man starts shooting his machine gun into the air, just like he did a few minutes ago. I am standing right in between them and this man, his machine gun twenty cm away from my face. Unarmed people keep pushing me towards the machine gun. I finally know why I am a pacifist. You put a weapon in a person’s hand and he/she thinks they are God’s gift to the planet.

New Jersey, 11 September 2011

It is the ten-year anniversary of September 11. It’s all over the news. The day goes by in a haze because I have one of the worst hangovers of my life. I am barely able to process things. I quickly look at the walls of my Facebook friends, people I have met in the past ten years. For some of them 9/11 was the day America lost its innocence, they mostly leave in the West. For others it was the trigger of a spiral of death and hate, they mostly leave in the Middle East. My friend C says “Number of people killed on all sides during or as a consequence of 9/11: 131,000 (low estimate). If I had to go in front of God or a Galactic Council as a representative of humankind and justify this, I’d be ashamed“. For me, 9/11 marks the tenth anniversary of the day I became a pacifist.