Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?
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Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?
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Updated 18 August 2016

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Sitting in a crowded café, waiting on a roadside traffic stop, boarding a plane, sitting at the waiting area for a routine medical checkup, carrying your groceries at the line to the cashier at a supermarket, did you ever wonder who this person in front of me is? Who is this person speaking on the phone in the car next to me? Who are those people laughing on the other side of the road? Who is this woman carrying a child as she heads in to the pharmacy? We are inquisitive by nature and want to know of our surroundings. People are an integrated part of these surroundings and we simply want to know more! We sit in these settings and think about the people next to us drinking their coffee, are they drinking the same coffee as I am, we wonder. Wonder if they liked or disliked the bland cheesecake? Wonder how the guy got that scar on his eyebrow or why does this girl wear bright red lipstick in the middle of the day or why this kid has a bandaid on his knee? A million questions roam our minds as a natural reaction to our surroundings and we all want to know each other’s stories and how we came to be.
Arabs have been telling stories for hundreds of years; it’s a trait and tradition being handed down from one generation to the next. As the years passed, and technology surfaced and conquered, the art of storytelling is dying and we (as a society) aren’t doing enough to keep it alive. But there is one young woman with a project that is innovative and inspiring, it’s also a welcoming breath of fresh air taking the participant in the project away from all that is distracting; just you, an empty page of paper and a pen. Fatima Al-Banawi’s “The Other Story” is a project that is breaking some taboos and giving you the participant a chance to zone out and write a story, any story, as long as it’s something.
Arab News interviewed Fatima, an inspirational mindset that is out to hear your story and mine.

Tell us about “The Other Story” project.
The “Other Story” project is literally as it is a handwritten true story using only one page. It’s a simple yet heady combination because what I’m asking strangers to do is tell me something that can be extremely personal, emotional, intimate, their own personal narrative. Time isn’t important and the setting doesn’t matter either, a story is just a story. I started the project in September of last year and I’m still collecting until this day. It’s written by the people of Jeddah, we live and share Jeddah which means we share its story, the making of it and what’s to come up next. That’s the core of the project.
I’m relaying these stories and there’s also a social responsibility from my part to partake in the book by providing knowledge from my years of education, not critique, but more commentary on the different aspects of societal development on a personal level. Knowledge needs to be shared by all.

Let me get this straight, you just go up to people and say “hi, I have a project I’m working on and I want to hear your story,” that’s it?
Technically, yes! I’d sometimes be at a café for example and see a group of people sitting by, I’d approach them, introduce my project, hand them blank sheets of paper if they accept and have them place their stories in a box or envelope. I don’t ask for names or even handle the papers so I don’t have a personal attachment or interest per se.

How did you find the reactions or these participants? Do they understand the concept of the project and volunteer with no questions asked, giving in to it as it should be done?
Absolutely! People from all walks of life had a part in this project; people that you’d think would undermine such an initiative or pass by and think nothing to it, the best part of writing these stories is that it’s all anonymous! You never know who or why they’re taking part but it’s very much appreciated.

That’s interesting and very promising to know. I can’t say that the art of storytelling is dead because we have so many writers trying to make a mark in the world of Arabic literature, but it’s the personal stories that we’re lacking. You’re going deep aren’t you?
It’s part of what I grew up with, loving every art form there is as well as my time at Effat University studying psychology and getting my masters from Harvard which is to study humans from a psycho-social aspect. Every story stands on its own without editing or any filtering, it will be published exactly as it is and what I can do at most is define natural themes to these stories and collect them in that sense.

So your undergrad was in Psychology from Effat University here in Jeddah and then you went to pursue your master’s degree in Theological Studies at Harvard. You’re gathering stories which is a type of art and you’re also a consultant focusing on studying the development of humans at different stages of their life. Two very different yet interconnected approaches you’re taking, how did you find middle ground from your take?
I was connected to the arts from a very young age and at the same time I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology because I loved the human mind, I loved studying every aspect of society, how social issues emerge, its effects on us as humans and how we as individuals or a collective find solutions to these issues. It’s complicated but interesting and I knew I wanted to know more. I found art to be the means of expressing my emotions, for example as a child, I’d grown to want to take in as much art, film and literature classes as I could during my years at university and with that, I started seeing another picture to the educational path I’m pursuing which was psychology, then theological studies combined with a form of art does actually make sense. As you mentioned story telling is art and when it’s in the written form, it’s also a method of expression. As a consultant, I am able to look into these words, catch a glimpse of who this writer is and maybe even go through the same emotions he or she is going through with the stroke of their pen. They’re very complimentary to each other and crucial as well.

Why are you passionate about gathering these stories?
My time at Harvard was very rewarding. We were 18 different denominations, so similar and yet people would try to address things differently and make them seem as if they’re from a different world. It was interesting how people would approach me and talk to me because I was the only Saudi at the time, people were curious and this was an Ivy League school, so you’d think people would know or understand a little bit about the outside world, but that wasn’t really the case, they were honestly curious! I look at it from two angles; one would be the underrepresentation of this place, Jeddah, and its uniqueness. Many of my colleagues were inspired by Jeddah and its significance. Jeddah is organically very inclusive of all sorts of humans, I saw something in the people as I spread my empty pages, I happen to live here and Jeddah is built on multi-cultures, its unity is in its diversity, it’s what makes it special.

In what way do you see this project as one that can be productive?
My grandparents always told us stories, so did my friends’ grandparents. I noticed that it’s never about the next generation, it was always about them. It’s as if our stories are at a loss because of an internal buzz that just wouldn’t stop. Taking some time off to jot down some sentences that go on to become a story, it’s therapeutic in some ways and a form of meditation in others. What I’m hoping and striving for with the “Other Story” project is to provide a chance to a means of self-expression without any boundaries or critiques, it’s just you, your paper and the reader wondering who this writer is and relating on some level to the written words.

Do you think it runs deep with some? Having to write stories about topic (x) for example, do you see emotion at times as they’re holding on to that paper writing along its invisible lines?
I do, I see emotions in the stories, I see their facial expressions as they place their paper in the box, I see it reflected in their handwriting and I would get a lot of mixed responses. While some felt shy or apprehensive from their own stories, it’s at these times that I reassure them that it’s all anonymous. Having worked as a case worker at the Family Protection Society, it’s important that you have them understand these technicalities don’t count, no one will know who they are and it’s safe to express emotions in every stroke of their pen.

What have your life experiences taught you in connection to this project?
I’ve learned that families and people evolve, they continue to change. Whether it’s by reflection or by experience or by therapy, whatever the medium is for change, it happens. Empathy and forgiveness are important things to consider in your own personal change and that can happen by writing your own story or by reading someone else’s, growth will happen eventually.
People are getting to know each other and are connected one way or another and I think this project turned book can be a platform for it.
After sitting down and talking to Fatima for an hour, there’s a certain positive aura surrounding her and in some way a very interesting positive take to a society’s contribution to a taboo act, the act of writing one’s personal emotions and speaking about them in written form. The “Other Story” project is still undergoing and you can add your story by visiting the project’s station at The Humming Tree Community Center and do follow the Instagram page to know more about what’s coming up next.

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Ramadan helps Egyptian women bakers make ends meet

Ramadan helps Egyptian women bakers make ends meet
Updated 20 April 2021

Ramadan helps Egyptian women bakers make ends meet

Ramadan helps Egyptian women bakers make ends meet
  • Noura Mohammed, 58, and women in her family travel by train to Cairo to sell their home-baked bread
  • When back in Beni Suef, they distribute the earnings to other producers

BENI SUEF, EGYPT: For 58-year-old Nour Al-Sabah Mohammed and her crew of bakers, business is brisk during the holy month of Ramadan.
The women travel by train to Cairo to sell their home-baked bread, piled high on metal trays, as well as eggs, vegetables, and cheese, produced by neighbors in a farming village near the city of Beni Suef, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the south.
During Ramadan, when fasting Muslims indulge in large family meals after sunset and stock up on supplies well in advance, the women double their usual output.
Mohammed’s daughter and daughter-in-law make the two-and-a-half hour train trip to Cairo twice a week to sell from spots on the pavement that they’ve occupied for the last five years.
They set off at 10 p.m., leaving their children in the village and returning the following evening once they’ve sold out.
Back in Beni Suef, they distribute the earnings to other producers, each of whom made about 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.91) from the recent sale of 15 kilograms (33 lbs) of bread, along with the other products.
“This way we work hard for our living and we make each other stronger,” said Noura Hassan, Mohammed’s daughter-in-law. “It’s also a good thing that these women are helping out their husbands and their children.”


NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet
Updated 19 April 2021

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet
  • It was a brief hop, just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters), but accomplished all the major milestones
  • The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

CAPE CANAVERAL: NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.
The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters) — but accomplished all the major milestones.
“We’ve been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment, and here it is,” said project manager MiMi Aung, offering a virtual hug to her socially distanced colleagues in the control room as well as those at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly when it touched down in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.
Scientists cheered the news from around the world and even from space.
“A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal,” Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said from England.
This first test flight — with more to come by Ingenuity — holds great promise, Brown noted. Future helicopters could serve as otherworldly scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous places.
Ground controllers had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the preprogrammed flight had succeeded more than 170 million miles (287 million kilometers) away. The first attempt had been delayed a week because of a software error.
When the news finally came, the operations center filled with applause, cheers and laughter. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared, showing the helicopter’s shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars.
“The shadow of greatness, #MarsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted from the International Space Station.
Next came stunning color video of the copter’s clean landing, taken by Perseverance, “the best host little Ingenuity could ever hope for,” Aung said in thanking everyone.
The helicopter hovered for 30 seconds at its intended altitude of 10 feet (3 meters), and spent 39 seconds airborne, more than three times longer than the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, which lasted a mere 12 seconds on Dec. 17, 1903.
To accomplish all this, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute — five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1% the thickness of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough — with blades spinning fast enough — to generate this otherworldly lift.
More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is just 19 inches (49 centimeters) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fiber, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: Each pair stretches 4 feet (1.2 meters) tip to tip.
Ingenuity also had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind, and is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for surviving the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.
NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield. Following Monday’s success, NASA named the Martian airfield for the Wright brothers.
“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked,” NASA’s science missions Chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.
The little chopper with a giant job attracted attention from the moment it launched with Perseverance last July. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in the fun, rooting for Ingenuity over the weekend. “Get to the chopper!” he shouted in a tweeted video, a line from his 1987 sci-fi film “Predator.”
Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas.
Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights so that the rover can get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now.
The team plans to test the helicopter’s limits, possibly even wrecking the craft, leaving it to rest in place forever, having sent its data back home.
Until then, Perseverance will keep watch over Ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Ginny.
“Big sister’s watching,” said Malin Space Science Systems’ Elsa Jensen, the rover’s lead camera operator.


Masks come off as Israel vaunts virus victory

Masks come off as Israel vaunts virus victory
Updated 19 April 2021

Masks come off as Israel vaunts virus victory

Masks come off as Israel vaunts virus victory
  • The vaccination of close to 5 million people has sent Israel’s coronavirus caseload tumbling from some 10,000 new infections per day as recently as mid-January, to around 200 cases a day

JERUSALEM: Israelis stepped into the streets without masks on Sunday for the first time in a year, a key milestone as the country vaccinates its way out of a coronavirus nightmare.
“It’s very strange but it’s very nice,” said Eliana Gamulka, 26, after getting off a bus near the busy Jerusalem shopping boulevard of Jaffa Street and removing her face covering.
“You can’t pretend that you don’t know anyone any more,” she smiled.
With over half the population fully vaccinated in one of the world’s fastest anti-COVID 19 inoculation campaigns, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday that masks would no longer be required in public outdoor spaces.
For Gamulka, a project manager, the good news came at the perfect time: Just two weeks before her wedding.
It will be “very nice to celebrate with everyone, now without masks,” she said. “The pictures will be great! I’m very relieved. We can start living again.”
The vaccination of close to 5 million people has sent Israel’s coronavirus caseload tumbling from some 10,000 new infections per day as recently as mid-January, to around 200 cases a day.
That has allowed the reopening of schools, bars, restaurants and other indoor gatherings — although masks are still required in indoor public spaces.

HIGHLIGHTS

• With over half the population fully vaccinated in one of the world’s fastest anti-COVID 19 inoculation campaigns, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday that masks would no longer be required in public outdoor spaces.

• The vaccination of close to 5 million people has sent Israel’s coronavirus caseload tumbling from some 10,000 new infections per day as recently as mid-January, to around 200 cases a day. That has allowed the reopening of schools, bars, restaurants and other indoor gatherings.

Israel just months ago had the world’s highest infection rate, a coronavirus outbreak that left 6,300 people dead among 836,000 cases.
But the country sent its coronavirus caseload tumbling after striking a deal for a vast stock of Pfizer/BioNTech jabs.
In exchange, it agreed to pay above market price and share data it gathers on the recipients, using one of the world’s most sophisticated medical data systems.
Since December, some 53 percent of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received both doses of the jab, including around four-fifths of the population aged over 20.
As recently as January it was registering 10,000 cases per day.
But as the effects of mass vaccination kicked in, by March it was able to implement a gradual reopening.
“There’s no better advertisement for Pfizer,” said Shalom Yatzkan, a computer programmer who had been in quarantine after catching the virus.
“I was sick for three days, I had neck pains and felt weak,” he said as he walked through central Jerusalem. “I just hope the new variants don’t catch up with us.”
Another Sunday landmark in Israel’s exit from coronavirus restrictions was the full resumption of the country’s educational system, without restrictions on the numbers of pupils in classrooms.


How Jewish women married to Arabs were regarded as a threat to Israel: Haaretz

A picture dated March 1, 1940 shows new immigrants wahing their laundry at the immigrants camp near Kibbutz Na'an. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture dated March 1, 1940 shows new immigrants wahing their laundry at the immigrants camp near Kibbutz Na'an. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 18 April 2021

How Jewish women married to Arabs were regarded as a threat to Israel: Haaretz

A picture dated March 1, 1940 shows new immigrants wahing their laundry at the immigrants camp near Kibbutz Na'an. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Israeli newspaper Haaretz details cruel treatment they faced from their own community
  • Researcher: ‘Ostracism, denunciation and shaming gave way to violence’

LONDON: During the formation of Israel in the late 1940s, hundreds of Jewish women were branded as enemies for marrying Arab men, resulting in exclusion, isolation, and in some cases murder, according to stories buried in the country’s archives. 

The histories of the “lost” Jewish women — those who married and assimilated into Arab culture — have been revealed by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which details the cruel treatment they faced from their own community, including “harsh opposition from home, ostracism, labeling, and opprobrium and social alienation.”

Hanania Dery, chief rabbi of Jaffa at the time, traveled to refugee camps in the newly occupied Palestinian territories to search for Jewish women who had married Arab men and converted to Islam.

He reportedly discovered about 600 Jewish women living in Hebron, Nablus, Gaza City, Khan Yunis and East Jerusalem, and encouraged them to return to their Jewish roots.

The subject of interfaith marriage has long been a taboo subject in Israel. Idith Erez, a graduate student in the Israel Studies department at the University of Haifa, has detailed the plight of the “lost” women, and their treatment at the hands of authorities and underground paramilitary groups.

She said two of her own relatives married Arabs, and “the responses in the family ranged from acceptance and reservations to total rejection.”

Erez was warned by colleagues about the lack of material on the subject. She discovered Jewish references to relationships between Jewish women and Arab men from 1917 to 1948, but found that “writers sought to play down the ‘forbidden stories’.”

Erez said: “One can assume that what was perceived as a family or personal stigma, or as national shame, was excluded from the collective memory, relegated to the warehouse of the darkest secrets and remained hidden there.”

But she found stories hidden away in newspapers, and also detailed records of surveillance operations targeting the “lost” women.

Archives from underground Zionist organizations — including Haganah, Lehi and Irgun — revealed that the women were viewed as a threat to the Jewish community, and were targeted as potential spies.

One notable case is detailed in a report sent by a Haganah member to the organization’s intelligence branch in 1942. He outlines a plan to deploy a Jewish woman to spy on senior Arab figures.

“I am thinking this week of getting in touch, to obtain information, with a Sephardi girl from Tiberias who has intimate relations with Kamal Al-Hussein. He likes to waste a lot of money on her,” the member wrote.

The stories discovered by Erez share one common feature: The hostile attitude of Jewish society toward the relationships.

“The phenomenon was perceived as a threat to the resurgent Jewish collective in Israel, as crossing a national and religious border and as the violation of a social taboo,” she said.

“These relationships were seen as the ultimate threat, serious and significant. They were perceived as having the potential to turn the Yishuv (Jewish community) into a Levantine society, to bring about religious conversion and assimilation into Arab society.”

Many Jews saw interfaith relationships as a deviation from the norm, and the women involved as “whores”, “traitors”, “enemies of Israel” and a “national disgrace,” Erez said.

As tensions between Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine grew, reactions to interfaith relationships became more extreme.

“Ostracism, denunciation and shaming gave way to violence in the family and violence perpetrated by security organizations,” Erez said, adding that some women were even murdered.

Esther K. and Mahmoud Al-Kurdi first met in a Jerusalem cafe that the latter owned, and soon fell in love and married, despite not receiving parental agreement.

Their case went to court, where Esther was told to return home. She told Al-Kurdi: “Never mind, a few months will go by, I’ll turn 18 and come back to you, my dear.” It then emerged that she had fallen pregnant and was forced to have an abortion.

Al-Kurdi said following the case: “I loved her so much. I would do anything for her. People are cruel. Why are they trying to take my blood from me?”

Chaya Zeidenberg, 22, whose Arab lover was Daoud Yasmina, was murdered in early 1948 by Lehi.

In a statement, the paramilitary group accused her of “treason against the homeland and the Jewish people and of collaborating with Arab gangs.”

Lehi members raided Zeidenberg’s apartment and drove her to an unknown location, where she was interrogated and shot dead.

She was buried without her surname on the headstone. The local Jewish burial society registered her as a “spy.”

Erez said of her research: “The women involved were opinionated and strong, unwitting feminists who were ahead of their time and defied the social order, the mechanisms of regimentation and the establishment’s balance of forces. 

“They ignored public opinion and the Zionist ethos, which expected the Hebrew woman to nullify her personal yearnings and serve as a ‘sacrifice,’ if needed, on the altar of the nation.

“The steep price paid for maintaining a relationship with an Arab man did not keep them from conducting the relationship.

“These women did not flinch from harsh reactions, and they saw no contradiction between their choice of an Arab man and their national loyalty or religious affiliation.”


Prince Harry’s son was never entitled to a royal title — and it has nothing to do with Meghan

Prince Harry’s son was never entitled to a royal title — and it has nothing to do with Meghan
Updated 17 April 2021

Prince Harry’s son was never entitled to a royal title — and it has nothing to do with Meghan

Prince Harry’s son was never entitled to a royal title — and it has nothing to do with Meghan
  • Title protocol dates back to 104-year-old decree issued by King George V

LONDON: US TV star Oprah Winfrey’s high-profile interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry left many viewers with more questions than answers.
One major controversy covered in the interview concerned the title of the couple’s son Archie, full name Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.
Despite being seventh in line to the British throne, Archie was not granted the title of prince, which has angered Megan and her fans.
But Archie’s lack of title at birth is to be expected, given the precedent established by a royal rule dating back 104 years.
In 1917, King George V issued a decree stating: “The grandchildren of the sons of any such Sovereign in the direct male line (save only the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales) shall have and enjoy in all occasions the style and title enjoyed by the children of Dukes of these Our Realms.”
Because Queen Elizabeth II is the ruling sovereign, her children and grandchildren receive royal titles.
But her great-grandchildren — including any children of Megan and Prince Harry — will only be titled Lord or Lady Mountbatten-Windsor.
This also means that Archie did not receive the title “his royal highness” (HRH). His parents decided to use the title “master.”
Despite Megan’s expectation that her son would assume the title of prince upon becoming a grandson when Prince Charles takes the throne, she was told that “protocols would be changed.”
So why did the children of Prince William and Kate Middleton receive the royal titles? Because Queen Elizabeth demanded it.
As a direct heir to the throne, their son George was always entitled to be a prince, unlike his siblings Charlotte and Louis.
But when Kate was pregnant, Queen Elizabeth issued a letters patent giving the prince or princess title to any of William’s children.
This led to Megan arguing that her son “was not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be.”
Several of the queen’s grandchildren, including Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn, could have been provided with royal titles when they were born, but their parents requested otherwise so that they could pursue normal lives.
So even though Queen Elizabeth decided to avoid extending the HRH title, it might be a silver lining for Megan and Prince Harry, given that they have since chosen to step back from royal duties altogether.