MTV True Life | Resist the Power! Saudi Arabia


Click on the link below to watch the lives of several youth in Jeddah. The people followed include a young woman out to make multicolored abayas, a young lad in love with a girl he met on the internet who he is desperate to meet, a group of heavy metal rockers who can't get a gig in Saudi Arabia because they are deemed "satanic" by the religious authorities and (my favorite), a young man who is Political Science graduate and wants to help women get a voice in the local council.

True Life | Resist the Power! Saudi Arabia: "Meet four young people fighting for freedom and rebelling against their government."

Superman of Malegaon: It takes a village to make a superhero


I just got back from Sala Triangulo in Lavapies, a small theatre that is one of the venues for the Imagine India Festival. I went to see Superman of Malegaon by Faiza Ahmed Khan, a documentary about a small village some hundred-something kilometers outside of Mumbai. You would think this would be a normal, textile-industry dominated town, or gaanv, but, like all small villages, there are town personalities and legends at every doorstep. While this sleepy town may be close to the heart of Bollywood, it couldn't be further away from the escapist dreams the industry produces. Malegaon reminds us of another time, a lost Gandhi-era village.

One man is determined to put Malegaon on the map. His dream: cinematographer. His weapon: a camcorder. His crew: the village. His mission: to make a Superman movie that boldly goes where none have gone before...into Malegaon. Although recognizing that he is essentially "copying" Superman, he makes sure to let the viewer realize that Superman itself has been retold time and time again, and that in essence, all movies are the same plot...the hero, the villain, the heroine sandwhich. What he says is that his goal is to make an "indianization" or more aptly put, a "malegaonization" of Superman to put it into local context. One of his team of crew labels the movie "a technical comedy parody", whatever that means.

Supermalegaon, as I will christen this unlikely superhero, is no man of steel. A skinny man of matchstick limbs, meek eyes and a great Shahrukh Khan haircut, his body mass index falls terribly short of matching up to the Superman we've come to imagine in pop culture. His anatomy alone is a large part of the comedic relief. However, there is something so beautiful in the sacrifices the actor makes to meet the village director's demands and his level of motivation. He floats on an inflatable tube in a river full of cows, he gets flung by a truck into a trench of gutter water at the side of the road (blegh!), he endures hours of lying on a plank in front of a homemade green screen...all without complaining and yes, all in a ridiculous Superman costume. He's even willing to take leave from work to do this movie.

In the end, what you start to realize as the viewer is that the crew, the actors and extras, the audience, and even the main red-cloaked protagonist himself, these are all the village. The village will be the spectator, it is the character and it is the creator of the movie...made for the people by the people in a most literal fashion. All along the way, like a bee jumping from flower to flower, the documentary grazes over different important themes being debated in India: the role of women in the house and in work, religious tolerance (Supermalegaon "loves Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, he loves them all"), and economic livelihoods of India's lower-middle income class.

However, one of the greatest feats that perhaps is the essence of movie is how innovation and motivation coincide at the crossroads of Malegaon. Krypton is substituted for a grazing area in the wilderness, an infloatable tube becomes a space capsule, a cell phone out of a child-toy imitation, junkyard finds are collected to make use of for props on the set. What is more, is how the film production team is able to create a feature using what looks to be Windows 98, a small camera (that gets dropped several times) and use replicate special effects on a low budget. If anyone has seen Be Kind, Rewind by Michel Gondry you will know what "sweded" means. Thats the closest thing that I can think of to describe this ingenuity.

There were three moving points in the movie for me. At one part in the film, light is shed (no pun intended) on the several electricity cuts that the villagers must face on a regular basis, affecting their livelihoods as these spells basically shut down businesses. During this time, a poem by one of the villagers is read. I wish I could get a copy of these words because they were truly moving, the voice of the village. During the recitation of this poetry, imagery was shown of a fire in the absence of electric light, and you could almost imagine the words flickering out with the cinders upon being said.

Another poignant moment came at the beginning when the film director of the movie (not to be confused with the documentary), took out all the old posters he had collected during his time as a cinema house owner. An odd mix, from Rambo, to Sholay to Charlie Chaplin, to Jason and the Argonauts, but beautifully hand-painted in the style that has made Bollywood posters world-famous and appreciated as its own genre of art. His whole life seemed to be defined by memories of watching these movies, and similar to how someone whould show us a photo album, these seemed to be his life moments best captured.

Who stole the show for me? None other than the villager that plays Lex Luther...definately the highlight of the movie. The way the documentary filmmaker captured the actress who plays the heroine in the movie, dressed in a Barbie pink salwar kameez and relishing in her role as " the movie actress diva" was also unintentionally hilarious. If the movie sirens are like this from a nearby neighboring village, one can only imagine how they must be off-set in Bollywoodland. Also, not to be missed is the closing credit music remix sequence, a hit that had me thumping my toe. Makes me want to see the final movie result, although at the end of the documentary, clips of the actual film are shown. One of my favorite movies from now on for sure. Below you can find the brief trailer and a program from Al Jazeera about the film that shows one of my favorite shooting moments, the green screen!

Mugabe Sends North Korea "Noah's Ark" as Gift, Conservationists Aghast


Poor animals, pawns by one megalomaniac dictator to stroke another dictator's ego with an absurdly extravagant gift. Unfortunately many of the animals on-board are endangered species or susceptible to being harmed by the grueling flight and quarantine that would accompany it...not to mention whether the caretakers in North Korea will actually know how to properly care for the animals indigenous to Africa. This article, from The Guardian by David Smith, gives more a more detailed account of the problems that arise from such a half-baked idea.

Conservationists protest as Robert Mugabe sends 'ark' of animals to North Korea

Zimbabwean president sending giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park to zoo in communist state, conservation groups say

Two by two, they were caught and lined up as an extravagant gift from one despotic regime to another.

According to conservationists, the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, will send a modern-day ark – containing pairs of giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park – to a zoo in North Korea.

The experts warned that not every creature would survive the journey to be greeted by Mugabe's ally Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

There are particular fears that a pair of 18-month-old elephants could die during the long airlift.

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said elephant experts did not believe the calves would survive the journey separated from their mothers.

Rodrigues, whose task force is an alliance of conservation groups, said all the animals were captured on Mugabe's orders to be given to North Korea. He cited witnesses and officials in the western Hwange National Park. Witnesses reported seeing capture and spotting teams, government vehicles towing cages, and armed men at key watering holes with radios to call in the capture teams.

The animals were being kept in quarantine in holding pens at Umtshibi camp in the park, he said.

Rodrigues added that officials opposed to the captures had leaked details to conservationists.

They reported that some areas of the 5,500 square mile park, the biggest in Zimbabwe, were being closed to tourists and photographic safari groups.

"We fear a pair of endangered rhino in Hwange will also be included," he told the Associated Press.

He said conservation groups were trying to find out from civil aviation authorities when the airlift would begin, and were lobbying for support from international animal welfare groups to stop it.

Zoo conditions in North Korea, which is isolated by most world nations, did not meet international standards, he said. Two rhinos, a male called Zimbo and a female called Zimba, given to Kim by Mugabe in the 80s, died only a few months after their relocation.

At the same time, other rhinos given to Belgrade zoo in the former Yugoslavia died after contracting footrot in damp and snowy winter conditions.

Rodrigues said: "This new exercise has to be stopped. People under orders to do it are too scared to speak out."

North Korea has a long association with Mugabe, and trained a Zimbabwe army brigade responsible for the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the 80s.

Last month Zimbabwe announced that the North Korean football team was bound for a training camp in the country ahead of the World Cup in neighbouring South Africa. Opposition groups pledged to demonstrate against their presence.

Conservation efforts in Zimbabwe have suffered major setbacks in recent years as the country's economy has gone into meltdown. Reports say rhino poaching, driven by Chinese black market demand for the animals' horns, has soared.

Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority did not respond to requests for comment.

Fox News Gets Served on Religion and State


I admire this guest for not letting the Fox News reporter depict him as a monster. He would not be pidgeon-holed and, rather, eloquently defended how religious rights are better protected with a secular state. He also called out the reporter on his mix-up of some basic facts.

Unveiling Moderation


I have been curiously following op-ed articles from Kuwaiti and Spanish newspaper journals to get a greater understanding of the debate on the wearing of the veil in Europe. My time abroad in the Middle East has led me to believe more in "live and let live" than to strict credence of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" but render to Ceasar...

Nonetheless, what is quite apparent to me is that the debate has been extremely narrow, and each side seems to be ratcheting up their narrow-mindedness. European male, pale and stale political members seem to have a superficial obsession with the appearance of Muslim women immigrants...fixated on clothing rather than amplifying the political debate on how immigrant women can be offered better public services for employment, education and opportunities for intergenerational mobility of their children.

Secondly, the lack of presence of Muslim women in the debate itself, be it in consultation in these political dialogues or through interviews in the media and press, has been starkly absent.

The pre-ocupation with the millimeter-thick veil as the centerpoint of the entire debate on women's rights in the Muslim-migrant community symbolically demonstrates that although the lake might be wide, its actually quite shallow.

Lastly, lets not forget that this grabbing of the hijaab issue is a calculated move on the behalf of the wider anti-immigrant xenophobic agenda of many conservative parties in Europe. On the other hand, the aforementioned parties' opponents (often male, pale and stale themselves, but on the liberal end) often approach the topic naively, clouded by feelings of colonial guilt and an overall identity crisis on the dimensions of how to reconcile women's rights with the right to freedom of religion.

However, when 26-year old Mamel Marmouri became the first woman in Italy to be fined for wearing a burqa in public, my sympathies were truly tested-as soon as her husband opened his mouth. Her golden nugget of a sppouse, Ben Salah Braim, 36, was quoted as saying:

"I just don't know where we are going to get 500 euros to pay the fine. We thought as she was going to the mosque she was OK to wear the burka. We knew about the law and I know that (the law) is not against my religion but now Amel will have to stay indoors. I can't have other men looking at her. If the law says she can't wear one then she will have to stay inside night and day. There is nothing I can do".

These statements make things difficult for those of us more moderate on the issue about whether or not a woman can wear a burka or veil. Lots of politicians in Arab countries are piggybacking on the minaret and burka debates to denounce Europe for personal gain.

Libyan leader Qaddafi declared a jihad against Switzerland, a country that has irked him ever since his son was arrested for abusing a maid. The op-ed articles I heard from many Gulf newspapers were ludicrous and only served to fit the baffoonish, belligerent stereotype that the conservative political movement on immigration in Europe would like to set as the norm. Notions of Islam conquering Europe like an unstoppable wave (the topic of one op-ed in Kuwait, seriously). And I strongly believe that many countries, such as Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait, need to seriously examine how they treat DIVERSITY OF RELIGION in their own borders before they go ranting on the rights of others abroad.

I don't identify with either movement. So where is the space for those of us who would like to examine the question with understanding, tolerance and moderation among these two caricatures on the spectrum of political discourse? I was happy to read yesterday in an op-ed article from Al-Watan Daily a stance that I viewed more balanced, coming from Dr. Shamlan Yousef AlـEissa. I am putting the link to it here, but copying it below as well.

At an opportune time when civilized nations are seeking to spread the concept of peace and peaceful coexistence with each other, we find some of our own MPs are indulging in projecting a negative image in their dealings with each other. The Ummah Tenets Party''s Secretary General MP Mohammed Hayef had earlier announced a move concerning the stance of the GCC, Arab and Islamic parliaments in initiating action against France. One of the initiatives called for not signing any agreements with France simply because that country went ahead with its ban on the veil. The honorable MP has forgotten an important issue which is that the French measures were taken and applied to enable French citizens to enjoy their religious freedom which the Arabs cannot even dream of guaranteeing in their own countries of origin.

MPs belonging to the political Islamic school of thought know very well that it is better for a man to be a Muslim living in Paris, London and Washington than to be a Christian living in Kuwait, Riyadh or Sudan. Kuwaiti MPs always seem to be the last of the lot where speaking about religious or personal freedoms is concerned. MP Khalid AlـSultan, slammed the French position over wearing veils, and considered it as a downright restriction of personal freedoms while his comrades in Parliament enacted a law in 1980 that bans granting the Kuwaiti citizenship for our fellow Christians. Isn''t such a law a stain on the face of Kuwaiti democracy?

French measures have been initiated for several national and security reasons, mainly involving religion in the daily lives of citizens. France is generally a secular nation which rejects any kind of religious insignia in its schools and official institutions, and this resolution is applied to one and all ـ not just Muslims. The decision was taken purely for security reasons that are in no way related to religion.

Islam in France and other Western countries including the United States spreads rapidly due to the migration of Muslims to these countries in huge numbers. If Muslims, at any given point of time, harbored this feeling that they would be persecuted and unable to practice their religion freely in those counties, why would they leave their countries of origin to live in those countries in the first place?

Frankly, the interference of MPs in the internal issues of France and defending wearing the niqab is not surprising to us at all. It is not surprising despite the fact that niqab has nothing to do with religion as it is a dress code that has spread among the Muslim communities in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula and has even moved further to some Arab countries. The Grand Sheikh of AlـAzhar has banned wearing the niqab in AlـAzhar universities while the Egyptian education minister banned it in universities after which Tunisia also followed suit. It is only natural then, that our representatives are required to take action against some of our own Arab countries before going a step further and boycotting France.

Curso de Verano en la Universidad Politecnica de Madrid sobre el Programa Habitat de la ONU


06 - Buenas prácticas para mejorar las condiciones de vida. Programa Hábitat de Naciones Unidas
Fecha: Del 05 al 06 de julio de 2010

Director/a: Justo García Navarro

Doctor Arquitecto - UPM; Vocal del Comité Hábitat Español

Secretario/a: Ana de Guzmán Báez

Arquitecto - UPM; Grupo de investigación sostenibilidad en la construcción y en la industrial

Para mayor informacion, aqui

BBC World: " 'Ugly Beirut' struggles to survive peace" by By Natalia Antelava


Having been to Beirut several times, several things jump out from the perspective of those of us who are interested in urban issues and liveable cities. First, no parks, no trees, not even weeds growing through the cracks of the pavement. Second, a whole lot of new construction that rather than aimed at preservation seems to be following the Dubai-model, especially along the waterfront. Third, lots of beautiful, decaying but decadent houses whose window shutters seem to fluttering their eyelashes at us begging for us to restore these buildings.

This article (click on this link for the full text or read below for the first lines that I have copied) by Natalia Antelava poignantly sums up the street-level experience of citizens who have seen their city transformed in the post-war era beyond recognition, and the concerned inner circle of urban activists who are trying to mainstream preservation and cities for the public good into the political discourse. The image I am including is of a destroyed egg-shape movie theater from Beirut's bygone urban eras that has always caught my attention. It lays fallow in a plot that is so close to the new glitzy downtown area around Place d'Etoiles, so close to Hariri's tomb, and surrounded by a bunch of construction area that seems perpetually incomplete.

"Beirut is an ugly city."

This statement would infuriate plenty of proud residents of the Lebanese capital, but veteran architect Assem Salaam stands by his words.

He points to the evidence: a jungle of grey concrete that towers over his garden, hiding what used to be a spectacular sea view.

Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman
Assem Salaam

It is not the loss of the sea view that Mr Salam mourns.

And, he says, it is not the commonplace nostalgia for the old and familiar that drives his bitterness about an extraordinary pace of construction in his city.

"Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman," he says.

"Take London, for example. It has changed immensely since I first visited in 1942, but I can still take the same bus route as I did then, or walk the same streets.

"Beirut, on the other hand, has changed beyond recognition," he says.

English Writing Contest: concurso de escritura en ingles para jovenes


Patrocinado por el Instituto Internacional:

Concurso de Escritura en Inglés - Spring Writing Contest (de 8 a 16 años)

Escribir en lengua inglesa no debería asustar o intimidar a ningún estudiante. Esta afirmación es
especialmente cierta para quienes participen en el Spring Writing Contest - Concurso de
Primavera de Escritura del Instituto Internacional, pensado para animar y premiar a los
estudiantes en su esfuerzo por lanzarse a escribir en inglés.

• Los participantes solo competirán con otros estudiantes de su misma edad.
• Los ganadores serán premiados con un libro en inglés y todos los participantes
recibirán un certificado de participación expedido por el Instituto Internacional.
• Los autores pueden elegir la modalidad - poema, párrafo descriptivo, ensayo corto (de
una página), etc.
• Plazo de presentación de los originales: hasta el 7 de junio .
Los premios se entregarán en el transcurso de The Annual Talent Show del Instituto
Internacional a finales de junio.

¡Participa de la actividad y Anima a los jóvenes a escribir!

Mary Barker (
Maria Hegarty (

Spain Sets Eyes on Kuwait Metro Project


The blog re:kuwait has written signficantly about the Kuwait Metro Project, a topic that picked up steam after the inauguration of the Dubai Metro system in the UAE rival city last year. Al-Watan Daily is reporting that Spanish companies show keen interest in the project (the design of the metro plan itself was done by a Spanish firm). The metro network would be part of an overall GCC railway linkage project. A Spanish-language report by INESCO TIFSA dating back to October 2007 also details the project. You can read it by click on this link.

Newest Poll from Kuwait Times



Will the enforcement of income tax improve public services?

Poll bar22%
Poll bar77%

Sports and Racism in Spain


Coming now into my fourth week of living in Madrid, I have already had the opportunity to watch several football matches in bars around the city, one of which included a Real Madrid game. One of the cultural shocks that I should have known to brace for is the passion Spaniards have for their football, a tradition that is amusing and even endearing...up to a certain point.

Recently, however, I was watching a match in a bar and behind me were to raging individuals against the Real Madrid who kept namecalling Portuguese football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo "gitano", which in English translates to "gypsy". The goal of this blog entry isn't to go into detail on the continued discrimination of the Roma community in Spain, or in Europe for that matter, but rather, the slurs brought my attention once again to the complacency of racist imagery and prejorative words during sports events in Spain.

You can hear it in the bars, like I did. You can see it in the hooliganists' antics on the bleachers as was the case in early 2008 when spectators donned in blackface at the Formula One Grand Prix in Barcelona and taunted British racer Lewis Hamilton with offensive banners and jeers or when they made monkey screeches for French football player Thierry Henry, along with other black players as they was on the field during a friendly game in Madrid in 2004.

You can, however, and most problematically at that, see racism at higher levels of authority-the exact positions who should be the first to dissuage these tense situations instigated by deep rifts of understanding about what constitutes even the thinnest veneer of political correctness.

For example, in 2004 Spanish national soccer coach Luis Aragones called French star Thierry Henry "that black shit" and was subsequently fined by his national federation, although Henry was left offended by the gravity of the retaliation, in the form of a 3,000 euro fine that the agrieved football player found "laughable".

One of the most notorious cases came up in 2008 during the Beijing Olympic Summer Games, during which the Spanish Basketball Team took a group photo where they all made slit-eye gestures with their fingers. What really exponentially increases the shameful, comedy-of-errors of the situation is that the picture was part of an advertisement for a courier company that was the official sponsor for the Spanish Basketball Federation.

At no levels, both from the team management and the company's corporate team, did anyone question the appropriateness of the idea or how it would be perceived outside of Spain, despite past racism accusations. What's more, despite international outcry, days later Olympic athletes from the Spanish Tennis Federation were caught making the same gestures in a photograph.

In response to the negative attention following the circulation of the picture in international media, one of the basketball players, Jose Manuel Calderon wrote on his website that the photo had been "interpreted incorrectly" and that the players were asked to "pose with a wink" so they made an "oriental expression" as they thought it would be interpreted as "loving".

Insert foot in mouth.

Unfortunately, as the aforementioned example shows, when internationally shamed or called out, the culprits often use the classic Berlusconi "get-out-of-jail" free card with the "we were only trying to be cute/funny/friendly" response. Spain is left alone in a corner asking "what? what? why so serious" like that oblivious, obnoxious co-worker who always clowns around and never gets the memo about his/her uncomfortable jokes despite obvious hints by others and repeated subliminal messages.

Not only does this come across as grossly ignorant making it only more blatant that Spain has a systemic, institutional problem in sensitizing its citizens on cultural diversity awareness, but it is also a flippant, irrepentent reply that moves a disgraceful PR crisis from bad to worse.

Defendents might claim that rather than jumping to interpret incidents racism, they should be treated as acts of stupidity or gaffe. Nevertheless, the rise in the number of acts, the repeated mistakes and the continued irremorsefulness and lack of acknowledgement of wrongdoing on behalf of perpetrators raises legitimate concerns about Spain's self-awareness of their racist ways.

These setbacks are threatening to cost not only Spain's public image abroad and its overall dignity, but also Spain's status in sporting events themselves, through fines and threats to pull Spanish teams out of international federations or events. Both FIFA and the Formula One organizers have taken measures in the past to castigate such unruly behavior and send the message that racism has no place in good sportsmanship.

Regardless of whether Spain really recognizes or cares that there are problems with racism and overall sensitivity to diversity in its sports, one has to value reputation. Google image "Spain basketball" and many of the results you get are of this photograph from Beijing...coming up prior to even their official team photo.

For more on this issue, I also encourage you to read a wonderful article on the subject entitled "Racism, what racism? Asks Spain" from The Guardian by Paul Hamilos.

Imagine India Festival IX


From May 18-29, 2010 Madrid will benefit from a cultural festival dealing primarily with film, but including several cultural acts as well. You can see the full programme here and see the official website as well.