Black Robes

Nadia is consistently wearing her robes even when they are no longer in her home country. Nadia never wears the robes as a religious statement but more as a way to prevent people from messing with her.

The type of robe that Nadia was wearing was probably a chador, which is a full-body shawl that is held together at the neck either by a pin or hand. It is popular in Iran.

In my Modern Middle Eastern Class, I did a culture project on reasons why women would wear head covering and robes. In Western Culture, it is sometimes tough to not see head coverings and robes as oppression of women. However, for many it is a very personal choice and not an oppressive act at all.

Dr. Mrs. N.Z. Vakil explains, “ I feel protected and confident when I step out [in a hijab].” This is very similar to Nadia’s reasons for wearing her robes. In America, we see dressing super modestly as a form of being politically conservative or as old-fashioned. But for Nadia and Dr.Vakil, it is something way more then that. Deciding to wear some sort of covering could be because of religion, style, protection or a statement. We have to understand that not every head-covering or robe is a forced act or as extreme as a burqa. There is no denying that Nadia is strong and independent with or without the robes.

Being Moral in a Uncaring World

When Nadia and Saeed come to London, they live in the mansion that they arrived in. While Nadia adjusts without much of a hitch, Saeed feels uncomfortable. When narrating about Saeed’s adjustment to his new existence, Saeed “felt in part guilt that they … were occupying a home that was not their own, and guilty also at the visible deterioration brought on by their presence” and was “the only one to object when people started to take for themselves items of value in the house” (132). This contrast between Nadia’s self-preservation and Saeed’s morality begs the question, how does one be moral in times of crisis?

On one hand, Nadia’s enjoyment and willingness to do whatever she can to do to survive is perfectly reasonable. After all, it’s hard to blame her for using the few liberties she can, e.g. looting laptops from her former workplace, taking a shower, and snatching some valuables from the mansion, because ultimately, it’s nothing compared to the hardships of migration, hostile militants, and sexual assault that she deals with. I doubt anyone would argue that anything Nadia does is unreasonable or even wrong.

In contrast, Saeed abides by his moral code of conduct even as the world around him throws him for a loop. Even as his mother dies and he’s forced out of his hometown without his father, he still remains adamant in his moral code. He still refuses to have sex with Nadia, objects to looting their mansion, and even feels guilt for living in the mansion, even though it gives him a reprieve from the months of hardship before him. His behavior is unquestionably morally upright, but it’s unknown how sustainable or realistic his behavior his. Without the pragmatism of Nadia, Saeed would still be stuck in the Greek camp, completely broke, and without a comfortable place to live. Saeed’s goodness is unpractical and ultimately self-defeating in a world where surviving is a struggle.

I believe that in the end, that one cannot be fully moral in this world, especially not in times of crisis. I don’t mean to say that our moral compass needs to be compromised completely for the sake of getting ahead slightly, but that sometimes one must act less than morally for their own sake. This practically comes at a condition, because only those without a good standing need to act immorally as any privileged enough to not have to act improperly simply shouldn’t. Ultimately, being good in the worst times I believe means doing the most good as you can while living contently.

Schrodinger’s Jew: Exit West and Jewish Migration

I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating exactly how Jewish I am. I promise, I am bringing this up for a reason.

I contemplate how Jewish I am because it’s not exactly a clear cut answer, as it it for most people. My mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish, so I would be 50% Jewish, right? Except Judaism traditionally is passed down through the mother’s line. So I’m 0% Jewish. Except that alongside Christmas and Easter, my family celebrates Hanukkah and Passover. My last name is very Jewish; it roughly means “date branch” in Hebrew. The vast majority of my family migrated to the United States long before the Holocaust, but not all. I will never know who those distant relatives were, or if I would have ever gotten the chance to meet them. They would have been so, so distant, but I still wonder.

My family, both sides of it, is frequently obsessed with genealogy. We can trace my mother’s family all the way back to the United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, a fun anecdote I was told as a child is that not only were my ancestors on the Mayflower, my great-great-great-however-many-greats grandfather fell off the Mayflower and had to be rescued. With my father’s side, however, it’s not so easy.

We can trace my father’s family back decently far for a Jewish family. Inevitably though, as many Jewish families do, we end up hitting a dead end: we simply have no idea what country we are actually from. Not only that, those places we would be from have changed throughout the years. Depending on when you look, I could be Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian. With my mother’s side, we know most of my relatives were from Scotland and Ireland. We can trace exactly where they were and where they went. With my father’s side, however, all I know is that I am vaguely Eastern European. That’s it. I have no more information.

Towards the end of Exit West, friction between Saeed and Nadia starts up as to exactly how much they want to stay connected to their homeland. As Nadia becomes more and more separated, Saeed in turn yearns for connection with other Middle Eastern migrants. This friction is a part of their inevitable conclusion, which I won’t say because we’re not supposed to have finished the book yet. Despite their different reactions to migration, however, one thing is clear: their home is not their home anymore, no matter how much they may or may not want it to be.

I never got to choose how much I wanted to connect with my roots. I wear green for St. Patrick’s Day. My parents went and visited the place in Scotland my mother’s family comes from. I even chose a Celtic name for myself. But I don’t get those same things on my father’s side.

For all it matters, I’m a practicing Unitarian Universalist who is an active and passionate member of Unity Temple’s youth group. UUism is neither Christian nor Jewish; indeed, it was chosen by my family because it is a religion where my parents can still exist in the faiths of their childhood while still attending the same church.

I don’t know how Jewish I am. I’m not even sure it’s my decision to make. I’m stuck in a strange limbo between Jew and goy. I’m both and neither at the same time. I’m less Jewish than my Jewish friends, but more Jewish than my friends of other faiths. I’m not not Jewish, but what does that really do for me? At the end of the day, though, it’s not really a question of how Jewish I am. It’s about this sense of home that I don’t get to have. It’s about the fact that I more-or-less get to choose whether I am affected by anti-Semitism. It’s about me playing three-way tug-of-war with religion while not believing in a God. I can see it Saeed and I can see it in Nadia, being pulled every which way, not knowing which direction is right for you, endlessly straining to stay in the middle and always, always failing.

Exit West: The Antithesis Of The Stranger

It’s not hard to notice the stark differences between The Stranger and Exit West. At a fundamental level, we as readers are no longer following a possibly deranged sociopath. On a more literary level, we as readers have been charged to forgo our new found ideas of existentialism. In an unnamed war-torn region, Nadia and Saeed spend their days in the constant knowledge that these may be their last. Balmy sunny mornings are not an opportunity to go to the beach with one’s lover, instead, Nadia and Saeed spend their quiet moments to secure emergency supplies and the means of escape. See, Nadia and Saeed can’t afford to be existentialists. The “life has no meaning” attitude doesn’t really fly when people are depending on you. The idea that existentialism is a luxury isn’t quite noted in The Stranger. From Exit West, you realize the deeper purpose of some of our social constructs. You always can say that religion, family structures, and relationships have been used to oppress others in the past. But when we take a closer look, these are also the structures that push us to stay alive. When Saeed’s mother is senselessly killed, Saeed and his father turn to one another and their shared religion to grieve. These societal pillars allow the two to move forward and progress with their lives. You could make the argument that if Saeed’s father was an existentialist, then he would have been able to move on from the absence of his wife. If he didn’t feel such a loving connection to his lost wife, he could have made the more rational decision, and made the passage through the doorway. But by refusing to accept this existentialist rational, Saeed’s father may have saved Nadia and his son. Saeed no longer has to be entrusted with the safety of his father. A burden that may have slowed him down in the long run. Saeed as a character somehow manages to keep a positive outlook on life, even in the midst of all of the chaos he has experienced. You could make the argument that his strong faith has allowed him to perceive the world in this light. He clings to the loving relationship he shares with Nadia and his religious views to get him through each day. In contrast, Mersualt rejected religion and a traditional relationship. Two aspects that may have prevented him from making the choices he did. And in the end, where does he end up? The gallows. 

Maria and Matthew: 2 Meursaults, One Movie

When I first read about Trust, a movie directed by Hal Hartley, and how it was supposed to be from the perspective of a “female Meursault”, I was expecting there to be only one character similar to Meursault. Instead, while watching, I found myself looking at 2.

In my opinion, I thought that both Marie and Matthew represented Meursault’s character. I think that the similarity in names to The Stranger in some sense, is to throw the watcher’s view off. Maria, is expected to be similar to Marie, and Matthew is expected to be like Meursault. However, because of their personality traits, I think that Marie’s lack of understanding for people and Matthew’s alienation from people around his community, cause them to both be similar to Meursault. Together, both of them face problems from all sides, whether its Matthew’s abusive father or Maria’s extra controlling mother.

Matthew and Maria’s “last hurrah” can be seen as the grenade going off at Matthew’s workplace. Similarly, Meursault’s last hurrah can be seen as him killing the Arab. Though, Maria didn’t end up getting punished for the grenade (because she wasn’t the one to ensue the problem) however I think she played a large roll in the events leading up to it.

Her lack of empathy towards Matthew can be seen when she tells him she no longer wants to marry him and wants to pursue what she wants individually; Matthew is heavily affected by this, most likely because it’s his last string of hope he had. Nevertheless, I think that while the two of them are not “fully” Meursault, they both have characteristics that are very much similar to him.

I also think that Hartley’s writing up of the characters were fantastic. In my class, I found that many people found the characters weird if not just boring; I think that the lack of emotion and the grittiness of the camera work added to this aesthetic that was very much Stranger-esque(?)…

Honestly, I missed a day of viewing so to say the least, I was pretty confused watching the ending. Other than that, I thought the movie itself was pretty interesting. What are your thoughts on Trust? Do you think that both of the main characters represented Meursault? Or only one?

Woman at War and the Musical Element

The beautifully crafted film “Woman at War” follows the actions of an Icelandic activist, Halla, fighting to raise awareness on environmental issues.

Halla does this by destroying power lines that supply miles of the country with power. This gains a massive amount of news coverage in the country and attracts the attention of other countries. Her goal is to make the government change their ways to better the environment for future generations.

I thought that the visual aspect of the film was truly great. The drone shots from high above of the beautiful country, and the strategic angles and film elements incorporated were amazing.

Although I thought the film was amazing and very inspiring, I do have a few critiques.

I thought that the musical element of the Icelandic band and Ukrainian singers took away from the magic of the movie. In the middle of a powerful scene where Halla is doing something so moving, we are interrupted and distracted by singers and instruments that take away from her actions.

Image result for women in war film

I know many other people would disagree and say that the music added a new and special element to the movie, but in my opinion it was unnecessary.

Overall, I thought the film was beautiful, inspirational, and amazing. I would definitely recommend it to people and would want to watch it again.

The Fall of Yugoslavia and Exit West

In the novel, Exit West, Nadia and Saeed live in a city undergoing a civil war. Nearly 25 years ago, my parents lived in Yugoslavia during its own civil war.

The moment we began reading Exit West, I could not help but relate the details of the novel to stories my parents had told me about their life during the war. Nadia and Saeed both met in an adult education course, similar to my parents, who met at a University in Serbia. Once my parents fell in love, they did everything they could to get out of Yugoslavia. They were desperate to leave their falling country, as were Saeed and Nadia in Exit West.

In the novel, Nadia and Saeed’s relationship grows stronger as the war worsens. From Saeed waiting for Nadia in front of her apartment all day, to Nadia expressing her feelings for Saeed, it is clear that the characters have a deep bond. I believe that during a war, people hold on to others they love with more strength than otherwise. At the beginning of the novel, Saeed had his parents to take care of, but no one to truly hold on to besides them. Nadia on the other hand had no one, until she met Saeed. Therefore, when Nadia and Saeed finally do form a relationship, they hold on to each other with much strength.

When my parents first immigrated to this country, they struggled both financially and emotionally. Migrating to a new place requires immense emotional strength and endurance. Accents, for example, are a huge definer between who is a native, and who is an immigrant. Having lived in Serbia for most of their lives, both of my parents still struggle with pronunciation in America. Along with this, there are huge cultural barriers for any immigrant migrating to a new country. Small differences make immigrants stand out from the natives in a crowd. Emotionally, this can be very hard for an immigrant, making them feel out of place and marginalized.

My parents held on to each other through all of the hardships they faced during the war in Yugoslavia, and the process of assimilating to a new country. I have therefore heard many stories from my parents about their migration, and have thus have been connecting their migration to Nadia and Saeed’s own migration. I am now very curious to see where Nadia and Saeed’s migration through the magical doors will lead them, and to keep track of their relationship.