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Exposing the Lives of Egyptian Families

Egyptian Streets

Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

By Mohamed Khairat, Editor-in-Chief, EgyptianStreets.com

While many have strayed away from Egypt since the 2011 revolution, Bieke Depoorter found herself spending nights at the homes of Egyptians and exploring their lives behind the walls.

Despite knowing no Arabic, Bieke, 27, has successfully managed to spend the night at the homes of multiple families, earning their trust and photographing their lives and intimate moments.

“I work with Ruth Vandewalle. We both travel together to try to find the trust of people and a place for the night,” explains Bieke who is a member of Magnum Photos. “We just ask people meet in the streets. If I am welcomed by the family into their homes, Ruth [who speaks Arabic] leaves and I spend the night by myself [with the family].”

Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

Cairo 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter. Cairo 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum…

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Iran, tea + food, travel

The Wonders of the Kerman province, Iran.

Located in southeastern Iran, Kerman is one of Iran’s oldest cities and one of the world’s largest producers of – pistachios. Delicious cashews aside, Kerman is also a major center for carpet producing and exporting. Kerman is the capital city of the Kerman province, which has a lot to offer to those who wish to wander and discover beauty – there is The Arg-e Bam, the largest adobe building in the world, located in the city of Bam. The origin of this enormous citadel on the Silk Road can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BC) and even beyond. In 2003, the Citadel was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, along with much of the rest of Bam and its environs. A few days after the earthquake, it was announced that the Citadel would be rebuilt.

Kerman province is also considered a paradise for palaeontologists because of an abundance of vertebrate fossils from different geological eras. Most of the province is largely steppe or sandy desert, although there are some oases where dates, oranges (said to be the best in Iran), and pistachios are cultivated.

Here are some photos, enjoy.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Remembering Om Kalthoum, Egyptian legend and The star of the East.

Imagine a singer with the virtuosity of Joan Sutherland or Ella Fitzgerald, the public persona of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvis and you have Om Kalthoum.

Virginia Danielson, Harvard Magazine

Om Kalthoum was an internationally famous Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress of the 1930s to the 1970s. She is known as Kawkab al-Sharq كوكب الشرق (“Planet/Star of the East”) in Arabic. More than three decades after her death in 1975, she is still widely regarded as the greatest female Arabic singer in history. When she was 12 years old, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. She showed exceptional talent and passion for performing.

In the mid-1920s, Mohammad el Qasabgi, who was an oud player and a composer, formed her small orchestra (takht), composed of the most virtuosic instrumentalists. Unlike most of her contemporary artists who held private concerts, Om Kalthoum’s performances were open to the general public, which contributed to the transition from classical, and often elitist, to popular Arabic music. The people loved her and she loved them. She was genuine, and everyone felt it. Her voice powerful, emotion ever-present – Om was an embodiment of a star.

Nana Mouskouri, Maria Callas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marie Laforêt, Salvador Dalí, Nico, Bono, Farin Urlaub, Led Zeppelin and Jean Michel Jarre were known to be admirers of Kalthoum’s music. Her funeral procession became a national event, with millions of grief-stricken Egyptians lining the streets to catch a glimpse as her cortege passed, even more than the crowds that attended the funeral procession of Om Kalthoum’s contemporary, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

I found a lot of beautiful photos that capture her spirit and her time perfectly, so enjoy scrolling down. And play a song or two, for the Star of the East.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The King Hasn’t Left The Building: A History of an Afghan Musical Icon, Ahmad Zahir.

Author: Weiss Hamid/ Ajam Media Collective

“I do not think there will ever be another Ahmad Zahir”

Ask most Afghans, like my parents (and a list extended relatives, family friends, cousin’s cousins, etc.) what they think of Ahmad Zahir, and they will probably tell you that he is the King of Afghan music. They will probably play you a song of his and dissect each lyric. If you looked interested enough for their approval, they might even play you three hours worth of his songs. Some even call Ahmad Zahir the “Afghan Elvis.” After all, they would say he is by far the most influential singer in Afghanistan from the 1960’s onward. To many Afghans, Ahmad Zahir was more than just a musician. He was a cultural phenomenon during his lifetime and his influence continues to be transmitted to younger generations of Afghans my age. His death was very much linked to Afghan political history, and the collective memory experienced by the first wave of Afghan diaspora who fled the country during the 1979-1986 Soviet invasion.

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As a second generation Afghan-American, I wanted to take the opportunity to retell the Ahmad Zahir story through the eyes of my father, who not only lived in Afghanistan when Zahir rose to prominence — starting from the late 1960s — but was also a classmate of the future king during their formative years a decade earlier. While I remember falling asleep to Ahmad Zahir music as a child, it never struck me as something I wanted to explore further. As I grow older and reach the age of when my parents left Afghanistan, however, I feel a sense of unresolved fascination with my parents’ generation, memories, and earlier lives. I hoped that this interview with my father could develop a better understanding of his adolescence, and connect me to exactly what my father saw as his “homeland,” unsure what it really meant to him, through his eyes.

Although my father’s recollections of Ahmad Zahir will be used to formulate a more encompassing history, it is only one of the many perspectives that inform a collective memory of Afghanistan. Familial oral histories play an important role in the construction of identity, especially in communities that have been displaced from their former homes. The acts of recollection and transmission are a shared experience across generations and geographic locales, as my father’s memories of Afghanistan have become integral to my own understandings of the past and present. My interview with him led me to both personalize and deconstruct Ahmad Zahir’s legacy, understanding why and how my father and other Afghans his age hold onto Ahmad Zahir so dearly. Ahmad Zahir’s life – and just as important, his death – continues to play in the hearts of many in the Afghan diaspora.

“He was 14-15 years old when he first sang at our school”

My father and Ahmad Zahir both attended Habibia High School in Kabul in the early 1960s, where they met at student recitals for performances of songs and ghazals. Zahir performed frequently at these events, singing songs with his accordion. He instantly resonated with the students. “For the younger generation, the pop singers were their ideal singers, and Ahmad Zahir was one of them,” my father tells me. Ahmad Zahir captured the zeitgeist of time for young Afghans who enjoyed popular music. According to my father, “he represented something new, and that made him very popular with the students at school.” For those students, Ahmad Zahir’s music was unconventional, representing themes of glamour, politics, and love. It was a type of music not often heard by many Afghans at the time, and the novelty made Zahir a very popular student.

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My father recalled another experience with Zahir. In senior year of high school, the students took a bus trip across some of the provinces in Afghanistan. During the trip, the long bus rides were interspersed with Zahir singing songs for his fellow students. Everyone cheered on as Zahir went from song to song, entertaining the people around him. As my father describes this, he wistfully states, “hearing his songs remind me about all of those trips, those laughs, and our good times in Afghanistan.”

“Being with Ahmad Zahir was like being with a pop star”

After high school, Zahir attended and graduated from Darul Malimeen (“Teachers Training Center”). Zahir’s first love, however, was always music, and he decided to pursue it further. For years he and his high school friends had an amateur band in Habibia High School. Much like the stories of many other pop stars, Zahir went solo. And only then did he make it big. He was a prolific singer, recording 19 albums during his lifetime, which has ballooned since his death to include hundreds of live-recorded songs. Critics lauded his music because of his singing voice and his incorporation of popular Persian poetry into his lyrics. He sang songs of loveheartbreak, and even politics.

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His music also set a marker for a generation of Afghans in the late 1960s, early 1970s. This did not just include people in Kabul, but throughout the country. In Kandahar, a primarily Pashto-speaking province in Afghanistan, high school and college students in the region started listening to Zahir as well, despite the fact that he sang primarily in Dari. Despite the general preference for Pashto-singing performers, the youth gravitated towards Zahir, sharing an intrigue of the novelty that Zahir provided. His popularity flourished through the 1970s and he was respected in many regions in Afghanistan, a rare feat for any public figure in the country. This changed, however, in 1979.

“Everybody was crying.  Everybody was wearing black.  It was a national mourning day”

On June 14, 1979, on the day of his 33rd birthday, Ahmad Zahir was found dead in his car.  His death, much like his life, has been subject to folklore and legend. Some attribute it to a car accident. Others, however, have a wide variety of theories ranging from a hired hit from thefamily of his first wife, an assassination by a communist general, or a mysterious jealous husband. The circumstances of his death continue to be a mystery amongst Afghans today, yet what is undeniable is the reaction to his death from the center of his fan base, Kabul.

“The entire university mourned his death. The students felt like they lost a member of their own family,” my father tells me, with a quiver in his voice. “All the classrooms were empty.” To my dad, the day Zahir died, it felt as though a part of that generation died as well. Zahir, to that generation, was an embodiment of the Afghan Pop Star, and a person who was going to usher in a new generation of Afghan talent that crossed regional lines. His death signaled the likely end of that era.

It is also important to look at Zahir’s death within the context of the Afghan political narrative. Prior to the 1970s, Afghanistan was a monarchy ruled by King Mohammad Zahir Shah. In 1973, Shah’s prime minister, Mohammad Daoud Khan, seized control and declared himself as President and Prime Minister. In 1978, members of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (a Socialist party) assassinated Khan, along with his family. This assassination led to further turmoil that culminated in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistanon December 24, 1979. It was from this invasion, as well as the subsequent civil wars throughout the early 1980’s, that the majority of the Afghan diaspora fled from the country.

The context of Ahmad Zahir’s death with respect to the conditions of Afghanistan at the time is critical in understanding my father’s narrative. In 1979, Afghans saw the death of what some have believed to be their beloved national symbol, followed by bloody civil war and foreign invasion. This brings us to today, and the present opinion of Ahmad Zahir by a certain group Afghans, both members of that diaspora and their children.

“If I listen to one Ahmad Zahir song, it takes me three days to get over my homesickness”

It is undeniable that Ahmad Zahir had enormous skill as a singer. After speaking with my father for this interview, however, I realized that Ahmad Zahir was central in the diasporic imagination. Zahir was not just the zeitgeist of pop culture; he became a symbol of stability and peace for my father. He represented potential and “progress.” As my father describes, “Zahir’s music reminds me of that type of Afghanistan that we lived at that time.” Over the years of revolution, invasion, war, and forced migration, the Afghan diaspora transformed Zahir the pop singer into a personification of longing.

At one point in the interview, my father lowered his voice and mournfully stated, “I can’t listen to Ahmad Zahir all the time. It reminds me too much of my school years. We had a very good life and now it just makes me sad.” Ahmad Zahir evokes a quiet nostalgia for my father, not only about Zahir’s music specifically, but about of a past Afghanistan in general. Zahir will forever be tied to a generation’s memories of own youth and shared experiences. For those who were uprooted and forced to grow into adults at a much quicker pace, his music serves as a way to relive childhood innocence. I look at this and compare it to myself. My mother and father had to migrate to several different countries, looking for stability to provide for their future family. At the same age, I am sitting at a local coffee shop, on a laptop they helped purchase for me.

In preparation for this article, I spoke to a cousin of mine who lives in Afghanistan now. His family fled the country during the civil war, and resided in Pakistan as refugees for several years. While in Pakistan, he became fascinated with Ahmad Zahir, and explored his music and influence in Afghanistan. In that pursuit, he came across one of Zahir’s well known photographers selling negatives of Zahir’s pictures — essentially like trading cards. My cousin bought them all, and gave Ajam Media Collective the pleasure of sharing these photographs. Many of these photographs are never-before-seen, and Ajam has the benefit of publishing those photographs for the first time.

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As a child raised by parents of the diaspora, Ahmad Zahir’s music will always present a struggle for me. A struggle to connect myself to a sense of an Afghanistan that my parents feel, to which I still remain disconnected. Listening to his music, I obviously do not feel the quiet nostalgia that they feel. To me, Ahmad Zahir represents a way to understand the thoughts and feelings of a people whose innocence and idealism were taken away so abruptly. He also serves as a way for me to connect with my family, since many of these stories were new revelations for me. I was unexpectedly connected to the shared experience of people spanning decades, generations, and great distances. The figure of Ahmad Zahir is situated at the intersection of biographical, familial and national histories.

*To see the original article and more photos, go to Ajam.

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art of resistance, Iran

Children of Heaven.

Children of Heaven (1997) is an Iranian film directed by Majid Majidi. Some time has passed since it was made, but it is timeless in its beauty. That is why I want to write something about it (now).

It’s a story about a boy from a poor family, Ali, who loses his sister’s shoes. He knows his father has no money to buy new ones, so he and his sister decide to share his sneakers. She goes to school in the morning, he goes in the afternoon. Every day after school, she runs fast to meet him, and they exchange shoes on the street (he takes the sneakers, she puts on the house slippers), and then he runs fast in order to get to school on time.

It’s an adventure, and they have a lot of additional issues on the way. The plot is very simple, but it captures such a bigger story. The issues of poverty – not being able to afford basic things, feeling frustrated, running in circles.. But, it also perfectly captures the creativity and adroitness growing out of poverty. Not being able to have something, you need to find your way – either make it somehow, or learn how to get around without it. And still find pleasure, and still be able to smile, and – love. That is the magic, and children are the ones who know how to do it the best.

All of the actors are great, but Amir Farrokh Hashemian, a boy playing Ali, is simply amazing. His emotions are so honest and moving.  I didn’t feel, at any point – he is an actor. It was real, it was his life. There’s this aura of beauty and innocence which makes it a true pleasure to watch. It took me back to my childhood. Our ways of making things and making things happen – little moments of joy – like not having money for firecrackers for New Year’s eve, but collecting milk cartons for days, inflating them and then jumping on them to make them sound like firecrackers. It was magic.

Be sure to watch to movie, if you haven’t. It’s unique, heartwarming, inspiring and just –  marvelous.

Here are some screenshots I took. Enjoy.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

A day in Hebron, West Bank.

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Hebron, West Bank | April 10, 2014

Photos by Ammar Awad/Reuters

1. A Palestinian vendor organises a display of glass ornaments in a glass factory.

2. A Palestinian man paints a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

3. A Palestinian man paints a traditional ceramic plate in a ceramic factory.

4.. A Palestinian man uses a potter’s wheel to make a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

5. Palestinians work in a ceramic factory.

6. A Palestinian glassblower uses a blowpipe to make a traditional vase in a workshop.

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art of resistance, Iran

The Iranian Knot (traditional vs. everyday life) by Jalal Sepehr.

Jalal Sepehr is an Iranian photographer. His work Knot series (2011) is comprised of 12 images all including a Persian rug (1m x 70cm) taken in the historic city of Yazd in central Iran. Contrary to initial intentions, some of the images in Knot make use of the historic scenes and examples of architecture found in Yazd.

In this series, Sepehr strove to depict a space in between traditional and everyday life in his pictures. To do so, he made use of the rug and architecture as representative of tradition in opposition to the individuals pictured, dealing with the issues of everyday life.

knot-4-rah“A contrast”, Knot Series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-abanbar“Uncertainty”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-amir-chgmagh“A procession of mourning”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-dastha“Hands”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-do-panjareh“two windows”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-ghale“A gate in the way”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-ketab“A look at the past”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-loolehaye-farsh“Closing and leaving”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-partab“Thrown away”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-pirmard“A half look at the past”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-estade“A view”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-jahesh“From this side to that side”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

Beyond having participated in tens of exhibits both abroad and within Iran, Sepehr’s photography has been featured in galleries worldwide, including his series titled Water at the Silk Road Gallery (Tehran 2004), and his series Knot at the Khaki Gallery (Boston 2011). Visit his official website for more.

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