Tuesday, March 29, 2016

FoodBlessed Mouneh

As I've mentioned before, one of the very cool things about being in Lebanon is the chance to catch up with a bunch of AMENDS Fellows and see their projects for myself. Including the very cool FoodBlessed.

I snuck into a party for their volunteers last week. Yesterday, I finally earned that dinner, becoming a "Hunger Hero" by volunteering at the organisation.

Maya and her team of 'Hunger Heroes' have served nearly a quarter of a million meals, helping hundreds of thousands of people - many of whom are refugees from the Syrian and Palestinian conflicts.

Many of those meals are served hot with a smile at the soup kitchen on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. But the organisation also works via "Mouneh" Box. Mouneh refers to a style of Lebanese food preservation. FoodBlessed's mouneh boxes are large kits of non-perishable food items given to those in need.

Yesterday, I and a host of volunteers - including a great group of Lebanese Girl Guides I was able ot chat about Scouts with! - stuffed something like 150 boxes with many kilos of rice, beans, canned veggies, pasta, and other delicious and nutritious essentials.

It turns out that Easter Monday is a public holiday in Lebanon. What better way to spend it than having a jolly time with cool people?

And, as a not-quite-non-sequiter, I have now obtained photographic evidence of my dad-joke-worthy "Hosanna in the Fryest" claim from Palm Sunday:

I spent this afternoon helping out and having fun at a potluck for Maya Terro's amazing FoodBlessed Hunger Heroes. The bulk of that time was in the kitchen staffing the potato oil.
On this Palm Sunday, I say to you: "Hosanna! Hosanna in the fryest!!!"

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Data Day!

Yesterday was the ‘big day’ for my ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon: a full-day workshop with the entire Media Association for Peace team. We did a participatory stakeholder analysis, as I did with Dar Si Hmad in Morocco and the Dive Team in Kuwait. I lead the volunteers and staff members through a series of exercises thinking about their projects and goals, the various people/groups/institutions/things involved in or affected by their work, and how it all fits together. For me, the analysis creates data about the purpose of and power influencing environmental peacebuilding projects. For my research partners, it’s a chance to think holistically about their organisation and reflect on why they do what they do – and how they might do it better.

That took up the morning. After a shared buffet lunch of Lebanon’s best Asian takeaway (which, sadly, pales in comparison to the offerings in London, but was lovely nonetheless), we moved into a learning session on environmental peacebuilding. We did some environmental peacebuilding theory based on my PhD literature review; a few of the team’s researchers presented a report on the links between the environment, peace, and the media; and we created working definitions for the various intersecting concepts.

I got loads and loads of lovely data; I’m hopeful that my partners weren’t lying when they said it was useful for them as well.

And, it must be said…this all happened on Good Friday. When we were searching for a date that worked for everyone, I don’t think any of us quite noticed that. But there it is. an unusual way to spend what is a national holiday in Lebanon: the other organisations whose space we share didn’t come in, and everyone with a ‘normal’ job was off, including the university students. As it stands, though, it was rather poignant for me on a personal level. As I posted on Facebook last evening:

This Good Friday, a group of young journalists in the Middle East gave up their national holiday to do a six-hour focus group on environmental peacebuilding for my research.

This weekend, Christians around the world are commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, celebrating how death and sorrow give way to life and joy.

This week and every week, the amazing multi-faith members of the MAP are working to make sure that the trauma of conflict and the violence of injustice are reshaped to create opportunities for dialogue and understanding.

I cannot imagine a more meaningful beginning to this Easter weekend. Working with young people who grew up and live in the active warzones of Lebanon and Yemen, yet still believe in and strive for peace, is an awe-inspiring thing. Thank you all for your commitment to each other, to your work, and to our shared world. You give me hope. From grief and pain shall come gladness and laughter. 

So, thanks much to MAP for being yet another fantastic research partner! I have truly been spoiled in my fieldwork and data collection. I have one more month in Lebanon, during which I will be conducting a few more interviews and helping to prepare their First National Conference on Media, Peace, and the Environment. Exciting times ahead!! :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Defending the Deep" is now on sale

It's World Water Day!! Around the world, policymakers, academics, technicians, and communities are embracing that beautiful clear-blue stuff that keeps us alive.

In celebration of Water Day, I am happy to announce that the long-awaited book about the Kuwait Dive Team is now available for purchase in the United States.

You may remember that, a year and a half ago,  I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to the Gulf for the first time as a guest of the Kuwait Dive Team, a volunteer organisation working to preserve and protect the marine environment of the Gulf. I participated in their activities for a week in order to learn more about their operations and, at their request, wrote a book in English sharing their incredible story with the world.

The best way to learn more about the Team (other, of course, than buying a book!) is to watch my interview on Kuwait National TV, my reflective episode of "Ramblings with Rebecca", and Dari AlHuwail's AMENDS Talk on the Team.

Today, I serve as the Team's International Cultural Consultant. Their 'diving diplomacy' activities are the basis of one of my three ethnographic case studies on environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East for my PhD. I had the privilege of spending January and February this year in Kuwait, where I worked with the printer to finish up the book, among other things. In 2015, I had fun representing the Dive Team at the London International Dive Show in February and launching their international Global Environmental Guardians Network in Baltimore, Maryland, in August.

"Defending the Deep: Guardians of the Sea" is now available for order on Amazon. The book is intended as a fun, easy read about an amazing group of people. The focus is on the beautiful world that resides under the sea, and the many ways we as humans can help - or hurt - that world.
On Christmas Day in 1991, the Government of Kuwait formally accepted an offer from a group of young scuba divers to help remove underwater debris left by the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. What began as a patriotic act of post-conflict rebuilding grew into a national movement for marine conservation and environmental volunteering. This is the strory of those volunteers, young Kuwaitis dedicated to preserving and protecting the rich resources and natural beauty offered by our planet's water. Today, the organisation holds hundreds of beach clean-ups each year, salvages thousands of tons of boats and fishing nets from Kuwait Bay, and creates a safe haven for millions of animals in the Gulf. This book invites you to take a journey with the Environmental Voluntary Foundation. It is a story of life and death, capture and rescue, wreck and restoration. It is a story meant to show you a different Middle East than you know. It is the story of the Kuwait Dive Team.
The book is currently available for order from Amazon in the US and Canada. Do feel free to order that way, however - if you are based around Michigan or likely to see my mother Kendall, the cheapest and easiest way to buy a book for all of us is in person! That saves shipping costs for everyone, including the Earth as we reduce packaging and transport emissions.

For those of you in the UK, I will be selling books in person. For those based elsewhere in the world, please just be in touch - we are happy to send books wherever they are wanted! Email sales@rebeccalfarnum.com to request a copy or with any questions.

For more details about the book, see the Amazon listing: http://www.amazon.com/Defending-Deep-Guardians-Rebecca-Farnum/dp/9990669600/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458638938&sr=8-1&keywords=kuwait+dive+team

All proceeds from book sales will go to the work of the Kuwait Dive Team. However, it is not necessary to buy a book to read the story. If you prefer a soft copy (PDF), you can download a free copy here. The PDF is a large file, so you can see the full colour photos in all their glory! https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/defending-the-deep%28d4bbbc55-435e-4e63-8e33-97ff74f33ec4%29.html

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in this project...it was quite the grand adventure! I hope you enjoy the story as much as I do. My best to the Dive Team and all of their volunteers. It is a pleasure to be a part of such a cool endeavour.

In honour of today's World Water Day and yesterday's World Poetry Day, a piece written by Brenda Meier-Hans. It's titled "Niagara Falls" and may thus seem inappropriate to close out a piece about the Gulf, but as the Team says...our oceans are one. Cleaning up the beach in Kuwait makes the water in Michigan better. The waterfalls, the lakes, the tides, the oceanbeds...all are one magical, mystical world worthy of delight, of terror, and of joy. Here's to water, my friends, and here's to you.

loudly inside my head,
roaring thunder rushing through my veins.

Powers are
chaining me mesmerized,
hypnotizing with a mighty force.

thoughts are racing blindly
spilling into open nothingness.

Crashing down,
only to rise again
as an eternal magical mist.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hunger Heroes Potluck

You may recall that I shared a story about Maya Terro's efforts against hunger in Lebanon after the spat of attacks around the world in November.

One of the grand things about being based physically in Beirut is that I am now able to actually see Maya's work with FoodBlessed for myself. Maya and her team of 'Hunger Heroes' have served nearly a quarter of a million meals, helping hundreds of thousands of people - many of whom are refugees from the Syrian and Palestinian conflicts.

Yesterday, Maya held a potluck in the northern mountains for her volunteers. I was (very willingly) dragged along, where I proceeded to arrange greenery, fry potatoes, and pick up rubbish in between meeting the very cool and incredibly diverse lot of Hunger Heroes.

In many ways, it was the kind of barbecue you'd see in America on any nice weekend. We had a grillmaster (Maya's sister's fiancé, who very kindly gave me a ride up - thanks, Abbas!):

And the table was filled with condiments and crisps and 7-layer dip:

But in some other ways, the day was less reminiscent of midwest American hangouts. For instance, this was our view:

And then there was the desert. Knefe!!!! One of the most delicious, and nearly endemic, dishes to come from the Middle East: a hard-to-describe sweet cheese pastry thingabob. Ibrahim done good:

Then there were the activities. Which included a game of darts - more or less standard, even with the silly addition of balloons to aim for and pop. But also a rowdy, very Lebanese serenade of Maya, complete with hand clapping, hooting, and hollering in a style entirely unique to the Arab region.

All in all, a very grand way to spend Palm Sunday. :)


Crusader Castle? Yes, please.

The city of Jbeil, or Gebel, or Byblos, in Lebanon is one of the world's oldest. It has been constantly inhabited since 5000 BC. (Good grief. The mind boggles.) This makes it home to such casual wonders as the first recorded alphabet:

as well as ancient columns hanging out next to a main road:

One of my new Lebanese friends and research partners, Christina, grew up in a small village near Byblos. She attended school downtown. I don't know that I've ever been happier to explore someone's childhood haunts. We climbed around the ruins of a Crusader castle dating to 1100AD, ate saj (flatbread) on our own mini oven at an adorable restaurant, explored a fabulous souq (outdoor market), and splashed in the Mediterranean.

I am incredibly lucky to have such Saturdays be a part of my 'work'.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Cedars of Lebanon

Yesterday qualified as a very good day.

Raneem is a dear friend from my days in Edinburgh - while I was doing my LLM in International Law as a Marshall Scholar, she was doing an MSc in Anthropology as a Chevening Scholar. We met at a dinner hosted by the Scholarship Office and quickly clicked.

Two years later, Raneem is back in her home country...and here I am! She's been showing me around, helping me do basic errands in Beirut. And, on the weekends, driving me into the mountains for glorious views.

Hello to the cedars of Lebanon! A truly incredible privilege to be amongst these trees, surrounded by the power of nature and history. The smell of cedar is truly amongst the world's finest.



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Updates from Beirut

Oh, what to say, what to say. I've certainly dived right into life in Lebanon...been here just over a week and already I have completed 5 research interviews, attended 3 public conferences conducted at least partially in Arabic on environmental issues around the country, and met a host of cool people.

There's also the fact that I'm in Lebanon. You know, Lebanon. Called the "Switzerland of the Middle East" in the 1970s for its pristine natural beauty, the country has lost some of the appeal due to pollution and urbanisation, but there's still plenty of gorgeous stuff to indulge in. Take, for example, Rouche Rock, which I walked to on Sunday:

 And there's something utterly delightful about an agenda-less stroll spotting sunlight on wildflowers and brush overlooking cliffs. Just look at that water! The colour!


On Tuesday, I was privileged to attend the launch of a report about the economic costs of climate change to Lebanon. Had the opportunity to chat with some natural resource economists and journalists and hear from officials from the Ministry of Environment - who gave a shoutout to International Women's Day!

Tuesday also saw Michigan choose both Trump and Sanders in presidential primaries. Without being overly political, here's what I've to say about the eighth of March:

On this confluence of days:
...to the many who fought for women's suffrage: I thank you.
...to the women of colour and other minorities the women's suffrage movement left behind in the pursuit of votes for privileged white women: I am sorry.
...to the people around the world who still do not have basic political rights: I will fight.
...to the people who have the opportunity to vote today: I exhort you.

Happy Women's Day. May we continue striving for a world where the inherent worth and dignity of all persons are respected and protected.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

International Women's Day

Happy Mother's Day! As it is in Britain. But not America. Just to really confuse us all. 

International Women's Day is Tuesday 8 March - everywhere around the world, so there.

To commemorate the day, a group in Lebanon held a large event Friday night interrogating "The Role of Women in Peacebuilding". The Canadian, Dutch, and Indian ambassadors to Lebanon spoke, as did a Lebanese princess and the country's few female politicians. 

Vanessa, the Founder and President of the Media Association for Peace (my Lebanese research partner), and I went along. It was a good evening, and a fascinating one - after the speeches it turned into an awards show of sorts, as they recognised a variety of Lebanese women for their leadership in multiple sectors with much pomp and circumstance. 

By far my favourite part of the evening was the Indian Ambassador's remarks. She stood up and immediately announced that she disagreed with the entire evening's theme. To speak of the particular "role" of women in peacebuilding, she argued, was to continue drawing lines and further gender-based stereotypes. Rather than a role for women, true peacebuilding must embrace all humans in action. Instead of seeking a role for women in peacebuilding, we must seek to ensure everyone has equal roles in the basic process of life. Suffice it to say, she was right up my alley. 

The event concluded with a cocktail party...at which I tragically did not find the Indian Ambassador. 

Vanessa and I grabbed dinner with a friend of hers and I made it home a bit after midnight, in order to get up early on the Saturday and head to a conference on the garbage crisis in Lebanon. The event was in Arabic, and thus quite a bit of work for my brain, which has definitely not caught on to Lebanese Arabic fluently! But I did fairly well and learned a lot. 

Best of all? As I left the UNESCO Palace, who should I spy in her car than the Indian Ambassador, on her way in for another event?! I very cheekily interrupted her break to thank her for her remarks. She was incredibly gracious and chatted with me for quite a while about my work in Lebanon. She may even come to the conference MAP is hosting on Media, Peace, and the Environment!

A very cool set of events, indeed.

And to all of you - Happy Mother's Day. Be you a mother or not, female or not, anything or not. May you cherish the maternal influences in your life and give love to others, in whatever way you are capable and whichever form they need. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hello from Beirut!!

I am safely and happily arrived in Beirut.

Friends from AMENDS have greeted me in lavish style. I got mango juice and Nutella crepes my first night with a mate working against hunger in urban centres by redistributing restaurant waste. (The crepes were not from her soup kitchen. Just an indulgence. But a fun one! I'll get to the kitchen sometime soon.)

I'm staying with another friend of hers, who is being incredibly generous with her adorable flat. My bedroom view includes snow-covered mountains. Clearly I'm miserable about that!

And today finds me at AltCity, a start-up launcher for businesses and young entrepreneurs. My third NGO partner, the Media Association for Peace, has already put me to work. Another AMENDS Fellow surprised me with a giant hug - though seeing as he's a founder of AltCity, I probably shouldn't be surprised to see him here. ;)

And plans are already made for coffee with a mate who studied at Edinburgh the same year as I. How cool is life? :)