A video dialogue program for young women in the USA and Muslim countries
October 29th, 2006 at 7:45 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Our second session centered around life outside the classroom. We touched on a variety of different topics, but below are some of the key ones: 

Books. I think the Americans were highly impressed with the caliber of books and authors our Tunisian counterparts had read recently: Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen were all on their list, as was Khalil Gibran. One participant also mentioned DeTocqueville’s Democracy in America as one of the books she’d really enjoyed since she was anxious to learn more about American civilization (a term that made several American participants smile since we don’t often hear it applied to the United States…). Here in New York, books the participants cited included King Leopold’s Ghost and How Soccer Explains the World (the women in Gabes confirmed they watch soccer, especially during the World Cup when Tunisia was playing). Regarding King Leopold’s Ghost, which deals with colonialism in Congo, the Tunisian women were curious whether we read these books with a critical eye to colonialism, or if we were non-judgmental and just curious about the experience. 

Music. When asked about favorite artists, several of the singers the Tunisian women mentioned were American – given their knowledge of our music, they were surprised that most of us here in the US weren’t familiar with even the most famous Arab singers like Khaled and Umm Kulthum. There was definitely common ground, however, in asserting that there was no new good music to listen to, and that the greatest music was all from years ago (a criticism made of both Western and Arabic music). One of the American participants asserted that there was indeed good music, you just wouldn’t hear it on the radio – we talked about organizing an exchange of music between the participants here and in Gabes to expand each others’ music collections.       

Friends. We spent only a few minutes on friendship, but what was a common theme was that the closest friendships are made early in life. The Tunisian participants indicated that many of their best friends were made when they were small children; these people remained close to them throughout their lives. For the Americans, closest friendships seemed to come during high school and college. All agreed that it was hard to trust people you met later, and very difficult to meet lifelong friends by the time you were in your 20’s. 

Dating. Again, much common ground here: dating gets increasingly harder as you get older, it’s hard to meet the person you want to marry, and it’s very difficult to manage both a career and a family. The Tunisian women indicated theirs is a very traditional society: parties in which men and women mingle are not common, and dating without the intent of marriage is not a part of their culture or religion. They tended to meet people through classes at school – their parents also played a role in identifying potential mates. Women who continue their studies are likely to get married later, but by the age of about 27, most women are expected to have a spouse. For women over 30, it’s very difficult to find a mate. Marriage was described as “total commitment” - and even by one participant, jokingly, as a “prison” – it ends your socializing, friendships with men, etc. The woman becomes responsible first and foremost for her husband, home and children. One of the US participants indicated she wanted to do a lot of things in her life – including travel the world – and as a result, she didn’t think she wanted to get married. One Tunisian participant said that was not really an option for them, since unmarried women are not respected in their society (nor are single mothers). This topic is actually scheduled for session #6, but given the level of discussion it generated, I don’t think we’ll have a problem continuing the conversation!              

October 28th, 2006 at 3:03 pm
Posted by Zia in Participant contributions

I’ve received feedback on the program from some of our participants - you can read their comments here. If anyone else has thoughts on the program or suggestions for improving it, by all means let me know. Also new on the site today: some profiles of our participants from Tunisia.

October 27th, 2006 at 8:50 am
Posted by Zia in Participant contributions

Thanks to our colleagues in Gabes, we have some shots of our last session from their end. In progress: expanded profiles and contact information for all of our participants and program leaders.

October 26th, 2006 at 6:53 am
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Small group on both sides this time, but a really good dialogue on music, books, dating, marriage…details to come soon. In the meantime, a couple of pictures.

October 23rd, 2006 at 6:41 pm
Posted by Zia in Participant contributions

Profiles of our US participants have been added to the site. Coming soon: profiles of our partners in Tunisia.

October 20th, 2006 at 5:08 am
Posted by Zia in Planning

Next up for discussion: extracurricular activities. We’ll be addressing leisure time, friendships and popular culture among other topics. 

October 19th, 2006 at 12:50 pm
Posted by Zia in Planning

I’ve been receiving an increasing number of inquiries about the program, in particular from institutions here in the US that are interested in finding out how they might become involved going forward. By all means contact us if you’d like more information. Over the next few months, we’ll also be initiating conversations with different groups in the Middle East and North Africa interested in taking part in future programs.