(That says Hello! in Arabic) UPS asked me to write a blog about my summer as an intern with the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the National Council on US/Arab Relations in Washington, D.C. Despite my past pronouncements against “even the idea” of blogging, I agreed. Once a week or so, I’ll keep you updated on every single last detail of my life here in D.C
-Take it away, Walt!-Introduction-Welcome to D.C!-Moving Day-Lunch with Pushkin-Big Ups-On CCAS-Lamajamal-On NCUSAR-A Southern Gentleman-Welcome to Saudi Arabia!-By Broad Potomac’s Shore-
“By broad Potomac’s shore, again old tongue…Again, the freshness and the odors, again Virginia’s summer sky,/pellucid blue and silver,/Again the forenoon purple of the hills/Again the deathless grass, so noiseless soft and green”-Walt Whitman
If you’ve never been to Washington D.C before, the first thing that you’ll notice is that, despite what you may have learned from the classic Len Wiseman film Live Free or Die Hard, there are no skyscrapers in Washington D.C. Similarly, I have yet to see any car chases or explosions. Regardless, just because D.C isn’t a conventionally “big” city, it is ridiculously busy. Everyone here is in a hurry all the time. Sidewalks are full constantly. There are no working escalators anywhere within city limits. Blackberries(the phone, not fruit) are commonplace even among students. Car horns are near constant, and none of this frantic feeling is alleviated by the heat[i]. Put simply, Washington D.C is not Tacoma. This summer is going to be a different way of living, that’s for sure.
I haven’t even mentioned (and won’t, for brevity’s sake) the adjustment to living in a room with not one, but two roommates and having to do the entire first day of college dance again.
Incidentally, if you’re looking for a great D.C lunch, you could do a lot worse than to eat a sandwich under the statue of Alexander Pushkin that sits on 22nd and H street.
As for the internship program itself, so far, I am nothing but thrilled. First and foremost: Patrick O’Neil, Greta Austin, Matthew Ingalls, and George Erving, once again, I can’t thank you enough for all of the assistance you gave me in preparing my application for this program. I absolutely wouldn’t be here if not for you all.
I intern for the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, which has for some time been the site of controversy, as it receives a good deal of its funding from Egypt, Oman, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, all of whom, it needn’t be said, have less than stellar human rights records (the CCAS, that is, not Georgetown University as a whole, which is funded by the Jesuits). So far, my work has been typical intern work: I have become a near expert on the office copy machine and it’s equally complex counterpart, the coffee machine. That shouldn’t be read as a complaint. For one thing, I’m learning some straight up life skills, the type that they don’t often teach in the ivory tower.[ii] I also work with people who are kind, remarkably intelligent, and more than a little strange; the sort of people that the upper echelon of academia seems to attract. Some of the grunt work I do is voyeuristically fascinating. Let me just say it’s more than a little interesting to look at the relations CCAS has with Governments and NGOs around the world. Far and away though, the best intern work that I’ve done so far has been in the preparation for and execution of an Arab Music festival on June 4th. It should come as no surprise to people who know me that I (literally) jumped out of my chair at the opportunity to volunteer and work at said festival. Though I spent much of the day making name-tags, moving chairs and working with caterers, who were not unlike what you would imagine a Mediterranean version of Party Down to be like, I got to hear some fantastic music from the classical Arab, Sephardic, Ashkenazi-ic, and Turkish traditions expertly performed by a Chicago ensemble called Lamajamal. The not insignificant amount of Palestinian folk in the audience contributed some nice ululations now and again, adding to the overall mood, which was rather festive indeed. It, frankly, was awesome, and I feel vastly lucky that out of all of the programs and internships in D.C, I lucked into the one that just so happened to be holding a folk music festival during my first week. So while it still feels strange to me to be spending my summer working in an office with my shirt tucked in, instead of getting kicked off of golf courses, camping, or wandering through the woods, I can’t imagine a better place to do it than the CCAS.
Here is a video of Lamajamal performing somewhere that is not CCAS
As for the program that placed me at CCAS, the National Council on US/Arab Relations, which will hereafter be referred to, somewhat ominously sounding, as the National Council, I am pretty impressed. We meet three times a week for seminars and site visits, and I have been blown away by two out of the three that we have had so far. the first of many seminars we’re going to have was led by the esteemed Dr. John Duke Anthony who is a fascinating man. He is the only American who has been invited to every GCC[iv] summit since their founding in 1981. He has seemingly won every award and accolade there is to win. Let’s just leave it at this: Dr. John Duke Anthony is an O.G, a brilliant political theorist, and true old-time southern gentleman, the sort that, frankly, I didn’t know still existed. Lectures about the Israel/Palestine conflict or Yemen’s seemingly inevitable collapse into a failed state aside, he wouldn’t seem out of place at the Kentucky Derby circa 1839.
The second National Council program I have attended was an all-expenses-paid trip to Saudi Arabia. Well, an all-expenses-paid trip to the Saudi Arabian embassy, but still, I was technically on Saudi soil. I hadn’t been to many (any) embassies before the Saudi Arabian embassy, but I have to say, as far as embassies go, the Saudis have a nice one. Also, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Saudi Arabian embassy has both excellent air conditioning and extremely tight security. There, we met with the brother of the Saudi Ambassador, who is the head Saudi PR man in the United States. He gave us a really unique, surprisingly candid[v], look at the way in which the Saudi government is dealing with the Arab Spring, the Israel/Palestine conflict, Islamism,Terrorism,and human rights. If these two programs, the Dr. Anthony seminar and the Embassy visit are any indication, I am in for an incredibly enriching summer, and I can’t wait to get started on the rest of it.[vi]
The last thing I did before I left for the airport to D.C was replace one of the books I was planning on taking with me with my copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe it was the giant American flag on the cover. Maybe because nobody, I mean nobody, makes a better traveling companion than Walt Whitman. Maybe it was because it was 4 in the morning and I was running on about 3 hours of sleep so nothing I did had any rational reason behind it. Most likely it was because for a few years now, I haven’t spent any summers without Leaves of Grass nearby. As hinted at earlier, the first 19 summers of my life were far different than the summer I’m starting. My previous Whitman summers have been full of camping trips, road trips, hiking, off-roading in friend’s jeeps, bonfires and long days and nights of perfect nothingness. My shirt was almost never tucked in and I never had to make sure that documents were collated.[vii] Again, I am nothing but excited to be here and honored that I have this opportunity. But it’s certainly going to be different. I’m moving closer and closer to “Real Life” every day. Now that I’m here, Whitman seems different, in a way I can’t quite explain. Perhaps I should have also taken with me Frank O’Hara, who in my mind is the consummate poet of modern city life:
“But no more fountains and no more rain,/
and the stores stay open terribly late.”
This is going to be an interesting ten weeks.
In the weeks to come: monuments, big city livin’, the Smithsonian, “Networking”, my attempts to create a lasting peace in the Middle East, a plea to the UPS administration to start teaching Arabic, and more!
[i] I have Minnesota ancestry and grew up in the mountains of Colorado where we had snow on the ground as recently as two weeks ago. I needn’t even mention that I go to school in Tacoma. Simply put, I have cold bones, and I think I sweat more in my first two days here than in the entire rest of my life put together. The fact that the expected dress code for men in nearly all circumstances in Washington D.C is, at best, a long sleeved shirt and slacks and at worst, a full on suit is no great help. One would think that when it is more than one-hundred degrees by 8 in the morning, t shirts and shorts would not only be acceptable but even expected. The vast number of sharply-dressed and soaked business men with heat stroke I saw, however, let me know that this is not the case.
[ii] For as much as I love debating and discussing 16th century Sufi theology or Blake, knowing how to use Microsoft Excel is pretty important.
[iv] The Gulf Co-operation Council, which is composed of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE
[v] Or at least seemingly candid. This man was, after all, a hired spin doctor. However, I never once got the sense that he was just repeating the party line, and he often distinguished between the official government position and his own, differing opinion in his answers to our many questions.
[vi] The astute reader may have noticed that I had effusive praise for two programs, but mentioned that I had attended three. The program I didn’t mention was about “networking”, career opportunities, success, mentors, and the phrase “it’s not what you know it’s who you know” etc… This is a subject that has its both its ups and downs. I will cover this extensively in a later entry.
[vii] I realize I’m romanticizing my summers here, but when you’re talking about Whitman, it can’t be helped.