Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kids & Exams

My friend Wanee, posted this as her status: "neglecting the answer scripts that r shouting to be marked... no no... not hearing them! lalala (looks the other way...)"

Although, like Wanee, I generally detest marking, I do derive some pleasure when I come across scripts such as these (they provide the much needed comic relief):

Angsa? It baffles me when a 16-year-old cannot spell Ansar correctly. *sigh*

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where the streets had a name

I was browsing the general fiction section at the Big Bad Wolf Sale when I saw the book. I gave a small gasp. What a serendipitous find!

I've read the 2 earlier books by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big In This? & Ten Things I Hate About Me) and have been looking for this one.

Though her books are targeted to young adults, I enjoyed reading them nonetheless. Her stories are always funny and enjoyable to read. Yet, at the same time, they deal with serious issues such as coming to grips with your identity and being a proud Muslim in a discouraging/hostile environment.

Her latest book attempts to tackle an even bigger issue: the plight of the Palestinians.

I love the novel! Hayaat, the 13-year-old heroine is a spunky character that you'll come to love and admire.

When her beloved grandmother, Sitti Zeynab, collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance, Hayaat knew that she had to do something. So, she came up with the idea to bring back a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem.

Hayaat enlisted the help of her best friend, Samy, to help her negotiate the various obstacles she needed to overcome to enter Jerusalem (the separation wall, the checkpoints, the curfews, the permit system, etc).

Even though their journey is only a few kilometres long and should not have taken more than 20 minutes by car, due to the obstacles mentioned above, it took hours and was fraught with danger.

Besides having a strong protagonist, the novel also offers memorable supporting characters. Samy, who "infuriates adults even without saying a word", is a standout. The others; Sitti Zeynab, Mama, Baba and Jihan (Hayaat's older sister) also contribute significantly to the novel.

I like how Randa Abdel-Fattah  interspersed the profound message of her novel with funny dialogues such as this between Hayaat and Samy:
"What if we die?"
"What if we get shot?"
"I probably won't. I have my cross for protection. I can lend you one if you like. But you're a Muslim, so it might not work".

They are cute, aren't they? Do read the book if you can.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Taken from the blurb:
TAXI brings together 58 fictional dialogues with Cairo cabbies recreated from the author's own experience of traversing the city. It takes the reader on a roller-coaster of emotions as bumpy and noisy as the city's potholed and chaotic streets.
Described as an urban sociology, an ethnography, a classic oral history - and a work of poetry in motion - TAXI tells Herculean tales of the struggle for survival and dignity among Cairo's 80,000 cab drivers. It is a wing-mirror that reflects both on modern Egypt and the human condition, plucking from the rush-hour sandstorm a feast of memories, lies, loves, hates and dreams.
TAXI was an instant bestseller in Arabic markets and has been credited with reviving an interest in reading in Egypt. This unique work explores the poignant self-reflections of members of a caste who have little in common apart from their trade.

It took me a while to really be engaged in Taxi. The 58 stories span only 245 pages. So, on average, one story is only 4 pages long. I feel that that's too short because by the time you're invested in the story, the chapter ends. You ended up feeling/wondering "That's it?!". Further, there were also some jokes, expressions and references peculiar to Egypt that I didn't get.

But I became engrossed when reading about the various misfortunes plaguing Egypt. Ordinary Egpytians struggle on a daily basis due to the rising cost of food and other commodities. Milk is considered a luxury, consumed only by the rich. A horrifying statistic disclosed that 10% of the children in Southern Egypt are mentally-retarded from malnutrition.

The hopelessness of the situation is underlined when a taxi driver lamented, "'s impossible for anyone in Egypt to make do with his salary. Because how much are salaries? From 300 to 600 pounds and no more than that. And that's not enough. So what's the answer? Either we steal or take bribes or work all day.".

Besides stagnant wages and rising cost of living, Egyptians also grapple with:
-an ineffective a broken bureaucracy
-widespread corruption and bribery
-manufactured news broadcasted by state-owned medias
 -the dismal state of education in public schools
-the mistreatment of minorities in the society
-polluted air in the city

Reading the stories from these taxi drivers will make you understand why Egyptians revolted against their government and how the Arab Spring came to be.

Their frustration is palpable when you read remarks like this: "Frankly, the government does everything it can to turn us into beggars or criminals. You feel they're making a big effort to ruin us and our families..."

Though we Malaysians are much better off, we shouldn't feel too smug. Yes, we should be grateful that our situation is not that dire but we shouldn't feel too complacent. The list of problems stated above sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Do grab the book (published by ZI Publications) and read it as "a man's feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world" (George Santayana).