Monday, May 14, 2007


From emailing Hosam, meeting him and reading the literature that he picked out, I was able to learn a lot about Egyptian culture- the virtues, the ethics and, what I find most interesting, how it differs from American cutlure. Our various conversations will show how eager Hosam was to teach me about his country and his culture. This demonstrated to me both his knowledge and his nationalism. Being exposed to someone with a disntinctly different culture than me has been simply eye opening.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Monday, April 2, 2007

My Project Partner

My project partner is Hosam. He is currently living here and is an International Egyptian Graduate Student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is working on his Masters degree in Education. I have been able to discuss with him Egyptian culture and specifically, a novel he picked out called the Harafish (see post below). We were also able to branch out and talk about Chinese literature a little bit as well. Our class was lucky to have him and his wife visit recently.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Here are some excerpts from our various conversations over email:

From Hosam:
About the Chinese literature. I think china has one
of the best and strongest literature in all the world,
I just wonder what do you like more in Chinese literature. In other
words, which kind of Chinese literature arts do you like most, and why?

Hello Hosam,
We have recently looked at the
philosophies of Confucius and Lao Tzu. These two men lived around the same
time but had distinctly different philosophies. I think that I like the
idea of "balance" or "yin yang" which is found in a lot of Chinese literature.
Have you read a lot of Chinese literature? How does it compare to Egyptian

Hello Emily
You said “I think that I like the idea of "balance"”. Can I ask what the meaning of “Balance” in Chinese literature before answer your question about comparing this with the Egyptian literature. I am sorry; I did not read a lot in Chinese literature. About the Egyptian Literature. The Egyptian literature started from 7000 years ago. In this sense there were the ancient Egyptian, the people who build
the pyramids and the sphinx. I think you may be interesting in looking at this website.

It is very simple one, and provides you
with a lot of short stories, proverbs and more come from ancient
Egyptian literature. Then, we can start to talk about the modern Egyptian
Literature if you are interested.

Dear Hosam,
Well, I think that "balance" in the
Chinese literature means "harmony".
I think that if one strives to balance their life, they
are trying to find a "middle path"- a path in which everything is done
in moderation. There are no extremes. I enjoyed the website a lot, especially the story of The Egyptian Cinderella. It is actually very different from the
American version. Have you read a lot of ancient Egyptian literature?
How do its themes compare to the themes of modern literature?
I will have my teacher contact you about
your visit.

Dear Emily
I am happy that you liked the
website about the literature in Ancient Egyptian. There are
many differences between ancient Egyptian literature and modern
Egyptian literature. I will try to summarize these differences in one point:
The ancient Egyptian believe in nature. You can notice this in
their proverbs in the same website. Their teaching,
art, and science come from their observing to the nature. On the
other hand, the modern literature now in Egypt has a lot of themes
and ideas. However, from my reading, I can say that it focused more on
the society. We have kind of believe that the literature should be
connected to the society and come from it.
One of the most famous literature writers in the
modern age is Naguib Mahfouz. He had The Nobel Prize in Literature 1988.You can check these websites

As ever,

It seems like a lot of ancient literature,
not just Egyptian literature, focused on nature. I think
that this is because nature was
more of a mystery in the past. It was seen as a live
force...I am so impressed with Naguib Mahfouz. He accomplished so much
in his lifetime - 34 novels, many of which have
been made into movies. I read that ChitChat on the Nile is one of his
most famous novels- Have you ever read it? Naguib seemed like a very
sensible person-supporting a peace treaty with Israel. Is there
a piece of literature of his that is your favorite? My teacher said
that we should discuss a
specific piece of literature - anything in mind?

Dear Emily
I really like your way of analyzing the websites. That is great.
Yes, I read this novel “ChitcChat on the Nile”. I think it is social
philosophical novel. I am also agree with you that many literatures focused on the nature as a main source for them. I wonder if you know more Egyptian writers?
Have a good night

I actually am not familiar with any other
authors. In
fact, we have never read any Egyptian literature in school.
Who else do you recommend?
- Emily


I began the Harafish and I noticed that Naguib Mahfouz is
excellent at describing things and using imagery to portray a setting.
So far,
book has been stressing the importance of faith, living a
decent life and issues that common people have to deal with. It says in
the beginning, that harafish means "the common people in a
positive sense,
those in menial jobs, casual workers and the unemployed and
The majority of people in the world fit this description so
sense that someone would want to write about it.
- Emily

. . .

I really liked the saying, "Deeds are judged by the intentions behind
them" I believe this to be true. I noticed also that this
culture in the book seems to be much more conservative than the American
culture. Do you agree? Have a good springbreak!
- Emily

Hello Emily
I am also like this sentence "Deeds are judged by the intentions
behind them". This is not only sentence, but this one of the values that
we teach inside the schools. I can just add that you should be sure
about these intentions before you judge on them.
Can you explain more what do you mean by "conservative"? and
what do you feel about it?
I hope you also have a great spring break

By conservative I meant more strict and more rigid. For example,
it seems to me that when the characters in the book have morals, they
will do anything to stand by these morals. It seems to me that
drinking, violence, drugs, corruption ,adultery etc. are more
prevalent in the American society. However, I could easily be mistaken.
Please correct me if I am wrong.
- Emily

Thanks for your clarification.
In my society (Egyptian Society), we do, have some strict traditions.
For example,
You have to help your neighbor and support him/her
We also have something called “Arabic values”. It is similar to what
you talked about in your e-mail. For example, you have to be brave,
honest, helpful, and effective.
On the other hand, every one is free to do whatever he/she wants as
well as he/she does not harm the others and not against this “Arabic
I hope my answer is clear for youIf not, feel free to ask
Keep on your reading

The Harafish: Summary and Excerpts

The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz, a 406 page novel published in 1994, chronicles the history of the al- Nagi family. Beginning with Ashur al-Nagi who leads his life morally and decently. His following generations, however, begin to stray from such morality. The novel is translated by Catherine Cobham. Her Translator's note which can be found in the beginning of the book says,
"The historical meaning of harafish is the rabble or riffraff. In the novel it means the common people in a positive sense, those in menial jobs, casual workers, and the unemployed and homeless". I think that the time and setting of the novel are purposefully made unclear because the message(s) of the novel are supposed to be universal and timeless.
The first excerpt takes place when death is sweeping the alley in which Ashur and his new wife, Fulla, an ex-prostitute live. Ashur by this time, had already abandoned his first wife Zaynab to marry Fulla- a more beautiful and lustful woman. Sheikh afra had taken in Ashur (an abandoned baby- probably a lovechild) and raised him with ethical and moral principles. What is interesting is that everyone living in the alley and seeing death take many of their neighbors believed that is was complete fate and that there was no escape. Ashur and Fulla leave and when they return, they find an abandoned alley- desolate and dusty. Soon, he and Fulla come across riches in a palace and convince themselves that if they use the $ to benefit the people, then it is fine to take it. When people finally start to trickle back into the alley, Ashur al-Nagi is made chief of the neighborhood. Ashur uses this position to become a great protector of the Harafish. He becomes universally loved and his alley enjoys security and prosterity. I personally liked how Ashur was able to be portrayed as a human (having flaws and weaknesses and mistakes in his past) but yet be loved and a hero. His descendants, however, will not exactly follow in these noble footsteps...

*My first post on this site has a video about the author.

p 36:
He fell asleep for a couple of hours.
He saw Sheikh Afra Zaydan in the middle of the alley and rushed toward him, wild with hope. The sheikh turned and began to walk away, taking two steps for every one of his, and so they progressed along the path and through the graveyard out into the hills and the open country. He tried to call out to the sheikh but his voice stuck in his throat and he woke up in the depths of depression.
. . .
"I had a strange dream" [he said to his wife Fulla]
"I want to go back to sleep," she protested.
"We have to leave the alley without delay," he said with a severity which surprised her.
She stared at him in disbelief.
. . .
"It's not for us to resist death, Ashur,"
He looked down in embarrassment and said, "we have a right to resist death as well as to die at the appointed time."

p 41
The following passage shows that Ashur finds it to be imperative to convert his new wife to Islam. It also gives insight to their relationship:

The occasion arose at last to make Fulla a believer. She was a young and beautiful woman without religion. She knew nothing of God or the prophets, of virtue rewarded or sin punished. All that protected her in this terrifying world were her love and her maternal instincts. Fine, he would bend all his effforts to educating her. If she hadn't had such confidence in him she wouldn't have belived a word he was saying. With great trouble she learned some chapters of the Quran so that she could say her prayers. She would burst out laughing in the middle and interrupt herself, but she prayed obediantly, trying not to provoke her husband's anger and anxious to please him.

p 70
The following passage takes place after Al-nagi Ashur had mysteriously dissappeared. No one thought that his son, Shams al-Din would be able to take his place because he had not inherited his father's stature. Another important difference between father and son was that Shams al-Din was also not keen on living such an ascetic, frugal life. But Shams al-Din was determined to try and become chief. Surprisingly he is able to do so by winning a fight. What is interesting is that the spectators really seemed to believe that everything happens because of God and that God controls every aspect of life.

The crowd watched in stunned silence, waiting for the blood to flow. The seconds passed, molten in the furnace of the sands. The crows held its breath and not a sound was heard. Ghassan's brows met in a furious scowl. He appeared to be challenging the impossible, resisting fate. Stuggling like a drowning man. Fighting the unknown like a madman. Unleashing blind fury against creeping despair. And yet he weakened, despite his persistence and pride and anger. He lost his footing, staggered, and, with a rasping intake of breath, began to sink. Shams al-Din showed him no mercy until his arms sagged, his legs buckled, and he collapsed on the ground.
Shams al-Din stood panting, bathed in sweat. The shocked silence prevailed, broken only when One-Eyed Shaalan handed him his clothes and cried, "Long live our young chief!"
Then the crowd roared out, "God bless him! God bless him!"
"Ashur al-Nagi has risen from the dead!" exclaimed Dahshan.
"His new name shall be Shams al-Din al-Nagi," pronouned One-Eyed Shaalan.
The vast unchanging desert bore unimpassioned witness to his glory and might.


Friday, March 2, 2007

Naguib Mahfouz (1911 - 2006)

Naguib Mahfouz is one of the most famous Egyptian authors. He recently died, but his literature continues to be admired and influence others. Much of his work concentrated on issues that "ordinary" people deal with. He is a winner of the Noble Peace Prize.