Saturday, April 25, 2009

Launch of UN's World Digital Library

UNESCO launched the World Digital Library last Tuesday. It promises to have primary source documents (manuscripts, books, illustrations, photographs, etc) from countries and cultures around the world. It is being develop in conjunction with a number of institutions and libraries from around the world and is available in six languages, including Arabic. Currently, it has only about 1200 documents online, an embarrassingly small number for World library but, I guess, it is just starting. It is of interest that they will not only deal with institutions but will consider publishing documents from private collections and archives as well.

If it achieves its goal, it will be a very important resource. As with any such endeavor though, I fear that countries with resources and digital savvy will have flood the library with their documents and the resources of the "world" digital library will not really be representative. As is stands, the number of documents seem fairly well balanced from different regions of the world. Of course, this may be just to be politically correctness coinciding with the launch of the library. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Pictures: To Lattakia and Back

Starting at the beginning, there I am on the balcony of my grandfather's house. If my older brother in the background, it is because he was. Until my arrival, he was it! The next picture is of the same house now unfortunately probably beyond repair.

The rest of the photographs retrace our trips to Ugarit, up to a cold and fogged-in Slunfeh and a quick visit to the family's old summer house, then back down to Haffeh and the spectacular Salaheddine castle. The last day, we made our way to Tartous and Arwad. Click on the image or here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Limiting Free Speech

English teacher: So Kareem, what is the topic of your English research assignment?

Kareem (age 14): It is about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

English teacher: That's a very interesting topic...But what side are you taking?

Kareem: The Palestinian side.

English teacher, looking worried: Oh!! Hmm...That might get touchy; you have to be careful what you say.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reflections of a Son and a Father

I was invited to a medical conference in Cyprus in late March and so I took advantage of my proximity to Beirut to hop over and see my parents. I saw them last in December but of all my brothers I live the furthest from them and see then the least and at 76 and 81 years of age, my parents are getting frailer and slower. “Provided I am still alive by then” was my father’s usual response for as long as I can remember whenever we planned future reunions. That statement twenty years ago used to annoy my mother to no end. These days, however, she lets it pass.

Unencumbered by wife, kids or obligations to in-laws this time, my parents had me all to themselves for the three short days I spent in Beirut. We reconnected, reminisced, talked about their health as they worried unnecessarily about mine. Just sharing a common space with them, chatting over coffee and a few meals sufficed. It was just what I needed and it was all they wanted as well.

Retreating to the living room one afternoon as they rested, I sat on the sofa across from a bookcase jam packed with family photographs and memorabilia. They were the memories of a rich, if complicated, life, lived across many continents and requiring frequent fragmentation of the family. I had seen them all before, but whenever I visited, I felt the need to examine them again. Here on several bookshelves, was essentially the chronology of our life. This time, one particular photograph caught my attention. It was a photograph of me sitting on the floor my back against the bathtub, on each arm, a child wrapped in a towel. My two children, mere infants at the time, wet and smiling from ear to ear, looked happy, content … beautiful.

Then it happened, with a sudden rush of thoughts and emotions, one of life’s intense, confusing and contradictory moments. I felt simultaneously a sense of happiness, longing, loss, sadness and contentment. Here I was, visiting my aging parents in the twilight of their life, and feeling in their presence, even in my middle age, the same sense of comfort and security I felt as a child. At the same time the photograph of my children filled me with joy and realizing that more than a dozen years have passed since I gave them their baths, I longed to see them. I wanted to stay and yet I felt a sudden unrealistic urge to go. Time was passing fast, after all, and I only had a few more years to shepherd my children into adulthood.

I was torn between the privilege of being a son and the responsibilities of being a father. I may lose my privileged status as a son in a few years but I will always be a father. My only hope is that when I let my children fly on their own in a few short years, they will soar, but will not forget the privilege of being a son and a daughter. I want them to remember that there will always be a place of respite for them from life’s hard knocks and unpredictable turns, in the warm reassuring embrace of their father and mother.