Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

As I mentioned below, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to process what learned in India and Morocco into legible prose, and preparing for my next trip. Today, though, like much of the world, I am sure, I spent much of the day watching the inauguration.

It is hard, in a way, to react to the inauguration as a white Canadian. He doesn’t represent my country, and while I can imagine the intense joy African Americans must feel at Obama’s ascendance I cannot begin to relate to it. Still, I teared up twice during the telecast today. It wasn’t during Obama’s speech, inspiring though it was. And it wasn’t during the wonderful poem or the beautiful final blessing. I wept when they showed George Bush leaving the White house for the last time, and again when his helicopter lifted off from behind the capital building to take him back to Texas. I’ve been waiting a long time to see the back of that man. Good riddance, Mr. Bush.

Bush’s began his presidency at roughly the same time as I began my writing career. During the Bush years I traveled a lot through the Islamic world. As I slowly learned about the cultures of Islam, George Bush dropped bombs on them. I discussed Bush’s policies with Muslims in Iran, Turkey, Palestine, North Africa and Kashmir. In some of these places, I found a surprising respect for the man – nowhere more than Iran where many young Iranians told me they would like to see Bush rid their homeland of the mullahs the same way he removed Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Mostly, though, I met Muslims who felt that George Bush’s America was in direct conflict with their values. And I watched as the politics of fear turned every Muslim into a potential terrorist; a rival in some great clash of civilizations.

Will the end of the Bush presidency mean that Islam and the West will suddenly get along? Not likely. It is promising that the US is now led by a man who was able to find Iraq on a map before his daddy bombed it. Obama is a thinker, not a cowboy. While he may never live up to the expectations that he’s been laden with – Canada’s Frank McKenna actually used the word ‘messiah’ this morning – there is no doubt in my mind that things will be better.

Next trip

I haven’t done much writing in the few weeks I’ve been back from India, but I have been busy. Following the advice of my enthusiastic agent, I’ve reworked the proposal for the ‘walls’ book a few times. As I write this, the proposal sits on the desks of publishers in Canada and the US while I sit at my desk with my fingers crossed. I’ve also been trying to turn some of my notes from my travels in India into magazine pieces and am waiting to see if the editors I work with find any of my story ideas interesting.

Mostly, though, I’ve been spending my days planning my upcoming trip. In the second week of February I will travel to the West Bank and Israel to investigate the Israeli-built security barrier. From Israel, I will travel to the island of Cyprus and write about life along the Green Line that seperates the Turkish north from the Greek south, and where Canada employs a peacekeeping force of a single soldier. Afterwards, I will likely travel south to Johannesburg to visit the gated communities that define the urban landscape there in a new kind of apartheid. I might also make a trip to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, but I am waiting to see if the security fencing the Egyptian government promised in 2005 after a terrorist attack has ever been built. I should be gone for about two months.

I am especially excited about my return to Jerusalem. I will be doing a reading at a fabulous cafĂ©-bookstore-restaurant called Tmol Shilshom. Each time I visit Jerusalem, Tmol Shilshom becomes a daily haunt. There is no better espresso in the New City and no better place to write. I am thrilled that this time I will be on the lectern reading from my work instead of just scribbling madly in my journal at a corner table. I am unsure what to read,however. I don’t know what will go over worse with an Israeli audience: reading from a book that declares my love for Iranians, or excerpts from a work in progress that says building walls is bad.

A couple years ago I wrote a sort of ‘biography’ of Tmol Shilshom. The story was never published anywhere. I was thinking of putting the story on this blog, but I found out a couple of weeks ago that a Montreal-based magazine, Maisonneuve, is interested in publishing it. I am happy it will see the ‘light of print’ after all.

In the off chance that any of you in my humble blogosphere might be in the Jerusalem area next month, you can see me read at Tmol Shilshom on Monday February 23rd at 7pm. Details can be found on the Tmol Shilshom website: www.tmol-shilshom.co.il/.