Dec 31, 2018

How to Assimilate into American Culture Through Football


Yesterday, I went to the Philadelphia Eagles game, which is my adopted team. We tailgated outside the Redskins stadium, at FedEx Field in Maryland. It was full of joy to cook and drink with my favorite people and meet some new ones. Lamb me, I got drunk pretty early, but I was able to handle it well. On my way home, I walked for nearly two hours to burn out some calories, but I got really tired when I got home. I slept like a log last night.

The Eagles, my team, battled hard to get into play-off by victory of 24-0 over the Redskins. That means there is some hope for the reigning champions in postseason.

On a different note but still related; if you are new in the United States, try to learn about American football. In fact, the best advice that I can give to people who are new in this country is to follow American sports, especially football. American football is more than a religion, it is a national pride. It plays an important role in American identity. If you become a fan of American football, you have gained respect and appreciation of American people. To them, you are a comrade, regardless of your skin color, religious or ethnic backgrounds.

I have firsthand experience since college and yesterday, when I got on subway in D.C wearing my Eagles jersey and hat, I received lots of smiles and nods from passengers on the train. Everyone tried to strike up a conversation with me about my team. Someone told me that his mom is an Eagles fan, but he is a big Redskins fan. But still he wished me good luck.

Contrary to soccer, American football is very complicated. When I first came to American, the first thing I wanted to do was to learn how American football works. BBC World Service had a basic guide to American football. I tried to find it but I could not located on their website, but now you can find tons of guides online. This wikiHow guide is a good first step to understand the roles and terminology of the sport. The rest, you can follow on Youtube, simply type "guide to American football." You will have tons of video guides in front of you.

So, if you want to assimilate to American society, one way is to understand American football. Try to go to your favorite team's game. If you can't go, wear apparel and gear of your team on game day. You can watch the game on TV and make sure you talk about your team and its players with great passion and enthusiasm. This is a key to understanding American people, culture, and customs.

Dec 29, 2018

The Use of Social Media: Ego-Boosting and Time-Wasting

A few days ago, I felt I was succumbed to the temptation of using Instagram, which I have been trying to stay away from. The temptation was the result of thinking whether it is a good idea to upload some of my photographs there. I don't know why, perhaps, publicity was the spur. I opened an account, but for some reasons, I could not upload landscape photos to Instagram. I posted some photos of myself and tried different colors and features. I spent nearly two hours playing with a couple of photos. Then, suddenly, I thought, if I had spent that much time, I could have edited several photos on Photoshop and uploaded them to my website, or I could have read a few articles.

Time was not the only thing that I was worried about, it was something else: the ego. I did not download the Instagram app, but instead, I used the website through a backchannel. Even though everything looked basic, my photos looked fancy after I manipulated the light and color values. I could have stopped it, but the features and tools dictated me to do more. Therefore, I spent more time trying every available features.

Then, the following day, when I opened my account, I looked at my photos again. They looked great, except no one followed me. I thought, that is because I declined to share my contacts, or letting my friends know that I have created an account on Instagram. I again started working on my pictures. As I kept using different colors and tools to shape my portraits as best as I could, I felt drawn into the idea that I could possibly make myself look great and attractive. What a weird and unrealistic thing to do, I thought.

But for some reasons, I could not satisfy myself, I wanted my photos look really good. I never experienced such an urge before to spend this much time on my own portraits. It seemed ridiculous and I felt defenseless to the temptation and persuasion of tools that were offered to me.

It was then that I thought of the harmful impact of social media, such as Instagram, on the brain and behavior. I was offered a space, a strange yet familiar in which I felt I am not good enough. Two things happened at the same. The tools on Instagram asked me to boost my ego by changing hues and make saturation adjustment on my face, but at the same time, it took away my self-esteem from me. I felt insecure, but it offered me a panacea that I can indulge myself in egotistical projection of me and my personhood.

It was not the tools and features per se, but a range of other factors that were enticing. It opened a window to me, which listed some famous people and some were even familiar ones, and it asked me to follow them. Additionally, it ask me to share my contacts with the system. Then, it wanted me to send an invitation to my contacts and ask them to follow me on Instagram. I had a moment where I thought to myself, "What a bizarre thing that could be." I thought, I would become entangled in the web of self-doubt, insecurity, and perhaps, mental depletion.

Finally, today, I deleted my account on Instagram. It felt great. I patted myself on the back for I lost nothing. I felt I have protected myself from the invasiveness of Instagram, specially its e-mails and pushier notifications. I am considering staying away from social media like Facebook and Twitter, in general. So, I may delete or deactivate them in the year of 2019.

Dec 28, 2018

I Lost my Kindle, It is Dark Now

I feel terribly sad. I lost my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite on Megabus. I bought it, in 2013, as a college graduation gift for myself. There were nearly 100 classic books that I have purchased over the years. I wrote lots of notes and made lots of highlights, especially on War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and Don Quixote. These books were my favorite ones, and honestly, they changed life in some way. I remember, when I decided to read War and Peace, I read dozens of reviews on who has rendered the best translation in English language; and I literally read every introduction of each translation that is made so far, and even compared certain paragraphs and sentences of the books. It took me four weeks to finish War and Peace. I devoured it. I was hoping to go back and read this and other books again and see my notes and highlights. Alas, hope has limitations.

The last book I was reading was The Heart of Darkness, a story about imperial horror in Congo in the late 19th century. I was halfway through it and gradually realizing how Joseph Conrad is challenging the reader by constructing ethical dilemmas on good and evil.

I also had several books on Afghanistan and the Middle East. One of them was The Great Game, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in Afghanistan's issues.

I know how I lost my Kindle. I was distracted by someone. Anyway, my Kindle is gone and I'm not happy about my sloppiness. I contacted Amazon and reported it as lost. It is deregistered and locked, which means it is an unusable device for whoever has taken it. If you read this post, and found my kindle, please return it to me and you will get a gratuity. 

Dec 25, 2018

Christmas Day and a Perfect Time for Reflection

Today is a special day; Jesus, a peaceful and humble king, was born and it is a perfect time for reflection. Therefore, I use this opportunity to send my love and appreciation to my family and friends, and to my readers on this blog.

There have been times where I sat down and ask myself, how did you get here. With all bitter experiences and with all obstacles and challenges that I have been through, I should be miserable, depressed and a failed person, but I am not. I feel, I'm the happiest person on earth, and that is because I believe the people that I have come in contact with throughout my life molded me like a piece of clay in their pottery of love and friendship. Before, I was dust, unrefined and an immature person, but their love and care gave me hope and ambition to follow my dreams. Today, I feel, without their support and love, I could dissolve into dust and particles that I had been. 

I am truly grateful to my family and friends for their continued support. I couldn't make this far without their guidance and help. They have become indispensable to my life and I can't imagine a moment without them and their love. I have learned that true love never dies, but grows stronger.

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you're having a great one and a happy new year!

Winter Solstice or Shab-e Yalda 2018

I have never participated in or celebrated Shab-e Yalda, but every year, when I go to Philly, my American family and I go to winter solstice concert. Shab-e Yalda is the same as winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.
The concept of Shab-e Yalda has been alien to me even though I grew up in Afghanistan, which we used to call it Shab-e Chellah. Nothing was especial about it, as far as I remember, but it has been growing on me.

This year, I wanted to celebrate it, but it didn't happened. Instead, I went to American Shab-e Yalda, where traditional music drawn hundreds of people together. I truly enjoyed it. It was a celebration of nature with chorus, soloists, jazz instrumentalists in harmony with world rhythms and the beautiful sounds of Alaskan timber wolf and the humpback whale. It was more meaningful I thought than what I have heard about Afghan Shab-e Yalda. In Afghan tradition, Shab-e Yalda is inundated with eating big meal and then gathering around reading poetry, divination with Diwn-e Hafez and palm reading - common superstitions.

Where we celebrated the the winter solstice, it was more about love of our planet earth and the sun. Attention was paid more on our planet and appreciation was made to the nature, nothing sounded egotistic.

"The dark night is ending, down has begun.
Arise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun
All speech flows to music, All hearts beat as one.
The dark night is ending, and dawn has begun." 
                       By John Greenleaf Whittier

Dec 23, 2018

On University Admissions Quota and Open Letter to Obama

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about an open letter that was written by Pashtun intellectuals. A couple of the writers are currently working for Ashraf Ghani administration as advisors and heads of critical government apparatus. The letter was composed in 2010 and was sent to President Obama and many major news outlets in the United States.

Then, a few days ago I wrote a blog post on the discriminatory policy of 25% university admissions quota by Afghan Ministry of Higher Education. After several years, today, I happened to see that letter again which I received from a reader and posted on blogpost.

Later on, I heard from a retired US diplomat who happened to receive it through email listserv from the State Department.

You can get a sense of Pashton paranoia as well as what is happening right now in Kabul; and why Pashtuns around Ashraf Ghani are pushing other minorities aside and creating quota for university admissions.

Here is the link to the letter: https://kabul3.blogspot.com
Please share it with your friends who care about Afghanistan's current affairs.

Note: I blogged about the letter in Farsi. Since I have deleted my Farsi blog, the post longer exists.

Dec 21, 2018

Terrible Scheme: University Admissions Quota in Afghanistan

One of vital achievements of Afghanistan in post-Taliban era is higher education, but it is in jeopardy now. Recently, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education has decided to mandate a quota system for students entering into universities based on their ethnic and regional background. Based on the current quota policy, 25% of university admissions seats in the fields of medicine, engineering, law, economics, Agriculture, and Computer Science will be given to students from the so-called undeveloped areas.

What this means is that students with higher score from populated areas will have lesser chance getting into university; instead, students with lowest score will have reserved seats in universities across the country. 

This is a dangerous scheme and can hurt Afghanistan badly. The hidden agenda is basically to limit the number of students from minority groups from higher education, especially the Hazara students who are in vulnerable position. They come from the poorest areas and they solely rely on public universities which offer free education and scant stipends.  

Quota is designed to tackle higher educational disparities, according to Afghan higher education officials. Pashtun areas, mostly southern Afghanistan, have not been safe and students have not been able to go to school or getting better education. On the other hand, students from minority groups in relatively secure areas have been on the rise. This obviously made the current Afghan administration worry about young Pashtuns who stay behind. Their concern is understandable, but quota system is not the answer. 

Those who composed the quota scheme are obviously disregarding the fact that students with weak learning foundation have a higher chance of drop-out of universities in Afghanistan. This is a known fact and is currently a major issue at Kabul University. Every year, there are hundreds of students who deliberately misuse the Konkour system by using imposters to gain admissions. In the past, oftentimes, officials at schools and higher education centers where the exam was held sold questions to students. 

Afghanistan can do better. The United States and its allies have been a great supporter of education in Afghanistan and they should pressure Afghan government to abandon discriminatory plans, which will hurt young Afghans.