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Marika Seidler (Danmark)

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Marika Seidler (Danmark)

Location: Finsensvej 261, Frederiksberg

Interview with university student Manar Shabruk at the hairdresser in Aleppo, Syria.

Marika Seidler: Who do I prefer?
Whitney Houston is very nice and Mariah Cary.

Manar Shabouk: Yeah Mariah, here they call her Maria, it's Mariah, but Mariah in Arabic means mirrors so they call her Maria.

I like Bryan Adams, like his new one 'Here I am this is me' and the music video with Shania Twain and horses. Do you know her? She has songs about feminism, like 'I shall be dying than standing on my knees begging you please, no more'. 'Blue tears give me freedom'. She made 'Don't impress me much' do you know it, 'you think that you are Elvis Presley, ok that don't impress me much', 'You have the feeling, you have the shape but you haven't the touch, ok that don't impress me much'.

Hihihihihihihi It's nice, it's like washing the man up. It's great, men think they own the world, because they have a mobile and a car, it's distasteful. Most of them are too confident, and if they are not confident their girlfriend will make them confident, and if she doesn't succeed, their mother will make them confident. Like 'you are my only son I will?' Marriage in Syria is in general very different from in Europe the parents will chose a wife, and he must give up the girl he loves for the sake of his parents. Why! because they wouldn't give him money, they wouldn't help him in his life. The boy should also be older than the girl at least five years, it's best if you are 20 and he is 30.

How is a man chosen for the women for example?
No, it's not good if the women chose. She can't say, 'Oh there is a lovely young man I want to speak with him', because if she speaks with him even if she is beautiful, lovely and everything. He will speak with her, but in his heart he will feel that 'She is a bad girl, how she dares, it's a bad act'. If they are together, after one year he will tell her, 'You, you told me love words not me, you are a bad girl. So you can tell it to any man'.

Can I have my hair cut?
Yes of course? Oh, you have beautiful long hair.
My natural colour is light brown, but I made the blond stripes for a change. Now, I want to make it black with some blue locks.

Is he, I mean the hairdresser going to make it black again?
No, not here at home perhaps, should he cut it short like this?
You might regret, what does your mother think?
My mother said 'Don't make it too short'. The nature not the colour but the form of my hair is thick like my mothers. Can I see your hair when it's loose?
Of course, you want to see it? so like this.
Mother says you must memorise, 'Abus rohec', It means I kiss your spirit. Oh your mother is so sweet
. Abus rohes halebie Haleppo Ahalem sahle, Arohec is female rohac is male. My mother loves language very much I will write it so you can learn Arabic.
Does this look nice?  if I cut it like this it will be too short You decide
You know, here it's very easy to act in TV-series, if you are a beautiful girl. Often the graduates from the faculty don't stand a chance, it's really stupid.

The hairdresser goes out on the street to feed the birds with grain.

I like different Syrian writers old and new ones, and writers from Iraq. There is one Palestinian writer his wife was Jewish. He loved her, he wrote; 'Between me and the eyes of Rita there is a gun'. You know like a pistol. And 'Since I was a boy I am dead in her light brown eyes', You know light brown like the colour of honey was the colour of Rita's eyes, hmm what is this colour called it has a name perhaps dark yellow or light brown.
Oh my hair, but it's fatigued so I am not going to be sad?

We have left the hairdresser after saying goodbye to Manar's mum and are on our way to Manar's work at a computer academy, where she teaches. Walking in the street we continue our conversation.

Do you discuss your love relationships with your mum?
When I had the experience I told her because friends are as inexperienced as you, but mother knows she has experience, of course I can't tell her everything, but thank God I told her because in the end everything finished.

Was it a sad ending?
Yeah we have known each other for 6 years, first he admired me and I heard that he admired me, so I admired him. And when I entered the university he spoke with me, but I made him suffer, because you know easy come easy go, so I didn't speak with him just like that. He was following me from place to place asking my friends about me and at last I spoke with him, we liked each other, but his family said that if he wants to engage with me, they wouldn't give him money or help him in his life. He is 20, and his parents thinks he is to young, his mother is a very religious women, but to be religious means to have an open mind and be understanding. She indirectly said: 'Play with the girls emotions as you like, but one day I will chose for you the most beautiful girl in Aleppo to be your wife, I will knock the door of her home and ask her hand in marriage'. Can you imagine, I feel sick just speaking about it. Unconsciously he stopped speaking to me and started making a bad chat on the Internet and I heard from his friends that he searched for Christina Aguilera, she is with Ricky Martin. Do you know her? I love her she is fantastic. Oh we must run for the bus.

At Manar's work, there is also her colleague Mohammed and her boss arrives later.

Will you be dancing at the concert?
If I will be dancing I don't know.
There will be rock music and an Arabic American band playing. I love the guitar, Mohammed plays guitar, but not in a band.

What do you think Danish people don't know about Syria?
 I think they would be interested in knowing what it's like to be young? What kind of life you wish to have? In Denmark many people live alone? Here everyone will have friends if it's possible, they are dead if they don't.
You can't live alone here, it's impossible and it's important to have children.

What about having a job, can you keep your job when you get married?
About 65 percent of women have no problem getting a job. 20 percent want a job that doesn't increase their character, perhaps the husband is rich and she has an Aerobic institute just to decorate her name in the society. But lots of women are working hard with their husband to get a good economy and better opportunities for their children. Some of them suffer and they will look 50 when they are 25 or 30. Some haven't got their own house and must live in their in-laws house.

If you should envision a perfect life, how would that be?
Perfect, perfect life. First I want to finish my diploma and then I will apply The British counsel for a scholarship, I wish to do my MA in psychological studies of the Elizabethan age like the relationship between the age and what's written. You can read a story and you will never understand it, unless you try to dig the symbols, there is sea and rock and broken tear, you have to understand what did it mean in those days.

Mohammed: You have met  a very different person
Manar is not a typical person,
Mohammed: No Manar is never typical.

Thanks, there is another wish, I want to work as a diplomat. They need someone who has graduated and is between 20 to 25 years old, knows at least three languages, English, French, Spanish, German there is no Italian because Italian is not universal. I know English and French, and I can manage in Spanish if I learn it, and I am trying now to learn Hebrew language, it's difficult but day-by-day, in one year I can. As a diplomat I can give critique. I love, but I don't want to dream of it too much, because maybe I will loose it.

Is there some special country you would like to stay in?
America and Canada, not England, England is nice just for studying, I hate working in it because you have to apply to their minds and you don't feel the energy of people working. In America and Canada you can feel a sea of people, just like China was before, you can live your life as you like, because there are so many nationalities. And at last I want to reside in and write.
What do you think it takes to be a writer? To have different experiences or?
I have many ideas but I am not apt to write I am not experienced enough. Right now I can write poetry and short stories, but when I get older and reside to contemplate in some North European country I will write novels or historical writing. I have already written some poetry, everything is symbols, like 'they killed the jungle, they killed the wood, they broke the moon and ended the star and Santa Claus isn't coming anymore' Santa Claus means the current people, the wood means honest people, I hate direct words, like; I like you are beautiful. It's distasteful there is something more deep, more high.

Are you in contact with others who write poetry?
We are a group at the university, some of the others write about nature, but I can't always turn to nature, because they have destroyed it, right. I can't always go to God, I can't always seek friends or mother, I have to seek something more strong, something behind God, something behind the river. What's behind the river there is the fish, what's behind the fish there is a grasp, what's behind the grasp there is nothing, what's behind nothing. Hihihihihii there is ok? Like we call it ?
Mohammed: Being sophisticated
I think Mohammed is teasing you,

At the university there are many teachers, but the students know more, they know what is teaching you life and what is teaching you books. If you want to be a teacher you have to learn others life, I want to be a professor at the university, because you teach the students to solve their problems. Why are we studying, to understand life and psychological problems. I love philosophy, I wanted to study it, but I can study it on my own right, I can read books and analyse everything and then return to the great books, why confuse yourself with memorising at the university, I hate memorising.

Is there a difference between your mother's dreams and your wishes? Mother wanted the same thing, but she was 17 when she got married. She got great marks in high school, but couldn't get into the university because she had me. I guess she compensated in my brothers and me, so she sees her past future in us. She dreamt many things, she could draw lovely pictures and she played the piano, she was clever in math, myth and science. She could have entered in any good part, but she couldn't because she had me.

So you better do a good job.
The previous generation in general, - not my mother she is understanding and has read a lot- was just dreaming of marriage, a good husband and not to be rich, but just to earn enough to rest at home. Our generation is dreaming of a lot of things, right Mohammed. Most of the girls dream of mobiles and a car with a nice guy in life, spending the honeymoon in Spain or America, UK or Switzerland, they want to be rich, but there is also 10 percent who wants to build their characters themselves.

What about the boys?
If a boys parents are rich, educated and have a good foundation in culture, the boy often continue with a higher education. But most of the rich young men will not continue studying after their graduation, they will depend on their father's money and go into family business instead of continuing at the university. They cannot depend on themselves and the university will not give them tuition, so the rich kids have a problem. The children from the poor educated families manage to be independent and study abroad. The university gives them a scholarship and they return to teach at the university.

How about marriage?
Women want to marry a man with a good family name, if his parents are dead, they will not take him. He must have a certificate from the university, be rich with a mobile and a car. Have you seen the flags for rent? He has to buy a house registered by her name. The house is not for the husband, but for her, she can buy it and sell it as she pleases.

Manar's boss: I don't agree
Sir why! She will want this in order to avoid a divorce.
Manar's boss: You are too young
Ih, I am not to young, I can speak about men. I have told you a man cannot marry the girl he loves, his parents will engage him to another girl, who is religious not educated but ok, can cook, can wear nice clothes with a scarf, who doesn't go out or read a lot. Why does he marry twice? Because the first marriage took place when he was very young and it was the choice of his family. Even though it can't be their own choice, they can decide with out the stress of the family and those  who can't afford to marry again wants a girlfriend. Am I not speaking the truth?
Mohammed: Yes, I am just listening.

Manar's boss brings me a cup of tea.

Manar's boss: You forgot the tea
Manar: I didn't forget.
Many men want to marry twice. Why? His wife might be beautiful and understanding, but in order to give him a second nationality, he must marry an American girl. And why is it like this in Aleppo and not in Damascus or in Homes, because of the Ottoman occupation in the Arab world, where Aleppo was the centre of the occupation.

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Interview with computer expert and Karate player May Simaan at The Chase Cafe in Ashrafi, Beirut.

Marika Seidler: Press this button to record. You can also edit right away,  I never do it because I am always afraid of loosing material. Listen, isn't it funny to hear your own voice.

May Simaan: I am a computer person, so I am in to these things you know. How far does it reach?
I really don't know.

Karate came into your life 8 years ago at your brother's 10-year-old birthday?
Yes, I asked him 'What do you wish for your birthday?' 'I want to learn karate'. 'Are you sure why?' 'I like Bruce Lee, I like Jean-Claude van Damme'. 'You don't want a bicycle?' 'No bicycle I want karate'.

So, I drove my brother back and forth to The Sporting Club, but this wasn't very practical so I started staying in the club during his training sessions.
In my college years I did two years of Aerobics and I was very flexible. So I taught the children how to stretch. After 10 months the instructor said, 'Why don't you join us', 'Me learn karate at that age, no way', he said 'Yeah why not', 'I am too old for it', 'No, just come for the warm up' I said, 'Fine ok'.

 In a week I bought my first Gi, and after one month I got my yellow belt. I started to train every day and within two years and a half I got my black belt. When I was still a brown belt they took me in for the national team and I participated in a lot of international events in Syria, Jordan, Iran, and other places. I was also in the pan Arab games in 1997 here in Beirut, where I got a third place in Kumite (fight).

Are you never afraid that you will break something in Kumite?
Of course I am afraid to get hurt or cut, but my problem is that I am more afraid of hurting the other person, which is a hindrance I can't keep on fighting you and then think, hara poor Marika I can't hit her.

Remember yesterday sensei Abdullah said to a boy: 'When you fight the rules say that if you get cut or hit on the face, your opponent will get a penalty. But, do you think that everyone has good intentions, and will not hurt you? Where is your defence? You should always be alert and defend yourself'.

One time in the national team I was training with this 75 kg girl and I was really aggressive with her, not bad intentions but aggressive and fine. At one point I got so close to her that I thought she couldn't hit a mawashi-geri (round house kick) from this distance so I am safe. At that very instant I dropped my guard and she hit a mawashi-geri right in my face. Everything stopped in that moment, I couldn't breathe, I got a very big nose, but this incident taught me a very good lesson, you shouldn't drop your guard at any time.

How many women where training in the national team?
In The National team on the average there was four to six women, and then who ever came to the training was welcome. Women and men train together, which is good and not good at the same time. I am head of the women's committee of the national federation and I believe that women should train with men, but when it comes to professionalism men's training is one thing and women's training another. I mean, biologically speaking you cannot expect a female body to have the same performance as the male body. But if we are talking about gaining experience the women should fight with the man. If, for example, I do sparring with the tall guy Nabil, this will break the barrier between me and another girl because she is not going to be like a man. Thus I benefit from his speed, strength and experience.

Now the national Olympic committee is pushing the ladies into practising sports and being involved, but still the men are cared for more than the ladies, because they say that surely the women will not win. Why are they sure that the women will not win? As much as you give them in terms of training and support you will get out. The problem is that this is the man's world, which is an attitude I don't like. How about you, you don't fight?

 I would like to learn it, if something should ever happen in the street.

It's not easy to apply what you learn in the dojo to the streets. In the old days, you where able to apply what you learned in the dojo because it was not sports it was martial arts. So, if you want to apply it to the streets you must have the courage to put it down. Once I was this close to hitting a guy because he provoked me a lot, then I realised what I was doing. I really wanted to hit him and everybody around me started pushing me back.
I don't know why, maybe I looked like I was planning to kill?

Sometimes I wonder if I can defend myself if a man grabs me from behind. First you are full of yourself, I am a martial artist. Then you start thinking can I really do that? Usually I train my head, when I am walking down the street I see everyone around me, I am not paranoid, I just check that there is no danger surrounding me. If a guy all out of a sudden appears in front of me what shall I do, so I train my brain, because most reactions can be trained they are not innate.

This Wednesday, I took the bus as usual to Sensei Abdullah's Dojo where I train three times a week. I got off and a man got of at the same time. I thought this is a coincidence, but then he started following me around. Now you know that the dojo is in the basement. So when I reached entrance on the street level, I started praying to God please, please let him follow me down the stairs hihihihi. I wanted to see what he would do with all these black belts. I was really hoping, I could have trained myself and all the other guys too hihihihihi.

Abdullah Sensei told me that your dojo is for everyone?
I don't know if you have been exposed to the situation here in Lebanon. We had a civil war that went on for 20 years. They said it was religious, Muslims against Christians, Christians against Muslims. Anyway that's what they said, but I think it was about power, who wants to control whom, but that's entirely my own opinion. You can find some Dojo's here where they have only one type of people, like one religion, one social class, one way of political thinking, and so on. But in The World Shotokan Karate Federation we don't believe in separation because of religion, colour, social ranks, country or whatever. In our club we used to have an American, some French people and an Egyptian guy. Currently several Syrian guys are training with us, as well as you, hihihi. Sensei Abdullah believes that you should give to anybody who asks. You cannot hold information for yourself. What's the use? You have to make other people benefit from your knowledge not just yourself. I truly believe in the saying that birds of the same feather flock together. I wouldn't be happy in a place where you would find someone saying 'oh she is a girl' or 'he is out of our social circle'. I don't like it. I am a human being respect me for my brains. Don't show me respect because I have the shape of a female or I come from a special social background. Respect me as I respect you.

You also do volunteer work for The World Shotokan Karate Federation?
Yes, for my own interest and satisfaction I manage the whole team and organise visiting trainers, and maintain the web page. My plan is to put Abdullah sensei's ideas on the web, because he is an amazing man. I am not talking about him because he is my sensei. I am talking about a person who is not afraid to learn. He is 45 and every single month he buys a karate magazine. Every week he buys a book. If anybody travels to Paris or anywhere else, he will ask him or her to bring back videotape on Karate. And now he has found a new way to gain knowledge, the Internet. I wouldn't be able to find the things that he can find, and I am a computer person.

You have trained with many different people?
Yes, Sensei Abdullah's Dojo, - where I train - is affiliated with The World Shotokan Karate Federation in Japan. The chief instructor of WSKF is sensei Hitoshi Kasuya and according to Abdullah sensei's standards he is the best in the world. So, I have trained with sensei Hitoshi Kasuya many times.  I have also trained with is Mr. Tommy Morris from Scotland. He is head of the referee committee in The World Karate Federation. Enoeda sensei in London, he is chief instructor on KUGB and has been living in London for a long time now. Nakayama sensei, who is Abdullah sensei's sensei, our Dojo is named Nakayama Dojo after him. The French World Champion the late Michael Milon. He was world champion for three years in Kata and current world champion Christoph Pinna, and Hassan Fekkak

Who else? I can't remember any more names. But frankly speaking, nobody could even come close to sensei Hitoshi Kasuya.

You also work as a training administrator with computers
I have a BS in computer science from what is now called the Lebanese-American University. At the time of my graduation it was called Beirut University College.  I have had many jobs in the field of computer training. Some years ago I started as a training administrator in an international company that works with computerized banking systems. The company's headquarter is in Geneva and we have offices all around the world. I work in The Middle East office, which is a branch of the mother company. I am in charge of the training in the Middle East and North Africa and I also take care of helpdesk issues. We sell our system to the banks and customise it, because every bank has its own needs. So, as soon as the client signs a contract, I do the training plan, and then later on I travel again to give 15 days of introductory training.

Is it easy for you to travel so much?
The only problem I face is getting a visa to the places I am travelling to. When you travel a lot it's good to have two nationalities besides your own. Having a non-Arabic nationality makes it easier to get a visa. Let me explain, a European can go almost anywhere around this earth. You just show your passport in the airport and get a stamp, like what happened to you. Now, if I want to go to Jordan or Greece it will take me 15 days to get a visa, for Paris I will need 15 to 20 days, Morocco one week, Tunisia four days, the easiest is UK, it only takes 24 hours. So you see in my line of job it's a real hassle.

Would you also travel if you had a family?
I am planning for my engagement now. He knows the situation very well. He knows that I would never think of leaving my current job unless I get a better offer of course. I love to work, like yesterday I had a deadline and stayed until 8 o'clock in the evening. I don't mind really as long as the work makes me feel alive. Imagine you getting married staying in the house, doing the cooking, the cleaning, the ironing, the le le le, not for me at all.

Tell me, I will ask you now, if you get married and stay in the house without a job, how much time will it take you to tidy up and cook?
Maximum two hours Then what else to do, that's a boring life for me

What about children how are you goanna get time?
We discussed it. Since I don't travel a lot, there is my mum and his mum, and we can always get someone to stay with the kids. This is how families work here, we help each other.

I believe in 100 percent equality between a man and a woman. If it's not like that, I wouldn't have it. No way. I don't like to be bossed around and I don't like to boss people. It wasn't easy to find a man who would accept these ideas and work with me to develop a successful relationship. But thank God I found him.

If you don't mind me asking, how did you find him?
Well it's not a secret, but it's Abdullah Sensei. The very first time I saw him, it was before I started training karate. He had an aura around him, if you look at him from a distance. The first real contact was when he did the grading for me and I knew that he thought I was good.
You know when you are in the same circle you see the other person a lot. He used to come to the grading or to train us as he is the National Team Coach in The Lebanese Karate Federation. So I saw him in tournaments, and when I was in the national team, so things sort of progressed.
He is not narrow-minded, we each have our own ideas, but he respects me very much.  He respects my work and my ideas a lot, he asks for my opinion and we always talk for hours about many things, there is always an issue to discuss, so you see we are good friends. We have a wonderful life. We have been in this relationship for a long time now and not a day has passed without us talking; no way.

Now you are still single, how is it to be single in Beirut today?
There isn't a general rule, it all depends on your environment. It's not hard for my friends, they work and do what ever they like with boundaries of course. You have to live according to what's acceptable in the society. For example it's not acceptable if a female comes home on her own 2 o'clock in the night every single night. But if I am working every single night, nobody can say anything. If we take nurses for example. Should they the stop working on nightshifts just because they are ladies? When you are a young female the parents are protective, they don't allow the girls to have boyfriends or to spend the evening at parties or nightclubs. But as soon as you start earning your own money some of these boundaries disappear. Now, you can find a reserved community where they don't allow the women even to think about getting a job, at the age of 20 they get married and start their own family.
Nobody will notice these girls opinion, this is one extreme and the other extreme is when the woman has full responsibility of her life. She comes and goes as she pleases and doesn't answer to anybody. Although we are modern until now it's not acceptable for a lady to live on her own, because people would think that she hides something from her parents.

In my case, nobody has control over my work except me. My parents are a little reserved. They don't accept boyfriends and I respect that. But they wouldn't force me to get married to someone I don't want.

Do you have friends who don't work?
I would never have a friend who doesn't work. We wouldn't have anything in common. I have a friend who is married and his wife doesn't work. After several years he discovers that all she talks about is house stuff, although she has a college degree.  So I told him, look you go to work, interact with people, solve problems, and go to places. Who does your wife see? She sees the kitchen, the television, takes care of the kids. She might have community services or go out with her women friends, but her friends are in the same situation. How is her mind going to develop by discussing cooking and cleaning? How can you expect to have a fruitful conversation with her? The things that you have in common are the kids and the house. So when you come home tired in the evening and feel like discussing your problems at work, you don't want to listen to silly stuff. You will start thinking; oh my God what is she talking about. Then you will leave the house and instead of having a life with your wife, you will visit the coffee shop and discuss with your friends. Why go to the house and be bored with a wife you cannot interact with. I would never accept my husband to have comfort somewhere else in terms of discussions and backup to reach the right decisions. If I just stay at home I will not develop and my husband will not like coming to my house. I don't believe in woman staying home and only doing house work.

Marika Seidler


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