Today’s Top Four Reasons I Heart Zuckerberg

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Hearts and stars and good vibes to you, Mark Zuckerberg. Why? Facebook is influencing my life–and others–in an increasingly and positively transformative way. In the last three days the following Facebook-related magical moments shaped my relationships and my work in digital cross-cultural exchange.

A young Egyptian in the Soliya Connect Program shared with our group that people in Egypt believe that their revolution was successful because of Facebook, and therefore many joined Facebook in order to keep informed. The numbers certainly back this up. A bit of quick research into the number of Facebook subscriptions in Egypt shows the dramatic increase in registrations. Here is a quick glance at those stats:

Background: Internet penetration rate in Egypt in June 30th, 2011 (Source):

 Population (2011 estimate): 82,079,636                                                                                                                                                                    Internet users in December 2000: 450,000                                                                                                                                                          Internet users latest data (June, 2011): 20,136,000                                                                                                                                      Penetration (% population): 24.5%                                                                                                                                                                                Users in Africa at large: 16.9%

Registered Facebook accounts in Egypt by date:

  November 2010: 3,951,440 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                         January 2011: 5,079,367 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                                 June 2011: 7,295,240 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                                   October 23, 2011: 8,929,740 (Source)

I connected with many Egyptian activists and linked up with two on Skype to talk about our respective ongoing peacebuilding efforts and explored how we might collaborate and support each other in our work. It was a great thrill, honor, and inspiration to spend two hours chatting with two very bright, active, and courageous women committed to positive change-making in Egypt. Our conversations focused on education and educational efforts, what is working and what is S*&% (want to assess your new friend’s command of English slang? Simply introduce the topic of education and you will soon get a very clear sense of the number of four-letter-words at her disposal!). Both women offered to connect me with friends of theirs who are working in the NGO sector, in schools, or independently working to address various social needs across Egypt related to education. That is, addressing the major issues that are keeping kids out of school, causing them to drop, or preventing them from learning even if they are attending classes.

A young woman from Pakistan sent me a message and asked me about my work with AIWR, Soliya, and other education projects I’ve posted about on my profile and how any of those projects might be brought to her village in Pakistan. This was perhaps the most exciting and inspiring Facebook-related exchange I’ve had today. Out of the blue, a young Pakistani woman wrote to me and said, “I added your profile because it looks like you work for an NGO.” In response, I shared a bit about some of the projects I am working on (Soliya, AIWR, and Girls Can!). She wrote back immediately:

Thank’s for your nice reply .I am student of 3rd year of business studies in Pakistan .I don’t work with an n.g.o yet but i am really interested on such project’s .Moreover ,i want you to guide me on your project GIRLS CAN so that i can promote the girl’s of my community as i belong from a small town of Pakistan but which is full of such potential people that if given a chance can do alot .

and isn’t Alliance for International Women Rights having any English language classes for Pakistani girls? do u have any idea

Is anyone else blown away by this energy, drive, and eagerness to connect and make real change happen? I am buzzing with excitement. I heart you Mark Zuckerberg!!!

An old friend of mine–who I hadn’t heard from in some time–reconnected with me to share her interest in the peacebuilding projects I am engaged in and to share an update about her work in protecting girls from the modeling industry, which exploits them by commodifying, sexualizing, and putting them at risk. You can learn more about this by checking out the documentary Girl Model. She wrote to ask if I could put her into contact with anyone working in child protection or anti-human trafficking work. And I’m suspecting that any minute now I will get a message from someone, somewhere, who is doing such work.

How has Facebook changed your life and your work?

A few of my colleagues at Soliya and I will be talking about opportunities and obstacles for collaboration and positive change-making in post-Mubarak Egypt at the Global Washington Annual Conference. Good times!

The Universal Language of Bread

I’ve been a foreigner for a long time. Soon after graduating from Penn, I moved to Cairo to teach English, study Arabic, and, well, have an adventure. While there, I dressed up like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo and luckily enough made a strong (I don’t mean in the fragrant sense) impression on my future husband. He was rather charmed that I had the nerve to march around dressed like a giant lump of stool. Stool with Christmas spirit no less.

From the moment I boarded the plane in Philadelphia to “get into the world” until today has been seven years of culture shock, culture learning, culture leaving, and couture …yeah, no. No high fashion (that would be entirely out of my comfort zone).

Now, we live in Japan. A country and a culture that is pretty much just as mysterious to me today as it was when we landed in Tokyo four years ago. I’ve been a terrible student. Sometimes, actually, oftentimes, being a foreigner is really isolating, exhausting, and simply overwhelming. It’s really easy to NOT learn the language because it is SO HARD to LEARN the language–any new language. It is so easy to NOT mingle with people who don’t look, talk, and act like you…because the potential for miscommunication is so vast. Though, the truth is, the broader that distance the sweeter the exchange when two people from two very different places try to make contact.

Last week I decided to brood over my reading assignments while testing a recipe that my virtual roommate had kindly transcribed from one of her cookbooks and into a word document: Zucchini bread (yes!). Pre-heat the oven to 350. Righto. And so, I put together the dry ingredients in one bowl while thinking about the chapters on globalization and educational change, and mixed the wet ingredients in another bowl, while mulling over possible methods for promoting intercultural exchange between students from different geographic and cultural backgrounds, and I folded one into the other. I greased the pan, poured in the batter, and let the cake bake.

It was huge. Ah, let me divide it in three, I thought. I knew that sharing the cake with my neighbors would instigate a ring of gift giving, back and forth, and we’d never know when to stop saying thank you but I couldn’t resist. The cake was so good.

My first neighbor returned to my door less than five minutes after I presented them with the cake. They brought three mini-bottles of sake and a piece of the zucchini bread nicely wrapped and asked, “please tell me the ingredients.” And so, I copied the recipe in my chicken scratch, in English, for the sake neighbor. (Her husband speaks English so it is much easier to communicate and socialize with them…of course, my Japanese is pathetic).

One week later, my other neighbor rang our doorbell and presented me with a gift-bag with four giant grapefruits and the most beautiful note. I almost cried when I read it! (That’s it above) She must have spent so much time and effort to compose this note and I understand so completely the frustration and regret that she is expressing because in the past seven years most of my time has been spent in environments in which I struggle with language to communicate and connect: in Egypt, Latvia, Slovakia, India, Japan and so on. I have already learned that it is simply not possible for me to achieve my preferred superpower: instant fluency in any language I ever encounter. However, I have learned that language is not the only way to connect, communicate, or build bonds. It takes time, openness, courage, and bread…but it’s so worth it!

This article was originally published on my littleparticulars blog. 


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