Nerdiness, Wikipedia-binges, movie marathons (with the requisite imdb review and if-it's-over-7.0-I'll-watch-it-litmus-test), and literary escapades rule supreme in the land of herr shiitake!
"You must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age. Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books."
- A Confederacy of Dunces
Books Read Before Peace Corps Service:
- The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca, by Tahir Shah (8.5/10) - A most excellent memoir of an adventurous Brit who decides to move to Casablanca and restore a run-down riad
- A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco, by Suzanna Clarke (6.7/10) - I didn't enjoy this memoir nearly as much as Tahir Shan's; I found it too much like a laundry-list of building materials and painstakingly detailed procedures for kitchen tiling
- Humor and Moroccan Culture, by Matthew Helmke (8.7/10) - Nice insight into Moroccan/Arab/Muslim humor
- Culture Shock! Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, by Orin Hargraves (9.3/10) - Probably the best "bang for the buck" in terms of preparation for Morocco and need-to-know background knowledge
- Morocco (Cultures of the World), by Pat Seward and Orin Hargraves (8.0/10) - A decent parlay into the customs and history of Morocco
- Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething's Guide to Seeking Adventure, by Colleen Kinder (9.1/10) - A splendid review of opportunities/careers that can be had for those not terribly excited or head-over-heels for that fluorescent-lighted cubicle in the corner
- No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan (8.3/10) - Writing style a little too erudite for the lay reader, but many good insights and historical facts nonetheless
- Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times, by Margaret Nydell (9.3/10) - A beautiful primer on the general Arab mindset and how it differs considerably from the general "Western" mindset (e.g. the extreme focus on relationships and family, the seeming absence of privacy, etc.)
- Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, by Moritz Thomsen (7.2/10) - Hailed by many as the best Peace Corps memoir ever, I was somewhat let down with this. The writing style was a little bland for my taste buds, but there are sparkles of subtle humor and excellent descriptions of the Ecuadorian countryside and the psyche of its inhabitants. Worth reading.
- Islam: A Mosaic, Not A Monolith, by Vartan Gregorian (7.1/10) - After reading this book on Islam, it made me appreciate Reza Aslan's book a bit more for its depth and eloquent writing style. This book was more basic but still had good information.
- The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and That Veil Thing (7.5/10) - More in depth than Vartan Gregorian's book, and also included some topics missing from Reza Aslan's. Definitely worth a read.
Movies Seen Before Peace Corps Service:
- Babel (8.0/10) - I rather enjoyed this movie, kind of a less powerful and less moving version of Magnolia, one of my top ten favorite movies of all time
- Casablanca (7.0/10) - Maybe it was because I had my expectations set so high before this movie, maybe it was the lack of full comprehension of the plot line, but this movie just didn't do it for me. It was good, but not great.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (8.3/10) - Excellent mystery/thriller. Doris Day is great and I loved that Que Sera Sera song
- Michael Palin - Sahara (BBC Documentary) (9.1/10) - Absolutely great documentary about North Africa/Sahara! Michael Palin, a British comedian and Monty Python actor, is brilliant, witty, and lively as he interacts with the locals all across the Sahara
- Lawrence of Arabia (8.2/10) - Some bill it as the best movie ever made; it does have quite spectacular cinematography and solid acting, but the sheer length of the movie (near 4 hours) wore me down at times
- Islam: Empire of Faith (PBS Documentary) (7.0/10) - Only goes up to 16th century and more about the Islamic empire than Islam as a religion, but had some topics seemingly absent from Reza Aslan's book I read
- Frontline: Behind Taliban Lines (PBS Documentary) (8.5/10) - An Afghan journalist spends about ten days sleeping with and following Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, areas meant to be under control of the state government. Very enlightening as to who's fighting the U.S. (e.g. many Arabs, and locals are providing aid)
- Pray the Devil Back to Hell (9.5/10) - Absolutely captivating documentary about the bravery of Leymah Gbowee, an African peace activist responsible for organizing a peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.
- Return to Kandahar (8.7/10) - A very powerful and moving documentary about an Afghani woman who returns to Afghanistan after 13 years away in Canada to try to find her best friend from childhood in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
- The Color of Olives: A story of everyday life in Palestine (5.2/10) - Interesting photography/camera angles, but this did not provide much insight as to the political reasons behind the barriers and checkpoints. It is 93 minutes of footage of very mundane day-to-day activities. If you find yourself unable to empathize with their plight, this might be the most boring 90 minutes of your life.
- Promises (9.4/10) - Hands down, an absolute must-see. Incredibly powerful and insightful documentary that gives glimpses of the lives of seven Israeli and Palestinian children that all live within 20 minutes of each other but have drastically different lives and viewpoints.
- The Color of Love (8.9/10) - A very interesting movie about the "politics of love" in Iran under the rule of Khatami. We get an intimate portrait of young Iranians, their aspirations, dreams, and their pursuit of romantic love. Highly recommended.
- My Country, My Country (8.0) - A glimpse into the life of an Iraqi doctor and his family leading up to the elections of January 2005.
- God Grew Tired of Us (8.8/10) - A sensitive and emotional portrayal of the lives of three "Lost Boys of Sudan" who are among the lucky few in their refugee camp in Kenya to be able to settle in the United States.
- The Devil Came on Horseback (8.8/10) - A documentary that exposes the genocide raging in Darfur, Sudan as seen through the eyes of a former U.S. marine who serves as an official military observer and then tries to make the story public at home. Incredible.
- The War Tapes (8.3/10) - Excellent first-hand experience of Iraq, as filmed by US soldiers. Interesting to see them talk about KBR/Halliburton, and to see the varying perspectives on the politics of the war.
- Regret to Inform (7.0/10) - A US woman goes back to Vietnam to visit the scene of her husband's death. Primarily an anti-war film, it showcases interviews from widows of American soldiers and Vietnamese broken by grief.
- Afghan Star (8.5/10) - Very interesting look into the spirit of singing on the "American Idol" version in Afghanistan, where singing, dancing, and cinemas were all banned under the rule of Taliban.
- Ten (8.1/10) - Ten conversations in the vehicle of an Iranian in Tehran. There are exchanges between the driver, a mother, and her son, a jilted bride, a prostitute, a woman on the way to prayer, and others. Very vivid, candid dialogue. Sheds light on some of the emotions felt by Muslim women.
Books Read During Peace Corps Service:
Movies Seen During Peace Corps Service: