Sunday, March 23, 2014

things that happened this week: being a woman, Ambassador Ford, and what are you?

I wasn't going to write, but then I felt guilty, because I'm a woman. Not that women are more predisposed to guilt, or that I feel guilty for having two X chromosomes. They're alright. But there's been a lot of discussion lately about how women don't put their voices out there enough, and how there's a massive gender imbalance in the foreign policy world. So, on behalf of my gender, I write to you today.

Something cool that happened this week: I got to see/hear/almost talk to Robert Ford, America's former ambassador to Syria. Politics aside, I have mad respect for Ford. He's got great Arabic--rare for an American diplomat--and, at pretty substantial risk, kept the American Embassy open in Syria well into the conflict. More than that, he didn't stay inside. Instead, he would travel to protests to learn about the situation on the ground. Given Assad's crackdown on reporters, Ford's efforts were instrumental in conveying news to the outside world.

Ford's talk at the Wilson Center was predictably bleak; no one seems to have any optimism for Syria anymore. After the talk, he was approached by a small group of Syrians and Syrian-Americans, who asked him how many more people needed to die before the U.S. would intervene.

Ukraine has dimmed hopes of a political solution co-orchestrated by Russia, but perhaps there is an opening through Iran? That is the only thing I can think of at the moment. Ford emphasized the need for Syrian opposition members to reach out to Alawis in Syria--a critical step but not something we're seeing right now. Instead, it seems like people are just doing whatever they can to survive--whether that means endorsing local cease-firesselling oil, or just leaving the country altogether.

On a lighter note...

Something strange I realized this week: in DC, I'm ethnic. As a pale white girl with brown hair and blue eyes, I really haven't faced this before. Growing up in California, I used to envy my peers who got to fill in non-white bubbles (often multiple!) when identifying their race/ethnicity on school forms. In the Middle East, I blended in pretty seamlessly. But here, for whatever reason, I get asked "what's your background" or "what are you" pretty regularly.

Don't get me wrong; I know that my experience is indescribably less challenging than the experiences of my friends who filled in different bubbles on school forms. It's hardly comparable. And it's probably useful to society that I'm experiencing this, because it helps me begin to comprehend what it feels like to "look different."

Nonetheless, it's become annoying. The first few times I was flattered (who doesn't want to be confused for Italian?!) but, after a while, I grew tired of having to define myself. It's tricky enough to figure out how I feel about my religion/ethnicity/white guilt/whatever, and I don't like having to distill it all into a digestible sentence or two, sandwiched in between small talk and pleasantries. If you'd like to talk about this stuff, awesome, but it will take a few coffees worth of conversation.

I'll end with my favorite picture of the weeka Turkish flag eating the Twitter bird, symbolizing Erdogan's ban on Twitter. But look, the bird lives!

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