Gwangju

So I thought I would take some time out to write a little bit about the city that has become my home.

Just under a year ago, I left the United States, my home, my family, and all my friends. I was looking to start new in a brand new country, in Korea. The land of KPOP and kimchi. I had my eyes set on Busan, Korea’s second largest city, although that ended up not working out. Instead, I was sent to Gwangju. A city I had never heard of. Surrounded by mountains and lacking much wildlife, Gwangju was Korea’s capital in revolutions and baseball. A city that breathed politics, which was evident to me from the minute I set foot inside its borders.

I arrived just in time to witness Korea’s 2016 revolution – a massive uprising against the president of the republic at that time: Park Geun-hye. President Park was the daughter of a former Korean military dictator, and seeing that Gwangju was a city that revolted against military rule in 1980, she was unpopular before ever being sworn in. But a revolution against her corruption ensued, and the president of the Korean Republic was impeached. Impressed as I was, I was a little depressed over the results of the US election. It was my first time voting from abroad, and I fully expected my candidate of preference, Hillary Clinton, to win the presidency. I’m still upset with the fact that my country elected Donald Trump, I’m not sure the world will ever see us the same again.

But back to Gwangju. Gwangju is a quiet city. When it isn’t revolting, it’s eagerly awaiting the results of their baseball team, the KIA Tigers. The Tigers are crazy popular in Gwangju, and seeing their famous T insignia is common in this city, Tigers jerseys abundant and visible. Despite not being much of a baseball fan myself, Gwangju had me become a baseball fan. Gwangju made me a Tiger. What have you done to me Gwangju?

This city is truly silently beautiful. With a population of 1.5 million, this city is two times bigger than Baltimore, where my university was. But you would never guess that. While Baltimore is always busy, loud, radiant with smells and noises, Gwangju was the opposite. It was quiet, with plenty of walking space. Not many smells, not many noises. It was clean, unusually clean for a big city, and it was a bit unnerving at first. It wasn’t what I was expecting. My experience with big cities was noise. Loads of noises and smells. Unusual characters, and beautiful street art. Gwangju had…safe streets and quiet people. Buses where you could hear yourself breathe, and around the same amount of Arab restaurants as the Arab population in Siberia.

I love it. I loved it right away. It was so different. Not in Korea, this is, apparently, the norm. It was different to what I was used to. It wasn’t what I was expecting. And somehow, that surprise, made it more enjoyable.

A lot of this comes down to the culture of this country. Because I’ve been told that Gwangju is more open than most Korean cities, although I’ll have to take their words for it. Gwangju reflects the Korean values of silent dignity, respect and honor. Don’t embarrass yourself or your family. You won’t see many people acting out in public. You won’t see many crazy outfits. That’s not Gwangju. And while this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, its clear that Korean traditions and culture play a big role in how this city and its citizens view themselves.

This city has become my home. I’ve fallen in love with Gwangju, and the people of Gwangju. They have a silent dignity to them. People who earn your respect. Their pride of heritage is evident, as their national flag hangs everywhere. You aren’t likely to forget where you are anytime soon. They are a curious bunch, often throwing question after question your way. You’re an open textbook to them, although there are days when I hate this. And I’ve loved them. And yes, while there has been a lot of stuff that’s annoyed me about Gwangju, there’s been many things that annoyed me when I was in Baltimore, and Egypt. But reflecting on what I’ve been through, I can safely say that my love for Gwangju easily outweighs anything negative.

Every city has what makes it special, and for me, Gwangju is special because of its political history. On most days I find myself downtown by the famous Asia Cultural Center, built on the site of the historic uprising of 1980. Koreans from all over the country make their way to the city for historical tourism. A massive amount of streets and parks in Gwangju pay tribute to the uprising, allowing you to always be aware of the city’s history. Old and young alike, Gwangju’s citizens are aware, and proud of their city’s history. And nothing matches the swagger of Gwangju when the anniversary of the uprising roars around.

I love Gwangju, and all I have to say to the city is this: thank you. Thank you for being my home. I hope what’s to come is better than what we’ve experienced. You’re a real gem of a city.

Go Tigers!

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I Am Peter Parker

This is going to be a very short post.

We are now days away from Marvel’s new Spider-Man movie, and I thought I would take this time to pay tribute to the superhero that got me into the genre. The first one I ever loved, and the one that I could relate to the most.

I got into Spider-Man when I was a kid in middle school. Tobey Maguire’s original Spider-Man was the first time I ever watched a superhero movie, and felt that I could totally relate. Peter Parker was the goofy, awkward, kid. Couldn’t talk to MJ, got bullied at school and at the bus stop, he wasn’t some Bruce Wayne type. He wasn’t cool and smooth. Sexy and wealthy. He wasn’t Clark Kent, some alien god. He was an awkward, young kid from New York, with no parents and little money. Scared and alone. I loved it. It’s the personality and character of Peter Parker that makes Spider-Man so special. He is the average teenage boy. He has the same worries, he goes through all the crap we all go through.

The 2002 Spider-Man movie got me into the genre. Over the years I’ve become obsessed with the characters of Stan Lee and Marvel. From Black Panther, an African superhero for us African fans, to Captain America. The epitome of good, Captain America was special because of his dedication to doing what was just. His superpowers  are not what make him special, they are what his tools to defend justice. And Bucky.

But despite all these amazing characters, nothing compares to your first love. And Peter Parker was my first love. Spider-Man 1, 2, AND 3. Yeah, I liked Spider-Man 3. What about it. And I’m so excited to see what Tom Holland has in store for us. By all accounts, he seems like a great guy, and his performance in Civil War was near perfection.

So as I eagerly await Marvel’s new Spider-Man, I just want to thank Tobey Maguire. Thank you for being the hero we all have inside of us. Thank you for proving that it’s not your money that makes you a hero. You don’t have to be a god from another realm. Much like Captain America, what makes Spider-Man special is what came before their powers. Their stories are easy to relate to. Even after all these years, the fanboy inside me screams with excitement and roars in anticipation of the new adaptation of the little-man hero. Because I, along with all the other awkward young men out there, will proudly go watch the superhero the represents us. Because we are Peter Parker.

Why I Love (and Hate) The National Team

I’m kind of a big sports fan. I grew up in a big sporting family, and I grew up learning and playing soccer and basketball. I’m passionate about my sports and my teams, always have been. But I never knew how passionate someone could get, until January of 2008. January, for those of you who don’t follow African sports, is when the Africa Cup of Nations is held, every two years. In 2006, Egypt had won the title on home soil, and entering into the 2008 tournament, most people were predicting that Egypt would lose their crown. Ghana, the amazing hosts, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast were all viewed as stronger teams. In hindsight, they all were much stronger than Egypt, although the Egyptian teams from 2006-2011 played much more organized football than any other team in Africa. Not relying on a few star players, but outplaying their opponents with superior tactics and better team play. But maybe I’m a little biased. The point of all that was, to say, that I was in Africa for the 2008 African Cup. More specifically, I was in Egypt. And having lived all my life in America, I thought I knew passionate fans. I really did. Texas A&M have some inspiring fans. No one can accuse the Philadelphia Eagles fans of not caring. Green Bay is literally known for football, I’ve never heard anyone in my life ever talk about vacationing in Green Bay. And I can’t ever leave out the best fans in hockey, the Washington Capitals. My hometown lovable losers. So I knew passion, as defined by American standards, and while I expected the African Cup to be special, I never expected what I saw.

The Egyptian national team, nicknamed the Pharaohs, opened up their title defense against title favorites Cameroon. I didn’t think Egypt was going to win, but the entire country shut down in preparations for the game. And I mean SHUT DOWN. I’ll never forget walking to my grandmother’s house, where our family would gather to watch the Pharaohs, and seeing so many closed businesses. Empty streets, until you reach the packed cafes playing the game. National flags everywhere. In a country where people had little to ever look forward to, they all came together for that opening 90 minutes. Everyone talking, yelling, arguing about the match to come. Who should, and shouldn’t start? Can Egypt defend its title without its star striker, Mido? And then Egypt shut down. Because the game was on.

And the Pharaohs did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, they exceeded all expectations. And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Twenty minutes into their title defense, and Egypt was up 2-0 against Cameroon. 3-0 by the half, with Egypt surprising the title favorites with a 4-2 victory in the opening match. And with every goal, Egypt turned into the world’s largest festival. Within the walls of my grandmother’s small home gathered my family, in all its glory. No one could find a place to sit, and we were all sitting and standing on one another. But it didn’t matter. The cheers and screams were so loud I though we would get reported. Only for me to hear the screams coming from the people in the streets and from the neighbors and cafes. I’ll say this quite honestly. If you were in Egypt for the match, you would have known the exact score of the game, even if you went out of your way to avoid the match. Because with every goal, the streets would roar their approval. Every goal against us, the streets would roar with disapproval. It was phenomenal. And after all that, the Egyptian people weren’t even done showing off. Gathering at the major city squares, Egyptians would, in their thousands and thousands, stand together and celebrate their team’s success. It was like a super bowl parade, after every win. I’d never seen Egyptians happier. Until the next game. And the game after that.

Egypt went on to win their group, and in the knockout stages of the contest, they faced a respectable Angolan side. Angola played bravely, and while they gave Egypt a few scared, at the end of the day Egypt was too good. 2-1. On to the semis. And the single greatest sporting night of my life.

Egypt was to take on the Ivory Coast. With players like Yaya and Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba and Abdul Kader Keita, the Ivory Coast, nicknamed the Elephants, had the single best squad in the cup. Add to that the fact that they lost the 2006 final to Egypt on penalties, and you can see why people were expecting that this would be the night Egypt fell. Drogba’s revenge.

But it never happened. Instead, Egypt never showed up. In their place came a team of super aliens dressed in the Egyptian national team jersey. And they destroyed the Elephants. It was just mean.

I met up with my uncle about an hour before the game. I would often study with him, and as we were both excited for the match, our session that day was cut very short. However, despite the country preparing to shut down once again, he wasn’t optimistic. This was Didier Drogba, the king of Africa. This was the Elephants of the Ivory Coast. This was their revenge, and this was almost their home turf. We beat them in Cairo. But Ghana is country that borders the Ivory Coast. They would have the crowd, the familiar setting, and they were being inspired by arguably the best African player of his generation.

Egypt started out cautious, relying on Africa’s finest defense. But luck was on our side. It was on our side. Because at 11:40, Egypt struck gold. A deflected shot by Ahmed Fathi gave Egypt a lead that they took into the half. And as the nation around me prayed for our defense to keep out Drogba, the explosion came.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Egypt’s midfield started carving sculptures in the Ivorian defense. One goal, two goals, three goals. Egypt stunned Africa, as the Ivorians bowed out losing 4-1. And what happened next was remarkable. The only night that eclipses that night in my memory bank in February 11th, 2011. The night Mubarak fell. This was passion. Like nothing I’d ever felt before. Like nothing I’d ever experienced. These eleven players were a nation on their own. The joy that they brought to the Egyptian fans was not something I thought was ever possible in sports. This was football at its purest, its finest, its best. I fell so hard for the Pharaohs. Never had I ever wanted a title more. This wasn’t a franchise or a club. This was an entire nation. My nation. And in a rematch against Cameroon, Egypt came through. A late goal by the legend that is Mohammed Abu Treika gave Egypt the win. It gave Egypt the title. Back to back.

I returned to America a few months later, and while there, I got to witness Egypt win the African Cup for a record third straight time.

I love sports. I love soccer. I love the American national team. And I actually feel more American than Egyptian. But not when it comes to soccer. Because nothing matches the passion of the Egyptians when it comes to their Pharaohs.

Yet, despite all that love, the Pharaohs have me feeling more confused than anything nowadays. You see, Egyptian football is highly politicized. And the Egyptian tyrant, Abdelfattah El Sisi, is heavily linked to the Egyptian national team. The problem with this, is that the Pharaohs are often used a symbol of the government. And anyone who doesn’t like the government not only has no place among st the Pharaohs, but in Egyptian public life. Our president is our God. He is Horus. He is Ra. He is Jesus. And I’m not speaking in hyperbole here either. He has been called a Messiah by the Egyptian media. Muslim scholars have compared him to Moses. He is above the law, and above the people. We are the slaves, and he is a God. And this post just took a remarkably dark turn, but here’s the problem with the Pharaohs. They are his team. They represent him as much as they represent Egypt. Their success is his success.

During the 2014 World Cup I was able to enjoy the success of the American national team. As did conservatives, liberals, black people, white people, Arab Americans, Mexican Americans, Irish Americans. The USMNT represented the American people. It didn’t matter whether you like Obama or not. Whether you were a Democrat or not. But in Egypt, it is different. And this is what I hate about the Pharaohs. I want to be a part of the most passionate fans in Africa. I want to support Egypt without having to worry about useless political slogans for a tyrant who oppresses and kills. But that won’t happen. The Pharaohs were Mubarak’s team. And as long as Egypt is run by a tyrant, their popularity will be exploited by whichever dictator sees himself as Egypt’s modern day Pharaoh.

So I’ll end my post like this. To sum up everything I just wrote, and to sum up everything I’ve felt:

Down with the Pharaoh, and up with the Pharaohs.

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20 Years.

Thank you.

JK Rowling has always been a great source of inspiration to me. Growing up with her books, I always felt like I had a home within the magical world of Harry Potter. I didn’t always fit in as a child, but at Hogwarts, I knew I belonged. That world she imagined became the dominant pillar of my childhood, and it’s incredibly difficult to believe it, but it’s now been exactly 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published in the UK. So for the amazing experiences, the memories, and for the experiences more real than most on this earth, thank you.

I first heard Harry Potter when I was in the third grade. Our third grade teacher, Ms. Ross, would often pick out books to read to us. These were some of my favorite memories from elementary school. And I remember one student whose name is no longer in my memory bank, although I do remember that he was a friend of Taiwanese descent, asked her to read us this book titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was a little intimidating for us, as she had never before read us a book so large. But her decision to challenge us, as was her norm, changed my life forever. Over the weeks and months that followed, the story of Harry, Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione easily became my favorite moments in school. A fascination was born. I had finally arrived home.

I rushed to the library. The story continued didn’t it, and the Chamber of Secrets followed. What a story that was. As much as I loved the first book, this was so much better. I remember being stunned by the revelation that Tom Riddle was actually Voldemort. My absolute love for all things Oliver Wood. And the introduction of Dobby. To this day, I continue to wear mismatching socks as a tribute to Dobby. RIP you Free Elf.

Interestingly enough, this book also made me fall in love with the English language. There was so much new vocabulary introduced to me in this book, and it didn’t scare me away. Instead, it expanded my world. The castle began to feel more real than the halls of my school.

The Prisoner of Azkaban. That ending. That twist. Rowling had taught me to expect the unexpected from her. I couldn’t predict anything. I could only enjoy the ride. Hate Sirius. Love Sirius. Poor Peter. Damn you Peter! Wait, Lupin is a WHAT?!?

The Goblet of Fire. When I first read the Goblet of Fire, it blew me away. Every single thing that I loved in the Harry Potter series was taken up to 11. The fourth Harry Potter book remains special in my heart. Because while I ended up liking the sixth and seventh books better, this was the book that made me know. This wasn’t some really, really, great book series. This was now a major part of my identity. Harry Potter was now a permanent, wonderful, magical piece of my own story. What a book that was. What a story. The tournament. Harry and Ron’s friendship. EVERYTHING ABOUT MAD-EYE. You know how weird it was for me, going from loving Mad-Eye as a new favorite character, to the realization that it was he who had engineered EVERYTHING? I love, love, love, Goblet of Fire. JK Rowling, you magical writer.

The Order of the Phoenix. This was the book where I felt a stronger connection to Harry than any of the other six books. So much of what he was going through, of what he was feeling, I could familiarize with. It was the closest I ever felt to the character of Harry Potter.

Nothing needs to be said about the sixth book. Easily my favorite of the seven. I need not say anything about this masterpiece.

And the finale. Nothing could have prepared me for what I ended up learning about Dumbledore and Snape. If there was one thing I thought I’d never question, it was how I felt about Dumbledore and Snape. But hats off JK Rowling. You are, truly, a literary genius.

I love this world so much. I’m excited to see where it goes. I loved the Fantastic Beasts  movie, and I can’t wait to see what magic lies in the years to come. This world means more to me than anything I’ve experienced here on earth.

Because here’s my reality, and those of you who’ve read my previous posts would already know this, but belonging has never been something I’ve been good at. Often times people say having a foot in two cultures is like having the best of both worlds. For me, I would often feel like I didn’t belong in either. Too Egyptian for America. Too American for Egypt. I belonged in this world. And as a young child, struggling to find a home in a confusing world, growing up in two cultures that did not see the other in a positive light, belonging to that Magical world meant everything to me. And there were so many other stories and books that I had read before, and so many books that I’ve read since finishing Harry Potter. Hundreds of amazing authors that made my life magical. But nothing ever compared to this. I never grew out of it. I re-read the books all the time. I still buy and own the books, the movies. The plays and the screenplays. I go watch the new movies in the theater. And I re-watch them. Because whenever I hear Hedwig’s theme, whenever I see wands and spells, horn rimed glasses and scars, I know it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world around me. Because I’m home.

And in the words of Dumbledore:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

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Yes, We Are Victims

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this or not. But this is something I feel like I need to say. Please read until the end.

My Muslim identity has not always been something that I wanted people to know. All my life, I would get scared that if people knew I was Muslim, the assumptions would follow. I so hated those lines that we repeated over and over again. “Yeah, we don’t believe in terrorism, it’s just a few bad apples. I promise.” I hated that so much. I didn’t matter where an act of terror happened, if the people behind it were Muslims, then we all had a responsibility the next day to go out and assure people that all 2 billion of us weren’t in on it. And if there’s one thing we know about innocent people, it’s that every time something happens, they go out to declare their innocence.

We aren’t bad people. We’re like all people. We have the good and the bad. But unlike all people, we aren’t allowed to mourn our losses and our dead. We aren’t allowed to proclaim the truth about what is happening in the world, in regards to these Muslims who commit acts of terror. We have to bow our heads, and quietly accept that this is how we live.

Here’s the truth. We do have a problem within our wider religious community. That’s number one. We have allowed the once radical and fringe ideologies among our community to become mainstream. I’m referencing the Saudi/Gulf version of Islam. This has allowed for even more extreme groups to rise up. Once the extreme became mainstream, there needed to be a new extreme. We have a responsibility to kick this Saudi/Gulf extreme version of our faith out, once and for all. That’s number one.

Here’s number two. The truth is, the primary targets of these terrorist groups, a majority of the victims of terrorism in this world are Muslim people. And I know that might be hard to believe, but let’s think about this for one second. ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups have attacked Western cities numerous times. They have killed the innocent in Manchester, and Brussels. London and Boston. California and Florida. And my heart aches as I write down the names of these cities. But we can count how many times they have attacked Western civilization. These attacks are a daily occurrence in the Middle East. They aren’t worthy of a news story, or a Facebook post. Because they are so frequent, people have become indifferent.

“ISIS attacked another Shia mosque? What, that’s their third mosque this week?”

“Well what can you do. That’s just what happens in Iraq.”

And don’t get me wrong. Don’t ever assume that I am belittling the suffering of non-Muslims at the hands of these barbarians. ISIS has made their hatred of non-Muslims clear. The attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq, their treatment of the Yazidis, forcing them to leave their homeland in search of refuge. These are barbaric people. This is a barbaric ideology. I could write a book on the reactionary minds of these people. But this article is focusing on one group today. Because sadly, I cannot write about all those who are suffering.

And there is one group ISIS hates above all else.

We, the non-ISIS Muslims.

We are the fake Muslims. The Muslims who like Western movies, who speak English, French, and Korean. We, the Muslims who like to travel and make money. We are what’s wrong with Islam. We ARE the war on Islam. And I hate the fact that I used the pronoun “we.” I have not suffered at the hands of these people, thank God. And I would never equate my emotions with those who actually lost their loved ones. But I promise, I’m getting to my point.

Look at what ISIS has done. Yes, they’ve attacked London. But they took over Libya. They attacked Paris. And took over Syria. They attacked Orlando. And took over Iraq. They attacked Manchester. And took over Sinai.

Their attacks on the west are not meant to be some takeover attempt. Killing innocent people in London is not going to make London a part of their “state.” It’s how they recruit. They portray themselves as some sort of resistance against the west. As a resistance against imperialism and colonialism. They want to incite a conflict in the west, that would alienate Western Muslims. They want to tell these people that they aren’t welcome in the West. Bomb Syria. Bomb Iraq. What happens when bombings begin? Innocent people die. What do they do with those images? Propaganda. The imperialist armies. Killing innocent babies. Who stands up to the imperialists? Why, they do of course! That’s their business in the west. They want to recruit. They know they won’t take over Paris or Orlando. But they can divide the people. They can recruit soldiers. And what do they do with those soldiers?

They wage wars in the lands they actually want to take over.

Iraq. Syria. Yemen. Libya. Egypt. Medina.

Every day they die.

Iraqis. Syrians. Yemenis. Libyans.

Every day they suffer.

Mosul. Raqqa. Sanaa. Benghazi.

Terrorism is a part of their lives. Terrorism is a part of their schedule.

Well, why don’t they condemn it? Why don’t they walk up to the soldiers with guns and weapons, and tell them that they don’t want them there?

“You’re not welcome here!”

Of course not.

Muslims aren’t the only victims of these people and their crazy ideology. We suffer, just like everyone else does.

I remember when September 11th happened, I was in the third grade. I remember the horrors of watching the events unfold on TV. They had let us out of school early. Just like everyone else, we mourned for our dead Americans. Just like everyone else, we lost people that day. Just like everyone else, we wanted justice.

But we weren’t everyone else. And this is point three.

Because we had questions to answer. We had our loyalties to be questioned. Were we loyal Americans? Were we a Trojan horse? What did we believe in?

We weren’t allowed to be Americans. Not without having our loyalties questioned.

And today we get asked.

“Why can’t the Muslims stop ISIS?”

How do you answer that?

“Well, they are. Those soldiers fighting them in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Don’t you know that they are overwhelmingly Muslim?”

“What about the Muslims here?”

“In America? You want Ahmed to leave his job at Company Retrieverisk to go join the Iraqi military, even though he was born in Baltimore, his parents immigrated from Pakistan, and he has never agreed with their ideology or way of thinking?”

People think we can control them. That we can, somehow, stop them killing from our homes in America. Just call up ISIS. Just go tell the Imam to talk to them. What do you mean we don’t know where they are?

Because there is a secret about Muslims that a lot of people might not have realized. There is no secret whatsapp group where all two billion of us chat. It’s not like we have a connection to these people. We don’t know how to control them. They are not preaching their messages in American mosques. They aren’t preaching on the streets of Morocco. They recruit online, faceless, nameless. I can promise you this. If there was a secret Muslim connection to ISIS, you would have heard about it. 2 billion Muslims in the world. You don’t think one or two would sell that secret for money?

But back to Ahmed. Because if Ahmed has to go fight ISIS in Iraq, then perhaps Kevin has to go fight the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. What’s that? Why is it his responsibility? He is a Christian after all, and they are an armed Christian terrorist group.

I’m sorry to anyone who has ever suffered because of these people. I’m sorry that this horror had to come from people who call their for war in the name of Muslims. But at the end of the day, we ARE their war. They see us as their biggest threat. We are the wrong Islam. We aren’t their only victims. But just like every other community fighting this war, we are also their victims.

For America

Anyone who knows me knows my passion for soccer. My love of the beautiful game, my beautiful game. I live for this game. And just like every other American who loves and lives soccer, I want to see America compete. I want to see a World Cup trophy in the US. I want packed stadiums, filled with passionate fans. The world to watch the MLS, for the world’s best players to want to come to America. I want us to be the best.

And that starts with the MLS. Major League Soccer is, have no doubt, an amazing league. The growth of the sport and the league, as I have witnessed it, is nothing short of amazing. I never actually believed that MLS could be where it is today. And people around the world poke fun at MLS, but look where we’ve come from. From nothing, we’ve built a league that is growing faster than any other. Over twenty teams now, new clubs being born from coast to coast, with our clubs building brand new soccer stadiums, selling out brand new soccer stadiums, and (occasionally) attracting world class talent, at a time when they could still play for Europe’s best. Giovincio and David Villa are world class players, no doubt they could still play in Europe. Not to mention Almiron, (ATL) Dos Santos, (LA) and Kaka. (Orlando)

If America is going to be a soccer powerhouse, the MLS needs to become a soccer powerhouse. And here is where my hypocrisy comes in. I enjoy watching MLS. I do. I lived in Africa for a year, watching local African football, and MLS offers a better product. It does. But it doesn’t match their passion. And the lack of passion in the MLS, led me to European soccer. So it’s hypocritical for me to talk about how we need to make MLS a great league, while I only watch it when there’s no La Liga or Premier League on. Which brings me to the point of this post.

I’ve decided to renew my passion in MLS. For America. For MLS to become a top league, it needs top dollars. And for MLS to make that money, it needs sponsors, tv deals, jersey sales. This comes when MLS becomes a major American league. When MLS starts rivaling the NHL and the NBA (more realistic than the top two leagues, the NFL and MLB) for fans and tv spots, then the MLS will become a financial powerhouse. There are cities where the passion of the MLS fans is something to behold. Orlando City SC, an intelligent, passionate, and exciting fan base. Portland Timbers. Traditions, titles, and an environment any player would be lucky to experience. Atlanta United, what an amazing addition to the MLS family! 50K fans a game?!? For an MLS game? Hats off Atlanta, I never thought I’d see the day.

And as much as it pains me, DC United, we ain’t there. Perhaps moving into a new stadium next year will help. Old RFK is too big, it’s falling apart, and the team isn’t very good this year. We can always hope that a new stadiums could breathe new life into our club and fans.

Back to my original point. America is slowly getting there. And Americans are slowly getting into soccer. I believe we have a better league system in America. With no relegation system in place, a playoff system that gives more clubs are shot at the title, and a yearly draft to ensure that the league remains competitive, I believe the MLS is a better league, structure wise, then the Premier League. As soccer grows, our fans will grow. As we start to rival the top sports leagues in America, we’ll draw the attention of the top players around the world. And when the MLS arrives, America will finally be the powerhouse I’ve always dreamed of.

And one more thing.

Vamos United.

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My African Dream

I’ve got an identity for every finger on my hands. Muslim, Arab, Egyptian, American, Marylander, North African, Middle Eastern, African, Alexandrian, Upper Egyptian, and even Zamalekawy. But there is one in particular that I’d like to focus on with this post, and unless you decided not to read the title of this post, you already know what that is.

Here’s the truth. There was once a time when I didn’t even consider myself African. Growing up in America, Africa and all things that were associated with Africa, were often tied to skin color. I was not black. So in my eyes, that was all I needed to know. I was not African.

And its an odd conclusion to have come to. My family can’t trace their roots anywhere else. Neither of my parents’ families has any history, known ancestors, or cultural connection to another part of the world. As a matter of fact, I was the first person from either family to have been born outside the continent.

But I grew up in America, as an American. And right away, you learn what it means to be African and American. It means you’re black. I never had a problem with that, it however, confuse me when my family identified as African. I just never came to understand that I didn’t have to see Africa through the eyes of the Europeans. I didn’t have to see Africa from their point of view. Africa is a diverse continent with hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnic groups. Twenty-five percent of Africans aren’t black, and here’s some new information: black isn’t a race in Africa. Africans are Zulu and Wolof. Berber and Coptic. Nubian and yes, even white.

As I learned more about Africa, I loved it more and more. This beautiful homeland of my ancestors. This diverse land of natural beauty, and cultural brilliance. But as I began to embrace my African identity, I realized that my African people, had a problem embracing it.

My family is Egyptian. While my family members identify as Africans, a large number of Egyptians, along with many other North African ethnic and pan-ethnic groups, don’t. Culturally, linguistically, and physically, they had more in common with Western Asia. They identified with the Arabs, with the Turks. With India and Pakistan, more than they did with Africa. They embraced Asia, and ignored Africa. They welcome people from West Asia, particularly the Arabs, into their lands as their brothers. And they saw the darker skinned Africans as foreigners.

This way of thinking, this colonialist mentality is a problem that we have in North Africa. A problem that is causing great issues in our societies. We were separated by the Europeans. They taught us we were different, and we saw ourselves as better than others.

There is only one way to describe this.

Wrong.

We turned our back on our people, our brethren and our ancestors. For Europe. Our colonial masters. We wanted so badly to be like the Europeans, that we lost all that made us unique. And while this is a problem in the North, it is also a problem among many sub-Saharan (and I don’t like that term) nations as well. There have been ethnic genocides carried out in the name of European colonialism. When an ethnic group in Rwanda is told by the Europeans that they are better than their compatriots, and for them to believe this, beginning a long story of oppression that ends in genocide, what are we to do? When borders drawn by the French and the British have you all emotional that you begin to hate your brother and sister who just happened to be on the other side, how are we to move forward?

We are not Europe. We should not strive to be Europe. But we can take a good example from Europe, when there is one to be taken.

I dream of an African Union. One, unified Africa. The borders drawn on Africa’s lands are not African borders. They are European, and they are remnant of colonialism. They should not define us. Color should not define us. We are a diverse collection of tribes, speaking thousands of languages. Rich in our history and great in our traditions. I don’t believe in Nationalism, but I do believe in love. In now way will I ever be an African nationalist, but I love Africa more than I can describe. And I want us to realize that together, we are a powerful and beautiful people. That no one is better than anyone else because of some European borders, or a skin tone. That we can one day live for the same goal.

We don’t have to be like this.

We can be so much more than this.

 

A Movie and A Longing

It’s been almost exactly seven years since I was last in Egypt. My relationship with the country is an odd one. I have no childhood memories there, I have no childhood friends there, and I wasn’t born there. It’s where my parents are from. Yet I do have my own memories in Egypt.

I moved there when I was in high school. I remember joining a local soccer team, and although I was not very good, I made some amazing friends while falling in love with a new sport. I got to experience my extended family, and fight with them over trivial things. I watched Egyptian movies, and got annoyed at Egyptian dramas. The food was much better than the US, no doubt about that, but the internet was unbearably slow. Streets weren’t that safe, but I don’t think I ever felt more threatened in Alexandria than in Baltimore. It was just something about the country that called out to me, and I did feel a connection to a homeland I never realized I had. I never meant to say goodbye to Egypt, because I always meant to return. Not as a tourist, but as an Egyptian. I lived my year. I learned the language. I met my family. But it wasn’t enough for me.

I always planned to return to Egypt when I graduated. But fate had other plans for both, me and Egypt. The Egyptian revolution of 2011 changed everything. Not for me, but for my circumstances. While I still longed to return, the gates of Egypt had been shut. Egypt went under military rule. Islamist rule. Military rule again. I was drafted into the military, even though under Egyptian law it wouldn’t even be legal for a foreign citizen to serve. The likeliness of my arrest and forced enlistment into the military became a real concern. The years passed. One, two, three, four. I graduated, with a degree in Political Science. I decided to go forward with my plans to travel, and got on a plane from the U.S to Taiwan.

Six years had passed, and Egypt was now fighting ISIS. Libyan weapons were being illegally sold. Journalists and foreign workers were being arrested. An Italian student was killed, presumably by the government, and as Egypt’s president became more maniacal, Egypt became more unbalanced.

Its been seven years now.

Yesterday, interestingly, I went to watch an Egyptian movie at a downtown theater. The movie was from 2009.

While I had never seen the movie before, I recognized a lot of the actors. The language, the inner jokes that the audience didn’t get. I was last in Egypt around that time, and this movie that I had never seen before, had me feeling homesick. Not the content of the movie. Just watching Egyptians from that time. Their interactions, their concerns. The building political tension for the revolution none of them knew was coming. Truth is, I follow Egyptian media, and I watch a lot of Egyptian television today. But it was the time period that got me. A time before the conflict, before ISIS, before Syria. Before the world had gone mental. A time I could remember, when moving to Egypt was a realistic possibility. When you could walk home and buy hawawshi without having to wonder if there is some dog in your dinner. Before fans got killed in football stadiums, when you could yell at the TV and complain about how Zamalek was the most annoying club on the planet.

I’m not going to write my thoughts on the movie. That doesn’t matter. All I got from that experience was a reminder. Our time is so short. Often times we make plans, but we are no masters of fate. Its hard for me to believe that its been seven years. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Egypt, and if I do return, I don’t know in what capacity. But I do realize now just how much I miss it. And it makes no sense. It is honest to God a miserable country to live in. Absolutely miserable. The water is polluted, the hospitals are understaffed, the schools are overcrowded, the government is corrupt, the streets are littered with trash, the cars are broken, traffic laws are nonexistent, the internet is unbearable slow, and the police are less friendly than the gangs. But that’s the weird thing about Egypt. You really have no reason to love it. You just do.