Europe or Middle East ?

Last week was really fascinating. I did so many things that I don’t know where to start. My only English friend Andrew (the one who took me to yoga) is the son of a Lord. And so I ended up going to see the Parliament with him last week. We had the privelege to see the House of Lords in session, learned about a million rituals, histories and stories, and even had a drink in the ‘Peer’s room’. The following day, following up with the ‘fabuleux destin de Julieta Falavina’ (as a friend of mine would say), I went to do something completely different. I posed for a Russian painter. This was an experience that should be told in more detail, as for someone who has taken a million classes in (post-)feminism, orientalism, to be suddenly on the other side of the coin, was quite revealing… As I said before, this is worthy of another post.

In this post I would like to talk about my dear friend Nese. My Turkish friend, who studied with me in Holland, appeared unexpectedly in London last week. It had been years since I last saw her. And encountering her was without a doubt the nicest thing that happened to me lately. Her visit was brief, as she had to go somewhere else as well. But it was just amazing to have someone over who had actual informed opinions about all the texts and books that were lying around in my house. It made me remember how I met her.

On my first day in Amsterdam I went to register for the university, and as I queued up the first person that caught my attention was Nese. She was radiating and beautiful, and she seemed like a little bee flying around all over the place. She laughed, speaking French to one, English to another, and in a language I didn’t recognize to a third person. I watched her for a long time, because Nese is like that, captivating. I remember thinking that I wanted to meet her, as she seemed a very nice person.

So when a couple of days later she appeared in my civil war class, I was very happy. I even became more enthusiastic when I heard her speak. She had very well constructed and original ideas. I heard then that she was not officially in my class. She was just joining it out of her own interest. But even so, she was the person who read the most, participated the most, and had the most interesting questions. One day we were told we had to do a presentation, and even though she was not officially part of the class, she decided to do it. And she chose to do it about the same organisation as me. I was ecstatic, as I would finally get to meet her. We set up a meeting, and when she arrived and started to talk, I felt she knew more about the organisation than the president of the organisation himself. And I who already thought I knew too much for the 15 minute presentation was dazzled by how much she knew about the organisation, its projects, and even the countries where the projects were. In sum, she knew all there was to know. When she told me she didn’t feel quite prepared, I could not hold my laughter, and we became friends immediately. I told her that I had wanted to meet her since the first day of school. And she told me that the only reason she chose that organisation was so that she could meet me. We laughed!

We did a million things together, while we were in Amsterdam. Well, in fact, she did billions of things, and I followed her in a few. I tried to calm her down every time she was delirious not feeling prepared for something. I got amazed at seeing how many activities she was involved in, and I learned a lot about Turkey. Since then I have been trying to go to Istanbul, but for some odd reason there was always something that kept me from going. So when I got a call from Nese this Thursday at the painter’s studio saying she was at the airport, I couldn’t contain my joy.

We met close to my house, and she was the same. Thinner, but with the same joyous face. We hugged, just as if we had met the day before. It was all the same, even if everything in my life had changed since we last saw each other. All the same, even if she had been through depressions, diseases, difficult relationships, desperate thesis, annoying jobs, it was all the same, even if she lost her enthusiasm about her PhD, about academic life, about art. As we hugged nothing mattered, and all of this didn’t make a difference.

She enters my house and sees Abu-Lughod on the couch, and starts talking about the ethnography of the Bedouins. She looks at my Bourdieu book and tells me I should read it in French: the English translation makes almost no sense… I become hyper, just like that; I, who don’t even care reading about Bourdieu, I who have not even read about the Bedouins. I do know however, that when Abu-Lughod sets out to study the Bedouins and finds them living a ‘slum-like life’ she becomes disappointed, feeling that they are not real Bedouins anymore. She then realises that for them what makes them Bedouin is their blood. That everything around them can change, if only they are able to preserve their ‘essence’, all that is external does not matter. It touches me enormously to think about that. It is the metaphorical ‘internal’ that matters.

Nese invites me to come to Istanbul. I tell her I am afraid, as every time I have a ticket something goes wrong. Haiko tells me to go, at least to end the superstition. I agree. After all, it is not difficult to convince me to go on a trip. I agree. After all, I have never been to the Middle East. I say that out loud, already anticipating Nese’s response:

“But Jules, you know we are Europeans, right?”

We laugh. We laugh a lot! Let it all change. Let all concepts change. All the frontiers, all the continents, all the countries, all the categories. Let me visit the Lords one day, and pose for a Russian painter the other. Let me study social science, do yoga, meditate, or wander around South-East Asia. Let me travel the Middle East in some people minds, while being in Europe to others. Let’s change it all, but let’s keep the essence, let’s find the essence, and when we do, let’s celebrate it.