Guest Post – On Being a TCK

Today I get to introduce you to Becca Garber. The similarities between her life and mine are astounding (other than that she’s much younger than me and wiser than I was at her age!)  Becca and I met in Cambridge but quickly realized that we had both Pakistan and Egypt in common. We reconnected through blogging. Her post today is a great encouragement on how our lives as children prepare us for some of the things we face as adults. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post and head over to her blog where she will give you a glimpse into her life in Sicily and you will never want to leave! 


The call came at 4:00 am on January 29th, 2011. I was sleeping in a tiny apartment in Washington, D.C., seven months pregnant with our first child.

Instantly awake, I picked up the phone.

“Becca! It’s me.”

My husband’s voice on the line flooded me with relief. “I just got a seat on the last commercial flight out of Cairo before they shut everything down. I’m coming home! There was only one seat left, and it was first class, so I’m coming home in style.”

That night—three years ago now—Elliott and I were in the middle of one long year apart because of his work as a veterinarian for the U.S. Army. He had been stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, but he was on his way back to the States for a conference when the Arab Spring burst from the cobblestones of Tahrir Square. He was at the airport in Cairo when the revolution kicked up a notch, and within a few hours the government cut all internet service in the city.

Although I will forever remember that night of nail-biting intensity, I realized now that I was uniquely prepared for it. As a third culture kid (TCK), the political uprising, the plane flight cancellations, and even the sudden lack of communication were not surprises to me. I could even picture where Elliott was sitting in the Cairo airport. I knew that airport well after visiting him a few months before, touring the city with my family a few years earlier, and even traveling in and out of the same airport as an infant.

Yes, my life as a TCK started early. I was born in Egypt while my dad was a student at the American University of Cairo. After grad school, he went on to work for an oil company that promised him international assignments. Thus continued my childhood overseas, a life I shared with brave parents, three siblings, and a spunky dog named Sona who went with us everywhere.

What parts of this childhood prepared me for challenging events in my adult life?

When Elliott was stuck in Cairo, no one really knew what was going on, where violence might erupt, and who could be caught in the groundswell. As a young child, I had a small taste of that same uncertainty while living in Pakistan in the mid-90s, just before Benazir Bhutto was overthrown.

One afternoon in particular stands out in my memory. My mom, siblings, and I were in Islamabad purchasing furniture for our new home. When we arrived at the final store we planned to visit that day, we had to slow down. Broken glass, branches, and rocks were scattered all over the road. Yet the scene was eerily quiet. As we drove through the wreckage, our eyes began to sting. Tear gas! We realized we’d missed a riot by about 10 minutes.

Flexibility is another skill that every TCK learns. I needed flexibility that night in D.C. as I pleaded on the phone with Delta to change my husband’s ticket, anticipated missing our wedding anniversary in two days, and finally fell asleep around 2am. All my plans were exhausted and all power out of my hands.

I acquired that flexibility and trust  in my childhood one summer when we were told we could never go home. I was about 12 years old, and we were visiting the States on vacation. We had lived in Islamabad for two years by then, and we loved it. However, the political situation had continued to simmer despite Benazir Bhutto’s ousting, and in the end my father’s company decided we could not go back. Instead, my mom and the four of us kids flew to Singapore to start a new life.

My dad returned briefly to our home and walked through the bedrooms, weeping at both the goodness of God to give us that life and at the prospect of leaving it behind. He gathered some belongings and took our dog back with him on a plane to Singapore. We would not see the rest of our physical possessions until we arrived at our new home in India a year and a half later.

One final lesson my childhood as a TCK taught me was to love other cultures. It has helped me to avoid approaching life with an “us vs. them” mentality. In the midst of the Arab Spring, even though I worried about my husband’s safety, I was still thrilled at the boldness at the Egyptian people. I cheered them on to victory, peace, and prosperity, despite the miles between us.

My brief experiences in Egypt—as a baby, a child, and an adult—all left me with a love for the country and the people. I had tasted the waters of the Nile, as they say, and I would always come back. I feel the same ties to every country I’ve lived in, from America to Australia, Italy to India, Poland to Pakistan. I’ve eaten the food, drunk the water, walked the streets, feasted on the sights, and suffered through the summers alongside the people of these diverse nations. Their stories are part of my story.

As I write this, all is quiet in our house in Sicily. Our two children are sleeping, and the first member of our inevitable menagerie, a Maine Coon named Siena, purrs nearby. In six months our assignment in Italy will end, and we’re beginning to look ahead to our next adventure.  What sights, streets, and summers await us there? With a little flexibility and a lot of love, I’m ready to find out.


Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own.   One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.

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Remembering “The Square”

On Friday night we watched the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square (Al Midan). This movie captures what happened in Egypt from a few weeks before the momentous ousting of Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011 through this past summer.

“Let me tell you how this story began….It began with a group of brave, young Egyptians battling injustice, corruption, poverty.” Ahmed Hassan

Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo is the place that became the epicenter for all the events leading up to Mubarak’s downfall. It represents to the world the fight for freedom and democracy as hoped and fought for by the Egyptian people. The title of the movie is fitting as nothing captures the spirit of this time more than Tahrir Square.

The movie follows Ahmed – the 20 year old who has known the streets of Cairo since he sold lemons as a little boy and realistically represents the youth of Egypt; Magdy – a family man who identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood and goes to Tahrir Square day after day to watch change happen; and Khalid – a movie star who has been living in England but comes back to Cairo to participate in the change he knows is coming. Initially the movie shows a people united at the ousting of Mubarak, ready for a new day in Egypt. But the story moves forward and divisions arise, an army the people trusted turns on them, hope turns to despair. But Ahmed, Magdy, and Khalid continue coming to Tahrir Square – their differences obvious, their desire to see change united.

The documentary vividly captures the crowds, the masses of people — men, women, and children shouting “Al-Horreya!’ (Freedom!), the tension between the people and the army, talking heads on state-sponsored television. Throughout the film we were immersed in crowds and chaos, anger and joy, hope and despair.

But for us, watching the movie was personal.

Tahrir is a familiar place for all of us from the seven years we lived in Egypt, but it is even more familiar for our daughter. For three years, from September 2009 through September 2012 she lived in Cairo. She was in graduate school at the American University in Cairo and lived just two blocks from Tahrir Square. She has friends and acquaintances featured in the movie and this was her world. It was this I couldn’t get out of my mind on Friday night. These were her friends, this was her neighborhood, whatever was happening on any given day affected her going out, affected where she ate, who she was with. She lived, breathed, slept what I only briefly experienced while visiting her and then watched in a movie. It was a powerful and difficult film to watch.

It has now been three years, and Egypt still faces massive challenges. As we remember this day, 3 years ago, I ask you to read these words of an Egyptian friend from a news email written on January 9:

As we begin 2014 the biggest concern of most Egyptians is whether or not they, individually and as a nation, can afford the price of the new “democracy” which was achieved by our “Revolution”!

In January 2011, when Egyptians in large numbers toppled the government by protesting against the autocratic rule of the Mubarak regime, there was hope that the country would become truly democratic. We dreamed of a nation where everyone could freely express his or her perspectives and opinions and yet also work together in harmonious tolerance.

This dream was quickly crushed when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took over the government and imposed what increasingly resembled religious theocracy. When that regime was ousted by popular demand last summer, there was new hope that the dreams we’d had during the Revolution would finally be realized.

Unfortunately, since the dispersal of the MB’s 48 day sit-ins on August 14, 2013, disruption of daily life and violence on the streets has become a normal part of Egyptian life.  We often hear of people wounded or killed in clashes between MB supporters and the police, the army or angry civilians who want to live a normal life. In an attempt to restore peace on the street, the government’s aggressive response to continued MB disruptions sadly seems to create more violence rather than less.

As we prepare for a national referendum on a new Constitution, the violence continues in an attempt to intimidate the general population and scare them from going to the polls on January 14 and 15.

Having just celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, Christians in Egypt yearn for that elusive peace in their hearts and in the country as a whole.” from Ramez Atallah 

Tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of events that happened on January 25th when the people of Egypt came together to demand more. I’ll end the post with more words from Ramez: “Pray with us to know creative ways to better reflect what the Prince of Peace would say to Egypt.”

I highly recommend the documentary. To watch a preview click on this link: The Square

All photos were taken on our trip to Egypt in December 2011. Gas MaskCairo, Egypt, Islam, MinaretTahrir SquareMore graffitisunset from the roofFriday Tahrir 2Boys with peace signWe three kingsGas mask graffiti 3eyepatch graffiti 2January 25th Revolution

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Wrapping Up the Week

It’s Saturday so grab a hot drink, sit in your most favorite spot, and spend time reading and relaxing!

On the woman behind Roe v. Wade: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Roe. I found this an interesting look behind the curtain. Every law suit has a person with a story behind it. Norma, the woman who is ‘Jane Roe’, has an interesting story and a bit of it is told in this article.

On Egypt: The second anniversary of Egypt’s Uprising was yesterday. There was a massive demonstration in Tahrir Square with police and anti-Morsi protesters but otherwise, a country that occupied everyone’s thoughts and all the media spots two years ago remained almost off the radar. That seemed sad to me. In the midst of this I read a blog post from January 7th (Coptic Christmas and Epiphany) written by a friend of ours. It will give you a perspective you won’t hear in other places. Take a look at A Remarkable Sign of Hope During Christmas in Egypt by Ramez Atallah.

On Grace: The Lesson of Grace in Teaching is an essay written by a Professor of Mathematics, Frances Su. The essay is the text of a talk he gave. If you’ve followed this week’s posts, you’ll know that I’ve needed Grace. My favorite quote from the article:

The Lesson of GRACE:

  • Your accomplishments are NOT what make you a worthy human being
  • You learn this lesson when someone shows you GRACE: good things you  didn’t earn or deserve, but you’re getting them anyway.

first they killed my fatherOn What I’m Reading: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is a memoir from a Cambodian woman that covers 5 years of her life. For fifteen plus years I’ve worked with the Cambodian population in Massachusetts, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I remember a few years ago sitting with one of my Cambodian colleagues over lunch, asking her about the Khmer Rouge and her journey from Cambodia to Lynn, Massachusetts. Her story had my throat catching and I wanted to weep. This memoir is long overdue for me and while I’m partially dreading it, it’s important that I read it. And yes, Crime and Punishment is still on my bedside table……

What about you? What are you reading and how is it affecting you? Join the conversation through the comment section! 

Year in Review

fireworksIt’s the last day of the year and as I write Boston is gearing up for its First Night Celebrations. I’ve felt too sick for reflections, preferring just to drown myself in tea and books, but I wanted to close out the year on this blog by highlighting posts that you have liked as well as introducing you to a couple of other bloggers that I’ve learned from through this year.

The following posts were this years top crowd-pleasers, meaning they received the most views and shares on Facebook, Twitter etc.

Regular Reader Pleasers – these were the posts that regular readers to Communicating Across Boundaries liked.

  •  Who ‘Kindled’ Your Parents? This post, inspired by my husband finding out that my parents had received a Kindle for Christmas was so fun in the comments it received, reminding me that the world divides on many things. Turns out people have strong opinions on print vs. electronic modes of reading.
  • What’s Mom Doing in My Mirror? Ahh – aging and the sense of connection we feel when others express what this whole aging thing feels like. If you’re over 50, this post is for you!
  • 14 year-old Courage. When Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan in October I felt it acutely. It turns out so did many of you.
  • And God….. As an American citizen I am an Independent voter and felt compelled to write about God’s sovereignty no matter who holds the highest office in the land. Turns out those words landed on hearts that felt the same.
  • The Gifts of Loneliness. This post by Robynn beautifully put into words what can be learned through loneliness.

My Faves…..So, blogging is funny in that those posts that I think might be really good often don’t end up top of the list for readers. I wanted to point out a couple of my favorites from this past year.

  • They Want our Symptoms but not our Stories. I shared a personal story that happened soon after coming to the United States in this post, one that resonates with my immigrant friends and patients. This post is for anyone working with a refugee or immigrant population. 
  • Abigail’s Bread. I was struck by the story of Abigail in the Old Testament. A story of a woman who did what was needed to mend an offense.
  • Just One Click. This is one of my most important posts I believe. We have to be held accountable for attack drones.
  • It Was an Old Love. My response to seeing an elderly couple in our youth-obsessed world.

And Now….Bloggers that have inspired me. 

  • Intersections by Deanna Davis. Deanna’s writing is poignant and leads me to love Jesus even more. She has gone through a major crisis this year and leads us to the source of her strength. 
  • Making All Things New by Amy Lepine Peterson. I found this blog awhile ago but was delighted to find a personal connection. Amy is the sister-in-law of the son of one of my close friends.
  • Little Gumnut. Sophie is creativity personified. A fellow third culture kid from Pakistan, she now makes her home in Australia. She writes about everything from creative projects to belonging and what that means.
  • Cecily Mostly. Cecily Thew grew up in Pakistan and now lives in New South Wales. She is an award-winning author and her book Love, Tears, and Autism can be found here.
  • Outside-In. My friend Joanne, another TCK from Pakistan (I promise there isn’t bias here!) has a witty and insightful approach to all things cross-cultural.

It may sound odd but blogging continues to be something I do to make sense of the world around me. Truth is I’m a nurse and I’ve never even taken a college level English class. (you may have noticed some of the grammar and mixed metaphors?!) There are amazing writers one click away from your fingers but you still come here – I’m honored.

In 2013 you can look forward to more Robynn on Fridays. She has been a wonderful addition to CAB. Also I hope to bring on my daughter Stef. She is a great photographer and my hope is to weekly treat you to some of her work. And I’ll be bringing you more from the world around me.

Have a great evening celebration from Kuwait to Karachi to Kansas! 

On Martyrs and Occupy Movements

My daughter lived just a block from Tahrir Square throughout the Arab Spring. She learned what it was to wear gas masks, take care of eyes that had been tear gassed, and continue daily life despite soldiers in full riot gear and tanks ready for action at the end of her street.

So when a friend asked her what she thought about the “Occupy” movement she paused before making her reply.

“It’s ok.”….”But you need a martyr”. 

He looked at her in shock.

While she doesn’t will anyone to die, I know what she meant. She meant you need a passion that hasn’t yet been identified, you need a common cause that moves people so deeply they are willing to die to see change, you need a tension that says “We feel this so deeply that we are willing to give all for this cause”.

A year after Occupy is there a passion and tension to the movement that demands action?

Protests began in Tunisia because a man set himself on fire after being systematically refused a permit to operate as a street vendor. It was corruption at the deepest level. Protests in Egypt began way before the 18 days in January, starting instead with the brutal beating and death of a young man in Alexandria, Khaled Said, who had a video that would expose police corruption. He was planning to make the video public when he was beaten in broad daylight outside of a coffee shop. He later died of those wounds. The nauseating wrong of this act was so evident it could not be ignored – so people rose up to protest his death and the environment that made his murder possible. In both cases, people could no longer be bystanders, they had to act.

So what do you do in a case where it’s “White Collar” corruption and crime? No one has died. No one has set themselves on fire. Instead the wrong is more insidious showing itself through its victims — a 26 year-old drowning in school debt, a 50-year old laid off 2 years ago who cannot get a job,  young families so busy trying to make ends meet that, as much as they may believe in the idea of an “Occupy” movement, they can’t take the risk of losing their livelihood. These are victims too be sure — victims served live on china platters at the table of corporate greed. But are they martyrs?

Indeed you don’t have to die to be a martyr. The definition also means “One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle”

But who is the Khaled Said of the Occupy Movement? 

Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over ...

Do too many of us still have too much that is good to give it all in sacrifice for an unknown outcome? Or Is it that we no longer know how to come together for a cause in this country? Are we so fractured politically and geographically that what makes sense in one area, namely Zuccotti Park, seems foolish in another?

A year ago I wasn’t sure what I thought about the movement. Having grown up in Pakistan as well as spent so much time as an adult in the developing world, my perspective often runs counter-culture.  I may feel like I’m the 99% and the school loans from my children may look that way, but the reality is that when compared to most of the world, I have more than plenty. And so I’m still not sure what I think of the movement.

And I’m not willing to give my all for a cause that I’m not sure about.

What do you think? Have you been willing to “suffer much for a cause”? Why were you willing? And would you give all for the Occupy movement? 


Five Cities, Five Time Zones, Five Kids

They are in five cities – Cairo, Egypt; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; New York City, New York; Oxford, England.

They span three continents – North America, Africa, Europe.

They live in five time zones – EST, GMT, CST, PST, and Egypt time (which can’t really be described through an acronym)

“They” are my five children.

And it’s not nearly as glamorous as it may sound because I would like to have them all over for Sunday dinner. I can’t help but think it is sweet justice for my mom…. I now know how she felt with kids and grand kids in Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt and the United States.

Annie sits in the heart of Tahrir Square where history was made and continues to be the epicenter of events in Egypt.

Joel makes his home in Chicago, arguably the best city to eat in world-wide. Lake Michigan, the Sears Tower, and Navy Pier are all world-class tourist attractions.

 Micah and Lauren navigate the cut throat world of Los Angeles, home to Oscars and egos.

Stefanie, in an apartment overlooking Herald Square, lives life in New York City and can attest to the fact that it’s the city that never, ever, ever, sleeps!

Jonathan is in the hallowed halls and ivy-laden buildings of Oxford, England, where minds meet and mingle over high tea and classic literature.

At one time I worried that they wouldn’t have the confidence to travel alone. At one time I wondered aloud if they would have a desire to explore their world. At one time I thought that it would be impossible to raise global kids in a small town.

But now as I sit in Boston with their dad, I wonder when we’ll all be together again!

But for now we’ll text, and Skype, email and phone, praying all the while that bonds will tighten despite the miles and eagerly await opportunities to celebrate future gatherings.

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Guest Post: You Know You Live Downtown Cairo When….

As a mom who is miles away from all but one of her children, I am acutely aware of my inability to protect them. There are also times when I realize how much I don’t know about their lives. This awareness reached a new level when I read a post that my daughter had written from February 6th on living in Cairo, specifically downtown Cairo. So today’s post is a guest post from that day by my daughter, Annie. It is a reminder to me that Egypt is fragile, and people live everyday within the fragility. It is a reminder to pray for Egypt and for those who live there, both Egyptians and others.

Started a meme in my head, “You know you live Downtown when…” It goes something like this. YOU KNOW YOU LIVE DOWNTOWN CAIRO WHEN:

  • You carry your gas mask with you, everywhere, just in case.
  • You carry loads of cash, in various pockets, all over your person, just in case.
  • Your getaway bag is packed and ready if need be, right next to the cat carrier, just in case.
  • You walk down your street, thank the young man who is at the ready to spray saline solution into your gas-afflicted eyes, and carry on your merry way.
  • You direct your guests first to the baking soda, with which to wash their burning face, then to the arak which is somehow the only alcohol you have insanely copious amounts of.
  • You begin to notice that your tolerance for this gas stuff is a lot higher than others’.
  • You’ve developed a significant prescription drug habit.
  • You begin to prefer walking alone; others’ skittishness during gas-induced stampedes impedes your own perfected ability to walk calmly and quickly in any given situation.
  • Your ear is trained to know which bangs warrant going onto the balcony, and which don’t. (Fireworks are worth it; the displays are always well-done, bless you football fans)
  • When the police are out, you don’t leave the building.
  • You check Twitter to make sure you can get home, even though you’re fully aware of how largely useless it is.
  • You resent your friends for not checking the news before they talk to you, you resent your family for not being more worried about you, you resent acquaintances for telling you to “be safe”.

* * *

Today, a G-Chat with Tony:

me: tony I am worried about reintegrating into a society where there aren’t bombs and gunshots always

Knowing you have to get out (sanity? I guess?) but knowing that you can’t. Knowing that, just like last January, just like October, November, next week will be different. Next week will be art shows and dinner at Greek Club and late-night screaming matches at Stella and dinner parties and brunch at the CFCC and buying your produce just like nothing ever happened.

The thing I learned is that humans are so simultaneously fragile and resilient.

Annie on her rooftop, downtown Cairo

Anniversary of Egypt’s “Uprising” – 18 Days of Change

A year ago today was the beginning of historic change in the country of Egypt. To mark the anniversary a holiday has been declared with celebrations planned throughout the country. As early as Tuesday tents were set up in Tahrir Square, the central square area that was the seat of last year’s historic events. Below is a summary of major events from last year’s 18 days of change.

Many in the west are unaware of the brutal beating and murder of a young Egyptian from the port city of Alexandria at the hands of a corrupt and brutal police force. The man’s name was Khaled Said and he was murdered because he had obtained information on police corruption in the city and was going to expose it. Khaled Said became a symbol of brutal oppression without a voice. Underground activists began to circulate information about his death through social media, specifically Facebook and a movement was born.

A “Day of Rage”, largely orchestrated through social media, was proclaimed on January 25th, 2011 and demonstrations took place throughout the country. What most people expected to be a one day event sparked further protests that refused to be silenced. Two days later Facebook and Twitter were blocked, inhibiting widespread organization through social networking. A day later and Egypt went silent to the world as all internet and mobile phone services were blocked. During this time I well remember trying to reach my daughter without success.  Sitting at his desk one day my husband received a phone call from an unknown number with the first digits of 202. He knew this was the area code for Washington DC, but it was also the country and city code for Cairo, Egypt. As he picked up the phone and said hello, the voice on the other end said “This is the State Department. I would like to speak to the mother or father of Annie Gardner” (pause) his heart stopped for a long second. “This is he”. “We’re calling to tell you that your daughter has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and that she is safe and sound!” He could have strangled them through the phone line until they begged for mercy. While the relief we felt to hear of her safety was great, the method could have been a bit less dramatic.

The initially peaceful demonstrations turned violent on January 28th as street battles erupted. Thugs allegedly hired by the government brought on a dimension of violence that resulted in death and injury to many.

Four days after the initial “Day of Rage” former President Mubarak reconfigured his cabinet and a vice-president was appointed for the first time in 30 years.

February 4th was termed “Friday of Departure” where hundreds of thousands come to Tahrir to take part in peaceful protests with repeated calls for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. Protests were not just confined to Cairo but occurred throughout the country. On February 7th  Wael Ghoneim, an Egyptian Google employee and founder of the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said” was released after 12 days of interrogation. His appearance on television stimulated further action and cries for change. On February 11th, 18 days after the original “Day of Rage” Mubarak stepped down. The following day and night massive celebrations were held throughout Egypt. Entire families converged on Tahrir Square celebrating a new day for the country of Egypt while the world looked on amazed.  My daughter sent us the message “Tomorrow they’ll rebuild, but today they’re going to party” a perfect description for the time of celebration.

So what now, a year to the day later? Through conversations we had with people in Egypt during our recent trip we heard frustration that the army has too much power and control and the deeply hoped for change has not come. Economically there is huge frustration as younger people face massive unemployment. The first free election in recent history has taken place and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took a majority of the seats of the lower parliament. There was expectation that a civilian government would be in place by this time and the fact that this is not the case is cause for anger and concern. There is an overall fatigue and feeling that one can still get arrested for speaking out in public against the ruling military.

And through all this we continue to see that Egyptians are a humble resilient people. The passion that has been shown and the fight for change at the high cost of imprisonment and harm is proof of a strength in character and evidence of a willingness to seek something that will last. And so today should be celebrated with a prayer that hope will continue to thrive and a belief that God will continue to work in Egypt and her people.

I urge you to watch this short video called “Ya Baladi”. It has English subtitles and is a moving look at an Egypt way beyond the media portrayal.

Tahrir Square at 3am, January 25, 2012 courtesy of "We are all Khaled Said"