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Thursday, December 31, 2009

More Henna

To those of you who are trying to improve your skill at something...don't despair!
Whether it is reading Arabic, or something more hands-on like applying henna, practice does help.
I have been looking at designs and watching videos of henna application. The floral designs are getting pretty easy for me. Once I get better at adding things to make designs dense, I may try some more intricate Indian designs. Believe me, when I first tried applying at henna, I sucked. I couldn't even draw a vine or a basic flower.

The middle one of my palm was about 18hr. after i removed the paste. The others were taken right after I applied it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What About Christmas?

In Western Countries, Christmas is the most widely-celebrated holiday of the year. It is not entirely either a religious or secular celebration. In fact, the secular people I know tend to celebrate it with more gusto than most observant Christians. It is a day that commercial activity comes to almost a complete standstill. People spend months saving for gifts that will be opened this day, and parents teach their children that these gifts come from an imaginary man based upon a historical figure, St. Nicholas. Food is purchased and prepared, families get together, and many people attend Church for the only time all year.

What does this celebration have to do with the historical birth of Jesus, the Messiah? Christian and secular scholars alike tend to agree that the timing of this celebration probably has no connection whatsoever to the actual birth of Jesus. The celebration of December 25th as the birth of Jesus was not widely recognized until the 4th Century.

We know that the early followers of Jesus were considered a sect of Judaism and would have celebrated the Biblical feasts such as Passover and Sukkot. The New Testament shows that these were the Holy Days that Jesus himself celebrated. The followers of Jesus were later thrown out of the synagogues and became recognized as a separate religious movement in the Roman Empire. This had many implications for the still-forming faith of the early believers. The books of the New Testament were completed and being circulated before the close of the 1st Century. During the following Century, Christians started worshiping on Sunday instead of Saturday. Most also ceased celebrating the Biblical Holy days.

Why did the birth of Jesus begin to be celebrated on December 25th?
There is evidence that this date can be traced back to the calculations of Church Fathers such as Julius Africanus, who lived around 200 C,E. He is known as the father of Christian chronography. He tried to correlate various Biblical events with actual dates. Unfortunately, his methods were faulty.

Most modern scholars would argue that Jesus was more likely born in the fall, sometime around the feast of Sukkot. One evidence of this in the Biblical text is a reference in Luke 2:8 to shepherds guarding their flocks at night. Sheep were not kept outside during the winter in Judea.We also know that Jesus was crucified during the feast of Passover, during the spring.

Do modern celebrations contain reference to pagan customs?
Unfortunately, yes. December 25th is just after the Winter Solstice. This time where the days are shortest was celebrated in many cultures as a symbolic death of the Sun, with a resurrection symbolized by the days getting longer again. The Romans celebrated a winter Solstice holiday called Saturnalia, where they used greenery to decorate in celebration of longer days and the eventual return of Spring.

So yes, the origins of Christmas a questionable at best. We know that Jesus and the disciples did not celebrate such a holiday.However, this doesn't necessarily mean that early Christians had bad intentions in creating a holiday to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Since early historiographers had decided that he was born at this time, and it was already a Roman holiday, the celebration of Christmas probably made sense to most of the Christian populace. They could have their own religious holiday at the same time pagan Romans were worshiping Saturn.

Final conclusions?
I don't have a problem with celebrating the coming of Messiah, even if the date is wrong. I skip the obvious pagan refrences and consumerism, and pray that my honest intentions will bring glory to God.

We can celebrate the coming of Jesus by sharing what we have with others, spending time with loved ones, and praying and worshiping with others.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Somali Tea Cookies

Update: Added pic!

Yes, we do have a cup with Layla and I on it :-)
Here is a recipe I came up with based on a couple other recipes that I combined.
It is not actually a Somali recipe, but is based upon the spices used to make Somali tea.

I  made these for a cookie exchange at our ESL classes this week and they were a huge hit among the Somalis. They're really easy to make as well.

1/2 cup butter (room temp)
1/2 cup powdered sugar 
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg 
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups flour
    1. Cream the butter and sugar together, then add egg, mix all well.

    2. Stir in the spices, salt, and flour.

    3. Form dough into a cylindrical shape and refrigerate until firm. It can be wrapped in plastic wrap so it doesn't get dry.
    When your dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350F

    4. Cut cookies into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 10 min., or until lightly browned.
    They don't need much space, because they don't spread out much.

    You can dust them with powdered sugar when they cool to create a nice look.

    I'm planning to make some more, so I will post a pic of the finished product.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009


    So I am not very good at drawing in general, but I love henna so much. I've been trying to get better at drawing basic shapes and lines, so here is some recent henna work I did on myself and Layla. One benefit of being kind of ambidexterious is that i can draw on both of my own hands! The last solid flower design on my left hand came out with the darkest color. I got the henna from a local shop that sells spices and produce. It seems to be pretty fresh and doesn't require extra sifting before you mix it.

    Needless to say, Layla's didn't get very dark because it barely stayed on  long enough to even dry :-)

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Shame on Saudi

    Most of my readers have probably heard about the flooding that occurred all over Saudi during the Hajj. It seems that the worst of the flooding was in the western part of the country around Jeddah.

    Although Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world, Jeddah has no sewer system. I'm sure the Saudi government could have afforded to build the infrastructure of this city of 4 million, yet it didn't. To the shame of the Saudi government, there have been at least 500 deaths from flood-related causes.

    According to the Guardian UK:
    "Hundreds of bodies were swept in the current and up to 11,000 people may be missing in the sea, according to a report two days ago by the Saudi newspaper al-Yaum. This figure may be inflated but the number of the missing and dead surely ranks in the hundreds, and could turn out to exceed a thousand. For comparison, hurricane Katrina in the US killed about 1,800 people."

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    My little Somali

    Here is a picture of Layla and a little update:

    She's wearing the garbasaar (huge scarf) that came with one of my baati (Somali dress). She said it was ugly a few days before, then she wanted to wear it. Maybe I'm rubbing off on her a little bit :-)

    We're trying to instill more discipline into our lives these days. A lot of other bloggers have posted about goals that they have for learning and doing things. I have shared that I would love to start grad. school in Semitic languages and religion next year, but I have been slacking big time.

    I have decided to start actually tracking what I do each day in terms of language study, so I am more accountable for my time. My hubby is helping with the accountability, especially when it comes to the Biblical Hebrew and Somali. Otherwise, I will never be good enough to work as a medical translator or teach at a university.

    Here's my dilemma though, I have far too many interests. I love Somali the most, followed by Biblical Hebrew, then Arabic. For some reason though, I have almost no interest in studying Modern Hebrew (The two types of Hebrew are actually quite different). If I get into grad school next year, I will be focusing primarily on Biblical Hebrew and comparative Semitic language, so the Arabic will help me out there. Somali is my love, but is really only useful on the community level. Plus, I'm already pretty busy with Layla at home. What to do?

    Right now I am going through Lambdin's Biblical Hebrew Grammar. I plan to do 2 lessons a week and am currently working on #29. There are 55 lessons in total. It is primarily a review for me, but he goes in to more detail on the grammar than any of my Profs did in my undergrad studies.

    I would also love to start going through Simple Arabic again. My hubby and I used this book a few years ago when an Egyptian friend was tutoring us with Arabic. We didn't make it through that much though because he moved back to Egypt a few months later.  I can read fine and my pronunciation is pretty good, but I have forgotten most of the vocab and grammar.

    For Somali I can keep up and learn vocab by reading news sites and listening to music and news online or chatting with friends on the phone, etc. 

    I really plan to stick with things this time, but how can I make myself accountable for my time? I think I should do a journal of sorts or even start another blog. Suggestions are welcome!