Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Don't See Influential Dead People

... or more accurately, I've been looking for Influential Dead People. Looking up Influential Dead People. Looking at Influential Dead People. But a preposition of some sort is absolutely required.

For the past week, Señor Gato Gringo and I have been rewriting about a dozen chapters for a forthcoming English language textbook whose target market is language schools in North Africa and the Middle East (NAME). Our template was a book with a similar cultural bend, but for Mexico - with logical cultural references to people like Shakira and Frida Kahlo. And because it was geared for the latin market, it had all sorts of bawdy allusions about adultery, fornication, bestial sex dating and romance. This would all have to go if it were to be approved by The Publisher's Kultural Editor; at that point it would be presented to school boards in the NAME.

If this weren't an already impossibly daunting formidable assignment, it seems that many language schools in the NAME (I suspect more ME than NA) have Religious Policemen on their book selection committees. Our editor felt that we were up to the challenge of producing academically rigourous and culturally sensitive lessons which Muslims wouldn't find offensive; apparently, he had never read my previous blog.

Out went even the most chaste boy-girl couplings. Out went the references to slattern Hollywood celebrities like Julia Roberts. Out went photos of diabolical divo Placido Domingo! Out went a whole unit on the zodiac - playthings of Satan - no matter that it was a logical vehicle to teach both personality traits & ordinal numbers! No matter that every one of my students in Morocco knew their sign. Out Sagittarius! Out Scorpio!

Out went all references to any character with an Old Testament name (Jeeeeeewish) - out Hannah! out David! Out went a reference to Bob Dylan (Jeeeeeewish) - no matter that the context was his appreciation of Egyptian songstress Umm Kulthum. Out went a mini biography of Kurt Cobain (suuuuuicide). Out went much abridged verses from that hack William Shakespeare. Out went all mention of dogs (
haram in Islam), and cats (which are not haram but who keeps cats in the house? How do you expect a Muslim kid to relate?).

Jesus Mary & Joseph.

As our friend Ms. K quipped, this was becoming English for Fundos. But as long as no Muslim will
find offence in the results of our Stalinistic language and cultural purges, then we can cash their cheques go to bed with a clear conscience. Besides, whoever said that English culture, history, and mores had to be an integral part of language acquisition? Probably an infidel dog.

So we sold our souls complied. This we did because a) such were our instructions and b) there is, in theory at least, a cheque waiting at the end of the not terribly pluralistic rainbow.

But eventually we would hit a brick wall. We were absolutely stymied when it came to revamping the lesson on the simple past tense which employs Dead People (easier to get permission for the use of their images) to drive the grammar point home. We had Princess Diana, Marilyn Munroe, John Lennon, Ayrton Senna, and Frida Kahlo. Our instructions: replace them with The Influential Dead from the NAME, but with an emphasis on the Gulf States. You know, people who young adults and kids can really relate to, we were told.

So out they went - although Princess Di, that tramp, managed to sneak back into the lesson. That's how desperate we were. For 48 hours we scoured our brains and the internet, lobbing names back and forth. In between that 48 hour period was a sleepless night of staring at the ceiling for inspiration. The ceiling was most disappointing: it offered me nothing. Nothing! The vast majority of the names we came up with were for the most part Egyptian and to a lesser degree Lebanese. Given the age and cultural wealth of these two cultures, this shouldn't be surprising. Gulf 'culture' -
the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf was established in 1981 - is young, a mere embryo in comparison to its North African & Mediterranean neighbours. Who's had time to do anything of value and die? (Of course, I may be asking the same question 50 years from now. Okay, maybe 100.)

Our desperation increased. We scoured our sources: Mr. N and Ms. K came up empty-handed. Every person who sparked the faintest glimmer of hope turned out to be still alive. "What about ---?" "Still Alive." "Damn!" We looked for dead athletes. Then we heard, with not a little gruesome thrill, that Spanish footballer Antonio Puerta had collapsed during a game and had to be taken to hospital. "Maybe he'll die!" cried Señor GG. Of course he did die and we both feel like heels. In fact, over the next few weeks, a significant number of very very famous people will be keeling over. All because of us.

In case you're dying of curiosity, in the end we chose Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, that Egyptian-dating tart Di, and Lebanese-born Khalil Gibran. And Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum? You know Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, don't you? He was the former Vice President & Prime Minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai who dabbled in real estate and bred prize-winning thoroughbred racehorses. Fortunately for us, he died last year at the age of 63 and he is, without a doubt, someone young adults and kids can really absolutely definitely unquestionably relate to. YES!!! we screeched, jolted out of seats in pure electric joy, pumping our fists into the air, and high-fiving each other. We've found him!

But the book is done - or at least our contribution to it. Of course, it hasn't received final approval yet - the Kultural Editor has yet to come down from the mountain with a verdict. I suspect more rewrites. Ultimately it'll be too fundo for most countries in the NAME and not fundo enough for Saudi. And preliminary eyebrows have already been raised about a chapter in which a (male) university student is looking for a (male) roommate. The objection? Why would 2 men live together in an apartment when they can live at home until they get married?

Oi vey.


Me and my camera said...

Camus was born in Algeria.

I believe he's dead.

Does he count?

La Gatita Gringa said...

Damn! Now Camus is,without a doubt, someone young Muslim adults and kids can really absolutely definitely unquestionably relate to!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you did a great job with what you had to work with. Wouldn't have been much easier to find live role models, right?

Ms. K

Me and my camera said...

Camus wasn't a Christian...

Jillian said...

Hey, Basri just died ;)

Di Mackey said...

I tried giggling quietly, so as not to disturb those who are working very seriously at computers nearby ... the giggling became breathy giggles unbecoming to your post.

Hilarious at so many points.