Finding a Syrian-Danish-American online

A long, long time ago — 2012 to be exact! — I read an article in the Huffington Post. It was a somewhat whiny article, I thought, and it was in response to some sort of uproar about Muslims in America happening at the time (though there have been so many uproars, I don’t even remember was the specific trigger was for this one.)

Any case, I thought the article was whiny, and then it also annoyed me on a whole different level. The author was female and Muslim and young, like me, and she claimed in the article that she was an immigrant with roots in Syria and Denmark. I seem to have a special affinity for getting annoyed at any American — especially a Muslim American — especially a female Muslim American — who claims roots of that sort.

So I searched for this girl online, as I’m oh, so good at doing, but unfortunately I didn’t find out a lot about her. Well, there was a lot of information, I suppose, like where she went to college, and something about her dad being really sweet, which I rolled my eyes at … but what I really wanted to know was all her history and all her feelings as related to Denmark. But I didn’t find anything out — I just found a video of her in which she further expounded on her article, in which she was three inches from the camera screen and speaking earnestly, and amongst the gobs of things that she said, she mentioned — rather flippantly, I thought — that her family comes from the Middle East and Europe. Again, I was so, so annoyed. And more annoyed at having no other information to go off of.

And mostly I assumed that her Syrian parents must have immigrated to Denmark; she must have lived in Denmark briefly as a child; and then she moved away to the United States, and she’s never been to Denmark since, and she has no more connection to the country other than some dreamy, begging sort of insistence that she really is Danish, something that she clings to so she can feel superior to all other Muslim Arab immigrants in the US, acting like she has some sort of direct link when probably she doesn’t know any Danish, doesn’t remember anything about Denmark, doesn’t have anything to do with Denmark, and just holds Denmark up as some flashy ornament to decorate herself that she never even had to pay for. Whew!

So I kept on thinking all that about her; every once in a while, I’d search her name and see if I could discover something else, but I never did. Considering that was back in 2012, I of course went through transitions, moves, and living as the years went by, and eventually, I forgot to search for this Muslim American with roots in Syria in Denmark, and at last, I even forgot her name. There came a few times within the last few years when I remembered her and felt curious, but try as I might, I couldn’t find her.

Now, it’s eight years later, and I find myself back to where I started in North Carolina. Maybe it’s been staying home all the time for quarantine, but over these last weeks my curiosity grew over finding this person. Every time I searched for things like Danish Syrian American Muslim writer or Muslim American with Danish and Syrian background, the wrong things were coming up. The only other things I remembered were that I had first encountered her in an article she’d written for the Huffington Post, that she was a fresh college graduate in 2012, or soon-to-be, and that she’d called her dad sweet in the article. Finally, I started searching for things like Syrian-Danish-American female writer Huffington Post. Or for Syrian-Danish-American university student. Still nothing … and I feared that, now that it’s eight years later, this person’s assumed-to-be tenuous links with Denmark must be even more tenuous. Maybe she’s even erased all mention of Denmark from her online presence.

At long last, I went back to the detail about her dad being sweet, and I searched for Huffington Post muslim dads sweet. The third result was a HuffPost article somewhat cheesily titled I am not oppressed. It seemed promising; I clicked; and I found her. There is was. The female Muslim American who writes and has roots in Denmark and Syria.

Now that I knew her name, I could search for her outright. This lady has built her own media company since I last ‘met’ her eight years ago, and has articles about her on CNN and everywhere. She’s on all these 30 under 30 lists. I found her Twitter account, where not only was she followed by people I know (so close!) but in her profile description she has the word immigrant followed by a Danish flag. Ha! I found out her birthdate, the year she was born; and yes, I got confirmation that she had in fact been born in Denmark, back in 1991. I think back to what I was doing in 1991 — not too far from this girl’s very birthdate, in fact, and it makes me a little sad. Oh well. The whims of fate and destiny.

Seeing that Danish flag, of course I was all ready to think: aha! Still at it! Still clinging on to Denmark just because she wants to, like a hollow empty jug she’s lugging around. Well, I kept poking around the Internet, as I do, and eventually, after finding out how many brothers and sisters she had and all about her experiences after September 11, I discovered her mother. Her mother, who is a common housewife, is not so common: she started a whole initiative to help Syria and has a Wikipedia page. Her mother, in fact, has a TED Talk you can watch online (so does the daughter). And on the Wikipedia page, I found out that not only was the girl I’d been searching for all this time born in Denmark, but in fact, so was her mom. Her mom had not in fact immigrated from Syria at all, though I guess her mom’s parents did. The mom not only was born in Denmark, but grew up there, went to school there, I guess got married there, lived the first years of domestic bliss there, and gave birth to her oldest daughter there, before moving away. See, I had made some problematic assumptions of my own: it had never occurred to me that all this might be the case. I’m so used to thinking that Arab or Muslim parents in Europe or the US must be immigrants, what else could they be? So now I can see what she meant by always saying she was an immigrant to the US with roots in Syria and Denmark.

Scicomm tips: making maps

I had to make a map of Brazil — of a specific province in Brazil called Paraná. The map was for this story, that I also wrote. The map is the second image. I know it looks small and insignificant, but my, that map took me a long time to make.

It first takes a while to process through what maps you will need. Then you have to find them. In my case, I need at the very least a map of Brazil and a map of Paraná. Luckily, I found those shapefiles (map files) easily enough through quick searches. And then I opened up the map software I like to use, which is QGIS.

I like that one because it is free and open-source, and who wants to pay or get reliant on ArcGIS anyways?!

Now, what I still had to figure out was, how would I add the rest of the world in the background. First, I tried with the OpenStreetMap option that is available right in QGIS.

Adriana Alves parana map
Map with OpenStreetMap in the background.

However, I ended up not liking this because way too many cities were labeled, and there were distracting black squiggles that you couldn’t even read everywhere. It just made the map look busy and pock-marked.

Luckily, I then ran into something called Natural Earth. It’s a map-making kit. I found it on this great tutorial that explains how to make pretty maps in QGIS. I have been using this tutorial, I believe, for perhaps 8 years by now. I discovered when I was working in Maryland. And this tutorial is so nice and step-by-step, and it keeps getting updated. It is still as relevant for QGIS today as it was 8 years ago. I swear, every time I make a map in QGIS, I come back to this tutorial. This time, it’s been updated with a link to the Natural Earth kit. I downloaded the kit and used it for my own map of Brazil. It took a bit of clicking around to understand how the maps in the kit are arranged, but I finally figured it out, and I ended up with a nice background of the western hemisphere:

Adriana Alves parana map 3
A nice map showing Paraná in Brazil. Made with Natural Earth.

Maybe I should have made the inset map of Paraná smaller? Well, any case, I’m sure there’s still room for improvements, but it’s a nicer and cleaner map than the first one I made. At least, you can see exactly where Paraná is, right? That was the whole point.

All about pens

Today I saw an hour-long demonstration by a professor at Rice, all about pens. It was very interesting!

He had a pen straight out of the 1800s, or 1700s. It doesn’t look like a pen; it looks like something you’d have in a toolbox to scrape paint. It’s a wooden stick to grip, and then it has a metal “nib” on the top. There’s no thin tube of ink on the inside, indeed, there’s no space to shove in such a tube in the first place. Instead, you have a little pot of black ink beside you, and you actually sit and dip your pen in the inkpot, and then you write or scribble or draw a few strokes, and then back you are in the inkpot, dipping your pen. This is called a “dipping-pen”. I’m amazed! I never knew that was how it worked. What in the world. So that’s how they wrote in the olden days, apparently. You just dipped your dipping-pen into a pot of ink, and that would be enough ink to maybe write a word, and then you dip and repeat.

Also, did you know that you can apparently (try to) take a syringe, break into your pen, squeeze all the ink out with the syringe, and then replace it with whatever type and whatever color ink you like? Sometimes it works, sometimes you just destroy the pen.

“We fell in love in a hopeless place”

This was my third article for The Daily Tar Heel: “We fell in love in a hopeless place.”

If you go to my “writing” page, you will see that it’s one of my favorite articles that I wrote.

I wrote it during a pretty stressful time; and I wrote and re-wrote and crafted every word as carefully as I could.

And I always thought I must have succeeded in what I was trying to say, because afterwards, some people came up to me and told me in person they’d liked it; others wrote Facebook messages. Sometimes it was messages from strangers. It meant a lot. I was always very happy with that article.

I just re-read it for the first time in over a year, and now I’m not so sure! Is it too jumpy? I mean, I had a 500 word limit, so things had to be kept tight, but I seem to zig and zag from topic to topic without ceremony, and even though I wrote it, and it’s my own experience, I got a little confused – wait a second, what are you (am I) talking about!