Friday, December 31, 2010


It is 22:10 here in Saudi. Some countries have already celebrated the new year of the Gregorian calendar and are thinking about what it will bring. While I am not a huge new year's eve person (I've never even been to a legit new year's party) I still like to reflect on things that have happened in my life.

The new year is a time of lists. Here are some lists for you and for me.

Part I: 2010 Past

1. I fell in love and out of love with the idea of love, not with any person in particular.

2. I listened to new music and old music that I had rediscovered. It brought me much happiness.
a. New music I enjoy: the soundtrack to How to Train Your Dragon and Shakira's Sale El Sol
b. Old music I enjoy again: the song Ammaneh by Diana Haddad and the soundtrack to Notre Dame de Paris (I downloaded it on iTunes yet again).

3. I started life as a grad student in Massachusetts, in a new apartment, new school, with people I had never met before. I have never been in a happier place in my life.

4. I found a new love: smoking.

5. I got a new pet fish named Sten, who I named after the Dragon Age calendar.

6. I made new friends on the internet and met a couple of them in person and greatly enjoyed their company.

7. I met some of the worst, chauvinistic men on the internet and in person I have ever met in my 21 years of life.

8. I got better grades than I have ever gotten since I started university schooling.

9. My weight went up and down like a mountain range, and slowly, I have become more comfortable with the fact.

10. I started this blog and rekindled my love for writing.

Part II: 2011 Future

1. I want to fall in love with love again.

2. I want to write more blog posts of higher quality.

3. I want to do better in my classes than I did in the previous semester, and push myself even harder.

4. I want to limit smoking to a community activity rather than a solo one.

5. I want to go on longer walks in new places.

6. I want to travel to new states within the US and, money permitting, to at least one new place outside of the US.

7. I want to make new friends and create joyful, beautiful memories with old friends.

8. I want to keep in touch with my family and keep those bonds strong with whomever it is possible.

9. I want to read more books and have my eyes opened over and over by new worlds I would never consider outside their pages.

10. I want to grow as a person and involve myself with others who I care about and who care about me, as I am nothing without the rest of the world.

Part III: Conclusion

This coming year is about keeping the positivity that grew in the year 2010 and also about destroying the negativity. Bad things should not cloud my life, nor should beautiful things bar the way to truth. I want to grasp reality. My search for knowledge needs to continue, as should my writing.

And it will, without a doubt.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

By the fig and the zeitoun; by Mount Sinai; and this city of security...

This was written in Frankfurt airport. Due to the internet being full of rubbish there, I could only publish it on the site later. As this entry is with respect to a dream of mine, I have a dream - that one day, travellers will be able to use the internet in Frankfurt airport. Amen.

On my flight from the USA's Boston to Germany's Frankfurt, I reread Zeitoun by Dave Eggers in its entirety. I have never read anything by him before, and he has now become my idol. I want to do what he did with Zeitoun; it's my biggest dream. 

What a beautiful book! What I love most about it is Egger's style of storytelling. It has great emotion, but the words don't necessarily shove you in one direction. It sounds like someone has described the facts, and the facts speak for themselves. 

I can never be Eggers because I am not him. However, his writing in Zeitoun opened my eyes to a new direction I could take my writing. If I want to write memoirs, or write biographies, I might want to take some inspiration from Eggers and his approach. I know it is hard for me to separate myself from writing, and sometimes I like injecting myself into the narration, but Egger's style has taught me that sometimes words do all the work. I want my words to work more like his, but still be true to who I am.

I am very impressed and fascinated with Eggers' fountain of research. He interviewed so many different people and gives us rich data to process. I wonder how his interviews with Kathy and Abdulrahman went, how they were conducted. He must have asked great questions to allow such great information to pour out. I can feel that he picked up on important subtleties in each person's character - Zeitoun's stubbornness, Kathy's fiery spirit, etc. I wonder how his editing went, too - there are so many anecdotes within the writing that add layers of intensity and a breadth of knowledge about the people involved. How can one possibly choose which ones work best? He did an amazing job.

Eggers is obviously a journalist, one can see it in his style, but that did not make the story dry by any means. In fact, he allowed the heart of the story to beat within Zeitoun's pages. I admire Eggers so much right now for this. His writing is subtle and extremely effective. He didn't need to use fancy flashing lights and colours; as I said before: his words did it all. 

When I read a book twice, the first time is usually enjoyable (unless its really bad) and it is actually the second time that really allows me to give an opinion. Either the book shows its flaws, or it becomes even better and shows complexities I did not notice before. Zeitoun was the latter, and more. The second time I read it, I felt the presence of the people Eggers wrote about. It was like we were acquaintances before, but now, we were close friends. I knew Kathy, Abdulrahman, their children, Ahmed, Todd, Yuko…I was even more connected. I cried more on the plane than I did reading it in the sanctity of my Massachusetts room. My emotions towards the characters intensified.

When I get to Riyadh, I am going to shove Zeitoun into my Mom's face and ask her to read it. It's an amazing book, and I know she'll like it. I would love everyone to read it, to feel the devastation, horror, and love that Eggers placed within his words; the emotions that were dominating the story of Zeitoun and his family.  People need to read and understand as much as they can about what happened. I think it's incredibly important.

I have another, more personal use for Zeitoun. From now on, when people ask me what I dream of doing, I'm going to say: "I want to write memoirs, or biographies. Have you ever read Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers? I want to do what he did there. You should read it. It's brilliant."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aló, aló ¡Sigo aquí!

I've been in Massachusetts since the beginning of September and many things have changed since then. What is most surprising to me is that I have met such a diverse group of people who I have connected with on many levels, sometimes deeply and sometimes only on the surface.

The United States is a place where eclectic people from all over the world meet. It can be refreshing sometimes, because it produces open-minded people. It can be frustrating when others, with a more xenophobic mind, close themselves off to "foreigners" forever. All in all, however, I'm glad I have chosen to come here. Despite the great uncertainties I faced this summer, I find that being brave and following my gut has saved my life. I don't know what I would have done if I stayed in Saudi for this whole time.

Let me ask you a question, now: would it surprise you if I said that I am in the airport, waiting for my flight to Riyadh via Frankfurt? Let me also tell you why you shouldn't be so surprised.

I miss Saudi. I've expressed that recently. I miss my parents, I miss the peace, I miss the culture, and I miss other material things like food or shopping or the TV I used to watch. I'm going back because I was offered an opportunity and I took it. I didn't have to, but I did.

Another thing is that this is the very last time, for a very long time at least, that I will be able to go to Riyadh. The parental home base is shifting. They are leaving this desert for a different landscape. I wish them well, but this means that my time in Saudi is about to end. The desert where I regained my bearings is not going to be my halfway house anymore.

If this is the last time I see Saudi, I'll be very, very sad. Even though I did not have a chance to integrate into Saudi society, I wish I did and I feel like I didn't have a chance. There are a couple of people who I have mentioned before in various places in my blog who I am going to miss a lot. I miss them by being here in the US where it is hard for me to contact them or for them to contact me. What will happen if I do not have a reason to go to Saudi? It's not that I can just take a holiday there. It doesn't work that way...

I also know that when I leave Riyadh this time, when/if I ever come back, the Riyadh I lived in will not be the same, and I will not be the same. I have changed already, and I wonder how that will affect Riyadh when I arrive there (hopefully) tomorrow.

Sitting here, trying to think about what I want to achieve in my last trip to Riyadh as I know it is extremely difficult for me right now, for several reasons. First of all, Logan airport is playing the cheesiest Christmas music ever with some of the most terrible arrangements I have ever heard. Secondly, I am still groggy from taking my medication last night, and I have a severe headache. Thirdly, I keep feeling like I left something at home that I needed to bring with me. Lastly, there are just so many things swirling around in my brain that I can barely piece things together.

A tornado of sand. Spirals of dryness circling in the harsh winds. Dunes being dismantled and recreated in waves. That is my mind right now. I am seeing the unclear desert landscape through a filter through which I can barely see. The promise of being in Saudi one last time is the glare of the sun escaping between the bursts of sand.

Sometimes I wonder if the desert remembers that I still live there. It needs to know that I never leave, that I am always here even when the storm gets rough. It is of my opinion that this trip therefore needs to become a meaningful reminder to the desert, and to me. Let's hope the connection becomes stronger.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All She Can Bring is Portable and Smokable

I made a little book as an assignment for a class. It represents my identity.

I thought I would share it with all of you, so I took some pictures. It's not very long. I hope you appreciate looking at it as much as I have loved creating it.

When writing the words and thinking of how to present it, I thought purely in metaphor as it was a requirement for the assignment. I am sure you can figure out what the symbols mean, but here are some things to point you in the right direction:

- Who is talking and what do we know about them? Why is that important?
- What is the stitching about?
- What do the "smokables" symbolise?













Saturday, December 4, 2010

Phoebus veut dire Soleil

Today, I was stabbed with an emotional sword to the heart.

When I started this blog, it was when I was living in Saudi. My life was as bipolar back then as it is now: I wavered between pain and resentment to happiness and appreciation. I'm still doing the same thing, all the time. I have to admit, despite my keeping track of the Saudi blogosphere and news, I have not felt a tug from Saudi for a while.

Today, a simple phone call from my Mom made me need to go back to Saudi right now, today.

It's not that I dislike it here. In fact, being in the Boston/Cambridge area has been an exhilarating and educational experience so far. My graduate school program is opening my mind to new experiences, I have made new friends, and I have discovered new places. Here, I can hop on a train or a bus and get to wherever I want to be. It's incredibly different than my life in Riyadh, where I was stuck in my villa just about every day. It is refreshing and liberating.

Today, I felt the need to be back in my room in Riyadh, writing blogs and eating peach figs.

Life was simple during the summer, where I did not feel like I had much to do but wait and contemplate the coming years. I could sit and write, or think about what I would do once I sat down to write. I read so much, especially from other writers who were either from Saudi or who were living there. Even though my time was limited to some weeks, I felt every day that I had all the time in the world. There was no pressure or rush to do anything, and no real deadlines. It's nothing like now, where I am using iCal to its full potential. Every single day I have some sort of commitment, be it an academic meeting, a social event, or an errand. I am running on a schedule here. It is nothing like my life before, and I am growing resentful of it.

Today, the cold became so unbearable as I walked to the bus stop that I yearned for the hot, summer sun and sandstorms.

I heard it might snow tomorrow, and I have been panicking since. Is my coat warm enough? Do I have enough socks? What will I do in this horrible snow? I dislike the cold, being an island girl. However, I don't want the humidity and cockroaches of Mauritius right now, although it would be a nice alternative. For whatever reason, I want the dryness and blazing sun. I think at this time of year it would be different than the summer, and somewhat cooler in Riyadh. I do not know, because I haven't been to Saudi Arabia during this time of year for such a long time. I don't remember those years I spent as a child. What I do know, however, are the previous summers I spent and if I could have that now, I would be extremely happy.

Today, I found myself wishing, while smoking sheesha at my preferred lounge, that Mr. F could be there with me, sharing the sheesha and talking to me about his life.

My friends here are wonderful, but Mr. F always brought me down to Earth. He always had words of wisdom and warmth to give to me. If you want to know more about how I feel about him, you should probably read what I wrote previously, when I was still in Saudi. Rereading my own words made me feel very sad. Let me just say that until now, I have still never met a more selfless and endearing man. I am reminded of him all the time, especially when I encounter brownies (which is often) or sheesha (which is even more often).

Today, I thought about sitting in the villa's living room with my parents as each of us sat at our separate laptops and I couldn't imagine anything better.

Today, I wanted to buy a pair of shoes at Granada Mall because I know exactly where to look and I know they'd have something in my style.

Today, I saw a sushi place and remembered my Dad's ritual of buying a tray of sushi from Carrefour to eat while my Mom and I went shopping.

Today, I started to miss Saudi so much more than I have since I have gotten here.

The sandstorm still rages in my psyche. I'm never too far away from the desert.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Awake. Seek Truth. Stumble. Begin Again.

From "Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment"

I love twitter. Because of twitter, I follow many random people I would have never thought of listening to otherwise, and I listen to what they have to say about 90% of the time. Also due to twitter, I have many links to click on so that I can procrastinate further on the many assignments and projects that are eating my life.

Today I clicked on a link that brought me to Deepak Chopra's Buddha. I looked at the gorgeous illustrations and was fascinated. There are comics about everything. And why not? I spent a whole thesis dedicated to why the sequential art genre is amazingly effective at displaying narrative. It is of absolutely no surprise to me that many books are being adapted into the graphic novel format. It is a completely different, yet valid way of portraying a story.

One person I follow on twitter, who is in fact one of my favourite people to follow, is Paulo Coelho, one of my most beloved authors. I found out through twitter that The Alchemist, a book I consider to be one of the best out there, is also out as a graphic novel. I'm ordering a copy as soon as I finish this post. When I heard of the news, I was so damn excited and thrilled that this existed. I cannot wait to see how this will work! Will I feel the magic I felt when I read the book? How will my gaze and the sequence of images change my emotional reaction to the events of the story? Will the still images and speech bubbles of the storyboard evoke the same questions and thoughts that the sentences did?

I have to admit, like with any other person who is a fan of something that is very close to them, I am worried about beloved books translating to comics. It's like the book-to-movie transition - can it really work? What do they have to cut out? What will have to be added? How will the appearance of characters and settings match with my imagination?

However, I need to say that this isn't a book-to-movie transition at all. There are fundamental differences that make book-to-comics way more appealing to me than book-to-movie.

First of all, there is the lack of Hollywood. Oh my God, Hollywood! How you have destroyed many, many good narratives and characters! Look at that stupid Red Riding Hood movie that is coming out, for example. Pathetic. It is usually due to the Hollywoodisation of books that we are either bored to tears (those movies are usually better) or angry due to the complete distortion of canon (those movies are usually so much worse).

Sometimes, Hollywood can get it right. This is when the changes are subtle but necessary, the acting and screenwriting is superb, and most importantly, what I like to call the soul of the movie is unchanged. We are involved with the same characters we loved in text and the tone is perfect, matching that of the author and narrator. I like to think that The Color Purple and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are good examples of this. However, most of the time these adaptations are just dreadful. Lots of money is spent on making a lot more money out of people like us.

Graphic novels, comics, whatever you want to call them do not have the pressure of Hollywood. From my own experience, they come in so many varieties that there is not need to glamourise the story at all. People who read comics tend to love books too, so while certain conventions do apply, the content of graphics do not need to differ greatly from that of a novel. Us book lovers are generally expecting the same things.

Obviously, the fact that there are images accompanying text (and some comics have no text at all) makes the type of narration dependent on different things. Therefore, the story will not be told the same way. This is a given. However, I feel that the medium can relate the story's "soul" more effectively because novels and comics are both forms of book arts. They involve the reader in a way that is similar to each other. Film and comics have something in common too, in terms of the movement of images - aren't strips reminiscent of film stills? I think so, at least. However, like with books, the reader controls the speed and movement of comics, whereas films are moved for you. It's a huge divergence.

Having said all of this, I need to note (so that I may remain honest with you all) that I view all three media with equal reverence. Actually, in order to be really honest, I need to use the word love. I love novels, comics, and film with all of my heart. There is something about narrative that means so much to me and all three of these art forms are effective in their own way. I like to view them as separate from one another and yet I cannot help but see them as extremely intertwined. Like life, it is complicated.

I wonder if I will be able to separate the novel from the graphic when I finally receive The Alchemist in the mail. Maybe the only way for me to enjoy the comic is to see it as its own thing, and let my eyes be led across the page. It is a narrative I know, but now it's time for me to see it differently.

At least the "different" way for me to re-experience The Alchemist isn't through some shitty Hollywood adaptation. Thank the LORD.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Royal Devastation and a Case for Knowledge

I am writing this in response to a news item brought to my attention by a wonderful blog: Crossroads Arabia. It is one of the many ways the internet connects me to Saudi these days.

Also, please let it be known that I am really talking about a certain group of Muslims, not all of them, and certainly not all Saudi people. Every large area has many group, and within each group there is individuality and diversity. I am sure you know that already.

Recently, Arab News reported that archaeologists have found a Pharaonic inscription near Tayma.

What an amazing find! It is evidence of a trade route, of communication between peoples thousands of years ago. This route goes all the way to Jordan (according to the article). It's a fascinating discovery that gives Saudi history a different in its richness, a deserving complexity.

Crossroads Arabia makes a very good point though, and mentions a term: "The Age of Ignorance". This is a term that makes the human and the art historian in me shudder with rage.

When I was in Saudi, I let myself waste away (but then decided to write it off). I bathed in solitude, as many of you know. On the other hand, my sister took advantage of her time there to go and do much, much cooler things. This is for reasons of personality and opportunity, and I am very proud of her. One of the things she did was visit a museum in Riyadh, I don't remember which one, although I think it might have been the National Museum of Riyadh. She reported back to me about what she had seen, and one of the things she told me was that the museum had a certain...tone about pre-Islamic Arabia.

The very term "Age of Ignorance" is one I have heard many times in my life. People in my own family has used it, and many members of the Muslim community of different ages and walks of life talk about it casually in their discussions of religion. It marks an attitude that I could never wrap my head around, or even respect. This is because it is founded on the belief that before Islam, people were just...doing it all wrong. Nothing good could come from the "Age of Ignorance"! God brought to us the prophet Muhammad and he made us do it right, so all we need to know is that before Muhammad, people sucked. That's it.

As someone who has devoted years of her life to studying culture, the evolution of mankind, architecture, and many other things that involve the human race over the course of years upon years, I am insulted by this attitude. I cannot relate to it, and have therefore gained prejudices against people who show the merest sign of having it.

Islam is the religion of knowledge and I am proud of being brought up in a religious circle that preaches everything but blind faith. Since I was little, I was told several things that support the spiritual and mental benefit to gaining knowledge: read the Qur'an, become proficient in Arabic fuss'ha (or however you might want to spell it) so that you can understand it without a translation one day, read the parables/hadith of the Prophet and understand which ones are more reliable (if any of them are), have religious discourse, and take nothing at face value, for God has given you the capability to learn.

I feel like this "Age of Ignorance" attitude is contradictory to this wonderful, reasonable attitude that doesn't even need Islam at its core to appreciate. There are many things to study about all histories, including pre-Islamic history, and much that we can gain from remembrance and analysis. Many Muslims know that, and to them I am preaching to the (probably nasheed) choir, but others don't care about anything but their own little bubble.

This goes for just about anybody of any religious or non-religious upbringing. What kind of a life are you living if you do not appreciate the work of the men and women and others who came before you? What kind of justice are you committing to them, if any at all?

The reason art history was the major I chose in my undergraduate study is because I got to study history through the lens of expression and perception. I got to learn through the philosophies of those who came before me and those who are still working today. It would be a great shame if we ignored the ideas of others and pretended we are so much better than they are. I am proud of the discoveries of Muslim scholars, I am interested in the knowledge or wisdom that the Prophet might bring, and I am also equally interested in the Pharaohs that have made their mark on Arabia.

I have no right to make decisions for Saudi Arabia or for its people, but I have to admit and address the worry that I feel personally about a lack of interest or appreciation for a whole history. There is a block in my mind against Muslims, not just Saudis now (because my knowledge about the "Age of Ignorance" came from Mauritians and Americans) that is caused by my mind's confusion. Why would you not take pride in a rich past? Who would brush away the accomplishments of their ancestors? And why not try to learn from the ancestors of others who are not your own?

The people who would ignore the past are the ones belonging to Ignorance. The people of pre-Islam were, according to Islam, on the wrong path spiritually, but the mental capabilities were nothing to scoff at. There are non-Muslims who find no need to think about anything but their own present as well, and they are doing just as badly. Humanity has done great things, and horrible things, and we are the ones losing out if we become ignorant.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Write the Poem for Yourself, not Me

During my first year of undergraduate study in Upstate New York, I did an internship in between semesters at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was there that I met and learned about Lawrence Weiner.

Just in case you didn't feel like sifting through the Wikipedia article, he has written the following important statements about his artworks:

1. The artist may construct the piece.
2. The piece may be fabricated.
3. The piece need not be built.

As you can probably see here, especially in the last statement, an artwork does not need to be made - it is, literally, the thought that counts. For those who are informed somewhat about art and art history, Weiner is basically stating the tenets of conceptual art. It is the art that is in the mind, it is the idea, not the physical representation.

Joseph Kosuth. One and Three Chairs. 1965
One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth (1965)

Joseph Kosuth is one of the big examples, one of the guys you will always see in an art history textbook - and with good reason! He displays exactly what conceptual art is all about. Here, we have three ways of representing the same object - a chair. We have the chair itself, the photograph of the chair, and then the definition of the word "chair" right next to the both of them. What does it mean? Well, basing myself purely on what I learnt during my undergrad years, it basically means that all of these three things, these three "chairs" we see here are all just standing in for the idea behind what we see visually in front of us.

Although there are different ways of showing it, all three of these things are chairs. The shared meaning is what is the most important in conceptual art; that shared meaning becomes a raw one. The raw is what really counts.

Okay, everyone, it's time for me to finally explain why I am giving you an art history lesson here. Today, I wrote a poem. I used to love to write poetry as a kid, and even won a few little school prizes for what I wrote. This was way back when I was about 8 years old, by the way. When I hit my teen years, when I should have been writing poetry about my dark, depressing, emo life, I just...stopped. I didn't really want to write anymore.

Recently, I have been yearning to write in so many different ways besides my academic writing, so I decided to use a pencil and paper to write some poems. I wrote whatever came to mind. What became more interesting to me, however, was the feeling and meaning behind the poem. I remembered that back when I was studying English literature at school in Mauritius, I always wondered if the poets were looking down at all students, getting pissed off that we got the meaning of the poem all wrong. When I was more frustrated, I'd shake my metaphorical fist at Keating, Eliot, Lawrence, et al and say "Why didn't you also write an explanation for your poems? Isn't that the point anyway?!"

My teenage self is the person who missed the point, to a degree. Some people see the importance of the representation. Today, based on my little frustrated self and on my love and appreciation of conceptual art, I want to give to you...the meaning.

As I said earlier, I wrote a poem. I am going to give you the meaning. If you want, you can write the poem! What is more important is that everyone gets what the poem is about. 

The meaning is in the form of a list, but the poem is not
1. It mentions where I was born
2. It is about how far away I am from that place
3. It talks about a controlled life I do not wish to lead
4. It talks about "quiet desperation" - but not literally in those words
5. It talks about a desire to belong, even though the belonging comes at a price
6. The heavy price is that I can never be free to think my own thoughts ever again

And that, my friends, is all I am going to give you today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Absence Makes the Keyboard Last Longer

Oh my, it has been a long, long while since I have opened blogspot and made it my slave.

Today I am going to write to you about writing. I think every person with a blog indulges in this, but each person has a unique reason for needing to write, or wanting to write if the need is not too great. Then again, I have always believed that needing and wanting are not so far apart. Blame my hedonistic attitude for that statement!

I used to write this blog to keep myself sane from the desert of my mind. It then became a reason for me to analyse and think about different aspects of my past and present life. It became a place to iron out some issues, discuss some thoughts, and open my own eyes despite the sandstorm.

Now, my life has been taken over by another kind of writing - the academic kind. Being a Master's student in a program about relations between people of different cultures...all I do is write! And the reason I am doing this reading and writing is to learn more about myself and how people interact. It is all fascinating. My ultimate goal, after this, is...guess what? To write more.

I do not use the pen and paper, I use the keyboard. I want to use my keyboard forever, use it up until it is so broken the keys don't even register anymore. After this laptop, I want to use another one. The keyboards will be used up like pens run out of ink. I have no paper, but that's just better for the environment.

I am writing in so many ways now, so many other ways that I have neglected to write in this blog, the blog that once kept me grounded. This is what is sad about my writing life. I need to put my life back into writing, and not just write for the sake of others in an academic setting. I cannot write only what others ask me to write, although I love the writing experience every time.

This blog is for letting you see me. I want you to see me and know me, even if you know very little about me. You will learn about me as you read, because the best way for me to open up to you is write. That's really why I write: because when I speak, or sing, I cannot express myself. My face hides too much, my body's movements are mostly calculated. When I write, the social situation is different. I can be myself. I can be anything I choose to show you, but I promise you that I want to show you everything. In due time, of course...

I am writing more specifically about writing today because I am taking part in NaNoWrimo - I am trying to branch out and write fiction. On my first day, I wrote ~2000 words. My story is about an afterlife where memories are stripped of the dead and they are stuck in a purgatory for a much higher purpose, one that will decide their ultimate fate. I don't wish to say too much just yet, mostly because I have not planned it closely and also because I have only written for one day.

Am I overdoing it with the writing thing? Am I writing too much, asking too much of myself? Let me just say that in my life, there is one certainty - okay, there are many certainties, but there is one major one that I feel very good about, although I know it is not possible. The certainty lies within a dream. A dream I know will never happen, a dream of a life that will never occur. The dream is this:

If I were to fill the rest of my life with eating, sheesha, and writing, that would be the best life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

His Dark Victory Over My Own

When I was 14 years old I was told by my school counsellor that I may be suffering from clinical depression.

After many ups and downs, I figured out over the years that I was not suffering from depression, but bipolar disorder. In terms of coping mechanisms and medication I must take that actually work and make me feel like a functioning human being, all of this makes sense. I have/had a psychiatrist back in Saudi (a strange, unlikeable fellow) but I have already talked about that in a previous, albeit messily written post.

Back at that awkward age, when I was told I had depression, I allowed myself to sink into that identity. I became the depressed girl who was on medication that didn't work. It became hard to deal with me. Everything I did wrong was because I was depressed and I let it become my reason for everything happening in my life. I kept it a "secret" but told some of my friends and let them know, so when I was in a particularly bad mood, they'd have my condition to blame. I'd have my condition to blame, rather.

How long could I have let that kind of attitude go on? Sadly, about 6 years. I went to undergrad with that mindset - that I was practically invincible because of depression, that it would be my excuse for all of my pitfalls. Even when the diagnosis was switched to bipolar, I let it drag me down. I honestly did not feel the need to fight against my condition. I became engulfed in helplessness. Because of my lack of desire to go against all odds, I went with, no, swam with the flow of depression's tide. It gave me bad grades, a terrible attendance record, and disappointment in me from people who thought I could do much better.

What a miserable, pathetic few years of my life. I still am bipolar, I still deal with the consequences, but I cannot let myself become the bitchy, angsty, immature brat I was before.

I was made to revisit my past and my previous diagnosis when I was face to face with a beloved family member who is currently dealing with depression. This man, once full of life, is now possessed by a failing memory and a hatred of his age. It hurts me so much to see him. However, I noticed that despite his feelings he still fulfills his duty as a grandfather, father, and husband without fail. He takes care of his wife and makes me believe all over again in everlasting, true love. He makes us laugh with his hilarious manipulation of our Mauritian Creole. He keeps us company with his stories of generations past. Although we are all concerned about his well-being, and it has brought many tears to my eyes to see the frustration on his face, he is doing all the fighting I couldn't be bothered to do; that I was too busy being self-pitying to do. While I lurked in the darkness of my room, he is struggling at completing his routines - routines he is still managing to keep even though it is becoming more and more difficult. He might have his moments, but he keeps moving on.

I am so proud of him. I have always looked up to him my whole life and admired the many amazing things that he has done throughout the years, whether on his own or with his wife, another wonderful person. He is doing what I was too scared to do back as a teenager. I became a victim by my own behaviour while he is not letting himself become too much of a victim. Though he is so obviously affected by the physical changes he is going through against his will, he is still alive while having some life taken from him. For 6 years, I was a zombie by choice.

Right now, all I have been thinking about is this wonderful man. He is as inspiring to me now as he always has been before. Mo Yab, personn pa kapav sanz twa. To bien tro fort. Extra pli fort ki mwa mem so mwa mo pli zenn. Vrai mem, to leker bien pli zenn ki mo leker.* I only dream I can be as good and as fort as you.

*My Yab, no one can change you. You are too strong. Much stronger than me even if I am younger than you. Really, your heart is much younger than mine.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mission: Impossible (or How to Date in a Place like Mauritius)

She meets me at my house. I have now become her alibi.

Her Mom knows me and, more importantly by far, knows my Mom. That is why she was allowed to visit me in the first place. But she is not there to see me, not really. We engage in a little chitchat here and there, we laugh about certain things. She's a little nervous.

We walk over to Plaza, the city centre of the glorious town of Rose Hill - a place I could faithfully call my hometown, at least for 6 years. It isn't my hometown anymore, but I know that place too well. If I ever go back, I'll remember the way to Plaza. It's hard to forget.


Plaza is a beautiful town hall. In my mind is it Rose Hill's pride and joy; a complex of offices and a gorgeous opera house which I have attended and performed at. Behind this colonial wooden structure is a parking lot, and small garden. The lot is full of old, crumbling low walls and trucks. The garden has high hedges.

Do you know what all of those are perfect for? Why, the secret rendez-vous!

And that is what we are doing. We are meeting a boy there. She has been waiting for a good two weeks to see him and hold his hand, so she is very eager and impatient. She blushes at the very sight of him.

He's a skinny guy with spiky, gelled hair. I think it's gross, but he is her Adonis, so what can I say? I smile, say hello, and go for a walk. This is their time, not mine.

Rose Hill is full of places to walk. I go into stores, maybe walk to the post office which is right by the bus station. An old woman sells boiled peanuts but I never buy any from her. I am, as always, severely tempted.

After about an hour of wandering or reading in Le Cygne bookstore, I go back to Plaza. I shyly walk by the many couples who are attempting to be unseen, but it is all very obvious. They are there to make out, and I am there to see if my friend is finished, because she needs to get back to my house soon. Her Mom might have called while we were out of the house. This is the age of telephones, not cell phones...

I see her sitting with her beau under a tree, against a mouldy-looking wall. It's gross, but they don't care. They are in love, and this is just the first step to them being together...forever.

No, it isn't. They will have a fight in a few months, or maybe in a few years, that will end in tears. She will probably end up getting an arranged marriage to a guy from a "good family" and he will hate her forever. He will text her many times a day before she gets engaged, because he cannot believe it is over. She will cry late at night sometimes. Her new husband might be good to her, or he might not. It never ends up the way you think it will.

The Muslim dating world is hard to navigate. It is unforgiving and, at times, heartless. The Muslim-Mauritian community may be the same in many ways, but when I was growing up there my friends and I had nothing but heart. We loved our girls and boys with all of ourselves. We didn't care about race, religion, or age. We just fell in love over and over, fully and crazily. This was a time of hormones and raging emotions, and Mauritius may have stifled us. We were young and full of love, but we had to do everything in secret. While it may have been exciting, the consequences could be dire.

I am unhappy with the knowledge that Mauritius hasn't really changed yet. The same mentality still exists.

I hope other Mauritians are still acting as alibis. As hated as we might have been by the righteous, weren't we a necessary evil?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Unreal Concept of Dating in the Muslim World

Oh, boy. Dating. In any culture, it's really, really hard.

It's a great way to meet new people, even if you are not looking for strictly romance and a whole lot of commitment. It's a way to find out about a new area, to make new friends, and have fun experiences. I've been to a lot of fun places because of dating. It's a way to lighten your wallet, taste new foods, and have eye-opening (or dreadful) conversations with people who want the same things you do (I hope). All emotional attachment aside, dating is (or should be) fun, lighthearted, and a way to make a potential connection of some kind with another human being. It's nice.

Never in my life have I ever dated a Muslim. I cannot tolerate Muslim dating in the least, and the Muslim men I have met who I might want to date either a) end up scaring the heck out of me (I will show you later) or b) are married/engaged with twenty kids. The better Muslim men who I have had connections with are either not progressive enough, or taken. Apparently, the Muslim world is out to prove to me that happiness with a Muslim man is not possible for me at this point in my life.

Now, I am not going to talk about arranged marriages, being set up, etc. etc. That is a different way of looking at life; one that is not mine but one that I respect. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with meeting a nice guy/girl through the family in this "traditional" way. I think in certain aspects that it makes more sense! In a close knit family, having input from the people who love you might be the best way to find a partner. They know you best. I do not want it for myself, but I think it is reasonable as long as the person is not pressured or forced into marriage.

I am instead going to talk about Muslim dating. I am also talking about Muslim dating from the point of view of myself, and probably many female Muslims out there. Indeed, stereotypes will be engaged in, generalisations will be apparent, and one or two people may raise their arms in anguish and shout, "BUT, Ms. Burdened Mary, not ALL Muslim men are like this! Some of them are awesome! Look! I'm married/engaged/dating/the mother of a GREAT Muslim man!" Well, good for you. I'm talking from my miserable experiences; the bad side of things. I am aware of individual differences.

Some of us Muslimahs want to casually hang out with an attractive male. That is, apparently, the most wrong, immoral, indiscreet, SLUTTY thing you can ever do. Yes, we are all skanks for wanting to find a soulmate in a casual atmosphere, with conversation, food, and maybe a movie or something. Obviously we just wish to use our wiles to seduce poor, poor Muslim men who are naive and defenceless against our wicked charms!

Oh, come on.

This is the first issue with wanting to date in the Muslim world: the huge discrepancy between the role of men and women. Men are expected to take charge, and women are not supposed to want the attention. We are to be demure, shy, reserved and sweet. We should accept the advances we get but are damned if we show our own feelings of attraction too much ourselves. We are pressured every time we meet a man into showing affection, but once we do it...that's it. We are impure and not innocent anymore, so the man moves on!

Let me give you an example that is way too familiar to you if you have dated or have read/heard about someone dating a Muslim man. A young girl, age 18, meets a guy at a falafel restaurant in New York City. He is handsome, and older at about 26 years old. He is Arab, and a Muslim. The girl is Muslim too, and is flattered by his friendly, seemingly open manner towards her in the store. She is Arab, and has moved to the city for studies - it was nice to find a face familiar to those at home. They exchange phone numbers and the girl floats on could nine out of the store with a delicious falafel- and tahini-filled sandwich.

The next day, she calls him. He jokingly says, "Wow, you seem eager to meet me." She says, "Well, yes. Do you not want to meet me?" He goes silent. He says, "Okay. I'll meet you. See you in x place at x o'clock."

They meet at this place, which is a dark restaurant in a seedier neighbourhood. She is dressed nicely, and he is in a t-shirt and an old pair of jeans. They sit down, he looks at her, and throughout the meal he smiles with a glitter in his eye. She smiles back, and they flirt, albeit shyly from her end. She's not too used to flirting and is really just acting on impulse rather than on calculated thought, at least most of the time. By the end of the meal, he has his foot next to hers under the table, and they indulge in a small, yet meaningful, game of footsie. It's like they've been dating for a long time...

He offers to walk her to her bus stop, being a gentleman in her eyes. She is glowing with happiness. That is, until they start walking. He runs his hand down her back as they walk, his hand getting lower and lower. She is uncomfortable, and flinches away oviously. Suddenly, his tone of voice changes to a low growl as he stops.

"Why are you running away from me now," he asks, "why are you suddenly shrinking?" She says, "I like you, but you are making me feel weird." She couldn't think of a better thing to say than weird. Uncomfortable would be too accusatory, in case he didn't realise he somewhat crossed a line, and if she said I don't like what you are doing, it would be way too awkward.

"Oh, I see." He faces her and looks her right in the eye. His stance widens, and his shoulders look suddenly twice as broad, just for a second. "Now all of a sudden you are a pure and innocent Arab! The way you were before, you were like a looser girl, like an American. What did I do wrong?"

Offended by his words, the girl feels heat in her face. Pure and innocent? Loose? Those are not words that went into her mind throughout the whole date. Now she just wanted him to leave, but they were near the bus stop. She realises that she is all alone, with this man she did not know.

She is lucky. He says, "I don't know you or what you want. Good night." He walks away from her, leaving her in the dark. It's better this way, she thinks. I am glad he is gone. She takes the bus home and she feels safe, and the questions in her head are too much for her. What did he mean? What did he think I wanted? Did I act like a whore? I don't remember!

I want to tell her, and every other woman with those questions every day, that she did not act like a whore, nor did she do anything wrong. Whether he was Arab, Indian, Mauritian, whatever, it doesn't matter - he was a Muslim man from a Muslim culture that did not expect a woman to be forward in the least. If she were quiet, unresponsive, and never looked at him in the eye whatsoever, she would have been doing what was right in Muslim society's mind, but she would have been boring, wouldn't she? She wouldn't have been acting as herself. She would have been a great wife, but not a partner or a friend.

But guess what? Us ladies, whether we are Muslim or not, we don't just want to date to become wives. Some of us would like to to end that way, but dating is about having fun and, as I have said, making real connections. We cannot shield ourselves completely, lie or conceal for the sake of reputation, and then expect to be able to have a genuine relationship based on trust and love. It doesn't make sense!

The Muslim dating world, if that even really exists, puts too much emphasis on face, the idea that we need to protect our reputations. It's all about what we should do, and not at all about who we are, or emotion. It has gotten to the point where everything is ridiculous. If you dare make up your own moves, forget it. You'll be forced out, and alienated. I'm sick of it; that's it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Bond by Birth: A Childhood Object Described

Wherever I lived, I had to be a big girl.

I cry because my mother or father is yelling at me? If I do it in front of them, it ends up becoming embarrassing later.

I cry because my heart is broken? Never in front of my family or friends.

I cry because I am leaving a country where I made great new friends? Never, EVER in front of my family, and coincidentally never in front of my friends, too.

Maybe the coincidence isn't a coincidence after all, you know. I've been made harder, like stone. I listened to Simon & Garfunkel's I am a Rock when I was about 13 and I thought...Wow. This song is life. MY life.

I don't feel that way anymore. I feel that if I should cry, let me cry! I am a human being who deserves to be sad. I deserve to look forward in my life and not backward. I cannot get over the past, however, if I keep everything inside. My friends would love to help me, as I would love to help them no matter what. Why not show them my feelings? Why not cry?

I can't. I'm 21 years old, and I can cry at movies like I have lost everything I have ever loved, but if you make me sad, or if I feel sad for another, even more devastating reason, you will not see me cry. Books, songs, movies, random news stories and photos will make me cry. Sometimes, you'll be around when that happens. That'll be your lucky day, because otherwise, I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.


Tomorrow, I have an extra Saturday class. I am supposed to bring an object that is from my childhood or that represents my childhood before I turned 10 years old. I honestly have nothing from that time frame anymore. I do not have, in my possession, anything that old. I have some scanned photographs that I might share, but that is the only thing I have.

I will not share these with you, because some of them involve my family and the last thing I want to do is show a picture of my family on the internet. That would be risky and unfair to them. But I will describe a picture to you that I think I might share tomorrow.

I do not know how old I am, however, I am very little. Well, little as in young, but I was a big baby! I was enormous! My large, black eyes made me alien-like and frightening, even to me today! They are soulless. My mother's father hold me up while my father's father grabs on from the other side. They are standing beneath a framed Islamic inscription on a blank cream wall. My grandfathers are smiling, animated, alive. They are excited to be holding me.

But what I will probably not mention tomorrow is that even as a baby, I was emotionless and blank as that wall behind me. I don't even have a hint of curiosity. I am staring, but at nothing at all, just towards the camera so that the lens can capture those dark, dark eyes. I am wearing a ridiculous pink outfit, but I might as well have been naked. I was either a blank slate waiting to take on the world, or the zombie I am afraid of becoming today.

It is strange to me how emotional and happy people are with a new arrival like me into the world. I have never been that excited about babies, although I must admit that when my niece was born, it was an entertaining idea for me to think about being an aunt. However, in general, my interest in children has waned. My interest in life, however, since that picture was taken, has grown immensely.

I am studying really hard so that I can understand the way cultures interact. Right in that photograph, I am seeing a forced alliance through marriage between two very, very different cultures. My mother's father looks so different from my father's father. One is white and American, one is dark and Mauritian. They are both a part of me, and they are both insanely beautiful. They have different personalities that reflect in their eyes and postures. My mother's father is looking at me with a cheeky grin of all white teeth, his hair pushed back in a messy parting. He is charming, funny, and loving. My father's father stands just a bit straighter, his hair neater, and he wears a sweater-vest and tie. He is also smiling, but directly at the camera. It looks like he is in the middle of a laugh. He looks so proud to be the grandfather of a third girl; I can see it in his Caspian blue eyes.

I can see cultural differences, but what I see even more now is how similar these two men become, together in this frame. Sure, their physical features are different, extremely different, but their expressions are connected. That day, in that photograph...they were connected by me. It's hard for me to think of that, but I know it is true. The picture was taken to actually celebrate me, and it took me so long to get it.


So what if I grew up all moody and cold? So what if I went through moments and periods of sadness and solitude? I hid my feelings, but today I am not the same. I love that I am alive. I mean something to someone, even more than one someone. I may be working on expressing my feelings outwardly, but I will one day prevail even if it is not today.

One day, I will be able to cry in front of someone and it won't feel weird or awkward or wrong. There is a time and place for everything, and my time and place for open expression is in an intimate area, with a friend or family member. I can do this; I know it. It may not be soon, but it will be a day described as a turning point in my life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Identity in the Form of a Graduate Paper

I had to write a paper about my identity for a class in this new Intercultural Relations degree I am aiming for. After writing it, I knew it needed to be posted here. So here it is...

Enn Ti Zacko Blanc

“Where are you from?” is the most irritating question in the world, in my opinion. This is due to the fact that my nationality or birthplace has nothing to do with who I am. Depending on my mood, the position of the moon, and the blowing of the Eastern winds, I have different answers.
When I am in the company of good-natured, jovial people, I laugh and say, “It’s complicated!” Sometimes, the rest of the group enthusiastically proclaims that they would love to hear this complicated story that I had just advertised. Sadly, they missed the point of my laughter – to me, it was a social queue meaning “I’m laughing because I don’t really want to talk about it and because it is, in fact, way too complicated.” A few times in my life, the other people recognize that I am trying to shy away from the subject and either poke and prod me for at least a little about myself, or they respect my desire to stay silent on the topic. When the latter happens, I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
On a bad day, when I have had it particularly rough, I respond to the question with a sharp “It’d take way too long to explain.” My tone of voice is not of the easy-going, carefree Khadeja in the last situation. Instead, I am pointedly irritated by the question and it is obvious. Again, some still ask for more, some stay silent, and others just smile and try to turn my nasty spark into a kind of joke. Again, the latter allows me to let out a sigh of relief. I like it when people use lightheartedness to improve a situation. I usually feel guilty, no matter what their response is. They are only trying to make conversation.
In the end, there is one thing that one may notice about these two polar situations. The truth is, I do not enjoy explaining my background in one fluid paragraph or flow of words. I need to break it up, little by little, over the course of many conversations. This is mainly because the first explanation I try to give does not encompass the vast amount of knowledge I need to portray to my listener. Sadly, the first impression counts for many, many people.
However, there is a question. What do I do when people ask for more or practically beg for some kind of answer? I am a fickle lady, one who cannot take too much begging before I start to feel bad. In the end, I give them something indeed, but up to this point I think that what I have been answering is incorrect.
Before today, I used to give them a rundown of the places I have lived in throughout my life. I was born in a suburb of Chicago, near to where my father was born. My mother was born in Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Madagascar and the land of the dodo bird, which is now extinct due to a plague of Dutchmen and rats. When I was one and a half years old, my father accepted a job opportunity in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Since then, I have become a forced nomad, as my parents (mostly my father due to his job) made us pack our things and leave on many occasions. At one point, we moved back to Saudi Arabia, but this time to the holy city of Makkah. We used to go to the Friday Jummah prayer at the Masjid Al-Haram, and we would see the Kabah at its centre. It did not occur to me, when I was so young, that there are millions of Muslims that would never get to see the Kabah due to health or financial reasons, but there I was. At another point in time, much later, I was living in Mauritius. My father moved back to Saudi Arabia alone – this was the time right after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Foreigners in Saudi Arabia were being targeted, especially international schools, so my father did not want my sisters and I to have to live that kind of life. After my years in Mauritius and graduating from secondary school, I went back to the United States with hope in my heart and dreams of a great, free university life. I thought I would finally begin to find myself…
Instead, I got even more lost. Is it not apparent why none of that chunk of story matters? What does it say about where I am from? I think it says very little, if anything at all. It took me 21 years, but now I see that who I am does not lie with the countries I have lived in, no matter what anyone tries to impose upon me. I am from none of these places, in the end. The longest I have ever lived in a country was in Mauritius, but even there I was not accepted fully into the society. Even with a Mauritian mother, the fact that I had a white American father mattered more. I feel President Obama’s pain when people constantly label him as a black president when, in fact, his mother was white. This is the kind of uphill battle I am constantly involved in, but in this battle I have no armor to speak of. It is as if everyone is better equipped than I am.
When I was in Mauritius, people chose what I was – I was that weird English-only-speaking girl who tried too hard to make friends. In every other country, I was labelled as an expatriate testing the waters but never going in too deep – except the United States. Here, I am an exotic, interesting woman who has lived in places most people would never dream of visiting. I am sometimes scrutinised, and at others idolised merely for existing. Back in Mauritius, for an extremely long time, I was the epitome of everything that the society hated: a “white” girl who claimed to be a Mauritian, but who knew nothing of the culture itself because she only began living there at the age of eleven. To be honest, I feel like I am an intruder upon the cultures I visit, and that the Mauritius got it right. In the Creole I claimed as mine, I am enn ti zacko blanc ki envi rentre kott les pli grand noirs[1]. The harsh truth is that I don’t fit in anywhere.
However, when it comes to my flexible, unknown identity, I can at least say this: the ti zacko blanc (little white monkey) was able to, and is always able to, coexist peacefully with the pli grand noirs (bigger black ones). Sometimes, we even become friends and share experiences.
My identity is an endless ocean, with life and death as well as stagnancy and waves. It is a mixture of colours, textures, and movements of things dead and alive. How can I possibly describe it? Where could I possibly start? I feel sometimes that I am incapable of doing so, because I am but a small creature; floundering, swimming and gasping for air in this sea of emotions and experiences. And the imposed labels that have been forced on me are like oil rigs, tankers, and fishermen who plunge into my sea and destroy me.

[1] A little white monkey that wants to be with the bigger, black ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Using Travel to Forge the Link

This weekend, for the Eid celebration, I went to Chicago.

The events unfurled as follows, starting on Thursday, the 9th of September:

Sitting in my room, trying to watch My Name is Khan without bursting into tears, I decide to pause the DVD I ordered from Netflix and call it a day. With everything that has been going on, with the threat of Qur'an burnings and Park 51 nonsense, watching My Name is Khan is a bad idea in the first place. All of a sudden, in the middle of me drying my eyes, I see that Mom is calling me on my cell phone..

The conversation basically starts like...
"Khadeja, do you want to come to Chicago?!"

She buys me a ticket mid conversation and sends me a receipt. That's the short version of what happens. In reality, it takes about 3 phone calls for the tickets to be bought, as well as a lot of mumblings on the part of both myself and Mom. Usually, when we get excited, it's hard for us to do things systematically. This usually infuriates the likes of my Dad, who likes things done in order and efficiently.

Finally, the last conversation my Mom and I have ends something like...
"Okay, we'll see you tomorrow then!"
"Yeah! I will!"

That very night, I book a taxi to the airport that night by searching for taxi services in Google and calling the first name that catches my eye. I then decide to read the reviews - again, doing things out of order, willy-nilly, because of entrenched excitement. To my dismay, the company I choose instinctively has the worst reviews, citing terrible manners, customers being ripped off, and dirty taxis with cigarette butts littered on the seats. One guy wrote a scathing paragraph about how the cab driver he had was mad at him for being 2 minutes late to catching the taxi - by the driver's watch, mind you - and he berated the customer constantly throughout the 20 mintue drive to the airport. Ohhhhh boy.

I wake up at 6am the next morning although the taxi is supposed to come by 9. I initially plan to wake up at about 7:30am, which would give me plenty of time anyway. I decide to skip the shower and take it when I get to Chicago, for some reason - I am lazy all the time, but let it be known that most of my laziness occurs in the early morning hours when I do things at a quarter of the speed. I instead waste time on the internet, reading threads on the Something Awful forums, where I have lurked for years. I ended up rushing in the shower for 5 minutes because I realised I had nothing better to do. I wear my Eid dress, one I bought the day before from a thrift store (it was vintage!) and I love the way it looks on me. The oranges, browns, and 70s patterns evoke a feeling of bliss and inner hippie, something that has been apparent in my clothing of late for some reason.

I go outside and end up waiting only 5 minutes for the cab to arrive. The driver ends up being awesome. He is a hilarious Greek guy (from Macedonia!) named Steve who talks about all the girls he chased in his youth before settling down with his, and I quote, "amazing woman." It warms my insides after I laugh at the stories of his various conquests. He really, really loves her, and his children and grandchildren. He reminds me a bit of my own grandfather, the one I am about to visit, who also had his fair share of women in his youth - and still brags about it. While I should be offended somehow, I like Steve's cheerful nature and sugary words about how good-natured he thinks I am for laughing and not taking him too seriously.

I get to the airport rather early for the flight, especially since I get my boarding pass and go through security checks very smoothly. The passport checker looks at my passport and asks, in Russian, whether I speak Russian. I understand him due to some basic vocabulary, but had to say no as I do not actually speak the language. The man was Brazilian and was speaking Portuguese only a second before switching to Russian to ask the question to me.

At my gate, I ned up alternating between playing Plants vs. Zombies and reading The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. It is 2 hours before I am able to board my flight to Chicago's O'Hare airport. The American Airlines "wing" is interesting, with some fun neon work on the wall. I did not think of taking a picture only because the book was engrossing.

I finally get onto the flight and end up being seated between two rather attractive men: one big, burly, and obviously on his way to some sort of business meeting, the other shorter with a gorgeous smile and a self-help book. The book I am reading has racy pictures of rock stars and the author, who appears on one full page in lingerie and a sexy pose, pushing her breasts together and puckering her lips seductively. I feel awkward looking at it next to these two men, but I want to understand this woman whose story I was reading; I want to be engrossed in her physicality which makes up so much of the book - and believe me, it is very important. In retrospect, it is hilarious. I end up finishing the book within the first hour or so of the flight anyway, leaving me with nothing but my iPod for the rest of the time.

I arrive in Chicago with barely any sleep, but slightly earlier than scheduled. I take an American Taxi cab over to my grandparents' house in the suburbs. I arrive there before my parents and, while talking to my grandparents (who are in this case my father's parents) I receive an Eid Mubarak phone call from my other set of grandparents who live in New Jersey, my mother's parents. It is then that I realise why it is I took this trip.

The details of this trip are mundane, and most of them have blurred into a blob of grey in my mind. The dance I have always done through the security checks with only my passport, boarding pass, and carry-on entertainment as my partners now contain steps I have memorised through years of practice. I am now a world-class performer! I have been on airplanes since I was 1 1/2 years old, I have been travelling without my parents since I was 16, and I will keep on travelling for years and years.

It is lonely being on an airplane for hours and hours; it is boring at an airport with the same duty free shops, the same exorbitant food prices, and the same families, businessmen, well-dressed women and tourists walking around like zombies at the shopping mall. It's no longer thrilling, or exciting, or amazing. The only exhilarating thing is being on the airplane during takeoff and landing near a window. I will never get tired of that. However, I take my second flight back here and it's as if I just took a bus to downtown Boston and back.

But when I was with my family, my crazy tumultuous family of mixed beliefs, cultures, backgrounds, and aspirations...I feel everything in the world at once. I feel things that are fantastic as well as depressing in the span of about 10 minutes. I walked again through the grey, personality-free corridors of another airport for the reward. When it comes to my life, the monotone of travel is always met with the colour and vibrance of the destination. When there is a chance to reforge old bonds on the anvil, it makes everything even more worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Fashionable Marginalisation of Peoples

Yesterday I went to the supermarket to buy food. When choosing what to wear, I decided to let myself feel inspired by reading I had done the night before about the Rastafari religion.

Mauritius is home to a very small community of actual Rastafarians. However, Bob Marley, reggae, and ganja are symbols familiar to all Mauritian people, and the Rastafari way of life is appreciated by many who live on my small island. Some are taken in by the peaceful way of life while others take on the fashion as their own, especially amongst the Creole (those of African slave origins). Of course, the music is loved by people of all religions who find it to their taste.

I swear I saw a dude who hung out in my Mauritian hometown who used to wear this same hat!

In this way, the Rastafari religion and culture has permeated and become a part of many Mauritian cultures. It is not a strange thing to see someone who is not actually "Rasta" dress in the colours or in a Bob Marley t-shirt walking around the streets of Mauritius. So, today, with that same spirit and feeling inspired, I wore my "Rastafari" t-shirt emblazoned with a sparkly Ethiopian lion and decorated with the gold, red green and black.

File:Flag of Ethiopia (1897).svg
The Ethiopian Lion is used as a Rastafari symbol as they revered Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian King.

I accompanied it with my Africa necklace (with black beads and a dark wood pendant of Africa as its centrepiece) and a green headband, and there I was! Totally irie and all so good. I put my red earphones in and went to that supermarket I mentioned earlier. I didn't have a care in the world.

When I was at checkout, the woman scanning my items looked at me kinda funny, then asked me where I was from. She noticed my Africa necklace and Ethiopian lion and was visibly confused. I don't look like I could come from Ethiopia, I suppose, and for all I know, she was from around there. I told her I was from Mauritius, and as is the case with most people, I was met with a blank stare. I first tried to explain where it was, and then instead opted to just say, "We have a few rasta there and we love reggae!"

I am so glad and grateful that she smiled and said, "I like it!" - of course referring to my outfit. The truth is, when she showed interest in what I was wearing, I immediately felt foolish and a little ashamed. I immediately thought of one of my pet peeves and realised I had become what I didn't like.

What I am talking about is the way that "Westerners" take fashion of different cultures, ignore the actual meaning and symbolic nature of these items of clothing, and decide to use it as theirs. I am talking about hipsters wearing the Islamic crescent and star, "hippies" wearing the Om symbol, and the most irritating to me of all: the youngsters and celebrities wearing the ghutrah or, as it is known in the US, the keffiyeh.

That scarf thing is known as a keffiyeh.

For those who do not know, let me just give you a short explanation of what the keffiyeh means to some people: it is a symbol of resistance, it is a show of support for Palestine, it is a cloth used by many Middle Eastern countries and cultures, and it is a symbol of unity of all Arab cultures. It was once used by many races and religions in the Middle East, even Jewish people even though it is now seen as a pro-Palestinian tool.

When I used to see skinny model types in New York City tie one of these around their necks, I would burn with rage. To me, this was disrespect for a whole political movement and area of the world. Apparently, people can appropriate whatever they want in the US and dilute a culture. I saw it as a symbol of conquering. I saw it as proof of pure commercialisation and world domination. Frankly: I did not like it.

Wasn't I doing the same thing when I was wearing my "Rasta" stuff? Even though I was not wearing an item that reminds us of conflict, I was using a symbol that was important and spiritually meaningful to a culture that was really not my own. I may feel kinship for some Rastafarian ideals, but it they are not mine. I may like the music and the colours, but that does not make me immediately Rastafarian. It doesn't give me the right to take what is theirs. I was a mockery of their ideology, wasn't I?

We, as human beings, have been picking and choosing from other cultures for so long. Look at the turban - it has become bastardised. For some, it was just a means of covering the head and protecting it from the sun. For others, like the Sikhs, it was a religious item of clothing that showed the world who they were and their pride for their people. Then, it was a fashion item. Look at it.


Later on, especially now, the turban has become a representation of Islam and Muslims. What a shame. All of those people around the world, from Russia to India, who use the turban in their own specific ways, with their own special fabrics and colours, are completely discounted because of a Western interpretation of what a Muslim "looks like" or dresses. It is all wrong. Is this the road that the keffiyeh and other cultural or religious dress are travelling on? The road to complete, devastating distortion?

I am seriously worried. Where do we draw the line? Sometimes I love wearing clothes that belong to other peoples, not necessarily of my own. I would love to own an African dress from Ghana because I love their fabrics and colours, but I also know that the colour choices are very important to the people who make the fabric. Does that mean that I shouldn't buy the fabric and wear the dress? Can I only buy and wear the clothes of countries I belong to?

But then again...where do we belong? Are we not all citizens of the world? We should be allowing and appreciating diversity, in theory. This is a very important and difficult question indeed that doesn't have a direct answer. I don't know where to draw the line yet. For now, I think I should draw it at religious or political significance. I am not going to wear a keffiyeh for trendy purposes. I will not wear an Om necklace because I do not follow that religion. I will have to think carefully about the Rastafari-inspired top, although I feel the top was made more for fans of reggae music.

If you think that people don't mind others appropriating their culture or religion, think again. This link was posted on Facebook and when I read it, I felt horrified. I had read similar stories before, especially about Native Americans, because their culture has been so openly twisted for popular culture. It still exists in sports logos and Halloween costumes. Actually, I believe Halloween costumes are generally the worst. Look at their "Harem Girl" outfits. They even sexualise culture so shamelessly...

Enjoying a different flavour or culture is one thing. Taking it and changing it for your own benefit, especially for something as superficial as fashion or costume, can be hurtful. It may be meaningless to us, but it is meaningful to someone else. Yes, the woman in the supermarket liked my outfit, but a Rastafarian in another place might have laughed at me for being so ignorant or might have felt that their religion and way of life was being treated like a fashion trend rather than a real spiritual practice. I don't think I want anyone to feel like that.