Saturday, July 10, 2010

the Belle of the Bollywood

What movie did you first watch as a child? Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Wonderful Life? Or maybe you stuck to things like Home Alone or something animated and Disney-created. Do you remember your first major film star crush? Some of you probably thought of Hilary Duff while others would dream of Leonardo Di Caprio sneaking into their bedrooms late at night.

Did you ever have a weird fantasy while you were sitting in that boring math or science class, back when you were about 13 or 14, that that film star of your dreams showed up in the doorway and asked your teacher if he could "steal you for a few minutes" or some variation of that? I bet you did, but you don't want to admit it. If you think back to the fantasy of your celebrity heart-stealer, he or she would stand there looking as beautiful as ever, and they were asking the teacher for his or her permission. But really, they were looking at you. They were staring lovingly into your eyes, weren't they? Oh, yes they were!

I can remember my first big teenage heartthrob obsession. But no, he wasn't Leo or Corey or John or whatever. His name...was Shah Rukh Khan.

This is SRK in Chak De! India. What an awesome movie.

He's a Bollywood film actor who stole my heart all the way back when I was about 9 years old. I used to write cheesy letters to him in my diary, praising his dancing and acting talent while begging him to take my away from the world. Yeah, it's pretty embarrassing now, but back then my love for him was real. It was true and it could never be taken away from me!

I was a very melodramatic child. I've said that before, haven't I? But here is some more proof!

I wasn't just obsessed with Mr. SRK. I was obsessed with Bollywood in general. Back when I lived in Oman, I had access to numerous Indian channels like Channel V, Zee TV, MTV India, Music Asia, etc. I watched them all the time, and recorded (with the help of my sister) several video cassette tapes of music videos, promo spots for various Bollywood films, and all kinds of random stuff. I also used a ghetto way of recording songs onto little blank music cassettes so I could perform my little Bollywood dance routines to my songs. I was so glad that I had my own room for that.

I knew about everything Bollywood at the time. I knew which films were copies of Tamil films, I knew every actor and which ones were previously supermodels, I knew who each playback singer was and how they came to fame; I knew everything. I especially knew about Shah Rukh Khan and every single movie he made. I cheered him on even if I knew the movie was terrible (like with Baadshah. SRK, how could you do this?). He was my favourite actor and no one could top him. No one. And he was so handsome.

But even before living in Oman, which had a large Indian and Indian-Omani (i.e. Omanis whose ancestors were from India) population, I knew Bollywood. However, I didn't know these new stars and movies. I knew about the superhits of the 50s and 60s, and maybe the 70s if it was a famous enough film. Due to Mauritius and its Indian heritage, my Mother was exposed to Bollywood forever ago. My Dad picked it up from her, and I as a little baby Khadeja watched whatever movie was in front of me. Some of those films happened to be old black and white Bollywood movies.

Out of all of the movies I watched as a kid that were not Disney animated films, Bollywood is what stuck in my head - especially Raj Kapoor's golden era.

Raj Kapoor is the guy on the right who looks like Charlie Chaplin. Everyone who was grown up with the image of Charlie Chaplin places firmly in their minds sees the connection, but I didn't for a very long time and to be honest, I still don't. Instead, whenever I see Charlie Chaplin, I think immediately of this image of Raj Kapoor. When I see this image, I hear the soundtrack to the movie. I even remember what scene this was.

I could write a whole entry about this man and how much he has contributed to my life, but this time I won't. Instead I will tell you that it is his films and his characters that made me love film and Bollywood in the first place. Shri 420 is a meaningful and beautiful film that shaped my way of thinking (that is where the image is from). That is why Bollywood will always be in my mind. I may not be from India, but mera dil hai Hindustani. Thank you, Raj Kapoor.

Whenever I am here in Saudi, I find myself (usually) with great access to Bollywood films in stores like my grocery store or the previously-mentioned Jarir Bookstore. This year, however, I don't see them anywhere. Bollywood has disappeared. I don't know the reason, but what I do know is that Bollywood is not completely gone from my grasp. Just today, I got a few movies from a friend who knows where to go, probably a place I could never go myself. All I know is that tonight I am going to be watching My Name is Khan, finally! You can try to take Bollywood away from me, but I'll find a way. I am very pleased.

Bollywood is, to me, even more accessible to the world than Hollywood is. Everywhere I go outside of the US, I meet someone who knows the tunes of Shankar-Jaikishan or the films of Hrithik Roshan. Bollywood has reached every end of the world. But strangely enough, only now is Bollywood beginning to become some kind of strange, kitschy fad in the US. They like the music and the movies because they think it is strange and over the top, kind of like a drag show. People have Bollywood parties and take Bollywood-esque dance classes; I find it really belittling. I shake my head and I don't understand how they can get away with it.

I like the films for what they are. I like the charming actors and beautiful actresses and songs and dance routines and colours and melodramatic speeches that seem to come out of nowhere. That is the way I experienced films as a child.

The way that certain people twist Bollywood is not something I ever want to be a part of. I don't take every Bollywood film too seriously, but I acknowledge the meaning and morals that each film is trying to produce. I cry at every tearjerking moment, I laugh at every single joke, and even if most people think it is very unrealistic, I have only once response for you as I wipe away my tears of laughter or sadness:

Yeh hai Bollywood, yaar! What more do you want?

Some movies I recommend, in no particular order:

1. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
2. Mission Kashmir
3. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
4. Dil Chahta Hai
5. Chak De! India
6. Veer-Zara
7. Shri 420
8. Awaara
9. Madhumati
10. Bobby

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Zahir (not, this time, by Coelho)

In past entries, I have made some allusions to my past self. I have talked about how I liked cats better than people and how it is hard to shake off that hatred for humanity I once had.

I wondered recently what it might have been like should I have stayed the way that I was years ago. I decided that today I would try to write from that Khadeja's point of view; the Khadeja that was so angry and upset and unable to deal with human interaction without beating herself up or getting angry inside. I will try my absolute best to display what I think she might be experiencing were she in my place today.


I'm am one of the lost. I have no idea what to do. I've been listening to the soundtrack of How to Train Your Dragon for days now, and nothing else. That movie really understands me. I know what it's like, not being up to everyone's standards. I just wish I could have told Hiccup that you don't need to be what your Dad or what your town wants you to be. I never want to become what everyone else desires! They don't know anything about my or what is inside my head. They can't tell me what to do and I will never let them.

They don't understand that I have dreams that are mine and I don't really feel like telling them. Why the hell should they know? Just because they are family? That's no excuse. I don't give a shit about family. Friends are the people who are really important. They are the ones who are closer to understanding. I get to choose who my friends are and that is the way it should be. But sometimes I think my own friends don't know. They can't even tell what is going on with me half the time. I don't want to have to tell them myself. If they really wanna know about me and what is happening, they had better ask. I shouldn't have to tell them. It's written on my face.

Right now, they should know that I am sitting in this shithole of a place, worrying about what to do next. There is just NOTHING here for me! Why did my parents force me to come here? I can't believe how selfish they are. I couldn't even stay in the US during the summer. Don't they understand that I hate it here? I have no friends, and I am in a totally different time zone so I can't even talk to the people I really care about. Don't they get it? I hate it! Get me out of here, God, if you have any tiny bit of love left in you.

God must have looked at me at birth and thought, "What a fucked up kid." If he is really merciful, he'd have followed that statement with "I hope she ends up okay." These days I think he followed it with "Too bad!" or "How fucking hilarious." That's what I think I am - a stupid, scary joke created by a merciless God. I got my undergrad degree now, but who gives a shit? I don't even know what the hell I want. He made me so didn't he do this to me? There is nothing left for me now, so isn't it his fault? But if he doesn't exist - and he probably doesn't because God is supposed to be watching over you and caring about you and helping you if you have done nothing wrong - then whose fault is it? Probably my parents. Or maybe it's just me.

I did all of this to myself, didn't I? I can't blame it on God or my parents. I can't blame it on other family members or friends. This is all because of me. I don't have anything to look forward to for the rest of my life because of me.

Okay so I might have a place to live, but will I even like Cambridge? I've never even been to Massachusetts in my whole life. What if I hate it there like I hated everywhere else? I've never been to a country I like. Except for Hungary and the Czech Republic, those places were amazing. Then again, I was with some amazing people at the time who actually made me feel good. I would do anything to be back there. I hate Saudi, and I hate Mauritius, and I bet I'll be going back here or there for the rest of my life the way things are going. I am so trapped. I have screwed up my own life beyond belief. No one likes me. I think my friends can't stand me. I don't have anybody who understands.

I know I am 21 and I should really grow up but sometimes I wish that I had a Hiccup in my life, somebody who really gets what I am going through. I don't have anybody. When I try to tell people that something is wrong with me, they tell me that I am just doing this to myself, or they yell at me. Yeah, I remember when I got yelled at because I told the school counsellor. Who else was I supposed to tell? I don't have anyone else!

I tried to help myself but nothing is going away. Should I really go to Massachusetts? Should I stay in Saudi, where I will just rot to death? I don't think I could make it here. I think I'd rather die. I don't care if I go back to the God who thinks I am a joke, who created me with absolutely no happiness, who left me all alone with this family and all these people who don't know me at all. How could he do this to me? What kind of an asshole is this God?

What can I even do with my life? I know how to be a bitch to people, but that's it. Maybe I should be a police officer. Maybe I should work for an SPCA somewhere and kick the asses of people who hurt their animals. And fuck, I'd do it too. I'd probably go to jail for hurting another human being, but they all deserve it. You fuck with an animal and I find out about it, and you fuck with me. Sometimes I think I should have been a vet but I think it is way too late now. I'm not smart enough either. I'm a dumb shit with a crappy GPA, crappier than I could really obtain, because I fucked college up so much. It's not my brain, it's just me. I could have done better. Why didn't I do better?

I can't believe I did all of this. What the hell is wrong with me? I don't have any reason to be like this. Why can't anyone see what is happening to me? I am turning into a monster. No one else is like me; everyone else has a future and a path to walk on. Why do I feel like I am pushing through thorns?

I have no future. I have no hope. I should just die.


I know it all seems very dramatic and over-the-top...but that is how I was. I didn't really act melodramatic in person, but in my head was a theatre with acts comparable to Greek tragedy. It was full of pain, and angst, and overall sadness. I felt for so many years like I had nothing to offer anyone.

Am I the same? No. Instead of feeling sad, I feel scared a lot of the time. I think that has been better for me. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I am scared for my future so I want to act on it. My life has taken on the raw decision of fight vs. flight - my stimuli make me want to fight against the odds, or run away. Is that really better? I think it might be. It is taking me a while to get used to, though.

That Khadeja was so depressed she couldn't see the light at all. She had friends who truly loved and cared about her. When she broke down and felt her worst, her friends would have been there to help her if she gave them a chance. Her parents also loved her and wanted what was best for her the whole time. And no matter how stupid she felt, she actually got into all the universities she applied to for her undergraduate degree. She even got into the University she wanted for her graduate school diploma. Even then, she still felt incapable of taking her own life into her hands. Instead of excitement for a new life, she felt the burden of new responsibilities.

I cannot lie to you and tell you it is all over now and that I am all better. However, even these two weeks in Riyadh have made me understand that although I have important decisions to make, I can relax and I can stop worrying and finally that I can deal with all of this. My education in upstate NY taught me a lot and I gained a foundation of experiences and knowledge that I can genuinely use. No matter what I say, I did not get a useless undergraduate degree. However, it could not teach me everything about myself. That is for me to do, not for an educational institution.

Riyadh is a desert, but it is also a deserted place. Maybe I need to have this open, empty desert to myself to look inside my heart and see what it is I truly desire. Only then can I really make these life-changing decisions.

If in the middle of the desert, I am without company, food, or water, who do I talk to in this drunken state of delirium? Myself. Finally, under the burning sun and sand-filled air will I be able to ask myself the most important questions, which will then bring forth all of the essential answers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Workin' it Out

People have their pet peeves, and I certainly have mine. I think my list of things I find irritating is much longer than the list of things I find enjoyable. What can I say? Having been a negative person for so long, it is hard to get rid of some of the effects. I want to talk about men's vs. women's vs. "open" time at the Saudi gyms/swimming pools.

Now, I want to say first of all that having allotted times for men and women is a pretty cool idea. I have nothing against it. If you are a woman and have ever felt the gaze of some creepy-looking dude while you are on the treadmill in short shorts, you know that women's time is a fantastic idea. You can wear whatever you want, use whatever machines you want, without having to worry about that gaze. Then again, other women still look at you. You'll have to deal with that in a different way. All in all, however, if you are a woman who does not like having guys seeing you sweat your stuff, you should have every right to your own time. That is why women's gyms still exist all over the world. Everyone should have the choice.

If you are a dude and you feel uncomfortable seeing women in those short shorts, then having men's time for you is probably welcome as well. A lot of men from different cultures (yes, including Saudi culture) just don't want to see women like that. Since women should have the right to dress the way they want to, I think it is a fair compromise. Give everyone their time, right? These guys should have the right to using the gym without women, just as women should have their time without men if they so desire. It's all cool with me.

However, the real pet peeve is about to show up: "open" time. This is supposedly when women and men can both use the gym at the same time at their own risk. On paper, this seems pretty good - some people don't care whether or not they are sharing the gym with people of the opposite sex. Some people are only there to do their exercise, and they don't care about the gaze or the clothes or whatever; or they come from cultures where men and women mix all the time so they are used to it. Other people want to go to the gym with their spouses or children of the opposite sex for moral support. My Mom and Dad go to the gym together all the time. How they dress and how they work out is totally up to them. Some women go during open hours and just wear modest clothes, like long gym pants and loose t-shirts with their headscarves. So what? They feel comfortable.

At night, the open times are used by people who visit after work. This is usually when the families go, so the people checking at the front desk understand and let you sign up without any issues or questions. They just want you to sign up and go. However, in the daytime, I find that the attitude of the people working up front are completely different. This is the time of day when housewives go to the gym, and there aren't that many housewives in my compound. Instead of acknowledging that open time is for both women and men, they get all abrasive or pushy when they see that a single woman is going into the gym during open hours. They seem to at as if it is wrong or that the woman doesn't understand the terrible consequences of having a man in the gym with you. I don't really get it.

To give you an example, a year ago I went to the gym during women's hours which ended at 14:00. Open time was to start right when women's hours ended, so I just decided to stay there and finish my workout. So what if some guys walk in? It's open hours! I don't care. I had done it before without any issues, but there was a different person working at the front desk on this day. While I was using some weight machine, the woman working up front came down to the gym from her desk and asked me what I was still doing there. She asked me if I knew it was now open hours. I firmly said that I didn't mind that it was open hours, and that I was going to stay. She told me that there were men waiting upstairs to enter. I told her they were welcome in, because it was open hours.

She actually seemed upset with me, and she kept asking over and over as if I didn't understand. Like I was some little kid. She kept saying, "Men are going to be coming in!" and I kept saying "It's okay, ma'am! I don't mind!" She also asked me if I was "single" and I said that I was sponsored by my parents. Finally, she just left. I was really irritated. I didn't even feel like working out anymore.

If the gym is having its open hours, I understand that both men and women are going to be using the gym. Open hours should not be another term for men's hours. I think that is wrong. In the end, it is my choice whether or not I share the gym with some other guys. If the men didn't want to share the gym with me, a woman they did not know, they should have just come during men's hours. Those hours are there for a reason! I don't waltz in during men's time or open time and expect all the men to leave!

I really don't know whose fault it is. I don't think the bylaws of the gym say anything about having no women attend open hours. That wouldn't make any sense! Maybe the woman who came to bug me was under some instruction by the men who were apparently waiting upstairs. A couple of guys did come into the gym a few minutes after the woman left but they ignored me and I ignored them as usual. They didn't look at me funny or say anything to me, and I think I had even been in the gym with them before. If they had told her they didn't want me in there, what was their problem? It wasn't men's hours! Who are they to pester me, or that woman at the desk? I don't think it is fair, if that ended up being the case. It could have just been the woman herself.

If she were trying to get me out due to her own personal beliefs about men and women and the gym, I think that is extremely wrong. She does not have any authority over what the women do. Sure, this is Saudi Arabia and it has a reputation for  a lot of things, but am I supposed to just wrap myself in a blanket and avoid men altogether? No! The gym gives me a choice, so I will make my own choices. If she came up to me to warn me that men were coming in, and then left after I said it was okay, I'd actually be fine with it because I would think she was just looking out for me in case I didn't know what time it was. Sometimes when you are at the gym, you lose track of time. I would appreciate that she was just trying to help. But this was more than just that to me. It seemed way too pushy. I didn't like her tone or her words one bit.

Today, I experienced something similar. It was the same deal: I was at the gym in women's time right before open hours. I looked at the clock, saw that it was half an hour to open time, and thought that I'd be fine. What did the woman at the front do to get me to leave? She used the newly installed intercom speakers. Yes, now the gym has this loud, obnoxious intercom thing like they used to have at school which allows that woman to blast "It is [x] minutes to open hours!" in the gym. I know this is good for women who really do not want to be there during open hours, but guess what? I was the only woman in the gym and that woman at the front desk knew it. She didn't just call out once - she called out 3 times, starting from half an hour all the way up to ten minutes before the end of women's time. If I had wanted to leave, I would have left!

In the end, I feel so annoyed that I no longer even want to go during open hours in the daytime. I'd rather just wake up early and go during the very beginning of women's hours every day to avoid that annoying hassle. I never know who is going to be at the front desk; it could be someone who is relaxed and who doesn't feel the need to bug me or it could be someone like those two women. I have had the two extremes. I am tired of the nagging extreme.

Being a woman in Saudi isn't as hard as some people make it out to be. Some people (like me) are content with how very considerate Saudi culture is to women. I really do appreciate the different hours for men and women that are given to me at the gym. The fact that there is a choice at all is definitely a good thing. However, don't be so damn annoying! Women are capable of making their own decisions and taking care of themselves!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Girl with the Muscle Mask

When I was about 13 years old and still living in Mauritius, something incredibly disturbing happened to me while I was laughing at something funny (which I no longer remember). I felt that my face was just...wrong. I put my hands on it and I couldn't feel anything different, so I looked in the mirror. I almost screamed out of shock at what I saw in front of me.

Imagine my face (which I am sure you have seen enough of on this blog, sorry) with this affectation upon it:

Yeah. Half of the muscles in my face just stopped working. Seemingly, out of nowhere. My Dad was in Mauritius at the time, so I asked him what was happening. Obviously, I didn't really ask the question: I most likely said something like "Myface-myface-myface-my--FACE! WHAT THE--MY FACE!"

MY FACE was going through a condition known as Bell's Palsy. Half of the muscles in my face were not working properly due to nervous damage. When I tried to smile, only half of my face would smile. When I laughed, it felt abnormal. It all felt really, really wrong. 

I went to school as I should have, but I kind of hid that half of my face most of the time. People asked if they could look at it. Sure, it made me feel like a freak show performer, but since no one looked totally disgusted, I didn't really mind after a while. I am sure now that people were grossed out. Wouldn't you be?

I know I went to a neurologist, and my Dad basically told him what to prescribe me. That happens a lot. I also went for treatment at the nearest hospital. The doctor who saw me tried to tell me I didn't really need treatment and I should really just get over it. "It'll be gone in two months if you just leave it alone!" he said. But you know what? I didn't want to not be able to smile for two months. I wanted to be able to blink both of my eyes again as soon as I could. I would have done any treatment.

So, the form of treatment that was given to me was electric shock therapy. I held a wet soggy thing in my right hand while they placed a metal rod (also covered with a wet thing) on my face in certain areas to force electric shocks into my muscles. Oh yeah, my face definitely moved then.

While there, I met some very interesting nurses. One nurse told me that I needed to "toughen up" so she set the voltage to an extremely high setting. My whole body shook under that shock. Usually, my right hand holding that wet thing would just twitch a little; a lot of they set it a bit higher. This woman was hardcore, and maybe she was even right.

One nurse decided to tell me her life story while I was sitting there, having the shocks burst through my body. She was divorced from her husband who I believe was from the Middle East. I can't remember where he was from now. She advised me never to marry an Arab, although I don't know if I will take her advice. She told me that she gave her two daughters mp3 players and little earphones that they could use underneath their scarves and ignore their father. When I came to Saudi the first time after I left Mauritius, I remembered her and used the earphones that way. No one knew I couldn't hear them. I have to admit, it was a brilliant, spiteful way to get back at her ex-husband.

Another nurse actually checked her make-up in the mirror while fiddling with the machine. Her make-up wasn't even that good.

After a few weeks, much shorter than 2 months, my face was back to normal - or so it seems. Even now, the left side of my face just isn't the same. Sometimes I notice that it takes just a little longer to blink the left eye as opposed to the right, and all of that side feels a little heavier. Most people are shocked to hear the story, though. They tell me they cannot see a difference between either side.

I notice them check, though. It's so funny! They do the shiftiest sideways glance, and when they are sure I am not looking (they are usually wrong) they just glare. They study my face for any imperfections or lack of movement. I don't mind that they do it, and I find the curiousity amusing in the way it is practiced. I know exactly what they are doing. I know I'd do the same thing!

The face is so expressive. I don't know what I would do if it didn't heal. A small percentage of people with Bell's Palsy never get the muscle movement back. I wonder what the people end up doing.

Maybe I am just making a big deal out of something unimportant. Maybe I am just vain! People deal with very extraordinary hangups, right? Why can't they deal with Bell's Palsy? I am sure that they do. My real worry is that I wouldn't have been able to deal with it. I was really torn up by having it for that temporary amount of time. I was irritated by the early mornings of electric shocks being zapped into my face. I really, really wanted to be able to narrow both of my eyes simultaneously again.

Am I too vain to have lived with something like Bell's Palsy? Looking at that diagram above, I know that there are some which are much worse. Why am I so worried about being symmetrical? I am not that symmetrical already! It is natural to have something a little wonky about the face, right? I know that Bell's Palsy isn't really a natural occurrence; it is caused by something else, like a virus. However, is it really as bad as I made it seem to myself?

After asking all of this, there is only one thing I can think of. I can smile, and I can laugh. Both sides of my mouth reach up towards the sides of my face, both eyebrows raise up, both cheeks rise, etc. All I can say now is that I am eternally grateful that I don't actually have to worry anymore.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jeddah's School for Girls

The word mecca has a connotation today that means something like "a place of congregation for a specific group of people with a similar goal or preferred activity." That is a meaning I made up. To me, whenever I see the word mecca or hear it pronounced in that funny way by people who do not speak Arabic, I get a bit annoyed.

For around 3 years, I lived in the place the word mecca is named after. Makkah al-Mukarramah: Makkah, the holy or blessed city. I spell it as Makkah and I pronounce it as "Muk-ka", not "Meh-cuh" as most non-Muslims or non-Arabic speakers do. That "meh-cuh" pronunciation sounds so off to me. It doesn't sound right at all and it irritated me to no end. It'd like hearing people say "Eye-rack" or "Eye-ran" or, even worse, "Saw-dee Arabia" where the "saw" sounds like the tool you use to cut things, or the past tense of "I see"; i.e. "I saw." Ugh! I hate hearing these bastardisations, especially from news reporters. I don't care what your first language is or where you are originally from, I think you should at least try to say things correctly or as close as you can possibly get.

However, I am getting off topic. What I really want to talk about is Makkah; the city of spirituality and holiness for all Muslims: Shi'ia, Sunni, whatever you are. I was brought up as a Sunni Muslim, so I should really consider myself lucky to have been near the Kaabah, where all Muslims wish to go once in their lives. One of the five pillars of Islam is the need to go to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once. I lived there for a few years but I never got to do the pilgrimage because I was very young.

I mean, look at me. I'm a little pipsqueak in front of my house, here, and it is as if I was not even in the holiest and most important Islamic city in the world. I'm just in my front yard (which is made of concrete and sand, really):

Yes, here I am back at age 5/6-ish, living in a place where many Muslims save all their money to go and perform this one pilgrimage. All I care about are my cool Disney's Lion King clothes and little pink bicycle. I was probably on my way to crashing into a spiky bush or someone's car. I was a crummy bike rider. 

But that is what you do, when you are a kid. You don't think about prayers and God or the Prophet or Hajj. You think about sneaking into the TV room, late at night (maybe as late as...gasp...9!) and watching MTV, or eating cookies your Mom tried to hide in the kitchen. You do not think about your spiritual city.

I thought a lot about school. I went to an all-girls' school in Jeddah, the neighbouring port city. I used to pass under this bridge every single weekday:

[Excuse the poor quality of the picture. I took this as a later date, in a car, on a drive from Jeddah to Makkah. The bridge is in the shape of an open book; the Qur'an to be exact. Qur'an: another word that has been destroyed by the English language and pronunciation to things like "Koran." Ugh.]

Jeddah, unlike Makkah, was not a spiritual centre but a multi-cultural one with people of different religions. In Makkah, only Muslims were allowed. However, Jeddah's proximity to Makkah and its location in one of the premier Islamic countries does not allow for the dilution of Saudi Islam. It is still considered to be the most liberal city in all of Saudi, though. This is something I have not been able to fully comprehend, mostly because I have never really lived life as a Saudi. I don't really know what liberal or conservative means here.

I have, however, lived life as a Muslim child in Saudi. Right now, I am just floating around here so it's not easy to compare. I went to school as a little Muslim girl back then and it was a very different life. 

Like with any school that has religious influences, the Muslim kids stuck together and the very few non-Muslims were practically invisible. So there I was, in this all-girls school that had kindergarten all the way up to the "older grades." My sisters were in those older grades but I really didn't think about them since I was in the elementary school section. The elementary school section was colourful and bright and sunny. I have only a couple of pictures that show any of it, but since I am not going to show pictures of anyone else without their permission, I have to (yet again) show a picture of me. I do apologise for this forced narcissism. I promise I do have some pictures that are not of me on my computer.

There I am, on the little "stage" in the centre of the elementary school section. As I said: it was all colour and brightness. I am wearing a bridesmaid dress because I was part of a little fashion show at the school. It seems cute and harmless, but this fashion show, believe it or not, was actually part of gym class.

Yes, you read right. Gym class. My gym teacher made fun of me for not posing enough during our little warm up. Even at that age I knew that gym class for girls was not taken very seriously. We mostly played games like tag. Now I look at those years with disdain. Why were they trying to make us little supermodels at such a young age? I feel extremely disgusted. I liked running around and playing sports, even the little girly games they made us play, but we were never encouraged to do better than that. Ever.

A lot of girls around the world have experienced similar things. I know of schools in the US that have had female students protest against the lack of funding for their sports and preference for the boys' teams. It's really irritating. I am not the world's sportiest girl, but when I was forced to play, I did pretty well. Maybe it is due to experiences like the fashion show that I never felt the need to run around and kick a ball. When I lived in Oman, I ended up liking some sports, like swimming and football (i.e. soccer). I just never had the drive to do more.

My school in Jeddah was also interesting amongst the students as well. Us little girls talked about how much we loved the Backstreet Boys just like any school. We also, however, would talk about exciting  hadiths that were being spread around school. For those who do not know, a hadith is a saying by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW*) that has been passed down verbally or in writing by one of the Prophet (SAW)'s companions. They are disputed heavily by Islamic scholars of all Islamic schools and sects.

At my school, hadith worked for us like gossip. One of us would say in a proud, authoritative tone, something like "You know, I heard that the Prophet (SAW) hated the guitar, so then the guitar must be forbidden! We cannot listen to the guitar ANYMORE!" Us kids would be in shock. Every song we liked had the guitar in it! Later, someone would argue that all stringed instruments were absolutely haraam (forbidden). One girl, I remember clearly, said that the reason for the stringed instruments being haraam was that "The devil lived in the strings, and it would come out when someone played them!" We were amazed and hooked on these ideas. We would spend class time whispering about it. I remember once asking, "But what about the piano? It has strings IN it, but we hit the keys! We don't actually touch the string like on the others!" This stirred a debate amongst all the little girls. Some of us, like me, said the piano was more like a percussion instrument. Others stood firm that since it had strings, it must be forbidden.

In a little while, we forgot the old hadith that was told to us and we concentrated on a new one. We had short attention spans. We still danced around to Amr Diab and his famous "Nour Al-Ain" song (which had a prominent use of guitar). Those things might have mattered for a little bit, but we didn't waste our times on the heavy stuff.

And boy, am I glad I didn't just believe any hadith that came my way! Now, I am at least cautious enough to know that all of these things require research.

We were very impressionable kids. Being a Muslim sometimes wasn't enough. Sometimes Arabs preferred Arabs and did not associate with girls of other ethnic groups It was pretty silly now that I think about it, but it's just like any school. These cliques just...happen. They didn't happen as much with kids my age, but with the ones approaching teenage years, I heard stories of tighter groups being formed that fought against others. I know these groups could be based on religion, too. I did have a few interesting experiences, though, even as a kid of about 6 or 7. I remember one instance very clearly.

While waiting for my driver at the end of school to pick me up, I saw a little girl from another class. The conversation went like this:

Girl: Ismik aish? [What is your name?]
Me: Khadeja!
Girl: Where are you from? [In Arabic, but I do not remember how she phrased it]
Me: America! [I didn't acknowledge my Mauritian side in front of other kids. I sucked like that. Sorry, Moris.]
Girl: You are Christian?
Me: No, Muslim!
Girl: How can you be Muslim and be American? All Americans are Shaitan [Devil] Christians!

That conversation has scarred me, in a way. I still haven't forgotten it. I hope I never forget it! I think it might be one of the most important conversations I have ever had. It opened my eyes to something that I didn't get as a kid, but I certainly understand now.

Discrimination comes in many forms. It happens everywhere, not just Saudi. Not just the US. Not just Mauritius. Let that be some food for thought.

* SAW = PBUH = Peace Be Upon Him = something us Muslims say after we mention the Prophet (SAW).