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An Arabic TV show that has made me seriously worry about Arabs

31 Aug

I know that there are plenty of far greater things to worry and write about in the Arab world right now but I feel that plenty of people have that covered. I feel more compelled to write about this TV show that has made be seriously worry about the state of the Arab world in a different kind of way. This programme is called “Al Zaffa” or “The Wedding Procession” and is a fake situation, hidden camera type show but its super slick and on at prime time on MBC, one of the most popular Arabic TV channels.

Each episode starts off the same: A wife is sat down for a fake interview with the presenter in the middle of a hotel lobby. The presenter repeatedly asks rude and provocative questions, mocks what she says and derides the way the woman looks in a really unpleasant way. Obviously the point, and it works, is to get the women really riled up. When the woman reaches this state, it is time: one of the producers tells the presenter he has to stop the interview because a wedding procession is coming through the hotel lobby. So they wait, and in comes the wife’s husband, dancing with a fake bride with the whole wedding fanfare and we see the fallout as the wife realises the groom is her husband. Look perhaps you can argue that watching an already angry and upset women reacting to her husband humiliating and betraying her is a light hearted situation (sorry but I don’t think it is) but what happens next is frankly shameful.
As the woman confronts her husband,the presenter, and honestly I’m getting angry as I write this, actually starts shouting at the woman to come and finish the interview because she was paid to! Then, the fake marriage officiator who is also part of this posse also gets involved and also starts angrily shouting at the women for holding up proceedings! Rudely and horribly. Really really horribly with no hint of humour. So you have the husband, the fake bride, the presenter and the officiator shouting at this poor woman who is already in a state of high distress.

Not only do they shout, they mock. The band starts playing again, they all start dancing and the presenter even starts dancing in front of the woman to provoke her further. In one episode, a woman said she wanted a divorce and the presenter and officiator started singing and clapping, “All things must come to an end”. And in a couple of episodes, the women have actually collapsed. This is when I wonder if perhaps instead of looking at political solutions for the Arab world, we should start looking at solutions for our psychological problems. If you lament the absolute horror of the Arab world right now but you enjoy this programme then realise there is an issue. You need to look in the mirror and say “I should not enjoy watching emotional abuse of these people to the point of physical trauma”. Start small.

And you know there was also a horrifying programme during Ramadan? In this one, Arab celebrities are made to think that that the boat they are on has capsized, they are literally grabbing at the boat to hold on (and it lasts for absolutely ages), think they are surrounded by sharks, see their boat companion fall off and drown, only to see blood and a dismembered leg floating to the surface soon after. I admit that I laughed at this point; I just couldn’t believe how far they went. It’s horrible, the celebrities seem genuinely frightened they are going to die and I am genuinely frightened for my soul.

Through all this, I just can’t help but wonder whatever happened to good old fashioned tricks like talking on a massive mobile phone in the cinema? Or a panda in a zoo that’s actually a man dressed in a panda costume?* Or if MBC struggle to come up with original ideas for pranks that don’t psychologically harm their victims, I have genuinely wasted hours of my life watching poor souls trying to pick up some cash on the floor that’s being pulled on by a piece of string. I’m not proud of it, but it’s happened, and it’ll probably happen again.

And I’m not a judgey person, really. It’s important to me that I give people the benefit of the doubt, that I understand people come from different cultures and walks of life, but if you enjoy “Al Zaffa” and see nothing wrong with this, I am judging you, with my eyes. And you know, my eye contact with people isn’t so good, I get a bit nervous so then my pupils start to dart around in opposite directions to each other but I will practice so hard. And if I met you on the street, I will stand sideways to you so that at least one of my eyes is boring into you and you will crumble under the weight of my judgement. If we partake in a collective wrong in Arab society, however small, then we owe some personal responsibility to the state we are in today.**

*Dom Joly, you genius.
**I wonder how legitimate it is for me to be critical of “our” state, seeing I have lived in the Arab world for less than 2 years of my life but I reason that even if we consider me not to be, my parents are legit Arabs, my extended family and loved ones are Arab in the full sense of the word, and so I have grown up with the concerns and worries of them and feel personally invested. A sympathetic outlook to a world that is more difficult that mine is necessary but so is calling out something that might not be as obvious when you’re in that situation, isn’t it? I think the position of Arabs-not having grown up in the Arab world and what their contribution should look like is a debate for another day.

Moroccans and their vans.

2 Jul

Ramadan Kareem all! I really really hope you all have a blessed, beautiful month. There is a lot I am wanting to write about but I thought I would ease myself in with a non-story. Non-stories are those small little tiny things that happen in your life that you never bother to mention to anyone but which I like to write whole blog posts on. In fact, I’m even going to split it into parts.

Part I
A few months back, Shams* and I were walking to the station together and she was telling me about a conversation she had with this person at work. I had seen that they were talking for quite a while so I had asked, envious at her small talk prowess, what they were talking about. (That’s what I do at work, I track her). She, smugly, told me that they spoke about everything and that it was wonderful. They talked about their respective home countries, charities they were involved in, what they did when they visited. In the course of this conversation, she mentioned to him that a lot of European Moroccans travel back to Morocco for the summer in their vans or cars (she is half Moroccan). I listened sullenly as she deliberately spoke in a light sing-song voice emphasising how easy the conversation was. But then it gets weird. When she told him about Moroccans using their vans, he was really interested. So interested, that he told her she “should make a documentary about it”. Which she agreed with.
A documentary. On vans. On how Moroccans drive vans to get to Morocco. I had to get her to repeat that bit, and I swear there was not a hint of sarcasm or humour. So I had to tell it to her straight.
“Look Shams, you’re a nice girl, but nobody is going to watch an hour long documentary on how Moroccans use vans to get to Morocco.” Of course, she accused me of being bitter and jealous. I accused her of being stupid.

We parted ways on bad terms that day. Because of her.

Part 2:

On Saturday night I was in the car with my parents and my brother. I was drifting in and out of the conversation but two words brought me back with thud. “Moroccans” and “vans”. In the ultimate betrayal, here was my father talking animatedly about how Moroccans all go to Morocco in their vans. I made a mental note to tell Shams, but to say that it was at most, a fun fact for a car journey home.
But then when I drifted back to the conversation again, I found that they were still talking about it! I couldn’t believe that the topic could have been sustained for that long. My dad was saying how Moroccans load up their vans with absolutely everything. But then my brother said that his Moroccan friend said they had to travel light. Then my dad said they came home by boat or plane. Out of pride I was biting my tongue, determined that I was not in the least bit interested but at that point I couldn’t hold it in any longer and had to ask, what happened to their vans and cars? They sell them at the end of their trip. So why take them? So they can use them to drive around for the duration of the trip. (This is all according to my dad by the way, who turns out to be quite an expert. Maybe he watched a documentary on it, haha). But I am now left with a myriad of questions. Of them;
So do they travel light or heavy? What on earth do they take with them aside from clothes? Do Moroccans really buy a new car every year? Shams, I’m giving you the green light.

UKIP’s Dream

27 May

Did you have a good bank holiday weekend? I did. I was in a lovely seaside town so though It was generally miserable and rainy on the weekend, the weather was beautiful yesterday. Look: Image

Will you excuse the white? I wish it was done for comic purposes but I was eating a bag of diddy donuts and it was so bright I couldn’t see the screen. My whole post seems redundant now seeing as I don’t have a good photo. What I was going to say was that while I was looking at this wonderful view, I realised this was UKIP’s dream. I imagined myself in their position, watching proudly as the British enjoyed the British seaside.  Until I spotted my family:  


                                                           A blight on our landscape


                                  Ruining the view, from every angle



How sinister do they look here, watching over the beach? They really don’t do themselves any favours.





Reflections on a plane.

8 May

Always always if you can, choose to sit next to the window on planes. On my most recent journey, I couldn’t quite believe how much of a difference it makes to the experience of travelling. Particularly as you are taking off, and you see the city you are leaving become smaller and smaller. Quite literally, and visually beautifully, taking a step back and putting it all into perspective. Then as you fly, peering down on all the areas of inhabited and non-inhabited land, knowing that you are looking over actual individuals like you, sleeping, eating, working, socialising, struggling. Yet you fly over them in less than a second, just as important as you, just as unimportant as you.  And then being on the same level as the horizon, seeing the actual curve of the earth, and the painfully beautiful range of colours that fill the sky as the sun sets, so often obscured by the clouds and the grey buildings that imprison us.

 The visual extremities knocked me out, and then I remembered that I was up in the air in a metal tube, which lead to the most terrifying realisation of my utter frailty and vulnerability, removed from all the securities that keep me emotionally and physically safe in my everyday life. I wish I could say that that it changes your life, but unfortunately unless its a near-death experience, I don’t think moments can change your life. But still, that moment of complete awareness of the self in relation to the world and my Creator is in itself as worthy as the long-term effect of any life-changing experience. I am quite sure that I reached a mental state that people take drugs for. While I was in this transcendent mood, my dad leaned over to me and whispered, “You know, you should be a pilot”. I wondered how he knew I was having a philosophical moment and was thinking of how to prolong it. 

“There are no other planes you might bump into” (I have been known to almost do this to other cars.)

“There are no kerbs you would go on” (I have been known to do this in my car.)

“There are no people you might hit” (I have been terrified I will do this with my car.)

…moment was over.

Am I a #happy muslim?

18 Apr

So much has been written about this topic that I feel reluctant to even mention it. This has so far been my policy with things that have gone viral because it gets very boring very quickly for me. So I crawl under my rock and wait for it to all to be over. But for the sake of this blog, I feel that perhaps I should give it a passing mention in order to stay slightly relevant. A video was made, some people were happy with it, some people were not. I find legitimate arguments on both sides, with really interesting insights. You can find them elsewhere, so I won’t bore you by repeating them. I am actually really torn, and I am annoyed that I am really torn. I do have an opinion, but it is so mitigated that I’ll be here all day if I get into it. This annoys me. I like to have extremely strong opinions, and then use these to ostracise any family and friends who disagree with me.

 In a wider sense, we all want us to progress as a community, and I am wondering what this trend indicates. This is how it goes: every couple of months, a video or a statement comes out. There is good debate, but there is also hysterical responses on both sides, caused a lot of the time, by the absolute statements and lack of accountability that social media encourages.

On one hand I think, debate is good, there is space for legitimate differences of opinion, and this in itself is progress: feeling free to use a creative outlet, and being able to debate about it afterwards. On the other hand, I wonder if this is just us reaching a stalemate every single time? Do we need more consensus, more strategic aims as a community? What I mean is, yes great, we have different opinions, but surely we can have a meaningful discussion of what is effective/ineffective, what is of value? Not everything is relative, and sometimes there are legitimate concerns which we need to address without being told to “lighten up”. Yet as I write this I’m telling myself to lighten up and I berate myself for letting things like this seem like they are the only thing going on in our community, when I know there are plenty of great things going on, done indeed, by many of the people in the video.

 Honestly, I’m boring myself as I write this. I know debate is good, but this conversation leaves me feeling drained because I haven’t reached a conclusion. There are other things that today that have me far more riveted, which I will now list:

  1. How amazing is it to have a four day weekend? I can’t believe how I took for granted the long holidays I used to have during Uni. But in a sense, I think I need to have that tension of work, that resentment and sheer anger and upset of spending so much time there which makes me absolutely savour any time off. In this sense, having 2 days off is much more joyful that having 5 weeks off. Really feeling Khalil Gibran’s joy/sorrow poem right now. Can’t have one without the other.
  2. I’m on my fourth Easter egg. Its disgusting.
  3. I’m really into documentaries at the moment, and am about to watch “The crisis of civilisation”.
  4.  My brother bought too many bananas and now he’s making me eat them even though they make my stomach hurt. When I refused he accused me of wasting food and I am extremely distressed at this because now I feel morally obligated to have a banana that he pointedly put on my bed.

The BBC, Silk, and Muslims

1 Apr

So I pretty much never watch British TV these days but a few weeks ago I happened to be sitting on the sofa when my brother turned on the TV and my eyes tend to glaze over when the TV turns on and I can’t move. Silk was on. For the non-familiar, Silk is a drama about barristers. This was episode four, “Martha is unsure who to trust when she defends a suspected terrorist”. I was not hopeful for this programme. You know back in the day, I really didn’t mind these kind of things, it was just a story after all. But my gosh, in the context of absolutely everything, give us a bloody break. Obviously the Muslim turned out to be guilty because as real life has shown us, they always are.

There were so many gems though. One of my favourites was when the Asian uncle said something along the lines of “you know, we always worried that our children would turn out too western, turns out it’s the opposite problem”. Me and my brother laughed nervously at the fact that our generation turned out to be such a disappointment, but then the sound he was making when he laughed was a bit anti-western so I had to look at him sternly. We were both treating the programme as a comedy but then something happened that suggested maybe this comedy had a important point. When the barrister and the Asian uncle went to see the suspect’s friend who turned him in but who they suspected of being guilty, they caught him reading a textbook. “What are you reading Saeed, politics?” said the barrister, smirking. I glanced over worryingly to our family bookcase full of politics books. My brother caught my eye, and I wondered if I should turn him in before he turned me in. I promptly left the sofa for my bedroom to mull over how I was going to do this. My brother told me the next day that the Muslim was a terrorist indeed and therefore all the scary secrecy laws used right now are totally and completely justified, and if you don’t agree then boo you anti-western people.

New cat cafe in London

2 Mar

So I have heard that a new cat café is opening in London. My friends are excited but I don’t really get why, as if cats are these exotic creatures that are rarely sighted.  More importantly though, I am incredibly uneasy about this increasing love for cats. I know this will be an unpopular post but I take comfort in the fact that at the beginning of every disaster movie there’s always the one guy who has warned everyone but nobody listens to him. Woefully, I have been receiving the same reaction but I feel I must continue to warn others of my experiences.  

 Cats. I don’t like the way they look at me. Like they know me, like they can see inside my soul and know all my deepest secrets. I actually have the same beef with babies. Look I adore babies, often I even want to kidnap them, but sometimes I feel like they judge me. The way they look at me, so intently, like they’re studying me. “It’s rude to stare” I yell at them when their parents leave the room. But they don’t stop staring, they only stare more.

But cats, their eyes have malice, ill intent. And the cats in Yemen are on a totally different level of creepy. When I was stayed there for a few months last year, I began to view my life as simply a series of encounters with the cats. The time a cat turned his head 180 degrees to continue staring at me as I walked past him, the time we went home to find 6 cats had taken up residence inside because someone had left the door open, the time a cat circled the house from the outside, following me as I moved from room to room. It occupied my days and it begun to be how I knew my days. No more Mondays and Tuesdays.  It was simply the day I was traumatised by that cat, the next day was known as the second day after I was traumatised by that cat, etc. and this cycle renewed itself with every fresh incident.

But there was one cat, part time resident of my Grandma’s garden,  that will forever stay with me. He used to wail like a baby.

“Who’s that baby crying?” I would ask.

“That’s a cat” they would reply, and a deathly pallor spread would over me. Then one day I saw him. Oh this cat. He didn’t walk like the other cats. He was grey and tall, his shapely muscles protruded out of his skin and he held his head held up high as if he frequently lifted weights with one paw.  Other cats shuffled out of his way when he walked down the street. Regrettably, I told my cousins of my fear of this cat.  “Your baby is crying outside for you” they then taunted whenever it wailed.

 There is no conclusion to this post, this is simply a warning from a humble soul. I can only hope documenting these experiences will one day be useful to somebody, but perhaps by then, it will be too late. 

A blog post

23 Feb

 What should be the first sentence of a blog post that is about nothing?  I am really trying to keep to this posting once a week thing, but have just been really feeling the pressure recently. After posting this blog on my facebook last week, I really think it was just too much too soon. What with 20+ likes, the limelight is just really on me and its really hindering my progress. I also seem to be making a blog post an analogy of life, which makes the pressure worse. Should I do something imperfect or take time to think it through and do it properly? How can I balance consistency with effectiveness? Should I have my chocolate digestives before or after I’ve achieved something?  

I’m also starting to really question the people around me, who seem to really be piggybacking on the success of that last blog post. My dad is publishing this book “What to do if your child keeps on being mistaken for someone else”, that I am forced to plug. I really wanted to write about something more substantial but I’m afraid it will have to wait, as I’m seeing if my new approach of short posts will help. Adios!

The advantage.

9 Feb

In my life, I have often been confused with other people. Or some people think they have seen me somewhere else. I always just assumed I had that kind of face, but certain situations have made me think that in some cases, it might not be so innocent. For instance, one time at university, I sat next to another hijabi in class, having become friendly with her beforehand, “Oh, I’ll have trouble telling you apart now” commented the teacher. She was a nice teacher, but it stuck with me because apart from the hair covering, we didn’t look alike. And of course, since then, having had many other experiences, I found that this fitted into a general pattern of some seeing us as all the same, as “the other”.

Though, it still takes me by surprise. Like recently, I have started working at the same place as one of my besties Aisha, by happy almost-coincidence. We went on the induction together with other new starters, during which we played a bonding game where we had to throw balls about and memorise each other’s name. I really need to emphasise how effective this game was. By the end, I could not only tell you their names, I could spell them backwards if you needed me too. It was fun too and pathetically, I truly felt like we bonded. Therefore it was to my disappointment that when Aisha (who also wears hijab) mooched off to another team, one of the ladies referred to Aisha by my name. Nobody who heard her corrected her. I indignantly told them that this was my name and they laughed. This annoyed me more. This was not a laughing matter. This was a grave matter. I told Aisha afterwards. “But we don’t even look alike”, she said, confused. My poor, innocent, friend.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed if the context had been different, indeed, it was a context in which we had to learn to recognise each other by our names. She confused me with another hijabi, not just another person. It means: all you are to me is another covered Muslim girl and I cannot be bothered to look at your face. I told another friend. She thinks the confusion would also occur if two people wore glasses or grew beards. I appreciate her opinion. I acknowledge it would be more conducive to community relations to agree with her, but I choose to assume the worst. Seeking a confirmation of my opinion, I complained to another hijabed friend. She informed me that this also happened when we were in sixth form, where another girl tried to give her a pen she had borrowed. When my friend told her it wasn’t her that had lent it, she responded “Well it was one of you anyway”.  

And at work, it also happened again but in different forms. The thing is, these people were generally very nice people, so I was less and less irritated. It felt like a good intentioned oversight, you know? So what if they spoke to me because they thought I was my friend? The important thing is they spoke to me nicely. But troublingly, I began to like it, to seek it even. You see, my friend embodies sunshine, whereas I am the prince of darkness. I also absolutely hate the first stages of a friendship where its all small talk and awkward, so to be honest, it was a dream having ready made friends who spoke to me because they thought I was someone else. I became addicted to the glamour.

So when another lady said hello to me the other day as I was walking to the station, I greeted her back warmly even though I didn’t know who she was and was quite certain she did not know who I was. “No wait”, she said. My heart dropped. She took a step closer me, then another step, then another step (it was dark), peering into my face. I tried to look my most attractive. But it wasn’t enough, and she apologised when she realised I wasn’t the hijabi she knew. “But we can still be friends” I called after her. I weeped as she abandoned me on the corner of the street, still in my wedding dress.

That night, I made a vow to myself that I would never be put in such a vulnerable position again. I had recently read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell, in which a chapter was dedicated to how the underdog succeeds by using people’s assumptions of them to their advantage. My brain ticked. A while later, I remembered reading the first chapter of those teenage point horror novels when I was younger. It was about a pair of twins, one was super popular and the other the opposite. They were so identical that sometimes they would swap places in school and spend the whole day pretending to be each other. One day, they went on a skiing trip and swapped clothes, the popular one then falls of the ski lift and dies. The unpopular one then pretends to be the popular one for the rest of her days (or so I assume, I didn’t finish the book).

Do you see where I am going with this? One day I will invite Aisha on a skiing trip. I will ask to borrow her jacket. We will then go on the lift. And then, an accident will happen. I will then go back at work and sit in her seat. Her colleagues will come up to me, and say “we are so glad you’re ok”, “we’re so glad it was her and not you”, and I will smile and nod in agreement and everybody will be none the wiser. And the next time I meet a hijabi who is more successful/popular/clever than me, another serious accident will happen. And I will do this again and again and again, replacing these hijabis with myself, until I have reached dizzying heights of success. And that my friends, is how the underdog turns a disadvantage into an advantage. 


26 Jan

Ok so it has been absolutely ages since I last posted. And I shall go on the unfounded assumption that you are waiting for me to post something and have been thinking, ‘where is she, she with her incredible insight and fabulous wit?’ Rest assured, I am here, alive and well, though incredibly frustrated. Isn’t it strange that I only feel I have the drive to write when I am experiencing tensions in other areas of my life? Must I suffer such anguish for my art? However to stop such painful 6 month absences, I will submit one post every week, no matter what.  I’ve decided to try implementing these crazy new ideas in my life, “commitment” and “perseverance”, and my priority , obviously, is this blog.