The main meal is super early, and must be eaten together.

3 May

The whole family is usually home for the main meal, which is very early, around 2/3 pm. Even those with longer hours will usually come home to have lunch with their families and then return to work. This emphasis on having meals together so early in day when not completely knackered sounds lovely in principle, but can get pretty annoying. In fact, some (me) would argue it is a curtailment of my freedom of movement. Sometimes they call me to eat, but I am busy doing something, or simply, I’m just not hungry yet. Never, how dare I, off with my head.

 On Thursday, the family were at my Gma’s for my lunch. My cousin took ages in the bathroom, so by the time I came to take a shower they were already serving up lunch. A family member saw me with my towel, and went absolutely crazy.

“What the hell are you doing? its lunch!!” she shouted.

“I’m just going to have a quick shower, you guys go ahead and eat” I said, not really comprehending the enormity of my actions.

“Come and see what your daughter is doing” she yells out to my mum, as if she has caught me feeding raw meat to the children.

As a form of protest, I go in the bathroom anyway.

“Get out of the bathroom right now”

“Never!” and I have my shower, wondering how Mel Gibson in Braveheart coped ( I haven’t actually watched Braveheart but something similar happens, right?)

When I finished, I joined them, and they had left me plate of food. I therefore didn’t see what on earth the problem was.

Is there any more stew left?” I asked after a few minutes.

“No.”

At least I’m clean”, I consoled myself, “hungry but clean”.

Observations.

12 Apr

It isn’t my first time here in Yemen, but maybe because I am older and plan to stay here longer, I am trying to quantify what it is about here that makes me feel so away from home. This was supposed to be a list of observations but I got a bit carried away with the first one.

Observation #1: Food here is so processed.

 I am no health freak but  the cheese is in tins. We have a bottle of “Synthetic” Vinegar. Look at the ingredients of the milk:

milk pic

When I asked where I could get fresh milk from, I was told to “buy a cow and put it in the backyard” by one cousin. To be fair, my Aunt does buy fresher milk, but it comes in a packet which I find a bit unnerving.

Why is the cheese so shiny it resembles plastic?

cheese1

cheese pic

Which one is Faisal? Its hard to tell.

IMG_1088

The thing is, this is by no means unique to developing countries, given the UK’s own shameful horsemeat scandal. Some companies will churn out any old crap. I just don’t know how these people can suspend any thought of their contributions on society. Money can only make you feel so good and I’m certain that a major part of our sense of wellbeing comes from actually contributing something good, or at least, taking pride in doing something well.

Also a few years ago, it wasnt very important in the UK either. I remember  in school eating the most random processed stuff. What comes to mind is the whole Jamie Oliver crusade-isn’t in amazing how one man in modern times can start a change in a country’s attitude to something like this? It feels like such a cultural shift. However I know if I complain too much I will just come off as the British snob so I’ve decided I will do it really subtly by going to the supermarket and pointing out which would be better alternatives. For example, “Oh look, this cheese actually has milk in it”, or “What about these eggs, they look like they’ve been laid by a chicken”. On the other hand, the fruit here is seriously amazing.

New Beginnings?

19 Mar

So I did it. I resigned from my job, my first job ever.  I am trying to remind myself of the significance of it, because I feel nothing. I’ve decided to come to the motherland for a while, the place I have always felt least comfortable and have been avoiding for the past few years. I mentioned in a previous post that I really wanted to fix up my Arabic and I think that I need a little time out. My family, as always, has been ever supportive. “I think you won’t last a month” my aunt informed me. “I give her two weeks” said my cousin. “Why don’t we place bets?” suggested my sister in law. Given how utterly wonderful everyone has been, why don’t I list the other snippets of conversation that I can look back on to uplift me during low times.

                                                         ***

“Who leaves a job in this climate without another one ready?” one family member wondered aloud.

“She’s going to discover herself” another answered, they both laugh in my face. 

                                                         ***

 “Don’t expect to come back amazing at Arabic”.

                                                          *** 

“What the hell are you going to do there?”

                                                          ***

…and other further comments I care not to recall.

 I suppose I deserve this. Previous trips have always ended with me on the verge of hysteria. It’s the quiet that gets to me, I can’t handle the quiet and sometimes I feel so suffocated (incidentally, the city I go to is at a really high altitude, so there literally is less oxygen).  I know this plan seems so aimless but everything came together so easily that I believe there must be some purpose to it. (Don’t you believe that? That sometimes things happen so easily and quickly for you, that even though you had to play some part, it still feels like it had to be part of a greater plan).

It’s been one week here and my next post will be on my observations that I will need to get used to be able to stay here more than two weeks. 

 

Make me a Muslim: Hijab vs Modernity

9 Feb

I know I am extremely late but did you catch “Make me a Muslim” on BBC3? The description by the filmmakers said that their “aim was to challenge stereotypes about Islam” by exploring the stories of English women who had converted, and goes on to say their experiences found that Islam was peaceful and not full of angry men. Not the most intellectually searching of programmes, but we can always do with positive portrayals.

 But the problem with the programme was obvious. The presenter was a Muslim model and so this immediately invites the audience to contrast her with the other Muslim women she meets. At one point she clashed with one of the ladies over the Hijab. The presenter exclaimed after that she was a “Modern British Muslim Women”. To be fair, she did go through her own-self reflection throughout the programme. My irritation lies with the fact that for a programme that wanted to challenge stereotypes, it pedalled the idea that the Hijab is not modern by comparing this born Muslim who is self-described as modern and British and loves her country with these overzealous covered converts. But juxtaposing Hijab with modernity is not a new idea, rather it is maintained by both non-Muslims and certain-let’s call them secular for now-Muslims.

But I just want to let you all know that not all women who wear hijab are backwards. I for one have taken steps to immerse myself in the modern world and to change the mindset of those around me. It’s been difficult though. Like with this one friend I have…well that was a disaster. Her family only travel around in a horse and carriage and one time I told her I passed my driving test and was coming to pick her up. I rock up in front of her house in my ford focus and sound the beep. She comes to her living room window and sees the car. “I thought you meant your carriage driving test!” she screams. I see her Dad come into the room and she turns as white as her hijab. He runs to the window and draws the curtains shut. I intend to wait it out but he opens the front door with a shotgun in his hands. I yell, “You can’t shield her forever”, shaking my fist out my car window as I drive off.

I thought I would try with another friend, who refuses to use a mobile phone. It is so annoying when I receive a telegram a week after we’re supposed to meet up telling me she is going to be late. I invited myself over for some tea and broached the subject by mentioning how much easier it would be if there was such a device where we could contact each other instantaneously. Her face turned dark. “Will you please tell me how on earth I can own a mobile phone when I wear hijab?”. It was a logic I couldn’t compete with. She then warned me that other Hijabis had heard of the Ford Focus incident and would begin to tire of my flirtations with the modern world. She put a vinyl in the gramophone and gave me her hand to dance with her. I broke down as we swayed. “I just want to be modern”, I sobbed, “Just a normal Modern British Muslim women”.  “I know”, she said soothingly, “but it just can’t be. We wear hijab and loose clothing”, and we solemnly danced the night away.

 

 

Snow in London!

20 Jan

How absolutely stunning is London right now? I want to write about how beautiful it is, but I can’t yet express myself at that level. You know that moment when you look out the window and you gasp ? I love that the gasp is involuntary. It actually feels magical and I understand why CS Lewis chose that Narnia had this setting. I had a little photoshoot with my Faisal but unfortunately, a SLR camera doth not a professional photographer make.

 

Attempt 1.

Image

Attempt 2: I could argue that this was a deliberate attempt to make Faisal look like a snowman.

Image

Attempt 3: Yes, Faisal is blurry but doesn’t the background look incredible? I love the colour of the sky. It has an effect on me I can’t explain. Image

In my defence, I have really shaky hands.

Is there a sense of community in London?

13 Jan

On Thursday, I watched DIY SOS because I couldn’t find the freeview remote to change the channel. They were renovating the house of a lady who, with 3 children of her own and a full time job, took in her best friend’s 5 children after she and her husband died within the space of 2 years. It was just heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve seen such an incredible woman. She was so so gentle and so so strong. The way she interacted with the children was incredible. She said that she tried not to cry because she knew if started she would never stop. Taking control of your emotions, your heartbreak, your exhaustion, to be able to do all these amazing things-how do you describe something like that?

I didn’t mean for this to be an emotional post, and it’s taken me by surprise how I am still coming to terms with this wonderful lady. The point of this post was actually to mention the end of the episode. It was already a very uplifting episode but the presenter Nick Knowles gave a little speech at the end that felt a bit forced and unnecessary, along the lines of “You see, people say there’s no community in England, but look at how many people came to volunteer to help this family. There is a sense of community in England”. It was a bit suspicious to be honest, a very David Cameron’s Big Society thing to say. My first reaction was “huh?”.  Maybe in greater England but in London? Unless by communities, he means gangs.  To be fair there are ethnic communities, but I see these as being based on ethnicity and not being a Londoner. Don’t get me wrong, I adore London. But a sense of community, or looking out for one another, or even acknowledging each other’s presence, are not things I would associate with London.

Perhaps I am being a bit bleak. I was walking to the station one morning last week, and I see a car has pulled over in front of me. As I walk past, an elderly Indian lady calls me over and offers me a lift to the station. I thank her but refuse, telling her that I enjoy the walk because it makes me feel fresh. The real reason was that all I could imagine was those reconstruction films they show on Crimewatch, with the voiceover saying “she was last seen entering a blue BMW on her way to the station”, with the viewers at home thinking, “why the hell did she enter a stranger’s car?”. And you KNOW that’s what you would have thought.  I’m pretty sure this lady has stopped for me before, but last time with her husband. I definitely, no doubt about it, assume good intentions on her part and think she is lovely for doing so, but its just so uncommon in London that I cant help but be precautious. Isn’t that the sensible thing to do? Or perhaps is it because of people like me that there will never be a sense of community in London?

A very popular name.

11 Jan

In my current role, I am working with a database that has names of people from all over the world. A senior colleague, who has somewhat questionable views, says in an extremely disapproving voice, “There are so many Mohammeds in the world”. 

Irritated by her tone, I decided to provoke her by informing her that I planned to call my son Muhammed.  I told my brother of the exchange.  

 “Why didn’t you just explain to her that the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is so beloved to Muslims?”

Isn’t it annoying when others take the moral high ground?  I guess I could have explained it to her, it may possibly been the right thing to give reasons as to why Muhammed (pbuh) is so beloved. But in certain situations, it just feels so tiresome. In some situations, its not explaining, it’s defending, veering into apologising. I guess it’s different because I know this colleague has pretty scary views in general that she has refused to let me challenge. I wonder if it’s OK to decide whether to fulfill the “challenging negative beliefs of Islam/Muslims” duty on a case by case basis?

Learning Arabic

10 Jan

Even though my parents took me to possibly every Arabic Saturday school in London, as a child I never put any effort at all in learning the language. Though I always worked hard in normal school, I think my brain didn’t respond well to the Arabic alphabet. And so as the years went by, I grew older and my classmates grew younger.  I cried and pleaded and begged my parents to stop this torture. I resorted to writing my mum a tear-stained letter speaking of my heartbreak and anguish. It pulled at her heartstrings and she relented. She swore that she would keep the letter to show me when I eventually regret it. “Unlikely!”, my younger self thought.

When I was 16, I decided to take the Mother Tongue Arabic GCSE, though this was strategic, and scarily careerist for that age, as an extra GCSE always helps. I got an A but that speaks more of the exam than any language skills on my part. I distinctly remember not being able to read some of the questions and guessing instead. I guessed well. Alhamdilah my Arabic is actually not bad at all now, but I was always aware that I needed to sort it out properly sooner or later. Now I think its time. Its amazing. What is a language? Its just words. Its just grammar. It’s just another way to communicate. But If I am Arab, with Arab parents, with a religion that can be only understood in depth in Arabic, then it’s a part of me and a part that is deficient.

I have managed to persuade my mother, who was not at all happy with the idea. She was convinced I would return an Islamic extremist. Apparently the daughter of a friend of a friend went to Syria after finishing her A-levels to study Arabic for a year, with the intention to study Law when she returned. Apparently she same back totally changed and adamant that she did not want to study Law anymore. I reasoned that she was probably rejected from all the universities she applied to and was trying to save face. My mother said that if I really wanted to learn Arabic I could do so right here, seeing as I was surrounded by Arabic speakers. She is right, and I am doing so, but Arabic adventure, you’re in my sights.

 

  

Baby’s 40th

8 Jan

On Saturday I attended my mum’s friend’s daughter’s baby’s 40th (when I told a friend, she asked if the baby was Benjamin Button. Disappointingly, she is not. The 40th is referring to days and not years, usually when the birth of a baby is celebrated in my culture).

 It was super lovely, almost a mini-wedding. It was females only so hijabs were off and the ladies were dressed up. There was a DJ, disco lights, dancing and even the baby disappeared after the first 10 minutes. While we were eating, an invitee, to whom it probably wasn’t made clear that this was really a female only event, walked in with her boyfriend who was proudly carrying a cake box.

 Oh the commotion! There were yells and gasps, then silence, as everyone had stopped eating and was staring at him. The only thing missing was the music turning off as is typical in a soap opera showdown. Maturely, I was crying from laughter. I think we all expected him to understand eventually but the poor guy froze and was waiting for someone tell him what on earth was wrong. Because none of the ladies had hjiabs on, nobody went up to him to explain-It was a very complex situation. 

 Eventually we see the DJ, who was in the kitchen, dramatically sprinting from across the room to inform him. The guy is probably scarred for life and I feel super guilty for not helping out. Can I just say though, it was held in a very pretty church hall, with crosses on the windows and everything and so you see, apart from with the opposite gender, we Muslims have no problem mixing it up.

 

Light from the Middle East: New Photography Exhibition at the V& A Museum – Review

6 Jan

I went to see the new Light from the Middle East exhibition at the V & A museum the other week.

It was ok. No doubt some of the photographs were powerful. There are two photos that I keep on remembering, of two Iranian ladies holding large framed photos of their youthful sons who had died in the Iraq-Iran war. In the description, there is a line that really hit me: while these ladies grow older their sons will always stay the same age. A beautiful but tragic description: Pain was etched onto the faces of these ladies, and it felt like the immense pain of losing their sons will always stay the same too. Also displayed is the photograph that has been used for the British Museum Hajj exhibition. Such a stunningly simple photograph with so much significance.

So yes, some photographs were nice but the general narrative bugged me. It seems they had a checklist of what to include when portraying the Middle East: Violence and blood, people looking very sad, Women oppressed -check, check, check. Apparently this exhibition was supposed to give a fresh perspective, but overall, I don’t really see it. It’s as if some of these photographers were deliberately seeking to confirm these themes. For example, one photo is taken in a wrestling gym in Iran, showing a wrestler posing. The description informs us that not even the breath of a woman is allowed here and that the female photographer indicates this by taking the photo while crouching down (you can see her reflection in the mirror).  Poor Iranian women, aren’t even welcome in a men’s wrestling gym. I don’t feel very outraged. Also, I can’t help but wonder how she was allowed in if they were so strict on that rule.

There are also loads and loads of photos from the Iranian revolution, which is fine, if it was 2009. But we’re in 2013 and we’ve had what, six other revolutions since then? So many incredible photographs came out of the Arab Spring, of empowerment, of fearlessness, of honour,(like this one) and I’m at loss as to why they didn’t include some of them.

 

Until 7 April 2013