Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Have vs. the Have Nots

This article resonated with me right away. Two weeks ago a friend of a friend who lives in Dubai struggled to explain to me why she treats her domestic servants the way that she does. She ended up chalking it to, "you're American, you cannot understand these things." But I had to ask, shouldn't you behave in a moral way regardless of where you are and regardless of the nationality of the person? Is that not the normal way? I would like to believe it is, but the more I hear how servants are treated in Arabic countries, the more I cringe inside. I am sure there are exceptions to every rule, but how did we go from Islam stripping us of our color and race in front of God to considering ourselves in some way racially superior. It absolutely boggles my mind.
This woman, educated and upper middle class, had no notion that what she was doing was morally wrong. She actually said, "She gives me what I want and I give her what she needs-money. I don't owe her anything more than that." But is not a question of owing, it is a question of how you treat someone. I have seen my mother-in-law folding clothes and having tea with her servants. She would never in a million years think to treat someone that way. I do not know of many Libyan families who have servants so I am not sure what standard treatment is, but I pray and hope that we set an example of how it should be.

Looking at Expatriate Women With Suspicion Is Not Doing Us Any Good
Wajeha Al-Huwaider
Program and evaluation analyst at Aramco.
My phone rang late at night; it was a police officer calling from the local police station. I was startled and imagined that disaster was upon us, considering the dark times we are passing through. Before my imagination could take me too far, the policeman informed me sharply that my maid had been arrested while out walking with a male companion. Without elaborating, he requested that I inform her sponsor to come immediately for questioning and to sign a pledge.

Contrary to what the authorities believed, my maid had not run away for a tryst with her lover but was, as is her right, enjoying her weekend off with her husband, who works in a private company. I have often been met with a look of surprise mixed with distaste by those who have learned that my maid has all the freedom enjoyed by the rest of my family. She has a house key to leave when she has to; she has a right to voice her opinion in matters that concern her, and in addition she receives her religious and weekend holidays to spend with whomever she pleases.

I will never forget the look on an acquaintance’s face when she learned of all that I let this person do — a person moreover whom I consider a friend who helps me bear the burden of household chores and bringing up my children.

My companion was exasperated: “Are you not worried that this woman will do something wrong when you allow her to go out?”

I answered: “She is a grown woman of sound mind like you and me. I do not worry about such things because they are her personal business.”

Is it written in the contract that the employer is responsible for each step an employee takes? I am employed by a private company and spend more than half the day at work. Does that give my boss the right to interfere in my private life or to imprison me if I don’t do as he wishes? For five years I have given this woman the keys to my house and she has never let me down because she feels a part of this house and those who live in it.

Why do we only consider “zina” (adultery) unlawful? Why do we forget that what we subject our fellow human beings to — the subjugation and oppression — is also unlawful? We imagine that we are the cream of the crop and that only we know right from wrong. We believe that women from other parts of the world are ill-mannered and lost and don’t know right from wrong. It is from that standpoint that we give ourselves the right to rob them of their existence and take away their basic rights by force when they work for us, whether in the private or public sectors.

There are presently nearly seven million expatriates in the Kingdom and a third of them are women — imprisoned in houses and women’s workshops. Many are abused, verbally or physically, and some are also sexually molested. They are not allowed to plead their cases, and some never leave the house where they work for two whole years or more, depending on the contract. They are not allowed to speak their own language or to talk on the telephone. They work night and day in the house without weekend breaks, annual or sick leave. When they set off on their journey home, many are not paid their wages in full.

Our religion is one of tolerance, but as a nation we are intolerant of each other and of other people. We have built our relationships with others on wariness and suspicion. We have turned our homes and workplaces, our roads and malls, into danger zones.

Every country must have the respect and appreciation of other countries so that its voice may be heard. We are in dire need of gaining that respect and good reputation, both internally and externally. Therefore, we must deal with a distasteful phenomenon and not turn a blind eye to it, as the authorities are wont to do.

Tyranny and oppression must be rejected by every individual within our society so that we can build bridges between ourselves and those resident in our country.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"It's a Libyan thing, you wouldn't understand!"

I thought this was one of the funniest things I have ever read. Evidently it was on some shirts distributed by a Libyan group here in the U.S. It is entitled "Top 20 Reasons you know you're Libyan":
20. Your social existence consists of gurma over shahee
19. You feel 9 months pregnant--you know its bazeen
18. You constantly reply "te bahyyyy....digeega"
17. A wedding isn't complete without playing foonsha and zamzamat
16. Your family is going through depression when they're low on tin and hareesa
15. Your ears perk when you hear the words tamam, meeya meeya, and kharaf
14. You are somehow related to or know every other libyan
13. You do something wrong, the first thing that comes to your mind is
taya7 sa3dek
12. You're on vacation, you cook macaroona jarya in your hotel room
11. Couscous and macaroona are common meals in your home
10. You've had more than your share of inharak aswid
9. You do something wrong, your parents threaten that they'll send you back to libya
8. you're always found with your trusty darbooka (or turn everything
into one)
7. you know what a felga is
6. you're talking to libya and the whole street heard your conversation...aloooo libya
5. everything you do is classified as 3abe
4. you say ga3miz for sit
3. you're traumatized everytime you see a 3asaa, shibshib, or tubu
2. your mother can throw a shibshib farther than troy aikman can throw a football
1. you're wearing this shirt....saga3 3alaik!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Unhushed Whispers

There are pros and cons to living in any country, but as I have said before I feel blessed to have been born and raised in the USA. In most things, I would say that we have it infinitely easier than many parts of the world. However, there is one thing which seems to rear its ugly head in hushed tones: the difficulty of finding a suitable match in the U.S. as an Arab American woman. You would think that as big as the U.S. is, there really would be no trouble meeting someone nice who shares many of the same qualities as you. I am here to tell you that it is absolutely impossible for an Arab American girl to find someone like that (lol or as close to impossible as can be). I have friends who are Egyptian, Lebanese, Libyan, etc., all of whom have the same problem. Women generally have a hard time finding ANY decent man, let alone an Arabic/Muslim one. As horrors abound, this problem is getting worse the older my friends get. As I see it, they have two choices—to wait it out and hope for the magic of “naseeb” or to just get married for the sake of marriage (i.e. biological time bomb, getting clubbed by the cultural heavyweights, i.e. female family members). My friends have chosen to wait. So there you have it, but wait there are specific things my friends are looking for so it may prove enlightening to expound upon, as we are the test generation of first generation immigrants-generally the children of political dissidents as opposed to economic immigrants.
Did you know that between 60-80% of the Arab Americans who live in the U.S. are Christian? Most Americans are completely ignorant of this fact, but female Arab American Muslims are not. Right away, the odds are stacked against them, at least in terms of finding a potential mate. So then you look at what’s left. There are three types of Arabic Muslim men in the US. The first is the one who has become a born-again Muslim (please see born-again Christian for reference if confused), probably even more devout following September 11th. These generally are a no-no, unless the female is on the same level, which my friends are not. There is something beautiful in watching someone who has found true inner peace, but I don’t find that is usually the case. I see it more as a reactive stance following the portrayal of Arabs after 9/11.
The second type of Arabic man is the one who has totally abandoned their culture/religion. Instead of Mohammed, he has become a Mike and somehow metamorphasized into a multi-cultural individual who has miraculously gained an extra 50% of some European culture (please read “white”) which he thinks will gain him favor with a few select bigoted societal hounds or money makers. Or when asked what religion he is, will reply half because now all of a sudden a parent has come out of the woodwork, having been born into a Judeo-Christian household. Or the kind that believe that to be “American”, you need to get drunk off you’re a** every night, sleep with as many different girls as you can crowd unto your calendar, litter your sentences with as many profanities as possible and of course pretend not to know a word of your native tongue because that is not cool. I despise these men—can you tell. Definitely not marriage material for anything other than trash.
Now there is a third type, but it is extremely rare. It is the wasti—the Arab American man who has been able to come to terms with both his original culture/religion, while also being able to live in harmony with the American one. This is the ultimate find, one that none of my friends have been able to locate thus far. I will not spend further time on this elusive man as I have met very few who embody these characteristics.
Now for myself, I married an FOB (if you need a translation, please bypass this section-jk)—A Libyan straight out of Libya. Now normally this could turn into a contentious relationship, me being the UNCONVENTIONAL me that I am and him being a Libyan through and through, but we have managed to make it work for almost 7 years (sometimes with contention). I think that an FOB is only a good option if he is open minded (chuckle, chuckle, because the definition of open minded to me as opposed to Arabs I have met is extremely different. Open minded to me speaks volumes on tolerance, being non-judgmental etc.; others MAY perceive it as something negative, i.e. open minded girls are “easy” girls. Please take note if, as a women, you find yourself in a conversation with an Arab man, please do not describe yourself as OPEN MINDED or run if he says he is looking for an OPEN MINDED girl, because you are probably not speaking the same language. Here’s some layman’s math to make it crystal clear: OPEN MINDED = OPENS LEGS). But there is a major problem with the FOBs; something which is not mentioned as often as it should be; we have a large number of Arabic men who prey on kind hearted women so that they can achieve their dream of one day owning a blue passport; a dream that includes 5 years of a marriage full of lies. Upon achieving the status of divorce, he can run back to his homeland and marry a woman 10 years younger than him. Unfortunately, I have two friends who are divorced because of this. So, how do you trust a foreigner with your heart? I don’t know if you can. My friends will never think about marrying an Arab who does not already have a Green card or US Passport. Call it what you will, but it is definitely a safeguard for these women, as we are witnessing more and more duping by Arab FOBs.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Price We Pay

As a culture, we tend to ignore the strength women bring to our society and devalue their importance. We are more than our wombs. Further, our patriarchal society deems women as second class citizens. There are many that refute this, so let me lay out the proof:

Traveling in Libya, you cannot but help note the current fad of "hisham." This is where women feel the need to cover the hair to be looked upon as acceptable. To me this has become a blight on the face of Libya. I have the utmost respect for women that choose to become mithajba in the true sense of the word. But the streets of Libya are a farce for all to see. Many of our shabab require a women to have some sort of covering on their hair to even be accepted as marriageable. What happened to the true meaning of embracing your farad. In order to enter marriage you must perpetrate a sham. How is this helping our society?

I find the notion of women's homes in Libya pretty horrible. For those who are unaware of them, they are where the Libyans choose to place women they would deem "bad seeds." A Libyan family can choose to put their trouble making daughters there because "out of mind out of sight." These would include women who have children out of wedlock, as well as women who may seek more independence. This, in effect, becomes a prison for these women. The women are not released unless their family changes their mind or a marriage match is found. Some of these women have been raped, but again the society is unforgiving. This can be a dream come true for the shabab who would like to marry but find it financially impossible. These women do not have a choice.

Abuse is persistent in our society. I have seen many cases where women bear the marks of beatings from their husband or their fathers. This is not a suitable topic for conversation at any point. Rape victims are either pressured to marry their rapists or placed in a women's home. I am often amazed at our aptitude for silence and denial when it comes to women and their suffering.

As a Libyan women, our children are not allowed to take Libyan citizenship. Further, in the case of a foreign women, her husband can choose to take her children away from her.

I am not trying to bash Libyans for much of what I have written can be held as truth in other Arab countries. I choose to write what I know and how I feel especially as a woman. And I write because as a Libyan, I know Libya and Libyans.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rebellion runs in my blood

My mother was the result of an unlikely marriage--one between an Italian and a Libyan. To put it in perspective, it would be like two hostile cultures coming together. In the early 1920's my grandmother came to Libya with her family. My understanding is that they settled in Garabaldi. From there, they ended up moving to Crispi, the little Italian village near Garara (Misurata). Somehow, my grandparents came to know each other and eventually marry, despite strong opposition between both families. The opposition was so strong on the Libyan side that the children of this marriage clung to their maternal side to find acceptance. At those times, it was not easy to be the child of an Italian in Libya. The Italians had, like all conquerors, perpetrated genocide amongst the Libyans. The children were teased and thrown rocks at and called dirty Italians. My grandmother did not mix within the Libyan culture--she kept to her own kind. Part of the reason was the animosity between the two cultures, and part is a language barrier as my grandmother did not speak Arabic. By all accounts, she was a gentle, extremely overprotective parent. I have to wonder if the overprotectiveness was only due to the fact that she lived in Libya. Italian was the only language spoken in my mother's home growing up, and yet she tried her best to help her children fit in, at least when it came to religion. Libya is a Muslim country and my grandmother had been raised a strict Catholic. Her marriage would not have been recognised by the Catholic church, so I wonder what she must have felt, living in sin so to speak. Remember, this would have been during WWII where societal restraints were strictly dictated. And yet, she loved my grandfather enough to marry him. And she loved him enough to raise his children to be Muslim. I often wonder how she must have felt to bring them up in a religion that was not her own, and something apart from everything she was indoctrinated to. Unlike many foreigners who marry Libyans, she never converted. Further, I know that my grandfather asked her on her deathbed and she refused. And yet, she ensured her children performed salat, and fasted and learned Quran. My mother and her siblings have never questioned their faith, which I find amazing. My grandmother passed away in 1969, which was a blessing in disguise. For in 1970, all the Italians were order to leave Libya with basically what they could carry on their backs. Their property was repatriated by the Libyan government. They arrived in Italy with nothing, having to rebuild from scratch. I think that watching her family, the only ones she had to lean on get thrown out, would have torn her apart. I am very glad that she did not witness that. Moving away from that, I am surprised at how much ordinary Libyans like Italy and Italians, or want to be like them. I believe that many of our shabab pretend to be Italian overseas because it comes a bit natural for them (with the lingo being made up of so many Italian words). I find it interesting that Arabs build this affinity with the culture that colonized them. And yet, as Libyans we glorify the resistance and ensure that each successive generation is tasked with this. Is this because we no longer have any warriors left?

Friday, January 26, 2007


Well I suppose I should begin by introducing myself and letting you get to know me. My name is Jumana and I am 27 years old. I currently reside in Virginia, along with my favorite two pets or pests you decide (i have a husband and a four year old son). They are both handfuls of extreme Libyanness and they are so alike it is oftentimes scary. I decided to become a blogger because I could not help myself. I am constantly reading/researching online and every once in a while I come up with a brilliant phrase that I will never be able to remember come the morning. It is my curse--the curse of the literary one night stand. So instead, I choose to immotalize my one nights stands here; now that would not be enough to fill a page, so there will be tons of randomness interspersed throughout. But enough about that...........there is so much to say.
I am the mix that is somewhat unenviable--the child of Arabs who made their way to the West. We are labelled as Westernized Arabs by those who don't know any better; "those" being mainly the diehards who love to say that with a sneer on their face. I consider myself a Libyanized American; someone who thanks God that her parents had the foresight to raise her in the USA, and yet invariably finds herself drawn to anything regarding Libya. There is a part of me that feels drawn to my roots and yet Libya is as alien to me as nothing else could possibly be. It is a soul wrenching feeling that few get to experience. Imagine living your entire life served up the same sidedish (Libya) and then getting to experience it as the main meal. All you can think is, "This is unpalatable." So invariably I get labeled a snob, which I think is pretty far off the mark. But I know that I am not alone, as I have met others like me, although relatively few and far between. I would like to know how it is that I am filled with such pride over ancestry and yet I feel at home most in the cities the Libyans have long since abandoned. I feel like a total stranger in the medina surrounded by living and breathing people. And yet, I will never feel 100% like an American because my relatively recent blood lines remain in Libya. I am the eternal nomad, constantly searching for sustenance and moving on so maybe I am more like my ancestor's than I think.