"Long Lost Best Friend,
We loved that everyone knew, the snide remarks about how inseparable we were. Together we set fashion trends and challenged the older boys to foosball. We laughed like the world was ours.
I stood up to the middle-school rumor mill for you. You taught me a few things I never learned from my mother.
We exchanged tongues: anteem, mejor amiga; puta, sharmoota. Reggaeton became my favorite genre of music.
We held each other up through bad days and breakups.
When it was time to go, we cried. We watched sisterhood of the travelling pants and created a travelling notebook.
We promised bridesmaids, godmothers, and forever.
The new adjustment was hard for you, and I knew you weren’t really happy. I could tell each time we talked.
But the letters and skype calls slowly faded into distance.
And when we came back, you were not the same. Your eyes were not the same. You didn’t laugh the same. I remember feeling a sense of deep loss upon the realization that things would not be returning to how they once were.
Then, last night, we spoke. Ten long years and several best friends later.
Your eyes were the same. You laughed the same. You spoke with the same familiar accent and intonation, like old jingles my ears could never forget despite the decade they spent deaf to them. It brought me an unexpected pleasure. And sadness.
You got married.
I got engaged.
You told me how your family was shocked when they saw the photos.
My fiancé was once your brother’s closest friend. One of the guys we played foosball with.
The other one is dead.
You told me your heart broke when you heard the news.
I told you mine did too.
We remembered our old math teacher, and the day that he told us we would only become adults when our friends started dying.
I asked about your brother.
You told me his wedding is in a few months. I remembered how much I missed your family.
As I sit here now I try to recall the emotions I once associated with that place. Home, was what we called it – though now I know that no such place exists, as both moments and people are fleeting.
Long Lost Best Friend, you were my first.
My first whiff of true friendship. My first taste of loss.
The first time I learned that fires don’t need to be stifled to cease blazing. Eventually, they just do.
And when the mention of your name no longer stung, I learned that time heals everything.
I write this at work, a testament to how life eventually castrates us all. Our passions take a backseat to practicality and reason. Leaving us to look back at even the days that had us teary-eyed and broken, as ones of grandeur and glory.
I miss you.
Like every other brick that made up the shelter I couldn’t carry with me through pages of one chapter to another. Always sick for the last one, but also all the ones before it.
And it was great to hear your voice.
With loving memories,
"A dedication to all of my UDH/Aramco people <3"
TCK Problem of the day: Loneliness.
No one ever talks about how lonely it is to be a wanderer. A nomad. A traveler. A wanderluster who fills out her dreams by traveling the world. Or the girl who dreams of having a home, a real home with a puppy, marks on the walls showing how tall she's grown over the years, neighbors she grew up with, and her cousins just a 10 minute drive away. Or for the girl who dreams of both.
No one talks about it. But take it from me, it's ridiculous how lonely it can be.
What's the point of allowing your soul to fall in love with another if you know you will be saying goodbye in a year's time? Or two years time? You do it once, no problem. You do it twice, no problem. You do it even three times, no problem. But eventually after your heart is broken enough, you take caution, picking and choosing between allowing life to make you lonely or taking the initiative, and making yourself lonely on your own.
What horrible logic right? I mean, really... To play devil's advocate, everyone dies eventually right, so goodbyes are inevitable? So why make any relationships at all then, with this logic? No. It's not like that. It's definite. It's sooner. It's as if that expiry date is painted on their forehead, ticking like a bomb. Tick. Tock. Sometimes you move just for a year, other times for longer, but usually TCK's know how long they'll be staying in one place for. The shorter the time, the harder it is to really open up, because you know it's coming to an end soon. You learn from previous heartbreaks and heartaches that goodbye isn't really as easy as it sounds.
And I'm not necessarily talking about love in a romantic sense. TCK's will be able to relate. How many of you have different groups of best friends from each of the different places you've lived? I do. Some of them, I'm no longer in touch with (most of them, I should say...). The others, who think it is worth spending time to keep in touch with me, I haven't seen for a long time. Some just a few days. Others, a few months. Majority of others, a few years... Can you imagine how lonely it is to allow your soul to open, meet, find peace in the presence of another, and then be pushed away from that person because of distance? Even if you promise each other to stay in touch, is it really the same finding a time that suits you both or all to Skype for an hour, rather than walking right to them at any given moment that you need them?! Take it from me: it's not.
Similarly, it sucks to move, find a group of friends, say goodbye to them, and watch them all grow without you. Watch them make memories without you. Watch them no longer need you. As a TCK, you're just a bird. A bird that just flies away, even when sometimes you wish you could stay.
You said goodbye to one person, and it sucked. I've said goodbye to hundreds (perhaps 50 or so that I would say really mattered). Other TCK's, maybe even more. I always tell myself, and them, that it's not goodbye.. it's just see you later! And if both people are willing to and able to put in the effort, yes, this is true, but when you're a TCK you know that life isn't a fairy tale. People grow up. People move on. People gain experiences without you, friendships blossom with others, and you're no longer their best friend even if they're still yours.
I've watched this happen so many times. To me, and to many of my other TCK friends. It sucks.
You're in a constant loop of being long distance. You're in a long distance relationship with the person you love with all your heart, but only get to see once a year (if that!) because he/she lives (literally) on the other side of the world. You're in multiple long distance friendships with people you don't know when. or if, you'll see see again. You may even be, like me, in long distance families where everyone picks their favourite continent and moves - you're lucky if you're able to gather everyone (even if it's just a few siblings!) to meet for a holiday.
Being a TCK is glamorous. It's magical. I'm grateful. But please take it from me, it can be one of the most isolating and lonely lifestyles. It's no wonder there is such a high correlation between being a TCK and rates of depression (google it). Goodbyes suck, guys, even when they're just "see you later".
That all said... I wouldn't trade this life for the world. Even if it's filled with constant goodbyes, loneliness, and aching for one more hug from that special person who is always so far away, "how lucky am I to have [people] that make saying goodbye so hard?"
Written at a time when I felt homesick and missed a lot of the wonderful people I met in my life (though officially published today). Inspired by me wishing there were 100 of me, so I could be with all the people I love, all at the same time. It's a big world, distance wise, and while social media/Skype really helps, it just isn't the same as holding your S.O.'s, best friend's, or family member's hand. I wanted this piece to be real, and to be raw. I know a lot of it sounds negative, but... It's reality. And this piece is not meant to be overly negative. I am eternally grateful for my life, the opportunities I've had, the places I've visited, the people I have met. I just wish I would never have to say goodbye to any of them. My heart is certainly big enough for them all! A special shout out to chuboo (you know who you are!) - there is no where I wish I rather was than with you.
Exactly 1 year ago today, I woke up, tried on about 10 different outfits, and walked outside for the first time as officially a hijabi.
I was terrified.
What would people think? Worse, what would people say to me? Would those who know me treat me differently? Would strangers judge me? Would I be on the receiving end of derogatory comments from passerby's? Am I really brave enough to do this? Would I still feel beautiful? Would I feel like myself? Am I making a mistake? These are just some of the questions that were running laps in my mind, constantly, endlessly.
It was summer break. June 16, 2015. I was on my college's campus in Carlisle, Pennsylvania doing research with a professor and a fellow student/friend. There weren't too many other students on campus at the time - maybe 10 or so, that I knew of. A lot of planning went into that day.
Since I was much younger, I knew that I wanted to wear the hijab someday, to fulfill my duties as a Musliminah. I would watch constantly hijab tutorials by Dina Tokio and Nura Afia (my two favourite YouTubers) even though I wasn't hijabi. That "someday" was a distant time, though, after I had gotten married, had a few children, and was probably in my late 30's or 40's. There were a few reasons for this. For one, I was scared how people would react to me making that decision, so I would just put it off until I had the courage. Another reason is that it's honestly all I've ever known from my own family: my own mother didn't start wearing it on a regular basis until well into her adulthood, and only one of my aunts wears it regularly (simply because the hijab, in this sense, isn't as common in Pakistan: it is much more common to loosely toss your duputa (loose shawl) over your hair when you are in a conservative area or during the adhan/prayer times). The only people I really knew who wear the hijab, in this sense, were a couple of friends who had worn it since childhood, and some of my friend's mother's. Another reason is because I wanted to become the perfect Muslim woman before I took on such a (what I thought was) such a huge responsibility of representing ALL Muslims.
I was inspired to change my mind, and wear the hijab as soon as I felt ready by my beautiful friend Salam. I met her when I moved back to Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia in 2007, and we instantly hit it off and became friends. I really adore(d) her. I was honestly shocked (in the best way possible) though when I saw her new profile picture on Facebook: her in a hijab, as an official hijabi! She was the first person I knew of who made this decision as an adult (as I said previously, most of the other people I knew who were hijabi had been wearing it since around middle school). I felt so proud of her. Not because she was wearing the hijab or becoming more pious, but rather because she was brave enough to know what she wanted and to be able to do that in post 9/11 Texas. I don't know, maybe other people don't really see how significant this really is, but to me it was such a brave, courageous act of my friend. It was this event that really inspired me, and was the spark that lit my flame.
Honestly, I also wanted to show the world what your sane, normal, average Muslim is like. Not ISIS. (See my reflection though - I've kind of changed my mind about this. While I am a representation of your everyday Muslim, I don't like having that burden. Can't I just represent me and not an entire faith group?)
During my college career, I became good friends with two girls: Samah, an exchange student from (if I remember correctly) Jordan, and Iman, both of whom were the only hijabi students on our college campus during the time they were here. I thought that was so brave of them both... to stand out among 2,500 other students: to be the only hijabi in our whole school. After seeing their bravery as well, I realized that if they can do it, maybe I can too. Their bravery continued to add fuel to my flame.
Februaryish, 2015: I woke up one day and realized that whether I'm ready or not, this is something I want to do. I want to be a hijabi. I decided to wait until the summer, because I felt that if I just started wearing it randomly in the middle of the semester, I would feel way too self-conscious in my small classes. I was already almost always the sole minority/POC in my classes - I didn't want to further emphasize that. I was scared, though, that I might chicken out between February and summer time. I learned something from my 101 social psychology class: if you tell others of your commitment to something, you are less likely to break that commitment. Hence why people have elaborate wedding ceremonies with hundreds of guests: it makes them, psychologically, less prone to being unfaithful because they took these oaths in front of so many others. Anyways, based on that, I decided I should tell someone my little revelation, because if I told someone then I would be less likely to chicken out later. I told two of my closest friends. Then, I told my colleagues at my school's office of religious life. Then, I told some of my other close friends. Then, I told Iman, and told her how her courage inspired me as well. Eventually, maybe 2 weeks before I began wearing it, I told my family too.
Between February and June, I went on a hijab shopping spree, and ordered 20 or 30 scarves from (my now favourite) online hijab store, www.hearthijab.co.uk. I also ordered a bunch of "hijab-friendly" clothing, ie. dresses, full sleeved shirts, skirts, and so forth. I knew the more effort and money I put into this, the less likely I would be to chicken out.
When Ramadan was finally around the corner in June, I knew I couldn't push this off much more. If I was going to start wearing the hijab, now was the best time. About a week (or perhaps less) before the date I had promised myself I would start wearing the hijab, I went through all my thousands of Facebook photos, untagging myself. I figured this would be more convenient for me than creating a whole new profile. I also went through my Instagram and deleted all my selfies where my hair was showing. It was as tedious as it sounds, but more-so than that, it was really hard. I felt like I was almost murdering my identity by untagging myself from all those photos... This is who I was/this is who I am. Why do I have to hide it? Those who know me well know I am big on self-reflection. I absolutely LOVE looking through old photos and seeing how I have changed, both physically and as a person. Therefore, to be untagging myself/deleting photos and burying my entire past was really, really difficult for me. It made me second guess my decision. I kept asking myself, am I really ready for this?
After spending hours doing that, when I was finally finished, I cried. I was scared. I felt vulnerable. I felt confused. I messaged someone close to me and just started typing all my feelings out without really thinking about what I was saying. I eventually came to the conclusion that I was like a caterpillar in the process of building her cocoon. I only knew life as a caterpillar before, and yet I was undergoing a self-transformation, not knowing what would happen after my metamorphosis, but hoping for the best.
Then, the day I decided I would become hijabi came around. My friends were eagerly waiting for me to wake up so they could help me pick my outfit. And guess what? I chickened out. I woke up, and said nope. Not today. I can't do it today. Tomorrow.
Then, tomorrow came and I told myself I can't push this anymore. It's now or it's never. So I tried on 10 different outfits, none of which I felt like myself in, but eventually just decided to go with jeans, an orangey cardigany thing, a full sleeved white shirt, and a pink scarf. My friends had helped me pick it out. I felt strange. I really just didn't feel like ME. But then, after staring at myself for about 5 minutes, I decided that butterflies don't feel like "me" right when they open their wings for the first time either. I decided to just go with it and see what happens. If I really, really didn't have a good experience, I would just take it off...
I walked outside. My heart POUNDING. I was SO nervous. I was scared what people would say. Carlisle isn't exactly known to be diverse... I was scared someone may say something mean to me. I was scared people would treat me differently. I was scared of so many things. I walked from factory (my dorm/apartment complex) to Kaufman (the psychology building at my college), which was maybe a 5 minute walk. It was the scariest 5 minute walk of my life, even though no one even saw me, haha. When I got there, I quickly unlocked my room, ran in and shut the door. Phew. I survived. Then, instead of doing my work (sorry Professor Kingston!) I smiled. I laughed to myself. I danced. I rejoiced. I took a hundred and one selfies, sent a bunch of snapchats, and I felt really proud of myself. I did it. I walked outside as a hijabi!
The walk back was equally scary, but I felt more confident. I felt more me. The next day, I saw some of my friends, and they kept telling me how beautiful I looked. I believed them. It took me about 2 weeks to honestly, really start feeling like ME with the hijab on, but everyday was easier and easier. I realized that all my worries, for the most part, were bogus. Everyone was so nice to me! When school started again in the fall, people I had never spoken to before would come up to me and tell me that they support me and my choice, that they love my new change, that they think I look beautiful, and so worth.
One really memorable moment for me was about 2 weeks after I started wearing the hijab, I went out for brunch with my friend. We went to a diner somewhere really in town (ie. not right next to the college I study at). I was still super self conscious at the time. An old man was looking at me for a while. I assumed the worst. Eventually, he said "Excuse me?" and my heart raced.. I thought he would say a string of nasty comments (I know - this was my OWN bias) about me, Islam, how I was oppressed, or so forth. But instead, he said, "You have a beautiful smile." It is, to this date, the sweetest, most memorable compliment anyone has ever given to me. It wasn't just a compliment; it was a realization that while I was so worried about how others would judge me, I was actually judging them.
Today marks one year from that day, and I couldn't be more proud of myself. I have learned so much through this year, and I want to share some of my reflections below.
1. Hijabis aren't perfect, nor do they have to be.
In the Muslim community, everyone holds hijabis up to a higher standard than they do regular folk. Hijabis are seen as these angelic individuals who are supposed to be PERFECT, because they are the most visible representation of Islam and Muslims. They're absolutely not allowed to make any mistakes. This is something that really kept me from wearing the hijab and scared me a lot when I started wearing it. I'm. Not. Perfect. As much as I wish I was something else (mermaid, please), I'm human. All hijabis are! And humans make mistakes, and I wish the Muslim community would stop holding hijabis at a higher standing.
An example of this is, on 9gag someone posted a photo of a woman breastfeeding her baby. In the comments section, everyone was saying how disgusting this is and how she should cover up, etc. Baffled (um... how is showing off one's breasts for advertising a men's cologne relevant OR necessary, whereas feeding your child totally is), I commented something like, "I don't see what's wrong with this," only to receive a ton of "you're a hijabi, you should know better!" replies. Wut.
2. Hijabis shouldn't be responsible to represent anyone except themselves.
Being a hijabi means you are automatically, visibly, a representation of "Islam", of "Muslims". This is only so because we, as societies, place such emphasis on this. We, as humans, create schemas and cognitive maps; stereotypes. If we could all stop though, and realize that an individual doesn't represent anyone but themselves (in all senses of this), that'd be great. That being said, it is important that we all realize that we might be the only X a person knows. For example, I might be the only Muslim someone knows... And therefore, it is, in a way, my duty to represent my faith well. Simply because our minds are built that way.
3. People are curious.
While in Carlisle, I was stared at a lot. I would often joke and say that I feel like a zoo animal. Initially, it would really annoy me, because it would just constantly remind me of that I'm a minority (I was one of two hijabis at Dickinson during the past year). Then, I realized that most people are just curious. Maybe they haven't seen too many people like me, or any at all. Now, when I find someone (curiously) staring, I smile at them.
My school's Muslim Students Association did an event, basically Hijabi for a Day. About 20ish girls participated, which was simply amazing. People are curious and they want to know more. And that's honestly all I can ask for. For people, Muslim and non-Muslim, to continue learning about each other's faiths, cultures, backgrounds, and so forth to really create a deeper understanding of one another.
4. The good outweighs the bad.
While some nasty things have been said to me since I became a hijabi (terrorist, for example...), the good totally outweighs the bad. So many more sweet, encouraging, and kind remarks have been made than nasty ones. Like, exponentially more. It is in our nature to remember the bad things and forget the good, but I make an effort to be conscious of that mental fallacy.
5. You could be the most shiny, deepest red apple in the world, and there would still be people who hate you.
What I mean by this is that, no matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn't approve. There will always be someone who thinks that I am oppressed and don't realize it (seriously guys, I know I have 3 older brothers and a father, but really... no one forced me into this. In fact, my parents often tell me that if I don't feel comfortable or if I fear for my safety, I can and should take off my scarf). There will always be someone who thinks that I am a "bad hijabi" because my jeans are too tight, 2 strands of my hair are showing, I'm wearing any colour but black, I'm showing my face (so scandalous, I know), or so forth. I've learned that there's no point trying to please everyone else: you should simply please yourself. Do what makes you happy. Be comfortable in your own skin. Forget the haters, because they will always be there, no matter what you do.
6. Hijab means something different to everyone, and that's okay.
My hijab is my hijab. I follow many different hijabi women on social media, such as Dina Tokio and Nura Afia. To be honest, these two women played a huge role as well in my desicion to become hijabi, because they showed me you could be modest and fashionable. Modest, and yet still beautiful. Getting back on point, if you go to either of their social media accounts, you will always find at least one person saying, "This is not hijab!" or "Take off your hijab if you want to wear jeans!" or "Turban style is for sluts". And usually, that person is either a man, or a woman who isn't even wearing a hijab at all, which seems a bit hypocritical. What a hijab is to ME may not be a hijab to a Bedouin in the Arabian desert. That doesn't matter, because we are all on our own journey. To someone, my story may sound silly (it's just a piece of clothing after all... what's the big deal? Just put it on and get over it), but to me, it was a huge decision. So to belittle me by saying that I'm not actually hijabi if I'm not wearing a black burkha with a niqaab (yes, this has been said to me) is ridiculous. Similarly, it's unfair and ridiculous to judge anyone else.
And to tell someone to take off their hijab because something seems wrong to them is so wrong. Assuming you are a Muslim who believes the hijab is mandatory, who are you to tell someone who is making an effort to take it off? That. Is. So. Wrong.
7. Being hijabi does not mean being passive.
I honestly always thought of being hijabi as somewhat being passive. You have to be gentle. You have to watch what you say. You have to be angelic. That is until I moved to Jordan and met a lot of badass hijabis and realized, "Oh hell no! Being hijabi does not mean that at all!" While yes, as a MUSLIM (not as a hijabi, but as a muslim), you are required to be kind to others, being hijabi does not make you oppressed. Or passive. Fight for your rights. Fight for justice. Be smart. Be loud. Be you.
8. The hijab was my choice but maybe not her's.
A lot of girls are forced to wear the hijab by either their family members, the law, or the culture they live in. This. Is. Wrong. When will we as human beings allow women to make choices for themselves, especially in how they dress? Whether they want to wear a pant suit to work instead of a pencil skirt, a hijab instead of done up locks, a burkini instead of a bikini, or a bikini instead of a burkini, I really do not believe that it is anyone's decision but the woman's herself!
I know one person who was forced to wear the hijab by her parents. She would take it off at any chance she got. Assuming the parents wanted her to wear it for religious reasons, what effect does this really have? By forcing her to wear it, they only pushed her away from her faith instead of to it, which is what often happens to girls who are forced into this.
Seriously. A woman should be able to wear what she wants, instead of society forcing anything upon her. I'm looking at you too, Western World, when I say this... For example, if you go to the beach and see a girl wearing anything but a bikini or one piece, she's made fun of and shamed. Let's just let everyone chose, and I mean really chose, what they want to wear instead of forcing anything upon them, whether that be nakedness or being covered up.
9. The hijab is, indeed, a feminist statement.
10. The only person who can define me is me.
Yes, I am a hijabi, but I am so much more than that. I am Ayesha. Zahir. Solaiman. A piece of clothing I wear on my head, for my own personal reasons, does not and should not affect anyone else. Someone may think I am oppressed, or passive, or this, or that because of my hijab, but that doesn't and will not define me. I am the only one who can define myself, and my hijab is a way for me to do that, and I will continue challenging views of those who tell me otherwise.
I wanted to show the world what your normal, average Muslim is like. The world is a big place, and I doubt I can really make that much of a difference. But I believe in the butterfly effect, and even if I change one person's perspective of what it means to be a Muslim, Hijabi woman, then I have succeeded. And honestly, I think I have, because I showed myself what that means by becoming one.
What is it really like to live in small town Pennsylvania?
I spent the past four years in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I often visited Hershey ("The sweetest place on earth") and Harrisburg. I am currently being a typical TCK and spending the summer traveling through other places I've called home before, before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the fall to work on my Master's and Educational Specialist degrees in School Psychology at Temple University!
So, what is it really like to live in small town Pennsylvania, from the perspective of a Desi, Muslim international student?
1. It's diverse-ish.
If you are not Caucasian or African American, you may find yourself being the only person from _____. Or, if you're lucky, you may be able to find a small community of people either from the same country as you, or from the same geographic background ("South Asia" in general, "Middle East" in general, "North Africa" in general, etc). Likely, you'll be able to find a restaurant from your geographic background either in your town, or a few towns over. If not, most likely you can in one of the bigger cities such as Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. You won't be the only minority, but you may have some trouble finding a larger community from your background in these small towns. Take advantage of that: befriend folks from different backgrounds than your own! This will help you have a better understanding of them, and them of you. It'll make the world a better place, one friendship at a time.
2. People are friendly!
I'm a brown, Muslim, hijabi woman. Arguably one of the most hated groups of people in the United States at the moment. Nevertheless, people (apart from a few anomalies) are really friendly! You may receive some curious stares and odd questions ("Do you ride camels to school in Saudi Arabia?" umm of course!), and unfortunately sometimes some racist remarks, but honestly... for the most part, people are very, very friendly, welcoming and nice!
3. There isn't much to do.
There isn't much to do in these small towns... But then again, there is always something going on nearby. If you live in Carlisle, you can go to a cool concert down in Hershey, for example. Or to Hershey Park. Or Chocolate World. If you're looking to go a bit farther, the big cities like Philadelphia, New York, D.C., and so forth are just a train journey away. You get to have a nice, cozy home with the whole world at your backyard.
4. You need to be able to drive.
The public transportation is seriously lacking. Seriously. You'll need a car to be able to get to the train stations, bus stops, and so forth. It will be really convenient if you have a car for daily things like grocery shopping too. If you're in a bigger city, it's not as bad, but small town Pennsylvania... You also will probably have trouble finding a cab unless you call one.
5. It's beautiful.
You get to have a nice, cozy home with the whole world at your backyard. Literally. You live in a beautifully mountainous, green place with all the major cities near by. It's kind of the best of both worlds.
What is it really like to live in Islamabad, Pakistan?
The main thing I learned from writing my WIIRL series is that it is actually really hard to explain what it is like to live in a whole country. For one, I haven't lived in every single city in any of the places I've mentioned, and therefore it would be unfair to generalize the whole country. For example, while I imagine living in Rome and Milan are very similar, living in Islamabad versus a village in rural, northern Pakistan is extremely different; It would be unfair to lump both experiences into one post, especially if I have no experience with the latter. Therefore, for my final two posts, I will be focusing on the particular places I have lived within these two countries: Islamabad, Pakistan and Pennsylvania, USA, rather than the countries as a whole.
So, what is it really like to live in Islamabad, Pakistan?
1. It's changing rapidly
I hate the word "third world country" for various reasons, and while Pakistan is technically one, I'd prefer to call it a baby country. Pakistan was 'born' in 1947. Prior to 1947, it was a part of one greater nation state known simply as "India" (which was comprised of modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). While people obviously lived in "Pakistan" before 1947 and it was filled with immense culture from centuries ago including, but not limited to, the Indus Valley Civilization, it was not "Pakistan" as it is known today. The government was completely different, for example.
Pakistan is a baby country, and just like real, human babies, it is growing and improving at an exponential rate. For example, Pakistan is of the world's fastest growing economies in whole world! Just within the past 10 years I have seen Islamabad change and grow so much. The city is developing, with better public transportation, parks, malls, entertainment areas, and so much more. I'll get into this within the different sections below.
Pakistani, and Islamabadi, culture continues to evolve at a rapid rate. One example of this is language. Urdu and English are both (or were?) the official languages of Pakistan. While many people learned English at school, it was not really commonly spoken otherwise. Now, English is much more widely used there. So much so that the government is planning to make Urdu the sole official language, so that this beautiful language is not forgotten. Pakistan is broken up into various regions, where different dialects are spoken. Islamabad is a melting pot of those different regions. Other than English and Urdu, there are many languages spoken in Islamabad including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, and more.
As more Afghan refugees come to Pakistan and Islamabad, the more widely spoken Pashto becomes as well, which I think is beautiful.
Fashion is constantly changing all over the world, Islamabad included. When I would visit Islamabad as a child, all adult women would wear colourful shalwar-kameez (traditional clothing). It would be very, very rare to see an adult woman wearing skinny jeans, a sleeveless top, or Western clothing in general. It would also be relatively uncommon to see a woman wearing a full on burkha/niqaab... The last time I visited, Summer of 2015, I noticed that Western fashion is becoming more and more normal in Islamabad. Both branded Western stores such as Berksha and generic stores are available to shop in and purchase clothes you would not have seen here 20 years ago.
That said, Pakistani fashion is also growing rapidly. Before, if you wanted new (traditional) clothing, you would go to an un-stitched clothing store where you would buy cloth. Then, you would either stitch it yourself, or more commonly, give your measurements to a tailor who would stitch it for you. Now, on the other hand, there are so many branded, designer Pakistani clothing stores!
There are also many more women in Islamabad wearing a full on black burkha with a niqaab (as seen in a lot of the Gulf regions of the Middle East). Maybe I just never noticed before, but this is something definitely new for me to see in Islamabad. And honestly, I don't like it at all. Both traditional Pakistani clothing as well as Westernized clothing can be worn in such a way that it adheres to Islamic rulings - there is absolutely no need for a burkha/niqaab in Islamabad. But that's just my opinion, and I think everyone should be allowed to wear what they chose to. I just fear as this potentially becomes more common, more women will be forced into it by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and maybe even mothers, sisters, etc. Maybe I feel this way because I adore traditional Pakistani clothing (and all the colours it shines in!), so to see it change into a generic, black cloth isn't exactly appealing to me.
Islamabad has basically all the food you'd ever want, and it wasn't always this way. With the continuous growth comes more and more food choices. You'll find all the fast food restaurants like KFC, McDonalds, TGIF even, and more, as well as various ethnic foods like Japanese restaurants, Chinese restaurants, American restaurants, Middle Eastern restaurants, Afghani restaurants, and more.
There are also amazing bakeries all over the city, that sell everything from Pakistani sweets to gingerbread men.
There is no city I have ever seen that has houses more beautiful than Islamabad (and I've traveled quite a bit...). Each house there is so unique, in size, architecture, and even color. I could spend an entire day driving around (and yes, women can drive there) just admiring the different architectures and designs of the houses. Most of the houses in the city are also MASSIVE (which just goes to highlight the very clear economic divide the classes). Furthermore, apartment complexes and housing compounds are starting to develop and become more common now there.
6. It's safe
The news usually highlights the negative things happening across the world. You're really likely to hear about the various explosions, suicide bombings, drone attacks, and honor killings in Pakistan and Islamabad, but really unlikely to hear about all the good that's happening there! It's no wonder people have an assumption that *Islamabad* is unsafe.
While perhaps currently, due to political reasons, it isn't the safest place around, it's not unsafe either. You can visit Islamabad without having to fear for your life, or at least not anymore than you would in any other place. There are so many things to do and see there, it is honestly such a shame that Pakistan has such a negative image these days. It houses some of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Basically, what I guess I am trying to say is that Islamabad is just like any other big city (or capital city)! It is beautiful, filled with culture and so many things to do. It is safe. If I ever had the opportunity to spend more time there or live there properly (since the maximum time I've spent there continuously is maybe 2 months, but I've visited almost every single summer of my 22 years) I would take it in a heartbeat. I can't wait to see what my beautiful city grows into, how it continues to improve and modernize, and I hope I can be part of that change.
I removed this post and will be re-uploading it in the near future, maybe in a few months or a year, to respect my father's wishes who would prefer for me to write about this after he has retired. Thank you for understanding :)!
I realize it's been months since I last posted. I thought about my blog basically everyday and kept telling myself, "Tomorrow I'll get back into it," but as we all know, tomorrow never comes.
Basically, 2015 was the most difficult, challenging year of my life. I was a second semester junior and first semester senior. On top of that, I knew I wanted to apply for graduate school in Psychology but wasn't sure what degree or subject I wanted to pursue. While trying to figure that out, I had to study for the GRE, keep on top of my school work and attempt to raise my GPA, research schools, decide which schools to apply to, workshop my resume at least 100 times, write a hundred personal statements, and try to have a social life. Needless to say, there was a lot going on in my life. I was very anxious and stressed out about what life after my undergraduate career looked like. It was not at all a bad year (in fact it was one of my most memorable); it was just very, very stressful and tiring.
2016 has been a lot less rough and a lot more wonderful. Alhamdulilah (Praise be to God) I am now a second semester senior (and going to be In Shaa Allah (God Willing) graduating in about two months), and I've also gotten accepted into three graduate schools so far! In other words: life is good. I'm at a good place.
While I am still busy, trying to make the most of my last two months here both academically and socially, I now have time and mental energy to put back into my blog! I'm so excited to get back into writing. I have so many blog post ideas. I am going to work on my next post right now, about what it is really like to live in an Aramco camp. :) So stay tuned!
What is it really like to live in Jordan?
Marhaba! Welcome to Jordan. Jordan is a small country located in the heart of the middle east. Some of it's neighbors are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Lebanon. Known for being a heart of the Abrahamic faiths, its historical sights such as Petra, vivid seas such as the Dead Sea and Aqaba, and intense culture, Jordan was an absolute delight to live in.
On a personal note, I moved to Madaba (right outside the capital of Amman) in 2009, where I started boarding school in King's Academy. King's is a school founded by the King of Jordan, King Abdullah II, who himself had attended a boarding school named Deerfield Academy in the US as a teenager. There was no similar school in Jordan at the time, and so he created this (absolutely wonderful and delightful school) which opened it's doors in 2008, and where his children the royal Prince and Princess' have also attended. To help you follow my journey, here's a little reminder: I was in Saudi Arabia from birth-11 years old, then I moved to Thorpe (England; right outside of London) for one year, followed by Milan for one year, then back to Saudi Arabia for two years, and then I landed myself in Jordan! As this was my first time ever being apart from my parents, I found myself very "homesick" not really for my "home" (which is ever-changing for me), but for my parents. They moved back to England a few months after I started school in Jordan, and by the end of the year I had decided to transfer back to TASIS The American School in England in order to be closer to my family. While I don't regret this, as I think it was the best decision for me personally at the time, I definitely feel like there was so much more for me to explore and learn in Jordan, and I hope that I can have the chance to go back one day!
Getting back on track, here are some experiences I've had or noticed that I've found to be unique to Jordan and/or Jordanian culture, but mostly here is a list of things that surprised me about Jordan (which will probably tell me more about me and my 15-year-old psyche than anything else!).
1. Not everyone looks "Arab".
Jordanians do not look like the stereotypical "Arab". For those who know me personally or have read my previous posts, I've lived in Saudi Arabia for 13 years, and even I was surprised at how "non-Arab" Jordanians look. During my first week of classes at King's Academy, I remember asking a girl if she was Portuguese, as I knew someone else from there who looked just like her. She giggled and in her broken English and Arab accent told me she is from Amman (capital city of Jordan). From then on, I was less surprised when 2/3 of Jordanians I met didn't look "Arab" to me but rather white; the only thing giving away their true identity were their accents and ability to speak Arabic in the way only a native speaker could. Not only that, but many of them had "western" names, which again made it harder to know who was Jordanian and who was, well, "white".
The best way to describe it is to think of Shakira. Though she is only half Lebanese, you might not even realize she was Lebanese at all unless someone told you. A lot of Jordanians are basically the same, as in they do not look like the stereotypical image that comes into mind when one thinks "Arab".
What this taught me (keep in mind, I was much younger! I was just 15 at the time, with a whole lot more to learn) was I wasn't as open minded as I believed myself to be, as I too had fallen into the trap of stereotypes. I thought I wouldn't - having moved quite a bit by then, and having experienced countless cultures, but if I'm honest, then yes, it did surprise me. I had a couple of Jordanian friends, but when I met naturally-blond Arabs I was extremely surprised.
2. More religious diversity and acceptance than I imagined
Before Jordan, I had traveled to many different Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia Bahrain, and Dubai (all part of the gulf), where there was a lot of diversity in terms of nationality and races. In particular, there were many natives, along with South Asians, Filipinos, Sudanese, and "Westerners" (Europeans, Americans). Based off the different races and nationalities present in those countries, one can expect there was a lot of religious diversity as well.
In Jordan, though, while there isn't nearly as much diversity in terms of nationality and race, there was more religious diversity within the locals than I had previously realized. Prior to Jordan, I knew there were Arab-Christians, but I had only met one Arab-Christian family in my entire life. At Jordan, I met a countless number of Arab Christians and even a few native, Arab-Jewish folk. While Jordan has only a 6% Christian minority, there were still many more (openly) Arab-Christians in Jordan than in the other Middle Eastern countries I'd visited.
Again, this plays into stereotypes and my lack of knowledge on diversity from when I was 15. I too had fallen into the trap of stereotypes, this time with religion. At Jordan, I learned that Arab does not equal Muslim, by any means what-so-ever.
3. Love for the Royal Family
No other nation loves their royal family more than Jordanians. While this might be something I'm overly simplifying, it did surprise me when I was in Jordan, and even after I left. King Abdullah is referred to His Highness and the royal family is not only adored, but absolutely respected.
I think the difference between the Jordanian Royal family and other royal families lies here - in the respect individuals have for them. For example, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are also absolutely adored and respected, but it's clear to see instances in which they're clearly disrespected (take the paparazzi taking extremely inappropriate shots of Kate for example - not cool. And the fact that I just referred to her as Kate? That's exactly my point - you'll never hear anyone referring to Queen Rania as simply "Rania"). Also, you'll never read an article about King Abdullah's teeth, but it's very likely you'll stumble across a Buzzfeed article of William's, for example. That's where the difference lies. There is the utmost respect for the royal family, and they are seen as true royalty rather than celebrity-royals that perhaps the British monarchy is seen as. One could argue that neither is better than the other, they're just different.
Just a disclaimer, I'm not by any means justifying that the British royal monarchy doesn't deserve respect - of course they do! - or saying they aren't respected, but rather, simply stating differences I've seen in the way they are seen in the public eye.
4. Diversity in Islamic Practice
While the majority of Jordanians are Muslim, I would say that (especially in Amman) there is diversity in the practice of Islam, which is absolutely beautiful. There are secular Muslims, outwardly-religious Muslims (for lack of a better term?), and ultra-orthodox Muslims, all living together in harmony.
The best example I can provide of this is the way women choose to dress in Jordan. You can see three Jordanian women walking next to each other on the street: one in a full on, black burkha, the other wearing western-clothing paired with a hijab, and the other in a sundress. None of them judging the other, all living harmoniously together. Obviously, I am over-simplifying this (there are people in Jordan who think the burkha is overkill, and also those who think that shorts are absolutely blasphemous), but really it's easy to see the various attitudes towards how Islam should be outwardly practiced within the natives in Jordan than, say, Saudi Arabia. There is more mutual respect, regardless of differences in religious practice. Again, I'm not arguing which way is better, just stating something unique that I noticed.
Another great example of this is the Jordanian royal family themselves. Queen Rania, in particular (since we are on the subject of women and their choice of dress) has a lovely fashion choice, very different than the image that may come to some people's minds of a stereotypical Arab Muslim woman.
Prior to actually moving to Jordan, I would have never, ever considered Jordan as a "vacation spot". There are a few reasons for this: I thought it would be very similar to the Gulf-countries I'd already seen (and as you can tell, I was very wrong about that!), as well as I didn't think there was anything to do and/or see in Jordan. I was obviously yet again extremely wrong - there's so much to see and do! With my parents, I explored Jordan's vast historical sights where the Roman Empire thrived and where religious figures like Moses walked. Later in the year, with my friends, I traveled to the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth and called the Dead Sea because it is so salty, nothing can live in it. It was beautiful. I hope to return to Jordan one day and explore all the places I didn't get to, such as Aqaba.
Living in Jordan was an eye-opener to me. I really took my past experiences for granted before Jordan. I didn't realize how privileged I truly was, and at the same time how much more there was for me to learn. I had no idea how different Jordanian culture was to Gulf culture (and even there - culture varies so drastically by city to city, let alone "Jordan" to "Gulf"!), and this honestly just helped me grow into who I am today, as well as changed the way I view the world.
No longer do I see the seven continents, but I see each country for it's own, each city for it's own, and each person for it's own. Similar, but different all the same. My experiences in Jordan made me realize that stereotypes are meaningless; a smart way for our mind to keep things organized but rather stupid when played out in everyday situations. I realized that even though I had lived in London and Milan, there was a whole world for me to explore, and to go with an open heart and mind.
What is it really like to live in Italy?
I felt more welcomed in Italy than I did in any of the other countries I lived in. Everyone was always so friendly to my family and I, regardless of the fact that we were foreigners. We were always welcomed with open arms and everyone was always smiling. When we first moved there from England in the summer of 2006, I was extremely hesitant as I didn't have the "best" experience in England in 2005/06. but nevertheless I was very surprised by Italian hospitality, kindness, and acceptance, and I'll never forget how welcomed I felt moving there and starting at my new school.
My brother and I went to an American/international school called "The American School of Milan" (ASM for short), which consisted of people from all over the world: Italy and beyond. In general, Italy was one of my favourite places to live. My parents are currently living there again, in Milan, and I'll be going to visit them in July! This will be my first time visiting Italy/Milan since I moved away in 2007, and I couldn't be more excited.
Let's start with culture.
Italy is known for it's intense, exciting and romantic culture. In terms of language, the main language spoken by Italians is Italian (no pun intended). Other than Italian, English is widely spoken too, but not to the same extent or degree as Italian, which, of course, makes perfect sense. Personally, I didn't have any trouble getting around in Italy, as I went to the American School of Milan, where everyone spoke English, and most people could also speak Italian (in other words, those who were Italian could speak both, and the majority of international students were learning Italian while studying there). Out on the general streets of Milan, communication was sometimes a problem - but it's important to remember that we, as foreigners, should not expect another culture to adapt for us. :) I studied Italian for a semester while there, but for the most part, I got by in English while living in Italy. If I had a chance to re-live in Italy, I would definitely change that and practice Italian much, much more. That's one of my biggest regrets about living there: not learning the language properly. But I was only 12-13, so it's understandable.
In terms of food, it's delicious, aromatic, and flavorful. This was one of my favourite aspects of living in Milan! There was good food all day, everyday. Before I moved to Italy, my understanding of Italian food was pizza, pasta, and not much else. Again, to be fair, I was just 12 years old at the time, but geez was I wrong! Every morning before class started, I'd pick up a fresh made Italian calzone. And almost every single day for lunch, though there were a million and one options, I'd have the most simple yet delicious pasta ever. Also... Gelato... I don't even know what else to write, haha. Real. Italian. Gelato. On every street corner, everywhere, in hundreds of flavors. Prepare for your taste buds to be in Heaven.
Fashion: Italy, particularly Milano, is known to be one of the Fashion capitals in the world. And you can tell. Just walking around the Duamo, basically in the centre of Milan, you can see everyone's very distinct fashion sense. Safe to say both Italian women and men are extremely fashionable! While my views on this might be a little skewed (since I was so young when I last visited Italy), I personally British fashion to Italian (actually, British fashion to all other Western-fashion hubs). In my opinion, though keep in mind I'm no "fashion expert", British fashion is really classy, and Italian was a little more edgy. Think vintage-classy (British) vs. edgy-classy (Italian).
Another one of my favourite things about living in Milan was the stunning architecture, artwork, and vivid history I was surrounded by.
Overall, living in Milan was one of the biggest blessings in my life. For a whole year, I got to experience one of the most beautiful cultures in the world, while making some amazing friends and meeting such wonderful people. Luckily, I have a chance to go back for a visit this summer. I cannot wait to experience Italy as 21-year-old Ayesha (rather than 12-year-old!) and I'm beyond looking forward to seeing some of my old friends again. I'm truly blessed and feel so honoured to have spent a year in Italia.
What is it really like to live in England?
England is a country I spent a total of about 3.5 years in (one in 2006, three and a half over 2009-2012. My parents were still living there until recently, and to be honest, it felt like "home". Out of everywhere I have lived, I think I've enjoyed England the most, and I really miss it. My best friend and I always talked about going back to the UK for grad school, or ending up there when we are 50 years young. Who knows. Let's see. :) #EnglandFanGirl (#NoShame)
When I moved to England, I was pretty surprised by their accents and their vocabulary. I was 11 years old - so I didn't really know what to expect, but I just thought "Harry Potter" type accents. No strange words. Nothing different than the typical American words I was used to. Nope - I was totally wrong! When I moved back to England when I was 16, I was much more prepared, but even then I learned so much more about their accents and language.
That typical British accent we all think that British people rock isn't actually what they sound like! Well, some Brits do sound super-posh like that, but the average person does not. You'll hear a ton of different accents just walking down the streets of London. Here's a video with some of them! (Just watch the first half):
It's literally almost like learning a foreign language, to a certain degree, hahaha. They spell differently than Americans (I grew up with the American spellings of words).
When I was 16, a friend of mine (British) called me to catch up. Then... He asked if I want to link up in London. I was like, "Um... :l" because I thought 'link up' meant something more than just "meet up" or hang out, haha. I'm pretty sure I hung up on his face, consulted my best friend Zain (who is technically British, and spent part of her childhood there) and she explained to me that link up didn't mean that. Sorry for hanging up on your face, Saad! :D
Some basic words that I might randomly use that are different than American words:
Cupa: cup of tea
"Link up": meet up/hang out
2. Culture (Fashion, Diversity, Food, History)
British street fashion is easily my favourite street fashion in the western world. Almost everyone looks so beautiful, all the time. And it's so effortless. The fashion style is relaxed but exceptionally classy. Pair that with the British accents from above and start daydreaming.
England is really diverse, too. Of course, some people hate this - immigrants are often looked down upon, regardless of which country/culture they're migrating to. I'm an exception to that thought-process and I think the most beautiful cultures are the ones that are most diverse. One of the best things about how diverse England is, is that you can find any food you are craving. Want some kebabs? Thai food? Chinese? British? American? Desi? Japanese? You name it - you can find it, and you won't have to go too far for it either. That was one of my favourite things about England, particularly the London area. I never felt like an outsider, because there were always other Desi people around. If I ever craved my Mother's food, there was always a desi restaurant nearby. Or if I ever craved Middle Eastern food (since I spent 14 years there!), there was always a kebab place open nearby. I would do anything for some yummy kebab right now!
Though British people may complain about travel, traveling in the UK is a breeze. Talk about amazing public transportation, and one of the best airports in the world.
I suppose this is kind of linked to culture, but hey. There are so many attractions to visit, regardless of where in England you are. You can always find some tourist destination or a nice park to visit. It's impossible to be bored.
One of the best things about England is the continent it is located in (Europe). Travel is seriously cheap! It could always be cheaper, of course, but if you fret about paying about 100 quid (sometimes less) for a flight to basically anywhere in Europe, you need to loosen up a bit! Go ahead and live everyone's dreams - backpack through Europe!
What is it really like living in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is the country I was born in and spent the majority of my life in (13 years in total). I'm going to talk about some experiences I've had that were unique to Saudi Arabia and give you a little insight of what it was really like to live in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Also, because I could go on forever, I'm going to limit myself to the five things that I think are uniquely Saudi.
Disclaimer: These are MY opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Saudi nationals or other foreigners who have lived in Saudi Arabia. Also, I lived in a particular place in Saudi Arabia, far away from both Jeddah and Riyadh, so while I could go on and on about Hungry Bunny, please don't leave any comments asking why I didn't mention Al-Baik or other things related to those regions, :D haha.
All women (ie. girls above the age of puberty) have to wear an abaya/burka while in public (and only public, ie you don't have to wear it at home, lol). In other words, as soon as you start developing breasts, you're basically expected to wear an abaya of some sort.
Furthermore, as far as I know wearing a niqab (the face covering) is not required by law. There are many niqabis (women who wear the niqab) in Saudi Arabia, though, and most of them are Saudi. It's more of a cultural thing for Saudi women to wear the niqab than anything enforced by the law. Also, while hijab (hair covering) is required by law, it's not always so strictly enforced. For example, in the more "liberal" cities, foreign women usually just wear an abaya without a hijab or niqaab. It looks just like a beautiful, long black dress. But if one goes to one of the more (obviously) conservative cities such as Mecca, hijab is strictly required (again, niqaab is not). For example, when I was younger, maybe in my early teen-years, my family and I visited Mecca. I didn't have my hijab tied properly, as I had never learned the proper way to wear one. The back of my neck was showing a tiny bit, and random women kept tugging at it and trying to fix it for me throughout the day. This never happened to me before, and I was kind of irritated that random women felt okay about tugging at me. Reflecting on that, I totally understand why they would do that (though I'd never do that to someone else, haha). It's literally the most holy city for Muslims, and one should be respectful of the full Islamic dresscode while in that region.
Personal feelings about all of this? I kind of love wearing an abaya, to be honest, haha. Abayas are BEAUTIFUL, and you can wear whatever you want under them (aka you can be in pajamas all day). There are so many different styles of abayas, and they range drastically in price too. Some are fitted, covered in swarovski crystals, have frills, batwing sleeves, etc, and others are literally just plain black. Honestly, they're beautiful and super comfortable!
2. Women can't drive.
Basically, it is completely illegal for a woman to get behind the wheels of a car. The punishment, if caught, is being whipped/getting lashes. Anyways, this law.... this law makes me laugh. It's ridiculous, but some Saudi women seem to really like it and completely agree with it while others slam it down. I don't know if they just don't like people talking bad about their country, and therefore act like they like this rule, or if they actually enjoy it. It's argued that women are treated like queens in Saudi Arabia, and while I don't deny this, it's important to make the distinction that SAUDI women (or women who look Saudi... ie. wearing a niqab, speaking Arabic) but others aren't always treated with so much respect.
The argument goes: would a queen drive? Or would a queen have someone to drive for her? The latter, of course. Therefore, women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive because they deserve enough respect not to drive, if that makes sense. It's also pretty common to have cooks, maids, guards, nannies, etc (though this is not unique to Saudi Arabia, it's actually pretty common throughout the Middle East and South Asia), so if you look at it like that, it's not that "strange" or random that personal drivers are quite common in Saudi Arabia.
People have even gone as far as to say that driving affects ovaries and the pelvis of a woman, and therefore women cannot drive.
By the way, for anyone who is curious, this has NOTHING to do with Islam. Like, if anything, this goes against the teachings of Islam. In Islam, unrelated people of the opposite gender are not allowed to be alone together (unless they're married). Usually, the drivers that are hired are not related and therefore it's un-Islamic for the driver and the woman to be in the car together... Awkwaaaaaard. Check out this awesome song:
How do I personally feel about this? I find it pretty hilarious. And sad. But does it really matter how I feel? I'm not Saudi. This law isn't affecting me at all anymore, since I don't live there. It's up to Saudi women to dictate how they feel, and for us to support or respect their decision.
What was it like for me, when I was actually living there? It didn't matter too much to me. I was young. I didn't know how to drive and I was fine with my father driving us around. Also, I lived in a compound within Saudi Arabia (Aramco!) where women were allowed to drive. My Mom used to drive me around within the compound all the time. So, it didn't particularly affect me at all.
3. The desert
This was my favourite thing about growing up in Saudi Arabia. There are a bunch of cities everywhere, but the land between those cities is filled up with empty desert. It's beautiful. Wild camels. Caravans. Sand dunes. Gosh, it's absolutely beautiful, and I've never seen any landscape like this while driving around in any other country. While I'm sure you can see it elsewhere, I've personally only seen it in Saudi, and goodness it's absolutely stunning.
4. The weather
Hot hot hot hot hot. Cold cold cold cold cold. Hot hot hot hot hot. Repeat all day haha. Basically, it's BLAZING hot outside, and FREEZING cold inside because literally everywhere is AC'd Depending where you are in Saudi, you're looking at 50+ C over summer (about 120 F), and during winter, depending where you are, it can go below freezing. Extremely drastic weather, which is really cool to experience first hand. I bet it would be pretty easy to fry an egg outside in that heat!
When I was living in Saudi, sometimes I'd get too cold indoors from the AC, and I'd step outside for about 20 seconds. I'd get insanely hot, and then come back in and bask in the glory of air conditioning, haha.
Also, if you ever have a chance to visit Saudi Arabia, be on the lookout for shamaals (sand storms)! When it gets windy, sand goes flying everywhere and it becomes yellowy-orangey outside! Keep a look out for mirages too. You might have seen these in cartoons: an animated character gets stranded in the desert, sees a big oasis with beautiful dancing girls surrounding it (but it's all just a figment of his imagination). While our mirages aren't this extensive, when you're driving down the highway, you can catch a glimpse of "water" down the roads up ahead, but as you get closer, you realize that they aren't really there.
5. Being Muslim in Saudi Arabia
Mecca and Medina are two of the most holy cities for Muslims. One of the best things (as a Muslim) about living in Saudi Arabia is being able to visit Mecca and Medina with ease. Especially for the folks living in Jeddah, these cities are just a couple hours' drive away. I grew up pretty much on the opposite side of the country, but nevertheless I've been blessed to have done Umrah multiple times in my life. The earliest was when I was like 5-7ish, and the most recent was this past summer (2014). Most people only have the opportunity to go once, if even that, and I've been multiple times... One of the biggest blessings of living within the kingdom.
Also, another blessing of living within the kingdom (for Muslims) is that everything revolves around prayer times. You could be in the mall, or walking around, or at a restaurant: regardless of where you are, everything around you will close down for prayer during the five daily prayers. Basically, as soon as the Adhan (call to prayer) is heard from the local mosques, all the stores in the malls, all the small boutiques, and all the restaurants close. This is so that all the shopkeepers are able to easily observe prayer, and to remind all the Muslims to also go and pray. They have no "distraction" such as shopping, because literally all the shops are closed down. For non-Muslims, this can be very inconvenient, but for Muslims, it's quite a blessing.
I write this with a heavy heart: Saudi Arabia's king, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud passed away at the age of 90 this past Friday. He was hospitalized through the month of December, fighting pneumonia.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon (translation: to Allah we Belong and to Him we Return. - An Islamic saying which Muslims say when someone has passed away). May his soul rest in peace and in Jannat Al- Firdaus. Ameen.
A few days ago, a post on another blog popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. Basically, it talked about 10 things the author learned by living in Saudi Arabia. This inspired me to reflect on my own life and experiences, which then further inspired me to write a little series called "What is it Really Like to Live in ______?" Which will discuss some unique experiences I've had only in those countries, and talk about what it was really like to live there.
I'll go in order of the countries I've lived in, with two exceptions: I'll be writing about the Aramco camps/compounds and also about Pakistan. If you have no idea what I mean by Aramco camps, don't fret it. In short, it's not a country, and therefore an exception. Pakistan is also an exception, because while it is my passport country (ie. the country I'm a citizen of), I've never properly "lived" there. When I say I've lived in ____, I mean I've spent a year of my life living there nonstop. I've probably spent enough time in Pakistan for it to pass a year, but never conservatively, and therefore this is an exception too. Both of these two things are a huge part of my life and my identity, so to exclude them would be unfair to myself. Furthermore, I'll be writing about those two before I write about the country I currently live in: the US. The reason behind this is I'd like to do all the countries of my past, and then do my present.
The order will be:
1. Saudi Arabia
7. The US
Next stop, Saudi Arabia! Masalama!
Dear -your name here-,
Today is my first day as a 21 year old! It's pretty exciting and I can't wait to see what the year ahead holds for me. I am going to change my age in the "Author" section right now. ->
It's been a while since I posted anything, but mostly because I was swamped with end of semester stuff and exams coming up. I have a few ideas for my next "official" posts, but there is something I just want to throw out there right now.
Yesterday, on Dec 16, on my birthday, six cowards walked into a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, and opened fire upon children, teenagers, and adults alike. A teacher was burned to death. 130 children died from gun shots. I grew another year older, but 130 innocent children lost their lives. 130 innocent children will never get to celebrate their 21st birthday, as I did yesterday. Maybe in Paradise, Heaven, Jannah, way up above, but not here on earth with us. Yesterday, the world lost 130 children that may have grown up to find the cure for cancer. Find a solution to world hunger. Somehow bring the world to peace. Maybe I have high hopes, but what's the point of hoping at all if we don't hope for the most? Besides, anything is possible, but now we'll never know.
Let's not let their deaths be in vain. Remember them. Pray for their families. Hope that one day we will all meet up somewhere up above, and get to know these little ones who lost their lives much too soon. Don't let those six cowardly men (if we can even call them that) win. If you are fortunate to have some spare cash, donate it. Help build a school in their memories. Help other children have a chance at getting an education. Don't give up on Pakistan, and Pakistan, please don't give up on yourself. Pakistan, this does not define us.
We lost too many beautiful young souls today. Just because of six barbarians. I know they do not represent my country, nor do they represent Islam by any means. They were just six evil people amongst millions of other Pakistanis and Muslims (and people in general) who had their hearts broken today.
May every victim of this crime rest in peace and have the gates of Jannah (Heaven) opened for them. May their families find peace. Ameen.
I need to sleep. Exam at 9 am tomorrow. Just a quick shout out to everyone who wished me and made my birthday special: THANK YOU everyone <3. I love you all more than you'll ever know. :)
Whoever you are, reading this, thank you and I hope you found some comfort in my 1 AM thoughts.
Also known as #TCKProblems and TCKBlessings. Enjoy!
1. Your favourite season depends on where in the world you are.
Winter is the best thing in the world when you live somewhere really hot. Summer is the best thing when you live somewhere cold.
2. You have a love hate relationship with rain.
In certain countries where it rains a lot (England for example), you hate it. In others where it rains once a year (Saudi Arabia). Or, you're a "pluviophile" like me and it's in your veins to love rain no matter what.
3. You know sodas taste different in different regions.
Mexican Coke > American Coke (no pun intended :P)
4. You have a favorite soda flavor that only exists in certain places.
Mirinda Citrus anyone? How about Mirinda Strawberry, Grapefruit, Hibiscus, Pineapple, Banana... (Yes, these flavours actually exist).
5. You speak one language really well, but you can get by in about five more.
6. People tell you that you have a weird accent.
Because it's a mix of all the accents you've ever had. And you probably just read that in a really weird accent, haha.
7. Your accent (and vocabulary) changes depending on who you're talking with.
Speaking to an American? You totally have an American accent, bro.
Speaking to a Brit? You totally have some strange combination of an American and British accent, bruv.
Speaking in your mother tongue? You suddenly have no accent (OR often a really bad American accent!)
8. When you go to a restaurant that serves food from a particular country/culture, people ask you what's good.
Oh you must try *name some really particular food that no one would try otherwise*.
9. When someone speaks to you in "broken" English, you know exactly what they're saying.
Person who doesn't speak English well: My feets are in hurt really very much!
Everyone else: LOLOLOLOL
You: Aw, I'm sorry your feet are hurting. Would you like to sit down?
10. You have ten different sim cards from ten different countries, saved with you somewhere, just in case you ever go back.
My first sim card, ever, was from Saudi Arabia. I still have it and I still use it every time I fly back.
11. You know that love knows no race.
Interracial couples are beautiful.
12. Your favourite TV shows and movies consist of Korean dramas, Japanese horror films, Bollywood movies, and of course, general Hollywood.
You: Noooo I don't want I don't want to watch another AMERICAN horror film! They're not even scary! Japanese or nothing.
Everyone else: o_O
13. Your friend group is as different as the rainbow in terms of religion and race.
Some of my closest friends consist of two Sudanese Muslims, a couple of Pakistani Muslims, an Indian Hindu, a Sri Lankan Buddhist, a Nepali Buddhist, an American Jew, a Turkish Christian, a couple of Jordanians of different faiths, A Nigerian and a Syrian. And this list could go on forever.
14. You know there is nothing harder in this world than saying goodbye to the friends who have become family.
Moving sucks. Period.
15. The 2nd hardest thing in this world is answering the question, "Where are you from?"
Short answer: Earth.
16. People think you're spoiled because you've traveled the world at such a young age.
It's not our faults our parents had to move around a lot!
17. You know all the secret hot spots in all the major airports.
And you only share them with your closest friends. You don't want them to become popular, duh...
18. You had a frequent flyer card since you were super young.
19. You have a favourite airport...
Personally, Heathrow is my number one.
20. ... And a favourite terminal at that airport.
Doesn't get much better than Heathrow terminal 5!
21. Thinking of settling down somewhere in the future either scares you to bits or gives you peace of mind. Or both.
You either feel like: You've moved around your whole life. How can you possible spend the next 40, 50, 60 years in one country? In one city? Town? HOUSE? Impossible.
Or: You can't wait to spend the rest of your life in one country, one city, one town, and one house that you can finally call "home".
22. You can write your name in different languages (like Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, etc).
23. You can write your friend's names in different languages.
24. No food grosses you out anymore, because you've already tried the weirdest ones.
Brain masala. Frog legs. Bull testicles. Scorpion lollipop. Mhmmm.
25. You get anxious when you live in one place too long.
26. Even though you've traveled a bunch, you have a worse case of Wanderlust than your friends who haven't even left the country.
It's kind of like eating chocolate. Someone who has never had chocolate has no idea what they're missing.
27. You try to be humble about it, but you have intense pride in your TCK identity.
How can you not? How many people can say that they've lived in x-amount of countries? The majority of the world spends their entire life in one city (town, village, and the likes) and you've basically traveled the world.
28. It's a dream of yours to travel to (or live in) all seven continents.
29. Making friends is a breeze, since you've had to make new friends so many times. But at the same time, it's so hard because you know you'll have to say goodbye to them sooner or later.
Unless you plan on spending the rest of your life in the place you're in right now, you're going to have to say goodbye sooner or later...
30. You know there isn't a feeling the world more special than returning to a place you once knew as "home".
Seeing the people. The sights. Your friends. Your old house. Remembering all your memories there, and chereshing them for your lifetime.
Overly ecstatic voice says: Ever wanted to be so close to the clouds you could almost touch them and feel their soft, cotton-candy texture in your hands? Well now you can, from about $300-$1,500 only!
(That was sarcasm, if you didn't pick that up).
Some of you, like me, may have been flying since before you even knew what that meant. Others may have used others means of transportation. Nevertheless, whether this is your billionth time flying across the world, your first long distance flight, or your first flight at all, here are some basic guidelines and unwritten rules to help you get through it.
I'm going to take you step by step to help you get to your exotic (or not so exotic) destination and back safely and easily.
Step one: Suitcases
If you don't already own a suitcase, now is the perfect time to buy one. There are a bunch of different types, and they are definitely not all created equal. If you already own one you're planning on flying with, congratulations! Go ahead and skip to step two!
First of all, consider your budget and how often you'll be using the suitcases. Are you planning on going on this vacation for the first time in your life, and won't need the suitcase ever again? Are you going to be traveling frequently, or perhaps moving? Depending on your answers to these questions, think about if you want a suitcase set (large suitcase, medium suitcase, and a carry on) or just the large/medium sized one.
Next, consider what kind of suitcase you want. This is honestly just personal preference. The only thing you should make sure of is that the suitcase is light weight. Chances are, you already have a weight limit and you don't want to waste precious pounds or kg on how heavy that beautiful suitcase was.
I personally recommend hard shell suitcases, with 4 wheels. They are hard, so you don't have to worry about anything inside getting stolen, and they are the easiest to pull around with you through the suitcase. There are a ton of companies that sell these suitcases, so honestly I would say it just depends on your budget.
Just make sure the suitcase is light, and if you are buying it in person, go ahead and test the zipper and the wheels to make sure everything is running smoothly. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance from the sales people! They are there to help.
Also, just a final note, pick out a fancy outrageous colour. Honestly, I'm telling you from personal experience: don't pick the simplest black suitcase you can find. And if you do, please add a ribbon on the handle or a luggage tag or something to help you identify that it's yours. Especially since this is a new (and potentially your first) suitcase, you seriously don't want to be confused at your destination's airport because you have no idea which suitcase is yours.
Step two: Actually packing
Congratulations! You've officially picked out your travel companion! Now it's time to pack.
Depending on what you're doing and the duration you'll be packing for, the time you want to start packing changes.
If you're moving, when you are packing your house be sure to set aside what you'll want in your suitcase and what you want to send as shipment. Likely, your shipment wont arrive the same day you move in, so be sure to pack clothes, underwear, and other necessities you'll need.
If you're packing for the weekend, you can start a day or two before.
If you're packing for a week-long trip, I would suggest packing things you don't need right away about 4-7 days before. Pack your sweaters, jackets, wellies (rainboots!), whatever you don't need, and save your toiletries for the night before/morning of.
Here's a little checklist for you.
Step one: Check in!
24 hours before your flight is scheduled to take off, check in online. Why? It makes everything go faster in the airport and you get special perks, like potentially picking your seat and if you have a preferred dietary option (kosher, halal, vegan, etc). Keep in mind, if it's a long flight and you use the bathroom a lot, pick an isle seat. It's much easier to go to the bathroom this way and you don't have to bother everyone to get off your window seat every hour! I always pick isle seat, unless I'm flying with family, out of courtesy. Furthermore, If the flight is serving food, there will always be a vegetarian option and a non-vegetarian option for you to choose from, but sometimes getting a special meal is better. Also, you get your food like 10 minutes before everyone else if you get a special meal, which is awesome because everyone gets super jealous!
Wondering how to check in online? It's easy! If you're flying British Airways, log into BA.COM and just follow the instructions. You'll have to input your passport information, and they'll ask how many bags you're taking (you can put "not sure" if you're not sure). You'll also be asked about meal selection and perhaps seating. At the end, you'll be asked if you want to print out your boarding pass at home, at the airport, or collect it on your phone. Regardless of what option you choose, worst comes to worst, you can have another one printed from the airport. To be safe, I like to receive it on my phone as well as print it from the airport, in case the one I get printed gets lost, torn, etc.
Depending on if your flight is domestic (within the country) or international (out of the country), you'll need to arrive at the airport at different times. If domestic, plan to arrive at least 2 hours in advance. If international, plan to arrive 3-4 hours in advance.
Step two: Bag Drop
When you arrive, look for the logo of whichever flight you're flying. If you're flying British Airways, look for their logo! Go to the appropriate desk (for example, if you're flying economy, don't go to first class check in. If you're flying business or first, take advantage of their faster check in), give them your passport, answer any of their questions, put your bags onto the converter belt and you're done! Next is airport security.
Step three: Security
After you finish checking in and bag drop, continue on to airport security. There will be signs pointing you where to go, but if at any point you are confused or feel lost, ask someone. People, especially airport staff, are more than happy to help you out! :) As you stand in line for airport security, take out your zip lock baggie with all your toiletries/liquids and make sure your laptop/tablet is easy to take out. When your turn arrives, put your laptop/tablet, baggie, jacket, and potentially shoes onto the tray and continue on through the scanner. If they take you away for extra screening, don't panic! This has happened to my brothers almost every time they fly, and to me once. There are many reasons that would potentially take you for extra screening - for example if you have a lot of metal in your bag (extra laptop battery, jewelry, etc) so don't freak out.
Step Four: Gate, Boarding and Flying
When you get out of security, you're officially at the best part! Waiting for your flight! You get to walk around the airport, shop, eat, watch planes take off and land, people watch, and meet strangers to name a few! Depending on how large the airport is, it might be a good idea to find your departure gate if it's listed. To find it, look on one of the big black boards that has all the cities. To go off my previous example, if you are flying British Airways, flight BA124 (I just made up the number) to Milan, then look for BA124 - MILAN on the board. Next to it, it should say the gate and status. For example, BA124 - MILAN - GATE OPENS AT 10:15. This means you should check the board again later. When the gate is open, it will say something like A14 - BOARDING (or final call, or go to gate). If you've arrived early enough, your flight might not even be listed yet, so don't panic if you don't see it.
Be sure to check the board often for your gate. Also, give ample time to walk over to your departure gate. When your gate opens, go to it.
Boarding. Finally, the time you've been waiting for! Each airline is different for this. All of them let passengers who need assistance to board first, then first/business class flyers and mile high club members, and then economy travelers. When it's time for economy boarding, some call out your seat number, others just let everyone board at once, etc. Just follow directions, and have your passport and boarding pass handy. Walk into the plane, find your seat, put your handbags in the overhead lockers, and relax!
The air hostesses will show you all the security procedures and are there to help you throughout the flight. Don't be scared to ask them anything! :) Soon, your plane will take off and you will be sitting in a big metal thing miles upon miles above the clouds. Pretty cool.
Some things to keep in mind throughout your flight... You don't want to be that nasty passenger on the plane with no manners. Keep your shoes on. Keep your feet to yourself. Don't take up both arm rests. Don't pick your nose. Don't cut your toenails. Don't openly fart. Don't sneeze into your hands and then rub them on your jeans. Don't take pictures of the air hostesses because you think they're sexy. (I've seen ALL of these done on various flights, and these are just some of the nasty things people do). Just, don't be nasty, please, or everyone will hate you. Be respectful and keep in mind you're sharing the plane with a lot of other people!
Upon arrival at the airport, you'll likely have to go through immigration. Just follow the signs (and the other people!) straight to immigration and baggage pickup. Answer the questions the immigration officer has. Then go to baggage pickup and get your luggage! Then, you go through the "nothing to declare" or "goods to declare" line to the arrivals gate, and you're done!
Congratulations! You've officially passed my Flying 101 class and are ready to take on your first adventure!
Edited and titled by Ayesha Solaiman.
My name is Raneem Aldroubi. I am 19 years young, studying law in London, and I am a Syrian suffering from hiraeth. I am not going to lie and say, “Oh Syria! It is the most amazing, beautiful, and loving country in the world,” but rather, I am going to tell you the truth, and I will begin at the very start.
I was born in Damascus, Syria on the 25th of July 1995. I lived there my entire childhood, with my four brothers and four male cousins. When I was young, around the age of five, my family and I lived in the “bad” part of Damascus. At the time, it was just my older brother, two of my cousins and I (as the rest of our family wasn't born yet!), so it was basically one girl amongst all the boys. We weren't exactly rich at the time, but were rather poor. My parents could not even afford to buy us milk to drink. Though I was too young to remember those times clearly, my parents have reminded me every second of my life about them. I have some memories though. Memories, moments and times that built my childhood.
For one, we had a neighbor who was around my age, maybe a year older. His name was Mickey, or at least that’s what I recall calling him. We used to meet Mickey everyday to play football (soccer) in the middle of the streets or to just run around like lunatics. The street was our playground. Though there were numerous parks nearby, the street was more fun, as random kids would join us to play. We were poor, but we didn’t need money to be happy. What made us happy was the life we had in us, the life everyone around had in them. All the neighbors were friends, and although I was young, I don’t recall any serious fights. I mean sure, there must have been arguments here and there between neighbors, but nothing a cup of tea and homemade biscuits couldn't fix. My neighborhood, a small reflection of the entire country, was peaceful and loving. That’s what I remember.
A few years later, things began going well with our family business, and we moved to better house in a richer neighborhood. All of our neighbors were well off, and yet all of them were also modest, humble, and generous. No one really looked at another person’s financial status; we just enjoyed mixing with everyone. I even remember being best friends with the street guards, who weren't as well off. We used to go everyday and have tea with them, because drink their tea because it was weird yet tasty. They called it ‘mate’, and I’ll never forget it’s unique taste. Mostly, I will never forget their kindness for sharing their tea with us everyday.
A few years after that, we moved again. This time, we moved into a posh villa, as my Dad was making quiet the profit from his business. Even though we were richer than ever before, our hearts stayed the same, as did everyone in Syria’s: we were humble and kind with everyone, regardless of their financial status. We mixed with the neighbors and the guards again, and became close with everyone.
I clearly remember the day my parents took me to look at the villa after they had rented it. There, I saw the daughter of one of the neighbor’s guards. Though she was probably 10 years older than me, she was so sweet to me. Since that day, we became friends. I used to go to her house, which was merely a small room below our house, and drink tea (with a little too much sugar) and just talk and laugh about everything. I taught her English and she helped with my Arabic. I used to go to her for help with my Arabic homework. We even used to sit sometimes in our back garden and just chat and share secrets for hours straight. At times, she would come to my room and boys will join us for a game of hide and seek. Sometimes, her and I would walk somewhere a bit secluded and just scream, just because we could. After she moved away, we stayed in contact for a while, but eventually lost touch and I’m not sure where she is now.
Our other neighbors had a dog. One day my brothers and I saw them walking their dog and started making random noises to attract the dog’s attention, but we attracted the family’s instead. We thought they would yell at us, but instead they gestured to us to come over and pet the dog. Since that day, we all became really good friends and I remember hanging out in each other’s houses.
These are just some of the good memories of my life at Syria. School life, on the other hand, was not that great. There were some nice people, but just like all other middle schools, there were some very mean kids. Students were often rude to me, and I think it had to do with my mom being a teacher at the school. Also, the kids were show-offs because the schools we went to were private international schools, therefore you had to have a foreign passport to be accepted (my mother is from Pakistan, and I am dual nationality). I was miserable in the school in Syria, I just didn’t fit in. Basically, the school was not too great, which is why in 9th grade my parents decided to send me to boarding school in Jordan. You are probably thinking, “Oh poor kid… had to go to boarding school at the age of 13,” but actually it was the best decision my parents ever made for me.
The school in Jordan was amazing, so diverse and so accepting. You had people from all living conditions, backgrounds, nationalities, and races studying there and I even made five best friends there, whom I am still close with today. I spent my school days in Jordan and my weekends in Syria, and every time I went back I would remember why I loved being there. For example, whenever I went shopping with my mom, I would fall in love with every shopkeeper. They were all happy and laughing and you rarely found anyone rude. They truly wanted to have a connection with their customers, and keep them coming back for life. They saw us as their brothers and sisters, or as their own kids. They were loving and protective at times, but mostly they were happy and wanted us to be happy. You don’t find that very often in every shop owner.
I also loved the drivers and workers in my dad’s office. Every time I had to go wait at my dad’s office, I was happy because everyone was so kind to me. The accountant was an awesome man. I used to chill in the money room with him sometimes (he allowed only me back there). I was also really friendly with the secretary. Every time I was there, we would share stories and look at random funny pictures and videos, having to hold in our laughter because we were right outside my dad’s office. When the accountant and secretary were not free, I would hang out with the drivers in their kitchen and just drink coffee with them. They liked to pick on me, but in a sweet loving way, and though I pretended to be annoyed, I actually loved it. They were all like family to me. They lived with us through all the ups and downs. All of these people were my family and they were Syria to me.
Also, Eid (a three day Islamic holiday) in Syria was probably on the top of my list of great memories. Every Eid we did the same thing, but it never got old. The first day we would wake up around seven in the morning, get dressed in the fanciest and prettiest clothes we had, and then cram into our car and drive out of Damascus to Homs, another city in Syria. My father’s whole family lived there so we would go and visit them. We would leave the house around 9 or 10 am, and after about an hour we would stop at the graveyard my Grandmother is buried in. We would never go to Homs without stopping and praying on her grave and placing some flowers on it, so she too could enjoy Eid. We would then continue and visit my favorite relatives from my dad’s side. They were my dad’s cousins and they had 2 daughters and 2 sons. Visiting them was the highlight of my year, every year. I loved them so much and had a great time with them every time.
Our two families would then go all together around Homs from house to house, visiting every single person we knew. It lasted until around midnight. By the end of it, we would be sick from all the homemade biscuits stuffed down our throats, but we loved every moment of it. The next day we would either stay and see everyone again, but this time in one huge house, or we would go back to Damascus and everyone from Homs would come see us. This time of the year was filled with happiness (though there was also a lot of pain caused by the excessive food forced into us!). I remember these trips occurring my whole life, until they just stopped.
I was in Jordan when the Arab Spring began. I was having dinner in TGIF with a huge group of friends and the TV was on, showing photos and videos of the problems happening in Egypt. The first sentence that slipped from my mouth was, “This would never happen in Syria.” Maybe I was a naïve child and did not know about the politics and problems in Syria, but I knew my people. I knew how kind and loving everyone was there. I was 100% certain that Syria would be the country standing strong and united amidst the chaos in the Middle East. A few short months later, I was proven very wrong.
Small problems began but it was nothing serious. Even my dad, who knew many people, believed it was nothing serious. That was in 2011 and that year my parents decided to bring me back to Syria from boarding school because an American school had opened and it had high levels of education. I was happy there, I made several good friends but that was very short lived. The problems were no longer small. The fights were becoming bigger and every day we would learn the procedure for escaping the school in case of people breaking in or a bomb threat. Every day we were told to leave the school from the back door because the front door was blocked due to the protests. It got even worse.
The school tried to remain open but it was hard for them because the lives of children and foreigners were in danger. When a gas bomb was thrown into our school and kids aged from 5 years and over were coughing and suffering from burning eyes, the school was forced to close down. I actually remember that day clearly. I was walking up the stairs to my economics class when my eyes felt like there was fire in them. They kept tearing up and my nose felt like it had hot chili peppers stuffed in it. I entered the class thinking it was just I smelling something weird, but soon realized everyone in my class had tears in their eyes and was sniffling. I soon found out that it wasn’t just me, or just my classroom, but rather it was the whole school. This incident took place end of November, start of December in 2011.
The school had been open for barely a few months. It closed down and slowly so did all the embassies. Things were getting serious and everyone knew it now. My parents did not know what to do, but for the sake of our education and protection, they decided to move us to Jordan. My mother’s family lived in London but they didn’t want to move so far because we believed that Syria would be back within a year. We moved to Jordan, we bought a house and we continued the rest of the year there. By August 2012, Syria was still suffering and it was getting worse. So we remained in Jordan another year and I graduated high school in 2013. Meanwhile, Syria was getting much worse. My brothers and mom would visit my dad a lot, who remained in Syria, but it was a hectic year for me and it was more difficult for me to visit. I went a few times, but the last time I went, I felt how truly horrible the situation was. I remember just a few years before being able to go out at 3 am in the morning for a walk and feeling very safe, but when I went to Syria this time, I did not feel safe even in my bed.
We arrived on Thursday late in the afternoon, and my father was speeding like a crazy man from the border to Damascus because that was one of the most dangerous places. We went straight home that day and everyone went to sleep. But I could not. On the way, I saw smoke in random places and I heard distance shooting. It was not something anyone would want to hear. When I went to my room, I was so scared. I could not keep the lights off, although usually I don’t have any problems with the dark. I thought maybe if I cuddled up against the wall I would be able to sleep, but then I started hearing noises. Faint noises, coming from outside, and I freaked out. This continued for almost an hour and it kept getting louder. I woke one of my brothers up and begged him to go ask the guards if there was anyone outside with guns. It sounded like shooting and loud distant shouting. After begging for a while, my brother got up and went to see the guards. He came back after 15 or so minutes and told me that it was just the wind hitting against the door. I believed him but I still could not sleep. I knew something was wrong because my brother did not go back to sleep either, instead he went outside to stay with the guards, who remained awake all night. I tried to ignore the sound and I put my headphones on. I was able to drown out the sound but I could not sleep. The following day I grilled my brother about why he was outside all night and he told me that he had lied to me and that I was right. There were people fighting and there was shooting taking place a few streets down. I was terrified.
We spent the rest of the day at my dad’s office, but it was not joyful like I remembered. There were bombs dropped somewhere a bit distant from my dad’s office and again there was shooting. We could hear it all. It was horrible. Later in the afternoon, when there was no sign of trouble for a while, my mother wanted to go shopping. The driver warned her that it may not be safe but she still wanted to go. It was my driver, my mom and I in the car and we drove to the shopping area. We only had just arrived when the driver saw people packing up their shops quickly and leaving. He immediately turned the car around and as he drove the car away, he told us that something was happening there. A few minutes later, there were two different huge groups gathering and the shouting began. My driver was successful in driving us away from there and I found out later that guns were used at that time.
We left that day back to Jordan and although my brothers and mom have gone again, I never went again after that time.
In 2011, when it all started, my life and my family’s life began going downwards. We never went out anymore and while we were still in Damascus, the changes in our lives started. Eid came and went. No one visited and we did not go to Homs either. No one wanted to dress up. All I could see was depression all around me. When my family moved to Jordan, the depression grew. Everyone basically went about his or her days like zombies. Eventually, we were forced to leave the country we grew up in. The country we learned to cherish. We were watching it falling apart right in front of us, and I promise you, it was not the best feeling.
The situation was continuing to get worse in Syria and we were also receiving several threats on our lives in Jordan. In school, people were constantly talking about Syrians taking refuge in Jordan and they were complaining about the Syrians taking up their space, food and causing prices to rise. It was hard to hear this everyday and I had several people tell me that the Syrians were not welcome in Jordan. It hurt every time and the feeling of being unwanted was horrible. What hurt even more was that when other countries needed help and refuge, Syria never closed its doors on them and now that Syrians need somewhere to feel safe, all the Arabs closed their doors on us.
At this point, the depression reached extremely high levels. Before, we all had some hope that we would return home and everything would be fine sooner rather than later. But when we learnt that we were very wrong, all our hopes were crushed. We no longer felt safe in Jordan and my dad decided it was time for us to move to London, to where my Mother’s family was living. We left in the last week of August, 2013. Since living in London, I have heard several stories about different people dying and different people leaving the country. For example, A driver I knew since I was three had to run from Syria on foot to Germany. There were several stories I heard and each one hurt me more.
Also, since coming to London, I have had several nightmares about Syria. They usually begin with me sitting with my family and laughing and having a good time, when suddenly everything just goes wrong. There are sirens all around and the place we were sitting in is no longer there, rather we are suddenly standing in the streets surrounded by destroyed and crumbling buildings. There are people running in front of us. I always look around in my nightmares and see pure fear in the eyes of my parents. The nightmare ends with us all running trying to find refuge in a building, but the dreams always end before we find a safe place. In other nightmares, I would be in Syria and all around me there would be people dying, running, and bombs dropping behind us. I couldn’t sleep some days because of the nightmares. If I heard fireworks unexpectedly I would be so terrified.
I remember once being at my cousin’s house and there were loud bomb like noises and everyone told me they were fireworks. I could not see the fireworks, though. I could just hear them and all I could think was that they were bombs and the war had followed us to London. I remember breaking down that day and I felt fear that I had only felt once before, which was that horrible day in Syria.
After being in London for a month or so, my father informed me that they had taken my cousin, the one from Homs (the youngest son) and they had thrown him in jail because they thought he was a terrorist. He was only 18 years old and he was tortured for weeks. My father was able to get him out after 2 or so months but the tragedy did not end there. After living in London for almost 3 or 4 months, my father gave me more horrible news. We were having breakfast when he told me that a bomb had dropped in Homs on 3 of my male cousins. They were lucky to have survived but one of them had lost both his legs from his knee down and he was only 23. His brother had lost one leg from the knee down and had severe damage to his kidney, and this was the cousin that was tortured in jail. And my other cousin, who had just married and had a baby son, lost his foot from the ankle. When I heard this I was devastated. How could 3 innocent boys, who were just closing their shop for the night, suddenly loose so much. It was unfair. Since then, it has become a weekly thing hearing news about people I know being killed, kidnapped, tortured or fleeing the country.
Every time I heard something, I would not be able to handle it. Just reading on the news would cause me depression. My country has now become a warzone and the people whom I loved and grew up with are now blown to pieces. I can say I am lucky to have been able to leave and have a hopefully good future, but what about the million Syrians who did not deserve to die? What about the young kids whose lives are forever ruined? What about the kids who see their siblings and parents killed right in front of their eyes? If I have nightmares from what I have seen, what about the people who live through it everyday? Do they deserve all of this? My father, who lives in Syria until today, has seen so much and has lost so many people. He has seen in his own eyes buildings burn down and people getting killed trying to get out. He has received death threats himself and has barely escaped bombs that were aimed at his own car. What about my cousins who had their whole lives ahead of them? Why do they have to suffer? What about all the people living in their beloved country? Why do they all have to see such cruelty?
I know Syria will one day return back to how it used to be. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I have to believe that it will.
She smiles at me as teardrops gather in her pale eyes.
There is a lump in her throat; her voice is shaky.
I can tell that she is trying to be strong for me.
I know I am trying to do the same for her.
We hug each other so tight,
Feeling the warmth of each other’s skin.
I smell her familiar scent, and take in a deep breath,
Knowing that soon I will forget it all over again.
She says something, but I don’t comprehend it.
I am too focused on remembering the smell of her skin.
I kiss her goodbye on her wrinkled cheek,
And can taste her salty tears.
As I take another step towards airport security,
Another step closer to college,
I turn around and see her waving goodbye.
I open my mouth to yell, “Bye Mom! I love you!”
But nothing comes out,
As we are forced to say goodbye yet again.
A poem written for my brave and beautiful mother, about all the times we have had to say goodbye and for all the goodbyes yet to come (boarding school, college, life...).
I love beautiful sentences. I often find myself reading the same old quotes again and again, and highlighting random sentences on my kindle simply because I find them beautiful. When you take beautiful sentences and put them against some beautiful music, especially if those sentences are totally related to my life, I honestly think you've created magic. Sometimes, the words of others explain how we feel much better than we ever could.
I often find myself shuffling through my iPod and thinking, "this describes my life perfectly." Here are a list of my top TCK-related songs along with some reasons why I picked them. Hopefully you'll find the relatable too!
10. I'm Still Here (Treasure Island) - Johnny Reznik (Goo Goo Dolls)
First of all, this is one of the best and also one of the most underrated Disney movies ever. And a huge shout-out to Goo Goo Dolls, one of my favourite bands.
It's kind of hard to explain why I picked this song, since I have so many different reasons. It's not as black and white as some of the other songs below, but nevertheless it's absolutely beautiful and relateable for TCK's.
I feel like every culture has it's traditions and expectations. But, when you've lived in so many, you just take the beauty from all of them and make your own, unique "culture". When one culture tells you, "this is beautiful, this is right," and the other culture tells you the exact opposite, it's hard to fit in to society's perfect expectations. You try to understand, but you're forced to reconsider society's voice and use your unique experiences and your own beliefs and come up with your own conclusions. For example, bi-racial marriage. I've never seen so many bi-racial couples than in the US, but there is so much taboo surrounding it pretty much everywhere else in the world. Why? It kind of baffles me, haha.
"They can't tell me who to be cuz I'm not what they see.
The world is still sleeping while I keep on dreaming for me.
And their words are just whispers and lies that I'll never believe.
And I want a moment to be real.
Want to touch things I don't feel.
Wanna hold on and feel I belong.
And how can they say I never change?
They're the ones that stay the same.
I'm the one now,
cuz I'm still here.
I'm still here."
9. In My Life - The Beatles
This is one of my favourite Beatle's song. It's all about remembering those people and places of your past in a positive light.
"There are places I remember,
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends,
I still can recall,
Some are dead and some are living.
In my life I've loved them all
Though I know I'll never lose affection,
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them.
In my life I love you more.
In my life I love you more."
8. Talking to the Moon - Bruno Mars
Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? Or even a long distance best-friend relationship (haha I don't know what to call that!)? This song perfectly describes how it feels to have so many people surrounding you, but to still feel lonely because that one person you miss so badly isn't there. I know this is a love song, but it reminds me of my mom too, because sometimes I miss her that much.
"I know you're somewhere out there, somewhere far away.
I want you back; I want you back.
My neighbors think I'm crazy, but they don't understand.
You're all I had. You're all I had.
At night when the stars light up my room, I sit by myself
Talking to the moon.
Trying to get to you...
In hopes you're on the other side, talking to me too!
Or am I a fool who sits alone talking to the moon?"
The good thing: we're all in luck! No more need to talk to the moon, we have Skype for all us long distance peeps! ;)
7. Leaving on a Jet Plane - John Denver
This song makes me cry. Little personal story: I started boarding school in Jordan when I was 15, and my parents were living in a whole different continent. I still remember standing in the airport saying goodbye to my parents after winter break. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. My dad hugged me tighter than he ever had before, and I couldn't look at my mom, who was trying her hardest to be strong for me. I couldn't look at her, because I too was trying my hardest to be strong for her. We both knew that if either of us let even one tear fall down our cheeks, we'd both break down crying. So instead, we hugged each other with tears in our eyes, swallowing that huge lump in our throats, and pretended like everything was totally okay. I wasn't necessarily sad or scared about being so young and on my own. It was more like, I could imagine all the emotions my Mom was facing (sadness, anger at the fact we had to say goodbye, worry, anxiousness to name a few) and yet she still hugged me and was strong for me. She's my sunshine. This one is for you, Amma.
" All my bags are packed,
I'm ready to go.
I'm standin' here outside your door.
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.
But the dawn is breakin',
It's early morn,
The taxi's waitin',
He's blowin' his horn.
Already I'm so lonesome
I could die.
So kiss me and smile for me.
Tell me that you'll wait for me.
Hold me like you'll never let me go.
'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane,
Don't know when I'll be back again.
Oh babe, I hate to go.
Now the time has come to leave you.
One more time
Let me kiss you.
Then close your eyes,
And I'll be on my way.
Dream about the days to come
When I won't have to leave alone,
About the times, I won't have to say
Kiss me and smile for me.
Tell me that you'll wait for me.
Hold me like you'll never let me go.
'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane.
Don't know when I'll be back again.
Oh babe, I hate to go."
6. Daylight - Maroon 5
Goodbyes totally suck. They're the worst. Think back to the last time you moved and had to say goodbye not only to everyone you became so close with, but also the place you found yourself learning to call home. Maybe even a significant other or your own family. Remember that anxious, horrible feeling you had the whole day and night before you got onto that plane and left, not really sure when you would get to return again? Yeah. That's this song, summed up, but much more catchy!
Similar to Leaving on a Jetplane, but more upbeat.
"Here I am waiting, I'll have to leave soon
Why am I holding on?
We knew this day would come,
we knew it all along...
How did it come so fast?
This is our last night,
but it's late,
and I'm trying not to sleep cuz I know when I wake I will have to slip away.
And when the daylight comes, I'll have to go,
but tonight I'm going to hold you so close.
Cuz in the daylight we'll be on our own,
but tonight I need to hold you so close.
The sky is getting bright.
The stars are burning out.
Somebody slow it down.
This is way too hard
cuz I know when the sun comes up I will leave
This is my last glance that will soon be memory."
5. My Sacrifice - Creed
I used to listen to this song pretty often growing up simply because it reminded me of happy times to come, when I would get to see my friends again, and basically that feeling of reconnecting and reminiscing about the past.
"Hello my friend we meet again.
It's been a while, where should we begin?
Feels like forever.
Within my heart are memories of perfect love that you gave to me.
Oh I remember.
When you are with me,
I'm careless; I believe.
Above all the others, we'll fly...
This brings tears to my eyes.
4. Breakaway - Kelly Clarkson
Ever lived someone where you just didn't feel like you belonged? You weren't happy there, for whatever reason, and couldn't wait to move yet again? I felt this way the first time I moved to England from Saudi Arabia. It's funny to think that now, because England is one of the few places that I truly can think of as home and I am always looking forward to visiting it again.
Anyways, this song is perfect for when you feel like you just don't belong and are still longing for that place you'd love to call home.
"Wanted to belong here,
but something felt so wrong here,
so I prayed I could break away.
I'll spread my wings and learn how to fly.
I'll do what it takes until I touch the sky.
And I'll make a wish, take a chance,
make a change, and breakaway.
Out of the darkness and into the sun,
but I won't forget all the ones that I love (the place I come from)...
Wanna feel the warm breeze,
sleep under a palm tree,
feel the rush of the ocean.
Get on board a fast train,
travel on a jet plane far away,
and break away.
I'll spread my wings and learn how to fly.
Though it's not easy to tell you goodbye,
I gotta make a wish, take a chance, make a change,
and break away."
3. I'm Like a Bird - Nelly Furtado
I think this song is perfect for us TCK's who have moved around a lot and are still sick with wanderlust. The chorus, in particular, rings true. Sometimes, it's hard to open yourself up and get close to someone when you know in a year, or in two years, or in four years you'll have to move halfway across the world and you don't know when you'll see them again.
"Though my love is rare,
though my love is true,
I'm like a bird. I'll only fly away.
I don't know where my soul is.
I don't know where my home is.
And baby all I need for you to know is
I'm like a bird,
I'll only fly away.
I don't know where my soul is.
I don't know where my home is.
It's not that I wanna say goodbye,
it's just that every time that you try to tell me me me that you love me,
each and every single day I know I'm eventually going to have to give you away.
And though my love is rare,
though my love is true...
I'm like a bird, I'll only fly away.
I don't know where my soul is.
I don't know where my home is.
2. Drops of Jupiter - Train
Imagine your best friend from "home" singing this to you after you've moved around the world. I lived the majority of my childhood in Saudi Arabia. In 2005, I moved to England, and in 2006 to Italy. Finally, in 2007, I moved back to that same small town in Saudi Arabia and the chorus of this song is how all my friends from that small town spoke to me.
"But tell me, did you sail across the sun?
Did you make it to the Milky Way?
To see the lights all faded,
And that heaven is overrated?
Tell me, did you fall from a shooting star?
One without a permanent scar....
And did you miss me
While you were looking for yourself out there?"
And tell me, did Venus blow your mind?
Was it everything you wanted to find?
And did you miss me
While you were looking for yourself out there?"
And did you finally get the chance
To dance along the light of day?
And did you fall from a shooting star?
And were you lonely looking for yourself out there?"
1. Go The Distance - Michael Bolton (Hercules)
This song is basically my life. Ever since I moved for the first time, this song literally was made for me. Home became a concept I couldn't grasp. I had a bit of home everywhere I went, and yet I still longed for that ONE home. I didn't want a bit of home here and a bit of home there - I just wanted (and still want) that one, perfect place I can call home. I always dreamed of this one, singular, place filled with all the people I love, somewhere that I just fully felt like I belong. None of the places I've lived completed that for me, because as a Pakistani citizen, I can't just pack my bags and live where ever I want. Pakistan never fully felt like that for me, either, because I've always (unfortunately) felt like a foreigner there.
Anyways, I'm still looking for that one, perfect place. I'm convinced it exists, and I'm have faith that I will find it.
"I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a great warm welcome would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying, this is where I'm meant to be
I'll be there someday, I can go the distance
I'll find my way, if I can be strong
I know every mile, will be worth my while
I would go almost anywhere to feel like I belong."
This is not an article about how much I "hate Saudi Arabia", because I honestly feel the exact opposite. Saudi Arabia is like home to me, and I'm always super excited when I have a chance to go back! It's a magnificent country, and I'm so blessed to have spent so much time there. This is an article about some issues I've faced particularly in Saudi Arabia, and about me discovering the beauty of the niqaab. Let me repeat one last time: I love Saudi Arabia. :)
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you read the name Saudi Arabia? Oil? Oppression? Burkas? For me, I think "home". Not only home for me, but home for Islam, as our two Holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located on Saudi soil. I had been traveling quite a bit this summer break, and my adventures took me back to Saudi Arabia, the country I was born in and lived in for 13 years. And, for the first time in my entire life, I wore a niqaab.
To make sense of why I would do that, I think I need to start at the beginning. Saudi Arabia is a very exclusive country. Chances are, you've probably never been here unless you're a Muslim going to Mecca or Medina for pilgrimage. They aren't exactly tourist-friendly, to say the least, and people (particularly of) South Asian descent who comes here for work are discriminated against. You think I'm exaggerating? I just read on the news a few days ago that Saudi Arabia is going to stop it's men from marrying women from 4 countries, one of them being Pakistan, so it speaks for itself. This all said, I still consider Saudi Arabia to be a very beautiful country and some small incidents of discrimination can't scare me away. One of my closest friends (shoutout to Dareen!) is from Jeddah and she's the absolute sweetest, most fun loving person I've ever met.
In Islam, women aren't required to wear a niqaab (like they are to wear a hijaab), so anyone wearing one is doing so out of their own religiousness and modesty. I wore one for different reasons though, mostly because I was tired of being a target of what my friends and I called eye-raping. For those of you who don't know, women in Saudi Arabia are required by law to wear an abaya/burka and a hijaab to protect her modesty. There are religious police that enforce this and a woman can get into real trouble with the law if she doesn't follow this rule. So, every single woman roaming the streets of Saudi Arabia is covered head to toe, literally, but I've found that men still check us out. And it's not just your everyday check-out, it's more like what I said earlier: eye-raping. They look at your body so intensely, as if they have a super power that allows them to undress you with their eyes.
Catcalling and the like aren't really allowed in Saudi Arabia (nor in Islam, where a man is required to lower his gaze in the sight of any woman...) so these men take all of their sexual tension and just stare at you. And stare at you. And stare at you. And they don't stare at your face; they stare at your 100% fully covered body. There's not much to check out, and it just makes you feel so uncomfortable. If you're out looking all cute, you kind of except at least a little male attention, but when you're covered up completely for the sake of modesty and religion, but get "eye-raped" regardless, you feel disgusted. It makes you feel like a sexual object, there just to satisfy their neverending thirst. It's not the Saudi men who do this either - it's always some older Desi man.
Why? My theory is that it's because of power. As I stated earlier, immigrants are not treated fairly in Saudi Arabia. There seems to be this unspoken hierarchy, that flows something like this: Saudi men. Saudi women. White men. Non-Saudi Arab men. White women. Non-Saudi Arab women. Desi men. Desi women (I would say Filipino men and women are on the same scale as us Desi people too). I, as a desi girl, am at the "bottom of the food chain", and therefore an easy target of these power&sex hungry fools. (Please understand that this is solely based off of my own personal experiences, and of those of my friends, and are in NO WAY a reflection of what ISLAM preaches!) Furthermore, I've never faced this kind of sexual torment in any other country (including Pakistan, which is where most of these creeps are from). Of course, men still cat call, men still stare, men still commit crimes like rape, but honestly I've never felt as victimized as I do in Saudi.
I can't explain to you how disgusting it makes you feel to be covered head to toe, NOT want any attention from men, but still have them stare at you. You don't feel human anymore. You feel, like I said before, a sexual object. Not a person. Not a woman. Just a sex toy. I wore a niqaab to protect myself from their endless staring.
Wearing a niqaab was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.
People, especially in Western countries, seem to think that Islam and Muslim countries oppress women. I've always argued that Islam does not oppress women, and that for the most part Muslim countries don't either (and if they do, it's not because of Islam, but rather because of their own hypocrisy. Again, this is for another post), but I wasn't as sure of it as I am now. I always understood why women wear hijaab. Not only is it required by our faith for various reasons, but it looks beautiful as well. Niqaab? I wasn't ever sure why someone would want to hide their face. Especially if they cover their eyes too. It just looked creepy and uncomfortable to me. Have you ever seen a woman trying to eat with a niqaab? Yeah, I never understood why someone would willingly choose that life until I decided to try it out (to hopefully stop being sexualized) and saw the benefits.
On my second day back in the kingdom, I went abaaya shopping because my old one was getting a bit short. That was when I decided to buy a niqaab as well, because just as I was entering the store, one of the men sweeping the street stopped and just stared at me walk for a good 2 minutes. I had no makeup on, I was wearing a burka and hijab, and I was with my family but he had no shame... I felt disgusted, and thought to myself that I don't want to go through that anymore. A few days later, our journey took us from Khobar to Mecca and then to Medina, which is where I first put on my niqaab.
There were some of those Desi workers outside the masjid sweeping the streets in Medina, who stared at me and other non-niqaabis every time we walked by. One day, I took my niqaab out of my suitcase, put it on, and went to the masjid for prayer and literally none of them looked at me. Not one of them. They didn't even dare look in my direction. It was so liberating. I'm almost certain that the staring didn't stop because I was covering my face, but rather because the niqaab is associated with Saudi women (usually they're the only ones who wear one in Saudi Arabia), fear of them, and unspoken food chain which I stated earlier. Anyways, it wasn't only that. When I went into the masjid, many different women talked to me in Arabic, and it made me feel included.
In Saudi Arabia, you'll see different "cliques". The Saudis stick together, the Desis stick together, the Indonesians together, and other Arabs together, etc. You can literally tell everyone apart because Saudi women wear all black (abaayas, hijaab, and niqaab). Non-saudis tend to wear colourful scarves, and if they're not wearing a niqaab, you can obviously tell their race by looking at their face.
Anyways, the Saudi women treated me like one of them. They would come and talk to me, and only after saying a sentence in Arabic and hearing me reply back saying either "Maafi Arabi" (no Arabic) or "Sorry, I don't really speak Arabic" would they realize I wasn't one of them. I was born in this country and lived here the majority of my life, but this was the first time I ever really felt accepted by them. Please don't misunderstand me: no Saudi woman was ever rude to me, nor am I calling them racist, it's just that like I said before: people here tend to stick in their "cliques" and don't really mix with anyone else. To feel included in the Saudi one, 13 years after living in the country, felt kind of nice.
Wearing the niqaab made me understand that, at least in Saudi Arabia, women really did wear it out of their own will, just as I did. Wearing a niqaab gave me respect, power and acceptance. No longer did I feel like this helpless girl who was a daily victim of sexual "assault" nor was I an outsider. I felt included, and I felt powerful. The moment that niqaab came off and I went back outside, I felt inferior, ashamed (because of the staring, as if it was my fault) and naked. It's easy to detect a person's emotions by just looking at their face. The way their eyebrows are arched, how their smile goes up or frown goes down, the rosiness of their cheeks... I felt like my soul was vulnerable and exposed.
The niqaab didn't only give me acceptance and respect from men, but it protected me from the women too. Women, myself included, like to stare at each other for some reason. "I like her eyebrows", "her nose is really big", "her makeup is perfect", and "her lips are too thin" are just some of the comments I've overhead women make about other women in public, like at the malls. Before I wore the niqaab, I do feel like women stared at me for whatever reason. No one was ever downright rude or mean to me, nor has a stranger ever complimented me, but you can just tell when someone is staring at you. With the niqaab, I felt protected from that. My identity was hidden deep within me, not open and being shown for the world to stare and judge. Again, this felt absolutely liberating. I'm the kind of girl who likes to wear makeup every time I leave the house, because I simply don't feel beautiful or confident without it. I have a need within me beautify myself for other women's eyes, but wearing the niqaab enlightened me and showed me that I don't need to do that.
Tomorrow, I'll be flying out of Saudi Arabia and back to England. Soon after that, back to college in the US. Will I continue wearing a niqaab there? No. I'm not saying this with any pride, but I don't wear a hijab outside Saudi Arabia. One day, when I'm ready, InshaAllah (God Willing) I want to start wearing it. But a niqaab? I've never felt the need to wear one anywhere else except this country. I've never felt like a sexual object in any other country but this one, which was the main reason I began wearing one here. That said, wearing it taught me a lot about myself and society, and gave me a new found understanding of why women in this country wear one (which is something I didn't necessarily understand before).
The point of this post was to show that women aren't forced into wearing hijaab or niqaab by their families, as people often believe. I wore the niqaab by choice here in Saudi Arabia. In less religious cities like Khobar, many women don't cover their hair, but I did/do out of my own comfort. Don't tell me women in the Middle East are forced by their families to cover up, because we're not. We do this on our own, not because we were forced by our families. Some women are forced into these things, but you can say that about any religion, race, and tradition. Women around the world are "forced" into things, so it is unfair to focus on that very minority that were forced by their families to cover, when the majority did/do so out of their own will.
Families don't force their girls into covering up. Are women forced by society, though? Yes. I can't argue with that. Society forced me into wearing a niqaab in Saudi Arabia; something I wouldn't have ever done otherwise. Niqaab is not required by religion, it was literally the society that made me feel like the only way to protect myself was to cover my face. Anyways, on one side of the world, women are pushed by society to cover up their bodies, making them feel like they're just sexual objects, and in the other, women are pushed by society to show more and more skin, again making them feel like they're just sexual objects. Neither society is really totally free, nor are either totally oppressed. Only when women are able to truly choose for themselves what they want to wear, and not have any consequences for their choice, will women around the world be free from man and society's grip on not only our dress 'codes', but also our overall lifestyles.
without water, and without other luxuries that are not necessarily relevant to my life today. That was what it was like to fast in Ramadan in England this summer (2014). Imagine going 18 hours without food or any drink, every single day for a month. There are 24 hours in a day, and for 18 of them you can't eat or drink anything. It was not easy at all, but it sure taught me a lot about myself that I would not have learned otherwise.
The main thing I learned was discipline. It is truly amazing what the human body is capable, if you just change your mindset. When you start getting into shape again, your body screams "stop! stop!" because it hurts and you're tired, but you ignore that and keep going with the end goal in mind. After your tough workout, you feel proud not because you were able to run 2 miles, or lift those 2 kg weights, but because when your body was telling you to stop, you took control and kept going. You pushed through it. Similarly, this was how it felt to fast, but I would say it was much more extreme and harder to say no than it is during a workout.
I was surrounded by food for the entirety of Ramadan, and even cooked iftari (the food you open your fast with - dinner) a few times and never broke my fast. I saw foods I don't normally crave, and I craved them more than I crave foods I do usually crave, but even when my body screamed "eat it", I consciously said "no". I don't think you can understand how hard it is to do this, unless you too try it. Let me explain. For 18 hours every. single. day. for one whole month, I went without food and water. Was that hard? Not really - our bodies are able to go days without these luxuries. Saying no to myself, to my desires... That was where things got difficult. For a moment, my body would scream at me, telling me to give in to my desires and shove that chocolate cake down my throat in one bite, but I would just say no, and then a moment later I was in control again.
Muslims are told to only have a few dates and water for iftaari, pray the maghrib (evening) prayer and then eat as much as they want. This is because it helps jumpstart one's metabolism because after not eating for hours upon hours, your body tends to go on starvation-mode. Even though we're taught to do this, most people just eat and eat and eat as soon as the adhaan (call to prayer) is heard. I was one of those Muslims too, until this Ramadan. I'd eat a few dates, have something to drink, pray, and then finally eat a normal sized portion. I found myself more in control of my hunger because of the discipline I learned through fasting. You'd think that after not eating anything for 18 hours, you'd literally eat a whole cow, but that wasn't the case at all. I've been fasting every Ramadan since I was an extremely little girl, maybe like 9 years old, but this Ramadan was the longest, most rewarding, and surprisingly the easiest.
Of course, I was fasting for religious purposes, but this made me question that if I am capable of doing this, what else can I do if I just put my mind to it? The possibilities are limitless. The human body is amazing, and only by pushing ourselves to our limits are we able to truly see what we can achieve if we just believe.
Another thing I learned from Ramadan is how hard it must be for those who fast not our of their own will, but because they literally have nothing to eat. There are people all over the world who can't afford to eat every night, or don't have access to clean water for days. And I'm not just talking about those starving kids in Africa you see on TV; there are hungry people everywhere, so there is no excuse for us not to help them. If you see a homeless person on the street, and you don't want to give them any money because you're afraid they might spend it on drugs or alcohol, then why not stop by the coffee shop down the road and buy them a sandwich? And if you are fortunate enough to live somewhere where homelessness isn't as common, then why not send your extra change (or perhaps more) to those starving children across the world? No, you won't get to see them give you a huge smile when the receive your aid, but you can rest assured that you've helped someone more than you can imagine. You'll be sure you know where your money went, and you'll be giving that person more than you can imagine. You don't know how it feels really be hungry until you've been in that situation yourself. Even I don't know how it feels, because everyday that I fasted I knew there would be a lot of great food waiting for me to devour it soon enough, but I can only imagine.
In short: Be humble. Be charitable. Believe that you can achieve anything, and you will.
Over the summer of 2010, I was watching a film called Barbie in a Mermaid Tale with my six year old Pakistani cousin. For the purpose of this post, let's call my cousin Jane. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the film, but was shocked when I heard a racist comment escape from my little cousin's mouth.
It happened when Barbie’s two best friends, a tanned white girl and a darker African American girl appeared on the screen, Jane immediately expressed her disgust at how “dark” the African American character was, as if dark meant ugly, and how beautiful the other and Barbie were. Shocked by her response, I asked why she thought so, because to me, all the characters looked the same, but with different coloured skin and eyes.
She told me that of course the darker one is “karhaab” (bad, ruined, not beautiful) because she is not fair skinned, and that Barbie and her Caucasian friend are the most beautiful, simply because they are fair. I always knew that fairness was the main epitome of beauty in Pakistan, but to hear my six year old cousin emphasize it so vigilantly took me by surprise.
There were many dark skinned male characters as well, but she did not comment at all on their appearances. This was interesting because it showed me that, in her eyes, beauty is a role meant to be played by women. I even asked her if all the girl's features were kept the same, but she was white, what would Jane think then? After making me pause the film so she could have a better look at her, Jane declared that if she was white (or fair, as she worded it), then she would be even more beautiful than the main character, Barbie.
While the concept of race is foreign in Pakistani culture, the concepts of whiteness and darkness are very relevant. Skin tones and their implications are the main problems. Jane was referring to the colour of the girls' skins rather than their races, but she was also indirectly implying that she believes Caucasians are automatically more beautiful than those of African descent. Specifically, in Pakistani culture, dark skin is not only considered less beautiful, but it also (supposedly) represents poverty. It is assumed that if someone has dark skin, then he/she spends the day working in the sun, or cannot afford skin bleaching creams such as the famous Fair & Lovely.
Of course, this is a completely false statement, but nevertheless it is believed so firmly. Even the name of the cream implies that if someone is fair, then she is lovely, but if she is dark, then she's not beautiful.
To further emphasize my point, fairer skinned girls are often preferred in the Pakistani work force than darker ones. This is especially true for jobs such as air hostesses and actresses. It is very rare to see a dark skinned Pakistani (or Indian) actress in any drama or Bollywood film. Even if they are dark skinned, they are forced by society to wear so much white-coloured makeup to appear fairer. Furthermore, brides always seem to look too many shades lighter than they actually are on their wedding day in Desi weddings. All of this emphasizes to darker skinned women that they are somewhat beneath fairer women, simply because of their skin tone. Darker women are treated like they have a problem that needs to be fixed.
In Jane's eyes, the character was stripped of her identity and just seen as a 'dark girl'. She was placed upon a scale, based on her gender and her skin colour, and then judged harshly whilst completely ignoring every other beautiful characteristics. Inequality based on skin colour in Pakistan is simply ridiculous, but continues to faced anyway.
When one hears a six year old declaring a cartoon character ugly just because of the colour of their skin, as if that concept has been engraved into the child's mind, that person can be assured there is something wrong with the society or the way this child has been brought up. It is not natural for children to see one skin colour as more beautiful than the other. The parents and general society push these concepts onto the children, and this issue must continue to be addressed not only within Pakistani culture, but abroad too.
This is a problem, as a TCK, I've witnessed in many different cultures. From my South Asian friends, to my Arab friends, to my South American friends and even my African friends - skin tone continues to play an unnecessarily important role in what defines a woman as "beautiful".