Saturday, April 27, 2013
The swarm and unrelenting push and the constant barrage of the news and the media is making my world larger, but I don’t want it to be larger. I get lost in a world that is too large. The world is too much with me, so I stepped back and chose to remove myself from the matters of the larger, more confusing aspects. I have taken time to will my world to shrink, to grow smaller, but in seeking the smallness I have discovered the true largeness of it.
In my own little patch of this immense planet I have found that the blue skies of a late spring afternoon yield a blue that no brush could dare duplicate. The way the sun slants across the sky and gently smudges the rays into a burnished gold stuns me in its simplicity and complexity. Every waking tree is busy pushing out fresh shoots, every new flower seedling unfurling to explode magically into purples and blues and crimson reds. These seemingly insignificant, but almost near miracles of an existence, occur year after year, decade after decade.
Hiding away from screaming headlines of Boston Bombers, sequesters, rising health care costs, and deaths in Syria, I begin to take notice of what I have lately turned a blind eye to; a creeping caterpillar, a breeze that suddenly lifts like a sigh, the faint scent of newly bloomed jasmine, a raindrop shining on a dandelion leaf. They each bring a new perspective to a year that has consistently spun me in circles again and again. They comfort me in their predictable adherence to the laws of the natural world.
Away from the chaotic world of humankind, my eyes, my ears, my sense of smell have expanded to bring the softer world around me into sharp focus and clarity. The skies are more expansive, the shadows of the trees deeper, the sunlight more diffused. Colors blend to create a Monet beginning. A Renoir backsplash. The rains push the scent of buried time from beneath the layers of packed earth and create a new promise. The flight of a single small sparrow against an azure sky becomes miraculous in its ease. Night sounds magnify into a twilight symphony that blend into an easy crescendo. All of these are new, yet not new. The world spins, babies are born, flowers bloom and then wither, men and women wish and dream, love tangles and untangles, horizons go on without end, and the sun sets gold, orange and red. They happen over and over again. Timeless in their predictability. And none of them matter, and all of them matter.
A year can go by so quickly, yet the happenings in a year can exact a furious toll. Some scenes of the past year, like ones from a play, I foresaw, but most I didn’t. Most knocked me down in their jolting fury. But I got back up. And my friends and loved ones got back up. The world got back up. And we went on because there is simply no other choice.
This upcoming year, now that I expect the unexpected, will bring other changes I can't even begin to suppose: heartaches, triumphs, joys, tears, sublime quiet moments, and rip roaring deafening ones. On a grander scale wars will begin and end; nature will do her work both beautiful and destructive; debates will be won and lost; leaders will shift, die, or just disappear from our attentions; agendas will be proposed and disposed; and men will kill for no other reason than they can. And we will be troubled and disheartened for a mere tick of the clock. And in the time it takes the second hand to move, I will once again disengage from the largeness and the loudness of the world. I will step into the small/largeness of a world that does and does not matter; a world that changes so slowly that mountains are carved away by a single grain of sand and a baby’s tears form an ocean.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Things to do before I die, checkout, expire, cease to exist, bite the dust, pass away...
And did I tell you about the guy I saw in Scott’s BBQ last night? Young guy with his wife and kid. He had this Frankenstein looking arm cast that extended almost from his wrist to his shoulder. The cast had a twist kind of turn screw thingie by his elbow and a metal rod running, what looked like to me, into the flesh of his arm. I just sat and watched him for a minute while he paid for his meal at the register, and the more I studied him the curiouser I got. And I started wondering, “How in the hell did he do that? I HAVE to know so I don’t do the same thing some day.”
I thought he must have injured himself in some really cool way like parachuting out of a plane, pulling an old woman out of the twisted wreckage of a fiery crash, or trying to jump rope double-dutch old school style. right? And the longer I sat there the more I had to know..
So I walked up to him and asked, ever so politely, “Excuse me, but how in the hell did you hurt your arm because I want to make sure I never do whatever it was you did.” He glanced at his arm, stuck a toothpick in his mouth and do you know what he said? Of course you don’t, but I am getting ready to tell you.
He said he slipped on a concrete floor at work and fell down. He fell down? What the hell? I said, “Are you sure you didn’t have an accident that involved a really kick ass Corvette?” He said, “No, I fell down.”
I didn’t even want my Scott’s cheeseburger after that, and I really do love Scott’s cheeseburgers. They’re dripping juicy-homemade and make me want to slap YOUR mama..
But I ate my cheeseburger, and pondered about a world in which all it takes is one slight misstep, one action that counters the laws of gravity for some diabolical, surely sadistic doctor to drill holes in your arm and encase said arm in a device that has actual turn screws attached to it.
I’m still traumatized...
Friday, April 5, 2013
I am woman. I am a canvas for his anger. He comes home in the evenings and flails at me, punishing my receiving flesh for the injustices he perceives inflicted upon him. I am envied by others for my status, home, new car, the white fence around my yard. He says if I try to leave he will find me. He will kill me. I know that he once loved me, but now his love resides somewhere hidden behind his anger and his wraith.
I do not complain nor utter a word of discovery. I do not know how to complain or resist anymore. All I know is my fear. Fear that someone will discover the truth. Fear that I am the cause of my own abuse. Fear that the next time he will succeed in doing what he has threatened to do so many times before. That his hands will cut off my oxygen, my life. And everyone will ask themselves and each other, “Why didn’t she tell? Why didn’t we know?” But I will be still and silent inside of a satin lined stainless steel bed and I will be unable to answer.
I am woman. I am raped and abused daily by the soldiers who line the refugee camp. I am a receptacle for their ejaculations, their urges. I am dishonored and made filthy. My body is no longer mine. My husband is dead, killed by a stray bullet, and I am as a rose in a desert with no fence surrounding me.
I watch as my children cry from hunger, the flesh melting from their frames a bit more each day, their eyes weak from lack of hope, their thin arms becoming as fragile as hollow bird bones.
As the fighting continues, more and more souls push into the camp. A tent city of colored rags and blue tarps expands and grows like a field waiting to be reaped, only there is nothing but despair to reap.
The only warmth against the bitter icy nights are burning bits of plastics that give off ribbons of poison smoke. Children die either from noxious fumes or the freezing cold. Each morning I hear another mother’s sorrowful wails.
I disappear into the dust of war.
I am woman. I am university educated. M.I.T. Ivy league. Magna Cum Laude. My designer shoes are expensive, yet sensible. My black slacks and silk scarves are my only fashion statement. Nothing outwardly flashy to draw attention from my dedication or intelligence. Tireless in my need for perfection, I work from dawn to dusk, crossing my T’s, dotting my I’s. The last to turn out the office light each evening, I plow through the paperwork and pat myself smugly on the back. I exist on a glass ledge.
I go home to an empty upscale brownstone. I eat alone at an oak dining room table from take-out trays that I hide afterwards, oh so ceremoniously, in the trash bin. I hide them from myself. I don’t want myself to know that I eat alone. My arms ache to hold a lover, a child, anyone. But the long hours at work, the need to advance, to prove myself have meant a choice, A choice that I once thought I chose. I knew then that I couldn’t have it all. There is always a choice: career or heart.
I stepped out of the brownstone this morning, and there on the doorstep was my deflated heart, almost unrecognizable in its defeat. I stepped over it, careful not to crush it further. I checked the mail the way I do every morning, and I found this: a sealed black and white invitation for a low interest platinum card. I suppose I am a success.
I am woman. I was created to hide my face and body in public least I cause any undue temptation and lust in men’s hearts. All my life I have watched as my mother, my grandmother, my aunts follow the same road to submission. At twelve years of age I was veiled. I thought I would suffocate, but after time a caged bird will learn to not see the bars of his cage. It is true.
I bow to the role that has been decreed for me and my sex. I obey my father, then my husband to whom I was given like a family jewel to be bartered. My husband possesses me how and when he will. I offer no objections. My word is worth only half as much as a man’s, but to what would I testify? I am told I cannot travel without permission from my husband, but where would I go? I am by law not allowed to drive a car, but my husband provides a driver, so how am I to complain? I am not to leave the house alone, but it is for my own protection, isn’t it?
If I am to receive paradise I must submit my will in all things. I submit.
I am woman. I am being hunted like a rabbit. He terrorizes my existence. He leaves notes on the windshield of my car. In the notes he professes his love for me. He says if can’t have me no one else will. I file reports with the police, but they insist they are powerless unless he does something to physically harm me. I have a very official piece of paper in my possession that states he cannot contact me, he cannot be within 500 feet of me. So he stays his distance.
But I have seen him out of the corner of my eye when I have stepped out to check the mail or turn the sprinkler off. He pops up in the drug store four aisles away, smiling at me in that way he has. I have glanced up in my favorite restaurant to see him calmly watching me. Once he stepped behind me in a bank line and stood so close I could hear his exhales. He bides his time, but one day he will act. And when he acts, it will be too late.
I change my daily routines. I no longer visit the grocery store near my work. I vary my exit times from my house each morning. I gasp for air each time the phone rings. I keep the curtains drawn tight. My friends take turns staying the night with me. But they will soon grow weary of the vigilance, and the cat and mouse game will draw to a close. And I will wiggle uselessly in his jaws while the official piece of paper flutters to the ground and my blood soaks it red.
I am woman. This is the twelfth child that I carry in my spent body. My Holy Father insists that I cannot use artificial means to prevent children, that to do so would go against God and the church. That I would be damned.
I do not know what God wants, I only know that my body is exhausted beyond all imaginings. I only know that another pregnancy might place me in the earth. But my husband has needs. He turns to me in the night, in the dark, and I cannot refuse him. This house that reeks of grease and despair, of children’s cries and hopelessness, of not enough food and too many mouths has becomes my prison. I look into the eyes of my children and how can I unwant them now that they are here? I might as well unwant myself. My children drown in a quagmire of poverty. I go on and on bearing the fruits of the seeds of faith and obedience until I grow old much too soon and I have only death’s early kiss upon my lips to look forward to.
I am woman. I leaf through fashion magazines. I watch television commercials. Shampoo, makeup, clothing, handbags, hair color, diet drinks, tampons, perfume... The perfection image of womanhood smiles back at me, high gloss, airbrushed into unblurred lines and Barbie doll shine. Her waist as small as a wasp’s waist, her teeth as white and fine as pearls, her body as taunt and hewn as hard flesh colored glass. Her breasts spill achingly from a purple Versace bodice like two high topped hardened scoops of ice cream. With a captured toss of her sleek hair she poses on Mediterranean beaches, windless twinkle lit city balconies, English gardens of violets and lavender. A wineglass in her graceful hand she peeks cloyingly and knowingly from around the naked shoulder of a lover as flawlessly defined as she.
I gaze down at my thighs and study the small dimples that appear to pocket like small pellet gun wounds. The flesh on my stomach feels as soft and misshapen as a beached jellyfish. I have a chip in my left bottom tooth, one of my eyes is slightly larger than the other, I am pigeon toed when I walk, and my hair frizzes on rainy days. My lipstick smears, my eyeliner runs, and a doughnut can put ten pounds on me, so I eat it and then force myself to throw up. I starve myself one day. I gorge the next.
I spend thousands each year on creams that promise to eliminate my crow's feet, tooth whiteners to whiten my teeth by three shades, shampoos to give my hair bounce and shine, mouth washes to make my exhales minty, hair sprays to tame my frizz, concealers to mask my undereye circles, and polishes to color my glue-on nails.
But it’s never enough. She smiles back at me from the magazine and I hate her.
I am woman.
I am woman.
I am woman.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
There was a CNN opinion article tonight written by a journalist explaining her view and opinion that the Middle East is changing and how it is all due to the world becoming smaller via technology and increased Western influence. She wrote about her observations in Amman, Jordan, using the nightclubs and nightlife as her prime example. Granted, Jordan is a bit more progressive than Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim nations, but I do wish she had given more personal viewed daily life examples and not just the nightlife scene as indicators of change.
As you know I got back from the UAE in December, and while I cannot compare a UAE past with a UAE present, I did observe how the Western world is influencing the UAE at the moment. It helps to remember that the UAE is one of the most progressive Muslim nations that exists, thanks to their tourism trade and expat worker population. The UAE is unique in this amongst all the other Arab nations: the Nationals, or citizens, only comprise 9% of their own population. The remaining 91% are expats from all over the world: The Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, United States, Canada, Ireland, Germany. Americans alone number around 40,000. The varying outside influences that are impacting this small country are almost too dizzying to contemplate.
No country exists as a microcosm anymore, but as a part of the entire macrocosm of the world. And the UAE is no different. The UAE government, controlled by Muslim law and dictates, is attempting to hold on to their “heritage”. And I use the word loosely because there is no real heritage anymore. The UAE is constantly shifting, attempting to create a heritage that no one recalls. It is attempting to locate its identity.
In the UAE state run public schools Western teachers are instructed to teach Emirati children about the Emirati culture and heritage. I had to do a great deal of cram reading and research to be able to accomplish this, but I am happy to report, that in the end, I did a damned fine job, if I do say so myself. I focused on the Bedouin roots, the dances, the past dress, the traditional foods. But real heritage is a shared bond to a common past. The Bedouin tribes were too scattered and isolated to create a common memory, such as I am accustomed to in the United States: The Pilgrims, The Revolution, Yankee Doodle, slavery and our uncivil Civil War, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, 9/11- these are all carved into the psyche of almost every United States born American over the age of ten-years-old. I could not locate this most basic shared historical memory in reference to their country amongst my fifteen and sixteen-year-old Emirati students. Their "shared" history did not rise to the consciousness before Sheik Zayed unified the Emirates in 1971. His death in 2004 caused the kind of grief that Kennedy’s assassination produced in our own nation, ten fold. And gave birth to the ultimate identity crises.
Ways in which I sought to give visual reference to the UAE culture in my classroom..
Chalk all of this up to an agrarian society vs. a nomadic society, a religiously free society vs. a one religion society, a separation of religion and state society vs. a religion that IS the state society. Understanding these basic differences between Western countries and Middle Eastern countries is necessary if any Westerner is going to even attempt to understand the workings of the UAE. It took my coming back to the United States and long hours of contemplation to fully digest and apply this information to my experiences.
There is a real push by the UAE government to correct the historical memory deficient among its people and to create a nationalistic pride in the hearts of the still impressionable children, and the government is succeeding, as witnessed by the fervor and froth of this past National Day that I was fortunate to witness. However, a shared historical memory and nationalism are two different animals.
These are my female students dressed like Emirati military men at National Day celebrations at the school..
There is an almost sad element to this small nation’s sudden almost mythical rise out of the desert sands: they do not recall any leaders farther back than Sheik Zayed, who is held to a god-like status. Theirs is a canvas as blank and unending as the red sand dunes. And this is the canvas that finds itself ready to be splashed with the outside influences that a dominating expat population brings. The UAE government may still halfheartedly believe that they can hold back these influences, but the reality is that they cannot, and deep in their hearts they must know it. The Emirati population is dwindling. As current UAE laws stand no one born outside the UAE may apply for National status, except for one marrying an Emirati, and even then the process is lengthy and not promised. Citizenry is handed down through blood lines of the parents. There are many, many people who live within the borders of the UAE who can trace their families back for two or three generations in the UAE, but can never hope for Emirati citizen status. However, due to these very people the UAE is destined to continue to progress as a boiling- over pot of cultures, beliefs, and religions. One only has to observe the surface of the country to surmise how these factors are affecting the country and what the future holds.
Some of my experiences
Almost every Western store, except Wal-Mart, Target and Barnes & Noble exists in the UAE. American Eagle? Check. Levi’s? Check , Columbia? Check. GAP? Check. Chanel? Check. Gucci? Double check.
And almost every Western restaurant, except full on BBQ pork, is available. KFC? Check. McDonald’s? Check. Burger King? Check. Subway? Check. Red Lobster? Check. Pizza Hut? Check.
These Western eateries and brand names are extremely coveted and, in fact, garner higher customer mall traffic than all other chain stores/restaurants. They are the money makers. It is this highly concentrated consumeristic culture that has the most visible daily influence upon the UAE.
The culture of the UAE is tied directly to its Muslim religion. Islam is the state sanctioned religion and the country is 76% Muslim. This means, of course, that alcohol is prohibited, except to non-Muslim expats who possess a government issued alcohol license.
There were two liquor stores in the town where I lived in Al Ain. These were frequented by non- Muslim as well as Muslim customers (surprise, surprise..). One night, while making a wine run at one of the two liquor stores, I counted four kandora (national dress) dressed men prowling between the aisles of the glittering bottles of wines, beers, and liquors. Oftentimes though, alcohol buying Arab/Muslim men weren’t brazen enough to actually step inside of the store. It was quite funny to see dark tinted-windowed cars pull up at the curb, Indian workers scurry out to the cars holding black plastic bagged bottles which they would then hand off into the barely rolled down car windows. The drivers would then speed away after procuring their booty.
Man in khandora (bird is optional) And no, I don't know if he drinks or not. His photo is being used ONLY to show an example of National Dress for men...
In the nightclubs, Emirarti men in full kandoras eyed the all non-Muslim women patrons and openly sipped their drinks, often exiting at the end of the night with a lovely lady (Western, more often than not) draped on their arm. Of course, signs were posted throughout warning Arab men not to sit at the bar in full national dress. I found this so strange and comical that I had to have a photograph..
My Emirati high school girls continually peppered me with questions about American schools, and more than once expressed their wish to attend a coed school (schools are strictly segregated by gender in the UAE) . They asked about American high school sports and expressed an almost disbelief when I told them about after-school activities in the West such as academic clubs, track, and cheerleading. They were intensely interested in Justin Beiber and insisted that all Americans party all the time because that is what they had seen in Western movies. They could not differentiate between my American accent and a British teacher’s accent. They lumped us all together as Americans, I think.
a few of my tenth grade students..
Then I had to convince them that we Westerners do indeed "clean” ourselves after we use the toilet facilities. I finally figured it out: they assumed since the water hoses hanging next to the toilets seemed foreign to us (they were) that it meant we did our business then just pulled up our underwear and went on our merry way. They giggled and hid their faces behind their hands when I slowly corrected their assumptions.
A few of my giggling girls...
One day I became frustrated because they wouldn’t stop talking, so I plopped myself down in the middle of the floor until they decided to be quiet. After they had quieted down I rose to my feet, but in the standing up process my long skirt got caught in the heel of my shoe and the other side of my skirt hiked up. I inadvertently exposed my knee. The girls broke out into gales of giggles, shocked laughter, and exclamations. I never did get them back on task that day. And this reaction still puzzles me because they go shopping in the malls; it is their favorite pastime, They see the mannequins in the store windows dressed in purely, sometimes quite revealing Western clothing. They see the actresses in the movies wearing short evening dresses or halter tops and shorts. But, I suppose it is quite different when your teacher exposes herself at school.
Lovely Meera.... I think she laughed the most at me!
Some things in the UAE seemed too surreal at times because the culture/country is clearly straddling its past and its future.. In Carrefour one day (kind of like Walmart) I was shocked to hear AC/DCs "Highway to Hell" blasting over the store speakers followed by the chanting call to prayer. And the lingerie store windows in the malls made my American cheeks blush, while full abaya draped and shaylaed Emirati women paused at the windows and cocked their heads in interest at the black leather corseted mannequins, black feathered masks arrayed around one of the mannequin’s feet.
Music played constantly in the malls: show tunes, rock songs, Arabic music, rap music.. Piped in American rap music was unedited due to the language barrier, so it was nothing to hear Lil Wayne singing over the mall P.A system: Sister, brother,son, daughter, Father, motha/ fuck a copper/ got the maserati dancin on the bridge pussy/ poppin’
And you haven't lived until you’ve listened to Arabic rap music.
And you haven't lived until you’ve listened to Arabic rap music.
The UAE is a puzzling, changing country of contradictions, as well as traditions. If I knew I would be allowed to live two hundred more years in order to study the evolution of one country, and one country only, it would hands down be the United Arab Emirates. Maybe not one of the most sane, easily understood countries in the world, but definitely one of the most interesting due to the convergence of so many varying peoples. The Emiratis, by sheer population trends and statistics, are in a lose/lose battle for their own country. It would be interesting to observe firsthand what The United Arab Emirates finally, fitfully becomes.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
I'm thinking about starting my own business creating and selling Tallcart cards.. (Hallmark.. get it? And I’m short, so there is some kind of literary thingie going on here).
Anyway, picture this:
Nice glossy card. The front shows two people standing on a beach at sunset holding hands.. They are facing away from the camera.
Written across the top are the words:
“Thank you, my love..”
“For not quoting love poetry and uttering meaningless bullshit in my ear all the time like all those guys did when I was young and were just trying to get into my pants.....”
Front of card: picture of a hamburger, meat juices oozing, crisp tomato peeking out from between two sesame seed buns, a sliver of ketchup visible on the rim of the top bun...
“Keep eating.. it's not like you can get any fatter.”
Okay, okay, so that one needs a helluva lot of work.. not to mention being like all politically incorrect and all.
Two red hearts intertwined on the foreground, In the background a cascade of gold embossed tinier hearts. Across the top of the card is written:
“I love you because....”
“You know when to shut the hell up and go away”.
Background of a serene mountaintop sprinkled with a light dusting of snow.. in the foreground dapple frost covered pine branches. Two little bunnies huddle underneath the boughs almost embracing. Across the top are the words:
“I am so touched....”
“But you’re more touched because my ex now lives with you!”
A riotous burst of balloons in every color; red, green, yellow, blue..
Across the top:
“It’s your birthday!”
“And no one gives a shit.."
And my personal favorite (thanks to my grandmother):
A black and white photograph of a vintage car kicking up road dust as it heads away into the sunset (Always a sunset.. What is the bias against sunrises here?? Oh yeah, they happen too damn early..)
“You can’t help that you’re ugly, but you could’ve stayed home”
I'm going to be rich.