And While we are on the Subject: Sketchy, old(er), Arab Men

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I have talked about a strange dynamic between me and Arab men. Some think I should be honored to be with an Arab man since my inferior African genes can get an upgrade a la mixed children. Some think this, but also think that I am not soo AFrican/black since I speak Arabic. It’s the equivalent of white people not saying your not black, black.

Something that has happened to me on more than one occasion is that Arab men, specifically older Arab men try to hit on me in the grocery store. Yes, the grocery store. I gave this preamble about racial dynamics because I think it’s pertinent in this context.

There’s a socio-economic hierarchy based on race and nationality here. I defy these paradigms because I am a black American woman who doesn’t necessarily look like a black American (whatever the eff that means).  If I’m speaking ARabic, then I am a Sudanese woman. If not, then I am just African… ha ha.

If I am in the grocery store and bagging my own groceries because I don’t feel myself to high and mighty to do them myself… then I must be a maid…. see where I am going with this?

If I am a maid, then I must be easily swayed by cheap shit and flashy talk. Sigh.

Case in point, last Friday I went to the grocery store, wearing a brace on my wrist that I had injured exercising. (Gazelle is trying to get into shape, ya’ll but it’s not working 😦

I bagged my own groceries and pushed my own cart out into the parking lot, because I didn’t have a lot of stuff and figured I could load the car myself. This older, (Arab) guy who was behind me in the line catches up to me and asks if I need help. Now, because of how I had noticed him hovering near me in the store, I was afraid he was gonna try something. And he did not disappoint.

I smiled and said no, and he exclaimed, when he realized that I wasn’t gonna push the cart down the sidewalk (i.e. I wasn’t going to take the cart to my home, but rather to a car)”Oh you have car!??”

GAzelle is already annoyed at this point and so I just roll my eyes and say yes, and ignore him. Then once I reach my car he is still nearby and proceeds to declare that he is looking for someone who will “work with him.”

I give him a blank stare that says “WTF does that have to do with me?”

He then responds, sounding hurt and a bit offended, “You don’t want to work with me?”

I am so annoyed at this point that I blurt out with as much attitude as I can that I already have a job so I am not in the slightest bit interested in working with some damn stranger.

He finally takes the hint and walks away at some point, as I load my groceries.

I hate incidents like these. And no amount of white-washing will make me believe that it’s not tied to race. I get singled out because they assume that I am desperate and can be taken advantage of and men like this dude in the parking lot make me sick. I hate to just go to the stores that western ex-pats shop in. I like having access to things that make the local color of this city so vibrant. But the reality for me, as a black woman with African features, is that I have to dress the part.

Again, I am in a brooding introvert era in my life right now and out of fucks to give on Friday morning when I’m just trying to get my stuff before the after Friday prayer rush. But usually I make sure to hold my keys in way that they are visible and to wear jewelry. The keys so these predator men know I have my own car and therefore am not looking for a ride from strangers so need to even ask. The jewelry so they know I can buy my own gold and will not be wowed by H&M accessories. Blunt as this may sound, this has largely worked for me. But those days when I let my guard down… ish like this happens.

It’s not just old Arab men (although it happens with them quite bit, to me anyway). I have had brush-ins with older European men as well. But again, Gazelle is not looking for a sugar daddy. There are plenty of young women here paired up with super old men to let me know that there are many who willing to go that route, I wish these guys would not get their wires crossed.

I am not interested in whatever “work” that creepy guy at the grocery store was trying to employ me to do. I just want to be left alone. Sometimes dealing with these social dynamics that are fraught with this snap-second judgements based on your perceived nationality…. make me let out such loud sighs.

 

 

 

 

ON Thinking I Might Have Been Mistaken for a Prostitute….

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So I was staying at hotel in Oman. My friend and I bought tickets to see a show in the Royal Opera House in Muscat.

And it was beautiful! Both inside and out!

It was my first time in Oman and like I wrote in a previous post, I had opted to be muhajiba for a weekend rather than deal with potential street harassment.

I kept myself covered and men largely kept their distance. Well after the show my friend and I went back to our hotel and had dinner there. I, being the forgetful Susan that I am, left my phone in the restaurant and had to go back downstairs to get it. … After I had already put my pajamas on!

Not hijab appropriate at all!…. do I throw my abaya on and shayla (the scarf that comes it the abaya) and head down stairs. My friend and I were joking about something as I left the room and closed the door. A man apparently had just left his room a few doors down, stopped and turned around when he heard my voice, and no doubt saw me fidgeting with scarf.

Now, please note, my hotel room was as far away from the elevator as you can get and still be in the hotel. So after a 2 minute walk in silence, I reached the elevator. The man was there. He had already pushed the button.

Of course, as I said, people were pretty much always assuming I am Arab while in Oman. And this guy was no different. He greeted me in Arabic with a “Hi, how are you?” and I replied with a “I’m good thanks, how are you” but in Egyptian dialect. He was a bit confused but whatever.

Then, before we enter the elevator and he asks me, “Wayn al disco?” (where is the disco/club?) I was confused as heck and wasn’t really sure why he was aksing me this. I replied that I didn’t know.

He then asked me where I lived. Again, strange as heck question for someone you meet in a hotel. He did not ask where I am from, but rather where do I live. He then asked if I was staying at the hotel or something like that.

I just said, I am of course a guest at the hotel but I don’t live in Oman. The man then proceeds to ask me again about where the disco is. At this point he is creeping me out and we are both in the elevator.

I just tell him with as much indignation as I can muster, that I don’t know nothing about no disco and that he can ask at the concierge desk (which is where I was headed to see if they had my phone). Why was he still asking me about the disco? Why was he being so insistent about it?  I got off on the ground floor, but the guy stayed in the elevator, headed no doubt, to the disco on the lower floors (so he knew where it was all along?????)d….

I got my phone and went back to my room, but reflected on the incident and decided that this guy was looking for something more than just the disco. His barely coded language flew right by me because I don’t know nothing about that stuff… ha ha…

An in retrospect walking out of a hotel room while looking like I was adjusting my clothing (at around midnight) probably led him to jump to some crazy conclusions.

A word on why I think he might have been Saudi… 1. The way he was dressed. He was not wearing Omani clothing and was dressed more like Oman’s richer Gulf Arab neighbors.

He pretty much was dressed like the guy in middle in the all white

2. He didn’t look Emirati or Qatari… not that I have seen every single one, but his features and skin tone didn’t strike me as Emirati or Qatari, based upon my time in both places. 3. His accent. I am not a Gulf dialect expert at all, but he didn’t sound like the Qataris or Emiratis I have heard speak.

But I could be wrong on the nationality front. Truth is, I will never know.

Maybe there is a benign perfectly good explanation for this man’s weird behavior… but I doubt it.

ON Travelling to Other Parts of the Arab World, the limits of the Egyptian Dialect and Surprising Interactions Pt I

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So Gazelle has done a little travelling as of late…. I figure I don’t post much about my experiences here, but I might as well let this blog get back to it’s travel blog roots.

This past weekend I went to Beirut, Lebanon. The weekend before that, I went to Muscat Oman. Yup, Yup. Now, I have two more Arab countries to add to the list, and two more sets of experiences to deconstruct, ya know, as a an (African) American woman traveling abroad and all.. ha ha..

But until we get into more detail, I will say that I was super apprehensive about going to either place, because of what I had heard/read/expected my experience to be as a clearly black woman. Both places pleasantly surprised me!

However, a weekend in a place, at the Crowne Plaza (Gazelle is too old to do that hostel stuff anymore…. Hah a) in each city is not exactly the same as say, living in the old Medina of Rabat or Alexandria, Egypt. With that caveat aside, I will say the following:

I went to Oman wearing a scarf, because my Sudanese friend (who by African-American Standards has that “good hair” and looks like a Creole) said that people straight up laughed in her face because her hair got frizzy as she walked around the souk… what??!!!

Ugh. Ignorance is ridiculous. I just didn’t want to deal with that so, like I said, I was hijabi for a weekend. I’ve been mistreated for my color/features enough to know that her experience could very well be my own., and I took her perspective seriously.

I think I looked something like this… then I wore an abaya as well… Apparently that was enough

I do think covering gave me a veil (no pun intended) of respectability that I may not have had otherwise, but whatever. Whatever the reason, people were largely super nice to me. No one acted like I was weird, other-wordly or pointed out that my skin color is a dark brown.  Apparently I can pass for an Omani (yay Afro-Arabs… the head covering probably helped with that)… or at least Arab (no surprise there). People would walk up to me and just start speaking Arabic, without any prompting. I must admit, this made me feel at home. So yes, I enjoyed Oman, even if I got propositioned by a (Saudi?) man. More on that in a future post.

Lebanon. Finally , I made it to the Levant. I was apprehensive about Lebanon, because of personal experiences with Levant Arabs and because of what I have heard as well…. Just google it and you will find a number of websites like this or this BBC article from last month about a photo exhibition on race and racism in Lebanon. Race/colorism is alive and well in Arab communities, but I’ve also realized that speaking with the Egyptian dialect, while it might give me more respect/passage as a someone who can “pass” for Arab, also puts me at a certain socio-economic box in people’s minds (more on this idea later). Add that to my dark skin, and most people come with “Oh, she’s a Sudanese girl who grew up in Egypt.” Le sigh.

Needless to say, the Lebanese have beacoup cache in the Arab World and beyond. And I was worried about seeming like a bumpkin. In the words of a coworker who recently made a trip to Beirut and stayed in the flashier part of town, “Lebanese folk were confused that a black woman could afford to stay in a nice hotel and wasn’t in fact a maid or a babysitter.”

Ugh, who wants to deal with that?

As proof that I’m not making this stuff up, it’s real problem, a real, deal problem in Lebanon

Alhamdullilah, I stayed in the nice part of town, but no one seemed to care. I didn’t receive any stares, no one called me names. In fact, everyone was pretty nice, even when I wasn’t in Beirut. They did note my Egyptian accent though, and the reaction to that was mixed: Honestly, I think I want to work on speaking Darija (Moroccan dialect) to people/using that accent more.

Or perhaps I need to develop a vanilla, devoid of any real regional specificity type Arabic dialect that I can speak when I travel.

As you can see, there are so many ways to say one thing….

Why does it matter? Because appearances matter, like everywhere. And I am tired of people making snap judgments about me based on their assumptions. I prefer to remain an enigma…. Ha ha…

Happy New Year: Elucidated Reflections on the past 368 days

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2014 has come and gone.  I am sitting in my room listening to children play some game as they shout at each other in Egyptian and Syrian dialects.  OMG I have succumb to all that is ex-pat living.  This quiet, humdrum passage of time has become the new normal.

Ok, it hasn’t been thaaat quiet

Store clerks in malls call me “madam” out of respect, systems for getting things done are altogether different from what I had in the States.  But this is home… It’s been over a year and yes, I live (not study, not just work) abroad.  This reality was solidified as I went through the course of 2014.

For me, last year was one of those quiet, unassuming years, that brought with it much promise but ended as quietly as it began.  And now, I sit reflecting on all that I learned through it… and what I should hope for/look towards in 2015.

I can’t recall the extent to which I documented things (probably not very well at all) but I traveled quite a bit in 2014, much of it to places I had never been or had any previous connection to: Italy, Cyprus, China (the Mid-west and Western US). So I was thrust, for the first time in a long time, back into the role of foreigner, of tourist.

 

When you live in the Arabian Gulf, foreigner, I think doesn’t really stick as a title. Everyone is foreign (the vast majority) and so we all fit even though we seem like this strange menagerie of colors, tastes and sounds.  Food from the Phillipines, the Indian subcontinent, south east Asia and Ethiopia are all within my fingertips (not to mention the Arab World).  My neighborhood is a noisy, bustling barrio dominated by Arabs and South Asians with sprinklings of Africans (mostly East siders) and East Asians: I hate it and love it all at once.

Being here has made me realize the extent to which I have internalized a sort of Arab cultural mindset, in the way I dress, interact with others and even see the world in a lot of ways (this was a scary realization)…. it’s Egypt that did me in, I think. And it’s easier in many ways to weave in and out of communities as this “new” me. In some ways though, I feel like I’ve confined myself to a system that is not my own, that I didn’t ascribe to previously and that I have subconsciously taken on even though I don’t have to.

 

Yes, 2014 made me realize all of this stuff.  I guess the post title is a misnomer,  because all is not yet elucidated. But, Gazelle, as ever is thinking about next steps.

 

living here as a single, introverted ex-pat is great.  But I would want to have a family life back home or at least somewhere that is not here…. ha ha… and as the fireworks that came with my 30th birthday celebrations (in Cyprus!) should have made clear…. time is ticking…. :-/

For lack of a better term, living here has got to be the ultimate “cockblocker”…

Or could this be the sad truth….???? ha ha …

I’m just not into any of it (the halal kind or otherwise). People tend to fall into certain categories: the ones who come here already married, the ones who meet the person they will marry here but quickly within the first year or so, and the ones who don’t quite make a go at it.  I fall into the last category…haha (there are also different classificaitons of ex-pat men that I have deduced, but that is for another post)… but I’m not mad.

 

Going abroad, it seems always makes me realize how American I am, how proud I am to be American, and how much I love home.  It’s in no ways perfect, but it’s where I grew up and where I have the strongest ties. It’s where my roots are grounded and where my heart is.

2014 Marked the 10th straight year in which I traveled outside the US for month or more:

2004- studied abroad in Morocco and  Spain

2005- studied abroad in Morocco

2006- Research in Spain and short trip to Morocco

2007- Yemen, and where I started this blog

2008- 5 months in the UK

2009- I rounded out the 4th quarter of the Year in Qatar

2010- Still in Qatar

2011- Rounded out the year in Egypt and the holidays in the UK

2012- Still in Egypt and returned to MOrocco for the summer

2013- Moved to the Gulf

2014- Living in the Gulf with short stints in Cyprus, Italy and China

2015….

It’s a lot of experiences that I have tried to pack and unpack (some on this blog some not). It’s pretty anticlimactic, but 10 years and 35 pounds later… I’ve realized that I’m a down-home, All American girl. It’s been wonderful learning about all these beautiful places and people. It’s been rough dealing with harassment, racism, prejudice (both from within and without) but it’s been worth it.

I can’t believe I turned into one of those people… ha ha…

 

It’s not like I know all there is know about anything, really. But I guess that is what I’ve learned the most: there always something new to know, some new place to experience.  All in all, Alhamdullilah for 2014 and Alhamdullilah for 2015, 16, 17…. you get the picture.

Lord Help Me, I’ve Been Mr. Darcied- On being amazing (for a black woman)

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I have had it America! (Africa, Asia and whomever else might read this) I’ve Just had it!

Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favorite Jane Austen novel. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a character Mr. Darcy who falls in love with the protagonist. But he’s richer than her, so he’s conflicted: how can he possibly be in love with someone beneath him?

He professes his love to her in an almost insulting manner. Darcy basically tells her , “I know that I am better than you in every conceivable way, but I love you despite you being beneath me…” Yeah it was real romantic…. NOT.

Really?!! Tell me more!

That scene was almost a watershed moment for me in young, naïve not really exposed to love experiences mind. I thought Darcy was awful and was so happy when the protagonist told him to shove his crappy proposal.

Well, 12 years later as an almost 30 something, I am finally getting better at recognizing when I am being Darcied. The latest offender was the last effing straw… he’s the reason I came up with the term.

It became obvious as my interactions with him made me feel like he was thinking along these lines… Gazelle you are awesome, but I am X race and therefore better than you. You have no right to look at my faults because I am x race and while you are awesome, you are only awesome… for black girl.

Basically, he’s a guy that a woman like me in his community would not necessarily jump at the chance to be with but me… oh yeah he had it in the bag. :-/   I was practically told what I have in my blog title… I’m amazing (that I know). But his actions led me to believe that I was being Darcied big time.

So here are some clues to when you are being Darcied… this could be the case if the person in question:

  1. Gives you weird, backhanded compliments (you’re smart for a blonde, educated for a [insert group name here]
  2. Assumes that since you are a member of a certain group, that you must be super honored/excited/pressed to be their companion
    1. If they consider it an effrontery that you would even think about not staying with them even though they like/low you DESPITE coming from a particular group… no need to look for further signs. YOU ARE BEING DARCIED.
  3. Criticizes people from the group you belong to and then tries to save their rude comment, with a “no offense” or a “but I don’t mean you”
  4. Thinks you are some sort of exception to the rule when it comes to the group you belong to and your manners, education, morals etc.

 

The thing about being Mr. Darcied is that there is nothing wrong with you, the Mr. Darcy just thinks there is and can’t understand why he/she likes you anyway. It’s a Freudian sinkhole.

There are others, but these are the big red flags for me. Gazelle has no time for the Darcies of this world… unless they are reformed, come to his senses type Darcies.

And don’t be fooled, as in the case of the original Darcy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a race or class thing: you can be Darcied for just about anything, (size would be the part three of the big three)… people look down on each other for really stupid reasons. That is what 20 something me is coming away with as I prepare, InshAllah to meet 30 something me.

But yeah for me, it has tended to be a race issue. Somehow people think that because I studied other cultures I somehow do not love my own and want nothing more than to be absorbed into theirs?

That’s what it looks like when people assume I am not proud/happy/content with being black….

 

Ok, this is the end of my rant. no wait, this is the end of my rant:

I am precious, it’s society that’s a piece of shit… that makes so much more sense… words to live by…

On Ramadan in an Arab Country Part II

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So here I am two summers later and in the last 1/3 of my Second Ramadan in an Arab country. I will admit things are better the second time around! At least in this instance. Some of it stems from working vs. studying in a place and all the repercussions that follow: not living with host family (Glory to God!), not having to sit in an enclosed classroom/being expected to study and keep up while the spirit of Ramadan flurries about.

 

Some it stems from where my head is now. And the rest of the difference comes from being a more comfortable place. Morocco is fine, but the Gulf is more comfortable (if you can afford it?). Ramadan work hours are more amenable this time around…. 9-2! Hay hay! Can we have this policy instated year round? Ha ha…..

 

But it’s also summer, so a lot of expats are on vacation. This means less people in the streets in general… it’s like a lull has taken over this place. That didn’t stop me from getting into two traffic incidents in one week! But Rabna Kareem! The malls have some Ramadan decorations, but nothing over the top (except for maybe the Ramadan village in the center of one, for kids to play and color and stuff, but that actually is kind of cute, IMO.

 

Morocco is more flexible when it comes to fasting rules though. Here also it is against the law to eat outside during daylight hours for everyone. In Morocco western restaurants (in the case of our town, Meknes, Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut) will still let you sit inside and eat. Mcdonalds had a sign that said (in French, so some of this is pure conjecture) that Muslims could order but could not sit inside and eat. Fair enough.

 

But here is a different story. There are very few places open for you to even carry-out food. Most places don’t open until just before iftar (which drives me crazy because what if you want to order food so that it is at home for you right at iftar time? …. Not everyone has a home-cooked iftar every night….but whatevs) and a few will do delivery, but more likely there is a delayed response, like no delivery until a few hours before iftar or something. That has been my experience anyway. So the fasting rule is more strictly enforced over all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Another thing that is different is the blacking out of windows. In Meknes, many a day was spent at the Mcdonalds (it had AC and Wifi…. Two things my host family did not possess) Whole weekends were spent there. But they never covered the windows to the place.

 

Here, I notice restaurants with shades like that on the windows, the cafeteria where I work does the same. I’ve heard about this in other countries, like Syria, so I know that the UAE is not alone, but it’s interesting to see in real life anyway.

I guess I am getting more rest… nothing is open during the day except supermarkets. So I just go to work and go home. At work, I crank out what I need to get done and enjoy coming home a little early, to be mistress of my universe. I’ve been to a few group iftars and those are cool too.

So yeah, I was dreading Ramadan here, because of the heat. But since I don’t walk anywhere and just go from the airconditione d car to office and home…. Or maybe the mall… I can barely tell it’s summer…. Weird, huh?

Overall, I am happy for this slowed down time. The introvert in me is relishing the extra quiet…. Time to think, reflect and plan (but we all know that no matter how much we plan….)

On Being An (African)American vs. being an AFrican-American…

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I was gonna post about the rest of my car exploits, but something else is on the brain, so that will have to wait.

I will start off with saying, I love black people, I really do (cue the racist rest of the sentence)… but I whenever I meet a group of black(American) ex-pats we seem to get into a funk. Namely, a I am gonna complain and look at everything that happens to me here within the racial framework of the US of A. This is problematic on so many levels.

It’s a hard rope to walk, I of all people know that. But imagine my surprise when an African American woman who could pass (really pass) for Arab was trying to school me on the way people in Arab society look at black people…. Um????!!! Okay!

Pardon my indignation, but you do NOT get to try and school me on how Arab societies view black women with clearly African features…

I am frustrated because I know where their frustration is coming from. This blog is all about that: the lusty gaze of men, the women who look at you like you should be cleaning their houses, the children who are afraid of you or run after you chanting racist epithets. I get it. I’ve been through it, I go through it.

And yet, it doesn’t make me closed off to the world. Maybe the African-Americans I am meeting have had the luxury of being in majority black settings up until they came here, But I haven’t. For at least 10 years, I have consistently been THE black person in classes, programs, work etc. And I’ve made friends of other races, friends I can be real with even with racial issues.

But somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten that others haven’t.

That became all the real for me when I was trying to explain what happened to a blonde friend of mine in Egypt. Sexual harassment all day, everyday (from men and women might I add). This experience I think, made her realize what black folk and other minority have gone through in other contexts.

My AA compadres reaction: oh well. It was interesting that one even confessed that she wouldn’t even feel bad for my friend had she been there in Egypt with her. Another woman saw it fit to school me on the male gaze towards white women vs. black women. Yes, white women are part on pedestals all day, everyday. And Yes, black women are more likely to be used as pedestals.

However, I can safely assume that neither woman went through in the US what my friends went through in Egypt. We would have to go back to at least, civil rights era deep south before we saw ish that crazy!

I have written this before, but being in a place where people automatically assume you are culturally depraved and will have sex with any man who wants it from you, is just as bad or worse as being in a place where people assume you are only a maid, or serve only in subservient roles.  Let’s be real: Both POVs involve dehumanizing the person in question.

At any rate, the lack of empathy, was alarming. Bitterness should not make you a cold, unfeeling b*^#$. Then again, it happens all the time. It is hard when  you feel like no one sympathizes with you, when you have no one that understands what you are going through.

And so, I realized the conversation was useless… they didn’t know my friend, and felt that they probably could never really be friends with a white person. So it’s heavy. It’s really hard.

It’s interesting to be an (African)American vs. being an African-American.

Yeah it’s all about differences in perspective

 

I feel like much of their frustration (and some of mine) comes from looking for people who hold views that are similar to yours.  But being the same shade is not the same as being from the same cultural group. People often remark, why can’t we be like the Filipinos or the Latinos, they have their groups and get along well… But We are on the outside of those communities looking inward. Sigh.