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….)

He’s an Iphone and I’m a Blackberry….

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I went to a fun event a in the recent past, and indeed I had a blast. It was a group of people with music tastes similar to mine (yes!).  One thing led to another and we ended up at da club… the last time I was at the club here, was a few months ago and I felt like an imposter.  As an almost 30 something, today’s music has no real appeal to me…Beyonce’s lastest? (yawn) Ke$ha? (ugh! How did this girl get a record deal?) and all these other songs that are good or great even, but should not be played in a club.  Ha ha… I feel like music has gotten so cross-genre that I a lot of beats while cool in collaboration, mean that people just jump around singing the words to songs.  Needless to say, I felt out of my comfort zone.  While I enjoyed the evening, and was proud of myself for trying to get out and meet new people, I was a bit disappointed in the drinking culture scene that seems to engulf expats here.  I don’t care if people drink, that’s not what I mean at all.  I just sometimes feel like people hang on to drinking as the only social event that is worth organizing and life here is not THAAAAT bad. … ha ha

But I digress, this group and I went to a club.  And it was a major fail.  We had stumbled upon India night. Translation= music we couldn’t vibe with.  The DJ was the worst, he wouldn’t even do those cool Bollywood/hip hop/rap collaborations, and everything was straight out of a Bollywood movie. The Indian patrons were happy, but we were not.  So, off we went to another club that would be a sure-fire hit.

The Indians were like Yay!

 

And we were like…no…..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

And it was! Ha ha… the songs were a mix of Afro-R&B and hip hop/R&B and reggae from when I was college.  Oh yes, my hey day.  So yes, I partied the night away.  I am still feeling the after affects of that much dancing… ha ha…. (exercise!).  At 3 am the music stopped, the lights went on and it was time to head home.  We divided up who was giving rides to whom and I headed for the door to get my valet parking ticket validated.

A Few steps in the direction of my destination and I was flagged down by some guy, a bouncer I thought.  Although I was wondering how my bottle of water and purse could have been in violation of their policy.  At any rate, I cricked my neck to hear what he had to say and it was something to the effect of “Can I please have your number?”…huh?

yeah and funny thing is he had on a shirt like that too… ha ha….

I was confused, was this white boy asking me what I think he was asking?… and so up front about it too?  And course I had that horribly confused look on my face as well.  I asked him to repeat what he said and yup, the cigarette smoke and heat of the club had not caused me to hallucinate, he was asking what I was thought he was asking…. Ha ha.

What happened next can be left to conjecture, it’s not important.

yeah um, that is NOT how this story goes…. ha ha….

 

But it was a strange/surprising occurrence.  When you get on in age, things like that happen less and less. And when you are in a country full of people you don’t want to get attached or attracted to, you push those kinds of things out of your mind… ha ha…. Maybe in another context… after all he was tall (he had to bend down to speak into my ear and I had to arch my head up), respectful, and  cute, I think (but I mostly care that he was tall!…)ha ha

Then again, reality sets in and although I was not dressed like the ones who clearly were, the thought comes back, what if he thought I was a prostitute? (a prostitute in floor length dress? who danced with no man outside the group she came with?…. ). The reality is that people that look like me are automatically assumed to be a lot of things.  Some might think this lingering idea is ridiculous, but I don’t know. Even if he didn’t think I was prostitute, how am I to know that he wasn’t some dude with a choco-fetish?  I know about guys like that, ones that give new meaning to the once you go black, you never go back adage.  Ugh…

I don’t look to men or anyone else for my sense of self-worth, but I was flattered all the same.  At any rate, my focus is on me… not random  dudes at the club… and besides it wouldn’t work out anyway, after all.  But it feels good to have my faith renewed in possibilities in life in general. Yes, there are men of all persuasions that like “the chocolate.” Something for this almost 30 year old to keep in mind….hmmmm….? ha ha…

 

Flamenco? In Egypt

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Yes Flamenco, for a a precious hour I was transported back to the beginning of my Fall semester in Spain, back when Andalusia was filled with mystic and lore.  It was interesting to be in room filled with more Foreigners than I ever expected to know who live in Alexandria.  What was even more interesting though, was the number hijabi women who attended.  There will certainly be the mandatory Egyptian hijab post in a while, but for now I will say that in Egypt especially I have to get used to the juxtapostion of the sacred and the profane.  and Flamenco was no exception… tons of veiled women flocking to watch a women show off her legs and dance in front of … you guessed it… men!

It just somehow feels different from when this situation came up in the Gulf.  Maybe it’s because I distinguish between hijab in the two countries/regions.  At any rate, notice  the scarf in the pics, which at times blocked my view!

You’re Watching What?: On Ramadaan Television Series Pt I

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It’s Day 6 of Rammadan, and I have been thinking about what I would have been doing had the Arab world not erupted during the first 3 months of this year.  I would have been in Damascus, finishing up my summer term… probably improved a whole lot in Levantine Arabic… Oh well, can’t say that I’m all that sad… Such is life.  The Road to Damascus is my road not taken.

One of the other things that I would probably being doing is getting into Ramadaan serials.  Basically, the month of Rammadan is not just a holy month; it’s the equivalent of Spring sweeps!  Every year, 29-30 episode serials debut on Arab television channels.  I am assuming they come on at night after Iftaar (breaking of the fast).  Honestly this is probably the aspect of having my next Arab world experience being delayed that makes me the saddest.

Because I had no training in Arabic dialects (except a little Moroccan) and because I have never been in an Arab country during Ramadaan, the only serials I knew about were historical ones:  Presentations of great figures in Islamic history, or fictional communities from several hundred years ago.  Some of these serials, at least, were in Modern Standard Arabic.

In the course of studying Levantine Arabic and trying to get a grasp of Egyptian, I have discovered perhaps the most interesting genre for Ramadaan serials:  programs in Arabic dialects, that focus on present-day people and present-day situations.  To date, I have only watched two Series from start to finish (one Egyptian and one Syrian), but they were both great, and I am planning on continuing with my replacements for them.

تخت شرقي ( a chorus of musicians and singers that plays eastern music– It can also mean Middle Eastern bed, which kind of works with this show too).

This was the first serial/soap opera that I watched.  I liked it so much that I finished it out of pure curiosity about what would happen to the characters.  The serial revolves around the friendships and relationships of a group of four guys who have been friends since high school:

Adham is a small guy who can’t seem to get a girl because of his awkwardness…. A quick google search reveals that a picture of him is a little hard to come by…lol…  This is sort of hilarious if you know his character on the show.  His friends, although they love him, are always dogging him for his small frame, deep manly voice and sometimes standoffish nature. Adham gets caught up in a scandal of sorts during the show, mainly because his character flaws make him the ideal mark.

Sa’ad is a lawyer married to a woman who is as difficult as they come.  She’s jealous, overly sensitive and makes a scene more times than I can count during the course of the program.  But he’s no angel.  Apparently he wanted to marry someone else, a woman whose face is never revealed during the course of the serial, but who his family (read father) rejected I forgot why.  Sa’ad’s mother abandoned him and his siblings when he was a child, and so making sure that he is a part of his baby daughter’s life is of utmost importance to him.  His family, sisters and all are among the principal character sparticularly his sister Amani (who also does not get to marry the man she loves, because he is Palestinian i.e. doesn’t have citizenship of any country, meaning his children will not have Syrian citizenship) and who marries a man that absolutely disgusts her.

Tariq is a doctor who has OCD or as they call it in Arabic WisWas.  He can’t touch anything unless it’s squeaky clean.   Tariq’s world changes when he meets Greta, a half-Syria, half-German woman who is his complete opposite.  They fall head over heels (and get intimate which surprised the heck out of me— more on that later).  But their differences come up again and again.  For one thing, Greta has a half-brother who is Israeli and living in Israel.  Tariq is a Palestinian refugee.  (conflict for these two is a no brainer).

and Y’arub, your traditional playboy.  He’s a carefree womanizing drunkard who spends a good part of the program trying to evade military service in the Syrian army.  But Y’arub has such a great heart, and he is easily one of the most endearing characters of the show.  Of course, he develops quite a bit as an individual.

Of course there is a whole slew of other characters, but I don’t want to be too confusing.  What surprised me the most about this series was just how matter of fact the characters are.  Y’arub is a womanizer (has women in different area codes). He gets crazy drunk (it seems as a result of his family being Golan Heights refugees).  He is not the picture of the Arab world and Arab man that I am used to seeing… But I do know Arabs like him.  I don’t know if that is good or bad.  It’s just a more human portrayal than the more rigid, uptight one that some people try to put forth.

Tariq’s relationship with Greta was also interesting to me.  Greta was not some block character representing the evils of the Western world (which IMO “Western” characters in Arabic language movies and shows can tend to be).  She had her faults, which Tariq pointed out quickly, and at the same time she actually pointed out some of Tariq’s hypocrisy.

There was also two story lines about an older woman-younger man relationship.  Again, I could not believe I was watching this on an Arab Ramadaan series.

Speaking of said relationships,  the following are probably my favorite scenes in the whole series:  Start from 2:08-4:17 and 5:53-6:40 and 8:10-10:33.  You don’t have to understand what is being said to understand the scene.  They are not original by a long-shot, but they are again pushing against the stereotypes of what is considered an acceptable male-female relationship.  The program deals with the realities of the younger man-older woman relationship… The woman Hanady is 10 years older than the guy, Paul.

تخت شرقي offers  frank discussions of the cultural expectations of women in Syrian society (especially how a divorced woman is viewed, the proper decorum for a married woman to display and  the fears of being an old maid), socio-economic class.

Moreover, I liked this show because it gave me a very different perspective on how Ramadaan is celebrated.  I must admit, when I found out this was a Ramadaan serial I was shocked. “How can you be focused on God, and prayer and spirituality when you are watching this stuff,” I asked my instructor.  She replied that, whoever wants to go to Taraweeh will go and who wants to watch this before after or in lieu of will do so as well.  I think programs like this make me think about all the different dimensions of Ramadaan: Reconciling the sacred with other issues such as very human needs for reward and entertainment.

I could not believe what I was seeing.

For all these reasons and more, I liked this program.  From my perusal of possible تخت شرقي  replacement, Syrian serials seem to push the envelope quite a bit.  But, they also churn out pretty good material.  No wonder they are so popular.

Too bad it’s over.  But, all is not lost, These serials seem to recycle the same core list of actors.  It will be good to see them again, If only as completely different people.  All in all I learned a lot from watching and discussing this program.

My next post will be about an Egyptian serial— which is quite different.

Tariq Rammadan!!!!!!!!!!

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Well, I am on one of my Qatar is awesome highs because I got to hear Tariq Rammadan speak!

Aahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  He was so awesome!  I was afraid that he would be a bit trite, or say stuff that I’ve heard over and over again, but he was absolutely awesome!

I think each person came away with something different, which is good and bad I guess, but I was left with these ideas, which are in need of further digestion but here goes anyway:

1. I literally heard him say stuff that I have been saying all throughout my stay here, to no avail, (like— why don’t we have a  strong showing of Muslims who care about non-Muslim issues?— such as Congo.  Israel-Palestine is important, but what about being energized about universal issues so you don’t look A. selfish  B. superbly defensive and exclusive and C. because things like the environment, education [not Islamic education] the political process  are universally important! ) —

2. He also talked about the need to be real bout the quabbles within the Muslim community— whether its sunni-Shia  or Sufi- Salafi or RACISM!  (yes he said point black there is racism and Muslims need to fix it!—- I nearly swooned, after the commentary on Congo mixed with this! ahaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!)

3. Concrete advice about how to make Muslims be viewed as an integral part of the societies that they live in (which many of them already feel that they are— the question is, how to reverse the stereotypes—- call more media attention to the advances made in the Muslim community) instead of viewing the media as purposely set out to get Muslims!

4.  Addressed the issue of freedom in Muslim countries, and that they too are need of reform, you can’t ask  for/complain of mistreatment when you do the same thing at home.

5. Understanding the role that Muslims in West (who are at home with being in the West— and don’t necessarily suffer from some cultural/psychological bipolarism ) play in the global Muslim community and not just assume that they want to take part in Muslim discourses by deferring to Muslims in the “Muslim world” i.e. majority-Muslim countries

6.  Yes, there is hatred/racism against Muslims, but you can not just complain about this, you have to acknowledge it and strategize ways to combat it. —- There is much to be learned from the Jewish experience.

7. We need to acknowledge the differences between our understanding of basic issues/terms and realize that sometimes/many a times we are talking across purposes even in Muslim circles because we don’t understand the same things in the same light.   (Sharia, culture, the word Islam in and of itself, and what submission means in Arabic)

8. Muslims need to stress the spiritual aspect of the faith— it’s not just a system of halal-Haram– but too often it’s simplified this way.  If there is more dialogue about Islam as a faith, as a religion that answers the core question of “why am I here?” then expressing it from that angle people would get a different perspective on it, instead of being on the defensive (although some really do have to be).

I am struck by how much the people from American got him, and loved him, and the kinds of questions that Arabs were asking, there is a real cultural difference between living as part of the majority (and having that as your reality) and being the minority within another community (i.e. Muslims in the West).

I unfortunately am coming to realize people’s acute misunderstanding of American society.  But that post will be for another day.

I have a few video clips but they are so hard to upload 😦