Countdown to the End: How I’m Doing

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I wish I could say I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on life and such, but I have not. Work eats up my life, and my weekends are waiting. I can’t believe I haven’t written anything since My Europe trip… but I do have a nice-ish update…

I am going to have my last entries be about being a black woman in … wait for it… Oh my gosh, this is so exciting…. CUBA baby!

This negra is going to have tons of Tumbao!  and I will be going with some friend from my program in Qatar. The past ten years have been a bumpy ride…. but I feel like Cuba will bring this full circle. I started this blog as a bored Arabic student in Yemen, just a year into graduate school (and 20 pounds lighter :-/ )

But hey, I am nearing my Jesus year (33) and have seen, felt, heard and written a whole lot. Stay tuned for my prep for the Cuba adventure!

 

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This is about to be Me!!!!!!!!

On Chumps and Men

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Boy sees woman’s profile on a dating site, boy actually reads profile and sends a message that reflects he has. Woman is surprised as anyone who has done the online dating thing knows most of the men on these sites and apps really suck, or so many women lament. Where the story goes from here is interesting, to some perhaps, to others perhaps not.

I have an off again, on again relationship with these  dating apps as I’ve tried quite a few, some for as little as 15 minutes at a time.  Most, I have deleted and then downloaded again at times when I felt more optimistic. I preface with all this because I wary of people only looking for hook-ups, I am cautious or perhaps fear rejection.. ha ha so I never message a man first.

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It’s my prerogative, but I find this an easier way to gauge genuine interest. Most of these virtual swipes right or online convos are short-lived: There is no spark, I am not available to go for “drinks,” the conversation gets dull because he doesn’t like writing.

But it wasn’t like that with Surfer Boy (SB for short). It was a surprising breath of fresh air. I will admit I was skeptical as all get out at first; We are like night and day. He is tall super athletic (a pro surfer in a past life of all things!) and white, I am none of those things ha ha. But our messages were super long, and when we moved to Skype we still felt like we clicked, well I guess I can only speak for me, but I assume it was the same. We had started chatting when I came to the US briefly in June and interviewed where I now work. So he knew I was coming back and moving to his area, but he knew it was going to be several weeks. And yet, SB didn’t mind.  It was a weird feeling, because logically on some level I felt like we didn’t fit, and I let him know that, and downplayed the “positive signs” that our continued interactions supposedly revealed.

We kept it up with daily text conversations, 4+hr Skype calls, and definitive declarations of how great it would be when we finally meet. When we did it was great. Probably the funniest first date I’ve ever had. From then on we didn’t stop texting every day, and pretty much a day of every weekend was a SurferGazelle Day. We fit, I thought because SB was ok with taking things very slowly, we both agreed that hookup culture of today didn’t suit either of us, that it was important to get to know a person well, develop emotional attachment and intellectual connection.  And as time wore on, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, that maybe he just needed more points of connection before deciding how he felt.

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But then September rolled around, and as that month waxed on and the responsibilities of my new job did too, I really took stock of just how much of the fabric of my social life here was connected to connecting with SB.  And I ponied up the courage to clarify what exactly was going on. If after constantly communicating with someone for 3 months you are still unsure of what you want with or of them, then you’re not unsure at all. I felt like I had nothing else to show, and honestly didn’t want to waste my time on something that had many of the external trappings of a relationship: a seemingly attentive man, a proactive one who would drive an hour or so each way to see me every weekend, one who was thoughtful and encouraging and real (as I was with him).

But of course, if you have to ask, you already know the answer.

My recollection of the jumbled mess of the response he gave me is naturally jumbled. I said something short and sweet like “I like you a lot and have enjoyed spending time together, but I feel like we are in something of a gray area and wanted to check in with you and see, I dunno, what you are thinking.”

He was packing his bag to leave at the time, but to his credit seemed to take in my words and stopped what he was doing so we could have the conversation. Again, he then rambled a lot, but I can break his response into a few big chunks: 1. Acknowledgement that I am right this is gray because while I am NOT his girlfriend I am not just a friend either. 2. Further exposition on why he can’t commit to anything right now — needs to find himself and work through some issues/he is not confident he could be the kind of boyfriend to me he wants to be and doesn’t think it would be right to even make me wait till the day he is ready for a relationship 3. (empty) Praise of all my positive attributes, my honesty, kindness, beauty blah blah bblah 4. Him wanting to remain friends because he is very picky about who his  friends are and he only has a small circle of them,  and I supposedly pass the snuff test. 5. Him taking the possibility of a relationship off the table  if that means he can just be a part of my life, giving examples of how he could be useful to me.

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Yup, in the pendeja of a situation that is pretty much what I did… sigh.

My main interjection in all this was “I don’t like gray.” Because I don’t.

 

 

 

 

On Feeling Validated

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It was refreshing a few days ago to have a few different conversations with single women I know about life and love and standards of beauty. It was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t served cold platitudes of “Oh but Gazelle, you are beautiful!” (and what does me or you KNOWING how amazing I am have to do with society’s tendency to pick apart the notion and dump it in a trash heap?)

Or, “You don’t have to be statistic if you don’t want to be, just get out there and try.” (Um, ok. Yeah all I have to do is get out there and keep going at it. Why didn’t I think of that??? Gee, your advise is amazing.. cue the rolled. eyes… ha ha).

or the worst of them all “But so and so is a black woman and she doing just fine.” (Oh, ok so by your logic, we have a black family in the White House, so all black people in America are doing just fine socially, economically and politically, and if their not, then it’s their fault??????)

So conversation one, was with an Asian friend. Whenwe were talking about I was no longer on a dating site (all halal I assure you…ha ha) that she is still plodding through, she at first was very frank with me and told me that she didn’t think I tried enough. We are friends and I get it. I am grateful for her honesty. And even more grateful for the chance she gave me to explain why I just am not all Pollyana about this stuff anymore:

I come from a place where people like me more often than not end up alone, and I have made peace with it. I’m an educated black woman with African features and a curvier (and by no means fat… I am still really confused as to when one became a euphemism for the other… sigh) figure. I don’t know when people who look like me were ever in, but we’re not the “it girls” of today. And Apparently the dating/courting scene is a lot more superficial than I thought when I was younger, fresher and more optimistic. And my younger, fresher, more optimistic about live and love days were when and how I discovered these noble truths (and yes, I realize that they don’t have to be truths for everyone).

And I feel super respected for once

But yes. I am the person least likely to get an OK Cupid Reply. I am more likely to have fewer matches on Tinder.  And the same goes for any other dating site/arrangmeent/set-up in the virtual world or in the real one. I am just not who most people think of when they think of the girl of their dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I am the type to get hits now and then, from way to old pappi picantes and other inconsiderates who haven’t read my profile. Or even worse from random men who think a way to a woman’s heart is through vulgar messages. :-/… but that’s every woman’s lot these days.

Wow check out those figures! Why am I so complacent about being a statistic???? Shame on me, GAzelle …ha ha

Don’t get em wrong I am not a pessimist. But I am damn sure a realist. My predicament is not unusual but it felt good to talk to someone that didn’t judge and didn’t call me a whiner. Instead she just said “oh, I didn’t know. Sorry. I guess I understand a little better now.” She told me not to give up hope (yeah girl, too late… ha ha… And the well just marry a blue collar guy solution is well… meh.. it clashes with compatibility, I think).

Another friend, one whose physical characteristics are closer to mine gave me understanding nods sighs. Can I just say it felt good to be validated. To not even have to explain myself and defend the validity of my own lived experience!

I’m not delusional. I don’t have low self-esteem (I will kick someone to the curb with the quickness!) I don’t have too much self-esteem. I’m just real. and as for her, well she too is trying, putting her best face forward and herself out there being open to love.

Somehow other people here me (complain) about my dating/lackofalovelife woes and ASSSUME I am not proactive or assertive or optimistic at all. WRONG

I understand how things work. And although I wish they were different, there’s but so much I can do to fix where I fall on the totem pole.

Actually Eff the totem pole!

My problem is actually that all of these concerns fly out the window far too quickly when I’m in certain settings and situations.

Sigh. At any rate, I’m just gonna live life and be me. If that means finding and marrying somebody (educated) that I love and who loves me back, and has the same values that I have, similar passions (broadly defined) with whom I share a mutual attraction then great. But Gazelle can do but so much.

Actually, the only thing Gazelle can control is Gazelle. I started this blog with woe is me, will I ever find someone posts. I’ve posted periodically about the fish that had to be thrown back in the sea (and not quite so much about the ones that never too the bait, since I’ve chosen this rather crude analogy… :-/

But it’s been over 8 years and I think I don’t want to spend to much time thinking about what I already know. For now, it’s enough that my experiences and perspectives were validated. Someone out there knows that life for me, is not about trite platitudes doled out as advice or other people’s lives held up as examples for me to follow (without consideration for the privileges we do not share).

My experiences and the viewpoints that have developed as a result are valid.

Now if I could only decide between (re)downloading Tinder onto my blackberry… or signing up for another service….

Or maybe  should just hold my American passport up in a bunch of profile pictures (that should have them rolling in) ha ha… #Youneverknow 😉

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…

On Baltimore Burning

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No justice, No peace

I watched the drama unfold in Ferguson last summer, mainly through the filter of being a black American ex-pat in the UAE. Now, as summer begins in the US again, this time it’s my home-state that is ground zero for police aggression and black oppression.

It’s surreal. I can’t say I have any strong ties to Baltimore— Maryland is one of those states where your cultural affiliation depends on geographic location, I am culturally a DC metro area person. I would have to live a little further North for Baltimore to be the city that I affiliate with most.

Baltimore has always been like another world to me. When I was younger and not a US Citizen, my mom would talk make to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) for one reason or another and I hated going there. Not because of the government bureaucracy but because it meant going to Baltimore, a city that just always left me feeling strange.

Orioles park sparked no emotion in me; not a baseball fan and besides, in our part of Maryland, the Washington Redskins were pretty much the only team that mattered. The Harbor was cute, but I was always struck by how strange the city’s set-up seemed: One block was pristine, the type of city street you send your kids on field trips to go see. Then next block, looked like the most dilapidated thing you could ever imagine. This contrast, of rich and poor was always unsettling.

Once, my mom got lost and we ended up going deeper into the city. I can still remember thinking “Good Lord, DC has poor neighborhoods, but not THIS poor.” I wasn’t sure what a crack head looked like, but I was pretty sure that I had seen more than few during our 30 minute detour. Baltimore always made me uneasy and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now, I guess it was the black poverty unlike anything I had ever seen.

Now it seems, the chickens are coming home to roost. A population that has be degraded and derogated for too long is speaking out and demanding justice while hoping for true equality. People who have been cramped and stuffed in boxes where they couldn’t even begin to dream of a better life are now so fed up of the darkness. The national spotlight turns once again to a unjust system that seems to let darker hued people down.

I hope that something good comes out of this young man’s death, that racist policies are reconsidered and that an end comes to this “New Jim Crow” that’s not just a southern thing; it’s unfortunately an American thing.

On Othering Africa Right Before My Eyes….

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A few months ago I went to an event called “Africa Day” which promised to be a day of fun, African Music and food and African crafts for sale. Needless to say, it was interesting.

The food tasted good (and it should have because it was about 30 dollars a plate). But it was mainly dishes like couscous, tajine, injera ethiipian stews and an assortment of grilled meats. It felt more like East African food day to be honest.

The crafts for sale were lackluster, but I didn’t mind that as much because how many authentic local craftsmen can you expect to find here?

The entertainment was abysmal. One the one hand they hired a live band. On the other the only thing “African ” about them was one dude’s dreadlocks and the lead singer’s Erykah Badu headwrap (pan-African, anyone?). What really annoyed me about the band and the music at this event in particular, was that the band only sang one song. I don’t mean they only sang one time. I mean they sang the same song, over and over and over again. And what song was that?…..

 

Waka Waka by Shakira!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you effing kidding me! Are you effing kidding me! Of all the great African Music artist out there from classic, respected artists like Mariam Makeba, Youssef Ndour, Anjelique Kudjoe, Fela Kuti etc. and even the relevant comtemporary artists like Nameless, Wiz Kid, Dbanj, Bracket, Timaya, Omawunmi etc.

They pick a song that is not even by an African artist. The most fun I had at the event was making fun of it. But I left with my belly full, and my heart full of disappointment: This is the essentialized view of Africa. It’s garbage.

Fast forward today, I am sitting at Shake Shack (their burgers really are quite nice!) and Waka Waka comes on. I start telling the two people I came with about the Africa event and how it was the only song that the band sang. And then we hear drums… A live African group is marching into the restaurant area (which is within a mall) complete with all the requisite representations of Africa: Leopard print strips of cloth, red fabric tied as regally as Mufaro’s beautiful daughters, cow print pants, a drum the color of Ghana’s flag, cowrie shell head dresses and face paint.

I. Just. Can’t. I. Just. Cant.

We left two minutes later.

It hurts that this is how Africa is viewed in the Western world, but I know this is the way it is. For some reason, any image about Africa, even a positive one ahs to include an African Woman’s bare breast, whether it’s a tribe in some remote village or a NYT article about a maternal health program started by the Sierra Leonean government that is saving lives go through the slide show and count all the times some woman’s breast is exposed, look at some of the other photos of births, photos we would never see if this were any other part of the world…how many pictures of births in Syria, Gaza, Somalia, China, heck even Latin America are presented in this raw manner?— it’s not journalism it’s poverty porn and rubbing out respect for these women’s chastity, modesty and femininity). Heck even Google is on my shit list check out the first picture that comes up when I google the word “African” I am sickened and disgusted by the othering of people who look like me, simply because

 

But to be so otherized by a group of people that complains of the same thing, it leaves my heart heavy. I’ve blogged about it before, as recently as yesterday.

Everybody, it seems thinks they are better than Africa and Africans….

 

Except her? … then again look how well it worked out for those Japanese women she used to have follow her around (*eye roll)

I’m just done.

 

It’s not enough for me to be  the privileged exception to this rule (sometimes, once my background and accolades are enumerated for all to see).   Events like the one I witnessed today exasperate me 5 years ago, when I thought I wanted to tackle these issues as a PHD, and they exasperate me now as regular Jane. I don’t know what I can do to undo these disgusting archaic ideas about AFrica that everyone and their grandmother’s cat has articulated, internalized and now regurgitates about the continent.  No one bats an eyelid.

 

But we’re not all in this together…

I’m. Just. Done.