Sunday, November 23, 2014

A million light years away...

...that's how I feel. The funny thing about any kind of transition is that most people think that it's supposed to look (and feel) great, and pretty, and awesome, and fun, and full of delightful wonder... like a budding rose; or a fun night out with your friends, where you meet the love of your life on a ferris wheel and he buys you a jetski and some diamonds while you comb each other's hair and feed each other grapes. 

No one ever tells you that it's raw and gritty and that it demands honesty, patience, and persistence; and that it's actually really, really hard. Any kind of real growth and development is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing - i.e. all shades of utterly exhausting.

These days I find myself in limbo... and always stopping short, thinking, do I really want to say that? Do I even want to go there? I'm tired. The kind of tired that sleep doesn't cure. This has been the busiest year of my life... equally crammed with work and leisure... and equally exhausting on all accounts. Do I really want to put this out there, to be dissected, and argued upon... for people to mis-interpret or not understand... add to that: do I really want to take people out of their fancy disillusions. Do I really need to engage on that level?

It's not that I don't have anything to say. It's that I don't even know where to begin! I've been whelmed good and proper on more than a few occasions these past few months. And sometimes, there are so many words, that they fail to graduate to paper - or in this case, blog post. They just seem to over-flow... the cup runneth over... and when that happens, small things like a bag of peanut M&M's, or watching Samii do her hair, or MTV's A-List Playlist, become powerful distractions. 

Then there are other issues I have to consider - navigating the legality and political correctness of some things, which remain debatable. Ha! How cryptic. There's nothing that I want to talk about that isn't somewhat controversial on some level. And I'm not sure if I should be ruffling feathers - yet. 

In any case, this is a public notice that things, namely this blog itself, is up for some major re-construction.  I've even brought in some help. Let's see where this leads to, shall we...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How did we get here?

It's a funny story actually. Ok, maybe not so funny. But it began a few years ago. 

Before I begin though, you must understand, dear reader, that I had at no point in my life, ever intended or wished to come and live in the KSA. EVER. In fact, I had a very long list of places I wanted to live in - from Colombia to Tunisia, and even Japan - but Arabia was never even on the list. 

This is mainly because all my life, all I ever heard from everyone in our somewhat warped misogynistic patriarchal society was how it was IMPOSSIBLE to even get here without a Mahram. And having no son, husband, brothers, uncles or really any male relative that I could count on in that sense, nor seeing any potential for that to change, I had long put away any intention or will to come here or to visit any of the holy cities. I didn't even entertain the idea on any level, shelving it to the abyss of dreams not bothered being dreamt.

And so it was, that day in 2011. I had just read Paulo Coelho's Brida, which I thought was absolute shit (that's 8 hours of my life I'll never get back), and I was at my wits end with just about everything in life, as I usually am at sporadic points in time. That was the first time I had a strange and mystic longing to be in the desert. It was inexplicable because really, if you don't know by now, I'm very much a girl of the high seas and seven oceans of the world.

But in some unconscious way, that longing grew because a couple of weeks after that; after being frustrated over something that I can't even remember now; I declared in a voice devoid of any meaning or intention (basically, I was just talking absolute crap) (or so I thought) - I told my Mother: "I'm going to the desert, I will find what I'm looking for there". And my Mother did what she always does, rolled her eyes and asked God why she couldn't have normal children.

After that, every time I was irritated or annoyed, I told everyone I was going to the desert. Sometimes I even added that I'm going to become a shepherd - for extra fun. And of course, everyone laughed (including me). And every time, these were just words, said in jest, with no real meaning or intention behind them.

I eventually got another job - swinging in the corporate jungle from one branch to the next like fucking Tarzan chasing Jane - becoming increasingly discontent; either running after time, or running out of time, or running around time like a headless chicken, constantly agitated, questioning what I'm doing with my life. And all the while, that absurd longing and yearning to be in the desert hadn't abated. It became a running joke and was too outrageous to entertain seriously, yet the thought of the vast emptiness of the landscape was strangely comforting.

So when I was asked if I wanted to work in Saudi Arabia, I said yes without even thinking about it. It was all a big joke by then, only it wasn't, this time. Before I knew it, in barely two months, I was sent packing with only twenty-four hours notice to get here. And as I type this out, a warm midnight breeze blows across an arid landscape, not too far from here, scattering the hopes and dreams of Nomads and Bedouins alike in every grain of sand.

The great debate now, is whether the words I had uttered had materialized (words are indeed powerful - that is true), or whether I had somehow predicted that I would be here. I'm more inclined to believe the latter for two reasons:

1. I've been talking about getting a million bucks for ages, and that hasn't happened yet.

2. When I was very little, I used to live with my Grandma while my parents worked, and I only saw them on the weekends. But one day, my Mother decided to leave work early and come visit me without informing anyone. That afternoon, I insisted my Grandma run a bath for me, telling her that I needed to be ready for when my Mother came to see me. My Grandma, knowing my Mother only came on weekends, didn't think much of it so when my Mother pitched up, she said "Weet jy, die kind bly my vertel ek moet haar bad..." transl: Y'know, this child kept telling me to bath her...

I think some unconscious part of me always knew I was coming here, even when I didn't know. But contrary to the way things seem, it hasn't always been easy... every day brings new challenges. I've been tried and tested in every way, still am. I'm learning new lessons, about life and my religion, in a way I won't be able to learn elsewhere. There are some days I feel ready to pack up and leave. And then there are other days when it feels like "home". There are days I'm convinced that I've died, and that this is Hell. And then there are other days, when I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

10 things Arab girls like

Think "Saudi Arabia", and images of submissive women in niqab immediately come to mind. While most, if not all Saudi Arab women do cover their faces in public, the people they are behind the veil betrays every notion and opinion held by the majority of the world. Here's a little glimpse into their world, with a list of 10 things Arab girls like:

1. Koreans.
Specifically, Korean men. There are a few Korean soapies dubbed in English (with Arabic subtitles) that play on cable TV here, and the ladies LOVE it. Most of them would actually prefer to marry Korean men over Arab men (on the assumption that Korean men have the same traits and characteristics, and are as romantic as the characters on TV).

2. Fashion.
All kinds of it. Arabia is home to the largest Hipster, Bohemian-chic, and Designer-brand-conscious demographic in the Middle East. They spend a ridiculous amount of money on clothes, shoes and accessories. And they're all so immaculately dressed every given day (from head to toe) that it's quite possible to believe that you're at New York's Fashion Week.

3. Everything American.
Every single chain store you can imagine (some of which aren't even in the UK) is here in the KSA. Jeddah is a little like Las Vegas, but without the (overt) debauchery. 

4. Fast-food.
Ice-cream and cake and ice-cream ON cake - especially cheesecake. And McDonalds. And Pizza Hut. And Cheesecake Factory. And iHop. Fast food seems to be a staple here. So is diabetes - with the KSA having the highest rate in the world. Gluten free options are almost non-existent. Impressively, very few girls are overweight.

5. Technology.
Most people here are already "married" to their smartphones... which are more like necessary accessories than communication devices.

6. WhatsApp & Instagram.
Not that their smartphones are just accessories... they have to put all those ice-cream-cheesecake selfies and effortless style somewhere.

7. Malls.
That's where they usually buy the ice-cream and cake and cheesecake and fabulous clothes, and shoes, and accessories...

8. Dancing.
Getting married smack in the middle of the week or on a Thursday night (or having parties in general) and dancing until dawn (or until its time to pray) is quite the norm here.

9. One Direction.
Especially Zayn Malik. They hate Justin Bieber.

10. Sleeping.
Specifically between 1pm and 5pm in the afternoon, which is peak nap time. In fact, most people stay up all night long doing whatever it is normal people do, and then head to school/work until 12pm, after which they go home and sleep. Very few are willing to stay at school/work after 12pm and many shops/stores are closed during those hours too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The next chapter... or book...

Is it blue or is it purple, I wondered to myself. Actually, I think it's more indigo, but with streaks of eminence and french lilac. So really it's 'blue-purple' I concluded, slightly amused with myself. I've never seen anything like it.

The smell of smoke wafted in my direction as I lay down and contemplated the night sky on the roof-top of our apartment building. The heat from the ceramic tiles seared through my back, much like the steak & chops being barbecued on the grill. Somewhere in the near distance Malika stoked the fire while Nada prepped a table, as we waited patiently for the others to emerge from their respective apartments with the drinks, salads and dessert.

You do know Nada means "nothing" in Spanish, yeah? I told her playfully.

Shut up, she said smiling, throwing a marshmallow at me - which I caught and shoved into my mouth simultaneously. 

That's "nada", pronounced naa-daa. I'm Nada, say it with me Nad-daa, she said in a thick British accent, brimming with sarcasm.

I giggled and rolled over to face her before saying, where is everyone?

I don't know dear, they're probably on their way... everyone's on Arabian time remember, she responded.


After some thought about my experiences and upon further reflection of this statement, I came to another conclusion, which I postulated to my friends later that night. 

See, the thing is, time doesn't really exist in Saudi Arabia. In fact, they don't even have names for their days which, for example, are usually called "Al-Ahad" ("the first day"), meaning Sunday as per the Gregorian calender or "Al-Ithnayn" (the second day) or Monday.

Instead, there are really only four concrete passages of time here, and they are:

1. Now (Arabic: Al-Aan or Al-heen): meaning, anytime between this very second and the rest of the day.

2. Tomorrow (Arabic: Bokra): meaning, anytime in the week, or just any.time.

3. Jumu'ah or Jummah ("Gathering day"): literally Friday, or meaning [modern cultural transcription] the-day-everyone-disappears-and-all-the-stores-are-shut-and-the-streets-are-emptier-than-London-on-Christmas-day.

4. Insha'Allah ("If God Wills it"): meaning [modern cultural transcription] I'm-not-sure-and-I-can't-promise-you-anything-but-it-probably-won't-happen-anytime-soon-if-at-all.

It's been almost 6 months since I've traded Rands for Riyals, Johannesburg for Jeddah and the RSA for the KSA, and many have asked me what it's like to live here... the only response I can give is: it's not what you think it is. I usually tell people (regardless of whether you've been here for Umrah and/or Hajj or not) to forget everything you think you know about Saudi Arabia. Staying in a hotel for 6 - 10 weeks and eating and praying all day differs vastly from actually living here and interacting with the people and the society. Its been a profoundly soul altering experience thus far, in many different ways, for many different reasons... stay tuned ;)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five things I never thought I'd be doing in 2014

1. Eating Chinese Food. I never eat Chinese. In fact, I even managed to convince myself that I don't like it. But alas, lately, I do like it. I like it a lot.

2. Living in Saudi Arabia. The only place NOT on my (very long) list of places to move to.

3. Beginning the work week on a Sunday. Because here Sundays are Mondays and Fridays are Sundays and Saturdays... well, they're still Saturdays.

4. Missing winter. When it's 30 degrees centigrade at midnight and it's only spring, even the most die-hard summer lovers will start longing for rain and snowflakes.

5. Speaking more Spanish and Arabic than English. Because when you spend most of your time with a Mexican and you have to navigate your way through everyday life in the city, you need to adapt or die.