Missing…

As the reality of being a woman in the Middle East sets in, I am becoming increasingly aware of my limitations in social opportunities. I talked to a friend who is doing research in Europe. She has gone through the same thing. We have very few people to hang out with. Everyone else has their own things going on and not a lot of time. On top of that there is the whole language barrier thing.

But Kuwait is different from Northern Europe. It is not like I can go out to cafe and meet new friends. Nor can I just go for a stroll, catch a bus downtown and explore Kuwait city by myself. Buses in Kuwait are filled with male laborers. I was told you better be a tough woman to handle that experience. Honestly, travelling alone as a woman in the Middle East is the pits. During my stay in Morocco, I had to gather up the will to explore Fez. Sometimes it was just plain tiresome. First, you have to develop hard look in order to reduce the unwanted male harrassment (i.e. the walk by “zwaina” or the cat calls, I mean for reals they used the same sounds you called cats with). Then you have to be prepared to avoid all eye contact with any males, such as looking up at the sky and risk falling into some hole in the ground (and in Morocco there are many ditches, potholes, and uneven pavement). The most effective method is looking at the ground and watching where you are going. This too has downsides because you can miss some very nice sites and historical landmarks. Plus I had to map out my route, I wanted to avoid the 100 to 200 glaring eyes that follow any woman who passes the packed cafes. I wasn’t in Egypt long enough to make any lengthy commentaries, but from my experience Cairo seemed pretty much the same.

But Native Kuwaitis are pretty good about not harrassing, I’ve only gotten a few staredowns in stores and businesses. But, there are tons of single men immigrating from the Middle East and South Asia. I’ve heard that depending on the neighborhood, you can get annoying harrassment. But my friend said it’s not that bad as places like Sanaa, Yemen. There if you walk down the street and don’t wear the face veil you’re a slut, if you wear a veil you’re a slut, if you have your whole family in tow you’re a slut, because honorable women apparently either stay at home or they only have cars. But in Kuwait even the men who are pretty hard up for women (the country has a population of 60% adult males) don’t get too bad because no one wants to get deported.

So, with that in mind I don’t feel like I’m going to be bombarded by men whose pasttime consists of making lewd comments to passing women. But, I am following as much of the decorum and etiquette as I can. So, I’ve only had very limited interactions with men, that is even on a professional level. I am sure this while change when I enroll in my course at the University. But I wonder how much will that change. I really doubt I’ll make any substantive male friends or be able to chop it up in a mixed setting (unless it is at one of the East meets West centers). The most common interaction I’ve had with men is being told that a male is coming so go some place not to be seen, usually to my room or close the kitchen door. We have a Yemeni couple as neighbors. So, apparently in their culture women can be heard (but not talking to you if you are a male), but not seen. I know this because all day my friend’s husband gets hear our neighbor’s voice call our maid for various tasks “Adaam, Adaam!!” Very opposite of the old school thing about children, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” In the Middle East, by the way, children run the whole show. The children running freely in American masajid are just a taste of the wild antics in the Middle East.

But I digress. So I scratch the whole thing about being able to chop it up with Muslims of all shapes and varieties in Kuwait. In reality, there’s not much to do for a woman by herself. There are family things, stuff women do in groups. I don’t have any kids. If you ever want to feel like a fifth wheel, try being the only single girl on a multiple family outing. Basically, if the kids aren’t spitting up on you some one may want to spit on you if they think you are looking at their husband sideways. So, besides looking at the ground and occassionally trying to match the dozen children to mothers and fathers, I just looked at the ground feeling awkward like the poor miskeena over thirty and divorced without kids that I am.

I read a thing that said that Kuwait was family oriented. Unlike more open societies, those that follow gender segregation such as Kuwait have nice accomodations for women. There are Arabic and Islamic studies classes, social clubs, swimming pools, and gyms for women. But sometimes they can have their downsides, especially if you don’t understand Kuwaiti Arabic. One time I had to try to find information about some religious studies programs for women. But the building was closed to men, so I had to go at it on my own. Nothing beats down your confidence in your Arabic skills like trying to get information.

I guess I’m realizing that I haven’t explored much. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been to several hyper markets, been to several car dealerships, the ministry of communications, two universities, to an indoor park, to a souk, prayed in a mosque, visited a Kuwaiti home, stuff like that. I realize I haven’t left the house since Saturday when I went food shopping. It’s just not as easy as a woman to meet new people or do new things. There are lots of Muslim women who live like this, never going out, cooking, cleaning, arranging, hanging out with kids, eating to fill the void, obsessively checking email and reading blogs. I have skyped a few times. IMed my sister the other day. On days like this, I miss television. There’s not a tv in this house. And I think I need one bad to pass the time. I’d prefer to have all the stations in Arabic. My eyes hurt from the Arab channel’s tiny pixelated boxes and chopping programs.

It takes awhile to settle in. I’m beginning to realize how far I am from home. I think about all the women who are at home, as their struggle to not be lost in their relationships, as the reach out to maintain their connections. Are they missing some of the same things I’m missing?

On privacy, blogs, and social networking sites

I am sure there are a few voyeuristic readers hoping for details of my personal life and travels in my blog. I may have a bit of a flamboyant side and can easily recognize my own extroverted personality. But I’m not an exhibitionist. I say this even though I got sucked into the world of myspace and facebook. Oh, and before that, blackplanet (how wack was that site?) There was a recent psychological study about this generation being more narcissistic. The article pointed to websites like myspace and facebook encourage you to be so. But the sad thing is that those social networking sites are made for disconnected people who suffer from lonliness and isolation. But often, people who spend hours on those sites close themselves off from real relationships with people right next to them. In an effort to feel unique and special, people post very personal information. The information ranges from your hobbies, interests, activities and affiliations, your favorite books, movies, classes, where you live, where you have traveled, your relationship status, your opinion, and your amazing circle of “friends.”

I especially find it annoying when the buddies post personal messages like this , “Salaams, Hey, it was so great that I finally got to meet you. We had so much fun with you hanging out at yadda yadda’s house! Joe Blow says hi. Love you! Your sis for reals” on the message board. Now, they know the message board was public. But the message board on myspace and the facebook wall are meant to let everyone else know that you are friends. I found it annoying when people had 1000+ friends on myspace. I always felt like there should have been 6 degrees of sepearation, like “Shared interest,” “A web associate of a friend of a friend,” “A person I added because I think they are kinda hot,” “Page with some remotely interesting content”, etc.

At first, I didn’t have much privacy settings on myspace. Slowly over time, I tightened my settings. I didn’t want any more lame artists trying to add me. I didn’t want to add half naked guys without shirts showing off their abs. Nor did I want half naked women, even though I was suprised to find friends from highschool dressed provocatively. They were models, of some sort. At first, I didn’t make my site private because I had a blog with, what I felt were, important things to say.. Then, I got to know a slightly disturbed young woman. She showed me how women can obsess about myspace. For some women it was an investigation tool. Some try to detail your circle of friends and “intimates” on the page. Or, it was a way that some people used to check up on someone they don’t have the courage to call or write. When I took down all my personal information and pictures from myspace people asked me why. Others understood the weirdness that myspace helped encourage. There were times I only went on myspace to read two powerful blogs, one by a brother who goes by the psuedonym “Dan Freeman” and Kali Tal. But still, I’d run into madness.

Over the past few years, facebook seemed like it was largely immune to many of the social-networking-site-illnesses that were endemic to myspace. Facebook began as a college networking site. And it was limited to a few good schools. And you could only join if you had an email account from one of the schools. It was a nice way to keep up with those who graduated and lost their student email accounts. We all were students and grad students, attended similar events and posted pictures of our volunteer organization activities and campus social gatherings. We also posted up pictures of our families, travels, and other personal pics. Then, it began to open up to the whole world. Now, people can google your name and find your facebook page. Scary, because that means that your professional and academic network can be subject to the same stalker’s scrutiny. I have to make sure I up my security and take down my personal pics. It is not something I want to share with the whole world, let alone my undergrad students.

For me blogging has raised a number of similar important issues. I have shifted my focus away from writing about my personal life. Numerous people have told me that I should write a memoir. As a creative writer, I’d prefer to write fictional accounts of some events of my life (but I’m not going to write anything until I push out this dissertation so that’s a long ways away). I really want to respect the privacy of the people I care and have cared about at one point in my life. Even though you can find out some general things that I’m into and doing in this blog, it is not a diary. I hope it doesn’t come off as a pity party either. I definitely don’t intend my blog to substitute for personal interactions with interesting people. But on the top of my list, I really hope my blog does not invite stalkers or people trolling for personal details of my life. But, the blog world does sort of invite that. And I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on this issue. I write details of my life as they come up and are relevant to the social issues that I’m exploring. My blog entries are not articles, nor are they essays. Nor are they polished writing (if I have ever achieved that in my entire life). My blog is also not a newsblog nor is it full of political commentary. I’m not interested in quantity, although I have read that the most popular bloggers post something everyday. I’m not interested in popularity either. I have written earlier about why I write . Some say my blog is provocative, but I don’t write in order to provoke people or agitate them.

Clearly, this blog is not solipsistic. I enjoy feedback. Much of it has pushed me to think. And in some ways this blog fulfills a basic need we all have, to be known and understood. But while I have a tolerance for some aspects of myself to be known by the public, I also value my privacy. I will continue to write and share personal reflections. But, I have come to learn the importance of maintaining some semblance of boundaries.

Hot Girls in Kuwait

With all the allure of oil wealth, big eyes, mascara, sexy shoes, and flowing robes yes Kuwait has hot girls. Besides my Maghribiphile tendencies, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Khaliji style. Kuwait has hot girls and I have found out how quickly I’ve become one of them.

By hot, I mean literally and figuratively. It’s crazy hot here, I mean like beyond Kalahari desert hot. You walk outside and it feels like you stepped into a dryer. That heat hits you like when you open up the oven and stick your head in. Only everyday, walk into an oven. Even at midnight it can range between 111 to 105 degrees. I wear abaya here and hijab here. Underneath I have another layer or regular clothes. I try to wear something light, but it doesn’t matter after 100 degrees you can’t tell the difference. It’s just hot. No wonder why they thought of hell fire in this region. That sun pounds you. To make things worse, men get to rub it in our faces as they rock some infinitely cooler white fits. My black and navy blue hijabs and abayas attract all the rays.

With the sun baking you all day, it is natural that you’d see sun-block at the stores. I’ve seen the highest SPF value that I’ve ever seen in my life. You can get SPF 55 here. I’ve also seen sun-block/fading creame. Women come in all shades here. Some skin tones are more natural and others not so much. All over the Middle East, Fair and Lovely is sold all over the place. It is becoming easier to spot the women who are addicted to fading creme. I remember the first time I saw a woman who had achieved that perfect Michael Jackson skin-tone. You can also see the foundation caked on, shades lighter than a neck (Kuwaitis have achieved a loose style of hijab that manages to stay on) or hands.

I’m slowly getting my bearings straight here. Life in Kuwait is surreal. Everything seems so orderly especially compared to my brief stint in Cairo. Everything is new, I don’t think I’ve seen a building over 40 years old. My friend reminded me that I exchanged the Cairene rate race for the mall. I had to run to the Mac store at the mall, so I had my first taste of Kuwaiti mall life. I saw Khaliji women in Egypt and you can spot them a mile away. They have these big lumps holding up their scarves. A lot wear a ton of make-up, like they get lost in the M.A.C. wharehouse or something. Most women wear hijab and abayas or chadors. There are hijab wearing women with skin tight clothes. And the women love flashy to tacky high heeled shoes. I’ve even seen bedazzled cheap heals at the discount market. Maybe the poorer Kuwaitis are trying to keep up with those who can afford Manolo and Jimmy Choo or Shoe or whatever his name is. I’m not going to hate, because I love shoes. But dang, they took it to the next level. So, I spotted a number of ‘ho shoes beneath some abaya or even chador. I’ve seen women in niqab rocking florescent blue eye-shadow. Women rock the nicest shoes to run a simple errand or do a little midnight shopping on a Monday night.

One of the things that I do admire is that even though many Kuwaiti women wear tent-like chadors or loose enough abayas to conceal their “adornments” for their husbands and family members, they do keep themselves up. It is easy to let youself go and not have any body issues when you spend most of your public life all covered up. But seeing them shop at H&M and the M.A.C. store reminded me that there are hot Muslim women all over the world who love being beautiful.

In the Muslim World

What does it mean being in the Muslim world? Does it mean that a society is more Islamic?  Does the percentage of Muslims make a difference? What about the percentage of women who cover and men who wear big beard and long thobes? What happened to all those traits we’d hear about in khutbas about the Ummah being an exemplary community, the best of peoples, etc…etc…

Well, the Muslim world isn’t this happy Muslim place where people are singing “Tala al badru wa’alayna” skipping down the streets giving salaams to their neighbors. No, the Muslim world is a place where a woman will get hit on and ripped off by an airport worker within 1/2 an hour of stepping on Muslim soil. The Muslim world is where a throng of people pass by an old lady struggling carrying her loaded bags and some random western woman offers to help. The Muslim world is where cars mow down pedestrians on the road and where everyone cusses each other out. The Muslim world is where men say disgusting things to hijab wearing women sweating profusely in the humid  air.

Being in the Muslim world means your landlord commands you to cover the toilet seat because there are jinn residing in the toilet and he accuses your roommate of practicing magic. It also means that he or his sons feel like they can come into your apartment at any time at night and take stuff out.

Being in the Muslim world means being thankful that you meet up with old college friends who will take care of you and make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. It means you are thankful for the rare and random acts of generosity from those Muslims in the Muslim world who truly exemplify the beauty of Islam—Sadaqa and Karamah.

Good-byes

This week-end, I drove with a friend to the Grizzley Peak. I said my good-bye to this chapter of my life, good-bye to friends, good-bye to the Bay Area.Tonight is my last night in California. This time tomorrow, I’ll be on the first leg of my journey. It hasn’t been easy saying good-bye. The past three days have been full of tears.
berkeley_lab_view.jpg

I will be returning to my home town before I go abroad. There will be a family reunion and I’ll know more about where I come from. But what do I know of any place? I know that even though I have never belonged or felt at home here in California, that it is beautiful. I’ll really miss so many parts of Northern California. Time was too short to soak it up and really enjoy it before leaving.

I have anticipated and feared this moment for the past eight months. It became all more real four months ago. My anxieties even creeped into my dreams. But there was no question as to whether I was going to take this journey. The only question was how. The how still unfolds. What do I return to is still unanswered.

So many of the relationships I have forged in the past few years have changed and a number have ended. I have no idea what will happen over the next year. I let go of old resentments and hurts so that I can be open to new experiences. I try to hold on to feelings of love and gratitude, rather than the fear and anxiety. I am tired, I am sad, I am excited, I am grateful. I have a few more things to do, and then there will be closure. I have a few more strings to tie and long list of prayers to make during my travels. My friends have kept me alive this long, and their love still carries me. I will keep them in my prayers. They say the prayers of a traveller are always answered.

Full

I woke up this morning happy. I felt full…warm and safe. Then there was a bitter sweet moment as I thought about how my life will change dramatically. I thought about what I’d have to let go. In a few weeks, I will take an intensive course for 6 weeks. Then, two weeks after that I will leave the country for the hustle and bustle of Cairo. My naive dreams of longing will be held in suspension. I can’t pack up those that I care about and bring them with me. No more 40 minute drives to the place where I grew up. I will be thousands of miles from my mom’s the plum, orange, and lemon tress. No long rides along scenic windy highway 280 to San Francisco or 580 to Oakland or Berkeley. I’ll be far from the high tech Martin Luther King Library and shrimp tacos and chicken qesadillas at Iguanas on 3rd street in San Jose. I’ll miss the smells of the ocean. I’ll miss the expanse of the Pacific and driving on bridges that span the Bay. More than anything, I’ll miss the sun streaming in my window filtering through the white comforter that envelops me in a waking dream. The bittersweet moment passed and the joy of being took over. This morning, I laid in bed suspended between the world of dreams and world of conscious action. As I drifted in and out, the lines between those worlds blurred. Wishful…dreaming…feeling…full…feeling…me…like myself again.

Can the Mosquito Speak?

Can the Mosquito Speak? Hell yeah it does, it says” bzzzzzzzz” and that’s enough for me.
I’m planning my year abroad and there was a pretty heated discussion about a sister’s death (possibly due to Malaria) in Somalia on Umar Lee’s, Murder of a Sister . While I do not think she was murdered, I critiqued the folly of Muslims who travel to places in high disease environments without proper shots and medications. I know there are Muslims who are against immunizations. Some are raising their unimmunized kids in America, others are taking them to places that I’d get Tetanus, TB, Rabies, Cholera, Yellow Fever, Dysentry, Hepatitus A,B, (isn’t there a B and a D? I dunno), Chicken Pox, Measles, any I’d just make sure my shot record was on point. I’d also carry a good back of antibiotics and disinfectant. I got a rough microbial parasite while in Morocco, I was sick as a dog and lost maybe 10 pounds in like 2 days throwing up and having explosive—[let me just stop right here]. I love the pharmacy, without those meds, I don’t know how I would have recovered. But there was a religious scholar in Northern Nigeria who advised his followers not to immunize their kids. There was a polio epidemic, and if anybody remembers steel lungs and the depressing black and white movies of polio, you’d wonder why would people follow some nonsense. I’m all for natural medicine. But dang, germs and viruses kill more people than guns and bombs.

I am going to Egypt for a year, and being the hypochondriac that I am, (if you haven’t figure that out already), I felt the need to do some research and visit a travel medicine clinic. I remember reading Timothy Mitchell’s book “Rule of Experts,” which is an excellent book about technocrats in Egypt. He had an amazing chapter about the dam projects which caused epidimics of malaria in Egypt. For Mitchtell, the mosquito became a historical agent. He made the funniest play on words and Subaltern theory, with a chapter titled “Can the mosquito speak?” The mosquito cannot write its own history, but a water irrigation scheme set off a set of reactions that increased the mosquito population. Thousands died and the whole country had to be mobilized to eradicate the problem.

Although I am all into recovering the voices of the subaltern. I am all for the underdog and decentered histories, but I dislike mosquitoes. I get massive swelling whenever a mosquito bites me. It gets really hot and itchy, sometimes really painful. Mosquitoes are gross, I don’t want to hear them speak. In fact, I want them eradicated because I don’t see how they do anybody good, except for the bugs and birds that eat them. And the mosquitoes carry malaria, which is my worst nightmare. There are many forms of malaria, but in some zones, there is Falciparum malaria, the most dangerous form of the disease. Falciparum malaria is common in tropical and sub-tropical Africa.

There isn’t a high risk of getting malaria in Egypt, but I’m still going to get some anti-malarial medication in case I decide last minute to hop over to Yemen. Whatever way it goes, I’m so cool off of mosquitoes.

Natural Protection Against Malaria:
A number of African Americans have some protection against Falciparum malaria. My friend, who is of West African and African American extraction, experienced this directly. She has the sickle trait and never got malaria while in Yemen , but her husband did (he doesn’t have the trait). 1 in 12 African Americans are carriers of the sickle cell trait. If you inherited the trait from both your parents, you may be suffer sickle cell anemia. It can be pretty devastating. And not enough funding goes to treatment and research, because it is a “Black” disease. Sickle cell traits were a natural defense that developed in regions where there are malarial belts. People with sickle cell are more likely to survive once infected. When the slavers traded our ancestors off and the Europeans packed them into boats, many Africans died. Some 15-25 million Africans were transported and many didn’t make it. The majority of Africans went to the Carribean and South America. There, they died within years time under brutal plantation systems. A lot different from how you guys imagine your Carribean holidies. There was also malaria in the South. The death rates were so bad, that they the populations did not reproduce itself. Instead, Europeans imported more Africans to die. But eventually the conditions in the Americas allowed for Africans to develop self-sustaining communities. So, out of that survival story, our ancestors gave us antibodies to survive the disease environment in the Americas. They also passed to many of us a trait that could help us survive a devastating disease–malaria.

Preventing Malaria:
Just because you have the trait doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautionary measures. You should sleep with a mosquito net to prevent the mosquitoes from biting you while you’re sleep, spray on stinky DEET to prevent mosquito bite (they can’t find you cause you smell so bad), and take those anti-malarial medications to block the life-cycle of the parasite that causes malaria. But Anti-malarial medications are pretty wild. They can cause hallucinations, I mean scary hallucinations. A brother I know took them while studying abroad, I believe in Kenya or maybe Tanzania. He said that he had the most vivid dream where his mother was on fire, burning right in front of him…shudder…My friend went to Ghana and passed up on the antimalarial medications out of fear of the medication’s side effects. Alhumdulillah she did not encounter many mosquitoes and didn’t contract anything. But even though there are cases of people walking away unharmed. I know others who have suffered from malaria. For anybody travelling, be sure to take precautions, especially if you have children. I don’t care if you going Tablighing in India, for sacred in Yemen, or to Somalia or Northern Nigeria for hijrah. Check out the Center for Disease Control Website.

Why is Malaria Still a killer:

Malaria kills a child somewhere in the world every 30 seconds. It infects at least 500 million people each year, killing 1 million. Ninety per cent of those who die are in Africa, where malaria accounts for about one in five of all childhood deaths.

I have also read debates where Africans advocated the use of DDT in order to eradicate mosquitoes, but DDT is banned internationally by Western environmentalists. African American and African environmentalists have been pushing for the end to the ban on DDT because it would save the lives of African children. See website here. Other organizations take UNICEF has Malaria advocacy program. Malaria kills more than AIDs, but it doesn’t get the same publicity. Perhaps you can do something to help alleviate the suffering that is caused by this forgotten disease.

The malaria parasite life cycle involves two hosts. During a blood meal, a malaria-infected female Anopheles mosquito inoculates sporozoites into the human host . Sporozoites infect liver cells and mature into schizonts , which rupture and release merozoites . (Of note, in P. vivax and P. ovale a dormant stage [hypnozoites] can persist in the liver and cause relapses by invading the bloodstream weeks, or even years later.) After this initial replication in the liver (exo-erythrocytic schizogony ), the parasites undergo asexual multiplication in the erythrocytes (erythrocytic schizogony ). Merozoites infect red blood cells . The ring stage trophozoites mature into schizonts, which rupture releasing merozoites . Some parasites differentiate into sexual erythrocytic stages (gametocytes). Blood stage parasites are responsible for the clinical manifestations of the disease.

The gametocytes, male (microgametocytes) and female (macrogametocytes), are ingested by an Anopheles mosquito during a blood meal . The parasites’ multiplication in the mosquito is known as the sporogonic cycle . While in the mosquito’s stomach, the microgametes penetrate the macrogametes generating zygotes . The zygotes in turn become motile and elongated (ookinetes) which invade the midgut wall of the mosquito where they develop into oocysts . The oocysts grow, rupture, and release sporozoites , which make their way to the mosquito’s salivary glands. Inoculation of the sporozoites into a new human host perpetuates the malaria life cycle.*

*This information came from the CDC website.

So, for all you Muslim travellers. Here’s a bit of a rundown on malaria in places we might visit. Just remember, have trust in Allah and tie your camel too.
Risk of Malaria in Middle East

Malaria Risk by Country

Risk present, chloroquine resistance present Take Chloroquine plus proguanil or Doxycycline
Afghanistan (below 2000m, May-November)
Iran
Oman (remote rural areas only)
Saudi Arabia (except northern, eastern and central provinces, Asir plateau, and western border cities, where there is very little risk; no risk in Mecca)
Tajikstan (June-October)
Yemen (no risk in Sana’a)

Risk low take Chloroquine or Proguanil
Armenia (June-October).
Azerbaijan (southern border areas, June-September)
Egypt (El Faiyum only, June-October)
Iraq (rural north and Basrah Province, May-November)
Kyrgystan (south-west, May-October)
Syria (north border, May-October)
Turkey (plain around Adana, Side, south east Anatolia; May-October)
Turkmenistan (south-east only, June-October)

Risk very low Avoid mosquito bites
Algeria
Egypt (tourist areas malaria free)
Georgia (south-east, July-October)
Kyrgystan (but low risk in south-west)
Libya
Morocco (rural areas)
Turkey (most tourist areas)
Uzbekistan (extreme south-east only)