Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Things he calls me (in order of decreasing frequency):

1) Ya basha: A Pasha is a Turkish/Albanian aristocratic title. Technically, both the monarchy and the nobility no longer exist in Egypt. These titles were abolished after Nasser's revolution in 1952. But the title is still used by many Egyptians to refer to VIP's I guess. I have no idea why he calls me ya basha but he always says it so affectionately. The contrast between his manner & tone & the meaning of the word as I know it always makes me laugh.
2) Ya 7abibi: It means "my love". But for a woman it should be "ya 7abibti". Again I don't know why he always says "7abibi" and not "7abibti" but he makes it sound good.
3) My name
4) Ya bit (girl)
5) Ya bit inti (you girl)
6) Ya 3asal (honey)
7) Ya 2mar (Moon. This one I'm familiar with. Arabs always liken a beautiful face to the moon which they view as the ultimate in beauty I guess.)
8) Ya gameel (beautiful)
9) Ya fandem (Another formal title of respect. Probably of Turkish origin. Used to refer to a VIP or the boss.)
10) Ya bashmohandesa (Engineer)
11) Ya magnona (Crazy woman)
12) Ya bint elmagnoona (Daughter of a crazy woman)
13) Ya habla (Silly woman)
14) Ya bint elhabla (Daughter of a silly woman)
15) Ya 3abeeta (Another word for "silly")
16) Ya 3am (It means "uncle". Again I don't know why he would call me his uncle but it cracks me up!)
17) Ya m3alem (That cracks me up too. Technically a teacher but Egyptians use it to mean other things I haven't quite figured out yet. )

When I call his name he says (in order of decreasing frequency):

1) Itfadali (Be my guest.)
2) Na3am (Yes)
3) 3iyoon K (It means "K's eyes". Term of endearment meaning he values me as much as his eyes.)
4) Roo7 Alb K (It means "Heart of K's soul". It means he values me as much as the heart of his soul - whatever that is!)
5) Omori (Tell me what you want me to do/Your wish is my command.)
6) Aho (Here)
7) 3inaya (My eyes. A variation on #3)
8) Ra2abti (My neck. Essentially it means he would sacrifice his neck i.e. die for me)
9) Fi eh? (What?)
10) 3ayza eh? (What do you want? Same as #5 but rude.)
11) Khair (I hope I will like whatever you're going to say but am expecting otherwise. He uses this one to be rude too.)
12) Sam3ik (I hear you.)

Things I call him (in no particular order):

1) His name
2) 7abibi

When he calls my name I say (in no particular order):

1) Yes/Na3am
2) 7abibi

He's so much more interesting & creative than me no? I say the same things all the time. I have to work on that.


Thursday, November 23, 2006


Maybe because my hair is so difficult and high maintenance, I can be quite obssesive about hairstyling. In other words, if I don't like your hairstyle don't expect me to be quiet. My fingers will start itching for scissors, haircolor etc....If you're someone I see a lot of then I will hound you. You see, it really, really bothers me. Makes me nervous.

I always used to cut my father's hair. And all my brothers. Everytime they go and get a haircut somewhere else and I don't like, I bug them about it so much they end up giving in and letting me "fix it". In the end they just let me do it for them to save themselves all the hassle.

I couldn't count the number of people whose hair I've "fixed" one way or the other. Basically anyone who'd let me and anyone I could wear down into letting me.

So what's the problem? Well my husband has recently expressed displeasure with the fact that I'm on "haircutting" terms with so many other men. He thinks it's too intimate. I don't see anything intimate about hairstyling. I mean, I go to male hairstylists all the time and I don't feel intimate with them. And what if I was a hairstylist by profession?

He says professionally is different but insists cutting someone's hair on a personal basis IS intimate, that some guys might get the wrong idea etc.... And he made it sound like adultery for heaven's sake.

So let's take a vote. Do you think giving a member of the opposite sex a haircut is or can be intimate?


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Emarati Police - A Tribute

So I've been reading Forsoothsayer on widespread sexual harrassment of women in Cairo and the lack of interest to the point of complicity shown by the police force there. And I was catching up on The Sandmonkey's latest when I came across this comparing and contrasting with Dubai.

Well I have to say it's not just in Dubai. There is zero tolerance for any type of sexual harrassment in UAE which is something that deserves respect. Emarati police always show a lot of respect for women that manifests itself in many ways:

1) If a man harrasses a woman and she reports him, they arrest him first and ask questions later. If convicted, he gets up to 3 months in jail, followed with deportation if he is an expatriate. They also shave his head and print his photo in all the newspapers with a warning that he is a sex offender/harrasser.

2) If a man harrasses a woman and she DOESN'T report him but a plainclothes police officer notices, the same will happen to the man. Even if the woman declines to press charges for whatever reason, it is still a punishable crime.

3) The above has an effect that trickles down to every level of society. I've had men refuse to get into the lift with me if I'm alone because they're scared I might turn out to be a religious prude and report them for harrassing/offending me or something.

Owners of most public places are so scared of trouble with the police that they show no tolerance for harrassment either. Even in clubs, if a man harrasses you and you report him, he'll be kicked out and won't be allowed back in while the bouncers can still remember his face.

Sometimes this policy gets a bit obssessive and there is outright discrimination against groups of single guys as opposed to couple or families. I've seen guys -especially teenagers - get kicked out of a restaurant, mall or coffee shop without having done anything just because the manager thinks they look like they're out to watch girls and they might offend the couples or the families. I think this has something to do with the fact that couples/families tend to have more money to spend than teenagers though.

4) If a woman is pulled over for speeding or some other traffic violation, they let her go unpunished after politely requesting that she try not to do it again. That happens 75% of the time. I know what I'm talking about because I speed a lot. They have a positive aversion to arresting/fining or otherwise initiating legal procedures against women or bringing a woman to a courthouse or a police station. They will do anything to avoid that.

5) If a woman is standing waiting for a cab and there's a police car or motorcycle nearby, no cab driver will dare not stop for her. If he doesn't, they chase him and bring him back. If a man is waiting for a cab, the police usually let him fend for himself.

6) The police extend this protection to all women, whether they're local, expatriate, veiled, unveiled etc....They even extend it to prostitutes sometimes. It's nice to see an Arabic police force protecting women instead of judging them.

Now I'm not saying UAE is paradise. It is still a Middle Eastern country with it's share of problems....All I'm saying is that inspite of all that, the dominant trend is towards making the country safe for women. Which is cool.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Image of Islam

As ever, the Arab/Islamic blogosphere is swarming with discussions about the image of Islam. How badly damaged it is, how to improve it etc....I mean, I must have read hundreds of these. But none of them have so far explained to me why I should care. Seriously though, who cares?

Faith is not a matter of projecting an image to other human beings. It's about your relationship with God, your personal perception of your life, its purpose and its direction. Your clothes, your car might and should be about image.But to me, talking about image in relation to religion just cheapens it and commercializes it. Faith is what is in your heart. That's something no one can take away from you. So why bother to justify or explain it to others? It's something that should be yours and yours alone. To me, it makes no sense to follow a religion just because it's more popular than others.

Frankly, I've never felt particularly interested in other people's opinions of Islam. And that includes the opinions of Muslims on what Islam is and how good a Muslim they think I might be. I might be provoked or concerned if someone started saying Muslims - as PEOPLE - should be killed or whatever. Or if someone who I know thinks of me as an infidel threatens or attempts to abuse me in any tangible manner. But so long as they keep their opinion to themselves when I ask them to, it really doesn't make me feel compelled to change anything in my life to please either camp.

I grew up reading critiques of Islam by Orientalists and modern secularists of all creeds. They're in my father's library - right next to the Quran, the Seera, the Sunna, fiqh, shariah and my favorites: the beautiful books on sufism and the spiritual dimension of Islam.

I had an almost entirely foreign education. All my life my teachers at school have been non-Muslims. And most were quite sceptical of my religion. It's a trend in my family I think. We don't believe in mixing religion and education. We send our kids to the best schools regardless. I mean my parents were educated by Jesuits and nuns and we're not even Christian.

So yeah I've always been aware that there are people out there who believe Mohamed is a false Prophet. On rare occasions, I've been shocked or offended by a certain type of attack on him. But mostly, this sort of thing doesn't make me feel personally attacked.

I can see why this might be an important issue for Muslim minorities who live abroad. The image impacts them because it affects how the host culture treats them. But here in the Middle East, surely we have bigger problems to worry about than our image in far-flung corners of the Earth? Isn't it much more worthwhile to go out there and try to combat poverty, corruption, injustice in your own community than to spend hours on the internet trying to convince people who don't know anything about your life that the religion your practice is the 'one true faith'?

If we spent more time and effort on improving our own lives than on trying to impress some perceived 'Other', I think we'd all be a lot happier.

I hereby vow that I will no longer allow myself to be dragged into these 'interfaith slugging matches' either online or offline. What a waste of time.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Waiting Up

Woke up this morning in my husband's arms, sadder than I've been in a long time. It takes a few seconds to remember my brother's visit, the reason for the sadness, driving him to the airport etc...I start thinking about a trip to France. But I don't know if I'm ready to see my sister-in-law yet. I know that it's unhelpful to start pointing fingers, that it takes two to tango. In my head, I know these things. But in my heart, he's my brother, I love him and she hurt him. I don't want to see her anytime soon.

Lay there for a little while weighing my chances of getting up without waking my husband. In the end, I decide it's hopeless so I turn over in his arms, put my arms around him and squeeze as hard as I can. I need the comfort and since am going to wake him anyway I might as well get something out of it right?

He smiles but with his eyes still closed. I feel an answering squeeze. Then his hand starts moving, stroking my hair and my back. I find it so relaxing it makes me sleepy. Getting up for work becomes a distant thought.

In my drowsiness though, I can't stop thinking about divorce. How cold it is. What makes it happen?What makes two people who built a life together decide to tear it down?

And somehow my garbled thoughts lead me to feeling guilty that am lying there, safe in my husband's arms, enjoying my marriage when my brother is suffering the end of his relationship, maybe even the loss of the right to raise his own daughter. Suddenly I can't breathe, I need space. I ask him to let me go and he does. I roll over and out of bed. I look at him to see if I was too abrupt, if I offended him. But he's gone back to sleep.

I get ready for work as quietly as I can, careful not to disturb him anymore. At work, I'm distracted and slow. Less than an hour at my office then I was on the road again. Had to attend a presentation with a client.

After the presentation, everyone was looking at me expectantly. Am the consultant right? I represent my client's best interests. It's my job to grill the vendors, to ask follow-up questions. Except I didn't hear a word of the presentation and have no idea what it was all about. I even had trouble recalling the product the meeting was about.

I got out of it by saying I had some questions but I would prefer to put them in writing and receive a detailed technical report in response. The vendors looked relieved to be let off the hook - even temporarily. The client's representative gave me a funny look. My manager was frowning at me across the table. He wasn't pleased about my cop-out. He tried to cover up by asking questions about his end of things - money. Pointless really because if we don't know if it's the right product yet, what's the point in haggling about prices?But I understood that he didn't want it said that we - as consultants - contributed nothing to the meeting. Consultants aren't supposed to ever admit to being mere spectators.

I knew that it wasn't irreparable damage. We were given the presentation on a CD so I could always go back and look at it later and write my report or pose my questions. But I also knew the scene with my manager back at the office wasn't going to be pleasant.

Driving back to the office, I tried to stall the inevitable by stopping for coffee at Starbucks. It didn't take more than 10 min to pick it up but the secretary was already calling me, saying the boss would like to see me 'at my earliest convenience'. Bad sign that. He didn't call me himself. He had his secretary summon me.

I toyed with the idea of chickening out a bit longer. I could always claim to have been out visiting clients or something. But I decided that was beneath my dignity. I was a big girl. I messed up and I had to be old enough to deal with the consequences.

The pep-talk on the way back didn't make it any easier. My manager is vicious when he thinks you've embarrassed him and he's had years of experience in getting under my skin. And he always gets to me. I can never just disregard what he says the way I can with so many other people. It stings everytime.

Afterwards, I left his office, went into mine and had to sit down for a few minutes. I felt like I'd been stabbed in the stomach. My stomach hurt so much it brought tears to my eyes. I closed my eyes and did some breathing exercises. I talked to myself, telling myself it's ok, I wasn't going to be fired over this, he was just angry etc... Felt the pain recede but the incident left me with a headache. Great. That's all I needed. Bring on a stupid migraine won't you?

When I was composed again, I sat down to see that presentation. I wanted to have my report on his desk as soon as possible so he won't have an excuse to speak to me for a while. Whenever I clash with my manager, I always spend a few days doing everything possible to avoid coming face to face with him. Which isn't easy because he's the kind of guy who has a temper, flares up and then feels bad and tries to make amends. He won't come right out and apologize of course, not even if - unlike today - I hadn't done anything wrong. But he'll start acting all hearty and over-friendly with you. And how are you supposed to rebuff the boss? It drives me nuts because when am mad at someone I can't bear to see them. I don't want them to make amends. I just want them to stay away from me.

Other than 45 minutes spent at another meeting, I spent the entire day working on my report. By 3:00pm, it was done. I emailed it to him. Then I printed it out and left a hard copy with his secretary. And I made my escape. Left work an hour and a half early.

Had a sugar craving so I went to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and donuts. A friend called and asked where I was. Told her and she said she would join me. Great. I was counting on eating lunch at home with my husband for a change. We don't often get to see each other during the day.

When she arrives, she is carrying some newspapers, all open on the Appointments pages. It agitates me. She has her dream job. There's no reason why she would be looking at ads for vacancies for herself. But her ex is a loser who treats her badly and can't seem to hold down a job. If she's looking then she's looking for him and that can only mean they're back together. I'd seen it happen too many times before.

But I don't try to question her. I was too saturated with my brother's problems and my own day at work. I didn't have the stomach to listen to her defending him, saying how he changed etc...It might have been callous but I didn't have the energy to deal with a friend who keeps going back to an abusive bf on top of everything. So I just didn't.

We chatted a bit about inconsequential, girly things. After a decent interval, I excused myself and told her I had to get home. As luck - and traffic - would have it, I got home too late. My husband had already left.

I felt drained and exhausted. So I took a shower. Then I got into bed and called my brother to check on him. He was aggressive today, telling me to stop hovering over him, that am not helping, that that's why he doesn't want my parents to know because he doesn't feel up to coping with questions, probing, fussing etc...that he needs time. Time for what? But I knew better than to ask.

I told him to take care of himself and be strong. I was crying but I don't think it showed in my voice. It would have made him even madder. Then I hung up.

And cried myself to sleep. Surprisingly I slept for hours. When I woke up this time it was 9:00pm. My husband must have heard me moving about because he came in to tell me we have guests. He worries that I'll walk into the living room in my lingerie or something if he doesn't warn me about these things.

So I pull on jeans and a t-shirt and I go out to be the perfect hostess. We have a full house tonight - the whole bunch. All the friends I hate. Perfect. I said hello, made smalltalk for a little while, then escaped to the kitchen where I busied myself cooking their dinner.

When the food was ready to serve, I called out to him to lay the table and come help me carry it out. He came in, seemed surprised that I cooked so much, said sandwiches would have been fine, that they were really here for tea and sheesha. My stomach sank. Tea and sheesha means they'll be here forever. But I said it's ok, I needed to keep busy. I wanted to say I had a rough day and I needed him tonight but what could he do really? Guests are guests. It's the way we were both raised.

So I joined them for dinner. Then I excused myself. I knew they'd clean up, make their own tea and sheesha etc....A little while ago,I sent him SMS saying I was tired and wanted my good night kiss before I fell asleep. And he came into the bedroom, kissed me, thanked me for dinner and asked me to wait up for him. Do I have a choice really?I mean I slept like 4 hours earlier so it's not like am going to fall asleep anytime soon anyway.

So here I am. Waiting up.


Sunday, November 12, 2006


So my brother and his wife are getting a divorce. Effectively they're already divorced. No longer living together. It's just the legal process in France will take months.

Their daughter is not even one yet.

He's in town and I could tell from the moment I set eyes on him that something was seriously wrong. But he only told me today. He said that she is leaving him. He didn't say why. When I asked him how long ago, he said 2 months.

My brother is leaving tomorrow. And I don't know what to do. I feel bad because I'm doing nothing but I really don't know what to say or do.

He just sits there not saying anything and not responding to anything.

And he wouldn't come and stay with us. Last night I stayed with him at his hotel room and we just watched movies. And ate a lot. He took me home at 6:00am so I could change for work. And I walked into the house, collapsed on the couch and just cried, nearly scared my husband to death.

Today we had lunch and he sat there for 2 hours without saying a word. I kept trying to start a conversation and in the end I gave up.

I can't let him leave like this. He's here on business and says he has to get back to work but it's so clear that he's no condition to be working. I want him to stay but I don't know how to make him. And if he did stay I don't know what to do for him.

Part of me is really pissed off at him though. My brother never asked anyone's advice. He told other people especially me what to do but he didn't like answering questions about his stuff. When he decided to get married, it was a surprise to all of us. We didn't even know there was someone in his life. He never talked about her. We found out a month before the wedding took place. When his daughter was born, we got an overseas call in the middle of the night. We didn't even know his wife was pregnant.And now he gets divorced and we find out 2 months later.

I mean, what does he expect me to do?What right does he have to just dump this on me like this after years of never admitting that he could be human or have problems?I don't even know how to talk to him when he's like this because I've never seen him like this.

I keep wanting to call my mother and tell her. She'd know what to do. But he doesn't want my parents to know yet. What is he waiting for? I don't know. Should I feel privileged to know?Well I don't.

God I haven't even told my husband yet and he's worried sick. Out of respect for my brother's privacy, I haven't told anyone.

He keeps telling me to just forget it, that he'll be fine. I think he's sorry he told me.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sweet Talk

Me : Inta wain mwadeeni?(Where are you taking me?)
Him: Ana bardo illy mwadeeki?Da ana mashi waraki.(I am not.You're taking me/I'm following you.)
Me : Seriously where are we going?
Him: Zay ma t7ibi.(As you like.)
Me : Let's go to Marina mall.
Him(with a look of absolute horror on his face): The mall?Why?
Me : Mi7taja nadara ya K.(I need a pair of sunglasses)
Him: Ya nhari. Nadara? Da ana ageeblik elma7al kollo. (Basically he's saying my wish is his command and he would buy me an entire store of sunglasses if I wanted etc....Arabic flattery)
Me : La. Nadara wa7ida takfi. Yalla nroo7 elmall.(No. One pair is enough. Let's go to the mall.)
Him: Wihiya ya3ni elnadara lazim filmall?(But do we have to go to the mall for sunglasses?)
Me: Khalas ya 7abibi(It's ok baby ) ana I'll get it some other time.
Him: La ana ma7rimkeesh min 7aga(No I don't want to deprive you of anything). Bas ana ba2ool ya3ni ay ma7al nadarat yib2a akhaf min elmall.(All I'm saying is we can go to any optician's intead of going to the mall). Elwahid mish biyla2i(One can never find) parking and we'll be walking around there all evening.

Of course that was the whole point for me. I want to go window-shopping in the mall, walk around, see what else I might like, maybe pick up one or two other things etc...Exactly what he was trying to avoid.

So we go into Yateem Optics in Hamdan Street and in no time at all, I have my new pair of sunglasses and even a pair of brown contacts to go with my new haircolor.
But somehow am frustrated, not satisfied with my purchases. I would have enjoyed getting exactly the same things from the mall a lot more.

Why did I ever agree to let him drive us? When will I learn that when we go out together and it involves shopping I should always insist that we take my car?

So back in the car:

Him: Ha ti7ibi troo7i fain dilwa2ti?(So where would you like to go now?)
Me : Let's go for sheesha in Hiltonia. It's nice today. We can sit outside and look at the sea.
Him: Sheesha wi ba7r mashi(Sheesha by the sea is fine). Bas balash Hiltonia(But not Hiltonia).
Me : Laish?(Why?)
Him: Too many people you know.
Me : Tayeb ya3ni mara martain nsalim wo khalas.(So we'll say hello a couple of times and that's it.)
Him: Aiwa bas elmakan daya2 kida wana bisara7a batkhini2(Yeah but the place is too small and I find it suffocating).

I love Hiltonia. Have been going there practically all my life.

Me(between gritted teeth) : La salamtak(Arabic endearment meaning May Allah keep you safe - from suffocation in this case) ya 7abibi. Where would you prefer to go for sheesha?
Him: La ana ta7t amrik bas balash wilnabi (I'm at your service but for the love of the Prophet not Hiltonia)Hiltonia.
Me: 7adir.(Fine)
Him: Yi7adir lik elkhair.(Don't know how to translate that.)

So I start rattling off the names of all the sheesha places in Abu Dhabi. Two of them he doesn't like because they're not by the sea. One he doesn't like because the chairs have no handles and he doesn't know what to do with his arms when sitting there. One is no good because he doesn't like the music they play.

In end he decides that we'll just drive along the new Corniche until we find a place where he'd like to sit. I decide to keep my mouth shut.

We get to a place somewhere near the end of Alkasir. He parks the car & I get out without a word. It's a nice place. I don't mind it at all. What I do mind is that it was clear he didn't just stumble on it like he was pretending to, that it was where he'd wanted to come all along.

Every single time we go out, he gives me this crap like mashi waraki(following you) and ta7t amrik(at your service) and in the end we do what he wants. If he doesn't like a place or an activity then he will have nothing to do with it. Never. He's so stubborn.

I just don't know why he still bothers to sweet-talk me. It doesn't work anymore. It just insults my intelligence.

Who would have guessed that sweet talk could be so irritating?