Monday, November 26, 2007

More Money?

Convo with the boss (C) yesterday at 10:30 pm.

Boss: These are the schematics we've produced?

Me : Yes. And all the floor plans.

Brief silence while he goes through them. Am getting a little impatient. I mean, is he going to go through EVERY diagram & drawing now? What time do I get to go home?

Boss: Ok, I think we're in good shape. And we need a write-up.

Oh great.

Me: We were not asked to submit a write-up.

Boss: (Looking through some more) These would be a lot easier to read if there was some sort of explanation.

Me: They're meant to be read by people who don't need a write-up to understand them.

Boss: Maybe but we want to produce a quality document. And btw, I noticed a couple of spelling mistakes. That's the sort of thing the client immediately picks up on.

Me: I'm sorry. I'll double-check all the labels. And I will draft something. Tomorrow.

Boss: It needs to be better than a draft. Before 9:00am please. Will we have time in the morning?

He knew I didn't. And no 'we' about it. It's not like he was going to do it.

Me: Ok C,I will go home & do it tonight. After having already worked a 14 hr day.

Boss: I thought I signed your overtime.

Me: Well thank you. But overtime notwithstanding, I do have a life.

Boss: Yes that is understood. And this is why we try to compensate everyone fairly for those times when they have to change their plans for operational reasons. Fortunately, that's not very often, is it?

Me: But what if I don't think the compensation is fair? Do I still have to put in the overtime?

Boss: That's a different issue. If you feel we're underestimating your hourly rate, submit a revision and I'll look at it. Meanwhile, the job needs to get done.

Me(Taken aback): Uh...ok, thanks. Good night.

Boss: Good night.

Effectively, he was telling me that if I want a raise, now is a good time to ask. Wasn't expecting that. I was being flippant & expected him to respond in the same way.

Would it be wrong to ask for a raise when I know I'm leaving in a few months time and he doesn't? God knows I could use the money. And of course, a raise would factor into my gratuity when I do leave.

But people get offered a raise around here to stick around if they're really needed.

So would it be fraud to ask for one and then not stick around?


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dressed To Kill?

Yesterday I woke up with no desire to get out of bed. All that muscle strain & sleep deprivation finally catching up with me. Calling in sick wasn't an option though. Deadlines, deadlines.

In an effort to wake myself up & get excited about going to work, I started thinking about what to wear. And I decided to go for shock value. In almost 7 years, I had never worn anything but pants to the office. The testesterone-driven, chauvinistic corporate culture I work in makes it hard to be taken seriously unless you act like a man i.e. wearing pants, minimal, invisible make-up if at all, no high heels & no jewellery other than my watch & wedding ring. So for almost 7 years, I had avoided anything liable to remind anyone at work of my gender.

But I was leaving soon, right? I no longer have a future with this organization so who cares?

I dragged myself out of bed & went to look in my closet. It took me about 30 minutes to decide on a short(just above the knee), black & white, silk wrap-around shirtdress. Not too short & long-sleeved but you can't get much more feminine than silk, short & wrap-around, right?

Next came the question of shoes. Red high-heels with black stockings & suspender? Too hookerish. I haven't done the suspender belt thing since I read that people can tell from the lining through your clothes. Standing infront of the mirror to test that claim, I found it to be demonstrably true. The lining does show no matter how heavily you're dressed. And silk is not heavily dressed by any means.

Red high heels with black tights? Still too hookerish. Red high heels with neutral tights? No, no, no. Red shoes are just too much for the office. Even though I love these particular red heels. Prada etc...But no.

So black heels with tights? I decide to lose the tights altogether. Instead I opt for a pair of black strappy sandals. Nine West is definitely more like the office than Prada.

But there is a problem. The dress is a recent purchase & I'd never actually worn it before. As I moved around the bedroom getting ready, I noticed that the dress has a tendency to open all the way up to my waist when I sit down. Imagine what the wind outside would have done to it.

Having no desire to flash everyone at the office & get fired for violating the dress code and/or indecent exposure, I contemplated my options. A half-slip? But then it would show. I dislike the idea of walking around with my slip showing. In the end, I go for a pair of plain black cycling shorts. Problem solved.

Of course, I wore my hair down & blow-dried straight, making a mental note to cut it soon. And I left off the make-up. Just sunscreen & powder. Like everyday.

Perfume: Insolence from Guerlain. A wedding present btw. A change from my usual Boss or Ralph Lauren.

Thus armed, I drove to work.

The first people to stare were the two security guards at the entrance to our building. It wasn't an admiring stare. It was a shocked who-is-this stare.

Since there was no question of taking the stairs in those heels, I just kept my head down & scurried into the lift. I never say good morning anyway so why start now?

Had a panic attack in the lift. Didn't want to step onto my floor. Which is a first right? Me - the claustrophobe - wanting to stay in a lift? This tells you how scared I was.

I briefly considered sneaking back down & going home to change. But I knew there was no time. The lift alarm went off as it is bound to do when you hold it open too long. The noise was unbearable so I practically threw myself out & let it close.

Walked to my office the same way I walked into the bldg. Head down & not looking at anyone.

But people were mostly really, really sweet. Everyone told me I looked nice but not in a disgusting or embarrassing manner. It was almost protective. Like they could see I was self-conscious & were trying to put me at ease.

Maybe they just thought I looked terrible & felt sorry for me?

Either way, I have to say yesterday, my opinion of the male of the species went up a few notches. They can be really decent, can't they?

Won't be doing it again though.

1) Those heels were agony for someone who has to run around all day like me.

2) It's nice to change your look & feel it works. And it's liberating to feel you broke some kind of taboo. But I didn't really like being the center of attention so much. It's nice for one day as a change but on a daily basis, it would feel like living in a fishbowl & it would be too distracting.

3) It didn't give me the mood lift I thought it would. To put it honestly, I no longer enjoy looking gorgeous & being admired unless my husband is around to get pissed about it.

That has become the real litmus test for me. If he's irritated & looking over his shoulder, it means he thinks am the best-looking woman in the room. And it's what HE thinks that clinches it for me.

Without him, it's all a bit flat & not really worth the mutilated feet.

I shall save the dress for when I see him. Maybe then I can even go for the works. You know, no cycling shorts, stockings, suspender belt, red shoes, matching bag, red lipstick etc....When I see him.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Arabs Suck

Those inimitable words of an old friend of mine.

Am in a really anti-Arab mood these days. And I say that without guilt because am getting so sick of the way we seem to think we're so great. We need criticism from within and we need it badly. And so in doing my part, I feel am being a true Arab patriot - an inconvenience given my well-publicized opinion of patriotism but whatever.

The causes of my current disillusionment are many & varied. Some personal & some less so.

A brief listing would include but may not be limited to:

1) Palestinians killing each other.

2) Iraqis killing each other.

3) An Arab Talk Show host gloating over the possibility of Turkey invading Iraqi Kurdistan. You see, the Kurds deserve it for not being grateful to Saddam for 'recognizing their culture'.

Yeah, Saddam recognized their culture alright - LONG ENOUGH TO GAS THEM YOU RACIST PIG!

4) Northern Sudanese friends responding to the plight of Darfurian refugees by blaming the Darfurians for being 'American Stooges'.

Excuse me? A government-backed Arab militia proceeds to ethnically cleanse Darfur of non-Arabs out of PURE GREED. And when the people of Darfur do all they can do in a situation like this - which is go to everyone & anyone who is willing to try to help them where their own government has turned against them, they're American Stooges?

Well maybe, if you didn't kill them because of their race, they wouldn't need foreign help.

When are Arabs going to realize that you can't constantly create situations where your 'internal problems' create hundreds of thousands of refugees for the rest of the world to support AND destabilize neighboring countries and then throw around empty words like 'SOVERIGNTY' and 'INDEPENDENCE'. Soverignty & independance mean being able to take care of your own people without becoming a threat to others.

5) The mother of a girlfriend of mine not wanting her daughter to mix with me because I wear mini-skirts & she suspects I may have slept with my husband before marriage.

Which wouldn't bother me so much if the same woman didn't consider 9/11 the greatest moment of Arab glory in modern times.

What kind of warped moral framework considers a miniskirt & consensual sex more of a moral threat than the cold-blooded murder of thousands of defenceless human beings?

6) The often-repeated argument that people deserve to die for not getting rid of governments that do things we don't like.

Excuse me? What about our own governments? And what about the millions of ordinary, law-abiding Arabs who wouldn't hurt a fly but who think slaughtering Iranians, Kurds, Berbers, Darfurians, Israelis, Americans a good thing?

If people deserve to die for their political opinions, then why don't we look at ourselves?

7) Two Emaratis kidnap 2 French teenagers and rape one of them. One of the rapists is HIV-positive which means the poor kid's health & life is now threatened.

Predictably enough, the government tries to cover up the incident by persuading the victims not to press charges. Because protecting our image is so much more important than taking 2 rapists - one of them an HIV-carrier - off the streets before they hurt someone else.

When the coverup fails, half the Arabs I know react by blaming the media for always trying to make Arabs look bad.


Is that so hard to figure out?

8) A couple we know previously mentioned here will only give their alms (zaqat & sadaqa) to Muslim charities. Why? Because Muslims shouldn't give to a non-Muslim when Muslims are needy. So we should let a starving infant die just because he/she is not a Muslim.

And meanwhile, when Muslims need aid, they should accept it quite happily from non-Muslims. We're allowed to take from others, you see, just not to give to them.

I wish it was an isolated case but I know a lot of people like that - people who won't give to the Red Cross because it's not the Red Crescent. And even people who won't donate to Afghan charities for example because Afgans are not Arabs & 'alaqraboon awla bilma3roof'.

9) A girl I know, speaking on the subject of my dress code (AGAIN) holds up an example for me. Who is this paragon I am required to follow I hear you ask? A mutual acquaintance who wears hijab but has a married boyfriend DESPITE BEING MARRIED HERSELF.

Apparently, I am wrong for what I wear, but she is right because she keeps up the public image while secretly committing adultery & jeopordizing TWO marriages.

I kid you not. It went something like this:

Me and her are sitting on the sofa in the lobby of a hotel, waiting for our Tai-Chi class to begin. A pervert who had followed me in all the way from the carpark makes a point of passing very close infront of us about 10 times, each time almost twisting his neck by failing to take his eyes off my legs. I am about to get up & go to the security desk. She said no need for 'fadaye7'(scandals), we weren't there for long.

She convinced me she was right. We had to go for our training anyway. He couldn't very well follow us in there, could he?

So we attend the class, have our showers & change and when we come out 2 hrs later, the guy is still in the lobby. We head out to my car & he is following.

He wasn't doing anything really bad - just openly staring & leering in a really disgusting manner. Trying to stare him down didn't work. He wouldn't look me in the face so I couldn't catch his eye.

This time, I had it. I marched back into the lobby & reported him. A security guy came out into the carpark with us & I pointed out the guy. Then without looking back, my friend & I walked to my car & drove off.

On the way, she gave me the lecture about my shorts being the cause of the incident. She said it was bad enough that we were Morrocan girls in a hotel lobby without me making things worse by wearing shorts etc....blah blah blah.

Then seamlessly enough, she went into the story of this other female who apparently knows how to play the game while I don't. The idea was basically '7abibti, no one is saying you can't have fun. Just don't give people cause to talk about you.'

We Arabs are really all about image, aren't we?

Why is it that everytime I try to move out of my comfortable circle of very close friends & relatives, I find myself so disappointed in my fellow Arabs? I am trying very hard now not to get in too deep with new people - to keep it light & impersonal, just so they don't wind up saying or doing something that will make me even more pessimistic about my own people?

On the public arena, I can't help but wonder why non-Arabs should have any empathy for us when we show such little tolerance for ourselves or others? Now when I talk to non-Arabs, I find it so hard to ask for justice or understanding or defend the Arab causes I was brought up to defend so passionately. Not because I don't believe in the causes anymore, I do. I just don't feel we as a people are entitled to ask others to care about us when we really don't seem to care about anyone.

And in private, given the fact that I will shortly be leaving the Arab world for good, I could have wished that certain things had not been brought so forcefully to my notice at this time in particular. I wanted better memories. I wanted to go away liking 'us' a little better.

I mean, I hope to have children (Inshallah) and bring them up abroad, right? So what do I tell them about their heritage? I would want them to be proud of their roots but definitely watch out & not be infected with any of these Arab 'diseases of the mind'.

Quite a balancing act, I guess.



So we ARE cutting down on phone time. He did, actually. Last night I called & called but he wouldn't pick up. He'd told me not to call because he wasn't going to pick up but I didn't think he'd actually DO it.

Of course, I totally understand the logic. We were spending way, way too much money on phone calls.

And speaking for myself, he's not the only person I regularly talk to long-distance either. I talk to my family, too.

And well, no need to go over my financial situation again. Suffice it to say, I can't afford this.

We could use the internet to keep in touch, of course, but my parents are both completely computer illiterate & planning to stay that way. And my husband thinks voice chat is for teenagers. He simply will not do it.

This morning, in the office, I'm thinking that this is the first time I've had to wake up without having more or less fallen asleep on the phone with him since he left. Even if it ended with a fight & me hanging up on him (he still never hangs up on me). Still it was better than nothing.

I am trying to shake off the gloom but it sort of feels like him leaving all over again.

In other news, I can't get way from work for another month at least. And the Swedish visit visa I currently hold expires in 3 days. I will need to apply for a new one. And that worries me because am currently under processing for immigration. If they haven't decided yet whether K & I are really married, will they want to give me a visit visa? The impression I get is that they expect me to wait until the process is complete & not try to cut corners etc....Would they consider going to visit him cutting corners? I don't know.

A vendor we work with has offered to get me a letter of invitation to visit one of his principles in Sweden. But it's a completely different part of Sweden from where my husband lives. I'd have to visit the people I got my invitation from first. Don't know how long that will last.

Again, if I visit for business reasons, would that be considered 'cutting corners'?

On the bright side, I really, really like my new manager - although I do miss the old one who had to retire for health reasons. The guy I report to now is an absolute sweetheart. Not in a soft, sissy kind of way. I just like him because he's so fair & anti-sexual-discrimination & supportive & protective of his staff. He gets as angry as I do when am discriminated against by colleagues, clients, vendors etc....unlike the old manager who would just shrug & say 'fact-of-life' or something. This one will NOT tolerate it, and has already succeeded once in getting people to back down from their sexist practices. That's in a situation where I personally wouldn't have bothered to fight it because I'd come to accept it as inevitable.

About time, too. This firm needs someone like him to change the corporate culture. Too bad he only showed up when am about to leave though.

My new boss is a former US Marine btw. He comes across as your stereotypical American. Strong, fairminded, straight-talker with lots of integrity. And he really never uses the pronouns 'you' or 'I'. It's just 'we' - all the time. I'd heard before that managers are supposed to do that but never actually met anyone who does it so religiously.

On the downside, he's very serious. No sense of humor. And a slavedriver so I've been having to work harder than ever because you don't want to get off on the wrong foot with a new boss, do you?

God, sometimes it's hard to think I'm leaving so soon. Am one of the 'old-timers' here. So many people here are not full-time staff. They're brought in from overseas on temporary consultancy contracts. So many people have come & gone while I stayed. Even my manager's gone. I thought I was the one who would always be here.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Stop Telling Me......

That I should have a life without him!

I DO have a life without him.

I've stayed in reading all the time.

I've stayed out late every night.

I've shopped like a madwoman.

I've been to every party thrown on any occasion by every acquaintance of an acquaintance that I've heard about & managed to get myself invited to.

I've taken up a new sport. Two actually. 6 days a week I take lessons in one of them. On the 7th day, I take lessons in BOTH.

Am learning a new language. Classes 3 times a week.

Am trying to get a new professional certification online.

Am working on my CV.

I have the job.

I have the hobbies.

I have the old friends.

I've asked people for their numbers in each of my classes. And I've called & met up with them to convince myself am making new friends.

I volunteer for a charity once a week.

I've started fasting Mondays & Thursdays.

I even have a blog.

If that is life, then I have it. I have it all.

And you know what? IT SUCKS!

All those things? They can't take his place. Most of them I had when he was here anyway. They exist on a different dimension. A different level.

He is the core layer of my awareness. Things happen to me while he is here. Or while he is not. That's how I experience them. Nothing happens without reference to him. His presence or absence is the timeline, the reference point. His presence (or absence) gives things their color - light or dark.

His presence gives me my BALANCE. I feel so disoriented.

If I wanted a life without him, then why on earth does anyone think I bothered to marry him?

I have grown so tired of hearing those 3 words: LIFE WITHOUT HIM.

Stop repeating them in my face. Just stop.

Stop expecting me to pretend I am happy without him. I am not. And I won't be made to feel guilty about that anymore.

I am just filling in time.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Muslims

At a wedding on Thursday, a few friends & I were introduced to a Canadian couple who have recently converted to Islam. I'd met them a few times before. We have a lot of mutual acquaintances. But Thursday was the first time I got into the whole how did you find Islam conversation with them. Normally, I avoid that sort of question because faith is so personal and I was raised to believe it's not really polite to spring questions like that on people you barely know.

However, someone else volunteered to ask them & they seemed happy to tell. So we listened to the story, asked a few questions and then the conversation moved on to other things. Since most of us were Arabs educated in the West, a couple of us in Canada & in the same area as the newly Muslim couple, the conversation naturally turned to our memories of living abroad as students. Most of us had nothing negative to say. College is fun, isn't it? And college abroad is especially exciting because you combine the college experience with the experience of 'seeing the world' etc...

You'd have expected things to be petty laid back, right? They were Westerners. And we were a pretty pro-Western lot in many ways. So they should have felt right at home. Right? Right?!!!Wrong! They couldn't seem to want to hear anything positive about the West or any criticism whatsover of the so-called Islamic World which they seemed to see as some kind of Utopia. I mean, huh? I thought I was in a nightmare! I mean, two Canadian Caucasians defending the Saudi regime!

In the end, they more or less started attacking us in a very polite, indirect way by suggesting that we wouldn't feel the way we did if were good Muslims.

At which point, I simply gave up, excused myself & got back to dancing to Fadl Shaker & Nancy Ajram with the bride & groom & bridesmaids. Just seemed a better investment of my time.

Thing is, it's not the first time I come across this sort of phenomenon among new Muslims here. There's quite a few of them from all over the world. This country provides opportunity for vast numbers of expats to interact with Islam at close quarters. So those who have the inclination are bound to convert here.

Which is cool but why do some new Muslims feel the need to denigrate their former religion & culture & sometimes their own family & upbringing? Why do they change their names to Arabic names? Don't they realize that the majority of Muslims in the world are not Arab and do not carry Arabic names? Who says names have to have religious significance, anyway? A name is something you have no hand in, something you're born with - like the color of your eyes. But it IS a legacy of your parents & their love for you. And of your heritage. I mean, my name has no religious connotations and I wouldn't give it up for anything because to change it would be to hurt & betray the people who brought me into the world.

Who has been telling these people that being Muslim is synonymous with being a wannabe Arab & spewing forth all sorts of anti-Western, anti-Hindu, anti-Jewish, anti-whatever they used to be diatribes that any thinking person knows are nothing more than prejudiced, xenophobic well, tripe?

Is it just new Muslims? Or is it all new converts or born-again types? Maybe it's just the excitement of discovering a new religion/culture that causes you to think what you found is the greatest & so everything else looks bad in comparison? Do converts eventually 'settle down' & become more tolerant of their own past? Or is it an attempt to prove their 'authenticity' to their new community that prompts them to be 'more royalist than the King' sometimes?

I don't know. But this phenomenon disturbs me. You see, Arabs are prejudiced enough without new converts from other cultures feeding our cultural ego. There was a time when I saw a role for new Muslims in opening up our community & mentality. Perhaps, I thought, having brothers & sisters join the Umma from other cultures would lead to more dialogue & harmony & less of the siege mentality. I wanted new Muslims to help give the Muslims masses a voice of reason they can easily identify with.

So it really bugs me when a new Western Muslim essentially sits around telling Arab Muslims Western society really is as decadent & amoral & devoid of all good as our own media likes to tell us it is and talking about the 'hypocracy' of Western democracy. For the purpose of this discussion, I don't care about the flaws of Western democracy. Of course it's not perfect. But it IS light years ahead of us in terms of democracy & civil rights & Western democracies are thus the best available role models around. To tell us otherwise is to insult our intelligence and frankly, to patronize us. It's like saying "Oh you know Whitehall isn't all it's cracked up to be. You guys just stick with the likes of Saddam & Mubarak & Gadafi."

Faith should be everyone's personal path to God, not everyone's means of rebellion against their own society for one reason or the other and feeding everyone's pre-existing prejudices in the process.

Please new Muslims try to avoid making our troubles worse. If you can't be part of the solution, at least try not to contribute to the problem!

That's my two-cents.

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