Thursday, January 29, 2009


I was tagged by Empress and Desert Veil to list my favorites so here goes...

NOTE: You have to add one additional "favorite" thing to the end of the list when you answer

Favorite color: So hard to choose... I like so many and it depends on the context, for example, I like Purple for clothes, but not so much for hair or walls of a room or cars. I like black for clothes, hair and cars but again not walls, flowers and especially not teeth, same for brown (except I don't like brown cars).... I can't pick a favorite color, but I have a lot of black clothes but maybe that is because I have been pretty poor until lately so had to make everything match with my black shoes.

Favorite perfume (guys): A lot of perfume gives me a headache, I can only take light scents. I smelled one the other day that I liked, but I don't know what it is called.

Favorite perfume (girls): Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermes

Favorite pj brand: I like wearing African mumus to bed.

Favorite clothes brand in general: I like shopping at GAP, Banana Republic, Promod, Zara, Monsoon, and Mango. ( I know that is not one but I don't have any one that prefer over others)

Favorite person(s) in the entire world: My Babies

Favorite country: Kenya (I also like Zanzibar -which is sort of a mini country)

Favorite car: I don't pay much attention to cars, but Porsche Cayenne is nice and I like my Range Rover :)

Favorite sport: Well, to watch: soccer or basketball I guess, but I enjoyed squash when I started to learn that. If knew how, I think I would like Horseback riding.

Favorite sport player: N/A

Favorite spot in America: It was my grandparents' house on the Chesapeake, but Mimi (my Grandmother) sold it after my Grandfather the love of her life died, so now I guess it is my hometown. But as far as cities go, I liked Miami.

Favorite animal: Panther

Favorite movie: East is East

Favorite singer: Freddie Mercury (Queen) was and always will be the greatest vocalist ever.
& (for those who don't know) Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar.

Favorite day in the week: Friday

Favorite time of the day: Evening

Favorite holiday season: Back home it was the time around Thanksgiving and Christmas

Favorite number: 7

Favorite food: I have many, but I am definitely not a Vegetarian - I like Mexican food, Iranian Food and North Indian Food (Non- Veg).

Favorite chocolate: Dark Chocolate

Favorite cartoon: Well, I like a lot of cartoons, right now I kind of enjoy Total Drama Island, but Family Guy and The Simpsons are also great.

Favorite blogger: I don't like to play favorites when it comes to people.

Favorite Flavor Ice Cream: Mint chocolate chip, but Ice cream always regurgitates a few minutes after it goes down and if I eat a whole serving I get terrible acidity. I don't know why.

Favorite Mobile Brand: Don't know and don't care. But I am using a blackberry for work now.

Favorite name: Well, for girls - mine 'cause it's special :p and for boys... I always liked all the "el" names
In the Ancient Hebrew Language in which these name are first recorded the word "El" refers to God (not his name but is the word meaning God) so the meaning of all those names have something to do with God. Samuel / Ishmael (Ismael) = God heard / listens; Emmanuel = God is with us; Daniel (Daanyal/Danial) = God is my Judge; Gabriel (Jabril)= God's able bodied one or God's hero; Michael (Mika'il) = one who resembles God; Nathaniel = God has given. I also love my sons' names... Salman and one of the names (Arabic variations) mentioned above :) When I was looking for a name for my younger son, I really researched the meaning of names, and I found that when looking at Arabic / Muslim variations of names of great prophets they often did not have a meaning specified, For example If i looked up the name Ismail it would say "name of a prophet" as if that were the definition. I soon realized that the best way to find the actual meaning of such old names was to trace them back to the Ancient Hebrew version in which they are first recorded (historically). I think the meanings are beautiful.

Favorite hobby: Painting

Favorite room in my house: My bedroom.
Favorite Fruit: Mangostein - if you haven't had one, you don't know what you are missing.

Favorite flower: Bougainvillea

Favorite Word: Don't really have one If you mean by "most frequently uttered" then it might be 'oh crap' because I say it under my breath every time I get summoned into my boss' office :-S - but that is two words. But if you mean by how it sounds, then obsequious has to be one of my favorites because it sounds just like what it means.

Added: Favorite (non religion associated) historical figure: Abraham Lincoln & Favorite Dessert: Key Lime Pie

I don't tag anyone I know with a blog, because I think they have all been tagged :( so I tag anyone reading this who feels like doing it who hasn't been tagged yet.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Sometimes I find the censorship here really bizarre and haphazard. For example, I was in a bookshop looking at some books in the "health section", and there was one about breast cancer. Now this topic interests - or rather concerns - me because my mother had breast cancer. So it was supposed to be a guide for women, how to check themselves, etc. But the UAE censors had blacked out all the pictures of the breast self exam with magic marker - thereby totally defeating the purpose of the book. But, another time, I bought a book called "family doctor" or something like that and all of the detailed illustrations of female and male genitalia remained untouched. I don't know if that one book slipped by accidentally, or if it is up to the whim of individual censors to determine what is and is not permissible. I have no problem with them censoring porn - I wish it was censored everywhere, but censorship of medical books, because they show body parts, seems a bit crazy to me.

I hate censorship of IDEAS the most and of historical and religious topics and debate. I don't understand why other people's views are so threatening. And it doesn't always work in your favor to remain blissfully ignorant of opposing views and ideas other than those with which you are comfortable . I like to read the opinions and ideas of people from different religions, cultures, etc. It doesn't mean I will agree with them, but it does help to understand where other people are coming from and what is motivating them and why they do and say the things they do. I find it very frustrating trying to look up certain topics online here, and all I can find is the viewpoint supported by the government - and everything else is censored. It seems they spend so much time worrying that someone might let an opposing opinion on religion or history get through, that they let other things that ought to be censored slide right on by...

I was taking my kids to a movie at a mall in Dubai several months ago. It was a children's movie, and upon entering, I noticed I was the only parent in the theatre. The rest of the audience was comprised of children aged 12 and under and a couple of Indonesian nannies, who probably didn't speak much English. We were early, so the neither the movie nor the previews had started, it was silent.Suddenly, as we settled into our seats, music started pumping into the theatre - it was loud and the words were very clear and for the most part, quite forgettable - but I will never forget the chorus... "you know I want to FUCK you," over and over again. By this time my little one, who has ants in his pants, was already dancing in front of his seat to the catchy tune and beat. My older son looked at me in shock - he knew it was a bad word. I shot out of my seat and went to find the theatre attendants, who got an earful from me, though I realized later it probably wasn't their fault, they just play what they are given I.

I am pretty sure that no movie theatre in the US would risk playing such music for fear of being sued by an offended customer - and getting fined.

I have also occasionally heard lewd lyrics on songs being played on public radio stations in the UAE - whereas, back home, a cleaned up version of the song would only be permitted on the air (unless things have drastically changed since the last time I checked, which I don't think they have). I wonder just exactly who these censors are here. Who are these men (or women?) who get to see and hear everything and then decide what is unfit to be seen and heard by the ordinary man/woman. Who has the job of reading women's magazines all day, page by page, and blacking out "obscene" things. Sometimes I wonder if, before they black out certain body parts, any of them secretly take their time to admire the images or watch more of a dirty movie than they really need to...
I think they should spend less time worrying that an opposing religious or political view will slip through, blocking websites that give relationship advice, and blacking out necessary illustrations in medical books, and focus their attention on the things that matter more - like what kind of music little kids are listening to in public places. My son remembered those lyrics for a long time after hearing them only once...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spiders, Insects, and Other Critters of Unusual Size

Africa, especially in the warmer coastal areas like Zanzibar, is home to all sorts of creatures (including rodents) of unusual size; among these: Centipedes, lizards, Rats, cockroaches (see Creepy Crawling things...) and SPIDERS.The first time I saw a frighteningly large spider (FLS) was in Mombasa, Kenya, at Fort Jesus, in the Old Town. Fort Jesus is an old Portuguese Fort which is now an historical site and tourist attraction. The first time I visited there, just off the entrance, there was a large bush that was covered with a massive web full of spiders the size of my hand and larger. They were fat and hairy. I didn't know if they were jumping spiders or not, but I wasn't about to find out, so I walked as far around the bush as I could to the entrance.

After Fort Jesus, we visited Mamba Village - a big crocodile farm. Unfortunately we missed feeding time, which is the only time you will witness any activity among the crocs. The rest of the time they just lie around in the sun with their mouths open. We discovered that throwing pebbles at them didn't phase them one single bit. Needless to say, we were bored.As we walked around the winding path that took us by various crocodile pens - including one of a giant ancient man eater - we passed a ravine, and at the bottom was another, even bigger, bush covered with a least 30 FLSs. My best friend Christine, and Kenny, the 10 year old son of the American Family we were visiting, competed with each other to see who could knock the most spiders out of their web, and extra points went to whomever knocked the biggest one down, which was giant. Normally, they wouldn't dare provoke such beasts, but because they were down in the ravine, we figured they would drop off down there and not be any threat to us... Fortunately for the spiders, Christine was not a softball champion, but Kenny was a pretty good shot and knocked several down including the big one... about that time I decided to peak and look down into the ravine only to notice that more than one of the spiders that had been displaced were already half way up the steep slope towards us. We ran like hell out of there...We also encoutered giant centipedes, I think, if not they were millipedes, either way pretty disturbing to see - they were about 1 1/2 inches thick and about a foot or so long.Geckos were a common site in the house, and some of them got pretty big. They didn't bother me too much, as they wanted nothing more than to stay as far away from us as possible and eat the insects in the house.

We have geckos here too but I don't see them as much as I did there. One time I woke up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, when I turned to flush it I jumped and almost shrieked at the site of what looked like a tiny little flesh colored "hand" gripping the top of the toilet tank from inside (someone had removed the top of the tank). In my sleepy state I wondered if some minuscule alien had taken refuge in the toilet. Slowly, I peered inside to see a little tiny gecko looking back at me... it was adorable and I wished I had a camera at that moment.

Many years later I encountered another not-so-cute visitor in my bathroom. We were living in Zanzibar at the time and had just moved to a villa in Mazizini, not too far from the hotel where I was working. I was using the bathroom off of my master bedroom. I was pregnant at the time so I made frequent trips to the loo. This time I was quite pressed, as usual so I ran into the bathroom quickly, leaving the door open. When I was comfortably seated on the "pot" facing the door, my feeling of relief quickly turned to terror when I noticed that a FLS (again the size of my hand) was happily resting on the inside of the door post.

Now the doorway to the bathroom was much narrower than a normal door, and I shuddered to think how close my head must have come to the monster when I passed through it, then I realized, that unless I had some way to hoist myself (7months pregnant and all) through the tiny bathroom window up near the ceiling, I would have to pass by the spider again. Slowly I washed up, trying not to make any sudden movements that might startle it. Though it had not molested me as I entered, I wasn't sure that it was not a jumping spider that could, at any time, especially if provoked, pounce on me.... photographs from a book that my high school biology teacher possessed depicting the after effects of bites from various venomous spiders played through my mind - especially the one the person with half of their face gone due to the flesh easting effects of one spider's venom. I reminded myself that the most horrible spiders were mainly residents of South America. I inched towards the door, but every time I almost got up the resolve to step quickly through it, I panicked at the thought of a giant spider entangled in my hair... I screamed, "Mariamuuuuuuuu" (she was our cleaning lady), but she was outside hanging out the wash and didn't hear me. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was shaking and I started to cry, "Maaaaaaariiiiiiiiaaaaaaamuuuuuuuuu" I howled again. This time she heard me and came running, I am sure she thought I was injured or something horrible had happened to me. When she instead found me in tears flattened against the bathroom wall and pointing at the spider, she started to laugh, and went to get the hand broom and dust tray. When she returned she quickly, but casually, brushed him to the floor with her hand and the swept him up onto the dust tray and threw him outside - chuckling to herself all the way. Her English was about as limited as my Swahili was at that time, but she managed to let me know somehow that she considered it bad luck to kill a spider. From then on, I was careful to check the door way before entering any room.

Perhaps even more horrifying than the giant spiders were the enormous rats that thrived in the Island's warm moist climate. Like the hordes of stray cats that feasted on the scraps littering the ground of the fish market in Stone Town, they were very well fed. I guess to be able to survive happily on a small island with such a large feline population, a rat would have to be quite large. There was one (at least) that lived in the tall weeds and shrubs around the apartment building in Kikwajuuni where we lived for a while. A couple of times it shot across the drive in front of our car as we were pulling in or out. It was a giant, fat nasty looking creature, much bigger than any of the cats - the kind that I am sure would readily attack a human if given the opportunity or reason.

In spite of my, probably unreasonable, fear of all of these creatures, none of them actually ever harmed me, and in fact, it was the tiniest ones that were the most lethal. The breed of Mosquito found in East Africa is smaller than the ones we had back, but infinitely more clever (it seemed) and definitely more dangerous. It always struck me as amusing that in Africa, where the mosquitoes and flies carry dangerous diseases, the window screen seems to be an unheard of thing, whereas in the US, where these insects are relatively harmless, all homes have them. No house that I ever visited, even a new one, had screens in the windows... so we had to use mosquito nets at night in coastal areas. In Nairobi, which is higher altitude, and much cooler and drier, we just had to spray the room an hour before sleeping, but on the coast, it was another story.

The second time I visited Kenya, when I was 20 years old, I traveled to Malindi, which is a town on the Kenyan coast, with my Friend Fatima and we stayed at the home of her aunt. When I woke up in the morning, my right arm from the elbow down, and my right leg from the knee down, were covered with what looked like a terrible rash. I showed Fatima, fearing that I had caught some strange tropical skin disease, coming from Nairobi, where mosquitoes weren't so abundant, Fatima was also alarmed at the sight of my limbs and called her aunt's husband. He looked at it and laughed and told me it was mosquito bites. The bites didn't resemble the ones I got back home - which were really itchy, light pink and swollen - these were small, dark red hard bumps that hurt more than itched. I counted them after that, I had about 200 bites in total concentrated on those areas, while the rest of me was bite -free. I realised that what had happened was that in my sleep, probably because it was so terrible hot and humid in my room, I had flung my leg and arm over the side of the bed- against the mosquito net, and the little demons had wasted no time in taking advantage of that to feast on me through the tiny holes in the mesh. Because I was only a tourist that time around, I was taking malaria medicine and was protected.

Later on, while living in Zanzibar, I had to stop taking the medicine because it is quite powerful, has side effects like insomnia and is bad for the liver... and I got malaria three times. Luckily the strain of malaria I contracted wasn't the worst; but there were other terrible strains there as well. Once while I was at work at the hotel, a haematologist, hired by the UN to work in Mnazi Moja hospital in Stone Town, came to use the pool and I got to talking to her. She told me about a patient she was treating, a Portuguese sailor who was very sick with malaria and she feared he would die. The next time I saw her at the hotel, I asked her about him and she told me that he had passed away a couple days after she spoke to me. Our neighbor, Babu Ali, had a baby boy the same age as Salman - named Suleiman - who was less than a year old when we moved from there to Dubai. At the time we left, he was a chubby happy little boy. Several months later we found out from my husband's aunt that he had passed away after falling ill with malaria.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fair and Lovely, Daniel Craig's Moobs, and Spray on Tans

A few weeks ago, as I was drifting off to sleep with the E! channel on (it works better than a sleeping pill), I managed to catch a a few minutes of a re-run of a some stupid show - I think it was called-E!'s list of the Best and Worst Beach Bodies - and Daniel Craig (the New James Bond) was named as one of the best. They showed images of him from that first 007 movie he was in, coming out of the water, all bronzed and golden in his little swimming costume. I remember there was a lot of Media hype about him being the "best" James Bond yet, and the "sexiest" one. I did see that movie, and I do have to say that the Man certainly is well built.

So, even more recently, I was flipping through the pages of a lifestyle magazine, while waiting for my manicure, and I saw a recent list of the Best and Worst beach bodies, with photographs. And lo and behold, there was Daniel Craig again, but this time he was on the "worst" side. OK, no big deal, we all have our ups and downs, right? But what surprised me about this was, that at least in the picture they showed to illustrate his "terrible physique" his actual body (as in muscle tone, washboard abs, etc.) was no worse than it was when he filmed James Bond. He looked as fit as ever, but because it seems he cant be bothered to continue the spray tanning when he is not filming a Bond movie and is now white as a ghost(for God's sake he is British after all! - if they aren't lily white then they are usually bright pink) then suddenly, just because he dared to sport his true skin color, his amazing pectoral muscles that they had raved about had somehow morphed into "Moobs.*" How dare he offend the mighty cosmetic giants by preferring his natural skin tone to the fake orange ones they sell by the bottle?!! He must be put in his place!!! I mean he is a movie star, people look up to such figures, if he starts giving people the idea that maybe they are fine just the way they are, God knows what chaos could ensue! What kind of example is he setting???!!!

The insanity of it really struck me, and I got to thinking about how ridiculous, vicious, two-faced and self serving the media and the corporations that feed it are. It is clear the Media must have close ties with Cosmetic giants... because they are the only ones who profit from all this obsessing about skin tone and hair color and blah blah blah. Really you have to sort of admire them... How did they manage to simultaneously convince dark skinned women that being lighter is ideal (so they will buy expensive whitening products) and light skinned women that they need to be darker (so they will buy expensive tanning products)?

There is a reason that supermodels are 6ft tall, emaciated, with tanned skin and (blond) hair extensions... and it isn't because they are the "best looking" people on earth. It is because it is an impossible look for the average woman to achieve naturally. A very small percentage of the female human population is over 5 ft 6, (forget 6 ft), and the taller you are, the easier it is to be long and lean looking. For the average dark-haired 5 ft 3 inch woman, appearing long and lean and blond entails, dieting, wearing high heels that torture the feet, and dyeing her hair and using products to boost its fullness. If she happens to be naturally blond, then most likely she is very pale skinned and will need to "tan" as well. All of this means a considerable investment in fashion and beauty products, all of which are created to make you feel like you aren't quite good enough, but maybe you could ALMOST be perfect if you just buy them. A model should be something that you can realistically look up to and aspire to be; how insane is it that the "Model" women are something no one really can be - even the models themselves because the images we see of them are so airbrushed they don't represent reality anyway.

What is even more insulting is that the media, cosmetic giants and fashion houses actually pretend that they are "helping" women. How?

Has anyone noticed that the tanning craze is bigger than it ever was, even bigger than back when we thought it was OK to spend 18 hours in the Sun with no protection? Does this make any sense? Well it does to a cosmetic company.

Logically, once it was discovered that tanning was a primary reason for skin cancer and premature aging, this craze should have died out, I mean who really wants to have their nose fall off and look like an old leather bag at the age of 45? And if Cosmetic companies had stopped promoting this "unhealthy image" it surely would have faded in popularity. But why should they stop when they have even more to gain now... Back in the suntanning days, they used to make money off of their tanning oils and women had to buy varying shades of foundation to fit them at their darker and lighter stages, but that was about it. NOW they have hit pay dirt! They keep on promoting "tan" as the ideal for white women, even though the act of sun tanning is dangerous and ages the skin. I guess they figure it is a win win situation for them. If someone decides to tan the good old fashioned way, then they will still buy their tanning lotions, oils or mild sunblocks to do it more gradually and safely AND they will also prematurely be in dire need of their SUPER expensive anti-aging products and processes; while if they choose to go the safe route to achieve golden perfection, then they must constantly fork out a tidy sum to keep their fake tans looking real.

And they do the same thing to dark skinned women, only in reverse. They try to convince them that, if only they were lighter skinned, then the whole world would be at their feet. That as long as they stick to the skin shade they were born with, they will never amount to much, never truly be "beautiful." They also try to convince them that the only way to be truly feminine is to have long silky shiny locks of hair to toss around. Now, a lot of dark skinned people - especially those of African descent, have great skin - it doesn't age as fast as lighter skin. But the Cosmetic companies have still managed to convince them that they need their products - the sunblocks (so they don't get any darker) and the whitening products, which are bad for their skin, and the foundation (even if they have smooth flawless skin) - to make themselves look just a bit lighter. Conveniently,for the cosmetic companies that is, because of the whitening products and makeup, they will also need anti-aging creams when they are older.

I am reminded of a couple of commercials for Fair and Lovely that I saw repeatedly on local Kenyan TV Stations when I was staying in Nairobi. There was more than one commercial, but they all were basically the same. They would show something like a girl looking all scruffy and plain (no make up), boring clothes, who keeps getting turned down for job interviews or passed over for something, but then she starts using fair and lovely and, suddenly, all is right with the world, and she is transformed from a dark loser into a "fair and lovely" winner, who is now several shades lighter, wears makeup and is all glammed up. She then gets the job or the man or whatever it is she wanted, and her parents are proud of her - talk about bull sh**!!! I have seen Fair and Lovely Commercials here in the UAE too. These are targeting the Indian and Arab population, but the message is still the same "you aren't good enough"

There are so many incredibly beautiful, but real looking, women of all different shapes and sizes and colors; but you don't see them being praised, because the last thing the media / cosmetics / fashion industry triumvirate wants is for women to realize they are perfect just the way God made them.

By the way, the same magazine that ridiculed Daniel Craig's pastier version of himself went on to rave about the look of some up-and-coming young actress whose legs are so skinny her knees closely resemble round balls connecting two tooth picks. So, the lesson to be learned from that magazine is that being in perfect physical condition just isn't enough if you are a very white man, and looking like a concentration camp inmate that someone spray painted orange is something all women should strive for...

*for those who don't know... moobs = man boobs

Monday, January 19, 2009

Creepy Crawling things...

My home is being invaded by an army of giant ants. Every time I see one out of the corner of my eye, I think it is some other insect - like a cockroach - and I shriek. My youngest son thinks all insects are cockroaches and freaks out at the sight of them. He wet his pants the other day because, as usual, he waited for the last minute, when he could barely hold himself, to go to the bathroom, only to discover that the ant army had taken up residence there. He was too afraid to go in and didn't make it to the other bathroom off the sitting room in time. I think they are taking refuge in the house from the cold wet weather outside.

When we first moved in, there were cockroaches everywhere, we called the exterminator three times to make sure they were annihilated. He even went around the outside of the house, lifting up the heavy metal lids of the drainage holes in the yard, they were swarming with big black cockroaches - the kind that make a juicy squishing noise when you stomp them - he sprayed something in there as well and they came running out in swarms - it looked like a scene from a horror movie - and started running up the outside walls of the house and dropping off as the poison took effect. The ground was littered with cockroaches on their backs with their legs waving around. (Why do they always flip on to their backs when they are dying?)

I remember in the lab portion of one of my Biology classes in University, we were studying something about digestive tracts and our assignment on fine evening was to gas (and supposedly temporarily knock out) a VERY large cockroach and, while it was asleep, (but not dead), yank it by its "head" and pull out the head with its entire digestive tract attached and intact. Well, first of all I had a sorority girl for my lab partner, and second, the gas didn't work as well as it was supposed to on our assigned victim, so its legs were waving around, and its mouth part was moving (it was big enough to see that part!), and every time we tried to get near its head to touch it, its legs grabbed at our fingers. We made a mess of the whole thing and didn't manage to get the whole digestive tract out in one piece. At that moment, I really envied the girls who had weird science geeks as lab partners.

The creepy thing about cockroaches is that the bigger they get, the smarter and more hostile they seem to get as well. It's like they know when you are afraid of them, and they know when you are watching them, and they know that you are thinking of getting a shoe or some bug spray. Have you ever noticed how a cockroach can be making its merry way across a counter top or wall across the room from you, and the moment it catches your eye, even if you don't move a muscle, it freezes and it waits.... Somehow it knows that you aren't carrying something on you that you can nuke it with and that you must at some point take your eye off of it so you can look for the spray or shoe or other weapon. So it waits, and waits, until you take your eye off of it , even for only one second, and then it makes a break for it. If it is large enough to know it is scary, and if it does not have the option of finding a quick hiding place - it might actually decide to come at you and scare the shit out of you, so that you run shrieking from the room, giving it a chance to escape.

Once, when I first moved to Zanzibar, I encountered such a beast. I was on my balcony hanging out some wash (that was before our neighbors started stealing our clothes off the line) and when I turned to go back into the sitting room, there he was - all three inches of him - dashing along the wide expanse of white wall from the bathroom towards the kitchen. As soon as I spotted him, he stopped and looked at me, he assessed his situation, he knew that both the bathroom and the kitchen were too far for him to reach fast enough. He knew it was him or me, and he saw me there, white faced, mouth open in horror (he was the first giant cockroach I had seen) and he made his decision. He turned and started running straight at me. All hell broke loose; I screamed and dodged his attack, which I think he had counted on, and he dashed towards the balcony door. He almost made it, but he hadn't counted on one thing, the broom propped against the wall. I grabbed it and whacked him. It took a couple of blows, but I got him.

Now, every time I see a cockroach, I know he is looking at me too, and I know that he knows that he is the enemy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Once it rains and the wind picks up, it is actually quite cold here. I know it is nothing compared to what Northern regions are experiencing at this moment, but in my defense, my colleague (who just came in from our New York Office) commented on how cold it is. Last night I was freezing my backside off, roaming from room to room in my villa trying to find a place to get warm. And when it gets cold here, it is usually wet as well - nothing worse than being damp and cold. Thanks to the oh-so-clever civil engineers and contractors there are puddles, if not lakes, all over the place after a rain, and it is very hard to avoid getting your shoes wet - and we all know that, once your feet are wet and cold, it is all downhill from there.

The other bad thing about here is that none of the houses (or any other buildings that I am aware of) are equipped with a heating system, so I am actually much colder in my home here than I would be in my house in the US with its lovely furnace in the basement. The central heating system is especially missed at shower time. Back home, I would turn the temperature up just enough to make it start blowing hot air, then I would rush into the bathroom and close the door so that it would stay toasty and warm during my shower. Here, alas, the bathroom is the coldest room in the house, thanks to the little fan hole in the shower, which lets in plenty of cold air as well as a steady stream of giant ants. And the water heater is woefully small as well. If I actually choose to wash my hair and shave my legs in the same shower time, chances are the hot water will run out before I am finished. On the upside, I am so cold that I get goosebumps on my legs which allows for an extra close and smooth shave.

The only people who seem blissfully unaware of the fact that the temperature here has dropped several degrees are the British. All through the winter months, you will still find them sunbathing on the beaches and sporting shorts, tank tops, and ripe sunburns in the malls.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived my years at University in the North Mid West of the United States. I was miserable then, and now I would probably die. Since I left home, I have once gone home in the winter. It was at Christmas time several years ago, and I spent 80% of my time huddled under a blanket on the sofa in my parents' sitting room, and the rest of the time perched on top of the heating vent. I had an old nightgown that my Mom made for me - which my sister named old glory because it very closely resembled the American flag (very sexy). This nightgown is made of soft cotton knit with a turtleneck and long sleeves and reaches to my feet. I discovered that when you stand on top of the heating vent while wearing it - it becomes your own personal little warm-air filled tent.

My parents live on the East Coast of the US, much further south than Illinois, where I went to University. In Illinois the first snow starts in November; whereas where I grew up, it normally doesn't start until January. My normal winter attire, when leaving the house during my University Years in the Mid West consisted of thick tights, on top of which I wore silk thermal long underwear. The second layer consisted of jeans, a turtleneck and wool sweater, and socks. The next layer was my hooded scarf, dark blue goose down stuffed jacket - hood pulled up, gloves and wool socks. The final touches consisted of another scarf which I used to cover all of my face except for my eyes, my waterproof hiking boots, and Mittens... and even with all of that I was still cold.

The U of I has a very big campus. I would set out from home looking like a giant blueberry, and shuffle over icy sidewalks as fast as that many layers allowed me, all the while marvelling at the
in-state students casually ambling by glove less, hat less and scarf less in their non insulated jackets. If one can get used to sub zero weather, I certainly never did, but they seemed to find it quite normal.

Once inside the overly warm class rooms, I had to quickly strip off the outermost layers and then, during the last 15 minutes of class, try to quietly put it all back on again, Some times this was quite a tricky thing to do while seated in one of those chairs with the small desk attached. I have no idea how larger sized students managed to sit in those things, because in my winter gear, I was literally jammed in between the back of the seat and the desk.

When the bell rang ending class, I was all set to, once again, quickly slip and slide my way to the other side of campus for my next class. The ice covered pathways were the most challenging part of winter life. Unlike where I grew up, the ice pretty much stayed on the sidewalks all winter, from the first snowfall to the spring thaw, and cutting over the grass wasn't much of an option either since that was buried under a foot or two of snow. A couple of times I slipped and fell flat on my back - but thanks to my 12 inches of padding covering me on all sides, I didn't even feel it.

I remember one especially cold week, when they were warning students not to stay out of doors for longer than 5 minutes, but if we had to then we were advised to keep moving at all times - especially our fingers and toes. If my giant blueberry get-up didn't already make me look strange, standing at the bus stop, waving my arms around and wiggling my fingers and stomping my feet (while wearing my blueberry costume) did. That week it was so cold that the moisture in your breath turned to ice and you could feel a prickling sensation in your nose and throat.

At the end of winter, when it was still much colder than I liked but starting ease up a bit (the same time of year when the instate students would start to break out their shorts), I was able to ditch the blueberry costume and wear a lighter waterproof jacket or my much more elegant long black wool overcoat. One Sunday morning, as I was riding the bus to church, wearing a long black dress black tights, black boots, and my black coat, with my beloved black hooded scarf wrapped around my head, an Arab family boarded the bus at the next stop. They looked at me, respectfully nodded, and said, As-salaam Aleikum.

Monday, January 12, 2009

But you don't look like an American....

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this in the past 12 years living outside of the US, I would have saved a tidy little sum by now.

In Kenya, I had people calling me "Mzungu" most of the time - such people don't really care where you are from - you are just a "white" person - they lump us all together.

When I would walk to one of the kiosks on the main road where they sell eggs, butter, coke, bread, and Cadbury eclairs and Big G Gum by the piece, it was inevitable that some random person loitering by lamp post or against a wall, usually an African male or a child of either sex, would look at me and say, "Mzungu" (White person). (Gee thanks for telling me, I might have forgotten and acted like I was green today). They did not want to talk to me; they had nothing else to say; they just felt the need to point out that there was indeed a white person walking by - similar to the way you might exclaim "Camel" or "Elephant" if you saw one stroll by, but with a less enthusiastic voice. Sometimes I was trailed by street children softly chanting "Mzungu, mzungu, nipe shilingi" (White person, white person, give me shillings/money)

But, if anyone did bother to ask what particular kind of Mzungu person I was, then I was almost always answered with "But you don't look like an American." The second most common response to that was "I have a (relative) in (New York/ Chicago/ California/ or Texas)" and then look at me as if I am supposed to react and perhaps say "Oh yes, I know him/her." What ensued was usually a rather lame conversation, where I feigned interest in the fact that their relative (whom they often had not seen or communicated with since he/she moved) lived in a city that I have never visited and/or is at least 300 miles from my home town; and in which they would ask me a few strange or uncomfortable questions including, but not limited to, "you have a sister in USA?" (if it was a guy asking me this) um yes but I wont be introducing her to complete strangers in case you were wondering that; "if I go there I can find someone to marry?" (again usually a guy) how (the hell) should I know?, or statements like "Americans are fat" (even though I was a size two at the time) Ok......(awkward silence); and "I like Ford car."great.... (awkwad silence) "Too much crime in USA?" not as much as Nairobi. These conversations usually trailed off and concluded with them saying "USA" over and over again under their breath and chuckling to themselves as if they find the whole notion of an American incredible or ridiculous. I wonder how that conversation would go now. I am certain that Obama would be mentioned, and I can imagine I would be asked if I know him - yeah, sure buddy, all Americans live in the same neighborhood within walking distance of each other and get together for Sunday dinner.

Here in the UAE, instead of asking me where I am from in general, or stating the obvious (that I am "white"). They like to assume they know. Often they start talking to me in Arabic, because they assume I am Lebanese, and then when the blank stare gives away the fact I don't understand a word of what they are saying, they switch into English but still ask "are you Lebanese? Um, yeah, but from the English speaking quarter?" - duh??? Actually, I just say no if they are not someone I can or should ignore in the first place. (I used to talk to people more until I realized how many creeps there are here.) The other most commonly guessed nationalities are "Iranian" and "French" once I went to three different shops in one hour's time and was asked if I was different nationality by each shop keeper.

Some of them are satisfied with a "no" and don't ask anything else but others want to know. When I say I am American, I get "you don't look like you are American", followed by "where are you really from", which is often asked in an accusing voice, as if I am some impostor trying to pass myself off as an American in an Arab country (because that is such a wise thing to do?). I have realized that this is because there are many Lebanese and Palestinians who move to the US / Canada, get the passport and then come back to the Middle East calling themselves American / Canadian. In the eyes of these other people, they are not and never will be "REAL" Americans.

Of course to me this is a weird notion since the beauty of North America is that anyone can become a Citizen of America or Canada. But, for some reason, to people here, only those of Northern European descent can claim to be REAL - especially if they are claiming to be Americans. And on top of that all "REAL" Americans are apparently supposed to look a certain way, though I am not sure what that is. In spite of my attempts to try to get an answer to this, I still am not clear on what they think a "REAL" American should look like.

The first time I had such a conversation was back when my husband and I had first moved to Dubai and had joined a gym. One of the regular members, who exercised at the same time I did, and whom I had noticed stared at me quite a bit, approached me and cornered me between the water cooler and the calf machine (don't know what it is called).
"You are Lebanese" he half asked half stated.
"No I am from the US" I said.
"OK, but not originally" he stated impatiently, as if it was a fact of which he was certain.
" Pardon me?"
"I mean, you aren't a REAL American are you?"
.......... this was followed long pause while I blushed (because being interrogated by a stranger made me feel shy and awkward) and tried to figure out what he meant by that. Finally I answered
"well... if you mean am I a native of North America, as in being from one of the indigenous tribes of the region, then no... but if you mean am I a descendant of Northern European Settlers / Colonists, then yes I am."

The guy raised one of his more than ample eyebrows and looked at me sceptically
"but not completely" he again stated as if he was certain of a fact.


He sighed impatiently, "I mean you are half Lebanese, correct?"

"No, actually, I don't have any Lebanese blood in me, as far as I know I am of completely Northern European origins"

He then proceeded to ask me about other Arab / Middle Eastern nationalities, one by one. "Jordanian?" "Palestinian?"

Each time I became more amused and bemused and told him the same thing, "No, really I am Northern European on both sides of my family"

He moved on to the Mediterranean region and Southern Europe... and when we had finally established that I was not Arab, Italian, Greek, Jewish, French or Iranian, and I told him once again "No, I am an American of Northern European origin, my Ancestors were on the Mayflower and fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War, I don't know what else to tell you, except that I think I would know better than you what my family's history is."

He shrugged his shoulders stubbornly and told me "but it can't be, you don't look like an American - you don't look hard enough - you look soft"

And then he walked away, leaving me to study my flushed face and look at myself in my over sized T-shirt and sweat pants in the mirrored gym wall and wonder
Soft? what does that mean? Soft? What does he think we are supposed to look like? Too soft?

And then a paranoid thought entered my mind, Is he trying to tell me I look fat?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

10 random facts about me

Well I was tagged by Empress Anisa so I am supposed to tell 10 random things about myself so lets see...

1. Ninaweza kuzumgunza Kiswahili. Lakini, siku hizi ninasahau vitu vyingi.

2. I am the second oldest of seven children (3 boys and 4 girls); the youngest is 17 years younger than I am

3. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, which I have never applied practically and probably never will.

4. I have had Malaria three times - all during a single pregnancy.

5. I like to paint and draw, if it would pay the bills I would love to be an artist by profession.

6. My father thinks I have obsessive compulsive disorder - but then he obsessively diagnoses everyone with that.

7. I have a very unusual name (so I cannot post it here). My parents made it up by combining a boy's name from a Scandinavian language (my paternal Grandfather is Scandinavian) with another name. To date, I have never met anyone else with it. When I google it all references that turn up are to me or a younger man (which means I had it first) who spells his name the same way(though I don't know how he pronounces it)and he is serving time for murder. When I got married my in-laws tried to force me to change it to a common Arabic / Muslim name - and I refused because after being teased for it throughout my childhood by children and adults alike, I now own it and it is me. I could never think of myself as any other name. Plus I believe only your parents get the right to name you and as long as they didn't give you some freaky or offensive name, you should honor that. My name means "beautiful kettle" or "beautiful helmet."

8. I hate it when people beat around the bush in trying to tell me something. If you want to say something, say it directly otherwise keep it to yourself until you have the guts to talk about it directly

9. I used to go Salsa dancing on a regular basis -I kind of miss it. Sometimes I still dance alone or with my babies in my living room.

10. One of my favorite foods is Butter Chicken (Sindh Punjab Restaurant in Karama Dubai has the best) my other favorite would be the traditional American Thanksgiving / Christmas Dinner - Turkey, home made gravy and mashed potatoes - yum!