Eds. Note: In last month’s column, Zahra thought she was going home to Iran to an extended family she hadn’t seen in 20 years. At the last minute, she had to cancel her trip there and rerouted to Dubai instead.
At 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity, it’s a cool night in Dubai. I’ve stopped wondering about the male gaze that rules the city, because I can’t stop staring at everyone and everything around me. So far today my infidel husband and I have been skiing, kissed a penguin, and bobsledded down a snowy mountain at the downtown mall’s negative-five-degrees, indoor ski resort. Yesterday, outside the Burj Khalifa, my husband, mom, dad and I listened to the adhan fade away as the jet streams of the Dancing Fountain burst into the air, choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
I have no idea who to be or how to behave in Dubai. Every moment feels like a collection of contradictions. Am I an American tourist, a Feminist taking careful notes, a horrified human rights activist, or will I come to discover an entirely new persona to add to the plethora of identities I’m already trying to integrate?
I was an avid reader growing up. I read everything, even books that weren’t meant for children. Mama by Terry Mcmillan was one of my first novels. I recall reading a novel entitled Hand-me-down Heartache by Tajuana TJ Butler. It was about a woman named Nina who is in a relationship with an attractive, unfaithful basketball player and her unwillingness to leave the relationship. Having witnessed her father’s unfaithfulness to her mother growing up, she has come to accept his behavior, though it’s painful.
There’s a scene where Nina stakes out in front of her boyfriend’s home, bangs on his door, distraught and angry, while he’s inside with another woman. As a young girl, I read this with fresh eyes for the denial and hysteria that Nina was experiencing. The scene was vivid, and so keenly observed that I felt Nina’s embarrassment, especially when he emerges from his home and tells her to leave him alone. I wanted to scream through the page to Nina, and tell her to forget him, but something in me felt for her. I entered the scene fully, imagining the quick beat of Nina’s heart, her wet, mascara-streaked eyes, and the neighbors outside watching as she fell apart.
How do we get there? From young women, reading about love and feeling it in our imaginations, to fighting for it, and refusing to accept that it was never there?
That is my first confession: I spend endless hours drowning in lovelorn prose and will sigh over Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and sundry YA titles (though I draw the line, pragmatic to the finish, at Juliet and her Romeo).
It is not an admission I am ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with a steady diet of fluff and fairytales – a little whipped cream to mask the harsh reality of day-to-day college life and the steady awareness that I am in a smaller circle of friends than I used to be.
There is an obvious line drawn between the single and…well, those who used to be single.
Please welcome writer Eren Cervantes-Altamirano whose column Flirting with Fate and other Disasters of an Intersectional Muslimah will appear the first Thursday of every month. Her piece below, written in July 2014, sets the stage for her new column here at LoveinshAllah.com
Perhaps it is absurd of me to think that Ramadan will ever be a time of peace and refection. From the moment I converted, my patience, my love for Islam and my faith have been constantly tested. Beyond the struggle of belonging to a non-Muslim family, the reconciliation of new acquired identities and the challenges of trying to fit into mainstream Muslim communities, this year I started Ramadan off surrounded by death.
As the month of Ramadan approached and I prepared to fast, I lost my life partner in a sudden accident. He was planning to travel from Saudi Arabia to Canada to visit me after Ramadan. The news came as a shock to all who knew him. He was young, full of life and had many dreams.
Such an unexpected event brings the sudden awareness of the fragility of earthly life, and it also show us the best and worst of the Muslim communities that surround us. Saad’s death is something I had to think and rethink in order to rationalize completely. I can’t say that the process is over yet. But his death has also made me question my own place among Muslims as a convert, as an Indigenous woman from Mexico, and as a “sinner.”
“Turn me into droplets of rain so I sprinkle upon your pretty face,
Then coat me with dreariness as I wander alone…” – Qarar
On the two-hour drive to my parents’ home, I crooned along to one of my favorite Pashto songs, Qarar. I felt the sweetness of the words fill me: the longing and the love of a man for his lover.
Turning to my husband as he drove, I swung my hands dramatically towards him, continuing to sing along. He smiled and switched lanes. After the song ended, I sighed and turned on the nursery songs our son had been begging us for.
“What a beautiful song,” I remarked, feeling amorous after listening to the gorgeous lyrics of the song.
“Yes, it was,” my husband nodded. “It had odd time signatures, not the typical four-fours we so often hear in American music.”
I tried again.
“I meant the words. I translated this song for you before, remember?” I translated again with my broken Pashto, unable to capture the beauty of the lyrics.
After a few frustrating minutes, I stopped. My husband smiled, oblivious to my disappointment.
We listened quietly to our children’s playlist until we reached our destination.
Eds. Note: Please welcome our newest columnist, London-based Nazia, who will be sharing her food column Your Sunny Side Up the third Thursday of every month!
It was just a few short months ago we were dancing at her engagement party, stuffing our faces with these cupcakes, and later indulging in a midnight feast of pizza and cookie dough (what wedding diet?). Fast forward a few weeks and we’re walking her down the aisle dressed in white to start the next chapter of her life. And now my beautiful (I-can’t-believe-how-grown-up-she-is!) little cousin-sister is expecting a baby(!!!), and I could just burst with joy for her. She is going to be an amazing mother. Naturally, I am so excited to take on the role of baby’s uber cool and fun aunt, who bakes shit and enjoys life.
She made the most beautiful bride. For privacy reasons I can’t share pictures, but just take my word for it. The wedding was small and intimate with just the closest of friends and family. My Granddad flew back to London especially for the wedding, to watch the first of his 21 grandchildren get married (if he keeps that up for the next 20 grandkids then his air miles are going to be insane!). It was the first wedding in our family in 10 years and it was pretty damn special.
So often Asian weddings are not about the happy couple. Instead, it turns into a matchmaking event where the focus is on all the singletons in the room, followed by an excited phone call the next morning from an ‘auntie‘ who noticed that “so-and-so looked beautiful” and wouldn’t she make a great match for her neighbour’s friend’s second cousin? As the eldest granddaughter, everyone automatically assumed I would be first in line to get married. That’s just the way it works in Asian circles. There were probably a few surprised faces when people learned it was actually my cousin (who is three years younger than me) who walked down the aisle first.