Language is a Funny Thing

Here’s something people may find amusing about Arabic.

Consider this request: “Mama, help me find the remote control.”

To almost anyone, it sounds like the child is asking the mom for assistance. And? You wouldn’t usually be wrong.

But, in this case, it’s the exact opposite. The mother’s actually talking to her child, using “mama” as an alternative to the kid’s name or any other call for attention.

No kidding.

For a reason I have yet to discover, it’s common for moms to call their kids “mom” or “mama” and a dad to call his kid, “baba”. (Gender of the child doesn’t matter). Even aunts, uncles and grandparents do the same thing—and it’s very much a sign of affection. 

“Hi Amo, how are you? I’ve missed you!” An uncle living in a different time zone would tell a niece or nephew during a phone call.

“Yii, Sitto, why haven’t you eaten anything?” A concerned grandmother would say to her over-stuffed grandchild.

It’s so common that you never really think about it until it randomly dawns on you that you regularly respond to your mom when she calls you “mama”. 

But it does make you wonder…are there other languages out there that do the same thing? And which ones are they?

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Tromps In, Slightly Disheveled

Man…I did not plan to leave this unattended for this long.

I’m sorry about that, people. But it’s nothing new, considering my history with writing here, eh?

I haven’t had much to say that would fit into this blog right now. I’m in a transitory stage where I’m trying to find a job, and figure out how to “stabilize” my life. (TCK’s and stability don’t seem to go hand-in-hand all that smoothly). It kind of sucks—a lot, to be honest—but it’s an experience. I think that’s why I’m not thinking about more serious or personal topics for this blog at the moment. I have enough of it going on that I kind of don’t want to think about it more than I have to.

I’m hoping everyone’s doing well! I miss being here…I feel like a neglectful parent. *Pats blog on the head apologetically* I plan to come up with a decent post as soon as I think of one.

Happy Birthday Dad! (With a Seemingly Unrelated Story)

When I started at Dawson College in Montreal, I dutifully attended the pre-first-day-of-classes orientation session, listened well, and took copious notes. (Although it was truly helpful, I either completely ignored or was mostly inattentive in every other orientation session since I graduated from there).

Anyways, I learned you could sign up for a mentor for your first semester—a teacher who could help you out and give you advice if you felt like you needed support while transitioning from high school to college.

I was never happier to be out of high school (bloody hated it), but I thought signing up for a mentor would be a good idea. After all, I had no predictor of how good or bad my experience was going to be, and any in-college support was a plus.

I was signed to a man named Simon. (I used to mentally call him by his full name, but now I can’t remember it anymore). He was a sweet man, though he did have a certain air—or attitude—that, to this day, I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps I didn’t seem like the awkward, nervous teen he thought would be the type to sign up for a mentor. Or maybe he found my mile-a-minute speech pattern and general enthusiasm a bit odd. (I have no idea, really. I’ve never been good at reading people).

Anyways, it’s suffice to say that he was a nice guy…there was just something slightly “off” that I can’t specifically point out. Not that it mattered much in the long run, really. We had several sessions and then I left for good because my time was up and he had another mentee. I hardly ever saw him again. In hindsight, I could have done just as well without him—there wasn’t much in terms of help/guidance that I particularly needed. Still, I liked having someone to chat with about regular stuff, especially because I hadn’t made friends close enough to hang out with yet.

The reason I bring this up is I suddenly remembered something today…which is coincidentally my dad’s birthday. You see, from the age of twelve to nearly twenty, my dad and I lived in entirely separate countries. When we moved to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia, he stayed behind to work. (First in Saudi Arabia, then Qatar, where he still is). Three years in Lebanon and five years in Canada were all spent with my father visiting a few times a year. (We saw him more often in Lebanon, as his visits were more frequent and we also used to go back to Saudi during our breaks). I missed him terribly, but the situation just meshed in as a part of our lives. I never felt distant from my father. I always felt his presence in one way or another, despite the fact that, the vast majority of the time, he wasn’t physically there. My mother spoke with him on MSN on a regular basis. We sent emails back and forth. He was very much a part of our lives when we were all in Saudi, and we spent as much time as possible with him whenever he visited after we moved away. This has always stuck with me. 

This isn’t a unique situation for people. Several families we know (and about a million we don’t) live the same way. The father/husband stays behind in the Gulf to continue working and the family is sent overseas for the kids to continue their education or to get American/Canadian/UK passports. I just accepted it as a situation that just…happens.

It was during a session with Simon that it dawned on me that this kind of a relationship could be perceived drastically differently. I was mentioning the moves I’ve been through—from Saudi to Lebanon to Canada, and how my dad stayed behind and yadda-yadda…

When he interrupts in the most offhand and perfectly knowing tone, “So, you hardly even know the guy!” and chuckles.

For a long half-second, I was struck dumb. What? Did he just think I had an absentee father…someone who is just a distant shadow who had a hand in spawning my form and not much else?

My answer, in reality, came out lightning fast, although my mind was reeling because I did NOT want him to have this view of my father as someone I didn’t even know. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I do know I vehemently denied his careless assessment of my dad’s stance as a parent, of his effect on my upbringing and in my life. I was a little upset, but I didn’t show it. How could he be so nonchalant in throwing out such a judgment?

I know that it’s a logical conclusion, technically speaking. If someone tells you they lived in a separate country from their father since they were twelve, you might just think there wasn’t much “fathering” going on in their lives. But it killed me because I read so many books featuring kids who didn’t know their dads, or whose dads lived in the same house but kept their distance. Mine wasn’t like that—how could he think so?

My dad had traditions with all us kids. He used to make boats out of orange peels and put orange slices in them, reciting lines from the Arabic-dubbed version of Treasure Island. He would kiss us all good night on the forehead, and—when we were younger—sometimes he’d cuddle into bed with us, and we’d just talk, one-on-one. He read us stories that to this day I still mentally read in his accent. He taught me how to swim and how to check if a surface is hot by waving my hand over it first. Math was my absolute worst subject, but when he stayed up with me, he detangled it in my head, almost literally. It took little time, and everything suddenly made perfect sense. So much so, I solved a problem on the board in fourth grade using a method a grade above what my teacher was teaching, thanks to my dad’s tutoring. He gives amazing hugs, and I’m sure I got my love of cuddle hugs from him. As kids, we used to all pile under the blankets with him, squeeing in glee, because it was cold outside and we were going to all sit under his wonderful blankets and be awesome together. (He had two blankets he ALWAYS slept in. They were unique and smelled just like him). He took us on vacations to Turkey, Egypt and London. He always made sure we stayed in the best places, and visited every important landmark he could discover. He’s a ceaseless reader and explorer and never stops learning. He’s the pillar his entire family leans on, and is the most honest and hard-working person I’ve ever met in my life.

So to anyone else who might have a Simon-like reaction, I say this: You don’t know just how much I know him, thank you.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I couldn’t ask for a better one.

Anti-Feminism Kind of Confuses Me

I don’t think I quite understand anti-feminism websites, which are apparently more popular than I ever thought they would be.

I can, of course, comprehend choosing not to identify as a feminist—because we all have a choice. I firmly believe you can choose whatever you’d like to be, and remain happy that way. (As long as, of course, you’re not infringing on other people’s rights while doing so). What I don’t get, however, is why anti-feminists lump all feminists as “man-hating” or feel that they should just “get over it” and be happy with the rights they have managed to achieve.

Thing is, yes, we can vote and have jobs and marry who we like. But we also get interrogated just as harshly as (if not more so than) the perpetrator if we get raped. We are still paid less than our male counterparts for the same job. Some men still feel odd taking orders from a female superior. (Not as much as before, but it’s still there). An assertive lady is a “bitch”. An assertive man is a “boss” and knows what he’s doing.

I’m not saying the entire feminist group is united and has it all right—of course they don’t. There are some feminists I can’t stand, while there are others whom I truly admire. Just because a group has dissidents/radicals doesn’t make it wrong. (Look at, for example, religion in general. It’s not fair to judge every follower on the actions of the extremists). I don’t think modern-day feminists are trying to eradicate men, nor are they attempting to paint themselves as victims in order to get special treatment.

I think, to put it almost too simply, they’re just trying to bridge the gap that has been centuries in the making. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a ways to go. Progress never stops.

A Talk that Hits Close to Home

I would recommend everyone listen to this, but especially if you live in a multi-lingual culture. It hits a lot of crucial points and is very articulately laid out. I feel very strongly about the preservation of languages, and I feel badly that I am not more fluent in what is supposed to be my mother tongue. Suzanne Talhouk definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. 

(It remains a fact that my brain is wired in English through and through. But because I was raised by parents who spoke Arabic almost exclusively, there are several concepts/things that I can sometimes only exclusively refer to in that language. Makes for an interesting mix of languages every now and then).

Happy Freakin’ New Year…

It’s pretty tragic that I seem to only get inspired to write here when I watch the news…especially recently.

Unfortunately, I’m often so jaded I can’t figure out what I want to say. I want to scream and throw things and yell at people. I want to cry and hug those who would never fully heal from the atrocities they did nothing to deserve. I want to know why this always has to happen. At the same time, there’s a dull numbness, a void, a vat of emptiness where even hate or anger has no place.

To punctuate Christmas and start off the New Year, two explosions occurred in less than a week: December 27 in downtown Beirut (8 casualties and 70 injuries) and January 2nd in the South Beirut area (4 casualties and 77 injuries). Yesterday, a library in the northern city of Tripoli was torched to the ground by Islamist militants, resulting in the loss of 78,000 books and manuscripts—several of which have no duplicates.

I don’t think the madness will end anytime soon. 

Parents mourn their children as houses are cleared of charred chunks of wall and shattered glass. Two days of indignation, anger and demands for justice will roll around. Politicians will point fingers and rehash the same talking points they’ve resorted to since the dawn of time. People will cry and yell into news cameras. Bodies will be buried and prayers uttered over their graves. They will be referred to as “martyrs”, though they died in vain and for a cause in which they had no part*. People will party in the pubs a couple of days later and it will all be back to normal.

We like to call it “resilience”.

I call it (albeit regularly accepted) lunacy. It’s not normal for people to die, to lose limbs and eyes, to bleed and suffer for no reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Since when was this something you should “get used to”? Why is it so easy to gloss over horrific crimes against humanity that cause your fellow brethren to lose parents, sisters, brothers, uncles? How do you go clubbing while women mourn the loss of their children and curse the day they ever said it was okay for them to walk out the door?

Lebanon drives me crazy whether I’m living there or not. It’s enough to make me wish I could stop caring so much about it.

*I want to leave some links to a few posts by Gino Raidy, a very well-known Lebanese blogger. He wrote an awesome post about our consistent use of the word “martyr” to refer to victims of these heartless attacks. I linked to it back in August when there were two car bomb attacks within a week of each other. It is worth another read. He also wrote this, about the December 27 bombing, which is definitely worth taking a look at.

These are posts that really struck me by Elie from A Separate State of Mind:

It’s Just a Bomb (August 16, 2013)

A Lebanese Tragedy: The Devaluation of a Life (November 19, 2013)

Hopes For A Better Lebanon: I Am Not a Martyr (December 30, 2013)

Lebanon Loses 78,000 Books to Terrorism (January 4, 2013)

The dates that these posts were written are scary enough.

My Ramblings Are Nomadic Too

I’ve come to realize that almost every blog and social media account I’ve ever created was due to me either procrastinating or suffering from boredom.

Often it’s a semi-lethal mix of both.

My very first blog was something called Obscurity in the Land of Moonlight, which sounds like a painfully pretentious novel written by a bespectacled preteen with barely-legible penmanship. 

In real life I was a 20-year-old tween transitioning from a life in Canada to one in Qatar. I was floating around without the vaguest clue on what to do with myself. It was too late to register for college, and—on top of that—I wasn’t sure I knew what I wanted to do anymore. Fun stuff.

Along came my Canadian best friend, whom I affectionately call “Lebne”. We had made a habit of chatting for disgustingly long hours on MSN in spite of the time difference. (What can I say? We’re both verbose individuals). During one of these real-time paragraph-fests, she mentioned some of the stuff she liked to read on LiveJournal. (Remember LJ? It’s the MySpace of the blogging world). Since I liked to write, wouldn’t it make sense to make an account?

It didn’t take much thinking. After all, I already had a Tripod-supported website called Active Chicken (I swear there is a perfectly rational story behind that), so talking about stuff in my life wasn’t new to me. And, hey, it was something to do, right? I opened an account, blabbed up a first post and—voilà! Here I am.

I’m mentioning this because I’m always saying that I barely moved out of the Gulf/Middle East since the time I started blogging—which is true. But, you know what? Ever since I did, I never could stay in one spot. I didn’t make it to a year-and-a-half on LJ (where I changed my theme approximately 625 times) before I discovered the black hole known as WordPress.

I distinctly remember needing to study for one of my business courses that fateful night, but the procrastination bug had already burrowed a Texas-sized hole through what was left of my mind. So, what better way to deal with that than to make an entirely new blog? I’m nothing if not logical. So I whipped up an account, chose the first of what was to be another 832 themes, and lo, Grins and Clockwork was born! I even learned to export my LJ’s entries into it, which freed me to delete that account for good.

G&C went along a similar vein to Obscurity, but gave me more room to categorize my posts and generally talk about newer things that were going on in my life, like my college experiences and my friends. Sometimes the updating was enthusiastic, but other times a month would see one to three posts at most. Even so, I always made sure I stuck around it somewhat, just so people knew I hadn’t died.

Still, I started to get that…tell-tale itch. It’s when I realized I was starting to lose focus and none of my previous posts were remotely inspiring. I needed a fresh start to go along with the fact I had graduated with my business diploma from college, and was now studying English in AUB…in yet another country. 

I quietly set up a third blog, which I named The Crooked Trident. When I got a few posts in, and felt it was starting to look like home, I announced the closing of Grins and Clockwork after three great years. It didn’t take me long to permanently move my merry self to a brand new place.

Unsurprisingly, it took a mere year before a bout of “Let me try something else now…ooooh, how about a themed blog?!” to push me to create No Easy Answer.

I guess you could say that even if I’m not physically moving, my consistent need to ramble sure is. 

It also seems obscenely vain that I can talk about myself for this long.

Thoughts on Distance

Something different has happened ever since I came back from the US on October 28th.

Every time I was in Qatar, without exception, my friends knew I was in the country within hours of landing. (Sometimes I simply updated my Facebook status the day before I traveled). A plan to hang out would already be taking shape in the next day or two.

It’s one of the main reasons I liked coming here—the friends I made in college were around, and our history was the warm, familiar cushion that enveloped us during each reunion.

Camaraderie can only last so long though. This time I’ve moved back from a country I spent the last three years in. Though I said, time and again, that I felt stuck in a rut in Lebanon, it’s blatantly wrong to say that I haven’t changed at all. Time had done its job: I had leashes on the relationships here, but stopped maintaining them for all the wears and tears. Soon my grip loosened, and I saw the frayed leashes scattered on the floor before me. Whoever was on the other end was mostly gone.

What’s funny is that it doesn’t affect me much. I learned that everyone lets go when the paths you’re on have seemingly permanently diverged.

After moving away from Lebanon and taking the US trip…I came back to a feeling where I had no desire to contact anyone. In fact, I don’t think I would have minded if no one even knew I was here for weeks or months.

I think the only reason I contacted my friends on Monday was because I realized I wasn’t doing much at home. I needed a reason to go out and socialize a bit with people that weren’t related to me. It’s a change I need and, really, what’s the point of isolating myself? Didn’t I have enough of that in Beirut? Cutting people off on a whim was never a healthy way to live. (Plus I am still very fond of my friends, gap in communication or not).

Distance does things. It makes people stop caring as much as they did, even if it was a powerful bond. The further away you are, the bigger the gap is between your friendships. Your relationships, either consciously or subconsciously, conform into the “out of sight, out of mind” mantra. I reached out, every now and then, and conversations struck up…but always abruptly ended.

People are always busy. I couldn’t blame them. I was busy too.

It’s just…sometimes I wish it was easier. I wish keeping friends close and trading stories and updates all the time was easier, even if you’re on very different playing fields. It would be cool if I knew that both sides cared enough to do it.

If you have that kind of friendship in your life, please count it as a huge blessing. In the age where it’s the simplest thing in the world to stay in touch, it seems like no one ever cares enough to do it…and I wish I could say I was innocent, but I’m not.

I wish I knew what to think about that.

We Just Need a Cool Name for It

The more I watch the news (or rather, hear the news playing in the background while I sit around doing other things) the more I realize that–to use my sister’s words–the Middle East needs a new plague.

Obviously, I would want it to be a discerning plague. Like one that only infects stupid, barbaric, and backwards people. However, if you have the brains and drive to make your country better and guide its citizens to education, equality and prosperity, then the plague will somehow sense this and leave you untouched.

Because when I hear of some militant fundamentalist “Islamic” group publicizing a set of the most BS rules I’ve ever heard, well…a bit of a discerning plague is in order.

On the other hand, these same rules make great joke fodder in that, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” kind of way. I’ll be happy to share some that stuck out to me. (These are, of course, right alongside the usual fundie mindset of “women-must-be-controlled-and-subjugated-at-all-times” claptrap).

  1. Men and women can’t wear jeans or put gel in their hair or style it in any way that would be deemed “western”.
  2. Women can’t go see male gynecologists
  3. If you’re caught drinking or selling liquor, you’ve earned yourself 40 lashes. (Or maybe it was 70? Either way, you clearly deserve to bleed because living on the same planet as these troglodytes isn’t punishment enough).

And lastly, this is my favorite one:

Women should not be allowed to sit on chairs.

No, I’m dead bloody serious, they actually said that. The reason is as absurd as it is headache-inducing: “Chair” in Arabic (كرسي) is a masculine word…and so women must not be in contact with them.

Why yes, I’m on a chair as I write this. I feel rebellious already.

Aaaaah!!!

I’m going back to Qatar on Sunday!

I can’t believe it. This vacation seemed to be going along at an almost slow pace (in a GREAT way) and all of a sudden—we’re leaving.

It’s crazy.

For the past couple of weeks, Neo, Suijin and I have been having really long discussions about the future. For a while, not even going back was a real possibility for my little sis and me. (Neo already made the decision to head back to Qatar from the start).

We both feel like we could truly make California our home. It’s absolutely beautiful, we have family, and it’s an active and multicultural environment where we can feel we belong. The glaring problem in all of this was the fact that we came here with the intention of only checking the state out to see if we liked it. Moreover, and much more importantly, we were here to go on vacation.

It’s admittedly a very large decision to suddenly try to stay longer and go from “vacation mode” to “let’s actually live here, maybe even permanently”. It doesn’t help that we had planned to leave on October 27th from the minute we hopped on the first airplane out of Doha.

Sticking around California for a couple more months at least is perfectly feasible, if we think about it. However, there’s quite a lot to do and we don’t have all the means necessary to do it as quickly and efficiently as needed. (No driver’s licenses, no car—and that’s just for starters. My uncle works full time and we live in the suburbs where there’s little in the way of cheap public transportation).

So, for now, we’re heading back to Qatar. I miss my parents so badly it kind of hurts. So it’s good to go back to the comfort of being by their side once more before we plan our next big step.

Besides, we’re third culture kids…our lives are one big decision after another. We got this.