That Bloody Question

I found this in my drafts folder from last year. Like literally last year–I wrote this in October 2015. I haven’t been here in so long…but I think you may find this entertaining:

I’m twenty-nine years old and I still have issues with the question, “Where are you from?”

I feel like I have a limb in so many places that my brain refuses to settle on one succinct answer. After today, I decided that it’s high time I pick a city/country and just stick to it.

I went to HR earlier to ask a question, and she ended up mentioning how she was new to Arizona, and I had to go and say, “Oh that makes the two of us!”

Naturally, she had to ask, “Oh, where were you before this?”

My brain doesn’t know what to do with this question. Before this immediately? A tiny country in the Persian Gulf that I’m almost sure you’ve never heard of. (Unless you tend to read/know about mind-bogglingly rich Arab countries with a penchant for outlandishly expensive things).

I said, after a now-almost-characteristic pause, “Canada.”

“Oh where in Canada?”


“Oh, do you like it there?”

YES! She didn’t ask me if I spoke French! Good, good.

“Yes, it’s great!”

“What brought you down here?”

My brain is dumb. So dumb. So dumb in its unrelenting penchant for accuracy.

I paused again, motioned with my hands and said, “Aaaa…lot of things.”

Because I left Montreal in 2006. And I’ve been in two countries since. So, yes, a lot did happen to make me wind up here.

Now she looked confused. So I had to tell her that I’ve lived in a lot of places even though I was born in the US but I haven’t lived here. So when people ask me, “Where were you before?” I can literally say one of four different countries and I wouldn’t be wrong. I tried to be quick and simple about it, but after the hole I just dug for myself, there was hardly anything quick and simple to be found.

“Wow, that’s an interesting life story that came out of nowhere,” she said.

I wasn’t sure if that was a jab at my sudden idiotic rambling, or if she was genuinely interested.

(For what it’s worth, she lived in DC before coming here. DC is muggy and cloudy, and Arizona is not).

I wanted to kick myself as I made my way back to my desk. Why didn’t I say, “Canada. Montreal. I found a job here I liked, so I moved.”

For a fleeting moment I thought about picking a US state that sounds bland. Wisconsin. Nebraska. Idaho. I figure no one will ask follow-up questions on a state that sounds like there’s nothing in it. Then I feel bad because what if those states are awesome and I’m just sitting there judging them because they don’t have the enthusiastic marketing team that California and New York do?

Anyways, here’s to me being Canadian, born and bred, and please don’t ask me to speak to you in French.


Dear Lama: May Your Sperm-Donor Know Exactly How You Felt

I don’t understand.

I truly don’t understand.

I’m no stranger to Saudi Arabia’s rules and policies. It’s a first-degree misogynistic country that hides under the guise of being God-fearing and Islamic. (In the market for some BS? They’ve got it in spades). They twist the religion in every tortured way to make it a horrific, deformed, and malicious ideology that people can cling to under the guise of piety. 

ScumLet’s take Fayhan Al-Ghamdi: A Saudi “Muslim” preacher who has no shortage of airtime on TV. Oh he is a man of God, to be sure. According to a friend of mine, he thinks magicians are evil. So you already know he’s legit.

He also knew how to viciously beat, rape, and murder five-year-old Lama Al-Ghamdi. His own daughter.

Lama’s injuries were horrific: A crushed skull, a broken arm, a snapped back and fractured ribs. All this was topped with a generous helping of bruises and burns. He raped her so viciously that he tore her rectum and attempted to fix it by burning it shut.

I feel the need to reiterate that this isn’t some sadistic serial pedophile on the hunt for the children of strangers. This is his own flesh and blood, and he did all of this with no remorse.

His daughter died in the hospital from her injuries in October 2012 and he was arrested a month later. In Saudi Arabia, murderers are given the death penalty by means of a date with the chopping block.

So, is he dead? Nope. About to die? Well…not anytime soon.

Instead, he spent a whopping few months in jail and paid $50,000 in what is called “blood money” to compensate the girls’ relatives. (Because he is not a relative himself, apparently). The cherry on top of this crap-sundae? The fine’s half of what he would have had to cough up if Lama had been a boy. If I were to count how many things are wrong with this picture I wouldn’t get to three before giving myself a rage-aneurysm.

Saudi Arabia: Is this the example you want to give, you misshapen and loud “representative” of the Muslim world? That you will gladly cut off the hand of a thief but child rape and murder is a-okay?

Is this what Islam is? Is this what God wants? Do you not see how insane you people sound? In your own book, which you claim to know, it states that to leave a single mark on your child requires you to pay a sum to charity and sincerely seek forgiveness from God. Your actions speak for themselves.

I am Muslim, from a Muslim family and surrounded by Muslims in everyday life. You do not represent me or anyone I know. I hope that, when (and if) this story gets on the news in western media, that they don’t, once again, paint us all with the same brush. Even many in Saudi find this act absolutely reprehensible.

Whether the state chooses to truly punish this poor excuse for a human being, however, remains to be seen.

I hope they do what’s right. If not, I can only hope Fayhan and all those who set him free get the absolute worst that karma can offer.

RIP Lama Al-Ghamdi

RIP Lama Al-Ghamdi



This has also been mentioned on Hummus for Thought.


Location: Montreal, QC, Canada (Atwater Metro Station) Year: 2004

A snippet of a conversation an acquaintance of mine, Alex, and I had while waiting for the subway to make an appearance:

Alex: “Oh wait, you’ve only been in Canada for three years?”

Me: “Yep. I used to live in Lebanon and, before that, Saudi Arabia.”

Alex: (In surprised disbelief) “But…your accent though. It’s flawless!”

Me: Oh, hah. Yeah,  I went to an American international school in Saudi. Hell, I had classmates and teachers who couldn’t speak a lick of Arabic.

Alex: Really? That’s pretty cool.

That was the first of a good handful of occasions where my accent—or lack of one—was a topic of surprise. Although it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, it did make me wonder if people honestly thought all Arabs sounded like the marketplace merchants in Aladdin. (I do love that movie, but it’s so overrun with cultural misconceptions that it kinda ruins the experience).

In short, my incredulity stemmed from this notion: Globalization has enough of an impact that it should be taken for granted that there are going to be people who never touched US soil that could speak just as well as any born-and-raised American. I went so far as to believe I would never judge anyone by the way they spoke.

HAH! Life, you know how to humble a person.

Fast forward to 2008 – Doha, Qatar: I’m sitting on the roomy windowsill in the Student Representative Council office, chilling with friends. Three feet away, a student I’d never met before was speaking in an accent so perfectly American one could easily assume she’d lived there her entire life.

People: I can’t deny that I became a replica of Alex that night in the metro four years ago. Why?

She was dressed like this:

Talk about jumping to conclusions. In my (somewhat lame) defense, I had twelve years of life in Saudi Arabia and a year in Qatar by then. Up until that moment, every Qatari I met who dressed that way spoke with a visible Arabic accent at best. (Doha has excellent American and British international schools, but those who dress this traditionally don’t make a habit of roaming their halls).

I had to ask, “Did you used to live in the States? Or…??”

She smiled at me. (What face coverings, called a niqāb, have offered me is a way to discern smiles, frowns and general emotion just by focusing on someone’s eyes). I knew from her expression that she had received variations of this question a thousand times but was still good-natured about it. “Actually, my mother is American and my father is Qatari.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I laughed shyly and added, “That’s cool. I’m sorry for asking but I really wasn’t expecting that accent to come out of you.”

I felt hypocritical for being shocked that someone who chose to dress the way she did would be able to speak English so well. But it did open up a conversation, and later, I got to know more about her tough and inspiring history. I was on the verge of sharing it here, but decided that it isn’t my story to tell.

I have to admit, it was a humbling experience to know that I was not incapable of surprise in these situations. I also learned, again, that I had to work harder on erasing my preconceived notions on a people I thought I knew because I’d lived in their societies for years. You learn that whatever fault (for lack of a better word) you may find in someone, you have just as much a chance of finding it in yourself.

Math and Stereotypes

I’m taking a Creative Non-Fiction class where the teacher is asking us to write “episodes” of our lives memoir-style. We all had to choose a theme to base our memoir on, so I chose identity with a focus on my experiences in Lebanon. I’ve written two “episodes” so far, but I didn’t like the first one much, so here is my second attempt. Let me know what you think!

It was an early summer afternoon, and my grandmother’s dining table was hopelessly buried under my papers and textbooks. I bent my head over a page of math problems, though my 12-year-old brain was busy creating a wonderland where math didn’t exist. (Not that my tutor needed to know that). I had always suspected he found quiet amusement in my inability to understand what he was teaching me, a point which won him no favor. I gazed down at the numbers strewn all over my notebook and tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense of them. At this point, a break would have been more than welcome.

I did not have to wait long. Mr. Imad, either out of pity or boredom, decided to make small talk. As is wont to happen when you don’t know how to relate to a pre-teen you barely know, his go-to subject was the weather.

“Wow,” he said, leaning back, “Sure is hot isn’t it?”

I smiled a little, thankful for the distraction, “Yeah I know—Lebanon’s so humid. In Saudi it was hotter, but it was dry heat— not like this.”

“Oh Saudi’s different!” he said authoritatively, “It only has one season: Summer!”

He looked at me expectantly, waiting for what was sure to be my inevitable chuckle at his hilariously true observation.

Instead, my eyebrows rose. Summer year-round? Really? 

Although it was just a silly remark–more of a joke–he triggered something in me and I couldn’t bring myself to drop it. My mind flashed back to a particularly cold February day in Riyadh: Crossing the school playground while clutching my thick jacket to myself, shivering while the wind nipped at my face and re-styled my hair.

I shot back (with a tiny dab of pre-adolescent derision), “Of course not. In winter it gets cold enough to wear coats and sweaters. It’s freezing.”

My teacher’s grin faded just as fast as it appeared, and confirmed that he honestly believed what he had said before, “Oh, wait, really?!”

“Well, yeah. It’s not always hot, you know.” I said, almost defensively. Nothing irritated me more than when people made judgments about something they knew nothing about. Saudi Arabia has a laundry list of faults, I thought, but don’t make ignorant remarks just because you feel like you know better.

I was young, and perhaps his gaffe was the perfect target for someone who resented his condescension about my math skills (or lack thereof). But though Mr. Imad was the first to make such a remark, it was hardly the last. That moment was the beginning of my realization that being raised “outside” made me far less susceptible to jumping to conclusions, something that often isn’t taught in classrooms. Even though it hasn’t made things easy, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for all the mathematical talent in the world.