Monday, 5 March 2018

A rose by any other name...

I've been busier than ever. And yet somehow, I still manage to find the time to stare out of a window or become distracted with all the (hilarious) meme's on Facebook. God bless whoever invented meme's and music. They are the only things (aside from prayer) that get me through some tough days.

Then this week, just as I was getting comfortable dwelling in my complacent obscurity, I accidentally stumbled upon something that kinda jolted me back to the reality of my existential crisis. I came across this picture:

A seemingly harmless illustration of a rose, I know. But there’s a story here, as there always is. I was suddenly transported back at least 3 decades, distinctly remembering the smell of a glue stick and the brown paper that we used to cover our school books with at the beginning of every new school year. I remember it so clearly… folding the corners in neatly, before inscribing our names and the subject on carefully placed labels. And then, the flower motif itself – something that very few people will remember. It was purely decorative and served its purpose as an aesthetic to the otherwise dull and dreary mandatory brown paper we had to use.

The effect was so powerful, that almost 30 years later, just looking at the resemblance was enough to make me nauseous. Legit sick to my stomach. And suddenly, all the anxiety and restlessness of those years followed in waves. How did I ever make it out?

Some of the flowers were embellished with a hint of glitter. I always stared down at them, thinking of the irony. What was supposed to beautify, uplift and inspire did nothing for me but become a symbol of my involuntary incarceration and confinement for a crime that I had no knowledge or recollection of committing.

I can’t say for certain what exactly was it that made me absolutely abhorr and detest the institutionalisation that we call school - in a variety of colourful ways that no words would accurately describe - but it got me thinking about how we never really get rid of anything. They’re always there lurking in the background… the fear, the anxiety, the hopelessness, the exhaustion, the depression, the shame, the restlessness, the helplessness… it’s always there. It never goes away. Yeah we can outgrow things, we can move on, we can sit in our fancy offices miles up in the sky and talk about things with an assurance that we once only dreamt of. We can have the world at our feet and everything we’ve ever wanted…

But who we are and what made us is always a shadow away. Waiting for the day that you may forget so that you can be reminded where you really come from.

It’s never an entirely bad thing. I just wish I didn’t feel like retching every time my brain decided to cycle down memory lane.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

9 Types of expats you'll find in KSA

I've been having a rough few weeks and work has been kicking my butt. So I decided to do the one thing that always allows me to purge - write. These are the thoughts that have accumulated in my mind ever since I moved here. Disclaimer: I apologise in advance if this offends anyone. Hashtag sorry not sorry.

In general, and without a doubt, there are many types of people that come here from all over the world. Far from the Hajj and Umrah fairytales and the odd story you'll hear from a relative or on an online newspaper, living in the KSA is unlike anything you will ever experience if you come from a "Western" country. To some, it is so much more than they could have ever imagined, and to others, it's just an underwhelming nightmare. Safe to say, very few people have come here and got what they expected. Typically though, most expats fit into one of the categories below:

The Experience Seeker
What they want: 
Quite common, the Experience Seeker is your average Jane or Joe that came from country X (usually some first world dig) looking for something new and interesting. And at first, everything is new and interesting. So much so, it's difficult to tell if they're genuinely in awe by what they see and experience - or is it all an act and there's a hidden cam somewhere while they're patronizing the shit out of everyone. So they walk around, smiling and talking to the stray cats, saying "hello" really slowly and loudly to the ladies at the souks, because it never occurs to them that these people are not deaf, they just don't speak English. They're super enthusiastic about everything. There's a Sandstorm? Oh wacka-doodle-doo! Grab on to your hats and hijabs!
What they get: 
They usually get the odd spiffy female walking past them, saying in Arabic "look at this stupid American, she wouldn't even know what I'm saying if she even tried" ~ true story. If they are true to their course, they usually do achieve that oriental experience, however by being slightly (and to their credit, unknowingly) condescending and supercilious. And if they were careful enough, they'll have even saved a few pennies. Well gosh darnit, ain't that swell.

The Martyr
What they want:
To die of course, on holy land. Because to them, the idea of living here and dying here somehow equates to a get out of Jahannam free card, and automatically entitles them to a space in Heaven. Sometimes they may believe that being here will make them better Muslims and bring them closer to God and His Messenger.
What they get:
Endless beauracracy and a Khafeel that overcharges them on their sponsorships, making life very difficult and expensive. Sometimes, the ideal meets their expectations and they are happy here. For others, it is not at all what they expected and the dream soon turns into a nightmare. They discover that the Arab youth are no different to the youth all over the world and they are no more religious than they were in the country they left behind.

The Traveller
What they want: 
Freebies and money. Lots of it. So that they can... well... err... Travel, obvs. So they're just here to get whatever jobs they can get their hands on while they live offsite eating those 2 Riyal egg sandwiches from the Indian hole-in-the-wall - just so that they can save that extra 700 Riyals every month and put it towards their next trip to Tajikistan or the Andes.
What they get: 
The odd interim holiday to Georgia and the cheap flights to Sri Lanka. Sometimes they get lucky and get promoted, and then for 6 months they're wondering if they should stay another year - until the summer comes and they all happily eff off to the next live-in destination.

The Sycophant
What they want: 
Power. And they don't care who they have to tramp on, or what they have to do to not only to get it, but to keep it. There's something about the desperation of a sycophant that makes them utterly insufferable and unbearable. They are keen social climbers and can often be found baking brownies up management's ass. I find that this category is almost always reserved for three types of individuals:
1. The middle-class from of the Indo-Pak region who have to prove to everyone back home that they've made it,
2. Levant Arabs who can't return to their homeland, some of whom are fleeing war and therefore need to get enough money to buy residency elsewhere... so their lives literally depend on the job hence the savageness that ensues (disclaimer: I have tons of Arab friends, none of them are like this, but I've met tons more that are like this),
3. The older generations among native English countries that are close to retirement so they generally can't find employment in their home countries and are desperate to ride the wave for as long as possible.
What they get: 
Fired or deported, usually both. Eventually. The lucky ones end up at a rival company. Until they're fired or deported from there too. And such is the cycle of their lives.

The Free Agent
What they want: 
They don't know. They have nothing better to do with their lives - so hey, why not move to the desert and live in partial obscurity where they can work, travel, study, party, travel some more, do everything at once, or do nothing at all. Why not book into the Sheraton just so that they can order random items like diapers and socks off the list of available goods and services, before they ransack the cocktail lounge and go mall hopping or to the best sheesha bar in the peninsula.
What they get: 
Fun times and great memories that will unlikely pay the rent but nevertheless keep them warm in those two weeks of winter.

The Convert
What they want: 
They want some meaning in their lives. A true spiritual experience. They often come here from whatever society has rejected them, looking for an identity.
What they get: 
This almost always ends up two ways...
1.) They fully embrace and immerse themselves in the society - however, some take it to extremes (meaning, even the Arabs think they're nuts). Want to sit on a couch? Why? Haraam. Must sit on the floor like the Prophet (pbuh) did. Deodarant? Come on, don't disrespect the sweat glands that the Good Lord gave you. 
2.) KSA is nothing like they imagined it would be and they are utterly disappointed and bereft and feel like God has betrayed them yet again and maybe Islam is not for them, and these people are savages and they don't ever want to put their foot here again ~ true story.

The Camper
What they want
They come to visit a spouse / friend / sister / daughter / son for a month or two and usually end up on some compound where they only meet British, American and European Expats and eat Laban for breakfast thinking they've unlocked some major cultural achievement.
What they get: 
Endless shopping in one of the Kingdoms 4000 malls, compound life and if they're Muslim, a trip to Makkah or Madinah. And let's not forget, the Laban experience.

The Saver
What they want: 
A house or yacht or some other big purchase that requires hefty installments and binds them to some or other major commitment. They are the ones usually clogging the internet because they basically live online, downloading movies and sleeping on Skype with their kids/ friends/ pets that they never get to see because they rarely go anywhere that they don't absolutely have to go to.
What they get: 
The tedious monotony and mundanity of a routine that never changes because, why not? It costs SAR7 to go to Nesto with Careem or Uber, but they need to save every penny before those debit orders go off.

The Psycho
What they want: 
This is yet to be determined. Honestly. And I don't mean psycho as a matter of opinion. I mean P-S-Y-C-H-O. Certifiable. Utterly, and uncompromisingly BONKERS. Like, having really loud conversations with the Devil at 3am until the entire building wakes up, kind of crazy. Like, seducing the Landlord to get him to raise the rent on public enemy number one, kind of crazy. Like, watching cartoons every single day for the entire duration of the day and forcing colleagues and peers to watch them too, kind of crazy. Like, taking off all their clothes in the middle of a restaurant and screaming profanities, kind of crazy. They are not only Psychopaths and Sociopaths in that entertaining and amusing kind of way, but they can become very dangerous if not dealt with swiftly and promptly. The problem is that most people are too terrified to do anything to them. Their only saving grace is that there is almost always a story or account of something they did that would make you howl hysterically with laughter for years to come.
What they get: 
Alienation and sometimes Jail time. And like the Sycophants, they tend to be recycled and end up at rival companies or organisations creating all kinds of havoc there too.

If you're wondering which one am I? Well I have to say that maybe, just maybe, I'm a little bit of everything :)

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Buyers Remorse

Over the years, the one thing people have always asked me about is meeting a "rich, handsome, Arab prince" and settling down here. And I've always said that not only am I not interested, but it is something that I actively avoid. 

See people don't really get the reality of the values embedded in the society here. Personally, I always thought I was more Eastern than Western... but after four years, I can proudly, happily and confidently state that I am very much a Westerner. A practicing Muslim Westerner. For instance, I always say "please" and "thank you" - it doesn't matter to whom; and it doesn't sit well with me when I don't use pleasantries or niceties. Arab women, no matter where they're from, don't do this.

The other thing I don't particularly like about the Arab culture is that they don't view marriage in the same light as we do. We think of it in terms that embody the words serious, forever, intertwined, always... i.e. doused in romanticism and idealism. Not everyone here has the same ideas. They are much more detached from their partners. There are very few love marriages and they view marriage like a transaction - each of them being the commodity to the other. To others, marriage is as significant as a disposable shower cap. This has been evident to me from the very beginning of my time here in Arabia.  

On one particular day I was returning some gluten-free bread that I had bought that had soya as a key ingredient, which I couldn't consume. I approached the customer service counter, in a hurry. The commute had put a dent in my plans to just veg out in front of the tv and I was anxious to return to my hotel. 

He looked up from his phone and without putting much thought into it, he blurted out "You are beautiful". I knew he meant it because he had this sincere look in his eyes and seemed taken aback by what he'd just confessed - and, I looked like absolute shit. I had no makeup on, with my glasses - and my hair was a mess under a frumpy headscarf that wouldn't stay on my head, exposing tufts of hair in the most unkempt way. I didn't care though, because I just wanted to return the product and rush back to take a nice shower.

I said "Thank You", eyeing him carefully. I thought I'd test out a theory of mine. I asked him, "Are you married?", knowing for a fact that he had to be married since most of the youth in that region of the country get married at a young age. 

He said "yes", somewhat reluctantly. I replied by saying, "too bad". And in a flash, I could see every emotion cross his face as he contemplated what that meant. I could literally see his thought processes as he thought about his wife and kids at home, and trying to think of ways he could relieve himself of them, what that would mean, what it would take...

I studied every expression, thoroughly amused. He immediately asked me my name, where I'm from and what I do... I could feel his heart rate increase from across the counter, his expression still transparent, his eyes darting frequently from the cash register to me and back to the product. I could see his brain frantically contemplating and calculating all the information he was being fed, trying to come up with an equation that would entitle him to this prize. 

It wasn't long before one of his colleagues and friends snapped him out of his frenzy with a question, and I smirked knowingly, took my refund, and said goodbye. 

I felt his heart sinking from across the room as I walked away, wishing he knew where I was going and hoping that I'd return so that his brain could find the time to conclude the internal transaction between his heart and his genitals. 

And during all that time, I thought to myself... this is why I couldn't and wouldn't get involved with an Arab man. It would tear me apart knowing that the man I chose to devote myself to would so readily, and eagerly throw away everything, just for the thrill of something new and foreign. That he would even consider a compromise...

Arab women in general are accustomed to this kind of behaviour and culture, because they ascribe to it too. They expect nothing more or less from the men. But like most things - there are many exceptions to varying degrees in either direction. There are many - especially among the younger generations - that have a more modern aka Western approach to their relationships. 

Culturally, we just value different things. 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

In Perpetuity

Now that we've all survived the year that was January, I'm finding that February truly is the Tuesday of the year - utterly pointless and redundant. Aside from the post-Valentine's Day chocolate sales, there is not much to look forward to. And now that I'm allergic to both Gluten and Soya, it's all meaningless to me.

My negative sentiments towards February stem from childhood. It's amazing what we carry around and for how long. See, I hated school with every fiber of my being, and in South Africa, the new school year usually began in the third week of January every year. But we didn't mind January that much because, let's face it, we didn't do anything for that first week aside from lament sleeping in until mid morning.

But February was different. February meant business. February meant that the holiday was officially over, and that you had absolutely nothing to look forward to except death. Well, for the next few weeks anyway. Since my birthday is at the end of March and Easter holidays usually followed soon after that, my malaise didn't last long - but lets not forget how long the days and weeks were in our youth. Lawd, between the first and tenth Grades, one week was roughly equivalent to the 725 days of January we've just had to endure. 

Yes, February is utterly useless if you ask me. It only speaks of things in the distant future, with no promise of coming to pass. In the North, it's Winter rearing it's ugly head - without any festive cheer to distract you. And in the South, it's the beginning of the end of Summer... a nice hello/goodbye song waiting to be sung before we don drab colours and officially go into mourning.

The good news is that this month is only 28 days long. We have Pope Gregory XIIII and his cronies to thank for that. See, back in the 1500's they too knew that February was utterly pointless, and decided to spare us the agony of futility when they were implementing the Gregorian Calender.

Dramatics aside, I've been busy as usual... but things seem to pass by in a blur. I feel like I'm waiting for something to happen, but I'm not quite sure what. In the meantime, I while away my time with tasks and chores, and try to keep everything remotely negative at bay. It's a full time job though - this life thing.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Mendelian not-so-random-ization

At some point this week, I was reminded of those gold stars our teachers would make us earn in our formative years. The first five years of my life at school centered around those tiny shimmering decals and nothing mattered more than seeing them stuck next to my name in the class register. 

It's amazing as much as it is utterly absurd just how much value we put on those little stickers. Everyone competed for one in the classroom - because getting one meant that you not only achieved something, but that whatever you had contributed to the world was also valuable and you were worthy. 

I ended up hating those gold stars; only because I rarely ever got one and hated feeling like I wasn't living up to my non-existent potential. And even when I did get one, I still felt like I wasn't good enough, because someone else always had two or three more than I did. Eventually, I gave up trying to get any, and decided that I didn't even want one. Somewhere, somehow, acting as a catalyst during those formative years, my brain decided that it neither desired nor required whatever everyone else was chasing or what they had acquired.

And I've been swimming against the current ever since. 

Sometimes though, I can't help feeling that things don't change and we're all still chasing those gold stars... seeking that validation, that approval... trying to obtain that sense of worth, a feeling of accomplishment... trying to prove to the world that we are indeed good enough and that we deserve to be here. We want what we can't get, and when we get it, we want more.