Uncloaked and Vulnerable

Getting robbed is a bitch.

This is the second time I’ve been robbed in less than two years. Both times in the good ol’ USA, both times in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2014, someone broke into a house I lived in. They took my computer (and those of my housemates), and a lot of my memories. Notes I made in a phone book, an old address book, a really, really cheap cell phone that I used in Saudi Arabia with names and phone numbers of friends there. Some inexpensive costume jewelry that I had collected from around the world. Oddly enough, they left the gold jewelry – I guess it wasn’t shiny enough. Note to thieves: you can’t sell memories.

This time, someone broke into my hotel room, while I was there sleeping, and took my purse. Now, I have no driver’s license, no passport, no medical card, no social security card, and no employee ID card. My car key is gone, my house key is gone, and pictures that I’ve carried around of my children and grandchildren are gone. And, in that passport is an active Saudi visa.

Right now, I have only a replacement debit card – which isn’t working. So, I’m carrying more cash than I’ve ever in my life carried. But, even that’s not the kicker. I reached into my bag for tissue – but the thief had taken that. I reached into my replacement bag for a pen – but that also was gone. I have no chapstick and no lipstick. No telephone numbers scrawled on the backs of business cards. No earphones for my cell phone. No IPod (which was a gift from my children) and is so old that probably no one would buy it. Gone are my bobby pins and the hand sanitizer that I’d picked up in France. Gone is my almost used up eyebrow pencil. Gone is the little change purse that I paid next to nothing for in Egypt. The cancelled passport with my Egyptian visa and stamps from all of the countries I’ve visited over the past three years. Note to thieves: Memories don’t sell.

What did the thief get of value? Well, maybe the bag itself, which is a nice leather bag, but well worn, so it probably won’t fetch any money. Maybe the leather wallet – but I seriously doubt it. I did have $4 or $5 in my wallet, my debit card (which I cancelled) and my credit cards – also cancelled, but they did manage to buy a hamburger and some Starbuck’s coffee with one credit card.

I placed an alert on my credit reports, and notified social security of my missing card. I will notify the US State Department and DMV that my ID’s have been stolen. But, it’s hard for me to imagine that a thief who buys hamburgers and coffee will cause an international incident with my Saudi visa.

So, basically, my memories were stolen, I was inconvenienced, stressed out and violated for what amounts to about $20.00 for the thief.

Welcome to America and welcome to urban life. My friends and family said “thank God you were sleeping.” They said “At least you’re safe and weren’t hurt.” Yes, I am grateful that I was asleep and couldn’t confront the thief, who may have had a weapon. And, yes I am grateful for my family and friends. But I was hurt, not outside, but inside. Having your memories stolen hurts. Having things that you’ve gathered for years hurts. I will heal, but I won’t forget. I will get past this, but some things cannot be replaced. I am grateful for my memories – those that I hold in my head and in my heart. And, I am immensely grateful for digital photos, and virtual storage.

But, being robbed is a bitch.

**Update: The hotel contacted me and said that “a gentleman dropped my purse off” at the hotel. My daughter has collected it, and it’s on its’ way back to me, sans my credit cards, cash, iPod and earphones. I’m grateful to get it back. But, being robbed is still a bitch, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

theif

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Decloaking

I think that I’m slowly, and sometimes almost imperceptibly, taking off the layers of Saudi Arabia.

There is, of course, the obvious: I no longer have to wear an abaya; I no longer wear the hijab that I wore because I wanted to respect the culture and cover my head (I also didn’t want the Mutawaa yelling at me).

I’m uncovering and discarding the mental layers that had almost unconsciously cloaked me.

I can talk about religion without those within earshot becoming offended. I don’t have to monitor my environment to make sure the religious police, or a fundamentalist Muslim, will overhear what I’m saying. Realistically, I’m in Texas and there are a lot of fundamentalist and born again Christians here, but not everyone is, and not everyone is touting the benefits of Christianity. No one has yet given me a Bible. By week two of arriving in Riyadh, I had at least four copies of the Quran.

I don’t have to hear the call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. and groggily try to sleep for another hour before getting up for work.

The stores are open all day. If I’m inside and shopping, I don’t have to rush through my shopping because prayer time is coming up, or schedule my shopping time around prayer.

I can drive myself wherever I want to go. I’m no longer dependent on a driver to take me and pick me up.

I can sit in a public place with men: airport waiting rooms and restaurants, bus stations and snack bars. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be kicked out of a restaurant because it only serves men.

I work with men and women.

I work Monday through Friday, not Sunday through Thursday (although that really wasn’t bad; after all, five days is five days).

I have to say that I found it interesting that at a recent staff meeting at my new job, the women sat at one table, and the men at another. Of course I commented about the voluntary segregation. But it was voluntary and this soon shifted.

I am again dealing with racism, but I’m much less offended by it now. And, being in Saudi Arabia reinforced my belief that racism is artificial. Being there reinforced my belief that racism is a practice of the ignorant, and a tool of the wealthy. Class divisions of any kind are artificial. We are all human.

I can talk with my family without having to wait until 7 a.m. and hope that they’re available. I no longer have an international calling plan on my cell phone.

The internet is reliable and consistent.

And, I’m paying sales tax – what can you do? Freedom has a price tag, but so does restriction. I’ll pay the price here in the USA – at least for a while.

Women use their mobilephones to take pictures outside the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque as residents perform Eid al-Fitr morning prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Women use their mobilephones to take pictures outside the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque as residents perform Eid al-Fitr morning prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Love Is Never Lost

One thing, among many, that inspires me to write is love. Many people think there are different kinds of love. I don’t. There may be different catalysts for love, e.g., physical desire, childbirth, intellectual desire, but they can all end with love.

I have learned that love is not a fleeting, temporary feeling. At least for me, it isn’t. Real love never ends.  Love may change shapes, it may grow or shrink, and we may forget that we love someone, but it never goes away. And, having lost two family members in a span of one week, I am again reminded of what love is.

Love is grieving the loss of someone’s smile, their warmth and sweetness that shines through no matter what. My cousin Michael was in hospice, rapidly dying, but his warmth, sweetness and concern for his family shone through his illness. I only saw him a few times during my recent visit to New York, but his spirit was one of love. He hadn’t really come to terms with his impending death, but he was so alive in those moments that being in his presence was a blessing and a joy.

My cousin Tieakia was getting stronger when I left her. She was laughing, talking, and enjoying everyone around her. She was shopping online, eating Junior’s cheesecake, and relishing good soul food from a corner restaurant. I can still feel my arms around her. I can still hear her telling me “I love you.” I was shocked that she passed. I knew for sure that her strength, her scrappiness, and her tenacity would save her. I treasure hearing “I love you” from her. I will never forget the sound of her voice, her laugh, and her passion for life when I last saw her.

I worry about my family, I think about them almost all of the time. Time. Now I feel an urgent need to see them as much as I can, and see as many of them as I can. Why? Because we cannot take each other for granted. Even if we are in each other’s lives for only a moment in time, that moment is wondrous and precious. It is an enduring, never ending moment of love.

I have lost a grandmother who was my world, along with all of my grandparents, three of my closest friends, my father, and cousins. I have learned that loss is a part of life. I have also learned, most importantly, that love is a part of life. My family is the greatest gift in my life. If I had to choose one thing that I am grateful for from my parents, it is my family. The love I have for them is the part of life that prevails over all, and never leaves, no matter what.

family love

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody

Sandra Bland Sandra Bland

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody, I want my children to know that I was not in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I simply was.

I want to tell my children again that I love them, and if given a choice, I would gladly give my life for theirs. I would never, ever, trade being combative with a police officer to hearing the voice, or seeing the face of my children.

My children should know that I am angry, frustrated, and so sick and tired of systemic racism that I sometimes feel like throwing up. But, if I have any say so in the matter, I would never give in to racism to the point of taking my own life.

I would never take my own life. I would never take my own life. I would never take my own life.

My girls should know that if they were to die mysteriously say, in a white neighborhood, or in police custody, or driving alone through California’s central valley, or walking alone in San Francisco, looking at the architecture of the Mormon Temple in Oakland, having a beer with a friend on Russian Hill, they should realize that I know they would never take their life. I know that they are never in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know that they just are.

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody investigate, question, demand, scream, and stomp until they are brought to justice.

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody post on the internet, write and call the newspapers, the mayor, the governor, the president.

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody be persistent, never give up, never quit, until they are brought to justice.

Because, my dear beloved precious children, that’s what I would do for you.

A Gift

I was struck with a deep sense of gratitude tonight. As I riffled through my small collection of DVDs, I suddenly and unexpectedly felt grateful.

I am grateful that I can riffle through a case of DVDs. I have hands.

I am grateful that I can choose. And I have more than one way to choose. I can see the titles, and I have the mental clarity to freely pick one that I like.

As I type this, I am munching on an apple. I can taste the sweetness and crunchy texture of the apple. I can feel the apple juice inch out of the corner of my mouth. I can appreciate the stickiness and messiness of it.
I can feel the apple filling up my stomach; I can appreciate that it is better for an apple to fill me up than a piece of cake.

The hum of my air conditioner reminds me that I can hear. The sound is suddenly more beautiful than annoying.

I walk everyday – sometimes longer and sometimes shorter distances. But I am able to walk.

Pain, love, and joy are all gifts.

At this moment in time, my children are healthy and safe. I am immensely grateful for that. They have brought me pain that I thought I’d never feel. And joy beyond all of my expectations. That all-encompassing blanket of joy is one that I can always tap into. That pain always waits for me to look at it. For that, I am thankful.
To feel, think, taste, touch, hear, see, and enjoy life as it comes is a gift.

I am grateful for that.

gift

A Painful, Never-Healing Wound

Ban

challenge

Racism for me is like an open wound. I want it to heal. I want the wound of racism to go away forever. I want it to be a memory, a distant memory, and one that needs a conscious effort to recall. Like the memory of me falling down and slicing my knee open when I was six years old. It is a fuzzy memory, and a scar remains, but it is over.

Racism is not over. Every time an African American is killed, every time an African American is shot, oppressed violently, neglected, abused or victimized by systemic racism, my wound becomes fresh.

I cry openly, painfully, because it hurts. It hurts on a visceral, inner level that is an almost unspeakable pain. My African blood asks why? Why me? Why my people? After all, we are only human. We only want what’s best for our families, our community, our world.

But, the sad answer is that there is no real reason. I could trot out the most discussed, acceptable reasons: white privilege, free slave labor, medical experiments, and superiority complexes. The real reason: money. The real reason: greed. The real reason: inhumane hatred. The real reason: savagery.

I realize that we are not the savages. They are. We are not the criminals: they are. We are not the rapists, terrorists, or exploiters. They. Are.

I also realize that it is crucial, achingly crucial, that I retain my humanity. If we become the savages that they are, then the world is lost. I know that I must retain my humanity. I must love, live and celebrate my life as it comes each day.

After all, in the USA, someone may decide to end my life. Every day is precious for me, and even more precious when I am home. But that is where the danger for me lies. In my place of birth, I am a target. In my place of birth, I am not safe. I cannot freely or safely walk in my neighborhood, go to my church, shop in a store.

I have had to live with oppression almost every day of my life. And now, through someone’s savage, barbaric decision, that life could be shortened at any moment.

Every day that I wake up, I am grateful. But, I am also fearful. I have Black daughters, a brother, grandsons, nephews, and cousins. Some of them are enjoying being senior citizens, some of them are just beginning their lives.

But, I am afraid for all of them. I am afraid that someone, somewhere, may make the decision to take their lives from them. Just because they are Black.

And I know that this fear erodes something inside me. I know that this fear affects me, even when I don’t think it’s affecting me. I am paying a price for this fearfulness. I have been paying a price since I first became aware that being Black in America was to be in a war zone. No matter where in America I might be: Texas, California, New York, Arkansas, coast to coast, north to south, they are all war zones.

And yet, as long as I can, I must keep living.
challenge

Sometimes …

Sometimes, I want my old life back. Sometimes, I wish I was in that condo at 3400 Richmond Parkway, No. 1906. Sometimes, I wish I was still flirting with my next door neighbor, swimming in the heated pool, relaxing in the Jacuzzi and watching Bill Maher on HBO. I loved smelling the air after a California rain, or running over to Hilltop for the latest sale at Macys or Penney’s. I miss getting up on Saturday morning and going to the Farmer’s Market in Pinole or El Cerrito. After that, I’d go to Trader Joes and do my weekly shopping. Or, I’d go to Peet’s coffee to get the latest import and sample some of the old ones.

I miss browsing at Ross and sometimes spending hours at thrift stores and garage sales. And 23rd street in Richmond had at least half a dozen bakeries with pan dulce from all over Latin America. I miss my students and practicing my Spanish while they were learning English. I miss the passionate ESL teachers that I worked with and their commitment to their jobs and to the surrounding community. I miss hanging out with my colleagues and friends at the small Catahoula on San Pablo Avenue.

I miss the small breakfast restaurants, and the intimate brunches with my daughter and I miss that sometimes, friends would join us. I miss cooking brunch and experimenting with baking different flavors of breads.

I also realize that had I stayed in the SF Bay Area, I would still be working two jobs, just to make ends meet, because ESL teachers are never employed full time. And, even on the occasions that they find a full time job, the wages are so low that it is impossible to live comfortably. I remember that the ESL teachers I worked with had roommates, or husbands, or wives living with them. They had someone who provided a second income, someone who helped them feel comfortable living in the Bay Area.

If I had stayed in the Bay Area, I would likely never have seen the Burj Khalifa, or the Pyramids of Giza, or the Sphinx. I would probably never have seen the mummy of King Tut, or the Valley of the Kings. I would have known Abu Dhabi only through what I’d seen on the movie screen, which was a gross inaccuracy of that wonderful and wondrous city.

I would never have seen my country from the perspective of an expat, or seen news about my country that I’d never have seen otherwise.
I would never have met some of the interesting and incredible people that I’ve come to know. I would never have known that Saudi women and strong, smart and resilient.

I would never have seen the Bosphorous or the Hagia Sophia, or the amazing and incredible Grand Bazaar.

And, the SF Bay Area will always be home.

There and back again.

Welcome back to the Middle East.

I arrived in Dubai somewhat worn out from the 16 hour flight. On the flight, I had slept a bit, watched a few movies – Get on Up is actually a good film – and eaten some passable airplane food. I’m happy that Emirates Air feeds their passengers! Fortunately, I was sandwiched between two very nice guys who didn’t complain or talk too much. One of them was pretty much a drunk, but at least not an obnoxious drunk. I swear he had almost every drink on the menu: brandy, beer, whiskey, and wine – everything but vodka, and he was a Russian!

I had a short, one hour flight from Dubai to Dammam, and after spending the night in Dammam, I took a train to my final destination of Al Ahsa (some say Al Hassa), in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. My company had bought me a first class ticket, so I was in a wide, comfortable seat. And, if I recall correctly, the most expensive ticket is 100 SAR or about $30 U.S. On the train, a server went from car to car offering free Arabic coffee and tea. Of course, they also offered other paid snacks. There were no signs warning you to watch for isolated bags. There were no passengers looking at other passengers suspiciously. (Is an American about to blow up the train???) There were no whispers or sneaky pointing fingers. There was just a clean, modern, quiet ride across a vast landscape of never ending — sand dunes.

The train is about a two hour ride from Dammam and Riyadh, so I will be able to visit friends in both cities on weekends. I am looking forward to seeing new sights in Dammam, and familiar haunts in Riyadh. At heart, I am a small town girl, so I think it will be much more comfortable for me living in Al Ahsa than in a large city like Riyadh.

It is somewhat of a relief to get away from the endless debates about race and the ongoing, unresolved discussions about skin color. I have been living actively in that quagmire for many, many years. I realize that “race relations” are an ongoing and potentially unresolvable issue in my home country. Some things have gotten better (de jure segregation), some things worse (black men again dying without even the pretense of due process), and some haven’t changed at all (being looked at suspiciously in Neiman Marcus).

Coming back to the Middle East helps me to remember my amusement and amazement that there are people in this world who ludicrously believe they are better based on their skin color.

Also, despite the surrounding and nearby turmoil, I feel safe here. I feel more human and less labeled. I am a Saudi. I am Sudanese. I am Egyptian. I am Ethiopian. I am a part of the everyday landscape. I am just another woman in this world. It is a feeling that I don’t wish to give up. It is a freedom that I don’t wish to give up.

Welcome back to the Middle East!

Al Ahsa
Al Ahsa

Feliz Ano Nuevo … feliz ano novo

سنة جديدة سعيدة
新年快樂, bonne année, Šťastný Nový Rok, buon anno, 明けましておめでとうございます, 새 해 복,
gelukkige nuwe jaar, mutlu yıllar,สวัสดีปีใหม่,glückliches neues jahr,masaya  bagong taon
Saying this in so many languages reminds me of just how blessed I am to know so many people 
around the world.

All of you have made my life so much richer!  Have a wonderful, healthy, prosperous and happy new year!

What Is Your Christmas Wish?

I love this time of the year. The air is cool and crisp. The leaves on the trees are changing colors. In California, some trees are evergreen and still look as though they are decorating the spring time air. Many of the trees are bare, and resemble crude stick figures that a 4 year old drew and threw on the landscape. There is something about late fall that is enchanting and almost ethereal.

Christmas is almost here. The air is filled with the excitement of children, retailers’ anticipation for lots of business, and a good amount of grown-up stress. In other parts of the country, snow is falling. In northern California, the air can get a bit nippy, but never really, really cold. This year, the rain is falling. Not continuously, but sporadically enough so that only 2 or 3 days at most are passing before the “next big storm” arrives. The rain is a curse and a blessing. Mostly, I think, a blessing.

The signs of Christmas are everywhere. There are obvious signs: lots of homes decorated in glittering lights, stores filling their aisles with gift wrap, tree ornaments, and everything in between, Christmas commercials on TV and radio ad infinitum, radio stations playing only holiday music, and sales circulars dotting retail shelves everywhere. But, there are also the less obvious signs: people starting to hurry about just a bit more, more smiles and warmth enveloping everyone as they go about their business, others randomly giving small gifts away like the car in front of you paying your bridge toll, the donut shop giving you a free extra donut, and a student bringing you a perfect red rose. Almost everyone’s heart seems a little bigger, their spirits a little softer, and their smiles just a bit warmer.

If Christmas wishes could come true, I would wish for the end of hunger, income equality, clean air and water, an abolishment of all of the abusive “isms” (you know, sexism, racism, homophobia – ok this is not exactly an “ism” but it’s close enough – ageism, etc.) For me, Christmas holds a magic and the promise of a new world.

My real Christmas wish? That we continue to plow and plant and plow and plant until that new world does indeed become more than just a wish, and that we never, never give up until that work transforms into a reality.

What is your Christmas wish?

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