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Starting at the right place

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Starting at the right place

A lot of times I ask myself how can we really change people’s mentality about stereotypes and prejudices through the power of conversation and whether that really works? I have been a blogger for four years now and most if not all of the interaction with my readers has been online. Unfortunately I have realized that this has programmed my mind to think that taking a stand and expressing my views would be much more useful in the virtual world. Let me assure you I was wrong.

In a recent gathering, one of my friends announced that he and his wife were expecting a baby girl. Of course I could not hide my enthusiasm and excitement being a mother of a two year old daughter myself and immediately began to share motherhood tips and advice. The mother smiled as the father joked about how he was “disappointed” when he found out they were having a girl and how there was still hope that in the last minute his baby would magically be transformed into a boy.

Now I know what you are thinking, how could someone in the 21st century think like this, well the truth is this was not the first time I had heard something like that. In Saudi Arabia the mentality of the “baby boy” being superior to a ” baby girl” is so entrenched in the society that when my sister’s doctor found out that her first baby was a girl she announced the news with a low pitched voice and a dose of sad eyes fearing that the news would anger my sister’s husband, when my sister’s second baby was a boy, the doctor could not be happier and was not hesitant to express her relief and joy.

The story of my friend and the doctor are not strange stories in our society, if anything they are sometimes the norm but I am not writing this for the sake of criticism but for the sake of taking a close look at myself and how I reacted to my friends story and the lesson this incident taught me.

Unfortunately I did not condemn my friends behavior nor did I stand up and argue that what he was saying was unacceptable. I must admit that I struggled with myself whether I should say something or not.  ” This is normal, he’s just joking and I’m sure he won’t think this way when she is born…”  are some of the things I kept telling myself hoping that they would be true in order to dismiss the inner guilt and the inner voice that was telling me that this is not Ok. The inner voice that was telling me that I should speak up and not allow this kind of conversation to even take place, even if it was a joke. But I silenced that inner voice and the guilt played its part all the way back home.

I kept asking myself why I didn’t say something, why was it so hard to just stand up and disagree and why was it so easy for me to “take a stand” online but not in real life situations? In one way or another and whether I liked it or not, by not saying anything I was saying that I was ok with what my friend was joking about and I learned that the hard way. I also learned that promoting change, voicing our opinions and expressing our beliefs is much easier thought than said.  To stand up to a group of your friends or colleagues and say that you disagree is not an easy thing to do but if we really want things to change then we have to start at the right place; with the people who are disappointed that they are having a girl instead of a boy, the people that believe that a hijab wearing woman can’t be Britain’s next great baker, people who judge and make assumptions. This is where we need to start , we also have to expand the conversation, whether it be through blogging, awareness videos, campaigns you name it. Some might argue that changing someone’s mentality is rather difficult but I’d rather give it a shot than just stand there and watch the future of our girls and their worth being threatened before they are even born and I hope you will do the same.

Esraa

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Where are all the female film makers?

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We need more women to tell our stories, to celebrate the hidden heroes in our society and what better way than through story-telling. The only problem is that we do not have enough story tellers. There is only 1 female director for every 15.24 male ones.What are the reasons that Hollywood is such a male dominated industry and what do we need to do as women in order to change that is what we discussed in this extremely interesting episode of “Evening”.

What do you think is one thing that is holding women back from becoming female film makers,share your thoughts?

Esraa

Unveiling the Truth- The Hijab in America

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I moved to the United States almost a year ago and it hurts me when I have to explain to my friends back home that I am much more comfortable being veiled here than I am in my own country. It hurts me even more when an American who knows nothing about Hijab or Islam is intrigued about my veil and politely asks me why I wear the veil versus a person back home who immediately judges you based on your appearance. I am not claiming that everyone in America is non judgmental and is understanding but this past year has taught me a lot about what its like to be veiled in the West. I have never felt uncomfortable here, rarely has anyone starred at me and not once has anyone treated me with disrespect.

The first week I arrived  we went to the mall and a lady approached me saying how beautiful my hijab was, she asked me where I got it from and wanted to know more about why I wore it. A few weeks later we were installing the cable at our house and just before the cable guy left he shyly asked me about my hijab and asked why I was still wearing it. Throughout our discussion I realized that he thought all Arab women are forced to wear the hijab and that when they come to America they can be ” liberated” and take it off. This sparked a conversation and as he left he apologized for asking so many questions and said ” I just don’t know anything about Islam or Muslim women and I have never spoken to a Muslim woman before, I was honestly afraid to talk to you because I was afraid I would offend you with my questions.”  I was so surprised with how little he knew about our culture and our religion and I just couldn’t understand how that was possible. I immediately blamed the media, I also blamed all the so called Muslim’s who had set a bad example about us and I questioned whether I had done a good job in portraying Islam in the 15 minutes that we spoke. You see it’s easy to start a blog and address your community, it is easy to stand in front of a crowd and defend the hijab especially when half of that crowd are people you know but when you are trying to explain the hijab to someone who has seen it for the first time that is when you are truly tested and I felt that on that day I failed that test.

All of this happened a year ago and since then I have been asking my self how do I better represent Islam and the hijab that I wear, what more can I do? Wearing the hijab in the United States has put me out of my comfort zone and has sparked an interest in understanding Islam on a deeper level and for that I am grateful.

Esraa

What we do for others- Lessons from Fatima

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Yesterday I was vising a friend’s house with my baby girl. The visit was supposed to be a girl’s night out and a chance to meetup with good friends and have a good time. However having a 9 month old with me transformed the evening into an exercise session and I ended up chasing after her the entire evening. My night out had turned upside down and to make things worse Fatima started getting sleepy and I knew it was time to go home even before I  had a chance to sit for 5 straight minutes .

I went home feeling sad that I  had not enjoyed my evening, we got home and Fatima would not fall asleep in her bed . As soon as I picked her up she gently layed her head on my chest, closed her eyes and fell asleep. We stayed like that for about an hour before I moved her to her crib and in that hour I learned a valuable lesson.
The whole night I was thinking about me, I was thinking about how I wanted to have fun and enjoy going out, I was so concerned with my happiness to an extent that it was all I cared about that night. When I held fatima in my arms I realized that all she wanted was love and I harnessed the beauty of that moment that made me understand how selfish human beings sometimes are  . By going back home that night and holding my little girl I learned what Islam taught us, I learned that to truly transcend into becoming better human beings we must sacrifice some of  the things that we care about. This is one of the most important lessons Islam taught us and I am humbled that after 26 years my 9 month old daughter showed me what its like to give with no hope for anything in return. This is one of the many lessons Fatima has taught me.
Esraa

Changing our diets

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They say that to truly experience a new culture you must experience the food and the eating habits of this culture. Some people travel the world in search of new flavors, others purchase cookbooks of international cuisine in search of a new meal to add to their next dinner party. We live in a country where food is precious and each region in Lebanon is known for something, whether it is the “Sfeeha Baalbakiyi” or the “Southern Olive Oil”,there is always something new and delicious to discover. But how much do we really know about each others food and what does that have to do with stereotypes and discrimination?

A recent chat with a friend of mine who works as a dietitian made me realize how important food is in bridging the gap between communities and in making us closer to one another. “For the past 3 years I have been seeing the same patients over and over again, I have literally memorized most of the food they eat. Most of my patients’ culture and background are similar to mine. When there would be a holiday or an important occasion coming up I would know what foods to warn my clients from eating, however all of this changed when I started working a few hours a week in a new clinic where I had the opportunity to meet people who were from a totally different religious and cultural background. With every new patient I began to learn about the foods my patients were eating in different occasions and this made me better understand their traditions and culture. ” 

This idea of simply learning about other peoples food traditions opened my eyes to the simplicity of the solution that could solve so many problems. We do not need books or anthropologists or documented studies to learn about one another . We need food, music, holidays, events, clothing and anything that can bring us closer. We need to change our social diets, not only our food but also our approach to understanding one another.

Esraa 

How do we break the stereotypes?

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The question of how we can break stereotypes has always been on my mind, even before I started this blog I asked myself this question and I have come to realize that doing so requires a lot of energy, patience and time. 

Blogging has been one way for me to express myself and what I believe in but I honestly do  not feel that it is enough. In my journey to change things around me I have made two mistakes which I believe most of us make. When someone would question my beliefs or my choices in life in a tone that I would find a bit provocative I would immediately get in the “fight” mode. Rather than listening to their opinion I would try my best to prove my opinion and why I was right and they were wrong and in return the conversation would turn into a debate where both parties gained nothing. Every time this would happen I would promise myself that the next time would be different, that I would try my best to be in a “listening mode” only to fall in the same mistake again. The second mistake I have been making is that I made my own assumptions about what people thought about me or veiled women in general and I never really had the courage to ask them what they really  believed.

I was recently interviewed in a TV morning talk show to talk about 7ijabi and I was forced to listen to what the “other” had to say, I was forced to be in the “listening mode” rather than the”fight mode” and I had the chance to listen to what others had to say.

For the first time I realized that to break stereotypes we must put ourselves in uncomfortable situations of confrontation were we actually listen to what the other is saying, where we have to engage in dialogue which believe me is much harder said than done.

That TV interview made me realize that to break the stereotypes that surround us we must interact rather than react and that we should initiate the conversation rather than wait for someone else to come and stand up for us. By taking initiatives ourselves we will become  one step closer to truly accepting and respecting one another’s differences and similarities and only then can we claim that we live in a civilized society.

The New T.V. Set

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For years my parents have had one T.V. in the house. Me and my siblings would always fight over the remote control and what shows we were going to watch. Few were the moments when we all agreed on something and most of the times we would end up watching either a chick flick or a horrifying movie. In both cases no one was happy,if it was the girls turn to choose the show,the boys would make it impossible for us to watch because of their constant nagging and we would do the same to them just to make sure we were even. No one was happy except Makdis.

Makdis has been part of our family for the past two years, she cleans and does the dishes but most importantly she never complains about what T.V. show we are going to watch, what ever is on Makdis will watch and she always seems to enjoy it.

I really never paid attention to Makdis or what Makdis wanted to watch and for some reason I always assumed that she understood  what we were watching whether in English or Arabic. I forgot that she was from Ethipoia, that she barely spoke Arabic or English and that this was the first time she had seen a T.V.

In an attempt to solve all the family disputes my parents decided to buy an additional T.V. set, of course we were all thrilled but no one was more excited than Makdis. The presence of a new T.V. empowered Makdis, now she could watch what she wants,when she wants and was  not confined by our personal choices, instead she  had the ability to hold the remote and control and choose her favorite shows.

Over the weeks I observed Makdis, in the morning she would watch a morning show with her nescafe and in the afternoon after all the housework was complete she would tune in for her favorite Turkish soap opera. Her life had been transformed!

The assumptions we make about people determine the way we treat them. I assumed that Makdis didn’t care about what we were watching but in fact she did, we assume that physically disabled people might be less intelligent so we speak loudly and slowly when in reality they are as smart as we are if not more.

Makdis’s story  taught me a  very important lesson, the basic needs of any human being such as laughter, the need for entertainment and having our own space are universal to all human beings whether they  are from Lebanon or Ethiopia. The idea might seem cliche but in practice I realized that I was not really applying it.

Today Makdis enjoys a variety of TV shows and my siblings and I still fight over the remote.

Esraa