Monday, June 27, 2011

Faith Shared

Yesterday, June 26th, churches and other religious centers all over America participated in an event called "Faith Shared". Maybe you've heard about this. During this event, people gathered together from multiple different religions, particularly Christians and Muslims, and held interfaith services. The point of these events was to show religious tolerance and to let the world know that the large majority of Americans are not all bent on burning the Quran. You can find further information about this event here.

Personally, from the information I read on the event's website, I thought it seemed to have the potential to be positive. However, the way I first heard about it was anything but. Being in the Middle East, I rely on the <sarcasm coming up> dependable source of facebook status updates to bring me the most important news from the USA. I stumbled upon a status update that criticised the Faith Shared event, claiming that one of its leaders was being influenced by the spirit of the anti-christ and that the event's purpose was to promote a new religion: Chrislam. I googled this term, which I had never previously heard, (and which was nowhere to be found on the Faith Shared website) and I found other websites that had similar viewpoints.

I will let you draw your own conclusions about the Faith Shared event. My main concern is the sense of fear that so many people seem to be caught up in. I can understand that Faith Shared could cause some people to question the boundaries of their faith and to be concerned about whether or not it may compromise their beliefs. However, I believe there is no compromise of faith worse than fear. It causes us to exaggerate, to be suspicious and inhumane. At the same time, I don't believe that tolerance is enough to combat this fear. The only way to live in uncompromised faith and reject fear is to love proactively.

Feed a homeless person. Say hello to your Muslim neighbors and share a cup of tea. Pray sincerely. You get the idea. It's all proactive love and there is no compromise in that. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Women. Drivers. Ninjas.

I have some students whose faces I have never seen. They are women, and they cover their faces, all but their eyes, with a veil. I've realized recently that my relationship with these women is a little different from my relationship with other students. I recognize them by their eyes, tone of voice, and most of all personality. One student, whom I'll call Fatima, is one of the most beautiful women I've never seen. She's bold, outspoken, and hardworking. Anytime I give some assignment in class, she takes charge. She laughs easily and smiles with her eyes. I've found that most of my veiled students have similar personalities; their hearts are bright and visible, even if their faces aren't.

When I recently read about Saudi women defying the driving ban, I thought of Fatima. Though women are free to drive in the UAE, she's exactly the kind of woman who would buck the system. I'm sure these ladies who are driving around Saudi Arabia are probably also just as sassy, and just as beautiful. This will probably sound terrible, but I've sometimes heard young people refer to veiled women as 'Ninjas'. You can figure out why. I think though that this term might be appropriate for these heroic women drivers. They really are fighting for something.

Whether it's my rebellious nature or my love of justice and equality that makes me excited by these women's defiance, I don't know. But I'm proud of them and I'm praying for them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


In response to my last post, Conversations, Part I , I received this comment from a good friend in the States: "The families of the victims of 9-11 are asking the same question, and the dead victims would ask if they could: 'I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?' Maybe your friends can relate?"

I'm not really sure how to respond to this. I know by what I've heard from some students that when 9-11 is mentioned here, the response usually involves numbers of civilian deaths being compared. A good deal of Bush bashing is also often included. I would rather not discuss these topics as I don't find it helpful. I'm much more concerned with forgiveness and healing.

Concerning this question, "Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" I don't know the answer. But I can see from the perspective of the victims on either side. I remember how it felt to be terrified, watching the twin towers fall and being worried that my family in the military might not come home. I also remember the group of little Iraqi kids, who lived in the same building as me, and who couldn't hear because their ear drums were so damaged by explosions.  

I once heard (though I can't remember where) a tradition of forgiveness practiced in some part of Africa. If someone is murdered, once the murderer is caught he is bound up and thrown into the middle of a lake. The victims family is then given a choice: take revenge by allowing the murderer to drown, or save his life and be free of grief. 

Whose life can I save? If freedom comes by giving life, how can I give more? How can I live forgiveness? Maybe these are the better questions to ask.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Conversations, Part I

Right now, I'm sitting on my sofa, listening to Ray compose some music. Some birds are singing outside my window. I'm relaxing after cleaning my house, browsing facebook, and having a conversation on chat. A normal Saturday afternoon...kind of.

The person I'm chatting with is a Middle Eastern man. I've asked him the same question that I've been starting to ask a few of my friends here: "What do you think America needs to know about the Middle East and Muslims?"

The answer is always pretty much the same, and this particular man (I'll call him Amir) put it quite succinctly:
"Islam does not promote, sponsor, condone or encourage terrorism or murder."

I asked another person (I'll call him Ahmed) this same question, and though he gave a similar answer, it took a while for him to give it. He said answering that question was useless, that there was no point in trying to make the West believe anything good of the East. I hassled him just a little, in a nice way. In addition to what Amir said, Ahmed answered, "We are not terrorists...we f---ing hate the muslim terrorists." Following this was a long release of frustration about how his part of the world, his religion, his culture, and himself were discriminated against. World events are taken personally, though he himself never personally offended anyone from the other side of the world.

From the answers to my question, I've been picking up on the same root. When I look a little deeper, I see that my friends, students, neighbors seem to echo the same response: "I didn't do anything wrong. Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" 

I don't know what it was exactly that made me begin asking my question, and I don't exactly know what to do with the answers except to just listen. I hope that by asking and listening some understanding or compassion might steal its way into places it didn't exist before.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011


A few years ago, before we were married, Ray tried three times to get a visit visa to the States. Each time he was rejected (rudely) with no real explanation as to why. We decided a few months ago that we would try to apply again. There are still a lot of my relatives whom he's never met, and I didn't like the idea of going on a month-long vacation without him. Also, I've always felt like he won't be able to know and understand everything about me unless he sees my country.

His previous attempts at applying were terrible experiences--having to collect bank statements and other ridiculous documents, rude interviewers, long waiting times in the sun, and, after all that, rejection. This time was completely different. We waited for a couple minutes, everyone was friendly, and he wasn't even asked for half of the documents he brought with him.


He got it! I've said before that the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi is probably the most unfriendly place on earth. Today, I did a little happy dance in the most unfriendly place on earth. And it didn't seem so unfriendly anymore. I've been waiting for about four years now to take Ray to my other home, the place I grew up and lived most of my life. Now he'll be able to know all of me.

Today is a great day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Heat and Sweat

I guess it's been a few days since my last update. I've been a little busy. Not so much with things to do, but just in my mind. A lot of thoughts.

I blame the heat. I've been seeing a lot of comments from people in the States lately about how hot it is there. Really? On a good day here it's 41C/105F. And it will get even warmer. All my flowers are dying from the heat. At this point in the year, people begin to leave the country and go someplace cooler. My students come to class late, or just don't bother to show up. I've read before that there's a correlation between hot climates and aggression. I can see how that could be true, as being so hot can put anyone in a foul mood, but I fail to see how anyone could have the energy to really be physically violent. All I want to do is sit in my intense lethargy. And think.

Maybe I'd like to get away for a while. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's homesickness, but I've been finding it difficult to be around people lately. Do you know what it's like to try and work something out in your mind and just want to be left alone? It's like sitting in a sauna...or sitting outdoors in Abu Dhabi. You don't have the energy to deal with others while you sweat out whatever it is that's making your life toxic.

I've chosen to sweat it out though. A couple weeks ago, I said a prayer. I asked God for more life. I always want the most, the limit, the extreme. I can't stand the thought of there being something I'm not getting out of life. I want all I can get and I don't care if I have to bear the heat to get it, to rid myself of anything that makes me toxic or holds me back.

Sweating brings humility. When it's this hot, there's no use in trying to hide that fact that you sweat, that you're human. You can shower, put on perfume and make-up, try to make everyone think you've got yourself together. But just take a step outside, into the heat, and everyone can see your humanity. The businessman, the labor worker, the housemaid all sweat just the same under this sun.

So that's it for me. My make-up is off. I'm sweating and I'm ok with it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bride and Brejudice

A few days ago, Ray told me that some friends of his family wanted to drop by and bless our house. For those of you who may not know, Ray and I got married about 5 months ago. Apparently, it's a custom for family and friends to come and bless the house of newlyweds. No one ever told me this. Also, I'm not very keen on entertaining. I'm not too confident in my cooking skills and my idea of hospitality is very different to the hospitality that I've been shown in this area of the world. For example, if friends come over to my house, they are more than welcome to act the same as they would in their own home, open my fridge, eat my food, take a nap on my bed, whatever. In contrast, whenever I've gone to any local friends' houses, I was shown to a special room for receiving guests and waited on by a maid. Obviously, my idea of the way guests should be treated is not normal here. 

So when Ray said his long-time family friends had invited themselves over to our house, I wasn't exactly thrilled. I freaked out a little, immediately thinking, "I don't know how to cook! I don't know how to entertain, much less entertain Arab family friends who are probably expecting something amazing! We don't have enough plates so we'll have to use paper! Our house is just a small studio! Why are people inviting themselves over to our house?? That's so rude!" (Where I come from, it's not nice to invite yourself over to someone's house...another example of my ideals that  aren't normal here). Ray, very sweetly, reminded me of what part of the world I'm living in, and gently let me know that I was being culturally insensitive.

I came home from work today and insisted on having a bad attitude while I cleaned up the house and prepared for our guests. Since I really don't know how to cook, we just got some take-out Lebanese food. At some point, Ray asked me, "What can I do to make you feel okay about this?" Again, I decided to be a jerk and say, "Nothing. I'm just going to feel this way. But don't worry, I'll be nice." He wasn't happy with my response, but I assured him he had no choice.

Finally, our guests arrived. I forgot my bad attitude and my ideals when I realized they were incredibly nice. They were totally cool about the fact that we just had take-out and complimented our tiny house without being the least bit sarcastic. I had expected that the evening would be a drag, but instead it flew by. Before the couple left, they prayed for our house and our marriage. I felt quite humbled and ashamed about my bad attitude.

"See, it wasn't so bad, was it?" Ray asked me when they left. No, it was actually really nice.

We closed the front door and found an envelope on the table. Inside was a card, congratulating us on our marriage, and a large amount of money--enough for a plane ticket to the U.S. We've been low on cash lately and worried about whether or not we'll both be able to make the trip this summer. Not only did God provide money that we needed, but he also demolished my bad attitude, taught me that not all my ideals are acctually ideal, and let me meet some really sweet people. I am thankful.