Who are you? And the far reaches of globalization

I recently gave a talk at the Chekhov Cultural Center here in Moscow, as part of English Language Evenings (thanks so much to the organizer, Stephen Lapeyrose, and all of the wonderful people who attended), and before the talk, I had to clarify something on my resume. I had to explain that a certain job meant work experience in two cities simultaneously – “the magazine was produced in Amman,” I said, “but it was meant for the market in Dubai. I’d just moved from Dubai and was working on it in Amman.”

During the question-and-answer portion of my talk, someone asked me which language I speak better, English or Russian. I said that I speak English better – though I’ve been catching up on my Russian since moving to Moscow, and eventually hope for my knowledge in both languages to be pretty much even.

The dreaded “who are you?” question was, thankfully, not asked. I identify as lots of things, after all. Sometimes, it confuses people. It even irritates them. They think my Whitman-esque desire to “contain multitudes” is a sign of “disloyalty,” or, worse yet, some sort of indifference to my roots. But my roots, both genetic and cultural, spiritual and intellectual, grow from all sorts of places. This isn’t rare. This isn’t weird.

“How do you figure fromness?” Chally recently asked on Feministe. The important thing is not letting anyone else decide the answer for you. It’s the same as trying to determine your work experience in a globalized job market, really – just on a more personal scale.

Bag spam: what’s in my bag? And what’s in yours?

I’ve got friends who keep sending me little memes that I have no intention to spam other people in my Gmail address book with. I can, however, spam the readers of this blog!

So for those of you who are, for some reason, dying to know what’s in my bag, here’s a rundown:

– Work pass & press card. V. important. We have a saying in Russian: “without paperwork, you’re a little bug. With paperwork, you’re a human being!”

– Wallet. This one was a present from my ex, from London. It’s huge, expensive and fabulously bourgeois – novacheck with a patent leather trim. I keep the usual wallet-y stuff in it, and I also keep more unusual stuff, such as two small, laminated icons of the Virgin & Jesus, a small cross threaded in gold on a tiny cloth pillow (of the sort one normally sews into one’s clothes, or a soldier’s uniform – a present from one of my aunts), and small amounts of currencies from all the countries I used to live in (Ukraine, U.S.A, United Arab Emirates & Jordan. Should probably stick a Soviet coin in there too.).

– Keys from two flats – one in Moscow, one in Kiev. A keychain of silver stars I bought in Alabama, and a keychain of a little red and gold bag that my ex brought me back from Dubai once. I feel a little wistful every time I see the little red and gold bag dangling. And so it goes.

– A bottle of mineral water facial spray. Because it’s Freaking. Hot. In Moscow. Sometimes, when I catch random people looking at me when I spray myself with it, I’ll offer to spray them too. They tend to say yes.

– My metro pass. Speaking of the metro, just look at what I had to put with this morning. Hades. This is Hades.

– Cosmetics, to keep myself pretty. There’s a mirror and eyeshadow compact in there, that my badass teenage BROTHER, of all people, bought for me. I told him I wanted eyeshadow for Christmas (as a way of getting him to not buy me anything – I didn’t want him to spend his money), he went into a make-up store with one of his equally badass friends, described my facial features and colouring to the saleslady, and picked out a compact. And it was perfect.

– Deodorant. Because it is Freaking. Hot. In Moscow. I really need to switch to some of that more natural crap, that won’t make my lymph nodes develop tumours. I really need to.

– My big fat Nokia phone. It belonged to my ex. I stole it in a fit of pique, after I discovered that it had a 5 megapixel camera. My ex had broken my camera a few months prior. I am still avoiding the iPhone. I think this is an issue of sentimentality.

– A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I avoided reading Byatt for years, on account of her dissing and dismissing J. R. Rowling in the NYT. No, really, I actually did this. Looking back on it, it might have been a tad silly. A tad.

– A pack of Parliaments and blue lighter to match. I don’t really smoke, of course.

– A long, silver scarf. When I lived in Jordan, I wore it as a hijab for a while. Nowadays, I take it with me when I plan to visit a church, like I did this morning. (There was absolutely no one there, it was just after a service but before they closed their doors. A few women were singing psalms in a corner by the iconostasis. One came out eventually and accepted the little paper on which I had written the names of people who needed prayers – prayers for health and wellbeing, prayers for souls who had passed on, and a special prayer to the Virgin, for two individuals who need extra help. One of those individuals being me.)

– Oversized purple  sunglasses. I bought them in London, after losing my other ones in a pub in Devon. As I recall, I got a huge lecture about switching from Vivienne Westwood to Ralph Lauren – from a person who is actually fashionable.

– A green little iPod Shuffle. My actual iPod recently fell in battle. The Shuffle was kindly donated by a famous philanthropist, i.e. my brother.

– A small bottle of perfume – the grassy, summery kind. “It reminds me of my youth,” someone told me recently. “But you are still young,” I said. “Not in that way,” he replied.

– The bag itself is a black patent leather tote, fabulously expensive, bought on fabulous sale as, to quote Disney’s Emperor Kuzco, “my birthday gift to me! I’m SO happy!” I’m not really happy, but stalking around Moscow with a great bag makes me feel imposing – which is good enough, I suppose. Our head news correspondent recently told me that one of these days, I’ll come back from the bathroom and both she and my bag will be halfway to the border with Belarus. I eagerly await further developments.

Man with 86 kids going for 100… and he gets applauded? Really?

Remember the outrage over the Octo-Mom – Nadya Suleman? How come I am hearing nothing of the sort directed at Hot 100-Dad? Could it be because of… *gasp* sexism?

Because Islam only allows 4 wives at a time, I’m assuming he marries and then gets divorced to make room for the next crop of broodma…sorry, women. How nice. While it’s no doubt that being married to this dude bumps up your status as well, I would feel genuinely sorry for any woman who became attached to him on an emotional level. And God forbid you should marry him and then discover that you can’t have kids. What value would you present to him then? For all my criticism of religion, I somehow fail to remember any passage in the Quran that women are animals that a man selects for purposes of breeding and celebrity before discarding them.

“Abdulrahman said he supports his family through a military pension and donations of hundreds of thousands of dirhams from sheikhs who want him to make his century.”

While it’s good to know that at least these people appear to have enough to eat – all of the men who are attempting to vicariously live through this dude make me giggle. The “prize sire at a barn” mentality is demeaning to both men and women, but in a world where masculinity continues to be grotesquely distorted, it’s no wonder that other men’s insecurities would continue fanning the flames of this spectacle.

The UAE has the worst per capita carbon footprint in the world, and something tells me that Hot 100-Dad isn’t going to improve that situation. This is consumption at its most cynical, and no amount of platitudes about the joys of family can quite cover that up. If children are a gift from God, so are natural resources. Guess what’s going to happen to them if this mentality is encouraged further?

This is all beside the fact that assuming that one person is even remotely capable of loving one hundred separate children is beyond naive. This entire set-up ceased to be a family a long time ago.

And please don’t give me any noble savage crap about how “it’s their culture.” The average Emirati family has 2.3 children. Considering the environmental catastrophe we humans have already set into motion, that is a very good thing.

Parody of Johann Hari’s piece on Dubai

If you know me well enough, you probably realize that I am as likely to go off on a tirade about one of the Gulf states as anyone. However, even if I leave my professional role aside for a moment, I still must say that this parody on Johann Hari is priceless. Notice that the author does not skewer the valid points Hari made in his piece (such as the stuff on labourer rights, etc.). Notice, also, that it is freaking hilarious.

Shorter Danielle Crittenden: Throw the Niqabi Off the Train!

Props for anyone who gets the movie reference in the title of this post.

Non-Muslim women have pontificated on the niqab (face-veil) and its relation to Western culture before. *cough* Admittedly, a lot of our comments, my comments included, can be rather presumptuous and patronizing, even if we don’t mean them to be. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching on this issue lately, and it seems to me that sagely opining about these things with an air of authority can be just as unhelpful as, say, going off on a self-congratulatory spiel about breast implants and the supposedly poor, pathetic women who get them.

Should we reserve aesthetic judgment? As a writer, I say no. It’s damn near impossible to do that anyway.

But aesthetic judgment is not the same thing as ascribing motivation, as dissecting the ideology, as practically eliminating the humanity of other people. It’s one thing to say – “I personally wouldn’t wear niqab, and here’s why…” or even “That niqab is cute but not this one” – and quite another to launch on an investigation of those Other women and why they do the things they do. I’ve tried to refrain from doing that in my earlier writings on niqab, but, you know what? I’ve tripped up before. And I’ve tripped up in my logic as well:

I argued that the face veil is especially problematic in countries such as the U.S. But thinking about it now, if veiling one’s face should always be about choice, then the U.S. is a fairly good place for that. Choice is much more restricted and more nebulous in more conservative religious environments (not saying the U.S. is some sort of progressive utopia – we’re not – but we’re “tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd,” dang it).

Being in the UAE has certainly helped shape, or, as the fact may be, enhance, my opinion on the matter, particularly in a “Western” context. Which is why reading Danielle Crittenden’s smug series on the face-veil has been so tedious. Continue reading “Shorter Danielle Crittenden: Throw the Niqabi Off the Train!”