Tag Archives: America

FGM in the West

AlJazeera’s The Stream will be doing a piece about female genital mutilation (FGM) and it’s growth in the west, mainly the UK, later today. I was approached to include my comments which I’m sharing with my readers below. Click here for the link to a very important story!

The fact that this horrid act continues into the 21st century says something not only about the worlds education system but also about the worlds health system.

There needs to be a global initiative to be educated people on FGM, the myths behind it and the health risks. First and foremost, this whole obsession over female virginity is absurd! FGM has nothing to do with keeping a lady a virgin, her choice to be celibate (or a virgin) until marriage does.

Second, FGM is a health risk, many die under the knife during this procedure, especially when done to girls as young as 12 years old. I was in Egypt in 2011 when a girl not far from my family’s town had died under the knife of a doctor whom was an “expert”.

Finally, and I’ve had this argument with many people, FGM has nothing to do with religion. It is not Islamic in any way shape or form. Islam dictates that only men are to be circumcised after birth if health of child allows for procedure to happen at the time.

And that’s my rant on that!
@Ms_Hala
https://mshala.wordpress.com

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Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 3 of a Few

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 3 of a Few… Unprofessional
By: Ms. Hala

I have to admit, being part of a management team in a growing industry in this part of the world has it’s perks. Even though I’m technically an entry-level manager, I’m the only female ever to hold a managerial position in the history of this company. Females in this company are about 10% of the entire workforce. So I think that in itself is a huge perk.

I’ve been warned one too many times by colleagues with the phrase, “You’re not in America anymore. Welcome to the Middle East. This is how things work.” Yet I would always remind them that in my opinion, professionalism is universal. You can’t convince me that the lack of professionalism is the reason behind the Middle East’s successful economy despite the rest of the developing world’s economic downfall. It was the lack of professionalism that caused US taxpayers to bail out stupid big banks whom brought our economy to a  recession. So yes, I’m in the Middle East – thanks for the warm welcome – but that shouldn’t mean professionalism is dead.

Right?

Ummm… to some extent. You see, it’s not necessarily where you are working in the world but whom you are working with in the world. Yes, certain cultural etiquettes need to be understood and respected. However, many misinterpret these etiquettes to their advantages. Sounds a little too familiar? This is when I discovered that half the staff, a mix of various languages, nationalities, levels of management, are scared of me.

Yes, scared. Lack of professionalism is the culprit here.

Here’s the shpeal, I manage the logistics of this global division. I deal in large part with clearing and transporting agents, Qatar customs administrators and global suppliers in over 15 countries including the USA. On one lovely day unlike today, I realized that the term “professionalism” to some extent did not exist in the eyes of some people I deal with on a daily basis. I was only about 3 months into my position and the idea of how my job was to deal with extremely unprofessional people hit me, hard.

What the hell am I going to do? How the hell am I going to make it in this industry? How the hell am I going to even last in Qatar?

Damn.

There I was on the phone with the most incompetent person representing the clearing and transport agents behind the delays for our division in receiving units sitting at the ports for days. Paying customers threatening to cancel sales. Sales team members freaking out fearing losing those sales. Managers scrambling to meet their goals before month end just two days away. Our division simply trying to, you know, do business!

It was just me between my division and this incompetent imbecile whom was oblivious to the importance of his work for us. He kept going on and on with this bullshit, one lie after the other in the most unprofessional manner I’ve ever dealt with in my entire working life… I couldn’t take it anymore.

I hold two masters degrees in business, I have multiple years of experience dealing with people of all personalities and here I was unable to take this waste of oxygen anymore. I became the very thing I feared being in my career… unprofessional.

I just held that phone with a tight grip and gave it to this imbecile, cursing and screaming amongst a culture of appropriate and polite manners. “If your fucking company can’t get my shit done on time, I have 20 other cheaper and more competent companies that can! Don’t fucking bullshit me man because I don’t give a fuck! Just. Get. My. Shit. Done. Now! Do you hear me?”

The man on the other line just froze, sniffled and broke down like a two year old kid. He would get it done he said, by the end of the day. I slammed the phone, took a few deep breathes, checked I didn’t break the phone, then placed my hand over my dropped jaw… the entire office within sight had heard every single word I said. I turned around to one of my sales managers applauding me, “YES! It’s about time someone showed them who’s boss! They are always screwing us over!”

I just giggled in disbelief as I whispered, “I made him cry.”

Some had their jaws dropped while others laughed, “you made him cry?!” The rest continued to give me this wide-eyed stare, unsure what to make of me anymore. Conversing what had just happened, this apparently wasn’t the first time these agents had been delaying work fulfillment. They were behind lost deals and damaged goods in the past. Then, my boss called me into his glass office.

Damn.

“What the hell is going on out there?”

“Ummm, I was on the phone with what’s his name trying to figure out what was taking them so long to get our units delivered. And honestly,” I was trying to find that professional lady, she’s here somewhere, I know it. “I couldn’t help it when he started BSing me so I just gave it to him pretty bad till he cried. I know it’s-”

“You mean bitch!”

“Hey!” I responded, that the professional lady was now lost forever, or the rest of the day maybe. “This ‘mean bitch’ just saved your ass there. You’re fucking welcome!”

My boss just laughed, “Good, thanks! Please keep me posted, we need get these units to our customers ASAP. We have to meet our deadline and goals in the next couple of days.”

“We shall, we shall.”

The rest of that day, everyone gave me odd wide-eyed looks. Everyone asked me what happened, whom got the wrath of the American. In a few hours, our work was cleared, units were delivered, everything was good. It shouldn’t have taken me being unprofessional, was the thought at the back of my head. By the end of the day, I was shown an invoiced by one of our accountants, “are we responsible for these fines?”

Of course things didn’t end there, it got worse. The agents had sent us an invoice for their incomplete services, dated days before the shipments even arrived, with fines they racked up leaving our shipments for days at the ports. When I brought this to the management’s attention, they had a fit.

“We need to review all their back invoices.”

“This is a matter of principle.”

“Hala should be in charge of reviewing all these invoices before they go to the accounting department.”

“Right, she deals with them daily, she would be the authority approving whether or not we are responsible for these fines.”

Damn.

A little irked, I shot an email to their head honco on vacation for like the millionth time that if I didn’t get a corrected invoice, they wouldn’t get paid a dirham (thats pennies for you American folk). He of course complied by sending me the imbecil to my office to “clear things up” the next day.

Everyone slyly watched as the guy again started with his bullshit and knowing I might just explode, I took a deep breath and with a loud but very calm tone, “Listen man, don’t fucking start with me again. You guys fucked up and left our units out there for days. You need to own up to that, period.” I found her, I found the professional lady again and this one is awesome! “So you either get me the corrected invoice by the end of the day today or it’s free. Plain and simple, ok?”

He just stared at me and when he teared up, he walked away because he had to “take care of work.” No yelling, no scream, just slightly loud and straight in the face. Professionalism at it’s best, I thought, until I looked around again to the wide-eyed faces. It was official, I was the scary person in the office.

Damn.

“I heard she pushed him against the window, threatening to throw him over if he didn’t get us our stuff.”

“I heard him cry when she yelled at him… why did he even come to the office?”

“I watched her scare him straight while she sat there casually. He’s so much taller than her and he is scared of her. A girl!

“Now she knows how things work in the Middle East.”

Damn.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 1 of a Few

Dear Faithful Readers,

Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 1 of a Few… Identity
By: Ms. Hala

I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There’s still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉

However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!

When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”

Say Whaaat?
Say Whaaat?

I reply, “I’m American”.

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m from Calfornia.”

“How long did you live there?”

“Born and raised.”

“Wow…”

“Uh huh…”

The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatar citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not even legally Qatari.

There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostely on those ideologies and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.

Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome that terrible stereotype. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservative expatriates here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”

*sighing and shaking my head*

Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with Egypt just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.

*sighing angrily*

During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!

I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American turned on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bicultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bicultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.

I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!

On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.

I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.

An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.

Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)

I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a  funny conversations.

At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.

I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.

I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.

A Four Month Report

Happy Eid everyone! I pray you are all enjoying the blessed Eid AlAdha weekend.

As for me, right now, I’m spending the wee hours of the morning in Terminal 2 of the Dubai International Airport (DXB) for my bi-monthly visa turnaround, an attempt to renew my “visitor” visa, hopefully for the last time. Tomorrow marks four months since I’ve landed in Doha, Qatar. Four long, exhausting, fulfilling, exciting and at some point dangerous months. In the last four months, I’ve been caught up with work, trying to get settled into a  place I can call my own and develop some form of a social life.

They call me Doha, Ms. Doha.

As of a few weeks ago, I attempted to get back to my short work outs and walks just to keep my energy level up. Recently I was able to some how get back to reading Aleph by Paulo Coelho which was my first non-food purchase in Qatar. The other day, a cute little kitty followed me half way home and adopted me. With all the time I have on my hands right now before I check out the tiny duty free section, I shall rant away at some of the events that have taken place in my first four months in Qatar…

 

Cool British Accent — After calling a few landlords to inquire about available apartments for rent, I received a text message (or SMS as it’s called here) stating how one very nice man liked my “really cool British accent”. I had to respond because I thought this was a joke but it turns out, that wasn’t the case. I mentioned how I wasn’t British but thanks for the kind words. His exact response (misspellings and all), “I want us to get to know echother more and I promis you I get you discount in very nice apartment. ;-)” I didn’t even know how to respond without being rude so I left it at that. However, a few more call outs over a course of a few days garnered me 3 more similar SMS’ and 2 call backs asking about my marital status.

I did realize that with all of them, I had spoken straight English. To test out the theory that if I spoke in Arabic none of this would’ve happened, I called back some of these same people speaking in my great Egyptian dialect. Of course as always, I was right! Over the course of my search, I now speak only in Arabic unless English is necessary. Now my hurdle is having someone rent out to a single lady but that’s for post.

Right now, I’m not getting much compliments on my British accent.

 

I Swear They’re Real — Shopping and minding my own business one day, I caught a young lady looking me up and down. I flashed her a smile and we exchanged “salams”. No little chit chat, she just straight up asked me, “Where did you get your chest and lips done?”

“God, this is all done by God.”

“They’re real? No silicone? No surgery? Padded bra?” she whispers.

“Nope, just good wholesome fat!” I whispered back giggling with the gal. I showed her that all I’ve had “done” was my lip piercing. She’s still fascinated that I haven’t had any work done. She started telling me about how she’s debating getting her chest done before she gets married. I advised her against it and to work with what she’s got rather than agonize over it. Of course, the decision is hers and I had to remind her that no one gets the final say over her body but her.

Twenty minutes after our conversation, we crossed paths where she flashed me a smile and whispered to another lady walking with her. I’m sure she’s caught up on our little conversation. I couldn’t get my wholesome fat ass out of there fast enough.

 

Yes, I Can Be Both — In my recent dealings with people, I’ve noticed this odd form of racism and need for a nationalistic identity. I have friends that were born and raised in Qatar but they can never call themselves Qataris. They don’t even have a Qatari passport and every year must renew their legal status in the country. I know the government is working on changing these laws (for economical and sports reasons) but my question is, “when exactly?” The idea of keeping it as pure as possible is a bit far fetched to the point of silliness in my opinion. Remember, historically the people of Qatar came from either Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being proud of your nationality, your heritage and it being part of your identity. However, there’s a difference between being proud and being arrogant; enforcing your opinion of one’s identity.

In dealing with Arabs, particularly Egyptian expatriates here in Qatar, they make it seem as if I can only pick one identity, either I’m Egyptian or I’m American. I just look them straight in the face and say, “but I’m both, proudly so.” I’ve even had arguments with random strangers after it was noted that I shouldn’t identify myself as an American.

For the record, I was born in San Francisco, California, USA. My father immigrated from Egypt in the 70’s and my mother followed suit after they got married. To deny myself the right to identify as both an Egyptian American would not be doing myself justice nor my parents for the many dreams they had for their family in America.

Just because most of the world, including Americans believe it or not, don’t agree with some of the American foreign policies, doesn’t mean  that we simply drop our identity as Americans. We are a nation that prides itself in being a melting pot. We come from all over the world, united with ideals and dreams. It is those ideals and dreams that has made the heart and soul of what is good in America today.

So yes, I can be both. I AM Egyptian American.

New Chapter in Life, Flight Required

“إنت تريد وأنا أريد، والله يفعل ما يريد”

“You want and I want, but God reflects what He wants.”

It has been an exciting, stressful, joyful and challenging last couple of years. You think you have all your bases covered, plans A, B and C set in order but a moment in time truly changes it all. If I knew last year, last month, last week the adventures I would’ve had and continue to have, I may not have been able to appreciate these blessings being bestowed upon me as much as I do right this instant… Alhamdulillah (Praises to God)!!

I still stand by my many beliefs and convictions but I know today that I’ve grown to come a long way then where I was just in the past two years. Being in our 30s, as my wise cousin Nora tells me, is truly where the adventures begin. Nora, thanks! You’re advice has gotten me to realize what a blast I’m having thus far! You are without a doubt one of my inspirations!

With that said, I’m going to be embarking on a new chapter in my life. To those with their fingers crossed, NO I’m not getting married! hehehe This chapter had been thought out for a while but God had me waiting patiently until the opportune moment for it to be written. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way honestly.

Insha’Allah (God willing), I’ll be relocating from San Francisco, CA to Doha, Qatar where I’ll be working with an American-Qatari company. I plan to live out there for the next year with ample time to travel across the Middle East, parts of Asia and Europe. I personally couldn’t be happier, especially when the most important people in my life are even more happier for me and the decision I’ve so suddenly taken.

Suddenly as in leaving the country in less than two weeks!

Yes, it all happened that fast! Like I said, it literally takes a moment to realize that your plans must change so that God’s more perfected plan takes place. For those upset that things don’t go their way, please give it time. I promise you, the best will come forward. You’ll realize, as I am right now, that had you known then what you know right now, you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Have faith in God and He’ll never give you a chance to doubt Him.

It’s funny that my Baba wants me to stay put despite being so proud of me because he’s worried about my comfort. Yet I keep thinking about it, had he not taken that big step 45 years ago and relocated to America from Egypt, stepping out of his comfort zone, would he or his family be where they are today? My Mama couldn’t be happier despite hating that I’m leaving so soon. My siblings are acting like I’m not going anywhere by not being around as I frantically pack my things. However, they’ve already made travel plans to visit me and Mama is coming with me to Los Angelos to see me off.

To my parents, my siblings and family… I thank you for teaching me that life indeed is too short to not take on new adventures and to step out of my own comfort zone. To my close friends and confidants, you know who you are… THANK YOU! I love you and already miss you!

I do solemnly promise to continue blogging on this new chapter in my life while continuously posting pieces of my Egyptian Summer journal. Until next time, back to frantically packing.

Until next time, from Doha! =)
Ms. Hala

W.I.S.S. – Blue Passport, Part Two

My time in Egypt was simply amazing! A learning experience like no other! I saw history in the making, meet amazing people and truly lived like an Egyptian! The one question everyone seems to ask me since I’ve been back, “did you meet anyone special?”

The answer with a loud laugh is, “of course not!”

Staying with family the majority of my four months stay made it pretty well obvious amongst family, friends and neighbors that there was an American girl amongst them. That theory resulted in a lot of marriage proposals. Some funny and some completely absurd. Two of them were probably one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. Here’s the second story…

“Hala can I speak to you for a moment?”

“Yes Baba?”

“When I went to visit a cousin of mine in a nearby town the other day, he told me of a suitor who was very interested in you.”

“And I’m very not interested Baba”, I said with a big smile on my face.

Two days later, I found out that smile didn’t work! His family invited themselves over to my Aunt Sayeda’s house where I was staying during my father’s last few days in Egypt with me. It was just my Aunt Sayeda, her daughter-in-law Fatma and I hanging out when three men came knocking on the door about a couple of hours earlier then expected.

My aunt and Fatma went to the reception area to greet them with soft drinks while I stayed in the other room. I could hear a man speaking quite confidently of the suitor as I sat there hesitant to meet these people. From the minimal words Aunt Sayeda and Fatma said to the guy, I figured I should go into the reception area and try to end this once and for all.

As I walked in, I saw the three men sitting across from the ladies. As I gave the “salam” formalities, I saw the man whom I had heard earlier, a mutual friend, the spokesman of the family. To his left was a slim white-bearded man and a very young, clean cut slim man. Both rarely raising their gaze from the floor to return my “salam”.

“Are you Nagah’s daughter?” asked the spokesman.

“Yes I am. Who are you?” I blatantly asked.

“I’m ‘so and so’ and we are related through your father. What’s your name?”

“You don’t know my name?” I laughed as I rolled my eyes.

“No I don’t” he answered, a bit confused.

“I’m Hala. So how are we related exactly?”

He continued on as to how he’s related to my father and Aunt Sayeda. Him and my aunt talked a bit about the family tree as I took a second glance at the two men. The older man, the suitor’s father, would switch his gaze between the spokesman and the floor. The suitor quickly returned his gaze to the floor after I caught him looking at me.

“We are here to introduce you and your father to this family here.” The spokesman had now turned his attention to me. “This man here has been my friend for over 20 years! He’s worked his whole life in Saudi Arabia, a self-made wealthy man! He has two sons, one married and lives in Australia. His other son, Bakr here, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, very smart! They are here to get to know you and propose marriage to you.”

I wasn’t surprised that this proposal of marriage was for the sake of America, nothing more.

“Really? Marriage?” I asked sarcastically.

“Yes, are you surprised?” he asked smiling, not noticing my sarcasm.

“I’m surprised every day I’m here in Egypt!” I laughed. “However, marriage proposals from people who don’t even know my name has stopped surprising me.”

“This is our tradition! We know you come from a good family thus we propose. Not like in America where tradition and religion doesn’t exist.” He caught himself and took a breath before continuing, “Well, if you’d like to stay for this you can–”

“As an American, when something concerns you, it’s tradition to sit through it. Since this obviously concerns me, why would I go anywhere else? I’m going to be sitting right here.”

My loud, proud in-your-face attitude with a smile didn’t put any of the men in any bit of ease. The room went awkwardly silent, tension to be cut with a knife. After a long moment, the spokesman started talking about religion and tradition in this small town. I responded with one or two words before the Asr Azan (call for late noon prayer) started. They left to go pray at the nearby mosque and stated they’d return shortly. When they left I just looked over at Fatma who had been struggling to cover her grin.

Fatma relieved of their departure began to giggle, “I hope they got your answer. Bakr is obviously trying to following in his brother’s shoes, get married to someone outside the country.”

The ladies shook their head in dismay as they left to pray and prepare for the men’s return. About twenty minutes later, I found myself back into the reception area with the men and my cousin Mohamed who had come home from work. We all sat down in that same awkward silence awaiting my father’s arrival.

The spokesman started going off again about how great this unemployed suitor was with his bachelor’s degree and wealthy family under his belt. When he wouldn’t stop, I made sure to state that I on the other hand was a self-employed working lady with two masters degrees. My wealth, however much (or little) it may be, was my own. That shut them up again until my father finally returned.

After all the “salam” formalities, they started talking about family, religion, traditions, almost anything else in the hopes that I would leave, but I stayed through their entire nonsense. With my father now in conversation with the spokesman, the suitor had summoned some kind of courage and attempted to be part of the conversation. He also summoned the courage to look me in the eye every chance he got to speak.

What was he trying to prove, I had no clue nor did I care.

The spokesman again started discussing the suitor’s father’s wealth when the Maghrib Azan (call for early evening prayers) began. All the men went to pray Maghrib at the nearby mosque and finally got a few words to my father away from my ears. They stated that the suitor’s mother had just passed away about a week or so ago, that Bakr’s father wanted to do what was best for him as he had done with his other son in Australia. Bakr’s father reminded mine of how they were wealthy enough, should I accept Bakr’s proposal, to provide for me the lifestyle I currently have, whether I decide to live in Egypt or in America. He stated this with the hopes my father would give them the answer they wanted to hear.

My father simply replied, “we’ll get back to you.”

Upon learning all this from my father when he returned without the men, I was completely irritated and annoyed. These materialistic idiots kept trying to put a price tag on me! My father tried to calm me down but it blew up into an argument as I continued to ask why couldn’t he just say “no thank you”? Why was he being so polite to them? Why was he giving them any hope of a response?

When the argument went no where, I gave myself a moment of solitude on the rooftop terrace of my aunt’s home. No one seemed to understand why I was even upset. They expected me to be flattered at the attention, meet these people politely then go about my day.

I begged to differ.

My cousin Mohamed waited for me to calm down before having a “father-daughter” talk with me. He, to some extent, understood where I was coming from but that cultural formalities required them to be polite and respectful to those that came into their home. I understood however I didn’t want to conform to it when it came to dealing such people.

After my father flew back to California, I was between ElManzala and Cairo. Fatma told me that the family had sent a messenger for an answer while I was in Cairo. Damn it! I thought. Fatma, giggling a bit, shared with me Mohamed’s conversation with the messenger, “Do you have any idea what Hala thought of them? I was sure they had gotten the rejection from either from Hala or her father. So let’s just leave it at that.”

I didn’t see or hear from them or the relative that had discussed them with my father the rest of my stay. The proposals continued but slowly declined, as a relative in Cairo told me, that it was obvious I’m not a stupid girl falling for stupid men. I found all those individuals absurd, selfish with a one track mind. My blue passport was never going to be of any use to them.

…and that’s Why I’m Still Single.

Read Blue Passport, Part One here.

Edited to correct name spellings.

W.I.S.S. – Blue Passport, Part One

My time in Egypt was simply amazing! A learning experience like no other! I saw history in the making, meet amazing people and truly lived like an Egyptian! The one question everyone seems to ask me since I’ve been back, “did you meet anyone special?”

The answer with a loud laugh is, “of course not!”

Staying with family the majority of my four months stay made it pretty well obvious amongst family, friends and neighbors that there was an American girl amongst them. That theory resulted in a lot of marriage proposals. Some funny and some completely absurd. Two of them were probably one of the worsts I’ve ever encountered. Here’s the first story…

Almost everyone in the small farming town of ElManzala where my dad’s from knows everyone else, with a high chance of being related in some way, shape or form. I meet many of these relatives who were related by marriage, by blood or because his wife’s brother-in-law’s brother married her sister’s cousin’s niece.

One of such relatives, Mariam, thought it would be appropriate to try and help her married brother Ahmed to propose to me. Several attempts and talks with my father, my Aunt Sayeda who I was staying with and her older son Mohamed didn’t work. I soon bumped into Mariam as I was on my way back to my aunt’s home from a short Cairo trip. A short conversation with her got me to believe I had put that to rest.

I was wrong.

Mariam thought it would be appropriate to send her husband along with Ahmed to Aunt Sayeda’s home the very next day! My father & cousins were out and only my Aunt Sayeda and I were home with a couple of her guests. As they walked into the house, the tension that rose up in the air was noticed by the guests. The men entered the reception area, walked right past me where I got one look at Ahmed and threw-up a little in my mouth. He was just surrounded with a really ora, it was odd and disturbing.

Ahmed had the nerve to sit on the far end of the couch where I was sitting. I tried to be as polite as possible for the sake of my aunt and her guests. I turned the other way and continued to listen to the guest’s little story thinking to myself, “what the hell is going on? Didn’t I make it clear to that stupid bitch I was in no way interested in whatever that thing is that just walked in?” The men decided to start smoking and that was my que.

I looked at Mariam’s husband and politely asked, “Can you please not smoke in here?”

“You don’t like the smell of cigarettes?” he asked with a dumb coy smile.

“No, I can’t stand it! It’s disgusting! Please either don’t smoke or take it outside.” Which is Egyptian for, “GET OUT!”

They immediately left realizing Ahmed won’t be able to get two words through to me asides from his awkward “salam” and many side stares. Aunt Sayeda held her laugh until the rest of her guests had left about ten minutes later. She couldn’t believe Ahmed’s audacity after he and the family were told their proposal was simply not welcome. Aunt Sayeda then told me about how he married a divorcee with four kids about a couple years ago. He had fathered her fifth child before taking a job in the UAE. He was in Egypt on his annual vacation oddly staying with his sister in the country rather then with his wife and children in the city. From what she had heard, he had been attempting to go to America for a while now. 

His proposal of marriage was for the sake of America, nothing more.

Mariam still attempted to invite me over to her house the next day by sending her daughter as a messenger of the invitation. Mohamed and his wife of course had a fit with the family. They again refused on my behalf her attempts, letting her know that I had threatened to confront her if she made any further attempts to contact me. Confrontation in a small town like this is seen as a scandal to the confrontee. Mariam and Ahmed finally stopped pursuing me.

ElManzala being the small town that it is, everyone knew everything as it happened, many feeling the need to share their disgust and disbelief with me. It was from them that I learned that Ahmed’s wife in the city had soon found out too. She called Ahmed’s employers in the UAE stating how Ahmed had abandoned her and their children, asking for spousal and child support. The company not putting up with such embarrassment immediately fired him and retracted their visa sponsorship. His wife soon filed for divorce.

I was not happy to hear such news but honestly I didn’t feel sorry for him either. I found him repulsing and disgusting. A man ready to leave his wife and children on the hopes of going to America. His selfishness and greed took him to a dead end. In a matter of months, he lost everything. My blue passport was of no use to him.

…and that’s Why I’m Still Single.