23 January 2007

Girl Germs

Arab women bloggers have been speaking directly to my heart this week! Amal at Improvisations: Arab Woman Proggressive Voice writes:
I was reminded of such a life-changing moment this morning. I was 14. Your typical painfully self-conscious, self-centered, angular, awkward girl. A "good girl" to boot: the "from home to school" type, with the occasional visit to a friend's house. One day on such a visit, I ran into my friend's parents sitting with other relatives. Doing what I'm expected to do, I approached them to shake hands, as it is the habit. When I extended my hand to the father, my hand just hung there. All alone. Not met. Spurned. Rejected. Embarrassed. Humiliated. The man muttered a quick greeting that I didn't hear. I went deaf. I became all Hand. Hands don't have ears or mouths or eyes. But, god, do they feel!!

The whole encounter took seconds but lasted a life time. That was the first time I learned that some Muslim men won't shake my hand. Even at 14 I have shaken many a man's hand--cousins, uncles, family friends, neighbors, strangers--but this was my first encounter with a Muslim man who refused to shake hands.

I didn't like it. I didn't like it one bit. I wasn't interested in knowing the theological justification for it; I didn't do research to see which Muslim school allowed a man to shake hands with a woman and which didn't. I didn't give a damn. I only cared about how it made me feel--about my body and my female being. It wasn't a good feeling. I wanted to disappear and wished the ground would open and swallow me. I shrank, physically and psychologically. I wished I had no hands, no breasts, no lips, no eyes, no thighs, no vagina. I wished I were nothing.

And I smarted for weeks. Exactly the way I smarted years later when a jerk grabbed my breast in a crowded street in the Old City of Jerusalem.
I don't have anything more to add at this time, but this post did get me thinking about Muslim and Arab cultural niceties expected of young women. I am Arab American, emphasis on the American, and when I went to Amman in 2000 I was sixteen and hadn't learned these niceties. I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of being the only one in a large group of people for an extended period of time who isn't acclimated to their social mores and modes of interaction--if you are an immigrant maybe you know what I'm talking about--but it's not easy. When I accepted gifts from people and was later told that when someone offers me something, I am supposed to refuse it at first and only accept if they insist, I was so embarrassed. When my Tata hissed at my cousins and I, saying we were like whores because we were laughing on the street, I felt stifled by all the rules. When I kissed a distant uncle, who I hadn't seen since I was nine, and my aunt told me I shouldn't greet men that way, I thought, "Damn, I can't do anything right." And to this day I get slightly upset when strangers [who are Arab or who I perceive to be Arab] offer me things, like for example their chair at a crowded event, because I almost feel as thought I'm being tricked! On Fridays when I pass the men leaving the Islamic Center by my house, I keep my eyes down, but when I am in the street with my friends I talk and laugh as loud as I want to.

1 comment:

online said...

nice blog
sincerely arun