I Thought They Were Exaggerating

As I mentioned in my last entry, one thing I learned while I was in America was how systemic and unnoticed-by-most the racism actually was. To be honest, when I’d been reading all of the articles about it from abroad, I thought it was over-hype. Yes, it’s terrible that racist tragedies are happening, but surely they’re just a series of bad luck. Surely it’s not still that pervasive that we have to constantly talk about it….

It’s still that pervasive though.

Since I started dating Arabs five years ago, I started to count the number of Arabs I saw in any given place in America. (Also learned this summer: Philadelphia, very few Arabs.) Segregation is one of the biggest issues I have with American society because my children will be half Arab, most likely, and I want them to have cultural ties of some sort while they’re there. I hate that I have to look up percentages of Arabs when I’m considering dream futures. My mom likes to suggest that I move back to my hometown near Chicago when we move to America. I always laugh and tell her that’s ridiculous because there are zero Arabs, so why would I take my Arab husband and children there to be outcasts. Once, her response was something along the lines of “I’ll take you to the Walmart where the Arabs go!” And she literally does not see the ridiculousness of that statement.

The black/white divide is something I sort of disregarded in New York because when I lived there, I lived in a neighborhood where white was the minority. But that doesn’t actually mean I mixed with my non-white neighbors. This time around, I mentally playing a game with myself where I would count how many times I saw interracial groups or pairs (platonic, not just romantic). I always got really excited about it when I saw them, but I realized that many of them were actually just work friends on lunch together. And there’s this quote from Americanah that sums it up: “In America, blacks and whites work together, but don’t play together.” (A fantastic book, if you haven’t read it.) Obviously there are going to be exceptions, but it was really quite noticeable once I started looking for it.

And since I’ve been out of the country, I watched that video where the police pulls over the black couple, scares the shit out of them and then gives them ice cream. And I smiled when I first watched it because her surprise and relief is so refreshing. But then I recognized how truly fucked up that is, to treat people like that. And how fucked up that it’s meant to be amusing how scared they get. Like….. that’s not funny. It’s a terrible microcosm of the mindset of race in America.

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Things I’ve Learned This Travel Time Around

Back in the days of forums, one of my favorite threads was “Today I Learned…” where, obviously, people would fill in the rest of that sentence. I’ve made it to the land of Cyprus, and am no longer privy to the particulars of America (and Mexico, which is really just an extension of America.) So let’s catalogue some of those particulars…

  1. Americans will put up with a surprising amount of illogic. As an example, my flight from Cancun to Chicago landed early. Which seemed great, until I saw a flash of lightning. Which turned into two hours on the tarmac, waiting to be allowed to go to our gate. When we finally did move to the gate, I realized that the gate had been literally one minute away. I gather that they just couldn’t connect us to the gate during lightning? (Yet we could wait out the lightning storm in a claustrophobic airplane.) Which was the most illogical tarmac wait of my life. And I heard multiple people being like “That’s just how it is. It’s nobody’s fault…” And I was like “…..it’s the FAA’s fault, duh.”
  2. The FAA/TSA is ridiculous. Taking off my flip flops to walk across dirty American airport floors has to be my least favorite airport experience. I also constantly block out of my mind (and am repeatedly infuriated anew) that when I transfer from normal international flights to flights into America, they’re going to require special (i.e. extraneous) carry-on baggage screenings. Why can’t I bring a tiny sealed habanero sauce without checking my bag? Come on, ya’ll, other countries wouldn’t bat an eyelid at that! I also received an email warning that TSA lines might be long for each of my flights from American airports. I, of course, go to the airport two hours early, as suggested. And then sit at the gate for at least an hour. But why the email? Why raise people’s anxiety when they’re already anxious about travelling?
  3. Mexico is totally just an extension of the USA. I forgot to bring cash with me when I went and I definitely didn’t change anything to pesos. But I faced zero problems. Even when I tried to use my credit card (which gets reported as fraudulent when I try to purchase from foreign ISPs or websites all the time.) But Mexico, no problemo! Also, I think I saw more white people in Cancun than I did at any of the international airports I frequented within the states.
  4. The racism really is systemic/unnoticed-by-most. When I told people that I was going to marry my boyfriend when I move to Cyprus, people had no shame asking if I was afraid that he was going to change after we got married. And by “Are you afraid he’ll change?” they really meant “Are you afraid he’ll start to beat you and control your every move?” Can you imagine asking a woman if her white fiance is going to “change” when they get married? It’s just not something normal to ask. But the question was posed to me with zero hesitation or shame or second thoughts of tact. Because I am marrying an Arab Muslim and it’s totally ok to wonder about him. (I have a scheduled post that talks more about the racism because I found it fascinating.)
  5. Americans read a hell of a lot. I did very much miss the prevalence of books. So many book stores, books easily delivered to my door, people talking about books, people talking about writing. I don’t know why Americans are so into books, or if it’s just the people I happen to know there versus the ones I know abroad, but it was a very noticeable change. And I definitely enjoyed it.
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What is America?

Whenever I tell people that I’m moving to Cyprus to be with my boyfriend and oh yeah, we’re probably going to get married, they want to know what’s next. How long will I be in Cyprus? Where will we go afterwards? Of course my boyfriend and I have vaguely talked about all that. And I know that he wants to move to America when he finishes school because he wants the passport. (But then he wants to move back to a Muslim country after he gets it.) And while I see the value in him having the same passport as I do, I loathe the idea of living in America again.

America has so many negative connotations in my mind. I went into Chicago proper yesterday (my hometown is half an hour from the city and I rarely go to it) and I was truly afraid when my friend and I were out and about. I had searched the restaurant we were meeting at, and as I did so, an article about a shooting in that neighborhood the day before popped up, laying a groundwork for fear. Then at one point when we were walking to go buy liquor, we saw a black woman yelling on her phone trying to give directions and carrying a sign that showed that she had been at the Black Lives Matter rally earlier. And there was an unnecessarily large gathering of police on a corner nearby. And she was angry, and she walked right through the group of cops, and I felt my body tense as she did it, waiting for the worst to happen. Nothing happened of course, but my mind-frame had been formed to feel only anxiety and fear for her.

And then my car got towed this morning because of the difficulty in paying for parking and my unfamiliarity with the city. And I’m so used to Abu Dhabi where they just fine you; they would never be so awful as to tow your car for a few hours unpaid parking. How ridiculous to walk into a parking lot 14 hours after I parked a car and paid for parking, but find the car completely gone. And then I was talking to my brother about a recent DUI and how insane the penalty is. They’re supposed to suspend your license for six months; the suburbs are very reliant on cars and there is no public transportation, so how is that meant to work out? And he was barely over the BAC limit and passed all the roadside tests before the breathalyzer, so how is that fair? And apparently the only way to avoid all that is to not comply with doing the breathalyzer, which is so counter-intuitive. Everything about this country seems so counter-intuitive when you’ve been away for a long time.

The idea of living in it for three years (or more considering bureaucracy) makes me very depressed. I’m flying to New York in two days, and hopefully that will be a more pleasant experience than Chicagoland has been. But I think it’s also something in the topics of conversation. Catching up with people encourages highlights and lowlights, perhaps. Snapshots to fit all that’s happened in a year into a few hours conversation. And it’s exhausting to constantly be empathizing with these extremes, the promotions and the illnesses, the breakups and the marriages &c.

At least I have the amusement of bringing up Pokemon Go. Hearing about that game and finding out who plays it has definitely been a highlight of my trip thus far.

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Yesterday I arrived to the United States of America, home of the free. Or brave? Whatever. The point is that I arrived, after many hours of travel, carrying all of my worldly possessions.

On the plane over, I barely slept and I never slept soundly. There were so many crying babies and chatty children around me. And the child behind me kept kicking my seat or jabbing at the entertainment monitor. (I turned around at one point, handed him the entertainment remote and said “use this.” He didn’t listen and kept jabbing away.) In my half-asleep dazes, I would often find myself thinking, “I’ll just do that when I get home.” And I fully meant my apartment in Abu Dhabi. I would look up the ending of that book or cook that recipe or ask that person about that thing “when I got home.” Except that home does not exist anymore.

I woke up at 4am this morning, wide awake, thanks to jetlag and my inability to stay awake past 8pm last night. And I had to think very hard for a moment about where I was in the pitch-black of my hometown bedroom. I can’t remember where I guessed first, but my hometown bedroom was probably my third attempt at remembering my location.

I have to get used to that feeling. My itinerary is: Chicagoland for 5 days, NYC for 4 days, Philadelphia for 4 days, NYC again for 2 days, Tulum for 5 days, and back to Chicagoland for 3 days. Then it’s time to organize and repack all my worldly possessions to haul to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Oh the nomad life…

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Xenophobia and ethnocentrism

It is very interesting to watch people try to state succinctly what is happening in other parts of the world. Largely because none of us have any idea what happens in other parts of the world. If you ask people here in Abu Dhabi about Brexit, even though we are all abroad and from varied countries and living in a melting pot of nationalities, most likely we can’t tell you much beyond “Britain left the EU.” If we’re well-read, we might add that it’s something to do with racism, maybe?

If you haven’t heard, there was a terrible bombing in Baghdad a couple days ago. It was during Ramadan, which is the holiest month (for both Sunni and Shia), so that’s especially shocking to those of us in countries that celebrate Ramadan. I started to read an article about the bombing, but got quickly annoyed with how it didn’t give me enough background information. It assumed that I understood who Abadi was and all the politics surrounding him, for example. But I don’t know any of that. And while usually I’m likely to delve a little deeper into such things, yesterday I couldn’t be bothered because I am not smart enough to figure it out right now.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people say things along the lines of “the world is falling apart.” (Usually with more expletives and references to the underworld, maybe a bit of sorcery or portentous religion and definitely a lot of apocalypse speculation.) People seem to have noted trends of the time and decided that it clearly means the end of the world. Or a serious downward trend at the very least. It’s really quite a pessimistic and depressing viewpoint, but everyone nods their head along and agrees that yes, we’re all doomed, so it goes, so it goes.

According to the very wise and complete statistics of Wikipedia, there were 20 more Islamic-related bombings in 2015 than 2016 at this point in the year. I tried looking up the US shootings, but it got too difficult. But that’s sort of my point. It’s the way the information is provided that leads to this mindset. Each bombing is sensationalized and it’s all we think about for like at least half a day. But we truly know so little about all the myriad complexities that led that person to do that disastrous thing. I don’t know why people ever think that they know anywhere near the whole story, let alone how the story continues. They just shout out “oh no, another bombing/shooting/disaster/super hot weather day! The end of the world is coming!”

I guess my real point is that we’re all dumb. As Socrates allegedly said, you have to know that you know nothing to know anything. (He didn’t say it like that. He also might not have even said it at all… which is of course, supremely fitting.)

In 12 hours or so, I’m going to begin my long trip home to the States. I’m currently in the midst of packing up my entire life. It makes me feel overwhelmed and small and insignificant. But also, apparently, contemplative.

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