anger


A friend of mine recently hosted a round table about the hurtful words we never really think about. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, so I contributed by email. She asked me about the words “Ya Binit” and how they can be harmful. I started to write and my response to her was short and quick, and I wasnt satisfied with it. The ideas kept swirling in my head and the anger was there boiling and bubbling needing to come out.

 

I am not a binit – A little girl devoid of maturity, experience, or sexuality. I am in my mid thirties, and for you to reduce me to a little girl with those two words is not acceptable. I don’t care if you are afraid of me and my body. You can not reduce me to a hymen, an elastic membrane (that sometimes doesn’t even exist). An elastic membrane that you think you can use to control me. I am not a binit because it nullifies all the hard work and the years I have put into fighting your oppression. Fighting for my place in schools, fighting for my place in the work force, fighting for my place in the street. Fighting to be recognized, and yet you still, and very flippantly, call me a girl.

 

I am not a binit- not after all the years I have been working, building a long career filled with successes and failures. I am not a binit- not after paying my own rent with my own hard earned money. I pay my own bills, I buy my own clothes, I paint my own walls and a little binit doesn’t do that. I am not a binit simply because you cant deal with my liberation and independence!

 

I am a woman, and your misogynist question “Anesah will Madam?”- is your polite way of asking me if I am a virgin or not; If I am legitimized by yet another man and his hegemony over my sexuality. If I am sanctioned by marriage or under the auspices of a father or brother or some other familial male figure. Your question renders me useless. It invalidates me. It perpetuates your oppression, sanctioned by state, society and family. It basically asks me who is the man that controls you, as if I have no control over my own destiny. Ya Binit reduces me and my value to what is, or isn’t, between my legs. Well here is a news flash, what is or isnt between my legs is none of your business.

 

I am not a binit and your questions of “anseh will madam?” will not be answered. I am a woman and I will not be reduced to a child tethered by a hymened leash that exists in your head.

 

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With everything that is going on around us it is hard for me to stick to my resolution of writing positively. There is so much anger around us. Justified anger, and with it has come violence in a lot of instances.

 

Today in Jordan demonstrations of Anger were reportedly peaceful. To me that is a big and pleasant surprise. Reports of olive branches being given to security forces by demonstrators put a big smile on my face and reminded me of images of flowers in the muzzles of guns in anti war demonstrations. I am happy to see the voices of the people rise. I am happy to see them assemble and march. But I wonder how much change will be affected by this? It is no secret that the marches would not be possible without a security clearance and the government’s approval. So we were “allowed” this freedom of speech today. We were “given” the space and “permission” to march, to chant and to express ourselves about inflation, prices and economy.  I wonder if it would be the same had the issues being protested different.

 

Last night whilst talking with a bunch of friends we said Tunisia is burning, and quickly others replied with and so is Egypt, and Sudan is disintegrating, Lebanon has no government, Jordan is angry and the list is growing. There is a lot of dissatisfaction all around, and with it has come dissidence. The winds of change are here. They are raging storms in some countries and gentle breezes in others. But the wind is gaining speed. You can hear it in people’s conversations and rhetoric and it is about time.

 

 

 

So it seems every time I resolve to make my stay here work something happens and this time it was racism and sexism at its best.  I was out for dinner with one of my friends after a long day of painting and going through the process of making my house a home when I got a call from my landlord.  And the conversation goes something like this…

“Your neighbors have been complaining about your home and lifestyle. [Blah, blah, blah, blah…] They have threatened that they know people in the army. [Blah, blah, blah, blah…] I will be taking this into consideration when renewing your contract. [Blah, blah, blah, blah…]”

The lifestyle they are complaining about it is the wonderful friends who come and share my home  for aa week or two at a time while traveling here. And so all they see is a stream of women who stay over for short periods of time and leave. I do nothing out of the ordinary otherwise and in fact usually keep to myself and maintain a quiet domicile.

When my friend who was raised in my neighborhood, and lives in it today as well heard the story, his analysis was that this is happening because I am Jordanian and I am not Christian and the complaint was probably from an old Christian woman in the building. I further add to this analysis that as a single woman, living on her own, without the “protective” and “legitimizing” presence of a male relative I am therefore a loose, immoral woman who is bringing ill-repute to my building.

I think it is amazing that this type of discrimination, racism, sexism… and all the other isms that apply are being practiced in this situation in the most “liberal” of Arab countries. A place that is lauded for its wonderful liberalism and open-mindedness and freedoms in the region. A place where young and old come to breathe and enjoy away from their socially and politically restrictive societies.

Alas, that freedom and liberalism is only awarded to the tourists who come and go so quickly with their tourist dollars and fleeting experiences. Living here is a whole other story. The power dynamics at play as a non-Lebanenese, Arab, single woman living here are very different. The vulnerabilities as a migrant are ever present in varying degrees depending on color, class, profession, language…etc. but they are vulnerabilities nonetheless.

I told my landlord and in subtle yet explicit terms that this is none of their business, I have done nothing illegal and in fact, should this harassment continue it is within my power and right to file suit against these said neighbors.

I am angry, I am sad, I am tired. Till when will strangers police my door, my home, my body? I like my house, I like its proximity to my office, I like that I have painted and decorated and invested in it, does all this have to be disrupted by a woman who thinks she can because I break the homogony of the neighborhood by bringing in unLebanese, unChristian blood to her building?

Since I’ve moved to Beirut not a week goes by without someone telling me they hate Amman. It invariably happens when I first meet someone new and within seconds of them knowing I am from Jordan.  And I don’t know why they have to make that definitive statement. It is not endearing in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to know how bored you were in Amman, how hostile you found it, how bland you think the buildings are, how unsmiling the Jordanians are or how much you hate the food. That is your experience and if you hate it so much, just don’t go back. And if you hate it and are still there then leave. But what I really don’t want is a 15 minute tirade about how you found Amman to suck and why you think it is so.

There are many reasons I don’t like being put in this situation and one of them is I am not sure how to respond to these statements. Am I supposed to agree when I don’t? Am I supposed to offer advice and tips on enjoying the city, when clearly this person has made up their mind? Do I go into attack mode and tell them why they are wrong? Or do I tell them what I really think about Beirut and enumerate all the things I hate about it and make it a pissing contest? I’ve tried all the above strategies, and because of them I have been asked why I take it so personally, why am I so defensive. I guess the appropriate response is to smile, shrug and if possible walk away?

I’m really tired of hearing people crap on a city I love and miss and it gets more tiresome when you are trying really hard to integrate and live in a city you don’t.  I’ve been accused of romanticizing Amman and painting such a glowing picture of it. Well, guess what, yes I confess I love that city, and I loved my life there. I had numerous wonderful experiences and I was part of a movement that was involved and engaged in making that city and that life better. It’s not that I am blind to Amman’s shortcomings and its problems but rather I was able to do something about it, and that has made all the difference!

I think it is completely insensitive and rude to tell someone their home is ugly, boring, retarded…etc. especially to someone you barely know. And at this point I would like to remind everyone of the sage old advice handed down over generations “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything.” Because really I didn’t ask you if you love or hate Amman, so spare me. We will not bond over Amman hate. And please don’t get me wrong, Amman is not an easy city to navigate as a stranger, it took me years to become a part of the city and understand it, and everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to hate the city.  This is their personal experience. But what I am saying is if you meet someone from a place you hate, and they don’t ask you, there is no need whatsoever to tell them their home sucks. It’s their home.

I used to belong to the smokers club. I carried my own pack and worried about where my lighter went. I sucked on the stick and hung out in the herd of other smokers. But I stopped 11 years ago. And in those 11 years I have not only cleaned my system from that toxin, but my lungs became so sensitive to the smoke that hung in the air that I would spend nights hacking away and coughing up all that second hand smoke when I was exposed to it.  And so my home is a smoke free place, as is my work space. But what that has meant is that I have committed social suicide to some extent. I have definitely died socially when I get stubborn about attending or being present in social gatherings with smoke.



My friends are all very considerate when it comes to smoking around me, they remove themselves or are very conscious about which hand the cigarette is in, or make sure to blow out their fumes away from me. When I would throw a party everyone respects the rules and goes outside. I also had a group of non smoking friends who would also love the nonsmoking policy around me.  But these days I am finding myself more and more in the minority. Sometimes even a minority of one. Let me put it in context from my perspective. Beirut is a night time city, social life revolves around bars, restaurants, clubs. Eighty to ninety percent of people (conservative estimate) who frequent these establishments are smokers, ventilation systems and air conditioners are plentiful but I dread the thought of looking at their filters and find them ineffectual when these places are full beyond capacity and every nook and cranny has a lit cigarette with a passionate sucker on its end.  So unless you have a gas mask on you are going to inevitably inhale all that fabulous second hand smoke, your hair is going to stink and you clothes are going in the wash immediately, even your underwear. And this is not unique to Beirut, Amman has its fair share of smoky entertainment venues.


And it’s not just when you are out and about. Visiting with friends zis a nightmare for me because not only am I slowly forming these relationships and so am still a guest rather than an “insider”, but again I am a minority so I don’t feel I have the social space to say “please stop smoking”. And so, through peer pressure, and because I want social inclusion I am forced to deal with the smoke or be excluded. Even in their consideration, smokers fail to realize how isolating and exclusionary it is when there is one nonsmoker and they all go out to the balcony or kitchen to smoke. And since they are all hanging out there what is originally a 3 minute smoke easily turns into a balcony party without thought to the person left behind. Its as if there is this expectations that as a nonsmoker I have to deal with this, it’s my problem and so my options are to open a window, or stay and breathe the smoke,  or sit apart from the group, or not attend in the first place, or be the asshole that says no to smoking.


I am pissed off at how inconsiderate smokers are, even when they are trying to be “considerate”. I am sad that I am always sitting on the edge, outside the group so I can breathe some clean or less polluted air. I am tired of being left out or behind or not even considered. Your considerations are isolating, exclusionary and antisocial; and this binary of either join the club at the expense of my health or be on the social fringe is unfair. I really don’t understand this sense of entitlement smokers have about their “right” to pollute the air.


So dear smokers, your body is yours to do what you wish with it, but to think that you can spew poison out for all to breathe and then say to me either breathe my smoke or be left out is to me one of the most isolating things you can do, its is selfish and inconsiderate. And as a people person who likes to be in the middle of the dance floor I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this majority who enforces upon the minority its exclusionary practices especially within circles of so-called inclusion.

Last night I was coming home from Hamra and passed through the Bshara Khoury intersection. What I saw was very disturbing. A police car was smashed up so badly, and not from a car accident. The proliferation of soldiers and police throughout the intersection was jarring to say the least and the smoke from burning tires was dissipating. What was more disturbing was past the intersection and before there was no such signs of violence or dissent.  Chatting with the service driver I found out it was a very strong objection by the people to the continued, arbitrary and chaotic electricity cuts in the city of Beirut.

I’ve been in Beirut on and off for 9 months now and one thing that has been constant was the electricity rationing. In central Beirut we are lucky we only get one cut a day and it last 3 hours. There is a schedule, a cycle you can chart and follow. But what has been happening in the summer and due to the excessive heat additional rationing has been introduced; only it has no rhyme or reason. But, even with this erratic additional cutting we are still privileged. If you are not living in central Beirut this means you have electricity for four hours at a time and then it is cut for four hours and back again for four and off again.  GO farther afield and you get less and less electricity with longer periods of cuts that can go up to 12 hours.

Tourists don’t really have to deal with any of this, they may not even notice it, but for the people living here it can be a nightmare. You can’t store anything in a fridge. You can’t turn on a fan let alone an A/C, you sometimes have to deal with total darkness, electrical appliances sometime just frizz out and die, if you live or work in a tall building you are screwed. I am sure you can think of further horrors related to being without electricity.

A lot of people have found solutions around the electricity cuts, but not everyone can afford them and so, even though I was disturbed I was not surprised by the public display of anger. What did happen though, was that in my mind I thought of the water rationing and the shortages in Jordan and how if you don’t consume carefully your water ration will run out and you won’t be able to go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, bathe or more importantly drink and eat. Yet, Jordanians don’t go out and demand more water, burn tires and make very visible their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. And I wonder why is that?

We keep saying the next war in the region will be over water, yet we wait patiently for it. I wonder if it is because we are all aware that this resource is not “generated” but rather dependent on forces of nature (over simplification and totally ignoring water treaties here). Is it because even in the winter we are constantly told how much water we have in our dams, what our consumption is and we are all collectively responsible for the water (just think of all the complaints the water company gets if there is a burst pipe in a street)? Or is it because we take it lying down and are not used to vocalizing our displeasures in such visible and violent ways because a- we aren’t used to it, b- we are afraid of the consequences.

I don’t really have any answers here and it might be I am comparing apples to oranges. But the question in my mind is would I rather have water or electricity rationed and cut? I don’t know. I do many things that I normally wouldn’t when there is no electricity, but I don’t know how long I can handle it in this unbearable humid heat. I’ve also have learned to conserve water, take bucket showers and value water like the scarce commodity it is, but I like flushing toilets and running facets. So where do draw the line on tolerable and intolerable things we can live with and without?

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

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