self awareness


One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.

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The Middle East is known for its aversion to feet. We find them filthy, disgusting, and dirty and we hate them. Because of this I know that a lot of us are fascinated with them. We look at them all the time, especially in the summer when sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are all over the place. I personally always sneak a look and stare at feet. On the flip side of that I try to keep my feet clean and my toes well manicured. My feet aren’t the prettiest but I have come to respect them, love them and be comfortable with them.

So why am I talking about feet? If you read any guide book or etiquette book about the region one of the things you can count on being there is feet and how you should never put them in someone’s face when you cross your feet, or put them up. Also in there is how you should keep them clean at all times and wear slippers in the house and such. But with prolonged exposure to other cultures my attitude towards feet, especially my own, has changed. I no longer get annoyed if bare or covered feet are in my face, if someone is walking around barefoot (I enjoy that from time to time). I don’t mind putting my feet up either. I still keep my soles away from peoples’ face, but I no longer shy away from sitting comfortably with my feet poking out, instead of tucked away neatly and away from the public sphere. So today when a gentleman tried to joke about smelly feet, trying to get me to conform to social norms of feet tucked away I just smiled sweetly and thought “I love my feet and it’s your problem not mine that you can’t deal with there being some red toes showing!”

Feet are feet, it doesn’t matter who they belong to. We would be off balance with just a toe missing so can you imagine if you took a whole foot away. Respect them, enjoy them, look at them, play with them, massage them and celebrate them. You’ll have a hard time walking without them!

Today I delivere my first speech in two years at Toastmasters. I opted to do another icebreaker, a speech that introduces me to the club. Here it is…  

When I want to introduce myself I find it very hard to do so through the typical age, occupation, family and history approach. These are all things you can learn about me from a business card and an ID card. So I thought about what it is to know someone, to truly be introduced to them. That led me to close my eyes and look inwards. This is what I saw.
When I close my eyes I look at the world around me.
I see a world that has no conflict, hunger or poverty. I see no global warming and no pollution. I see a world so beautiful with many spectacular places to travel to and make friends in I see history, culture, art and music enriching our lives and accessible to all.

When I close my eyes I look at the work I want to do. 
I want to lead change, I want to be change. I want to work with people. I want to make a difference. I want to work with my hands and be engaged in my mind. I want to put smiles on people’s faces. I want to create. I want to serve. I want to teach. I want to be.

When I close my eyes I look at the people in my life.
I see so many faces, many have come and gone. Many are yet to come. Some are friends, some are foes. I see the children around me and as a friend once said they are the messages we send out in to the future. I see my elders before me with their wisdom and years to learn from as the oracles of the past. I see our differences and celebrate that for in our differences we are one.

When I close my eyes I desire a love to fulfill me.
I desire love in all its forms. A love that is pure like that between mother and child. A love that is undemanding like that between friends. A love that is energizing like that for life. A love that is consuming like that between lovers.

When I close my eyes I see my retirement.
A small hut set between trees with the surf a short walk away. The coconut trees casting a shade so lazy that you don’t want to get out of bed. A hut with windows looking out to sea. White linen curtains billowing in the breeze. A room full of books, a warm kitchen for all the good food, and an open living room that is always welcoming. Outside, a boat, moored on the shore for fishing. And when I don’t fish, I teach the children about language, about math, about life and laughter. And as the sun sets, I lay in my hammock strung up between two trees. And at night a fire on the shore to keep me warm my arms wrapped around my knees as I listen to the surf and look up to see a star filled sky.

When I open my eyes I see the world that I live in and strive to make it better place. I see the work that I do in development and education and it makes me believe that we do make a difference one person at a time. I see my life full of amazing people everywhere I look. And I see the love that surrounds me. As for my retirement I look forward to finding my little paradise and inviting you there.

But I want to ask you, what do you see when you close your eyes?

I am a selfish woman, sometimes even very selfish. This, I know, is a very strong statement. Strong because we, as a society, view selfishness as a very negative trait. We are taught at a very young age to share. As Arab women, we are taught at a very young age to be selfless, and place others constantly before us. There is a high value on the happiness of those around us, and as young girls we see and learn that a woman who sacrifices and puts her family, friends, and others in general before her is a virtuous, good woman. Selflessness is a highly prized virtue. Well I disagree, and I disagree strongly. I think being selfish is a good thing. 

I regard “I am a selfish woman” as a very positive affirmation of all my accomplishments and life achievements. I think it is completely and utterly OK to place a high value on the things you want, your desired achievements, and to go after them. One’s own priorities may not match those that are around them, but let me ask you this: when someone asks you to take their needs into consideration first, is this not selfishness on their part? I think it is. So why is it OK for us to come last then?

I used to be very selfless. I would place a much higher value on the happiness of others and their needs. This usually meant that I came out last if I even got a turn. I was a pleaser. If decisions were being made everyone’s contributions, needs, and or feelings were considered, by me, before mine. Sometimes, actually most times, this left me feeling frustrated, angry, or just disgruntled.

Today, I have put my foot down. I won’t do things I do not want to do. If our interests are at odds then I place a high value on my needs first and then consider the others. I am the most important person to me. Just as you are the most important person to yourself. Each one our universes revolves around us. I recognize that and for that I am called selfish. It is a tag I have no problem wearing, because I may not come out on top every time, but I sure as hell don’t come last every time either. 


Finally, I would like to say that putting myself first does not in any way mean that respect, consideration, or compassion for others is thrown out the window. It’s just that now the parameters of how my life and my decisions are made are different, and for that I am a very selfish woman J.

Its official and if you didn’t get the announcement , here it is again. I HATE SNOW! Yes, yes its pretty as it falls and when you look out in the morning everything has a clean white blanket covering it, but that’s where the niceness of it ends for me.

Someone once said “hate” is a very strong word. I agree. That word carries with it the strength of my feelings towards snow. Its cold, wet and gets everywhere. It piles up and takes way too long to disappear. I don’t play in the snow. I don’t like to walk in it. I will not put my hands in it either. And you know what, taking pictures of it is not very high on my agenda.


 


These very strong feelings stem from the fact that on two separate snowy occasions I got very sick from my interactions with the snow. On a third occasion it resulted in a major fight with my boss. Putting that aside there is the snow itself cold and wet, it make my knees creak, my fingers ache and my toes cold. It soaks through shoes, and clothes and leaves the skin clammy and cold and I  can never feel warm again the whole day especially my toes.  And lets not get started with the layers and layers of clothing one has to wear to arm against the cold or shed once indoors!


I also dislike the after effects of snow. The muddy wet ice that was snow piled up on the side of the roads. The continuous run off in the streets for days. The muddy wet foot prints wherever you go. And at night and in the early morning hours the treacherous ice that forms makes for scary slippery footsteps that may lead to a nasty fall. Its no longer white, its not pretty and it sure ain’t nice!

So yes I hate snow. That’s been my mantra for days and it wont change anytime soon. So when it snows again you’ll know what I’ll be saying, and just to make sure there is absolutely no confusion it is: I HATE SNOW.

This weekend I indulged and still am indulging in some much needed escapism. Escaping my reality has been something I have been doing since I could remember. As I grow older though it keeps getting harder. 

So what is it I am trying to escape and how? I’ll answer the second part of that question first. There were and still are many forms of escape for me. Reading and getting lost in a good book, becoming the characters, taking on the plot and getting totally immersed in it is one form. Turning up the music and letting it wash over you, happy music, sad music, dancing music all of it works. Walking or dancing to physical exhaustion. Socializing and getting lost in other people’s lives and issues instead of your own. Working and being totally engrossed in something that is not you. Writing it may not be a full escape but it works to help work things out. And many other forms of escapism that I am sure you are all familiar with including mood altering substances like chocolate. 

To answer the first part of the question, I am running away from my reality. There is nothing really wrong with my reality. In fact, I am quiet privileged in many ways. So why is it I indulge this habit of mine? Why is I am always running away? 

When I look at the things I did to escape and try to do the same now it is no longer enough. Thankfully I found my escapism this weekend at the bottom of a glass and on a dance floor, a day trip to sit in the sun in tranquility, some nesting, and a hubbly bubbly. I dread the day when that wont be enough. Just like today books, movies and music can no longer offer the stillness of mind and the escape I seek anymore.

 

I was watching an episode of Sex in the City that questioned and then celebrated singlehood. It made reflect on my weekend, and yes, how great it was to be single. 

 

 

Thursday night was spent at home with DVDs, my thoughts and books. Friday was getting pampered at the hair salon and then an afternoon with the girls followed by social hopping from one place to another.  Saturday came and it was time for me to really start the year and so after the dietician, the dentist and the credit card company I went off to do something for me. I went to the Rembrandt exhibition. I spent a full hour with myself and the reproductions of Rembrandt. After leaving I went to my favorite café to spend some quality time with myself. 

 

 

 

Something dawned on me. I love spending time with myself, I love having my own space, I like to do my own thing, I like disappearing when I want to unasked, unaccounted for, unquestioned. I enjoy being single, I like being a hunter (Think Dido’s song, Hunter).  

One may be the loneliest number but its easy, uncomplicated, and it’s the number of freedom, independence.  I like being a one, or as they said on the show, Single and FABULOUS!

 

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