Friday, May 30, 2008


It is not like Africa here. In the city center but to capture the moment of walking through he square, the three women squeeze onto the stone bench warmed with the sun, the old men sit on the very edge, stubbornly clinging. It's the end of the day and the sky its too blue for my sunglasses.
we sit and eat olives
pigeons rush by the man wearing red pom=pom hat, leather pouch of water slung over his shoulder.
We rush to Marrakesh, snarls of prickly pear cactus border the houses jaunted together with tin and plastic sheets weighted with loose bricks
The houses are pink concrete awash in white crumbles.
the square: women sit on the grass with jalaba knees clasped in hand.

Through traffic we head south in a ice box bus.
When we stop at a truck stop we eat tajeen with buttery lamb, fresh figs, icy Coke in bottles.

The woman with henna stained hands: thick dark blood of it crawling up five fingers
her dress covering, is pink and grey, sparkled thread runs through it,
her scarf pink around her face,
her eyes sunk in cohl,
her feet slippered into blue dark blue, scuffed, bent at the pointed tip.
Her husband sleeps with his chin in his hand, holding his head in place while the train rocks us to Marrakesh.
His long scruffy jalaba the color of drying grass,

Talking on the cellular phone,
staring into the square's center where tourists pose with the pigeons.

The end of the day in this between place,not hot not cold, no clouds.
Cars fighting through people, people finding their way.

pneumonia blue
crisp curl green
fried dry
sauteed/ heat/ color

Marrakesh. May

it rains here in the afternoon. heavy iron clouds crowd away the eye-straining blue.
the air conditioners him, curtains pulled against the heat. the kids from Belgium, pink skinned again and again jump from the pool's edge sloshing the deck.
later when night comes on, the bats will come swooping through, sluicing above. the momma cat and her three babies will venture out hunt for scraps of dropped burger, tuna from the Moroccan salad, lapping up spilled diet Coke.

Sig, Algeria
The Prophet's Birthday

These shuffled shelves,
messy blue silk pajamas,
the perfumes and eggy creams crowding the bureau is a gift to me in
these empty hours to fold, one into another.
Outside the streets fill with rain
Children run, Apaches slamming their boom-boom crackers
just below my windows: yellowed, shuttered.

When I first visit Algeria, I have two years of classical or fushah Arabic under my belt. It does me no good whatsoever. Everyone laughs at me when I try to communicate in a language that is ONLY heard spoken by newscasters. The dialect I am thrown into has nothing to do with classical Arabic. The verbs are shaved down, the tenses mean little, even the "I" form of verbs is not the same.
As if this isn't bad enough, the vocabulary is completely different. Verbs, nouns, adjectives: I recognize almost none of them except "big" and "small". Great. I'm fucked.

These are the words that I tried to learn first in the Algerian Arabic, on my first visit to Algeria, in 2003:
Watch out!
Hey you!
Be careful! I'll get you!
Where is the bathroom?
He cries
I know, he knows
Go! Get away!
Get out! GO!
Above, below
The way
Like this
Les couche, diaper
I remember
He cries
Is crying
he smiles
All the time
Lying in the dark with Sofiane flailing his arms around in bed, the baby asleep and finally detached from my nipples. Listening to Fresh Air pod cast and there it is: the American woman who has written a book called what else? Unveiling or Unveiled or some such shit. Poor woman married an Arab and had a hard go it. So then decides to exploit her personal life to help balloon what we all hear daily: Arab men are controlling. Arab men will marry you and then steal your children. Arab men will try to destroy your personhood.
Hum... And then I think, what would be the title of my memoir? How can I counteract this attack? Because for every stupid book like this one, I have to deal with a million little questions from everyone I meet. "So...did you have to convert to Islam? So, what does your husband REALLY think of women?"
This woman is following in the proud tradition of Sally Field’s role in “Not Without My Daughter.” I think every American has seen that film. If not, everyone has learned the lesson of it: Arab men will woo you, bed you, marry you, father your children and then steal them away in the black night taking them back to their tents in the sand where they will force your daughters to dress in head to toe black polyester with nary a bellybutton in sight.
This woman and Sally Field and all the other women, including lots of Arab women, I might add, who have written books and consulted on films have fucked me over and made it impossible for my marriage not to be a jumping off point to a political and religious wartime conversation piece or an excuse for ignorance to rear its nasty-toothed head.

Just yesterday the man who came to fix my living room windows says to me (picture him standing on my window sill, facing away from me/ picture me in cummy pajama bottoms and a huge bathrobe, Zakeria on my hip, my hair frizzed), he says to me: "Well, I have another job, too. I work in the airport. Yeah, I have to support my wives and kids. So, I guess I'm more Arab than the Arabics!"
What the fuck am I supposed to say to this man? A man who refers to the Chinese immigrants of his neighborhood as "Orientals." Orientals? What fucking era does he come from?
OK, and let me just back up. This man works for TSA, which is in charge of the security of JFK, the busiest international airport in the United States, right? This man is a cultural disaster. He has absolutely no clue about anyone besides his own white bread breed of Americans who sit down with him every Thanksgiving or burp their way through Memorial Day cookouts. This man is an ignorant joke. And he is supposed to make our country safer? I swear, this man wouldn’t know a real threat if it hit in between the eyes. But he sure as hell is a racist, ignorant SOB.
Gad Bless America.
But back to my Tuesday morning.

What am I supposed to say to this man who I have just moments before told that my husband is from Algeria?
Stupidly, I engage him. "Well, my husband just has one wife. That's me."
"So, he's just getting started, hu?"
"Uh, no. He's finished, actually. He doesn't need any more wives. I am plenty enough woman for him."
What was I thinking? That I could somehow convince him, a man who attaches a device to his vacuum cleaner and then vacuums his baby's nose out, how could I somehow explain to him that just because some men who are Arab have more than one wife, that my husband was quite satisfied with just the one?
How could I possibly make myself feel less humiliated by this, short of pushing out of the window well and onto the concrete a few stories below?
And might I just add that all the while he is pronouncing the word Arab like Ay-RAb.

And since I am running all over the place with this entry, let me just point out something more current about Sally Fields. I love her show, Brothers and Sisters. I watch it every Sunday night. She plays the mother of a big gaggle of grown siblings who live and play and duke it out with one another in the California sunshine. She is a widow and the shadow of her husband looms over the show, in part because some of them still work for the business he started. Love it. But here’s the latest revelation of the show. The Grand finale of the show goes like this: not only did Sally Field’s husband have a life-long mistress; he also fathered a son by a third woman.

I must point out here that this does not bring to the surface any questions of her late-husband’s religious beliefs. Religion is almost never mentioned in the show. I have the feeling that the uncle might be Jewish, but that is just because his name is Sol.
No one in the show is talking about the need to lobby congress to protect women like Sally Field from sneaky men who have, de facto, THREE WIVES.
The show treats her dead husband’s personal life as just that: personal.
But when it comes to sharing a life with an Arab and Muslim man, that marriage must become political. It is forced into this realm by all the films and books and magazine articles that again and again paint Muslim men (especially Arab Muslim men) with boogieman eyes that steal women’s souls.

After September 11, I thought I could act like an ambassador of sorts. In my trips to North Africa I would talk to people about the America I love, about the people I know who protest the war in Iraq, who advocate for justice in Palestine. And here in New York could talk to all those people who I meet, in the park, on the subway and ask about Sofiane’s name, about my husband’s background, or even my friends and family, about what I know about Islam as a lived religion, about the infinite variety I see in the people who practice it. But I get tired of it.
What impact can I have when the images and ideas about Muslims and Arabs are so solidified that I can't even begin address them? Not really.
Case in point: A conversation I had the other night at dinner with a couple of cool ladies:
Chic #1: Those poor people in Miramar are all dying. I guess the government isn't letting any aid in there.
Chic #2: Yeah, well, aren't they Muslim, or something?
Me: Well, actually, it’s because they have a military dictatorship over there and are afraid that the US will try to spread the idea for regime change along with the bags of donated rice and beans.

Even this gets exhausting to write (and to read, no doubt. Sorry.).
Fuck it.