Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Superpowers, Reality and "My Fault"

If I were to have any super power I wanted, I would definitely choose “Invisibility.”

Sometimes I forgot how emotionally draining it was to walk outside my house. One major stressor I came face-to-face with while living in the Middle East was my own presence. Unlike my entire life before the desert, I became starkly aware and concerned about how I looked and carried myself. I could do nothing to fit in—only draw attention. People could spot me literally a mile away. And they’d watch me come for that mile and they’d watch me go for the next. I couldn’t escape the stares, the licking lips, the snickers, the singing, the comments, the kissing sounds, the whistles. I dressed conservatively, not showing any skin and hardly any form, yet I’d still be undressed by their eyes.

What bothered me the most was that it was so unwanted, so uninvited and totally unwarranted.

What they didn’t know was that as their stares burned holes in my soul and my jeans, I was on my way home to tell the world about them. About how their curiosity and vulgarity were going to make the headlines in my daily report, about how their stares and creepy smiles made my worth waver, about how I somehow feel smaller and lesser because... they looked at me. Like that. And there’s nothing I can do? Come on! How come they get to win and I get to be drained?

And to pour heaps of salt into my wounds, I was told and expected to believe that it was my fault.

To my utter surprise, I have literally stopped trucks, halted guards from washing cars and caused soldiers to abandon posts. [I never dreamed I could be such a diversion!!] “I didn’t want to walk by you—I had to,” is what I’d think. I locked my jaw, stared straight ahead, remembered that I wanted a strong posture and to just pass them. [And then I’d pray for God to send some more men to my city to go to them and build relationships with them.] Because I couldn’t do anything. Sometimes I’d turn and watch them, trying to shame them, letting them know that I was watching them watch me or video me with their camera phones. But I’d just get mad. Not the raging anger—it was the hurting anger, the kind of deep aching that brings hot tears to your eyes, for both them and yourself.

I’ve had Arab friends and their family members ask me what the hardest thing about living there was and I’ve openly, yet selectively, shared with them these frustrations. They resorted to many excuses and usually laughter, saying something like: “Well, Sah-rrrrah, it’s your fault. You’re asking for it. You’re blonde and have blue eyes. [Actually they’re gray and yellow.] You smile at little children and play with them on the street. You speak in Arabic to the store owners and to the taxi drivers. You don’t wear a [long overcoat]. Of course you’re going to get this attention. What you need to do is hide yourself, away from them. They can’t control themselves—they can’t help it.”

This attitude that men can’t help themselves or hold any kind of self-control just boggles my mind. And what further damages my psyche is that this was an accepted explanation. That women would say this in front of men, and vice versa, and they would both nod their heads in agreement. It was okay to them that I [and every other female] be treated this way, have to dress a certain way, to act a certain way, to be intimidated, because… they can’t help themselves. Entire societies are built in compliance to this gender attitude.

Men are allowed to act this way. And somehow, it’s my fault.

It was stifling and I felt as though the wings of my heart had been clipped. Furthermore, I wonder at the aches they have in their own hearts. I grieve over these accepted and perpetuated gender attitudes. And how mine couldn’t be entertained because what I was doing, in expressing my “hardship” and “reality,” was shaming their men and their culture.

And so, I’d turn inside and wonder how it was my fault—What? That I was born? That I was there? What? The sunset’s call to prayer would sound and I would be hidden. I’d be tucked away in my little apartment, reveling in the fact that at least in there, they couldn’t see me.


  1. Oh, Sarah...! For several months, my daughters and I experienced what you are going through and it made our blood boil too!

  2. this hits very close to my heart, yaa shagarati. it was painful just reading it because it is so real. i love you. thank you for giving me words and describing trials and frustrations and sadness when I often struggled to find the words.

  3. Thanks for resonating with me, Diane! Sorry you guys had to experience it too. :(

    Julia: You're welcome for the words--I'm sorry that they actually work though. Sometimes I wish we had different experiences, ya know, but sin's sin. I've seen you walk your streets--you totally rock. Enti shagra aquati... ?? mabe7eki 3rabi y3nni....



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