Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Stranger in a Strange Land

Asalamu Alaykom,

Looking back on my trip to the U.S. this summer has me admitting that I look at the place with different eyes.  That line, "You can't go home again," doesn't mean that you can't physically go home; it means that somehow it isn't the same place it once was.  America has changed in the last three years.  Being so very far away for so long makes it easy for me to see the changes.

Gluten-Free  I was shocked to see how many Americans are going gluten-free.  I thought it was only a fad my mom was into but it was everywhere I went.  You can't shop in a supermarket without seeing its sudden impact.

The funny thing is that Americans are as unhealthy as ever.  I helped my dad's lady friend unpack her grocery sacks which were full of gluten-free products.  It was all pre-packaged, overly-processed, and industrially engineered.  When will Americans ever just go for the most natural foods?!  Truly, the more natural a food, the closer to God it is.

Later, I talked with Mi Amiga, who works at a health-food store, and she clued me in.  It's yet another fad and that's all it is.  It's another way Americans can put some control into their out-of-control lives and try to feel good about what they're doing.

There is some validity to the need to go gluten-free, I admit.  Most of what I've found is that the sooner you introduce gluten to a baby, the more likely that child will grow up to have a wheat allergy.  So, you know that cute moment when baby reaches for the cracker?  Resist!  Wait as long as you can.

Pork  Pork is everywhere.  Ya, Americans eat pork.  I know that.  However, for years, pork consumption was down.  People really gave it up in favor of chicken.  Now?  I feel (though my mother can't see this at all) that loving pork has become a way to reclaim America from the Muslims.  No one can come out and openly hate Muslims but they sure can talk about loving pork!

Subway had a pulled pork sandwich.

Papa John's had a pulled pork pizza.

Bacon was EVERYWHERE! Wendy's had a bacon cheeseburger on a pretzel bun.

The weirdest part is that these specialty items were featured during Ramadan.  Not only was there a kind of obsessive love declared for these items,

but it was during the Muslim's Holy Month.  Coincidence?

I've been Muslim (and the object of hate) for too long to think that this is a coincidence.  When I was a frequent commentator on Matt Logelin's blog, I found myself reading strange comments from an otherwise nice person who wanted to bring up bacon as a taunt.  Basically, if the references to pork and bacon seem over-the-top in idolatry, then know that it's a (not-so-clever) backlash against Muslims.

Muslim-Friendly Fashion  Ironically, Muslim-friendly fashion is EVERYWHERE!  I couldn't believe how easy it was to shop this year.  There were loose tops that covered a rump, long-sleeves in summer, maxi-skirts and dresses galore, and lots of long scarves.

One of my theories is that trend-setting Target has its headquarters in Minnesota, which also has the largest Somali population outside of Mogadishu.  That influence on the streets has maybe translated into the design studios.  Obviously, if you can reach a market and earn some money, then you should.

Making Muslim-friendly fashion is a smart move.  It is flattering on a wide range of figures.  It is good for sun protection.  It is preferred by modest women or by women with body image issues.

Perhaps, if you walked into Target or Lane Bryant, you wouldn't even see what I see.  To you, a shirt dress is not Muslim-friendly

but then you're missing how its actually doable as a tunic top.  Any short dress is really a tunic that can go over pants.  Any maxi sundress

can be topped with a jacket or sweater and be fine for a hijabi.  

Unfriendly Muslims  While fashions are becoming friendlier, the same is not true for the Muslims I would meet in the streets.  What's up?!  It used to be that the few Muslims in town were all ready to smile at one another.  Now, there are more Muslims than ever and fewer smiles.  No one replied to my greetings of "Asalamu Alaykom".  It's like they were too scared to be different or too numb to care anymore.

We Muslims are actually MANDATED to greet one another.  We have to greet each other in peace.  It's not a choice.  If you sign up for Islam, get ready for a lot of "Asalamu Alaykom."

I'm sad that I never felt embraced by the sisters now living in my state.  Black, white, brown, born into Islam or reverted to Islam were all foreigners to me.  That's some sad!

Loving Dogs More and Family Less  I didn't think that Americans could actually love their animals more but I was wrong.  Using the term "Pet Parent" has come to mean something;

as if your butt-licking dog who then licks your mouth is akin to your son or daughter.  Sorry to be graphic but YUCK!  Where is the collective unconscious of the Lower Forty-eight?

Let me clue you Dog Lovers in:  if you have three dogs and wall-to-wall carpeting, then your home smells like wall-to-wall dog.  You have allowed your pets to defecate and urinate in your sanctuary.  You are paying a mortgage to the bank every month to live in a dog house.  If someone hasn't told you yet, then let me tell you that your house stinks.  That's nasty.

At the same time, Americans are more and more distant from their relatives.  I see the gulf widening every year.  Some of this has to do with the belief that social media is somehow a social interaction; it isn't.  Friends are chosen over family time and again, but really only family can give you that strong sense of self. To not have that feeling of unshakable foundation has (no doubt) left a lot of people looking for comfort in pets, rigid food regimes, and in religions.

Look, it's fine to have outside interests but it is a shame to throw family completely aside.  It's great to have found friends but I swear to God that most of them will not be around in 30 years; family will.  I only saw two friends while I was in the States.  I wanted it that way.  Last time, I felt my mom was offended by a constant barrage of calls and visits from friends.  This time, it's different.  I didn't care like I once did for friends because I do realize how preciously short my time is with my family.

Disgusting TV  I watch TV.  I love watching TV.  I couldn't watch TV in America without feeling dirty afterwards.  What is going on?  Since when did "penis" become something allowable on a family show?  America's Got Talent had to have been the crudest excuse on the air.

I was on the phone to Egypt one night while my mom had that show on.  Normally, I had to be careful not to overstep my bounds in her home.  I tried not to dictate.  That night, I saw a man drop his pants (though it was blurred out) and act as if something had been pulled from his anus.  I kid you not.  I actually shouted out to her to change the channel--the revulsion was that intense.

So You Think You Can Dance is one of shows which has you hoping it's family-friendly.  There will be an opening number that is so uplifting and then the next will be like a strip-club routine.  Great choreography gets paired with sleazy outfits.  Time again, I wished that I could expose my son to artistic expression without having some young woman expose her crotch.  When the bad outweighs the good, then, as Muslims, we have to leave the whole thing alone.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise has never seemed sleazier.  My mom is a big fan.  I started reading Reality Steve to understand what she was watching.  He has a term for the show as "Mommy Porn".  I understand that.  Its insidious sexual teasing flies under the radar of unacceptability but truly it is porn on a low wattage.  To watch it is to open yourself up to that world of troubles.

It was interesting that Nick, the runner-up for the Bachelorette's affections, couldn't understand what he'd been through.  He was dumbfounded how he had been in love and made love only to be dumped.  That is a NORMAL response.  It is not normal to get engaged to a woman after she's been screening 20 other men.  America debated whether or not Nick was right to air that private information publicly on TV.  The country should have debated whether or not the whole show should be aired on TV.

The Ellen Show now has half-naked men on it for some gratuitous reason.  For such a smart woman, she is acting just like a 1950's talk show host throwback who thought some cutie coming out would add fun to the proceedings.  Just because it's a man showing skin instead of a woman doesn't make it right.

The Talk actually had a long discussion on how women could pee standing up.  Doesn't anyone feel shameful?  Did each one of those women get up in the morning, get dressed and have the goal in mind of discussing bathroom habits on TV?  I know Barbara Walters is off the show now, but that doesn't mean all sense of decency has to be lost!  Annette Bening was the first guest so I waited for her (assuming they would smarten up for such a lady) but Whoopie Goldberg continued the crass discussion.

It goes on and on.  The worst was when Wendy Williams started discussing sex toys.  Obviously, I would have like to have sat down with a talk show and enjoyed it.  I couldn't.  I really missed Oprah.

Unbelievably, I missed my television in Egypt.  We have a satellite dish (like everyone) and a myriad of channels possible all the time.  El-Kid has a whole array of kid's programming (not just PBS Kids) which I can trust.  Maybe it would have been a different experience if my mom had more than basic cable.

For me, I'm happy that the Middle-east networks censor what's shown because I did not enjoy policing the programs like I did this summer.  Censoring is always seen like a bad thing with FREEDOM being the ultimate ideal.  Nope.  I experienced what happens when the networks allow more, MORE, MORE!  It means you can't relax because you have to take on the censor role with remote in hand and your finger on the button.

The News  Right.  Can we all realize that the U.S. Media is not focusing on what needs to be said?  It stopped being about the news which should be reported and started to be about what Americans want to hear.  There was so much entertainment, viral and social media information --even at a time when Gaza was getting bombed and planes were being shot out of the air.

The reporting on Gaza was one of the few times when my mother and I fought.  I couldn't believe how balanced the newscast was trying to be about the situation.  Night after night the death toll of Gaza civilians increased and yet they were still trying to make the siege like a fair fight with equal damage on both sides.

I had to go onto Twitter to really understand what was going on.  That's a switch.  This is the first time I felt that American news was not reliable any more.

There were other things going on but the time slot for world coverage was limited.  If the story about some family's triumph over adversity was coming up, then by God we were going to see that no matter what.  Everything was a sound byte of either seriousness or light and they had to be balanced out.  The network didn't want their audience changing the channel when things got too heavy.

Increased Love for Library  Subhanallah.  I have always loved libraries.  We have a great library at our school and it's actually one of the reasons I took the job.  Going to the U.S. meant once again enjoying all the facilities a public library has to offer.

Libraries are becoming more tech friendly.  The new one near my mom had rows of computers and free wi-fi.  It has CDs and DVDs which I amply sampled.  There is no need for spending so much money on media if you are blessed with a library.

I walked out with 20 CDs and 20 DVDs and really felt like I was stealing something.  I don't have this ability in Egypt and it made me so giddy to have the chance to enjoy so much for nothing.  It felt strangely exhilarating.

I'll end on that because it's a positive.  Not everything in America is a negative.  Although, at this point, everything seems to be from the outside looking in.


Um Dayo said...

Ha ha! Brilliant! I am sharing this page with all my friends. Those still in Egypt who don't understand what i mean when i say America has indeed changed and those here who are obsessed with these trends.
My mom told my son she wouldnt make the dog go outside because it was his house, too and he was her family too. Her house is exactly as you describe. When my siblings come to visit my sister and I, we feel so sorry for them because even their clean clothes reek. One dog is HUGE and jumps all over you and really, i am terrified of him, so of course my kids are, but my mom pushed me to make them go to her house because "if they are going to live in America, they have to get used to the fact dogs are in every house". God forgjve me for acquiescing a few times. That huge dog has a tumor that hangs off his leg which is....just awful. Mom cant afford the surgery but wont put him down because "would you kill your son if he was sick and you couldnt afford the surgery?" WHAT?!
Also, the obsession with bacon! I saw a sign at the local fair for "baconade"...lemonade with bacon. And friends were loving it!
There are a few commercials for Hardees that are soft porn! A girl in a bikini drinking pop, getting it all over in a very incinuitive fashion, a girl washing a truck almost naked eating a new sandwich, a girl eating a chicken strip, again, implying its not chicken at all. My kids run away when these commercials come on. Its disgusting!

We're supposed to be returning to Egypt soon if Allah wills and I am grateful i lived here a year so that i have a balanced view of both places to keep me grateful.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Um Dayo,

Glad that you can see my point of view. Ya, the dog=lovey issue is a hot one in your home. How you keep a straight face during discussions is a mystery. Don't you want to burst out laughing?

Baconade? Weirrrrrrrrd. Ya, this obsession thing with it is the key. It's not just, "Mmm I like me a BLT." It's, "HEY! Let's put bacon in EVERY CONCEIVABLE RECIPE!" When I see that love for turkey, then I'll put all my way-to-hate-Muslims-and-get-away-with-it assumptions away.

I didn't see those Hardee's commercials but they sound like more soft porn. America is fine with soft porn--it's a part of life for them since they were sat in front of a TV. Sexualizing everything is the American way. Sadly.

Big news that you might be heading back to Egypt! WOW! May Allah make it easy on you.

Unsolicited advice: really decide that if you come back that you be the best YOU that you can be despite anyone else. Realize your priority is to you and your kids having protection in a safe place to live. Let a LOT of things go. Do not get into someone else's drama. Remember that, even in my (by comparison) calm existence here with this family, I have been told to pack my bags and leave. That's Egyptian family life. EVERYONE is told to get out and most of what's yelled is never done.

If you really have a commitment to living here and being a part of this place, then you can do it. It will not be easy, but since you've gotten some balance back, I bet you can see better how the U.S. isn't as easy as it looks either.

I wish you all the best now and always.

Love and Light!

algerianblarney.blogspot.com said...

Asalaam alaykum,

I haven't read your blog in ages but I just read this particular post and it resonated with me....even though for me it's Ireland and not America! Every time I go back I feel as if the whole world has gone mad while I've been gone! And I feel such a prude in comparison to everyone else. Yet at the same time when we were all young these kind of things would never have been seen as people had too much value in morals...now it's more like'well this is the way of the world now, get with it!' and I feel so out of step with everyone.

BarakAllahufiki for sharing your thoughts - I really enjoy your blog mashAllah, Allahibarek!


Marie said...

I see quite similarities withh French living. It's surely because French people went so much to look like Americans (I mean America is still a dream for so many people).
TV is a pure nightmare, only crap. News are about traffic and the packed beaches. You hardly hear about what happens in the rest of the world.
You need to get DVD in you want to find decent and interesting movies.
But I like the library new love. Libraries are the best places on earth (at least for me) and I can spend hours in these places. In French it's quite hard for libraries to survive. Internet does it all.

Interesting to read your thoughts Yosra. And entertaining too!