White Girl Goes to Iftar (Ramadan)

happy-Ramadan-2012-1-1024x640
(This picture is a wish of a happy Ramadan. I didn’t make it, but I like it.)

I’d been working on blogs to post, trying to manage how much frustration I have and how much stress when my roommate asked if I wanted to go with her to iftar. I thought, sure why not and agreed. She responded for both of us and last night we left. I now get to do something I absolutely LOVE doing: I get to break some assumptions and stereotypes and tell you all about my time at iftar.

So some vocab first. Ramadan is the Islamic holy month where you fast during the day hours and eat during the night. You can’t even drink water! Iftar is the name of the meal that you eat after the day is concluded. The fasting is done for two reasons: the first being to honor the gifts of God and to be closer to him. The second is to remember that there are people for whom fasting is not a choice, but rather is their way of life. And so for the month, you honor the struggle that they face in poverty.

I also learned two Arabic words last night: mashallah and inshallah. Mashallah is a kind of protective prayer, said especially over babies which roughly translates to “May God protect you (from the evil eyes)” and inshallah means “God willing”. So if you are traveling or what have you, you say inshallah as a way of wishing them safe travels and the hope that you will be seeing each other again if God wills it.

So now that we’ve got the vocab down, it’s time to get the stigmas and stereotypes broken.

  1. It snows in Turkey. And it isn’t just a desert. They have greenery and whatnot too. (I asked, just because we were talking about silly Ohio weather. Turns out Turkey has regular seasons of 3 months each: Spring, Summer, Autumn Winter. Ohio has maybe two seasons: winter and fiery death by humidity. I just thought this was cool.)
  2. I didn’t have to remain silent when Muslim men were speaking. They usually spoke right to me. And made eye contact. Everyone was EXTREMELY polite and made sure that everyone else around them was doing well. (In fact, the fact that I was getting an education was a source of celebration for everyone. So that debunks the women as inferior bit, I think.)
  3. The prayers that are spoken (we were invited to watch) are prayers of thanks for health, food and opportunity. There is a reverence for being able to live life and for being safe. (We sat through one, and one of our acquaintances was kind enough to translate it for us.)
  4. The hijab (head scarf) is optional. You can choose to wear it if you want, and most women do because it is a way to further their faith. (Which debunks the oppression myth, I think.)

I asked a new acquaintance what the one thing she wanted others to know about her and her religion and she said:

Even if I say nothing, I am still saying something. I have hopes and goals and a family. I am shy and don’t make friends quickly but I love practicing my English. I have a very open mind, and I want to learn all about other people. I wish more people saw that my actions speak louder than my words. I just want to be respected for being myself.

We continued to talk about her story and about how she was so thankful to be in America, where people didn’t hate her for who she was and for what she believed. Reread that. She was thankful to be in a country of acceptance. I met a family who was from Istanbul-whose family was still in Istanbul. They were appalled by the violence there, and by everyone who falsely represented their religion.

In fact, the theme of the night was that education would defeat ignorance if we invested in it. I’ve been to around a dozen or so Christian churches, known people from all of the different factions (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc) and I’ve met Catholics, I’ve met atheists and I could continue on. But never once have I ever felt so welcomed as an outsider than this gathering of the Turkish-Muslim community.

Allow me to reflect on that for a moment.

This group of people who were mostly immigrants or the children thereof welcomed two strangers into their holiday observation as though we were family. They celebrated our education, our career goals and our ideas and opinions without judgment. I looked nothing like the people in attendance, nor did we sound similar but that didn’t hinder their regard of me. In fact, I heard more about how we should find ways to include things like humor in our teachings, about how we should find community in art and food instead of fear and hatred. These people who didn’t know me made me coffee, gave me food and showed a sincere interest in what I had to say-even if I just ranted about how much I didn’t know.

Do you want to know how I get treated at Christian churches? Like a sinner not worthy of their time. And I want you to know that I told the people last night that I was pagan. That I practice a polytheistic religion. I’ve said that to Christians before (who are strangers) and I get the “devil” treatment or I get the shove-the-bible-down-my-throat treatment. Do you know what the Muslim women and men told me last night? That they were glad I came with an open mind and took the time to get to know them even though we believed different things. I left with invitations to return for women’s nights, cooking classes and art sessions, as well as many hugs.

Last night was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I may not have all the information I need in order to fight the bigotry and hatred shown by others, but I have my own experience and it’s a great start. Before I wrap everything up though, let me talk about one last thing.

COFFEE.

cups

Let me tell you. This wasn’t our specific cup, but the decoration is gorgeous on all cups. And the thing is, I’m 23 and I felt like I was holding the crown jewels when I picked up my cup. It’s all so beautiful. And they’re traditional espresso sized, so I also felt like a giant.

cup2.jpg (This is closer to the color-the decoration was roses though.)

As an American, a white girl, a college kid, a twenty-something, you all should not be surprised when I say that I am a regular at Starbucks, I drink coffee until I float in it and anyone who has been to my house knows that there’s always creamer in my fridge and coffee in my percolator. But when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t drink the cup I made myself. It tasted like dirty water in comparison to the coffee I was graciously made last night.

The woman who invited us made us fresh Turkish coffee last night. If I had the ability to make it everyday and it would taste like that, I would never buy creamer again. Let me be very clear, I hate black coffee. It has to have at least creamer in it, if not something else. And the coffee she made us last night was the very first time I have ever drank coffee black and enjoyed it. I didn’t even add sugar.

Apparently, if there’s bubbles and foam at the top, that’s how you know it’s a good cup. And when you are all done, if you turn your cup upside down, swirl it three times and let it set, you can tell your future. (I so tried it, but no one knew how to read it, nor did anyone believe so we made up stuff and got a bunch of laughs.)

coffee reading.jpg(Again, not my cup, but this is basically what it looks like when you’re ready to read it.)

I’ll leave you with a custom.

When a man is inquiring after a wife, he will bring his family to the woman’s house and the woman will serve them all coffee. She will hold out the suitor’s coffee and put in it salt, spices or other items which would not be for coffee (tomato paste, oil, etc). If the man drinks the entire coffee, it shows his devotion to the woman and his desire to marry her is deemed genuine. Apparently it’s very good for comedic relief, as oftentimes the man will make faces to get through the taste of the coffee. It’s meant as a joke, but also as a way to prove your love.

I rather like that. Apparently there are some really funny stories-so I’m going to go around asking people about their coffee ceremony stories from now on.

Thanks for reading. I had a lot I wanted to say, and it was just so wonderful. (I have plenty more to say as well, but another day perhaps.) For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of strangers, I felt accepted. And it wasn’t at all like how the news reports. All I saw were a bunch of people happy to eat food and pray, happy to share their stories with strangers, happy to be listened to and respected. I can’t say I’d want for anything else.

Advertisements

Role Models and Hope For A Messed Up World

I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say right away, so this post is coming almost a week after the incident, but the concept has been stuck in my head for quite some time. As an individual, I love being a singular version of myself. But I look often for someone else who is also a trailblazer. I wanted to write about why I look for and who I select as a role model for my life. I think it’s important for people, women especially, to have someone who is an upstanding, respectable example of the lives we want to lead. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people from older stories who could be role models (I frequently look to Joan of Arc, personally). The problem with using people from the past is that things were different. The world was not the same then as it is now, and we need people who are more like us than sword bearing warriors or queens from afar. 
  There is the social media factor, I suppose, which lends itself to a certain realm of role models, some good, some not. But it seems that the news represents best those who are not good role models for the young (and young-ish) people of today. I am of course talking about the celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lindsey Lohan and to some extent even Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They all represent the pandemonium of fame and the pit falls thereof. We could also examine outlets like Disney or Matel, who have presented the world with prestigious Barbie, Cinderella, and Ariel (just to name a few). It is these three which are both a great help and a hindrance to young women of today. I want to explore them and then propose my list of four individuals who are better role models for our generation. 

  Barbie: In almost every household you might find her, or a cousin or a friend. She is blonde, brunette, red headed, light skinned, dark skinned. She has had a plethora of jobs, donned an impressive collection of costumes and even manages quite a large variety of accessories. Over the years, people have yelled at her for being too skinny, too unrealistically proportioned and too shallow. I mean, there was even a brief moment in Toy Story 3 where she was introduced to public audiences as a complete and utter bimbo, followed by a weak attempt to reclaim her dignity. But the thing is, she’s too uniform. She has no individualized flaws. No scars, stretch marks, beauty marks, wrinkles, pimples, or really flaws of any kind. Her makeup is always done, she’s always smiling and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

  Cinderella: She’s Disney’s star princess. I mean, who didn’t want to be a princess because of her? She came from rags to riches, found a guy, married Royal and viola. She even had a set of killer shoes. But what does she have as far as personality? She’s got wishes, desire. But she lacks motivation and drive. She “asked for a dress, shoes and a night off”. I get it. But that’s not real life at all. And why do you need a man to provide you with everything? I mean, independence goes a long way. I know in the original story she was a teenager, but isn’t that kind of the point? In her time period, that made her basically an adult, and I know she would have been in need of a man, but this is the 21st century and we don’t need that anymore. Say it with me: I am a strong, independent woman who needs no man, but can have one if I so desire.

  Ariel: With a golden voice and perfect hair, who cares about anything else, right? Wrong. Again, you don’t need a man to be the best woman you can be. The thing is, Sebastian was right. Giving up everything, your soul and life included, just to get a man (or attempt to) is not the way to go. And by this point, wouldn’t you also need to make exceptions for finding the right partner-be it woman or man or just a good friend? As with Cindy, sorry Ariel, but there’s nothing that warrants me looking up to you if you’re going to change everything about yourself for someone else.

So I’ve given you a basic run down of my issues with the above, but I do want to mention that I know these characters are fake, but they are widely distributed and influential. I do not want to come across as impossible to reason with so the last person (it’s actually two people) are fictitious as well. And I also realize that the women I am looking at have flaws. But that’s exactly why I chose them. And I will go over them as well. These are, of course, my own personal opinions and you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments, as always. So,without further adieu.

Michelle’s List of Role Models for Women of 2015.

  Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo: You might not have heard of this woman, but she is the reason I’m doing this post. Seven days ago, she was sworn in as a judge in New York. She wore a headscarf, because she is Muslim and she was sworn in on the Qur’an. Now, none of this even really seems like anything out of the ordinary. But the amount of hate mail she received for being sworn in on the Qur’an is astounding. This woman vowed to uphold the law, as she has done her entire career. She is an upstanding citizen who was voted into office. I came across this story in my FaceBook news feed because of how many ignorant people are accessing social media to tear her down. You are permitted to swear into office on any holy book and even the constitution of the United States. She has done nothing above and beyond the average expectations I have for a law abiding citizen, but she is my candidate for a role model for the simple fact that she stuck by her faith, even when people threatened her and heckled her about it. She stayed true to herself, even though that path offered great resistance.

  Adele: Let me say that I am a huge fan of Adele. Her voice is so beautiful, and she’s gorgeous. She’s not stick thin, and I love her for it. She says what’s on her mind and once again, stays true to herself. She took time from her career to take care of her baby. We’re almost the same age and that means a great deal to me. Why, you ask? Because she’s proving that not all 20 year olds and 20-somethings are wild and crazy and awful. She’s a credit to our age group. She even works at a record shop. Her flaws? She’ so soulful in her music that she really only sings sad songs. Which isn’t like a huge flaw, but I don’t associate anything other than sad love songs and break up songs with her. 

  Angelina Jolie-Pitt: Did this one take you by surprise? I really thought that this spot would be occupied by many other people, and indeed it could have been, but there are lots of women who could have taken this spot who simply aren’t as well known. And while you are all entitled to have your own individual role modes, for the purposes of this blog, I needed someone visible. She adopts underprivileged kids, she works with charities and organizations, speaks on behalf of underprivileged people to the UN. And on top of that, she preventatively had a mastectomy so that she didn’t have to worry about breast cancer. I mean, that sounds like a very personal thing and she’s known for her body. I remember a lot of people were upset at her for taking charge of her own body, and that is why I commend her for doing it. She did what she had to do so that she could live her life to the fullest. Also in this spot, Emma Watson for similar reasons. 

  

  Molly Hooper/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I told you I would bring in some fictitious characters. I chose one from my younger adult life and one from my current adult life. So I will start with Buffy. She was a kick-ass teenager who saved the world a lot. And the thing is, that was badk when TV series were filmed with people who looked like teenagers playing teenagers, and incorporated flaws and diversity of character types. Buffy had an attitude, she was impatient and made mistakes. She needed help and asked for it, she complained about life and then grew up and made sacrifices. She represented real teenage life, apart from vampire hunting. And her friends were just as painfully realistic. But they all had a moral code and they represent a lovely era of beautiful story telling.

   Molly Hooper. I have great aspirations to be Molly Hooper. For those of you who do not know who Molly Hooper is, allow me to tell you. The BBC produces a show called Sherlock, based off of Sherlock Homesfrom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the BBC version, there is a medical examiner by the name of Molly Hooper.  She has an enormous crush on Sherlock, does everything dignified she can to get him to notice her including buy him a present at Christmas. He’s rude about it and she calls him out on his bad behavior. Later in the series, she also tells him he’s throwing away his gifts and that he should apologize for various actions. Sherlock comes to respect her. And she didn’t change herself. She stayed true to her personality and persona, all while being a valuable asset to a team. Honestly, I know that this is all fiction, but really, if I were ever to model myself after someone who never existed in real life, it would be Molly Hooper. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, I HIGHLY recommend it. I can discuss all manner of theories with you. I’m a true and devoted CumberCookie and Sherlockian.

Anyway, this has been my short list about female role models in modern society. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.