Why I Love Syrian Girls

In a time when Syria is associated mostly with conflict, I’d like to take the opportunity to tell about something that I like with this country: my girlfriends. Now I’m not usually prone to generalizations, but I have found that my Syrian friends have quite a few characteristics in common, so why not share them? (And hey, who is a woman without her girlfriends anyways?)

Girls, I love you cause you are…

  • Openminded and curious
  • Trustworthy, if you say you will pick me up at 7 you’re at my door 7 sharp, no flaking out
  • Stylish and cool, always dressed up, willing to lend out your clothes or braid my hair
  • Complimenting on my looks in a way that makes me feel good. No “Did you gain weight?”-rudeness here
  • Fun-loving in a carefree way, when going out with you anything can happen

Ladies, this one’s for you! Keep staying cool no matter where your country is heading.

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Workshop for Young Female Filmmakers from Egypt and Sweden

MAFF

Malmö Arab Film Festival, (MAFF) that I have previously blogged about, is now launching a workshop for young female filmmakers from Sweden and Egypt on the theme “Women in Egypt During and After the Revolution“. During September 2-8 the workshop is held in Malmö, Sweden for the ten chosen film makers; five from each country.

The mix of film makers from both country will be a very special opportunity – both countries has a tradition of theatre and movie making and in Egypt young women has made their way onto the international stage through movies such as “Cairo Six, Seven, Eight“, a controversial movie about sexual harassments of women in Egypt, who’s lead actor Nelly Karim presented the movie at last year’s MAFF.

Are you interested or do you know anyone that is? Apply or share the information! For more information on criterias to apply click here.

Campaign for Domestic Worker’s Rights in Kuwait

Human Rights Watch has launched Campaign for Domestic Worker’s Rights. The campaign is illustrated with photos of Arab women dressed in the costumes that many of the workers have to wear when on duty – which often is 15 hours per day, 7 days a week. Hopefully this will make people think.

I have repeatedly become surprised over how people’s brains stop working when exposed to something abnormal being normal – Arabs, Europeans, Americans alike – which is what the trafficking situation of poor people from Asia and Africa to the Middle East is today. I won’t dig into the subject of why you can’t clean your own house or raise your own kids, but on how today’s knowledge about human rights for some people seem to have vanished.

When living in Kuwait I had a friend from Eastern Europe who had married an Arab man residing in the country. She was a great girlfriend; caring, funny and smart, and I missed her a lot when moving. Going back to visit a few years later, she and her husband had got their first child and employed a live-in-maid, and suddenly I saw a new side of her. The woman they had employed, let’s call her Maria, was not allowed to call my friend and her husband by their first names, instead ”sir” and “maam”.

“If you let them call you by your name they will disrespect you, you can’t give them too much freedom,” my friend explained.

All house chores had been given to Maria who worked from 6 am to 10 pm without a break. She was not allowed go out on her own or make her own decisions about what to do during the day, had to follow my friend wherever she went, walking a few steps behind with all the bags and the trolley that she pushed the toddler in, when my friend was out with her girlfriends on one of their many shopping tours to the mall.

My friend thought she was nice to Maria. She could eat how much she wanted and slept in a bed in the child’s playroom – “Not on the floor like with the Kuwaiti families”. My friend didn’t seem to reflect on how Maria might feel when my friend called her stupid or criticized her for not doing anything right (I noticed this among many, the constantly criticizing of the domestic staff, as if they get a kick out of putting them down).

Now I happened to like Maria as a person and we spent some time talking. It turned out she had a university degree in her Asian home country and previously had a qualified job that she had lost, why her last way out if keeping her own child in a private school was to go abroad as a domestic worker. The experience had been a shock and she found herself not able to return as she had signed a two year contract and had her passport taken away. I suggested I ask my other friends about jobs in her field of experience and we secretly exchanged numbers. My research didn’t lead to anything but we kept in touch after I left. She often called and texted, feeling so alone and exposed.

Then a few weeks later my friend’s husband emailed me. My friend had taken Maria’s mobile to check on her and had read my messages. She and her husband were furious I had kept in touch with Maria and urged her to get a better job. This is an excerpt from the e-mail:

I would really like to thank you for treating your friends who were soo good, honest, loveable to you and accepted you in their home not as a guest but as a very close person. We are very surprised of the way you cheated us and tried to contact our nanny from our back and tried to help her to leave us and finding a job because you persuaded her that she’s over qualified to be a nanny…  If you think that you are supporting women right by encourage her to do what she did and leave us then let me tell you that you destroyed our lovely family and destroyed her life as well.

He ended the e-mail by telling story I had heard before, on how Maria had felt so empowered by me that she had brought home a man and had sex with him in a room next to where the child had been sleeping. The story is one version of many used to justify what happens if you give your maids “too many rights”; Asians are not only unintelligent, they are also sexually primitive if you fail to control them. Do you know your history? African–Americans were once considered the same way by whites.

My friend blocked me on all social websites we had been in touch through and we never spoke again. I don’t know what happened to Maria – the control must have increased and I assumed it was safer for her not to be in touch with me as I anyways was far away from Kuwait and had no means of helping her.

Human Rights Watch’s campaign is much needed in a time when again human rights doesn’t apply to people of color, and I wish it leads to some sort of change. If I could speak to my friend I would explain to her why I had urged Maria to leave and that I hadn’t mean to hurt my friend – but I wouldn’t say I’m sorry. And if I were in the same situation I would do what I did again, even if it meant losing a close friend. I know some people would say I’m fanatic. I say I’m normal.

Photocredit: Human Rights Watch

A Cup of Water in the Conflict Zone

The other day I had spilled food on my hand when eating outside and needed to wash it. In a street corner a man sold candy and chewing gums from cardboard boxes. I had seen him before as I passed the corner every day, it was close to my work place in Damascus. In the morning I saw him coming and loading the boxes with the unsold items from the day before – overnight he covered the boxes and the wobbly tables the boxes were placed on with different pieces of fabric tucked together. The man was sitting on the side of the street, I approached him and asked for a “small bottle of water”.

“I don’t sell water.”

Of course, the little stall didn’t have a fridge, how could he sell any drinks? It had been a stupid question to ask.

“Aha, ok. Sorry.”

I turned to leave.

“But, wait…”

He remembered something, got up and went over to the tables, started rummaging around among the fabric. He picked up a box of clean paper cups and a big bottle of water, his own water, then poured me a cup. I fetched my wallet with my other not-so-greasy-hand and picked up some coins.

“Thank you, how much is it?”

“Nothing.”

Some weeks before I had been ripped off in a grocery store, paying twice as much as I should, and when I realized I couldn’t be particularly mad. Most people would rip anyone off if they were on the brink of poverty, especially a foreigner who had much more, in a time when the country’s currency was falling dramatically until the previously big-bills turned small-bills turned nothing. I wanted to pay and insisted, offering the coins. Suddenly the man looked sad. Just sad.

“I don’t want any money. Please take it, my daughter.”

That made me quiet. I mumbled a thank you. In that little moment, kindness won over war. It’s not a small power, not a sign of weakness. I believe it can sometimes be very strong.

Turkish Police Brutality Silenced Online

Protesters in IstanbulJenny, please write about this in your blog! The government is doing terrible things to the people and our media is just playing mute and deaf

A Turkish friend e-mailed me today. She’s a regular Turkish young woman, uninterested in politics, who never showed any interest in activism or talking politics with me before. Attached was a link, where it said Turkish police had gassed the protesters with teargas, gassed the subway in Istanbul and an emergency room where patients of the attack had been treated. The link is now removed, as are blogs I’m trying to access- it seems the media is really being silenced from somewhere higher up.

A number of protesters had gathered in Taksim, the beautiful heart of Istanbul where protesters usually gather, to act against that the Gezi Park was to be taken down in order to give place to something else. Having known political activists in Turkey I know how the police and military usually used hard core methods when cracking down on activists – but this brutality is something new to me. Probably also to my friend, a patriot at heart, who never complained about her country before.

I will not publish the most horrific photos here as I want to keep the blog free from such pictures (you can easily find such pictures online anyway), but I’m asking you to share my blog post and these news. Turkey is a popular tourist resort that is trying to enter EU. The never ending brutality towards minorities and the population that are protesting in a peaceful, democratic way can only come to an end if the international community starts to be aware and put pressure on the current government. If Turkish bloggers can’t share the news, let us who are outside do it.