Archives for category: A Lot of Isms

Whenever I need groceries, it is always this little shop called “Hawki’s” that I turn to in my neighborhood of Zahle. Like many Zahlawi buildings, it’s situated in one of those classic Libano-Italian buildings from (I’m guessing) between the 17th-19th centuries. That is to say, golden-colored sandstone with a rough exterior, polished on the corners of the building; bright green shutters and black iron balconies, all topped by those lovely carrot-blush tiles.

Hawki’s is owned by a family, namely the father – I’m going to call him S. S is a nice guy (he has to be). He offers good advice and runs into the upstairs room to hunt for merchandise I might need. He knows everyone in the neighborhood. His son, who also works there, was kind enough to give me an arak glass (note: not a glass of arak) when I bought my first Arak from them, despite my protests. All in all, an alright place to do my shopping.

Because Zahle is relatively prosperous, it is not out of place to spy non-Arab faces on occasion, working as domestic help: Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Nepalese. Someone from the building opposite mine has a Filipino maid, whom they send on errands to Hawki’s to buy a few items, like cigarettes. I have seen her come in several times now while I am there, shy and small-seeming, but trying hard to be confident. Chuckling with the locals, S will ignore her until he has served everyone else (even if she were before them), then turn cold-facedly to her to ask what she needs. She responds in heavily accented English, which he cuts through by interrupting and talking pleasantly to someone else, leaving her waiting again.

Why S feels the need to do this is beyond me. Well, actually it isn’t, but I don’t really feel like going into it right now. Regardless, the plight of domestic workers is not unique to the Arab world. It is however a good example of some of the things that make globalization either a jungle or a goldmine, depending on who you are. Transnational communities, remittance work, complete lack of labor protection – these are all part of the picture.

But it was great to catch this New York Times article discussing domestic workers in Kuweit, because it could have been about any Arab country, or anywhere at all – it even makes reference to the US somewhat. But it all makes me want to tie this into Ethiopian Suicides, the Lebanese blog associated with the Anti Racism Movement, which advocates on behalf of domestic workers and all issues of race in Lebanon. The reality may be gray, but some people are trying to bring in some color.

Last time I was in Hawki’s, before I left for Istanbul, it was just S, the Filipino girl and I. She was buying cigarettes, while I waited for her to finish. I nodded my head to her in greeting, and she smiled widely. An honest smile.


Our favorite empowered harem, enjoying some well-deserved luxury to offset their difficult lives as American women living in Manhattan.

We have all no doubt heard about the recent “Sex and the City” sequel – some of us more than others. For those who play ball in the court of Near Eastern cultures, this was all the rage when it came out. Contradictory and insulting, it was far too guilty to be any sort of pleasure. For those who just liked movies, it was simply bad: a flat, predictable and even offensive vision of high materialism that doesn’t fit well with the current American reality, “the new normal” as it has been called.

So here’s another review, this time from the Hofstra Middle Eastern Studies Department’s official blog Tabsir, a good source for scholarly comment on current events.

I myself never saw the movie – I have avoided it like the plague. This is a little hypocritical, but it seemed safe to say (and read) that there was something to avoid there. What really struck me though was just how unaware the movie seems to have been about “modernity” or what life is like in the Gulf. In true “Orientalist” form, the movie took interest only in that which was different, honing in on the “traditional” elements of Emirati life – the niqaab, the souq, etc. It doesn’t touch the fact that, of all the Arab world, the Gulf (and the Emirates for sure) are probably the closest thing to “Sex and the City”‘s free-spending ignorance of the real world.

Like SATC’s main characters, women in the Gulf never seem to work (and likely never do). The Emirates is one of the most materialistic spots on the planet now, which is curiously absent from all the chatter about the movie. The comparison however is quite warranted, and could have definitely used some screen-time.