Monday, September 25, 2006

The first day of Ramazan

Well, my first day of Ramazan didn’t go so well. Well, I fasted and prayed but I lied 3 times and got violently angry. I decided to fast even though I was traveling because the Ariana flight was leaving at 5 pm and Iftar would be around 5:45 or so. I assumed that the flight would be super late.

As a tangent, I’m writing this at 8:17 in Georgia and I was wondering what was weird. And you know what it is? The fact that we have electricity on at 8:18 am.

Anyway, I just assumed that the flight would be late. I didn’t have any waseta* so I couldn’t roll through VIP as I sometimes do (my aunt’s nephew works in VIP and sometimes I get the hook-up, along with the diplomats who get it b/c they are diplomats and businesspeople who have the VIP folks on their payroll). So I went there early with my driver and went through the various checks.

I got asked how much my salary was by the women checking my bags (who are notorious for asking for money and harassment). And without thinking, I just lied. I said 1,000 Afs. In other instances, I’ve actually told the truth. I didn’t even realize that I lied until later.

I then got into a SCREAMING match with the head of visa. Some guy at Ariana took me and three other girls out of line to go through customs because we were female. It was nice of him but then the head of visa wouldn’t allow us through. I started yelling at the guards and then yelled at the head of visa.

I yelled, “Are you Muslim? Harassing us in Ramadan?” That was a bit much for him. I knew it was going to far when I said it. But I seem to be moving on instinct these days.

He got in my face and said, “Where were you in line?”

I yelled back, “I’m not going back, I shouldn’t have been taken out of line in the first place and now I’m not going back. You’re very rude. Why are you harassing me? I’m sick and I am going to Dubai for treatment (total lie)."

I yelled, “I have cancer!” (again, a total lie and where did it come from?).

He and I yelled a little more and then he let me by. I said thank you and then one other soldier came up and said – sister, you should complain. He’s a complete cow. His name is Najib and he’s the head of visa. I said, who’s his boss? Which ministry?

If I remember, I’ll complain about him. I actually don’t feel bad about yelling at him. A local can’t do it and I have no problem telling people when they’re rude. Besides, you have to be a bitch to get through the airport. But telling him that I had cancer? Now, that was a new one. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have felt bad about the lie if it wasn’t Ramazan. I did feel embaressed when I remembered that I met a woman in line who knew my uncle in Australia and what if she tells him that I have cancer or realized that I lied? Especially after we complained about Muslims not being nice in Afghanistan (note my self-righteousness).

Later, as I was relating the story over the phone, I noticed this man staring at me while I was on the phone. He was sitting over at the prayer section, picking at his feet with another group of men.

Every woman who has been to Afghanistan is sadly familiar with the uncomfortable, piercing stare that some Afghan men inflict on women. These men are probably the same that cloak their women in chadaris (burqas) and are the men that sometimes make me wish I had a chadari on.

Again, without thinking, I met his gaze for about 10 seconds, making my displeasure known and then turned to him, mid-conversation and said, “Do you need something? Don’t look at me if you don’t need anything.” I loudly said over the phone. “This cow is looked at me like he has no manners. It’s RAMAZAN.” He blushed and then said something to his neighbor and smiled.

Every time he looked, I met his gaze and furiously stared back. After a while, he stopped even glancing over at me. I know, because I was keeping an eye on him.

Just think of it as my way to help better the manners of our people.

I’m so self-righteous.

Every year, Ramazan is very different for me. Sometimes it’s unbearably hard; it passes in a fog of sleeplessness and hunger. Then, everything after Ramazan is much easier, and I realize how much stronger and more compassionate it makes me. Only later do I realize that I could have handled the lack of hunger and sleeplessness more graciously.

I think this Ramazan, I should work on getting back to being more gentle, more thoughtful, more patient, I’ll try to think before I speak (I told someone I had cancer? God forbid) and I’ll try to be touch less self-righteous.

I wish everyone a loving, peaceful and blessed Ramazan (and afterwards too!).


*Waseta is roughly translated as special connections or relations with someone powerful. I am often surprised when non-Afghans living in Afghanistan don’t understand or know this word because everything in Afghanistan is run on waseta. Everything.


K-Oh said...

Well, I think this is a pretty funny story. I also loathed being in the airport the two times that I was in Kabul--such chaos, so much pushing around, and, since I couldn't speak the language, such fear on my part that I'd wind up in the wrong place. I hope you were yelling at the men in Dari, so that they all got the message!

As for those women outside who check you and your stuff, I got really mad once that they tried to make me give them things (this is after I had to go to the airport about five times to try to find lost luggage). Then I just made sure I went with a package of breath mints and gave them one of those. Another time, one of the women had a terrible cold and I gave her a decongestant-- she was very happy with that!

I was really pissed when the guys loading the bags onto the belt asked for a tip. But I suppose I might, if I were them.

Chaoyang said...

LOL, oh, ____-jaan, RFLOL, but really - you have cancer? God Forbid! Tauba, Tauba, Tauba. I'm doing a little prayer for you for that one. And maybe you could give some extra charity or donate a goat to a village or something?

When I was in Houston, I was house-sitting for my sister, who was expecting a plumber to come by to check out a bathroom. The plumber arrived, he was polite and took care of the problem. As we were seated at the dining table, signing checks and work order forms, he asked me if I spoke Arabic.

That day, I was dressed in a t-shirt and capris (it's hot in Houston) and nothing about me really said Muslim. So, I assumed he was stereotyping based on my facial features. And having recently returned to Houston (the land of the sometimes culturally ill-informed) after several years in D.C. (a place a rarely needed to explain myself) I felt indignant and replied "No" curtly. Then, not satisfied, I decided to put him in his place for asking such an off the wall question and said, "Do you?"

Imagine my mortification when he answered "Yes, I converted to Islam 2 years ago and have been studying Arabic to better understand the Quran and do my prayers" !!!!

I felt so bad for assuming the worst. I think I made up for it with my weak "Oh, well, Asalaam Alaikum, yes, I know enough Arabic for my prayers and the Quran, too."

He said he does not bring it up, usually, but saw some "signs" around the house (Wall hangings, etc - so, ironically, his comment WAS "off the wall") and felt safe enough to ask.

Alas, I don't have the excuse of being in fast to excuse my behaviour.

May we all realize our faults and learn to improve them. Happy Ramadan.

homeinkabul said...

K: Totally, everything was in my Dari

C: I know, Tauba! I will give some charity.

Anonymous said...

Airports - and most official places - here in Saudi are much the same - workers with their hands out, leering men and movement-by-wasta. Like you, the staring and comments are the worst sometimes. I've found scolding in Arabic to be pretty effective, probably because they assume I don't know what they're saying and are shocked when I call them on their rude behavior.

homeinkabul said...

S: welcome to the blog! And I'm glad you tell them what's up. I enjoy the shocked expression on their faces.

omg said...

_____-jan, you crack me up. I'm sorry your journey was so rough though. It's like a mental triathlon just to get through the airport. Actually, I am picturing more of an American Gladiators type event.

I'm glad that you yelled at the dude who was staring at you. Serves him right. I would have loved to have seen that. Partially because I can't picture it coming from you.

Maybe these new instincts and quick thinking of yours will serve you well in the future. You could join an improv group, or an intelligence agency.

As for waseta, there is a similar concept in other cultures. The problem is that I can't remember if it came up in my Latin American studies or my Asian studies. I think it's a Latin American thing, but I can't remember the word in Spanish. So really I'm no help at all, and I'll shut up now.

homeinkabul said...

O: I was just thinking the other day that the benefit of living in Afghanistan helps break down that personal wall that people have. That wall that stops you from saying, "What the hell are you doing?" to strangers.

And I also wonder - was I timid before? My personal view of myself was of a timid person, trying to be more assertive. But I had 2 friends tell me (last year) that passive is not what they thought of me as.


Roohafza Junkie said...

Perhaps this is why it's okay not to fast while traveling :) I'm sure He is more than understanding.

I'm sorry that you had to endure such people during your trip. At the Lahore Airport in Pakistan, everyone thought I had sucker written on my forehead! The kuli (porter) took the luggage cart on ahead and I got lost in the crowd, so by the time I got to the scale, the Gulf air dude and kuli were putting the luggage back on the cart after having "weighed" all my pieces. I demanded that they do it infront of me, but the kuli just pushed the cart over the check-in counter. I thanked the kuli and was going to give him a tip of 100 Rupees, but he demanded 300! I was shocked, b/c you aren't even suppose to tip them. I gave him a 100, but he wouldn't leave and kept his hand out. I got so mad that I finally threw 200 more his way and said something rude to him that I can't recall now. What did he care, he got 300 Rupees for pushing my luggage cart!

At the check-in counter I was fined $125 for being over the limit with my luggage and I was told that one of my carry-ons was too big and I'd have to pay a fee for it to be my 3rd piece of checked in luggage. I demanded to know how much over the limit my luggage was, but didn't get an answer. I got them to change their stand on my carry-on, b/c how was I able to bring it from the US w/o any problems and now it's a problem. I gave him $150 and the guy (Farhan) slipped it into his pocket. I waited on change and he didn't give me any. When I demanded my change, he replied, "gosh, it's only $25!" I didn't get $25, but I did get the equivalent in Pakistani Rupees.

I thought I was out of the woods, but when I got to the security check point, I was harassed for traveling w/o a man. I couldn't believe it! I mean, I was in a Muslim country and I was even wearing hijab, but no one showed any respect...sometimes I think they don't know what respect is. Two older gentlemen stepped in and the guard let me pass.

Thankfully this didn't happen during Ramadan...I don't know what would have happened otherwise ;)

I did write the Gulf Airlines President about what happened, they did an investigation and surprise, surprise, they didn't find anything out of the ordinary!