Opinions That Matter and Those That Harm

Over the past few weeks especially, I’ve struggled with the intrusiveness that social media can bring. I wrote an Arabic language Facebook status several weeks ago that went viral, bringing in some 15,000 new Arab (mainly Egyptian as far as I can tell) followers in one day. Today, I have more than 22,000 people following me on Facebook. It has completely destabilized the way I use the medium.

I have many more followers on Twitter. My tweets during and after the Egyptian revolution followed by other tweets about Egypt and later about travel have resulted in almost 80,000 people following me on Twitter. But my relationship with Twitter thawed long ago. People I followed on Twitter (mainly Egyptians) had become very “loud” and whiny. “Conversations” seemed more like personal attacks. The small space available for words made me feel points weren’t getting across or were getting across in the wrong “tone”. I now rarely use Twitter. I mainly use it to tell people when I’ve published a new blog post.

But I was enjoying my relationship with Facebook. I was voicing opinions, telling stories and getting mainly what I would call reasonable and balanced comments in return. Mean people were few and far between and easy to deal with. Usually I didn’t have to deal with them at all. Friends or followers would respond on my behalf and the meany would feel outnumbered and eventually go away.

Now things have changed. And my experience of the past few weeks has caused me to think more and more about how some people’s opinions can be beneficial and thought-provoking while other people’s words can be very personal and hurtful. My experience has caused me to wonder whether I really want to know what everyone thinks about a particular topic or if I’d rather personally choose who I want to hear from. It’s also caused me to think more about the consequences of sharing information. If I share relatively personal information or opinions through social media, does that automatically give others the right to voice their opinions about me as a person? (more…)

The Contradictions of What It Is to Be an Arab Living Abroad

We have a single word in Arabic for what it is to reside in a country other than one’s own. In English, expatriation might be the word that is used. I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my non-Arab friends living abroad using “expatriation” to describe their state of being. We hear people refer to expats all the time. But that’s pretty much it in my experience. In Arabic, the word we use is “ghorbah”. If I were to look for a single word in English to translate it to, it would be “estrangement”. We Arabs use this term ALL THE TIME.

Ghorbah implies a state of being away from one’s roots. It’s a negative term that describes the hole that is left in our very hearts when we live away from our home countries. It means we will forever be strangers wherever we are in the world unless we are where we were born. It’s the antithesis of belonging.

I’m not sure what it is. We complain about our home countries incessantly. Let’s be honest, we have a lot that is worthy of complaining. People in our countries talk about moving abroad ALL THE TIME. They want a better life for themselves and their children. They’re sick of the backwardness. They’re fed up with the corruption. They can no longer tolerate the regime. Yet the second we set foot in that other country, we begin complaining about our “ghorbah” or estrangement from home. We start romanticizing everything we left behind. Well, almost everything. And we nitpick at our new countries of residence and detail everything that’s wrong about them.

It must be in the genes. We all do it. Maybe it’s a sickness we take with us from our home countries. Or perhaps we’ve been conditioned into thinking that our countries are the greatest that ever existed even when we’re running away from the very thought of them. (more…)

The right not to find answers with the “righteous”

Years ago, thirty to be precise, I was buddy-buddy with all the “religious” girls in university. Eventually, not only was I buddy-buddy with them, I was among their “leaders”. I couldn’t be buddy-buddy with the religious guys, mind you. Mixing between the sexes wasn’t allowed. That did not mean in any way, shape or form that we weren’t always eyeing each other up for a potential future spouse.

At the time, I was living in a new country (and loving it) without my parents and most of my siblings. For years before, I had listened to my father’s adventurous stories about revolutions and Islamic movements from when he was a school and university student. My father was a fabulous oral storyteller. He loved telling his stories and I loved listening to them. He loved telling his stories so much that he’d tell us the same story over and over along the years. I loved hearing his stories so much that I never bored of hearing the same story multiple times. The result was that I couldn’t wait to go to university in Egypt so I could go “underground”. I wasn’t sure what that meant or what I should be looking for, but by golly, if I was going to go to university in Egypt then I would be going underground. My father’s final words before he left me alone in the country were along the lines of, “Surround yourself with religious friends.” I didn’t need him to tell me that. I was going to seek them out anyways because I was pretty sure they were the key to my long-sought-after underground.

I found the underground, of course. They weren’t very good at keeping themselves secret. Actually, they were lousy at it. Not that they really meant to be totally underground anyways; otherwise how else would they recruit new members to the “righteous path”?

They were good days. I have a million fond memories from the times. I had a family away from my family. I had sisters, the numbers of whom I could not count. I belonged. I was appreciated. I was even, in a way, adored. I was listened to. All I had to do was read a couple of books and suddenly sisters and “those who like the sisters” were coming to me for words of wisdom or for rulings on whether this or that behaviour was “halal” (allowed) or “haram” (prohibited) in Islam. This thing you’ve seen in me where I spout out eternal wisdoms all the time started all the way back then.

But gradually I became disillusioned. In the beginning, I became disillusioned with various Islamic movements, choosing to affiliate myself with only one. Eventually, I became disillusioned with “the one” Islamic movement as well. As I grew, as I read, as I listened, as I learned, as I gained more experience and met more people, I began to believe there could be no such thing as “a one”. Rather, there were “many”. I began to believe that what might be right for me doesn’t necessarily have to be right for others. I started to think that just because other people’s choices are different does not make them wrong.

So I un-affiliated myself completely from the movements (as opposed to the religion). And instead, over time, I gained friends from all over the world, each of whom was different from the next. The one thing that might connect them all would be their acceptance of others despite differences. Lots of differences. Not the I’m right and you’re lost acceptance but let us be brothers anyways because by associating with me you will learn how great my path is and you will want to join me (unless you’re a lost cause, that is). But the kind that just lets people be the way they want to be. The kind that celebrates difference and embraces it.

Gradually, instead of my life seeming to focus on bringing sisters into “the light”, it became more focused on trying to be a better inhabitant of planet Earth. Instead of proselytizing and directing people to the one and only path of righteousness, I looked inward. It turned out, there was a lot that needed to be dealt with. (more…)

Guru Nadia loses “the way”

I thought I had me figured out.

I thought I had me under control.

I thought I had been on this long, tortuous (anything-but-spectacular-now-that-I’m-where-I-am-now) journey and that I’d learned the greatest lessons of life, reached the age of wisdom, and I could deal calmly with anything that was thrown my way.

I don’t know what happened or when exactly, but I was really really wrong.

Now I find myself asking me: “So what’s the deal? I knew life was always going to have its ups and downs. I figured that part out. I lowered my expectations completely and started enjoying whatever it was I did have. But I thought I had learned self-control. I thought I had gained inner peace. WHERE THE FUCK HAS THAT GONE???”

Does this mean that just as life has its ups and downs, self also goes through uncontrollable rollercoaster-rides of emotions? But why?

Or is this just me bolting right into pre-menopause? I have to warn you now, if this is what my menopause is going to be like, if I have to go through this for several years, you will all want to run out of my way starting now. Because this ugly. This is really ugly.

And then I think, “Why has God made women’s hormones so difficult to deal with? I mean: this is God we’re talking about. G O D. God can do anything. God gave us tornadoes and tsunamis and poverty and asshole dictators. (more…)

Dealing with self-pity over frozen shoulder

I’ll bet you’ve always wondered how The Nadia would handle self-pity over a post-traumatic frozen shoulder.

That’s why I’m going to tell you how she handles it:

  1. She gets told by her physiotherapist that, as a result of a shoulder dislocation two months ago, she now has frozen shoulder. This means that rather than taking six weeks to three months in order to heal, it could take anywhere between one to three years. In the meantime, she will have limited range of motion in her shoulder joint and pain.
  2. She goes home, writes herself an excellent pep talk on Facebook, listens to some great music, and feels like she’s on top of the world.
  3. She wakes up the next morning feeling like she’d rather not get out of bed. When she does, she can’t get any work done. She sits in front of her laptop for a full two hours getting absolutely nothing done.
  4. So she writes a blog post to tell the whole world how sorry she’s feeling for herself.
  5. She decides she’s not going to the gym today just because. In fact, she’s not going to do ANYTHING today.
  6. She goes to the gym because she knows nothing good has ever come from not going to the gym.
  7. She decides since she has gone to the gym, she’s going to get the heaviest weight she knows she can handle for all the non-shoulder-related exercises.
  8. She discovers today’s gym class is all about the shoulders and she starts doubting her understanding that nothing good ever comes from not going to the gym.
  9. The gym instructor is nice. She gives The Nadia alternative exercises, half of which she still can’t do. The Nadia starts feeling even more frustrated than when she woke up. She starts focusing on creating super biceps and triceps.
  10. Everybody else is told to do push-ups. The Nadia decides she’ll try to hold a plank. She can’t because it’s too much pressure on her bad shoulder. So she decides to teach herself how to do a one-handed plank. Maybe by the end of this ordeal she’ll be the only one in that class who can do one.
  11. The class ends and The Nadia has hardly broken a sweat. She’s angry. She decides she’s not even going to take a shower.
  12. On her way home, The Nadia laments her cycling days. Even though the physiotherapist has told her she can get back on the bike, she’s been reluctant to because she doesn’t want to fall. First, because falling is now even more scary than it used to be. Second, because falling would mean making her bad shoulder even worse, which she could do without.
  13. The Nadia gets home, puts her gym bag on the floor, gets her cycling jacket and helmet out, grabs her bike, and starts cycling, thinking FUCK THIS! I’M GOING TO GET ON THIS BIKE AND CYCLE!
  14. The Nadia sees every crack in the road as a potential bike trap. But she keeps cycling.
  15. The Nadia discovers that, although there is some pressure on the bad shoulder, it’s not as bad as she expected. She does have to relieve the pressure on it every now and then, but a one-hour ride turns out to be doable.
  16. She gets home in one piece, wraps herself up in her fleece robe, and writes a blog post to tell the whole world that she might be feeling sorry for herself, but she FUCKING AIN’T GOING TO LET THAT HOLD HER BACK!

And that, my dear friends, is how The Nadia deals with self-pity.

Frozen shoulder, frozen brain, flowing emotions

Two months ago, I dislocated my shoulder after falling from my bike when my wheel got caught in a tram

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

The day after the fall, making our way to Amsterdam by train instead of bike.

track. I’ve seen very little improvement since then. In fact, yesterday things took a turn for the worse and my physiotherapist told me I have frozen shoulder. I’ve been losing range of movement in my shoulder. At first, I could move my shoulder in any direction. But movement in certain directions would cause the head of my humerus, the upper arm bone, to wobble and physically crackle within the joint. So I was told not to move my arm in any direction that would cause this. I needed to allow my soft tissue to heal properly. Doctors and physiotherapists worry about recurrence of dislocation with shoulders. Some doctors, I’ve been told, completely prevent any sort of physical activity with the arm in order to allow it to completely heal. I’ve been quite active but only doing the things that don’t cause pain or a wobbling joint.

Anyway, the things I used to be able to do after the injury, like swimming the breast stroke or putting my hair in a pony tail, I can no longer do.

My physiotherapist told me I have to wait for it to get worse before it gets better. (more…)

That elusive “inner peace”

For a short period of time, I had found my inner peace. It was heaven. I had made peace with the big IMG_1688existential questions of life by deciding it was all right not to have all the answers. I stopped allowing other people’s lives, interferences and reactions affect me. I felt focused. I felt relaxed. I had accepted that life would never be perfect but that I’m very blessed nevertheless.

Heaven on Earth, I tell you.

You know that inner peace? I seem to have misplaced it and no matter how hard I look for it I can’t find it.

I still know somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s all right not to have all the answers.

But some questions are really bugging the heck out of me. Not that I’m doing much to figure them out. The big questions just need so much time and energy. I’m tired of the big questions. I want life to be simple and straightforward. Why isn’t life simple and straightforward?

And then there’s people. What the FUCK, people?? What is wrong with you lot?? (more…)

Nadia: The Self-Appointed Facebook Superhero Unable to Save the World

Nadia: “But I want to save the world!”

Nadia’s best friend Arwa: “Save it! Just don’t let it bother you!”

Nadia: “But I’m not bothered for me. I’m bothered for the sake of all of humanity!”

It was at that point in the conversation that I realized I was properly PMSing.

I’m not aware when exactly it happened or how long it’s been going on, but at some point in time I appointed myself savior of all humanity (in Egypt only really because saviors need to be realistic about their goals) through Facebook.

I could go on joking about this and making fun of myself. That would be easy. But I won’t. Because no matter how silly and superficial it sounds, “it” isn’t silly or superficial at all.

I’m not sure when the messages started rolling in. It’s been at least two years now. Maybe three. Perhaps four? Complete strangers, almost all of them Egyptian, started popping up in my Facebook inbox asking if I would listen to their story. So I listened. At first I was receiving one message every few days. Then, for a long time, a year or two, I was receiving around two messages a day. Recently I posted what I thought was another one of my “normal” statuses but for some reason it went absolutely and crazily viral. That day and for a few days after I was receiving tens of messages from complete strangers. All needing a listening ear. (more…)

Putting up with an anxious friend

I’ve been through some rough times. Everyone has. My rough times are probably not as rough as most. But they are still my rough times. And I’ve been through them.

I can’t say that I dwell on them much anymore. But there’s one thing that I do remember often, and that’s how many friends stuck with me despite my rough times.

I’m not talking about the friends who gave me their constant support and encouragement. I’m not talking about the friends who would turned up at my house without invitation because they knew I wasn’t doing very well. I’m talking about the friends who put up with me for years while I dealt with anger and anxiety issues I wasn’t even aware I had.

The only reason I know now that I was an angry and anxious woman (and potentially depressed) is that I now know what it feels like not to be angry, anxious or depressed. (It’s wonderful).

I don’t know if my friends were even aware that I was angry, anxious and depressed. They might have thought that was just the way I am. Even so, they continued to be my friends and I love them for it. (more…)

Behold the crap-fighting science warriors

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a reputable science institution to participate in one of their newsletters with a piece on the state of science journalism in the developing world. The piece I wrote is below. It was politely rejected because the science institution was worried it might be seen to be destroying bridges with countries it works with. We can have a separate discussion on bridges worth maintaining and those that are not. As a journalist, however, it is my duty to say things the way they are. Science journalism in the developing world is in danger for so many reasons. Below I explain a couple of them.

In February 2014, the Egyptian armed forces announced in a press conference that their engineering department achieved a “scientific breakthrough” by inventing a device that diagnoses and cures HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C virus, and a variety of other illnesses. The device, they announced, had a 100% success rate. Looking curiously similar to a metal detector, it purportedly worked by using electromagnetic waves.

This happened at a crucial time in Egypt’s post-revolutionary history. Only a few short months earlier, the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown. Shortly afterwards, Egyptian police massacred hundreds of protesters at a sit-in supporting the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to government. Egyptians had been living in instability and insecurity since the 2011 Revolution and the Egyptian army was positioning itself to appear as the country’s knight in shining armor. Media outlets in the country rallied to hail the army’s new breakthrough and a large number of Egyptians celebrated the success through social media.

This crap really happens from well-educated, well-travelled, well-connected people living in the 21st century—the Age of Information.

Voices of reason, fortunately, still do exist, although sometimes seeming as weak, in comparison, as the squeak of a mouse. (more…)