France

Terrorism and the Need to Acknowledge Accountability

I have a mixture of feelings of relief, angst, and anger following yesterday’s dramatic end to the search Earth_Western_Hemisphere_transparent_backgroundfor the Charlie Hebdo attackers.

Relief, because two psychotic murderers no longer roam the streets of France.

Angst, because of the brutal backlash that has already started against Muslim communities in the West.

And anger, partly at my fellow Muslims for seemingly wanting to fully distance themselves from any accountability for the current state of the general Muslim mindset/culture. And partly at the general Western world for not wanting to take accountability for a whole context they have played a huge role in creating.

I was glued to the television set as I watched events unfold live yesterday in Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes. I was awash with relief to see them come to an end. But at the same time I was horrified that yet four more had died in the midst of it all. For some reason I need to know who those four people are. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was to turn on the news, hoping more information had been released. It hasn’t. There is a connection I need to make with those remaining four.

Yesterday night, just as the events ended, I learned that a friend of mine had recently moved to France. “Today they put a pig’s head in front of the mosque,” he told me. “Several women had their hijab pulled off their heads and there is a horrifying incitement campaign [against Muslims]. People are directing their anger at Islam and not just the murderers,” he said.

Early this morning I woke up to a status from a Dutch Muslim friend reporting that within her own limited network two mosques were firebombed, two women were soaked in beer by a co-passenger on the train while being called “fucking terrorists”, the mother of a friend was pelted with coca cola bottles, a young woman was told at the supermarket register that she should feel ashamed to still wear “that rag on her head”, numerous friends of friends were cussed at, slapped, lectured on their obligation to apologize, violated, etc., while bystanders did nothing. All the victims she had heard of were veiled women, she said.

I fear for my friends’ lives and for their families’ safety.

What frustrates me the most, I think, is the constant blame game that ensues after these sort of horrific events. No one wants to take responsibility for the mess we’re all in.

There is no simple answer to the question: what makes a person become a terrorist. Terrorism is the result of a very large number of complex factors. What acutely annoys me is that most of us have a very good idea what they are.  (more…)

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Cycling Europe Day 25: A Sob In My Belly

I have a sob in my belly that is trying to burst out.

Morning tea in Nice.

Morning tea in Nice.

I think I have experienced pure sensory overload today. I had to come back to my hotel earlier than I had planned because I was feeling too overwhelmed. I felt as if I was on the verge of a sensory meltdown.

I don’t even know where to start to explain it.

I was in Cannes yesterday. I had a wonderful spaghetti and meatball lunch while sitting on the corniche. I walked all over the city on a beautiful spring day. This morning I got on my bike and very lazily cycled off to my next destination. The whole route today was along the Mediterranean coast. I had a relatively short day today – around 50 km – so I was in no rush. I just cycled, looked at the water, marveled at the surrounding mountains, and enjoyed the day. I stopped in Nice for some tea. Actually, I really really had to pee and the whole area was full of people and buildings so I could only pee at a restaurant. I had Earl Grey tea while sitting on the corniche in Nice. Who does that?

My husband had warned me that to get to Monaco, I would have to climb a steep

This is where I want to spend the rest of my life.

This is where I want to spend the rest of my life.

mountain. I wanted to make sure I was taking the right route to Monaco. I stopped on older man on a bicycle. “Yes, yes,” he said. “You just continue straight. As long as you see the sea you will know you are in the right direction. But there is a big mountain to climb! Perhaps you should take the train?” I smiled and told him I wanted to go by bike. I thanked him and set off. To be sure, I asked two cyclists a short time later if this was the route to Monaco. “Yes,” one of them said. “But you will have to climb a mountain!” This repeated talk of mountains put fear in my heart. How bad must this mountain be? I wondered.

The road climbed marginally and I found myself looking down on the town I want to spend the rest of my life in. Villefranche-sur-Mer mesmerized me. The waters were turquoise blue, the town serene, the mountains hovered above it.

I kept waiting for the mountain. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 24: Holding On To Memories

“How does one hold on to a memory?” I asked myself while walking along the marina

Cannes

Cannes

in Cannes, France. The sky was blue, the weather was warm, the sun was shining, the waves of the Mediterranean lightly rolling. I was feeling content. It had suddenly hit me (not for the first time) how fortunate I was to be able to go on an adventure such as this, to see the places I have seen, and experience the things I have done. How do I hold on to this moment of content so that I can recall it later for many years to come?

The cycle today was by no means an easy one. I cycled 125km from Saint Maximin la

I cycled through a mountain to get to Cannes.

I cycled through a mountain to get to Cannes.

Sainte Baume to Cannes. It involved 872 long, hard meters of ascent and 1111 blissful meters of descent. Basically, I had to cycle over a mountain to get to Cannes. But the moment I saw the Mediterranean I forgot the pain of the previous hours. It’s such a strange thing when that happens. I cycled lazily along the coast for awhile. Everything was so beautiful. Seeing the sea reminded me of one of my other passions: scuba diving. And it got me to think how amazing it is that I can experience life in so many different ways: by bike, diving underwater, hiking and hill walking… I am truly fortunate. Alhamdullilah. All thanks be to Allah.

I haven’t seen many cyclists in France; no where near as many as I had seen in Spain. Some French cyclists I’ve seen don’t wear helmets. I saw a lot of cyclists in Arles. There must be known bike routes in that area. I saw several cyclists climbing the mountain with me today to Cannes as well.

The French don’t seem to be as good-tempered as the Spaniards. I’ve been thinking that the Spaniards might have the right idea with this siesta thing. Shops and restaurants shut down at 1:30pm in Spain and re-open at 5pm. Maybe that’s why I saw more cyclists on the road there: they have more time for leisure activities. In Spain, the cyclists really cheered me on. Motorists beeped happy beeps for me and waved as they passed. In France, the cyclists barely nod their heads in acknowledgement, if that, and the motorists are just angry, aggressive folk. I think the French should consider taking a siesta, getting some sleep, maybe having some sex… They really need to lose the temper and loosen up! (more…)

Cycling Europe Days 20 to 23: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Today was my 20th cycling day and it was absolutely miserable – albeit with some

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier, France

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier, France

really great views.

I was due “miserable”. I just had three absolutely perfect days with my husband. Colin arrived by plane into Montpellier on Saturday morning – I had arrived by bike the previous evening. When I cycled into Montpellier on Friday, I was rather taken aback by how crowded and dirty it appeared to me. Th crowds in Place de la Comedie in the city’s historic center were so dense and noisy that I looked for a restaurant where I could eat inside, just to get some relative quiet. I promised myself to reserve judgement on the city until Colin came and we had some time to see it properly together.

My verdict: Montpellier is a beautiful town and everything looks better when I’m able

Cycling with my husband on one of the few easy days I've had on this trip. He no longer believes it's been challenging.

Cycling with my husband on one of the few easy days I’ve had on this trip. He no longer believes it’s been challenging.

to share it with my husband. It’s that simple. We spent Saturday walking around Montpellier, Sunday cycling to the beach and lazing about, and Monday we cycled 70km together to my next destination, Arles. Every single day was perfect. Every place we visited was beautiful. The cycling was easy and tremendously enjoyable.

This has given me the chance to see solo-cycling for a family woman like myself in a different light. A very large part of the challenge for me is not in doing this generally; it’s in doing this alone. I have always been able to enjoy my own company and to go places on my own. But solo-cycling for weeks on end, being solely responsible for everything, not being able to depend on anyone but oneself or complete strangers when necessary, having no one to talk to or to share the experience with: I’m finding that very very difficult. I think it has resulted in me seeing and experiencing things in a very different way than if I were to have done this with my husband or with a group of people. Yet at the same time doing it alone has its rewards. The sense of accomplishment is fulfilling. And then I’ve promised myself not to hold back on my dreams when I’m able to achieve them simply because I don’t have a chaperone to accompany me on them.

Arles, France is a must-see.

Arles, France is a must-see.

So I had three perfect days with my husband. And we parted ways this morning: he set off to the train station to go back to Montpellier to catch his flight home to the UK and I cycled off into the sunrise to Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume. Lots of tears and snot were involved. The first 70km of today’s journey were not bad. The road was gradually ascending but barely enough for me to notice. My first problem occurred when I suddenly found myself cycling onto a motorway. I have absolutely no idea how it happened. One second I was on a quiet country road and the next I was on a crazy French motorway. It freaked the heck out of me. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 19: El-Awady Galactica

Every day it’s pretty much same ol’ same ol’. There’s hardly any point telling the story

It was an especially beautiful morning in the galaxy today.

It was an especially beautiful morning in the galaxy today.

anymore. It’s getting old.

Captain Nadia El-Awady, now the elder of the El-Awady clan after their father passed away (ألف رحمة ونور عليه) and thus the captain, quickly downs her breakfast before she begins her work for the day. She takes her seat at the helm of El-Awady Galactica, a small ship that in no way properly represents the greatness of the El-Awadys. It does, on the other hand, reflect their sense of humility.

As Captain Nadia steers her way through the galaxy – as one does – she receives a red alert from Little Man In My Head, her constant companion (one of a multitude).

“Warning! Warning! Meteor shower approaches from the northwest!” shouts Little Man with his very big voice.

The meteor shower threatens to push the Galactica off course. It is severe today and we are heading right towards it.

(more…)

Cycling Europe Day 18: Smells of Jasmine

I think I’ve snapped out of my initial snobbishness towards France. I always find that initial shock of change difficult. Besides, this was Spain we were talking about – SPAIN – and I was leaving it.

I woke up this morning having decided to give France another chance and it did not let me down. It all started when I checked out from my hotel. The receptionist handed me a lily of the valley and explained that the French, on May 1, traditionally give them to people to celebrate spring. What a wonderful way to start the day!

The sun was just rising, I could see the snow-capped Pyrenees to the south, I crossed the River Basse, and I was off pedaling to Narbonne in the east. And everything smelled so nice! What is that smell? I kept asking myself. Everything smells like jasmine.

At first I thought my head was just getting to me. I was feeling happy and optimistic. But I kept sniffing at the air and smelling jasmine. I took deep breaths. It felt so good. Of course, I thought. France is the land of perfumes. It must smell good. Eventually I stopped by the side of the road, determined to discover the source of the smell. I thought it might be the little white flowers scattered among the grass. But it wasn’t. Then I noticed trees on both sides of the road full of yellow flowers. I smelled them. It was them! I took a small branch and placed it in my handlebar bag along with my lily of the valley.

I’ve been reluctant to pee by the side of the road since I entered France yesterday. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 17: Culture Shock

I had it all planned out in my head. Today’s blog post would be titled, “Vive la France!” with an exclamation point at the end, of course. When I saw the sign indicating I was crossing into France, I might give a little cry with tears then right about it in the post, then I’d take a picture of the sign and post it too, with me feeling all glorious and triumphant.

But Spain was having none of it and neither was France.

I always check the weather reports the night before and the morning of a cycle. Always. I want to know what to expect; partly to know what to wear and partly because if I know to expect bad weather I’m mentally prepared for it.

I checked the weather reports as always for Girona, Spain, my starting point, and Perpignan, France, my destination for the day. Both cities were to have partially cloudy mornings and it would drizzle in the afternoon in Perpignan. I’d want to try to get there early, I thought. Might as well avoid the drizzle if I can. I also checked the wind. I could have sworn I checked both cities and that they both had very minimal wind today. I was relieved. I now suspect that I checked the wind in Girona only. (more…)

London to Paris Cycle 2013

Part I: The Training

When my husband first told me that he was thinking of getting a few guys from the office together to cycle from London to Paris, my

Andrew, Colin, and Nadia after three days of cycling from London to Paris. We made it!

Andrew, Colin, and Nadia after three days of cycling from London to Paris. We made it!

first thought was, “Who does crazy stuff like that?” The words that came out of my mouth were, “Can I join?”

I hardly had any experience cycling but that was not going to hold me back. I bought a cheap mountain bike in Egypt just before I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009. I cycled a few times in Cairo as part of my training for the climb. That training consisted of leisurely cycling on flat road for no longer than half an hour at a time. I did not think it was leisurely then, of course. I now know what real training means. (more…)

Societies Overpowered by a Headscarf: It’s Time for Change

Muslim women in Europe and the United States who choose to wear a headscarf or face veil are placed under tremendous societal pressures almost every day. On the streets, some people look at them as if they are freaks of nature. Many find it difficult to get jobs or even to be accepted as tenants. And in France, women who wear the face veil are now affronted with legal action. Some women hold their heads high and persevere despite all this. Some women find it difficult to cope, they cringe under the heavy fist of society, and they decide to take off their hijab or their face veil and conform to the societal norm. Other women decide that the hijab wasn’t for them anyway and that this is as good an opportunity as any to take it off.

The struggle of the veiled Muslim woman in Europe has reached the hearts and minds of Muslims all over the world, including mine. Her struggle is their struggle. A woman has the right to choose, we all shout. Muslim women do not wear the headscarf/face veil out of oppression, we explain. In so many cases, they wear it as a matter of choice.

A woman, we shout, has the right to choose.

But do we Muslims really believe this or do we use this argument when it suits us?

(more…)

Mont Blanc Lament by Kate Inman

Kate Inman was one of three women (including me) in a group of ten who set out to France to attempt a summit of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain. A few

Dave and Kate Inman and me (photo taken by Yoshihito Niimura)

weeks after the trip she sent us a poem that beautifully describes our trip together. Here it is, unedited, with her permission:

Mont Blanc Lament

Or

Ten go Silly in the Snow

When we walked through Chalet Prarion’s front door,

Mont Blanc was the thing that we had in store.

To climb up higher than we’d been before,

(Though Yoshi and Nadia had been higher before!)

We worried about having not done enough training,

A couple of walks – except for when it was raining.

But Damian soon allayed all our fears,

When he arrived straight from a night out on the beers.

The next day began with guides checking our stuff,

And ditching the things that they thought were no good.

Harnesses, crampons, a helmet and axe,

All added weight to our heavy rucksacks.

The first task was reaching ‘Albert Premier’,

Yves pointed out flowers – but I didn’t care.

I was too busy thinking of the big task ahead,

And how I would cope with four blokes in one bed.

The next day we climbed up to the Trient Hut,

Nadia was happy she’d made it, but…

Point d’Orny was our final test, before we were allowed to have a rest.

Some bits were scary – I thought I might die,

Yves said “ Just pretend you’re a butterfly!”

And of course we all made it, most thought it was fun,

(I’d spent most of it sat on my bum.)

Spaghetti for dinner, how much do guides eat?

They must be hollow right down to their feet.

Early next morning, about half past five,

Onto the glacier to see the sun rise.

Up to the top of the Aiguille de Tour,

All roped together to keep us secure.

Then back to the chalet, a welcome respite,

Nice food, a hot shower (?) our own beds for the night.

Damian said “Look guys, I don’t mean to be rude,”

“But which one of you bastards is stealing my food?”

Wednesday the 17th – this is the day,

We began our ascent up the Mont Blanc Tramway.

Tete Rousse was quite spacious but nothing could hide,

The ominous sound of rocks falling outside.

We chatted about what tomorrow would bring,

And which one of us might just end up in a sling.

But we had a good chance of staying alive,

Especially with ‘Lord Damian’s’ dark powers on our side.

Climbing up through the snow-we hadn’t gone far,

We reached the edge of the Grand Couloir.

All was quiet and so we crossed it quick,

Mark putting on quite a bit of a lick.

Vasyl and Colin began the traverse,

But falling rocks soon put them into reverse.

Somehow we made it with all limbs complete,

And started the scramble up the next 1800ft.

It was all going well and then looking up,

I could see the lights of the Gouter Hut.

But on a ledge with 200 metres to go,

That voice came over the radio.

And the decision was made that we all had feared,

Surely our summit bid couldn’t end here?

We’ve hardly got started, we’re raring to go,

But the guides were unanimous – the decision is no.

So carefully we began retracing our way,

The sun coming up to start a new day.

Back to the hut and through the front door,

That we had only just come through two hours before.

So now we had 5 guides with time on their hands,

So we sat down together to formulate plans.

If there was no chance of Mont Blanc that day,

We’d have to amuse ourselves some other way.

Mark, Nick and Dena went up Mer de Glace,

The plan was to throw them into a crevasse.

Of course the idea’s to climb out up the side,

A task that sounds simple unless you have tried.

Vasyl and Nadia chose to spend their day,

On a Via Ferrata – an ‘iron way’.

On the side of a cliff with nothing below,

We’d have had video footage if Yves had pressed go.

The rest of us tried to stifle our panic,

When the doorbell rang and there stood Yannick.

The steep climb up Pointe Lachenal was our goal,

We tried not to laugh when Yoshi fell in that hole.

So some of us still have plans of reaching the top,

(I know Dave’s obsession is unlikely to stop.)

Whether it’s this year, the next or in four,

Mark and the gang may be getting a call.

They say men climb mountains because they are there,

Testing their limits up in the thin air.

But one thing more important than accomplishing such feat,

Is the great times you have with the people you meet.