why ramadan requires two alarm clocks.

I’m laying in bed when I wake up, thinking that it must be almost time to wake up for suhoor. Half asleep, I reach out to the nightstand and flip my phone over.

3:43 a.m.

Saleh! Saleh!” I say, nudging Mr. Mostafa urgently. “It’s like, one minute until fajr!”

“What?” he replies groggily. “No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is,” I insist. “Why didn’t you wake us up?”

“No, it’s—“ He sits bolt upright in bed as he looks at his phone. “What the hell? I set my alarm for 3:15!”

“Well, obviously you didn’t, or—“

“No time!” He cuts me off and leaps out of bed, making a beeline for the kitchen. We’re not going to have time for a proper meal before the day’s fasting starts.

I roll out of bed as quickly as I can, taking care to not wake Lavender. I go to the water dispenser and grab the water bottle sitting on the dresser next to it. I fill the bottle and gulp down as much water as I can. As I do so, I head toward the kitchen, where Mr. Mostafa is cramming dates into his mouth.

“Why are you drinking from my water bottle?” he snaps when he sees me. “That’s my water bottle.”

“Uh,” I say.

“And now it’s empty!” he says. “Get me water in my water bottle.”

Stunned and still brain-fogged from sleep, I go back to the water dispenser, fill the bottle, and then bring it back to him, sitting it on the laundry machine in the kitchen. As I angrily walk out of the kitchen and into the bathroom, the fajr athan sounds. Fasting has started for the day.

I make wudhu, splashing plenty of water on my face. I’m furious. Once I finish, I go back into the bedroom and get ready to pray. A few minutes later, Saleh comes into the bedroom, having finished his own wudhu.

We pray fajr, and then crawl back into bed. After a few minutes of silence, I say, “You were a real jerk.”

“No, you were the jerk,” he grumbles.

“How?” I demand. “How was I the jerk?”

“You took my water bottle,” he said.

“Uh, because you went to the kitchen. You didn’t even take your water bottle with you; you left it in the bedroom. And if I had been the one who slept through the alarm and made us miss suhoor, you would be blaming me left and right. The least you could have done was apologize for sleeping through the alarm.”

“Whatever. It wasn’t my fault. The alarm didn’t go off.”

“Oh, come on. We both know what happened. You woke up and pressed stop and went right back to sleep. We’re both lucky that I woke up when I did or we wouldn’t have gotten anything.”

“You have your own water bottle on your own nightstand. Why did you have to take mine?”

“I didn’t take your damn water bottle! It wasn’t even on your nightstand! It was on the dresser! And you are being such an asshole about it, anyway—I’m the one who has to drink enough water because I’m breastfeeding our kid.”

“Oh, that’s just great. Just great. Keep on talking like that. Why don’t you just break your fast? You said all those bad words. Just break your fast now. Go drink more water. Your fast doesn’t count now.”

“Oh, shut up. Last week you were watching TV before maghrib and you said that whole caliphate thing in Syria was bullshit. You didn’t break your fast. It didn’t end the fast for you. It’s all about you, right? You can say all the swear words. You can sleep through the alarm and not wake us up and I’m supposed to get you water.”

“Just stop it, okay? We could be back asleep now but you keep bitching—“

“Ahaaaa! That’s just great! Why don’t you break your fast? Break your fast, Saleh! Break your fast!”

Silence. We lay awake in bed, each fuming, for about a half hour.

Finally, Mr. Mostafa rolls over and pokes me on the shoulder. “Honey? Hey, honey? Are you awake?”

“I am now,” I say rudely, even though I had been awake the whole time.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was really a jerk about the water. You’re right, you needed the water more than I did. But it made me angry that you took the bottle off my nightstand. I didn’t understand why you took my bottle instead of using yours.”

“I told you, it wasn’t even on your nightstand. It was on the dresser, next to the water dispenser.”

“I know. It doesn’t matter, anyway. You needed the water more than me. I’m really sorry. I was a jerk. I didn’t even drink the water when you brought it to me. I drank laban in the kitchen. I know I was a jerk.”

“Whatever.”

“Do you want to snug? I’d like to snug with you.”

“No. I want to sleep.”

“No snugging?”

“No.”

“Well, I love you.”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“I still love you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Whatever.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

Ramadan kareem, all.

water bottles 750x393 why ramadan requires two alarm clocks.

it has to get better.

Life…is depressing.

Yes, Saudi life can be depressing. It’s depressing that I’m stuck in my house most of the time. This is not because my husband has locked me up and taken away my passport, but because I have to line up the driver any time I want to go out during the day. Which means Mr. Mostafa has to call my mother-in-law to make sure the driver is free, and then either he or my mother-in-law has to call the driver to arrange for him to be outside at the appointed time and to make sure that he knows how to get where I want to go, because, while he is a nice guy, his English is limited and so is my Arabic, so we don’t communicate very efficiently.

Frankly, most of the time it’s not worth the hassle. If I need or want to go somewhere at a nonspecific time, Mr. Mostafa will take me on the weekend. Technically, the driver is not our driver (i.e., he is paid by my father-in-law, not my husband)–he is the family driver, and so I feel bad about constantly asking to take him, because what if he’s out taking me places and my mother-in-law or my sister-in-law decides she wants to go somewhere? I hate feeling like I’m being a bother. And usually, when I take the driver, I end up feeling that way, even though my wonderful in-laws repeatedly insist that I shouldn’t, that their house is my house and their driver is my driver.

hand on the wheel 750x595 it has to get better.

Come on, King Abdullah. You’re participating in selfies–you’re a modern guy. Just let women drive, already.

But honestly, not being able to drive is not the most depressing thing about life nowadays. No, the most depressing thing is people. And not Saudis, either. Seems like I can’t spend any time on social media without coming across endless articles about Muslims, Arabs, the Middle East…even from sources that have nothing really to do with these topics. Especially from sources that have nothing to do with these topics.

When I come across such articles, I try to live by the rule of don’t read the comments. Because I know what’s coming. But sometimes, I can’t resist. And when I cave, my faith in humanity always suffers.

People are awful. And ignorant. So painfully ignorant. Most recently, there was the woman who wrote in to one of my favorite online advice columns (Dear Prudence, on Slate, in case you were wondering) to say that her Middle Eastern husband wanted to visit his Middle Eastern home country with her and their daughter, and she refused to go. Prudence intelligently advised her that it sounded like there were some trust issues in her marriage if her husband’s proposal that they visit his family had her scared that she was going to live out the plot line of Not Without My Daughter.

But wherever the article was shared, the comments section was blown up with people decrying Prudie’s “terrible” advice. Of course the woman should never go to a Middle Eastern country! Of course she should never set foot in a place where women have no more rights than sheep! Hasn’t the woman seen Not Without My Daughter? The woman in Not Without My Daughter thought she was just going for a visit, too! Not Without My Daughter was based on a true story!

I’m seriously going to write Sally Field a strongly worded letter one of these days.

So, anyway, this woman wanted to refuse to go visit her in-laws, and she didn’t want to let her husband go visit alone with their daughter, either. I couldn’t help but wonder how the commenters would have reacted if she had written in a letter like this:

Dear Prudence,

I am married to a wonderful Middle Eastern man, and we have been living in his home country for several years. Lately I have been wanting to go home and visit my parents, along with my husband and my daughter. However, my husband refuses to go visit the United States. He says that because there is no universal healthcare and medical care is so very expensive there, we could end up in a medical emergency that bankrupts us for life. He also refuses to allow me to go visit with my daughter, for fear that we won’t come back. What do I do?

I’m going to guess that the popular sentiment in the comment section would have looked something like this: “Your husband is oppressive and controlling. But what can you expect from an Arab who has been raised to view women as livestock? Escape as soon as you can.” Even though, you know, the husband’s concerns would be legit, if farfetched, and certainly not something that should preclude him from visiting his wife’s family.

But when the tables are turned, the woman is absolutely right to refuse to go visit her husband’s family, no matter how happy their marriage is, no matter how long they have been married, no matter how thoroughly each spouse has earned the other’s trust. Stay away from those scary Arabs at all cost. The Middle East is bad.

But the truth is, I have never felt unsafe here in this Middle Eastern country. Ever. That is not to say that I will never feel unsafe here (I’ve only lived here for two years), or that no one ever has. There are creeps and scary people here, just like in anywhere else in the world. Still, I’ve been scared in China. I’ve been scared in my home country. I have never been scared in Saudi Arabia.

Yes, Not Without My Daughter scenarios do happen. Kidnappings do happen–see Jessica Socling’s sons. I can’t imagine what Jessica Socling is going through. (Although to some, you’d be hard-pressed to consider what happens in these kidnapping cases to be actual kidnappings–because the person taking the child/ren is a parent, too. I’m certainly not arguing that, though. I can’t imagine that if Lavender were taken from me, regardless of who did it, that it would feel like anything less than a kidnapping.) Some women are stuck here. Some women do want to leave for good and take their children with them, and they can’t, because their husbands won’t let them and/or the children leave. These scenarios do exist.

But medical emergencies that bankrupt people for life also happen in the United States, and people from around the world are still going to Disney World.

Also, I think it’s important to consider that in such scenarios, we only get one side of the story. When Mr. Mostafa first approached his mom about the idea of marrying me, she was, of course, skeptical. And one of her concerns was, “There are so many stories about Saudi men marrying American women, and then the women run back to their country and the men never see their kids again.”

Yes, men who refuse to allow their wives to leave with the children may very well be abusive, controlling assholes who don’t deserve to have a wife or children at all, and I’m disgusted by the fact that utterly inadequate recourse currently exists for women in such situations in this country. But such men also may be just, you know, fathers who don’t want to be exiled from their children’s lives. If an American woman refuses to let her child leave her country with the child’s Middle Eastern father, she’s obviously smart. If a Middle Eastern man refuses to let his child leave his country with the child’s American mother, he’s obviously evil.

Because in the West, all Arabs are evil. Trash. Expendable. With Arabs, it’s totally acceptable to assume evil intent first and ask questions later. If Hamas is accused of using women and children as human shields, people–correctly–vilify Hamas for doing that while totally absolving Israeli Defense Forces of any blame for going right ahead and killing the women and children put in front of their strategic targets. But I’m sure that if an American villain had admitted to a plan to use women as human shields and then the American government had fired on them anyway, then it would have been atrocity, right? We wouldn’t do that because we’re “civilized,” and American lives are sacred.

But, you know, those Palestinians…they’re just Arabs.

The more I write this blog, the more I feel like I come across as some sort of apologist for this country and/or region. But that is not my intention, and I don’t see myself that way. I abhor that Saudi women cannot travel internationally without “permission” from a mahram. I despise that Waleed Abu Al-Khair is currently languishing in prison for daring to criticize the Saudi government. I loathe the many miscarriages of justice that take place in Saudi courtrooms around the country. And obviously, I really, really hate that women cannot drive here. If you’re looking for political and religious ridiculousness, Saudi Arabia is a great place to find it, and I defend none of the human rights abuses that take place here or anywhere else in the Middle East, just as I defend none of the human rights abuses that take place in the name of my home country, which, despite its many problems, I love dearly.

But, I mean…Jesus Christ on a cracker, this place is not Mordor (thanks, by the way, to futuremutarjama, a commenter on this post, who gave me this comparison and in the process, pretty much defined the goal of my blog for me). Nor is any other place in the Middle East–I mean, I obviously wouldn’t advise anyone to travel to Syria or Iraq or Palestine right now. What’s going on in those places is just insane. But any other place in the Middle East? The chances are overwhelming that you’ll be fine. Really. You might evengasp–enjoy yourself. Heck, Mr. Mostafa and I have even been tossing around the idea of going on a vacation in Sharm El-Sheikh, in Egypt. There are also some beautiful resorts in Kuwait. You know, those places that the news will make you scared to set foot in.

So, let me sum up here by saying that watching Not Without My Daughter does not make you an expert on the Middle East. For that matter, neither does watching the news. Talk to a Muslim, someone who actually believes in the religion you’re so terrified of. (And despite what professional Islamophobes will have you believe, Muslims are not required to lie to non-Muslims. Although I realize that if you take such folks seriously, you won’t believe me. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’d wasted my finger strength on a keyboard.) Talk to an Arab, someone from one of those countries you’re so terrified of. Yes, you will probably disagree on some ideological convictions, but overall, I think you’ll find that Arabs, Muslims, Middle Eastern people, etc. are mostly people just like you.

I know, it’s scary. But dare to imagine that.

get it together, america.

Dear America,

I want to make it clear at the outset that this is not a Dear John letter. I love you. We’re not breaking up. I can’t quit you, even if I wanted to. We have a codependent relationship, you and I.

But I think you should know–there are ways you have screwed me up. Being raised as an American has fundamentally shaped my brain in ways that hinder effective function outside of your borders. And I think you should take some responsibility for that.

See, first of all, there’s this whole metric system business. We are one of three countries left in the world that still refuse to use the metric system. The other two are Liberia and Myanmar. Seriously. Liberia and Myanmar. Not that there’s anything wrong with being Liberian or Myanmarese…Myanmese? Myanmarian? What’s the right word? Anyway, the point is, I’m not trying to denigrate Liberia or Myanmar. In fact, they’re ahead of the U.S., because according to their respective Wikipedia entries, both are working toward adopting the metric system.

The metric system makes so much sense, America. Like, you’ve got a gram. And then 1,000 grams is a kilogram. A gram is made up of 100 centigrams. You’ve got a meter. And then 1,000 meters is a kilometer. A meter is made up of 100 centimeters. Easy peasy. Why do we make it so difficult for ourselves, Americans? A mile is 5,280 feet, a yard is three feet, a foot is 12 inches…it’s all so random. And once you’re trained to think in this random system, you can’t undo the brainwashing. Which means that when you venture outside of the United States and someone tells you, “The nearest stop is 25 kilometers away,” you have to respond with a noncommittal, “Ohhhhh,” until you can reach for your iPhone and do a quick conversion to find out how you really feel about the information. I risk type 2 diabetes every time I step on a scale, because it tells me my weight in kilograms and then I think, “Sure, I can eat that Cinnabon, my weight is under 100!”

The same principle goes for temperatures. Why do you cling to Fahrenheit, America? No one else uses Fahrenheit. Water freezes at 32 degrees, boils at 212…such unnecessary randomness! In Celsius, water freezes at zero and boils at one hundred. That’s so effing logical. Why is logic so much to ask of you, America? After two years of living in Saudi Arabia, I still haven’t fully managed to think in Celsius. I always remember that 40 degrees Celsius is 104 Fahrenheit, so I know that if we break 40, it’s really hot outside. But I can’t manage to internalize the number until it’s converted to Fahrenheit. So when Mr. Mostafa sends me a screenshot like the one below…

photo 2 get it together, america.

I have to check my own phone for a Fahrenheit version before I can text back with my reaction.

photo 1 get it together, america.

And when I see the weather this way, I fully understand how hot it is outside. If I see the temperature in Celsius, my perception of the weather is vague and nonspecific…like, “Oh, it’s hot out today.” “It’s warmer than it was yesterday.” Whereas when I see it in Fahrenheit, my reaction is more along the lines of, “Holy hell, how is anyone alive out there?”

And electricity, America. Why do you insist on clinging to 110 voltage? Again, almost everywhere else in the world, 220 (or higher) is the standard. This presents problems when I procure a useful American small appliance to use in Saudi Arabia that only works on 110 volts. It’s doubly confusing because some of these appliances work on 220 volts, though not as well–for example, my Crock Pot (the Warm setting is enough to cook food; on the High setting, you can use the thing as a deep fryer)–while others…well, don’t work. Like my Water Pik. Oh, the Water Pik.

See, I’m ashamed to admit this, but I haven’t been to a dentist for a teeth cleaning since before I moved to Riyadh. And I need to remedy this. This is bad. But I don’t like dentists. Dentists are scary enough in the States, where I know exactly what to expect. Still, Mr. Mostafa and I are both heading to the dentist in the next few weeks or so, and that’ll be a blog post of its own, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, in the interim, I had my mom bring a Water Pik from the States when she visited in May, because it’s so much easier than flossing…and maybe even better than flossing. And since I haven’t been to the dentist in two years, I figured I needed all the help I could get. I missed Water Pik-ing. I like Water Pik-ing. What I don’t like is when I’m in the middle of Water Pik-ing, the electrical outlet explodes in a fireball and acrid smoke fills the bathroom as I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, agape and stunned, while the Water Pik feebly drips its last drops of water into my mouth. And I don’t like bursting into tears afterward, in order to mourn the death of my sweet Water Pik. I do not like it, America.

And English. English, America. Now, don’t get me wrong–I love English. I love all languages, actually. And to be fair, this is the one area where you’re somewhat in sync with the rest of the world; English is commonly spoken everywhere. But you can’t deny that the vast majority of us Americans only speak English, and that’s it. That’s no good, America. And if you were going to insist on being a linguistic monolith, why did you have to pick such a complicated language to adopt as our own? Why is English so freaking weird, America? Can you answer me that? Because when the Water Pik exploded and I cried, my husband, in an effort to make me laugh and cheer me up, sprayed on some of his cologne and then came over to me and began to walk around me, one eyebrow raised.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Duh, don’t you see? I’m trying to turn on you!”

And then I did have to laugh when I realized what he was saying, but what the heck kind of language do we have that the simple transposition of two tiny words can make a phrase mean something so entirely different? Because, you know, there’s kind of a big difference between “turn on you” and “turn you on.”

So, America. I don’t know if you have planned it this way, if all of these things are part of some grand evil scheme to secretly generate profit for the Illuminati or something (I can see Beyoncé now–”Water Piks! 110 volt Water Piks for everyone! Mwahahahaha!”), but it’s a pain in the butt. I would like to reiterate that I love you. We’re staying together, and I will never leave you forever. But sometimes our relationship means that I don’t fit in well with the rest of the world. You’re crippling us for life, America…because we think in inches, not centimeters. Everything sounds better in centimeters, America. Think about it. If not for me, then for the sake of the male American ego.

Best regards,

A niece of Uncle Sam