This week was Diwali, the festival of lights in Hindu culture. It’s also the week that the blog tour for my latest novel, An Unlikely Goddess has kicked off. Blog tours are great fun because it’s a virtual version of a book tour without the sweaty palmed anxiety about whether or not people will show up to hear me.
What’s also fantastic about blog tours is that each host can set his/her topic, based on what’s of interest to their particular readership or interests.
And is there a lot to talk about with this book!
J.C. Martin wanted to know about Hinduism’s attitude towards daughters since the book opens with a mother’s surprising reaction to the arrival of her first child.
Mahesh Harvu asked for more information about how to write a book and, perhaps of equal interest, how to publish a indie eBook.
Aya Walksfar interviewed me on a hybrid of issues from feminism in South Asian society to how to get to that to-do list we all have.
Hope you’re hop around with us and stop in to whatever subject is most interesting to you.
I sat in the movie theater on a Sunday afternoon, tears streaming down my cheeks. The roughness of the concession stand napkin was all I had to staunch my sorrow at the end of Fruitvale Station. The film depicts the last day of 22 year old Oscar, a guy trying to make ends meet in Oakland, CA who was killed by police officers on New Year’s Day in 2008. Unarmed and shot in the back, Oscar’s story resonates with current events surrounding the shooting and subsequent trial of 17 year old Travyon Martin in Florida. Both men were black. Both men were trying to get home. Both were the victims of the use of excessive force.
As sad as Oscar and Travyon’s stories are – particularly to those who knew them well – their deaths represent a unexplored phenomenon in America. That of violence amongst males between the ages of 10-24. The CDC reports that from 1994-2010, the highest homicide rate nationally is in this age group. Perhaps even more alarming is that this group has a “consistently higher than homicide rates for males of all ages combined.”
Violence against each other is killing young men in America. And though this is apparently a 30 year low for the age group overall: the stories from the high risk group are more gripping than ever. Captured by cell phones, championed by social media, and brought to us via the 24 hour news cycle, we are dealing with the aftermath of violence but not the murky causes.
Maybe as my friend suggests, it is guns and racism. Maybe, as I was arguing, while we walked out of the movie theater, it was socialization. Men caught in a fight cannot back down without threatening their masculinity. Does violence then come down to worries about perception?
If you look more closely at the data, the highest casualty rate is among Non-Hispanic, Black men between the ages of 10-24 and when measuring them against themselves, the highest risk group is 20-24 years old.
Watching films like Fruitvale Station or the keeping track of the events in the Zimmerman trial – which had elements reminiscent of cinema despite being heartrendingly real – the unasked question lingers. And it isn’t about race or about guns per se.
Again and again, in scene after scene, we see men who have been taught not to back down in a conflict. The escalation of aggression in American male culture is silent, untreated killer. Guns or racism may be the trigger, but the inability to back down, to bring calm to a situation, to take a step back; manliness is inseparable from the assertion of dominance.
Whether the cop who clings to his authority or the youth who can’t lose face in front of peers, males engaged in a conflict often cannot step aside once it begins.
What do we teach our boys about how to handle conflict? From an early age if a toddler comes crying about someone hitting him on the playground, what are the messages we give him? Later, in teenage years with bullying, we may hope our child is the bully and not the bullied.
As adults, few men have the skills to deal with interpersonal conflict. Women, on the other hand, who was socialized in groups and for consensus, can talk, and talk and talk about or through a problem. Do young women have an inert advantage over men in backing down from escalating aggression that might get them killed? Statistics suggest this might be the case. The CDC reports “There was no difference in homicide rates for females by age.”
You can read more about these staggering numbers relating to male youth homicide and most of the facts are not surprising. Death by firearm is highest among young, black males. The homicide rate of young, white males of the same age group is less than a half of that of black males.
There is a war going on in America. And it has as much to do with how young men interact with each other as what weapons are available to them.
My husband rarely gets involved in public debates. The last time he had an opinion was the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. These days he’s a bit gap mouthed about the reaction to American football player Aaron Hernandez who has been imprisoned over murder charges. A bad week for Hernandez, who it must be said has a load of circumstantial evidence weighing against him, including possible destroyed evidence.
The New England Patriots, Hernandez’s employer to the tune of a multi-million dollar, multi-year contract, fired him on the day of his arrest. They even offered a jersey exchange. As in fans could turn in their Hernandez jerseys for any other player they chose. Needless to say, the jerseys are already rising in value, very close to becoming collectors’ items.
American pop culture has no shortage of athletes who have trouble managing their personal lives. Think of the O.J. Simpson car chase and you have the worst of celebrity culture and the justice system crashing head-on.
What happens next for the young Hernandez, only 25 years old, remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are two courts: one of public opinion and one governed by legal courts. In the age of social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, however, the lines between the two are more blurred than ever.
The first time I met the Emir, in 2005, as I was shaking his hand, he told me how happy I was going to be in Qatar. Two children, one husband, six years of marriage, and a PhD later, I can’t agree more. He is a visionary ruler and a very humble man.
“Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s decision to cede power willingly is a first in the modern history of the region. The norm is for Gulf leaders to rule for decades until their death or until circumstances conspire to overthrow them, such as the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The second reason Tuesday’s transition is historic is because the son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, now becomes the youngest monarch in the region. He is 33.”
Ever since my husband upgraded me to an iPhone life has become more photographic. I left behind the pixelated world of the Blackberry camera to snap away at anything (clay rings on my toddler’s fingers) and any dish (yes, I do collages of meals), posting through the app Instagram on through to Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, as the content warrants.
Being a writer and standup comic, I do like the occasional joke or ironic photo comment. Sometimes my humor doesn’t suit the random passerby on social media.
This was the case on two occasions last week when I discovered my homemade hashtag #soDoha was not taken in fun as I’d intended. The first instance appears to your left. While sitting in traffic I had the chance to capture the unusual practice of sharing your Blackberry Pin (the unique number to your device through which people can access the free messaging service) on the back of your vehicle. The caption started a string of criticism about my inability to afford a Blackberry. Clearly my detractors haven’t heard that RIM is hovering at bankruptcy.
Where did the Instagram bullies come from? I’m not sure. Had they been following me or been alerted to my stream by someone else? Unclear.
What the incidents did remind me of is that humor is relative. And for some people residing in the city-state of Qatar, there is very little room to poke fun.
Even at guys who put their BB Pin on the backs of their cars or designer labels that can’t handle their own repairs.
What’s interesting is that in defending, the commentators were offending, and guilty of the same offense they accused me of by assuming I was not able to afford a Blackberry or genuine Gucci shoes.
Have you ever given offense at someone else’s expense? Or had to get defensive on your own behalf?
Two days before our second son was born, April 12th, the New York Times published a piece about “Indentured Servitude in the Persian Gulf.” The piece was categorized as news analysis. For those of us living in the Arabian Gulf (since Persia, or Iran, is a known competitor with the GCC), Richard Morin’s piece might as well have been published thirty years ago. After all there was little in the way of news or analysis.
Qataris, he stated, are known to under pay and often abuse their domestic help. Qatar is very wealthy. People are brought to work here under false promises and then have difficulty returning home.
All of this you’d know in the first four weeks of living here.
What I wish Morin had taken time to discuss is all the areas of grey. These areas of mistreatment, racism, and classism have danced around my mind as a South Asian American who has made her home in Doha since 2005. As a wife in a racially mixed marriage and the mother of two boys of multicultural background, I can’t escape the nuances of the layers of race, gender, and class in everyday life in Qatar.
Nuances that are missing from Morin’s piece but which are the chief subject of my third novel, The Dohmestics, about housemaids in an unnamed Arab emirate. Not only the housemaids, however, the
book examines their employers. This is where the NYT could have asked for more in-depth reporting. Because as both the novel and lived experience show, Qataris, are not the only ones guilty of superior attitudes or abuse when it comes to the help.
The startling truth is anyone can beat a housemaid.
You can be a Western expat who works for an oil company, upset that your windows are not washed correctly at 2 a.m. and hit your much smaller in stature and status worker.
You can be an Indian national, outraged that the cleaner you have been paying 25 QR an hour for part time work, has actually found a family who wants to give her a contract with benefits, and shout at her for being selfish.
You can be a researcher in migrant affairs who doesn’t pay your house help when you decide to leave for the summer.
The list goes on and on and on – and painfully – on.
Our nanny requested to take two months vacation on the eve of the arrival of our second child. We were dismayed at her request because no family was able to attend the birth. We mulled it over. After all, we ourselves, as white collar professionals, had never had a two month vacation. But how could we deny someone else her right to be with her family?
She traveled and I scrambled to find someone to help with our two year old as I lumbered around, 38 weeks pregnant and still working.
In the search for another short term employee, I spoke to no less than 15 women, all of them with different situations, considerations, and stories. No two were the same. Yet they had all received some kind of mistreatment – whether being asked to share a room and a bed with the ailing grandfather they were taking care of – from low wages, to yelling, to hitting, to that ultimate violation, sexual assault.
We managed to find someone who was shy, full of smiles, and whose antics made us laugh. She cooked steak for dinner, leaving it in the oven for 40 minutes. Needless to say it was more like beef jerky when it came out. Is this what you would shout at someone for?
I went out with her and my two boys one morning, only to discover we had left the diaper bag at home. I thought she had it. She thought I had it. Is that what you would hit someone over?
This same woman was paying half her salary to rent a room from someone for whom she woke up at 4:30 everyday so she could make her landlord’s breakfast, iron her clothing, and anything else she needed. She sent home 100 QR a month to her teenage daughter (the equivalent of $30 USD). No abusing Arabs in sight in this scenario.
The one commonality of the ‘maid’ stories I have heard during my interview project (The Nanny Diaries: Doha Edition) is that the nationality of the perpetrator changed. Sometimes they were Arab. Other times (to my horror) Indian. Occasionally British. Not unusual for a non-real American, or the way someone who has a Western passport but isn’t white is often referred to (my husband and myself included).
The fact is the power structure within the GCC puts everyone on your honor; you only have to be as reasonable as you want. After all who will hold you accountable? Not the law. Not the government. And certainly not the community, who are your co-workers and friends.
What someone is paid, whether she has a day off, how much she gets to eat, all varies from house and house.
Each of us knows only in the quiet of our own hearts whether we really would want to work for someone like us. And that’s regardless of where we come from. That’s an angle the NYT could have used if they really wanted to show the extent of abuse possible for these women who put their lives in our hands and homes.
Last week from a sofa in a hospital room, after having delivered our second baby boy, I woke up at 1 a.m. Adrenaline or jetlag like false sense of sleep saturation had me reaching for my phone in the pitch black of the room. Across the coffee table, a good friend who had volunteered for night duty was resting. The baby was in the nursery. I went on Facebook.
The news feed of many of American friends, at home and abroad, was filled with the news of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston marathon. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the photos and had to turn off the phone to stem off the hormonal induced shock at the images, facts, and sounds.
As the facts unfolded – 3 dead, many more wounded – a puzzled reaction swept the part of the world I live in, the Middle East.
What about people in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, was the question circulating on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. Where is the empathy, shock, horror, concern for them?
A former student and now friend posted “I’m sorry to hear about Boston, sorry for all the casualties. Pray for Syria, it deserves far more sympathy. Pray for Syria twice as much!”.
Having studied Arabic in Damascus a few years ago, I have been watching the escalating tensions there with dread and anger at a “leader” who would treat his people as pawns.
But the assertion of my student made me uncomfortable.
Can we weigh on a scale those who are more deserving of empathy? Is it judged by the number of causalities?
Or, as mainstream American media seems to suggest, do we rate based on a scale of how the tragedies happen? Are civilians in peace time, running a marathon or going to work, more deserving than those who are living in a country entrenched in civil war?
I don’t know. I do know from my hospital bed, recovering from having a baby, that most frail and dependent of creatures, the symbol of all that is possible of humanity, I resisted the notion that my loyalties predict my sympathies and said as much to my friend on his wall:
“I understand what you are trying to say but let’s remember our hearts can juggle compassion for all. Clearly the media, government and politics cannot. I stand with Syrians as the land where I learned Arabic and hope that governments will stop turning blind eyes. Sympathy is not a competition. The more we learn that, the more we can come together as one. (not intending to lecture, your post did strike a chord with me as a new mother X2 from this past Sunday). I want my children to live in a compassionate world, better than the bi-partisan one I inherited. Now we pray for Iran, regardless of how we feel about nukes/presidents/etc.”
We had a great discussion (yes on Facebook wall posts as he was abroad).
Later in the week the question came again on Twitter: “Boston boston. Pls send your view: rape in Delhi why again and again?”
The commenter was talking about the rape of a 5 year old girl whose body had been dumped in a dumpster and found with foreign objects, including a candle, inside. I had read of the case with horror and posted about it on social media as well. As an Indian woman, mother, wife, and daughter, I was ashamed, distraught, and troubled by not only this incident but all of them since the watershed December case with a pharmacy student on a bus. Indian media commentators were asking: why did we care so much about her? What about the 5, 6, 10 year olds (and the ones we never know about about)? Don’t we care about them?
All of which brings me back to the same question: how much room do we have in our hearts? Can we only care for those who know immediately? Or is there some larger, universal ability to feel compassion that comes with our “advanced” technologies in the era of 24 hour media?
I do know when I saw the photo of the 19 year old, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the remaining bomb plotter, my heart clenched. Somewhere, something went horribly wrong for this younger brother. I couldn’t help but think of my own boys, presently 2.5 and 1 week old. What would they grow up to do? Would the older one mislead the younger? And could the younger use this as his excuse for wrecking havoc?
In the end, it all comes down to relationships. Right?
Recently my husband became a certified diver. This meant Friday morning trips with his friends to the waters off the north coast of Qatar. This past weekend he wanted me and our two year old to come along and enjoy the beach while the gang was under the water. I managed to convince a friend to join us – even though we left at 6:30 a.m. – and we did have a great time.
What struck both of us as we were setting up, however, were the spots of white tissue and blue bottle caps scattered over the sand. “Why can’t people take their trash with them?” I asked.
She was as dismayed as I was in taking in the 100 meters or more of beautiful sand, pocked with the remnants of breakfast, lunch, and dinner barbeques.
“We’ll enjoy the morning and then do some pick up,” I suggested.
“That’s karmic yoga,” she said. “Let’s do it.”
The two year old played, with a bevy of aunties, the title Asians use for older women, whether they are related or not, at the ready to make him the sand sculptures of his dreams. Airplanes, crocodiles, and birthday cakes were his structures of choice.
We had lunch and then got two trash bags each. One to collect trash and one to use as a glove. Everything from stale flat bread, to leftover shrimp pizza, went into one of our three bags. Within fifteen minutes we had collected plastic bottles, tissues, bags, discarded children’s shoes, and scraps of paper. Being social media hounds, we posted our findings on Facebook and Twitter. The comments we received on the photos were telling.
“What a great idea,” someone commented. “We do cleanups here in my home state. Wonder if that would work there. Of course it would be Expats to the rescue.”
“I explained to my son about Muslim absolution,” someone else wrote. “And he asked why they litter so much if they’re supposed to be clean.”
I’m not denying that many a time in traffic I’ve been behind someone who has tossed trash out their window. Or that I got into a face off during the recent Sports Day, with a girl and two teenagers (who were likely her cousins or brothers) for tossing a finished soda can onto the green space in the park. These people were all Arabs of some kind. But I could see that they were in my interactions with them. I didn’t assume they were.
The innocuousness of picking up of trash revealed that our friends thought that most of the people who litter in Qatar are Arabs. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. I do know of the twenty or so diving groups I saw that morning, only one of them seemed to be of Arab origin. In the four hours we were there, the majority of the people on the beach there were expats.
Switch to another big cause for me these days: children without seat belts, riding in the front seat or standing up in the backseats of cars. I started taking photos of these darlings last week at red lights. Again some of the comments revealed that everyone thinks this practice is done by Arabs. Even though the first photo was of an Asian looking child in the arms of his mother, showing me his toys through the open passenger side window, the association people had was that Arabs are the primary violator.
What struck me about both these instances is that assumptions about behavior based on nationality seems to come to the forefront immediately. Nationality and “why doesn’t the government do something” are knee jerk reactions to what we would otherwise consider civic responsibilities. Maybe it’s a system that pays people based on their passports – not their merit – that is to blame for the root of this ethnic divide. For the same job, it’s completely legal for companies to pay different wages to Egyptians versus Sri Lankans versus Americans. Is this where the root of mistrust begins?
I’ve been inspired by these instances to not wait for the civil authorities to decide to address the issue. After all their attempts to encourage recycling and better driving have not proved entirely successful. Rather than continuously looking to others, I’m interested in the power of individuals. Why can’t every person who sees trash on the beach pick some up? Not every piece, but whatever they have time for?
And every parent who sees someone riding without a seat belt, encourage them to use one?
In a place like Qatar, where mistrust abounds between groups, expat and national, Arabs and non-Arabs, it would be nice if we as expats could do something positive to give back to these communities which are our temporary homes.
Instead of always complaining about not being invited into Qatari homes, or never experiencing Qatari hospitality, could we pick up trash, regardless of who left it? Could we talk about the importance of child car seats? After all, we assume a certain cultural superiority when we say that littering is wrong, knowing we come from countries where this behavior is fined. Ditto for children in car seats or seat belts.
Maybe we wouldn’t be ‘better’ people or more civilized if we didn’t have our home governments governing our civic actions.
What would we do if we didn’t have to? Who are we when laws aren’t enforced? These are the questions echoing in my head.
Next week, I’m taking this question on to another, more controversial question: the treatment of housemaids which also seems to vary according to nationality. Stay tuned.
Women’s health has been the subject of international headlines over the last six months. From the recent U.S. presidential election to the outrage at violence against women in India, women’s bodies are very much still public debate. I’m pleased to support Linda Parkinson-Hardman and her project to create an anthology for women, by women, about a common – if not much discussed – procedure. Consider supporting as you or a friend or loved one may one day find yourself with this very dilemma.
I knew this guy, years ago, who was brown haired, brown eyed, and exuded such an intense energy that you hoped some would rub so you could cram for your final. We grew up in the same North Florida town. If it sounds like I had a crush on Scott Melker in high school, I didn’t. Honest. He and the others in his class were like Titans to us freshman who had yet to hit puberty. We watched them rule the halls of suburbia before Glee or High School Musical mass produced such qualities. My classmates hoped one day we could be as cool, that we could prove we were in the same species as his class, if ever reached that exalted status of being seniors.
Graduation loomed and we went our separate ways.
Scott went on to to finish an Ivy League degree which transformed into becoming a mashup and remix artist. Me, after a few more years of awkward teenage angst, on to state run universities for a PhD with interests in writing and the Middle East. Yet, decades later, we’re in the same tribe, this time not of dystopia, pimples and pep rallies, but of creativity. One I’m much happier to share.
He now takes the songs we love and turns them into songs you will love even more. Like any cool guy, he’s got a million nicknames, including Johnny Cashin’ Out, Skeetwood Mac, Booty Huxtable, Skeevie Tricks, A$AP Scotty, Holla Peño, Melkradamus, Melka Flocka Flame, Ricky Exit-Row-Zay, Lil’ Yung Melks.
I caught up with Scott a few days after the launch of his second longest mix, The Melker Project 2, to talk about his unusual journey into creating music.
Check out the samples of his work below and his advice for partying with co-workers (worth a read before the holidays!).
How would you describe your music words or less? It can really be described in 2 words – organized chaos.
Try to describe yourself in one sentence. Wasted Ivy League education.
How would your friends describe you in 20 words or less? Reliable, trustworthy, fun. Also insane, rebellious, ADHD, loud, sometimes obnoxious.
Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world? New York City, of course. That’s why I live there!
Did you have support for your decision to be creative? Yes – I am fortunate to have understanding parents and supportive family and friends. My parents didn’t flinch when I graduated from Penn and decided to pursue music. They have flown all over the world to hear me play.
Do you have a day job? The short answer is no. I have not had a boss in nearly a decade. However, I do work as a consultant for numerous businesses, doing various music related projects. I work with legitmix.com, which is a company that has revolutionized the remix industry – they allow DJs and producers to sell their remixes legally. It’s mind blowing. I also handle music programming for Flywheel, which is an international, upscale indoor cycling studio.
What’s your creative process? It really depends on the project. When I am doing a full-length mix like this, I try to identify a basic concept and create a skeleton of core songs and remixes that I want to use. However, as I build the project, most of the best parts are created on the fly. For me, inspiration comes at unexpected moments, and often from trial and error. I am also limited by access to a cappella versions of songs. Finding stripped down vocals is very difficult, so I can only work with what I can dig up.
For an individual remix, I usually know exactly what I want to do. For example, when I composed “Dirt Of Your Shoulders Vs. Born To Die,” I wanted to pair Lana Del Rey with an iconic Hip-Hop anthem, and I envisioned Jay-Z’s voice sounding perfect over her brooding vocals. The challenge was creating a beat that would enhance the samples and loops that I had chosen from Born To Die.
Do you mix a laptop/desktop or a studio? I have a home studio, and use both a laptop and desktop to create my music. I also still use turntables for a majority of my work, which is definitely rare these days. Most of my recording and remixing is done into Ableton Live.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Ask yourself this question – would you continue to pursue your art full time if you were not making money? If the answer is yes, then keep going. If not, find something to do that will turn that answer into a yes.
Where to find The Melker Project: