An Upturned Bucket List

An Upturned Bucket List

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

An Upturned Bucket List

Reading Caroline Brothers’s Hinterland

Vamika Sinha

August 2019

“KabulTehranIstanbulAthensRomeParisLondon.”

For some, this string of glamorous capitals might be a bucket list of places to visit, but for others it can trace a much uglier reality. Kabir and Aryan, two young, recently orphaned brothers from Afghanistan, recite these names to each other while on the run. It is a mantra, in that it is made up of equal parts desperation and hope.

The route materializes itself in the world of Australian journalist Caroline Brothers’s debut novel Hinterland. The brothers are only fourteen- and eight-years-old – just children. Fleeing the Taliban in Kabul, and the consequent shattering of their family, they are political refugees in search of an English education. They carry two sets of clothes on their backs at all times, scraps of food, little money, and no papers. The novel opens with them enclosed within the jaws of a truck, carrying them to the fantasy of Europe. I am reminded, eerily, of the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, titled Men in the Sun. Three Palestinian refugees arrange, with intense difficulty, to get themselves smuggled from Iraq to Kuwait in order to escape their camps and find employment. They hide in a water tank in a truck travelling across the desert. Upon crossing the last checkpoint, the story ends, only to find their dead bodies spilling out of the overheated tank. The men had died at the final moment. It was a grim reminder of the difference between life and narrative; one could be controlled, while the other had no obligation to ever reach catharsis, but simply falter, like breath, in the middle of a sentence.

With this foreboding thought, I continue to read about Kabir and Aryan, continue tracing an invisible finger across the map  – KabulTehranIstanbulAthensRomeParisLondon. Over an arduous winter, the brothers work as laborers on an anonymous farm in Greece. They are not paid, barely eat, and suffer violences to their bodies and minds in ways that children should not have the faintest conception of. They carry on. In Italy, they retch on their own fear while confronted by the police, paperless and ill-equipped in every possible way for a reality so mammoth, it dwarfs their small existences. They carry on. In Calais, they endure the even more powerful, lingering pain of waiting. Waiting for some kind of resolution. In a sense, they too are in the heated tank, travelling across Europe towards some salvation.

Brothers’s novel was adapted for the stage as Flight by the Glasgow-based theatre company Vox Motus and premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival. It will have its UAE premiere at the NYUAD Arts Center next month.

The journey is speckled with small moments of tenderness – a haircut from an Afghan wife in a corner of Rome. Fresh clothes, hot pasta, and a train ride to Paris from an Iranian-American couple, found, by some magical luck, speaking Farsi on their trip abroad. The innocent stirrings of desire on an overnight train, while catching the soft, occasional gaze of a girl sleeping across from Aryan. These are moments of ordinariness, illuminated not by their normalcy, but by their scarcity; the whole novel unfurls in the same calm, slightly detached, plain prose. 

It makes sense then that Caroline Brothers is primarily a reporter. Hinterland is her attempt at casting a more empathetic, “human” light on her lifelong journalism on migrants. Based in France, she has conducted hundreds of interviews with child refugees, trapped in their own versions of Kabir and Aryan’s journey. It becomes, quietly, more horrifying to realize that Hinterland is only fiction to the extent that it embellishes upon what is, for thousands, everyday and real.

While studying in Paris for a semester, I once found myself, along with two friends, lost on the way to a bar. Google Maps directed us to a large, pulsating establishment by the waterfront of Bassin Louis Blanc, deemed one of the ‘hottest nightlife spots in the city.’ But we were confused, stopped in our tracks by a … smell. Two rats scurried by. We fought the urge to flee. It stank of stale bodies, disuse and urine. Right next to the bar, thronged with the ‘bobos’ of Paris, the hipsters and underage, overdressed teenagers with beers in hand, was a large muddle of tents. Bodies moved within them, shifting imperceptibly, carrying on as usual, unnoticed if you didn’t stop and really take a closer look. 

“Is it a slum?

“They’re all brown…they must be immigrants.”

“Why are they partying next to a slum?”

“Do you think they could be gypsies?”  

“Does nobody care?”

Over the next few weeks, under eventual daylight, the sun fell on the truth: we had stumbled upon a refugee slum. In the middle of Paris, next to one of its most popular clubs. A few return trips yielded conversations with the slum’s inhabitants (mostly Afghan), a million questions, immigration papers waved in our faces, pleas for help in French, English, Urdu, and ultimately, fruitlessness. One of my friends left Paris to end up writing a lengthy, sensitive article about how she had tried to capture, in words, what she had experienced upon finding such a place, about her desperate attempt to twist a story out of the conversations and shine some kind of light on the refugees’ plight in Paris, and, more widely, on the larger crisis of migrants coming into Europe. 

Beneath Hinterland is buried the body of a huge political argument. One that asks us to take a closer look at the tents. What are the nuances of our border policies, our hot debates on migrants, our thousand little stumbling blocks of bureaucracy, xenophobia, fear, corruption, that place children like Kabir and Aryan in a refrigerated tank bound for England?

“KabulTehranIstanbulAthensRomeParisLondon,” Aryan asks Kabir to repeat, in the novel’s final scene, again in the mouth of a truck. I am taken back to one of the Afghan refugees in Paris appealing to me in Urdu: “Please, you’re from India. Our countries are brothers. You have to help me.” In that moment, I too became infected by helplessness. “SloveniaCroatiaGreeceItaly …” he rattled the mantra off with practice. “I’ve gone everywhere to be here.”

Vamika Sinha is a senior at NYUAD, majoring in Literature and Creative Writing with a minor in Music. She is a co-editor of Airport Road, food columnist for The Gazelle, runs an independent magazine called Postscript, and enjoys ramen and jazz.
FURTHER READING

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

FILM AND NEW MEDIA

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

Migration in Bury Me, My Love

Migration in Bury Me, My Love

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

Migration in Bury Me, My Love

Julián Carrera 

August 2019

Your phone rings. It’s a text message. “Majd …” it says. It is from your wife, Nour. “Do you remember the time we visited Harasta with Adnan and Qamar?” A few seconds later, an image appears on your phone: the ruins of a city, half-standing, through the window of a car. After Nour sends the image of the ruins of Harasta, the messenger layout rises, revealing three options of emojis: a disappointed one, a surprised one, and one with X eyes.

Bury Me, My Love, a video game by The Pixel Hunt, Figs, and ARTE France, follows Nour as she leaves Syria to find a better life in Europe. The player is cast as Majd, Nour’s husband who stays in Homs, and must communicate with Nour through the game’s WhatsApp-like interface. As Nour moves on her way to Europe, she must make decisions, often turning to Majd for reassurance or opinion. The play aspect of Bury Me, My Love thus relies on making choices. Alhough the action of choosing which emoji to send seems at first to be inconsequential, the choice may end up profoundly affecting Nour’s journey.

A still from Bury Me, My Love on the Nintendo Switch, taken during gameplay.

Some choices are more consequential than picking emojis: should Nour stay in Damascus and wait for a bus to Beirut, or go to Aleppo to try to cross the border to Turkey; join a refugee march that will walk from Serbia to Hungary, or spend what limited money she has to take a train instead. There are also some more light-hearted choices, like Majd telling Nour he remembers his mom’s way of fixing a zipper or he doesn’t. Sometimes, the player can choose between dialogues and emojis, showcasing the different approaches to one single situation that can alter how the story plays out. The last way that Majd can respond to Nour is by taking a picture and sending it to her, though the points where Majd sends a picture are limited, and there is no choice to be made: only the picture can be selected, but there is a small minigame where the picture must be focused. In instances where there is no choice to be made, Majd texts on his own. Since the player interacts when there is a choice to be made, it seems that taking pictures is more of a formality to give the player agency beyond words and emojis.

Bury Me, My Love’s interactive method of storytelling places it within the genre of the visual novel, a form characterized by the player’s control over the story through available choices. Thus, players read through the story and are then prompted to pick an option, making decision trees a defining feature of the genre. Bury Me, My Love, however, does not provide the sort of visuals one would expect from a “visual novel” (compare, for example, the still image of Bury Me, My Love with that of Ace Attorney shown below).

A still from Ace Attorney, Capcom’s popular Visual Novel

Courtesy: ace-attorney.com.

It would be more accurate to call it interactive fiction like one of its inspirations, the game Lifeline, in which the player receives a message out of the blue. It is from an astronaut, lost on a strange moon after their ship crash-lands. After a first introduction to what happened, the astronaut says their name is Taylor (it is never specified whether Taylor is a he or a she). From there on, it is the player’s role to help them survive and find out what happened. Given the decision tree, however, there are multiple endings to Taylor’s story. A handful of them result in death, a couple result in survival, and fewer yet result in answers to the questions Taylor has about what happened. Though both Bury Me, My Love and Lifeline feature an interface made to resemble texting and rely on an abundance of choices to move the game forward, the one aspect that Bury Me, My Love borrowed the most from Lifeline was its use of time. In Lifeline, the player gets messages from Taylor on a real-time (or pseudo real-time) basis: if Taylor is doing something, they won’t reply until they can get in contact again.

Bury Me, My Love uses this same concept of (pseudo) real-time to its advantage to add realism to Nour’s journey. Sometimes, the player must wait a couple minutes. Sometimes an hour. When she’s sleeping, eight to ten. There is a point in the game the player can reach where Nour goes silent for almost three whole days. By limiting Nour’s responses on a timed basis, the game shows the power that comes from being in contact and the anxiety that comes when a loved one goes silent.

A still from Lifeline, taken from the game’s listing on the Play Store.

Apart from Lifeline, another inspiration for Bury Me, My Love is the article “Le voyage d’une migrante syrienne à travers son fil WhatsApp,” published in Le Monde by Lucie Soullier and Madjid Zerrouky. The article tells the story of Dana, a Syrian refugee whose journey from Damascus to Germany is chronicled through Dana’s WhatsApp conversations with her family. “Bury me, my love” (from the Arabic phrase of affection and endearment تقبريني يا حبي) is what Dana’s mom tells her for good luck. Both Dana and Lucie Soullier are part of Bury Me, My Love’s editorial team, though the game aims to tell a variety of stories about Syrian refugees. The website for the game states:

“Our two main characters, Nour and Majd, are fictional. They do not exist, or rather, they exist collectively. They are a multitude of men, women, and children. Dana, her mother, her brother-in-law… as well as thousands of others who flee their country —or watch their relatives flee— all in hopes of finding a better life in Europe.”

The story that Bury Me, My Love tells, paired with the way it tells it, shines a light on how the movement of people works in the cases of forced migration by focusing not just on those who left, but also telling the story of those who stay behind. Bury Me, My Love challenges conceptions of what stories video games can tell while giving the player an experience to learn that is not often presented in the medium.

Julián Carrera is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi.
FURTHER READING
LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING
LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING
Poems

Poems

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

Poems

Andrew Riad

April 2019

I wrote the following poem on a trip in Paris. My love for Paris has always been almost palpable and yet every time I witness the glorification and worship for the Louvre, my heart breaks a little for Egypt. The Louvre houses one of, if not, the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt in the world. While a lot of the artifacts are found objects, being obtained “legally”, quite a few are stolen. Regardless of how the artifacts were acquired, I don’t want to see or hear people say “I want to see Egypt” when visiting the Louvre. You will not find Egypt in there, it does not belong in there, and will never belong anywhere else other than Egypt.

.تحيا مصر

Profiter du Louvre

Bask in the glory of the Louvre!
Indulge in the history and the stories
In a building holding
Stolen stories
And reconstructed histories.
Aller! Profiter du Louvre!
Profiter des souvenirs volés
Profiter des artefacts volés
De mon pays.
تحيا مصر
When you go into the Louvre
Remember Egypt.
When you witness the glory
Of the sarcophagus
The power of the sphinx head,
The paramount statues,
Remember that the mummies do not lie there,
The pharaohs do not live there,
History does not belong in there
But in the blood of the Egyptians,
In the depth of the Nile,
In the speck of sand of each pharaonic pyramid.
تحيا مصر
Quand t’amuser et profiter du Louvre,
N’oublie pas L’Egypte.
Quand vous voyez la statue suprême
N’oublie pas L’Egypte.
Quand vous marchez dans le Louvre,
descendant des souvenirs d’une ancienne civilisation
c’était une fois en Egypte.
Cela a déjà appartenu à l’Egypte.
I am not asking to return our memories.
I am asking you to remember.
So go,
Enjoy the beauty of the Louvre.
But remember,
You are not stepping into what was once Egypt,
Though it may seem like it.
Remember that you are walking down
A hallway filled with artifacts and memories
Of a civilization that did not belong on this land.
،مصر
لك حبي وفؤادي
Mais,
Aller! Profiter du Louvre! C’est incroyable!
! مصر أم الدنيا

Click here to see a performance of the poem in front of the Louvre in Paris.

The following two sonnets come from my working collection of “skeletons of sonnets,” which include a plethora of poems built in the molds of the sonnet form. The following poems discusses a topic that I hold close to my heart: the implications and limitations of a toxic manly ideal and its detrimental effect on young boys. They currently do not have titles.

If boys will be boys
Then let us wash away our tears,
Pick up dolls for toys,
Release our built-up repressed years.

If boys will be boys, then
Let us write away toxicity,
Paper to heart, to pen,
Creating authenticity.

If boys will be boys, then do not
Mold your illusion onto us,
Or ingrain the manly thought.
If boys will be boys, let’s discuss 

Redefining this toxic manly ideal,
Prohibiting boys from expressing what they feel.  

 *

As a man you should always aim
To manifest and manipulate.
Manufacture a man slaughter on shame,
Mandatorily mandate your fate. 

Maneuver a manageable ego,
Make it manifolded and manipular.
A manticore of sorts, let it show,
Make it manacle, never peculiar.

Manage a masculine mantra,
Use a mandrill to ingrain the manliness.
Mangle and mantel, it into the man Tantra.
Make it mantic and filled with happiness. 

Fine tune these manly instructions, the work begins
To create nothing but emotionally suppressed mannequins.

Andrew Riad is a first-year undergraduate student at New York University Abu Dhabi.

50 Dirhams a Day: New York

50 Dirhams a Day: New York

FIFTY DIRHAMS A DAY

NEW YORK

Nada Ammagui

March 2019

50 AED = $13.62

If you’re spending a semester in New York and are not an engineering student, you are not likely to head all the way to Brooklyn for very many reasons; I challenge you to do otherwise – to visit and to experience Brooklyn for all of the post-industrial, art-filled beauty that it has to offer. My visit to Brooklyn—Dumbo in particular—was a spontaneous trip spurred by an urge to escape, even if just for an afternoon, the suffocating grip of skyscrapers and gridded streets. Naturally, I sought to do this in the cheapest way possible, as walking to Dumbo from Gramercy would not be an option. As an avid user of the NYU shuttles that go from Washington Square to my dorm, I discovered that shuttles were also provided from campus to the dorms in Brooklyn. Once I connected the dots, I realized that I could hop on a shuttle from my dorm to campus and from campus to Brooklyn, all for free!

My day in Brooklyn was not very structured, and I did not have very much planned in advance, but this made for a very relaxing Saturday afternoon. I boarded the A shuttle from Washington Square to Brooklyn, which, as it turns out, takes a very scenic route through Soho, Chinatown, the Manhattan Bridge, and parts of Brooklyn. I arrived in Brooklyn about 20 minutes later and made the small journey to Dumbo from MetroTech Center (the NYU campus) on foot (15-20 minutes). Once I made it to the Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo, I took a quick break for photos because the view of Manhattan was simply lovely. There were many places to lounge, read a book, or have a picnic in the park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (Dumbo is the neighborhood between these bridges), but it was far too cold to sit on the grass, so I kept exploring the area.

I realized that I could hop on a shuttle from my dorm to campus and from campus to Brooklyn, all for free!

After taking many, many pictures of the stunning view of Manhattan, I headed towards Main Street, the main thoroughfare of the Dumbo area. I turned onto Water Street, a busy street with low-rise brick buildings on either side full of shops, cafes, and restaurants. I browsed the several (free!!) art galleries for which this area is known, such as Klompching Gallery, Minus Space, and Janet Borden, Inc. then made a stop at Empire Stores, an upscale shopping space with a few shops and cafes. I headed to FEED, a rustic and cozy coffee shop, to browse their merchandise that helps to support the fight against hunger in the world (drink purchase optional depending on budget limitations).

I then headed two floors up in this same building to visit the Brooklyn Historical Society Dumbo Museum, which offers free entry to students (major win!). Though small, the museum provides a brief history of the Brooklyn area from seventeenth century colonization and colony building to nineteenth century industrialization and war-time frenzy. The museum features a short film about the history of Brooklyn, several little displays of documents and letters dating back to this period, a gift shop, and a postcard-coloring station where I colored in a postcard of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Photo Credit

Nada Ammagui 

Next, I crossed the street to visit other shops like Modern Chemist, a seller of candles, cards, mugs, picnic foods, and an odd assortment of other goods. For lunch, there were several options. Just a short walk away is Grimaldi’s, a pizza place, and Shake Shack. A meal at either of these restaurants costs around $10 per person (a pizza is around $20, but is large enough to share). Another option was buying snacks from Modern Chemist and heading to the riverfront for a picnic. I opted for a Yemeni restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, about 20 minutes away, a walk that is well worth it. Lunch costs about $12-$15 at Yemen Café, but is served with a soup, salad, and unlimited hot tea. There are also several Arab supermarkets on the same block for perusal. I then headed back to Washington Square, paying careful attention to not miss the last shuttle home. All in all, this day cost me only as much as I was willing to pay for lunch since the ride there and back, the museum, the galleries, and browsing the shops were all free. This afternoon trip was, though cold, a lovely getaway to another borough of New York City.

Photo Credit

Nada Ammagui

 

Nada Ammagui is an Arab Crossroads Studies student at NYUAD with concentrations in Arabic and Art History. She enjoys visiting museums around the world, learning about architecture, and is even trying her hand at architectural drawing. Nada is also a book enthusiast, so you can often find her immersed in a novel when not studying.

Top Photo: Crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Credit: Nada Ammagui.

FURTHER READING

 

50 DIRHAMS A DAY

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

50 DIRHAMS A DAY

Three Poems

Three Poems

POETRY

Three Poems

Dorian Paul Rogers

March 2019

To Kill a Mourning Dove

They say God gives
gone loved ones back
through symbols, images, and lucid dreams.
Never thought I’d pull the trigger of that Walmart BB gun
my cousin, T, handed me that one Thanksgiving weekend in 1994.  

I pumped five extra times
so I could give that docile-looking dove
the good thumping I thought it deserved. 

Thought it would thud on the ground
after the first fired pellet,
but it either was in shock
or refused to be moved from its hatchlings nearby.
It just perched on.
Had to hit it three more times
before it fell resiliently.

My mom thinks of her mother
as a small white butterfly,
a patch of God’s handkerchief,
attached to her car windshield as we drive to church. 

“There’s Jean”, she said. 

I smirk the smile of a disbeliever
and listen to her story
slightly jealous because I have yet to find my symbol,
or maybe I have already killed the sign of mine.

Squatter’s Rights

No one was occupying your heart
so I moved right in
changed the locks
fixed the broken right leg of
that sunken IKEA couch
Ripped off wallpaper
laid the primer and semi-gloss paint myself
Even made accent walls

I’m no crook or conman
I beautified your neighborhood
One less derelict domain
I have my rights too
You left it disheveled
like you had no intentions of coming back. 

Utilities disconnected
I had to rig my own wiring to turn the lights back on
Steal cable from neighbors
Scrubbed those dishes with lye and Brillo pads
What about what I’ve invested?
Who will pay me back now that you’ve decided to return?

You can’t evict
a king from his conquered land
I hand-stitched this flag of mine and javelined it deep in to the topsoil 
of what used to be your front yard 

You only want it back
Because I’ve reminded you how beautiful it could be
With hedges clipped
manicured lawn
Hammock swinging between identical twin poplar trees
Fresh mulch in the flower box
I built
Mailbox with freshly painted numbers
143

You have some nerve
To call the authorities
And show them paperwork
To summon me from my new dwelling
To unburrow me from behind deep peephole
Tell the cops to surround the house and take out the Tazers
and cattle prods
Because I like it here
And I’m not going to be removed without a fight 

Your heart is my home now
And there’s nothing you can do about it

I Liv You

I
A personal pronoun
very easy to type
unless your smart phone is notating
your voice and misinterprets what you said as eye
or aye as in “me matey”
a rare occurrence since there are few pirates left in the world
This time the phone got it right. 

Liv
An eclectic name for a White girl
raised by Hippy parents with fond memories
of stomping in the mud to Hendrix riffs at Woodstock
The misspelling of live
An ironic and cryptic word to come up on the phone if you’re texting while driving
It took a little less than two seconds to unlock his phone
touch his screen after the “v”
type “e” then slide two letters to the left
hit the delete button and replace the “i” with an “o”

 

U
A homophone for you, the word he intended
but he didn’t bother to change it since it is universally accepted
in texting culture as the same thing. 
Phone suggested words
Ukulele, update, us, until
He ignored them all
presses his thumb on send
eyes glancing down quickly for less than a second
His fiancé receives the message
reads and interprets it as
I live for you
a little cheesy in her mind
She rolls her eyes as she
is a stickler for grammatical errors

Just like that Altima is accordioned
to the back of a Mack truck
horn stuck on C 
in some distorted scale slightly sharp 

She will forever live with the false guilt that he died because of her 

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in a small South Georgia town named Albany, Georgia, Dorian Paul Rogers is continuing to make a name for himself as a writer, performer, educator, and events organizer. In 2007, he helped Slam Charlotte to a first place finish at the National Poetry Slam the world’s biggest poetry slam competition. In 2005, he won the Southern Fried Poetry Slam, beating out over 100 poets in the United State’s biggest regional poetry slam competition.

His move in late 2011 to Abu Dhabi where he started the city’s first ever poetry open mic night, Rooftop Rhythms, and international features, lectures, and workshops in Germany, South Africa, Ethiopia, Singapore, Oman, and the Seychelles have given him international recognition. He holds a BS in English Education from Florida State University, an MS in Urban Teacher Leadership from Georgia State University, and an EdD in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University.

The Burkini Ban

The Burkini Ban

OPINION

The Burkini Ban

How About We Start from Within?

Einas Alhamali

March 2019

In 2016, images of armed French officers forcing a woman to take off her burkini at the beach surfaced on the Internet. A burkini is a type of swimwear that covers the entire body and hair, suitable for hijabis. The officers were acting under the laws of their city, which, like other cities in France, had banned burkinis at the time.

The general response on social media was outrage, especially amongst Arabs and Muslims. When I saw the news, I was horrified, imagining myself forced to take off my protective layer under four men’s gazes. This incident was only one case that became viral; who knows how many more never reach the public eye?  

I was angry at France and their“secular” laws. I was angry at Islamophobic people. I could not imagine the anger and fear coursing through that woman’s body.

Little did I know that Islamophobia hides right under our noses.

Last summer, my family and I went on a vacation in the mountains of Lebanon. We had found the perfect hotel: antique décor, a big balcony, and cool, tranquil weather. At the reception, my mother asked about the pool. She needed to swim to keep her post-surgery arm from getting stiff. The receptionist answered, “Yes, of course. The pool is available if the men would like to swim.”

A moment of silence.

My mother gave a half-laugh. “And the women?”

The receptionist bit her lip and explained that burkinis were not allowed. We were almost too dumbfounded to respond. My mother had once told me that there were instances when she had not been allowed to swim in some hotels back in Syria either, but I thought that was a thing of the past. Surely, Arabs of different religions have reached a point of reconciliation? When it seems like the entire world stands against us, surely, we could at least support one another?

Why are private resorts in Arab countries banning the burkini, a sight that should be familiar considering the numbers of Muslims here?

But no. Over the next two days the receptionist and the manager asked us to please understand, it wasn’t their fault. They were only upholding “the hotel’s policy.” My father asked what the policy stated, and we tried to argue against it. Visitors must wear proper swimwear (invalid argument; burkinis are made of the same material as any other swimwear) that consists of one or two pieces (invalid argument; go ahead and Google images of burkinis; they’re usually two pieces with a head piece, but if you’re going to count the head piece then you should also count swimming caps, which would make bikinis three-piece swimsuits). 

And while the Lebanese government has its issues, this“policy” was not their doing. We found another hotel, only twenty-five minutes away by car, that allowed us to swim.

The case of the first hotel is not an isolated one. Friends have told me that this ban occurs in other Arab countries as well, such as Morocco and Egypt, where hijabis are not even allowed to sit on some private beaches. While the ban in France was under the name of secularism, these enterprises cited “hygienic reasons.” This excuse stems from a lack of knowledge—or maybe a lack of willingness to acknowledge—that women do not wear their own undergarments beneath the burkini. On the contrary, it often comes with its own swimming-suitable lining.

To put it into fewer words, both France and these private resorts in Arab countries were acting under a common incentive: prejudice.

Unlike France, however, the resorts were not following city laws. Their prejudice was the work of individuals.

In some ways, that’s scarier.

How can we expect other countries to respect our values when the same disrespect resides amongst us?

I find myself raising two questions I have yet to find an answer for: One, why are private resorts in Arab countries banning the burkini, a sight that should be familiar considering the numbers of Muslims here? Two, why are those situations not garnering social media attention?

I speak from personal experience. When the ban in France happened, my Facebook feed was flooded with the news; on the other hand, I only heard stories of the bans in Arab private resorts when I pitched this piece to my writing class.

I know that a national ban and individual cases of private enterprises are not on the same scale, but how can we expect other countries to respect our values when the same disrespect resides amongst us?

And it’s not like it’s impossible to ensure that hijabis are allowed to swim in private enterprises. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, I never have to worry about the matter. I can swim in pools and beaches, public or private, in a burkini—or a bikini, for that matter—and no one would bat an eye. I can even find places that allow women only, so that I feel more comfortable.

It’s going to take a collective effort to reproduce that freedom of swimwear in other Arab countries where some enterprises issue the ban. The change may start with a post on social media, or a review on the hotel’s website, or a report to the relative authorities.

But until then, whenever my family and I go on vacation, we will have to check beforehand whether burkinis are allowed.

 

 

Einas Alhamali is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi. She was born and raised in Syria but has also lived in Lebanon and the UAE. In her free time, she reads novels, watches anime, and anxiously solves 1000-piece puzzles.

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