New York City Travel Impression #1

Travel – A disease called “Wanderlust”

A disease called “Wanderlust”

It took me a few days to get off stress adrenaline from my life (which I’m always trying to escape), travel (24 hours in economy is not easy when you get into your forties) and then this city, New York.

How can I describe my impression of it?

At first I was taken by the sheer size of it, the skyscrapers span a few horizons doesn’t it.  Not one, but several… this I’ve never seen before, and I’ve travelled.

The next thing that glued me to the window is the architecture. I’m reminded of something and I don’t know why bits of New York reminds me of the back streets of Redfern, near Waterloo housing commission buildings.  It’s the dirt and scum I think.  We never lived in Redfern, but we had family friends who lived in the housing commission buildings in Waterloo, in the 1980’s and we used to spend all our weekends and school holidays with them.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Hells Kitchen. The first night we walked up to 7th Avenue, Times Square,  my Laylay was gob smacked… so was I.  But then there’s this voice – this teacher hippie, leftie voice –  that is shocked that I would think a city square, such as this NYC square is mesmerizing and awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love city squares. I’ve been left speechless, mouth ajar – which is very rare – in modern and old town squares.  Places like Paris France, London UK, Prague Czechoslovaki , Colon Germany, Sydney, Australia (of course) Christ Church NZ, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi Vietnam, Venice and Milano Italy and certainly any city center in China.

But this city square, filled with LED screens, that are used for multinational advertising. ‘OMG’, signage, after signage, for advertising. This is it! This is the glamour of this nation, its ability to sell us shit we don’t want, at prices we can’t afford.

I did the rant to Mr Dickson and Laylay, but they were busy, googly eyed at the sheer number of these flashing things. It’s like we’ve never seen screens before… Now note how I’ve used the word awesome previously, not beautiful… beautiful, I believe, should be reserved for things like nature, Sydney’s shore line, a city filled with history and culture, like Paris, Venice, London, Prague, Hanoi…

There’s nothing natural in this concrete jungle.  Not even the people, not even us.

It took a while to adjust not only to the sheer number of signage, but people, in their thousands, all googly eyed as well, at the bright reflection of these signs onto their expectant faces. Their eyes shiny, all adoring, jumping and scanning these signs, from one end of Seventh Avenue to the other. These adoring tourists, were dazed and tripping. Tourists who’ve fallen in love with American culture at the early age on naught! We, including myself, were all in a stupor, drug induced, but here the drug was consumerism, triggered by light and flashing images, promising everlasting ageless beauty and wealth.

The signs, about 55 million of them, went through a looped number of advert, some where:

An M&M animation advert doing some Red and Yellow M&M gaff,

Followed in quick succession by a Gucci flashing image of four post teen white women, eyes half lidded in some mock sexy look scantly adorned in items we can’t afford and maybe some of us shouldn’t wear.

Followed by a silently screaming, flashing, jumping, running, falling Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

Followed by another advert for another clothes store, with now five women, one African American (not obvious tokenism at all) walking, laughing and again eyes half lidded in some mock sexy look scantly adorned in items that we again can’t afford and maybe most of us shouldn’t be allowed to wear…

Oh and so many adverts of designer perfume, designer watches, designer jewelry, modeled by famous men and women, with eyes half lidded in mock sexy…

You get the idea…

I neglected to note if there was an advert promoting a non for profit, or an ideal or a charity.

Of course, some signage was dedicated to NY based TV shows, channels, news, panels, comedies, Wall Street trading, news tags and headlines. I doubt many of us noted these and in my horror realization, I myself, leftie teacher, was now watching myself hooked on consumer advertising. My face, was bathed in LED light, and I was finally in NYC, a place Mr Dickson had been trying to take me to, for a very long time and I was still not impressed, but for a few seconds in Times Square, sensibility left me and I was riveted. Dazed in an LED light stupor, we reluctantly decided to stumble back to our share apartment in Hells Kitchen.

The next morning, we woke up early at 5 am, it was natural because it’s 3 pm back home. Mr Dickson had to go to work, which meant Laylay and I had hours to fill. By that day, Wednesday morning, I had not slept for four nights in a row.  Packed with water and sunscreen for me, we started our walk looking for a coffee and breakfast. I’ve been warned coffee in New York city was going to be disappointing.  Having said that, I fluked it and found a 2dollar coffee, 2dollar sandwich, 2dollar everything.

Cheapo me loved the idea.  Bought the coffee, eggs and cheese bagels, that was a hit, with me, of course.

Laylay didn’t like that idea, she was chomping at the bit for a Starbucks frappe… the conversation went something like:

Mum this is what you do when you go to NYC.

Is that it, Starbucks, really bub?

Yes mum, you really don’t know and don’t understand.

You just want to take a photo and put it on Instagram my instababy.

Nooooo… (followed by a sheepish laugh).

But you will take a photo of the frappe in Starbucks.

Yeaaah.

At that, I might have rolled my eyes. Apparently I really don’t know, because in NYC you have to buy a Canadian franchised coffee  and take a photo of it to send to besties via Instagram chat, not on the public Instagram profile.

Sigh, teens are not predictable at all… I didn’t listen to Laylay. Starbucks will have to wait another day.

As we walked, I’m amazed by this city,  the planning of it, how accessible it is.  I’m impressed, I think I might start to like it.  We get to Madison avenue,  now I’m not sure if you ever watched Madmen,  it’s a must watch.  I’ve binge watched it twice.  It’s about advertising agencies in the 60s. The hypocrisy of white rich men,  the struggle of women to climb any career ladder.  Set against real historical events.  I watched it most recently with Laylay,  heavily censored of course. It gives a good insight into human motivations and sometimes can be gritty and real about modern society. Anyhow, we walked down the avenue,  hoping to glimpse a bit of our flawed protagonist, Don Draper walking past us… in our dreams that is. Bored by the number of store fronts, that look familiar to any Sydney store fronts, we decide to take a break at Madison square park. We both ran eagerly into the park, and it was that we suddenly discovered that it was the first bit of green since we arrived on Manhattan Island.

After a while of silly banter Laylay went quiet. Laylay has a turn of voice when she’s being somber. She had it then when she gave me an observation:

Mum, did you notice something in New York? All the workers, they’re not white, but they are either African American or speak Spanish…

I was floored and proud at the same time.  Floored at the fact she recognised inequity and how it’s somehow to do with skin colour. Proud that she recognised it without me pointing it out.  Was I like that? Or did I recognise something different? That I had the skin colour that always gave me an easy passport into middle class Western world.  I was also gawked at as a child living in Saudi Arabia.  I had girlfriends cut stands of my bleach blond highlights, courtesy of the hours spent swimming in our Saudi pool under the desert sun. I knew white privilege, and always stepped in and out of it as I wished.  Until the headscarf, but that’s another story all together.

Unlike Laylay ‘s empathy as a child, I was not empathetic.  In Arabia, places where I’ve grown up or visited like Saudi and Jordan, they had the same divide.  To be black meant you were a slave, the word for black is Abed. The a is the sound that comes from the back of the throat and looks like a turned 3, 3abed, for slave.  The word Abed is attached within religious names like Abdallah, or Abdelrahman, meaning slave of god, or slave of the merciful (again god). However, the Arabic language did not remove the association of the word slave and black.

I’m ashamed because I’ve always felt lucky growing up, lucky that my family, who was an Arabic extraction were considered Westerners on the account that we had an Australian passport. I also felt lucky, no, relieved, that I looked white, not olive skinned like some of my siblings or cousins, not darker than olive skin and certainly not brown nor black. Because at a very young age, I understood that skin colour somehow managed to create a social and socioeconomic divide.

How do children know this? Are we breasted this knowledge? How is it that we created this social inequity, all to do with skin colour!

I didn’t tell Laylay all of that.  Laylay is a different generation to mine.  She goes to a school in Sydney’s inner-city, that is so multicultural that you can play “spot the white kid”. A school where her best friends are Pacifica and African girls.  Layalay, unlike me, recognized the inequity without much prompting by her parent.

Thank you NSW Public Education!

Laylay thinks skin colour should be dark, not white.  Laylay refuses to wear sunscreen, until we have a fight.  She criticises me over my skin colour. I laugh…

Laylay saw this inequity, this colour divide, that meant the men in NYC council or city worker shirts taking out the garden chairs for people, white and tourist and thought it sad and unfair. She took notice of the men and women at the serving counters, or on the streets selling NYC cruise deals under the sun. I had to explain why, I did a history lesson then, about slavery, and its impact on African Americans until today.  How after the civil war, they were free, but segregation was enforced. I have been remiss in my daughter’s education, I’ve neglected to teach her American history, and purposely.  I wanted her to learn Australian, Arabic, European, Asian history.  I grew up knowing American history (through their films, music, popular culture) and I was really embarrassed as a teen, when I had no idea about Australian history. I also had to draw a link between American history of slavery and Australia’s history of white colonization of Aborigines… the mood changed to serious and reflective.

At this point, I’m still not sure about this city.  The sirens go off every few minutes, the people are a lot and the streets are wet and dirty and the only bit of green so far is in parks and gardens.  Not sure at all.

I think I might have been missing the greenery and I might have been missing home. I’ve never travelled and missed home so early on in a trip. This was strange.

Enough pontificating. I’m so sorry, but I’m a teacher and I can’t help it.

More on the next post.

Muslim Women Headscarf: Freedom of Expression

Getting the Headscarf Fashion Right

 one Muslim friend of mine confessed regretting taking the headscarf off.
One Muslim friend of mine confessed regretting taking the headscarf off.

Looking at the Muslim women’s headscarf, one has to examine its origins and how it came about. Every culture dresses to suite their weather and environment. Take European costume, it revolves around any form of pants or hose for men designed to keep one warm in winter and can be pulled up on a hot summers day of 27 degrees. While the Arab men of the Sahar dessert relied on their baggy long thobe, like the dress that Lawrence of Arabia, portrayed by Peter O’Tool, wore. The Australian Aborigines dressed for the weather and never let body image threaten their cultural harmony. Middle Eastern cultures were always vein, I believe that women covered up completely from the sun to protect their skin, all in the name of vanity, the ultimate Slip Slop and Slap. All tongue in cheek of course.

When the prophet of Islam came along, women of certain families with status were known to cover their faces. To dress in this way was a mark of social status and it also allowed women to travel freely and un-accosted from one part of a town or city to the next. The headscarf is not just an Arabic practice adopted by Islam, but also a Jewish one derived from Biblical tradition, this tradition was also one women of the Christian cloth wore.

Nowadays the headscarf is not only a religious statement but also a fashionable one. In the Gulf region, there are plenty of verity of dress that ranges from the affordable to the ultra expensive designer dress wear. The Saudi women

abaya for example is now heavily embroidered and bejeweled; a statement of wealth and class. This trend is also followed by many in the oil rich Gulf region. Women Hijab fashion from other, not so rich regions of Arabia, pale in comparison.

No little black dress, only glamourous design for Saudi women.
Now  No little black dress, only glamourous design for Saudi women.

However, the abaya is specifically Gulf oriented and worn differently by different Gulf countries. Iraqi women wear it over their heads, Iranian women designed it as what they call “Chadour”. For the undiscerning eye, the chadour might look like the abaya, however it is not; it is specific to Iran’s cultural brand of Islam. Move further along Muslim Asian Nations and each culture has now imbued their own colour and flavour into their dress code. Indo-Malayans wear colourful long skirts and baggy but stylish short sleeve tops – too much colour for their Arab sisters. The short sleeves is something Arab Muslim women would not dare wear – but the dress code is functional for humid and hot weather. While Cocaz dress code is that for hardy winter wear. Thick fur trimmed scarves and fur trimmed caps. The Gulf abaya, even though black, is surprisingly very cool in the desert heat and is designed to capture a wayward dessert breeze, no matter how small the breeze, it can aerate it’s delicate female wearer. In fact my engineering geek of a husband – one Mr. Dickson- excitedly recounts that in the field of thermodynamics a Black Body is the most efficient at heat dissipation.

Then there is the variety of ways that a headscarf is fixed to the scalp. The headscarves can be pinned back to show a delicate neck, or draped down the neck. Some pin it specifically to cover the chin, others wear a larger headscarf that is designed to drape all the way to the hips, to hide the body shape from view. The face covers, which France has now banned and fines any woman wearing it, has different styles. There is the burqa (Afghani) not to be mistaken by the niqab (Arabic) – and no Afghanistan is not in the Middle East nor are Afghani’s Arabic and it’s not all the same thing. The burqa is as foreign to an Arab as the Scottish black pudding to the snag on a barbee.

Now the headscarf dress code is as elaborate and varied as the culture of the people who adopted Islam and more recently has benefited from modern, Western styles. Again, here in the West, there are a variety of Muslim designers who are targeting Muslim woman and in many cases the working Muslim women market. The style is hip, happening and one Muslim friend of mine confessed she regrets taking the headscarf off. There is actual stylists for headscarf wearers, she exclaimed in excitement at the Muslim Western women’s brave new world. I myself no longer wear it and look enviously at many a stylish girl in a headscarf.

The headscarf can be seen as a deep religious affiliation but there is much more to it. As each style evolved over the past millennium, with Muslim countries having modernised and even Muslim women in the West insist on wearing the headscarf, it has become a personal expression; a personal freedom of expression if you like. This is contrary to Western belief that a headscarf is forced and goes back to the argument of “What woman in her right mind would ever wear a headscarf?” The fact that my friend and I chose to take the headscarf off can demonstrate our personal freedom of choice to wear it,or not.

No matter how many times Muslim women speak up about their choice to wear the headscarf , or not wear the headscarf, the West – for various political agendas and propaganda – which we will not get into – fail to grasp that many a Muslim woman has chosen to wear it for any number of reasons:

  • not only for its religious affiliation,
  • or as her”feminist” choice to do with her body as she wishes,
  • or to challenge established Western ideals of beauty,

but perhaps to demonstrate a freedom of choice and as I’ve demonstrated in the variety of Muslim women wear, a freedom of expression to be viewed culturally or religiously.

This is all the more important to understand when the Western Muslim woman, who has ample choice and freedom chooses to wear the headscarf. They believe in their freedom of expression and freedom of choice as an absolute right in their respective adoptive Western countries.  However the frightened mutter, various chatter that is now taking place on social mediums and various attacks -verbal and physical – of Muslim women wearing the headscarf has challenged this assumed “right”. France fines women who cover their faces and have denied public education to girls who wear the headscarf. This is clearly social suicide as everyone knows the way to disadvantage communities is to deny women, who later on become mothers, an education.

The argument many throw as a challenge to the “freedom of expression”, that these women live in the US, therefore they need to assimilate, or if they are Australians, they need to integrate. Regardless of the noise, the arguments, some valid, others fanciful, regardless of the chatter, the fear mongering, some bordering on the abusive, while other is outright criminal; we must remember that no one has the right to take a woman’s freedom of expression nor her right to do with her body as she wishes.

"Alluring" is not a word used to describe Western fashion.
“Alluring” is not a word used to describe Western fashion.

But let us get back to my favourite topic of fashion and specifically headscarf fashion, for getting it right by modern Western Muslim women is essential to keep this alluring, powerful yet fragile freedom of expression attractive. To continue a rich yet ever evolving heritage and tradition of headscarf wearing. For the word “Alluring” is not one used in Western fashion and I believe alluring is the most powerful and beautiful word that could ever be used to describe a woman.

 

Condemned Israeli War Crimes: Exercise in Recycled Manipulation of Language

Many world leaders have recycled the word “condemned” Israeli State action, but that condemnation does not go further to condemn Israeli war crimes. It’s the figurative slap-on-the-wrist approach while Israel continues to act aggressively with unchecked power.
Examining the language use regarding this problematic almost century old struggle is always interesting. Leaders of various sovereign nations one and all again recycled their call for a “seize fire”, or “condemned”- depending on which side of the fence they sit –  Hamas rocket attacks on innocent Israeli citizen or condemn Israeli attacks on defenseless women and children.

Others a few days ago, like Tony Abbot , flouted words like “Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel – more than 2600 causalities so far, and Israel must restrain its response, which has cost far too many civilian lives.”

Meanwhile the same day, Obama, according to The Australian has taken apparently a tougher stance, updating the words from “calling on both sides to seize fire” and “the right of Israel to protect its people” to “The Obama administration condemned the deadly shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.” Apparently this “tough, yet carefully worded language” has sent Israeli media into some spin about growing “tensions” between the father and son. The relationship is “strained”. Daddy (USA) really doesn’t like his son’s (Israel) overt display of power. Israel lacks USA maturity in getting what they really want which almost always starts with carefully worded war of words – namely well executed political/religious/social propaganda – that prepares the way to violent attack on any nation of choice– example Gulf war one and two 1991 and 2003 respectively.

 

Israeli soldier shelling Gaza
Israeli soldier shelling Gaza

Israel, unfortunately, never learned such finesse.

Three days prior to the USA’s carefully worded statement, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “leveled his strongest criticism yet of Israel’s military operation in Gaza on Monday, accusing Israel of “pummeling” Gazans with “indiscriminate destruction””

Today’s third – or is it forth,(the world is losing count)– shelling of UN school and according to The Independent the seventh attack on a UN dedicated shelter, has seen stronger language use where The Guardian reported the UN Secretary “Denouncing the criminal act”.

While the US moved from carefully worded to “appalled” in one report and “disgraceful” in another report. Most would agree that the more terrifying of all words was when the UN Secretary strung his noun groups to produce a lexically dense emotive phrases, “the criminal act is a moral outrage”. The report went as far as to quote The Secretary who  “condemned (the attacks as) unjustifiable and shameful” – more powerful impressive adjectives – or outrage pro Israeli   – readership.

The readers are even more encouraged to read that this seventh attack finally “drew an unusually severe rebuke from the Obama administration.” Surely a severe rebuke from Obama and his admin staff is enough! I’d be quaking in my shoes!
Now we’re there at last, they have promoted the language from condemning – which is the ultimate token slap on the wrist to a very naughty bully- to the now scary noun groups and adjectives like “appalled” “disgraceful” “unjustifiable” “shameful” and the big guns of “Moral outrage”, because that’s how the good ol’ world is governed; by ever shifting and changing human conceptual morality of right and wrong and karma. No lines blurred there. Reading all these adjectives lets one think that these leaders are moving to a new stance against this rogue nation.

In fact look closely neither Obama nor The Secretary-General condemned Israeli war crimes or condemn Israeli attacks as crimes of war, in breach of all kinds of international law.

Still we are hopeful that commonsense and justice will somehow prevail.

Hopeful that this bully might be condemned for its crimes of war?
The national and international public stirs and asks, are they going to investigate? No, they are yet to “investigate Israeli war crimes”, but the UN Secretary General “demanded a quick investigation”.

Again we are hopeful but ask about this call to investigate? What does it mean? How does that work? Whose minions are sent to investigate recent Israeli war crime? No, no we have to ask who calls such investigation? Last time we checked it was the UN, but the UN is calling to investigate illusive war crimes, not the imperative of Israeli “war crimes will be investigated”. However they are also calling for a “quick investigation”.

Can war crimes be investigated in a matter of weeks, months? I mean surely one such investigation will need years and in the case of this almost century old struggle; decades.

There we have it, international leaders exercise in language manipulation is symptomatic of their reluctance to truly, once and for all condemn Israeli war crimes and try Israeli war criminals in the international court in the Hague. Will this rouge state ever be made to account for its war crimes?

 

Who is Maya Dickson?

Maya Dickson

Some doodle of mine. Can be a D for Dickson, the Arabic letter Dal for "d" for Dickson, a Headscarf with a smile or a helmet.
Some doodle of mine. Can be a D for Dickson, the Arabic letter Dal for “d” for Dickson, a Headscarf with a smile or a helmet.

English teacher, avid reader and pretend writer. My interest has been the “word” and how it influences people, societies and the world. How words can be used, re-manufactured, deleted and in essence alter human experience, memory and the history of human kind. George Orwell was the true expert on this subject.

I’m also interested in the experiences of those we demonise on a daily basis, again using words. The experiences of the other and the use of words to create the other when the other is really as familiar and sometimes as boring and unremarkable as anyone on the mainstream streets of humanity.

As such, my interest is varied, from political to social and religious commentary and discourse.

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