Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All Wrong

When you hurt but everyone tells you you don't
When you fear and everyone says you don't
When you aspire but everyone tells you it's wrong
When you cry and they say you're immature
And they beat you down and mold you
Into unnatural stretches and shapes
So you think there really must be something wrong with you
You know, 'cause everyone says there is
So you feel terrible about your imperfections
The ones they insist you have
And mourn that you have not a single saving grace
And worry that there is not a single thing right about you
You can't seem to even breathe the right way
I mean you take a breath and someone says you did it wrong
So you try
Breathe right
According to formula
You pace it right
The way others say you should
You hold it then let it out
Inhale 1, 2, 3
Exhale and smile and say 'why thank you'
'No I don't feel like I'm dying at all how about you'
'Oh wait a sec let me catch my breath, there we go'
Inhale 1, 2, 3
Exhale and you're on your way
But you feel off and fall back to your old rhythm
And you curse yourself for not being like others
And you try again
Inhale and exhale
1, 2, 3, come on let's do this
You feel breathless but you say 'oh no I'm fine'
'Look at me I look and sound just right'
But you lose it again and you mourn
You can't even breathe right
Why can't you
Everyone else does
What's wrong with you
Why can't I be like them
Everything's wrong with me
What's wrong with me
Why can't I be like them
Why was I born like this
I'm stupid, I must be
I feel all the wrong things
I want the impossible things
I think some other way
I breathe the wrong way
Inhale, 1, 2, oh no
What comes after 2
I'm so stupid
What's wrong with me
I am such a terrible person
I don't mean to, I'm sorry
I was born this way
They say so anyway

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Americanisation of Khadija Ejaz

I led a very stable and sheltered life until high school in Oman and India. In contrast, my life in the US from age 18 to 27 was spent trying to figure out why, despite having being a social whiz all my life, I suddenly could not function beyond the level of a bumbling paranoid social train wreck.

Looking back, I am alarmed at how huge the implications of such a move at such an age all by oneself are and how no one really prepared me for it. And how could they? Most people still don't realise or appreciate how traumatic such an experience can be. In fact, they blame you for it. At an age when children derive their sense of worth from the acceptance of their peers, landing in the middle of what may as well be another solar system can jar the most solid of folks. Add to that constantly feeling inadequate in your new environment and being ridiculed for displaying signs of adapting to your new environment by those in your old environment like it's something you're doing on purpose to hurt people, and you've got a person in the early stages of a meltdown.

I don't really know at what point the process of Americanisation began in my life in America. I'd always been exposed to American culture through movies, music, food, and clothing. Maybe Americanisation is the wrong word. I felt like I was falling behind and I desperately tried to catch up by speaking the same language. I think what began to happen is that I began to show selective parts of my cultural personality, using the parts that the people in my American environment wouldn't respond to less and less until they rusted.

Isolated in a remote part of America, I struggled with my identity from my physical appearance to the basics of my existence as I lived between hemispheres. It was a horrific experience. As a student I spent 2/3rds of the year in the isolated American Bible Belt and the rest of the time I was back in Oman. I disliked the travel aspect of it because it came with weeks of personality adjustment everytime. I, in fact, felt guilty beyond belief that I couldn't hold onto one immutable personality. I wish someone had told me that I was a kid who was still growing into myself and wasn't expected to have as rock-solid a personal identity as, say, a weathered 50-year-old man. Once I started working, I could only make it back to Oman three weeks at the most every year. By the time I was over the jetlag and had started to rebond with my Eastern life, it was time to pull away again and readjust to America. I think after about 10 years of living between different planets like this and not having a proper social support system in either place exhausted me in all the dimensions psychologists (or is it sociologists?) talk about.

Funny thing is, until the last minute I was in the US before flying out for good, I felt like a misfit. After a decade, I felt like I had become more stubbornly Eastern. It's been two months since I've left the US, and I still feel like a misfit but in a horribly opposite way: I now sound like an American to everybody. I mean, I can't even control these things. In America I felt like the most unAmerican person. My unAmericanisms stood out like crazy: my British spellings and pronounciations; my fragmented knowledge of American social cues, history, pop culture, political issues; my sporadic lapses into nonAmerican accents, etc. Now that I'm out of America, it's the opposite. I open my mouth and I and everyone else hear an American speaking. It is really quite tiresome. In America I was the exotic foreign person. Now I seem to be unable to not be American, and I'm not doing anything different. I'm just being me, and apparently, even that's a relative thing. Nowadays I'm afraid to say anything lest my Americanisms start shouting at every random passerby. I think I have linguistic Turret's or something.

Some of my recent Americanisms in non-US territories have been as follows:

1. My accent sounds more American than KFC.
2. I know the name of every celebrity, even the ridiculous ones, featured on Perez Hilton
3. I instinctively extend my hand for a shake in social situations even though it's taboo in the East for men and women to shake hands.
4. I have a firm handshake
5. I make direct eye contact while talking to people
6. I use email more than the phone to connect with people
7. I cannot stop using 'Dayyum'/'Dayyung' to express surprise. Also in frequent use are the phrases 'ohhhmagawd', 'like fuh reals', 'wuuuuuut', etc.
8. I feel frustrated when my social options are limited because I'm a female.
9. I die when I want to run errands but can't because I don't have a car and have to ask my dad to help me do things.
10. I am regularly scolded by my family that my English at home sounds disrespectful and that I must cease and desist usage of the words 'stop', 'no', 'what', 'why', 'don't care', etc.
11. I miss popcorn with butter at the AMC
12. I frequently feel the call of the lonely highway
13. I derive all my information from the InterBible
14. I feel odd having people fill my car up with petrol for me
15. I seem to have become extremely direct and outspoken
16. I'm an expert at ordering fast food (Subway sandwiches and pizza delivery guys, I'm talking to you)
17. I live according to my planner
18. I seem to talk to superiors as if they went to college with me
19. My dad's accent now sounds really British compared to my apple-pie drawl.
20. Well-versed wordly people turn to me about certain American phrases like 'good to go', 'ballpark', etc.
21. An American professor in Oman marvelled at my accent and told his colleagues that I speak perfect American, from my pitch to my speed to my tone to my humour to my facial expressions.

Topping it all:

22. I cannot say my name straight, especially while talking to a customer service person or something. *screech!!!!* I am now Kuh-dee-jaa.

OMG, am I an ABCD??

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poor girl

Little girl they've been lying to ya
Little woman they've been tellin you lies
That all things will work out great if your dresses match your eyes
When did you first sense betrayal
Did it hurt less later each time
When your matching bags and your matching shoes didn't make things fine
Little wallflower trained well to please
She tried harder each and everytime
Slashed words from her unique song when others couldn't hear it rhyme
Compromised in bits and pieces
But not sure why she's empty inside
Empty even though her agreeableness is famed far and wide
Asked someone whom she thought loved her
Felt she was dying as she smiled
But they said she was being difficult so she shut up for a while
Smiling like never before she lived
And grew numb some more inside
Never dared be branded difficult even though to herself she lied
A little girl grew old and bent
Twisted and bitter with lies
Imprisoned in a mold she can't believe they made her waste her life.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Helplessness is contagious

How long can a spirit hold on
With its body broken
With its humanity stolen
How long before the spirit longs to depart
To escape to grace
To return to that place of dignity
Life in a body that's a cage
Where every day is a page of rage
Banging its head to be free of the humiliation
Every single day is degradation
But how long can this continue
Before the spirit wails for freedom
Back to the days of strength and beauty
Where is God's famous mercy
The spirit is tired, scratched, and bleeding
And bound in chains of thorns with no roses
It pushes and shoves
"SET ME FREE!" it roars
But no answer comes yet
"ANSWER ME!" it shrieks
With rage now sorrow
A whimper brings tomorrow.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Honk if you can relate

I have a friend. We go way back, like to a time when we used to beat the pulp out of beds by using them as trampolines. Now we're grown up young ladies. My friend always had a heavy body, but big deal. Over the past couple of years since she finished her undergrad in India, she's returned to her family in Oman where she fills in for her mom who has been sick with diabetes and such. My friend has been cooking and cleaning for her family, taking care of her father and teenage brother, and also taking care of her mother's health and becoming a master at giving her her insulin shots. Now she has started working towards her MBA and recently got engaged. My friend is a very polite and hospitable girl compared to yours truly who is tempestuous and can be amazingly bitchy if the weather is just right.

My friend and I were at a family friend's for dinner a few days ago. On her way out after about 3 hours of making respectful conversation with the host and the guests, my friend is tapped on the shoulder by one of the guests. This mother of 4 rambunctious children drops a disclaimer to my friend by asking her not to feel bad before she says something to her. My friend goes, "of course not, aunty, please go ahead". The guest then, within full earshot of the rest of the crowd, asks my friend to lose weight. My friend just stood there, pretty much humiliated, embarassed, and speechless.

My mother had actually seen this happen, and I raged about the event for days after. Less than a week later I stood by my elder brother's bed in the plastic/neurology ward he has been in for a month for complications arising due to his paraplegia. My brother lay in his bed disheveled with me on one side and an old friend of my dad's on the other. While trying to raise my brother's spirits as we do everyday when we visit, my dad's friend suddenly tells me that in his opinion, I need to reduce my weight. As I stood there blinking at him, he further informs me that I seem to be developing a double chin and that I weighed less the last time I was in town. He suggested I develop a walking regimen. I looked at him, I looked down at my brother who looked back at me, and then I chuckled, saying that the last time I was in town I had other problems (read: an ugly nervous breakdown that marked the beginning of the end of my adventures in lonely foreign lands). My dad's friend then stood there suddenly uncomfortable and feeling awkward at the silence and the end-of-discussion smirk on my face. "You aren't feeling bad, are you?" he managed to say. I bit my tongue because I didn't want to suddenly retort by making a snarky remark about my dad's friends daughters in return. Not worth the energy expenditure.

I want to know why people feel free to express their opinions of another person's body, clearly presenting what they think is wrong with it and telling them how to fix it when they honestly don't know sh**. In my own experience, as a female especially, my appearance is frequently a walking advertisment of the various issues going on in my life at that time. Emotional angst, depression, loneliness, insomnia, and a host of other filthy problems manifest themselves in a person's appearance. Especially in women whose complicated physiology immediately translates any form of stress into hormonal imbalances which can immediately result in physical symptoms like hair loss, yo-yo weight loss and gain, bloating, missed periods, hot/cold flashes, and a plethora of problems that exercise or criticise cannot fix. I once had an awesome funky cool teacher in primary school who suddenly balloned in a year. She had a thyroid problem. But that didn't stop everyone from tearing her down, like OMG, she's so fat. I want to know why, instead of appreciating that a girl is healthy and happy and good and has all body parts in working order, people insist on stopping short of taking a marker and dilineating spots on her body that are not what they like. I mean, why not? That's what it felt like anyway each time someone told me one of the following lines when I gained weight after high school for reasons varying from normal growth to depression:

1. Wow, look at your cheeks, they are so full, are you prospering?
2. You're so fat, it's disgusting.
3. Don't you work out at all?
4. Why can't you look like [insert random model on TV here]?
5. You are unpresentable.
6. Do you eat a lot?
7. I can't recognise you, you have become so fat.
8. You're the last person to be eating ice-cream.
9. You're a slob.
10. I heard [insert random person] saying that you look pregnant and that your face is weird.

F*** that.