In Defense of Visible Hair

My conversion and early years as a Muslim occurred in Saudi Arabia, where hijab was mandatory for everyone, whether we believed in it or not. Even non-Muslim women were well-advised to wear hijab while visiting certain neighborhoods of Riyadh. Scarves and abayas were always black, with maybe some nice black embroidery along the edges. Non-Saudi women could get away with wearing colored scarves,  pale shades and pastels only, with matching embroidery.  I wore hijab willingly, because I wanted to comply with local customs, and to be recognized as a Muslim woman; I wanted to move around the city inconspicuously, drawing no attention from anyone.

I’d studied the Arabic text of the Qur’an and the English translation, and I was not convinced that head covering was required. On the contrary, I was convinced that women were free to interpret those verses according to their personal conclusion. Living in the Kingdom, however, called for conformity above personal expression, so I covered everything, sometimes face and eyes. I even wore black gloves and black socks on occasion, when I knew I’d be encountering women who’d scold me, were they to see my white hands and ankles. Yes, women did scold me, usually at the mosque or at the madrassa. They believed that every inch of a woman’s skin must be covered in black while outside the home.

My Arabic was never fluent enough to challenge those reproaches, but who was I to challenge them, anyway? According to my own understanding, those women were entitled to their interpretations as I was entitled to mine.

Hijab never gave me any cause for psychological stress while in the Kingdom. I even got used to the physical discomfort from wrapping my head in black when the temperature rose so high you could fry an egg on the hood of a car.

Hijab never gave me distress while in the United States, either. I simply didn’t wear it (except for prayer) and still don’t. Though I never doubted the permissibility of going about bare-headed, I still give thought to the reasoning behind the practice. In fact, the reasoning behind the practice holds more importance for me than whether or not it is required in Islam. Living outside the Kingdom, personal choice becomes an important variable in whether a woman covers or not. Personal choice in any matter necessitates careful examination of the options.

Head-covering served to brand women as Muslim, and therefore unavailable for flirtatious activity or harassment of any sort. The idea is to downplay the “adornments” of women. Hair, boobs, curves, eyes, lips, hands, legs, skin… all of those can be categorized as “adornments,” and therefore, the glove-and-sock wearers are as justified in their practice as the head-coverers are in theirs.

Should cultural attitudes regarding modesty factor into a woman’s decision as to which parts of her body are the “adornments” to be covered and withheld from the gaze of men? Obviously yes, if you subscribe to the flexible interpretation of the texts, as I do. In the Kingdom, cultural attitudes prevailed; the woman who covered even her eyes, hands and ankles caused no stir on the streets of Riyadh. If she’d walk around like that in my American community, someone would call the police.

Here in the United States, boobs and crotch are the ultimate private parts, with curves coming in next, but hair? I don’t think so. Do you think so? OK, so cover it, but don’t ask me when I’m going to start covering mine.

As for curves, I don’t have them anymore, but my body is still draped in clothing so loose you cannot see where one part stops and the next part starts. My gray hair poses no distraction for anyone. I’m modest, I’m safe, and my appearance does not invite attention from anyone. What’s not Islamic about that?

I know I am in the minority. Most Muslim women in the United States cover their hair voluntarily, even proudly. In fact, the hair-covering seems more important than any other kind of covering. I’ve seen many women who would’t let even a strand of hair fall out, yet their faces are enhanced with cosmetics, their jeans are form-fitting and they might even wear belts. Scarves in this country are brightly colored, patterned and layered. I daresay my bare-headed appearance qualifies as more modest than most of the Muslim women whose hijab screams, “Look at me!” I conclude that hair-covering carries multiple meanings, and modesty is not one of them.

Herein lies the difficulty with understanding head-covering as it is practiced in different cultures. It is rarely about modesty, and only superficially about religious requirement. Mostly, it is about announcing to the world that, “I am a Muslim woman.” It’s a public display of faith, and as such, it makes perfect sense. I understand myself and others much better from this perspective. I am not comfortable with public announcement of my attributes, be they physical or spiritual. I do not like to advertise for anyone or any position.  That means I don’t put bumper stickers on my cars, I don’t wear clothes with logos stitched to  pockets, and I don’t cover my hair. 

 

 

Moving to the USA with my Arab Husband

Cross-cultural marriages have increased during the last fifty years, and so has the ability to move between those cultures. Logic suggests that a stable such marriage should flourish regardless of which culture the couple chooses to establish their home.  Haven’t they both proven their ability for adjustment and compromise,  and welcomed aspects of the other culture into their lives?

Many years ago, while I was living in Saudi Arabia, cross-cultural marriages were the norm, at least in my circle. My women friends had come to Saudi Arabia from various countries, as had their husbands. Some of us met and married while in the Kingdom, like me and my husband. The common thread between us all was that we were all Muslims, content to have landed in Saudi Arabia for a time.

As foreigners in the Kingdom, we were welcomed for our labor, but not allowed to establish Saudi citizenship. Sooner or later, we’d have to go home.  Therefore, we came and went. Those who went reported back to those who remained.  I paid particular attention to the stories involving Arab husbands and American wives. I was always surprised to hear that some of these marriages collapsed upon relocation to the United States. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

My Egyptian husband and I enjoyed a quiet, content and orderly life in Riyadh for six years. He worked as an engineer and I stayed home, indulging in all the domestic activities I’d postponed during my years of working in hospitals. We believed in this model of marriage, we were happy, and didn’t want to change it in the United States.

When we came to the US, he could not find a job  as an engineer because he did not have the required engineering credentials, despite a college degree and twenty-five years of experience for which he’d been well-paid in Saudi Arabia. In the US, he was unwilling to update his academic knowledge, and therefore became unemployable in his field. He then worked at a series of minimum-wage jobs. He did not perform well, mostly because he’d never set foot in a Western country before coming here, and his English was not perfect. Also, many American cultural behaviors confused and offended him, while he, in turn, did not endear himself to many Americans, except those in the Muslim community, who understood him.

While he suffered demotion and ultimate failure in the workplace, I had to return to my profession. Our roles became reversed, and neither of us liked it. In fact, we hated it. He hated staying home, and I hated working. He was not a good house-husband, and I always had to do the cooking, laundry, and cleaning in addition to my full-time job. We could no longer help or support one another. The tension eventually came to a head– I’ll save the juicy details for my memoirs–and I left him.

Oh, other factors put stress on us, factors that all Muslim cross-cultural couples face with respect to daily living.  Language is different, driving laws are different, house construction is different, holidays are different, clothing is different, and eating can be problematic with respect to pork, if not alcohol. America is full of pork, and you can’t always avoid it if you don’t know, for instance, the “sausage” is pork, and “hamburger” is beef.  Prayers are not easy to keep. In addition to never hearing an azan, work duties  interfere with prayers times.  On top of that, men and women mix and work freely together, giving everyone really good chances to become attracted to people other than their spouses. Even if each partner is firmly committed, he or she knows that the spouse may become the object of another person’s interest.

Speaking of “interest”, you can hardly buy a home in this country without using the usurious monetary system based on interest.

Another disappointment of living in the United States is that the Muslim community is spread apart. You have to drive a bit before finding a mosque or another Muslim family with which to establish social ties. This felt odd, because from our home in Riyadh, where we lived in a 100% Muslim neighborhood, we could walk to not one, but several mosques for evening prayer. In America, we felt like an island.

In spite of  those and other unpleasant adjustments that Muslim couples must make upon relocating to the United States after having lived in the Middle East, some families survive and thrive. I have noticed that the families remaining intact after moving to the United States are those in which the husband is employed in a satisfying profession, and the wife either stays home, or works at a profession she loves, and they both agree on her employment. Additionally, they have found ways to incorporate their Islamic practice into the flow of American society.

We couldn’t do any of that. We made mistakes. We fell subject to cultural and economic forces that worked against us, and we couldn’t find ways to situate ourselves comfortably. Now, more than ten years after those events, we are friends, we phone each other daily and maintain our family structure somewhat (with respect to the kids and now grandkids). Neither of us has remarried. He has never worked except part-time in low-paying jobs. I have worked continuously, to my chagrin. I now look forward to retirement, which should occur at the end of this year, inshaAllah.

The Muslim community around us has grown, and I feel encouraged that I’ll enter into community again. My ex-husband and I still go to jummah prayer together sometimes, and we reminisce about our happier days. We’ve returned to equilibrium, and take much pleasure in watching our grandkids grow and in helping our daughters care for them when we can. I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out any other way. If I had it do over again, I might not change a thing. If I were young enough to consider another marriage, I’d prefer another cross-cultural one, but I sure would like to give some advice to those who are considering it for the first time!

 

 

 

I Did Not Revert

When I meet Muslim people for the first time, they invariably ask me, “When and how did you revert to Islam?”

I answer, “I did not revert. I converted many years ago while living in Saudi Arabia.”

I wish Muslims would stop using the word, “revert” in reference to someone who comes to Islam from a non-Islamic background. Oh, I get the idea…a baby is born in submission to Allah. The root word of Islam means, “submission” in Arabic, and therefore, new babies are born Muslim. Their parents intervene and put other religions into them until they grow up and “revert” to their original state of submission to Allah– Islam.

That’s like saying a lump of dough is a loaf of bread before it gets baked, but a  lump of dough is a lump of dough. It has the potential to become bread, rolls, cake, pie, cookies, or biscuits. If baked incorrectly, it can burn. If left alone, it will spoil. Babies are not Muslims. The logic is faulty and the linguistic sleight-of-hand is disrespectful to believers who follow religions other than Islam.

It’s an insult to their intelligence, and to the intelligence of those of us who convert to Islam after having been raised in other religions. I did not become Muslim because someone told me I was born “in submission to Allah” and therefore I was Muslim from the start, and now lucky enough to have discovered my true nature. That’s ridiculous. Any thinking person knows that babies are born through no will or effort of their own, therefore they’re born in response to the will of God (if you even believe in God). To imply that their parents divert them from the path to which they had been born is nothing but hubris on the part of Muslims who espouse the idea.

 

Contemplating the Roller Coaster

Over the years, I have kept in touch with a friend I met in Riyadh. She is also an American woman, married to a Saudi (I was married to an Egyptian). We met at the Riyadh community college for ladies. We were both studying Arabic and we became friends. In addition to seeing each other at class, we talked on the telephone nearly every morning, after husbands went to work and children went to school.

 

We talked about everything–  Islam, marrying Arabs, living in Riyadh, cultural differences between Americans, Saudis and Egyptians. Every few weeks, she’d come with her driver and we’d go to Obeikan or Jareer bookstore, where we wandered around the aisles containing books on Arabic and Islam. We were happy with our husbands and our lives, in the 1990s.

 

Now, we are all in the United States. I am divorced and she is clashing with her husband about vital life concerns. Suddenly I remember conversations I heard long ago from other women, conversations that went like this:

 

“My friend was married to an Arab here in the Kingdom. As soon as they went to the States, they started fighting and now they are divorced.”

 

“Yes, I heard the same thing about a Western woman who used to live here, married to an Arab. Their marriage unravelled when they went to live in the States.”

 

I’d heard this conversation often enough to realize the truth of it. Cross-cultural marriages that flourished in the Kingdom tended to fall apart in the States, even when both parties belonged to the same religion. I knew that the challenge of repatriation, and adjustment to differing social and economic conditions, could put a strain on any marriage, but I never imagined my own marriage would follow the same pattern. It did, only two years after we left Riyadh.

 

Now, my friend and I talk about how and why our marriages became unsatisfactory. Neither one of us is happy with our situations, yet we do not regret our choices, and neither do our husbands, so what has happened? Sometimes I feel as though my entire Riyadh experience was a merry-go-round I’d been riding. I got on willingly, enjoyed the initial ups and the downs, and sat through multiple rides, next to the man who became my husband.

 

Then, the merry-go-round stopped, and we had to get off. We moved on to the roller-coaster. It made us both sick and dizzy.

 

I don’t think I can carry this metaphor any further, but you get the idea.

 

We’ve recovered our equilibrium, with feet back on the ground, somewhat the worse for wear. Do all marriages, and all lives, include a merry-go-round, a roller-coaster, and a grounded walk away from both of them? I don’t know. I am content, at least, thankful to Allah for everything, and so is my friend, and so is my  ex-husband.

 

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ عَلَى كُلِّ حَالٍ 

“Alhumdulillah ‘alaa kuli haal,” we now like to say. “Praise God in every situation.”

 

 

A Visit to the New Mosque, Uncovered

The community in which I live has just completed the construction of a new mosque, alhumdullilah. It was many years in the planning– from raising the funds to finding the site, then getting permission from the local government, followed by the complexity of design, architecture, contracts, construction, weather, fittings, appointments, etc. This mosque marks a victory for nearly one hundred Muslim families who formerly drove thirty-five minutes to the main mosque in another part of the city.

I attended an Open House there last weekend. I knew there’d be displays, good food, talks, plenty of interaction with Muslims and non-Muslims, and maybe a renewal of spirit for me as well as other attendees.

I didn’t cover my head, out of a desire to remain non-hypocritical. I don’t cover, except for prayer, so why should I cover to go to the mosque for a social event? I don’t believe covering is a requirement of Islam, and I’m not going to argue the point.  My relationship with the practice holds more meaning for me than delving into the minutiae of Islamic law. Besides, even if covering is required, I’m still not going to do it in the United States–period.

Well, my old ambivalence about covering has not evaporated despite years of living in the United States, where covering is not enforced by a CPVPV (Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice). My ambivalence has nothing to do with the religious legality of the issue, however. It’s about being recognized– or not– as a Muslima. Quite frankly, there are times when I want to be recognized for my faith, and times when I don’t. As for modesty, that’s a non-issue these days; I’m a gray-haired senior citizen.

The Open House featured question and answer sessions with community leaders. Most in the audience were non-Muslims, and naturally, head covering interested them. The speaker, a woman who devotes much of her time to community outreach and education, said that yes, head covering is required. I didn’t contradict her– there’s no point debating the issue–  but she gave a good argument in favor of the practice.

She said that because the head cover immediately identifies the woman as a Muslim, her behavior is always on display as a reflection of her faith. It gives the woman constant opportunities to behave as best she can according to the manners, beliefs, and practices of Islam both with respect to herself and with her interactions in society.

I liked this explanation better than any other I’ve heard. It trumps the  Qur’an and Sunnah based interpretations, at least for me. I felt sorry I had not covered, because people greeted me with, “Hello,” and not, “Assalaamu Aleikum,” to which I responded, “Assalaamu Aleikum,” which brings me to a situation that I find irritating: women who are not covered are assumed to be non-Muslims. For the record, it ain’t always so!

Besides, I bristle at the idea that Muslim women should be recognized in public as Muslims, while Muslim men wear no such badge on their heads. I wonder how long the practice would remain relevant if men had to wear a cap with an “M” stamped front and back.

Anyway, the new mosque is beautiful and just a fifteen minute drive from my house. I renewed acquaintance with several women I hadn’t seen for quite awhile, and I met some new ones whom I’d love to see again. I’ll be attending programs and prayers at this mosque– the sooner the better–and I’ll do so covered.

Between the Opposites

I was talking to my cousin in Italy recently. He is an atheist. He says he cannot believe in a god who allows the pervasive suffering that lies inherent in the lives of human beings.  The God who is called “good”  allows suffering disproportionately and arbitrarily, maybe even inflicts it, in no relationship to the commonly regarded virtues of any society or individual.  What kind of god is this? According to my cousin, no god worthy of the position would insult his creation with such perversity. Disbelief in God makes life easier, more understandable.  Ironically, this is the exact opposite position of believers, but he’s got a point.

The religions have explained suffering well enough, and have justified it through their teachings. I won’t challenge any of that; it’s an essential part of the glue that keeps religion vibrant. What interests me is not the evidence (or lack thereof) for the existence of god, let alone a good god, but the fact that people who have led agnostic lives will turn to God in times of suffering.

Everyone knows someone who found him/herself in danger or illness, and implored God to save them, sometimes even making deals with God: “Oh, God, if you save me from this, I will…” I, myself, offered God such a deal. Thirty years ago,  during an unobservant period of my life, I  ended up in an unfortunate personal situation. I prayed to God, telling him that if he’d protect me, I’d look for a religion in which I could comfortably participate. What is the source of such a plea from a scientist who does not believe in any sort of phenomenon that could fall qualify for the definition of superstition?

It wasn’t until twenty years later, while studying Islam, that I learned about Islam’s claim that Allah has placed an instinctual yearning for the Divine within each human being.  I accepted that claim more because I wanted to accept it than because I was convinced. 

Ten years after that, while I was studying Progoff’s Intensive Journal, I encountered the ideas of Pierre Tiehard du Chardin. His concept of the evolution of spirit, and the noosphere, resonated with me, because it offered a bridge between the poles of unbelief and devotion.

Now, I’ve seen hints of a similar concept in some Sufi writings that have found me. In my characteristic way of detached evaluation, I will examine them. Maybe I will yet meet with a way to reconcile my scientific training with my (inborn?) yearning for the reality of God. Between my Italian cousin’s reasonable, evidence-based atheism, and my perennial  spiritual agitation that borders on agnosticism, I will find a way to “hold the tension of the opposites” (as Jung taught). Perhaps Allah will bless me with secure faith even before I meet him. 

Things Are Not the Same

My metaphorical Riyadh retains its character as the years pass, while the actual Riyadh evolves. My friend of many years still goes back and forth. She tells me about the ongoing construction, the ever-increasing concern with security, and the simple conclusion that, “Things are not the same.” We’ve always planned that I will go back with her after I retire. Her Saudi husband can get me a visa, and we will revisit our friends who still live there, and our favorite places– Obeikan and Jareer Bookstore, the Diplomatic Quarter, Batha souq, Ateeqa fruit and vegetable souq in Riyadh, the new and expansive malls, and then, of course, Makkah…markers of the vibrant life we lived there, the life of children, husbands, homemaking, friendships, intellectual curiosity  and religious observances, all  swirling around yearly travels to the United States and other countries.

No, things are not the same. We regarded the first Gulf war as a terrible anomaly, never to be repeated and certainly not extended. We were there during that war, at least part of the time. We gave profuse thanks when it was over, when our lives resumed the order we’d constructed, when we could replace the cozy blanket of security over ourselves and our families. We were not oblivious to the greater social and political consequences of historical developments, but as two Western women– wives and mothers– we knew where our personal strength belonged, and we knew our limitations.

By the date of 9/11, I’d been repatriated to the US already for several years, somewhat settled again, and yet, that day showed me that “things” would never be the same again, not only in the United States but in the Middle East, as well. America would reel, then heal, somewhat, and surely take its revenge.   Another country– Iraq– would be blown apart. I didn’t know, then, that Iraq would come close to my heart, that I would become Grandma to two little kids who have an Iraqi father.  A third country– Egypt– would unravel to the extent that my ex-husband is still afraid to go visit his own mother there. My discomfort is personal, yet not even intimate as the discomfort–no, the torment–of those whose lives have been shattered, whose dear ones have been massacred.

I visited Syria in the late 1980s, stayed with the family of a Syrian colleague, and enjoyed a wonderful two weeks, during which they showed my all over Damascus in-between family meals that were more like celebrations than meals. I pray they are still safe and together, though I do not know, and I’m too cowardly to find out.

I visited Jordan, too, and a handful of other countries in the region, in good health and safety, not as a tourist but as a visitor to people who lived in those places. An acquaintance here tells me that Jordan is still safe, but I don’t know.

No, things are not the same. The distance between my metaphorical Riyadh and the actual Riyadh of my experience– and the Middle East, by extension–  has evolved into a chasm. If I look into it, I’ll see an abyss from which I’ll expect the fangs of Shaytan to rush up and tear my heart out.

Return to Riyadh in Southern Italy

In July of 2013, I spent three weeks in Italy visiting relatives and attending the wedding of my cousin’s daughter. Again, for the third time, I felt so much at home there that I was loathe to leave, except for the fact that I missed my family, and had to return to work.

The lifestyle of Southern Italy echoes the lifestyle I lived in Riyadh. The sidewalks, stores and apartments also resemble those of Riyadh, with their concrete construction and vines clinging to gates, pointing towards flat roofs.  Even the weather pattern resembles that of Riyadh albeit less extreme. In Italy, I awoke early in the mornings, took my coffee, read and wrote, just like I did in Riyadh. Mid-morning, I walked to my relative’s apartment, and we shopped, ran errands, and even went to the beach (something I could never do in Riyadh).

Rosa cooked the midday meal, which was always the larger meal of the day, again like my lifestyle in Riyadh. I wish she would have let me cook, but the kitchen in the new apartment is small, and she is the queen of it. The entire apartment is small; in fact, there is no guest room.

I stayed in their old apartment, the one I stayed in during my previous visits. It is located on the third floor– we in the States would call it the fourth floor– accessible after a sixty-step trek up a gray marble staircase exactly like the gray marble staircases of Riyadh apartment buildings.  Hard and noisy, also like the Riyadh steps, the Italian steps did not accumulate triangles of sand in their corners. Franco and Rosa had lived in that apartment many years, and raised their three children there. The only reason they moved is that the building has no lift, and they have became too fat to ascend those stairs.  

I walked back and forth between the old apartment and their new one– on the ground floor—twice a day. They always wanted to drive me back and forth but I refused, because I love to walk when I travel. Walking is the best way to explore and get some exercise for mitigating the effects of an uncontrolled diet.

I walked along sidewalks that changed width and sometimes disappeared altogether, sidewalks that dipped, curbs that crumbled, and potholes in the middle of everything, all the while keeping one eye up and one eye down.

The down eye scanned my footing and warned my feet when to adjust their steps.

The up eye devoured the grace and singularity of the doors that separated streets from living quarters. Italians live much closer together, and closer to the street, than Arabs.  Italians do not demonstrate an exaggerated sense of privacy. On the contrary, they are constantly mingling in public places, chatting, sitting outside their doors along the street when the air turns mild in late afternoon. 

Southern Italy provides the best of both my worlds, gives me the freedom I need to wander, and the flexibility I need to be myself. Then, there is the language. I speak Italian now, not fluently, but well enough to take care of myself and interact with the relatives, most of whom do not speak English. Their delight at my efforts, and their encouragement, reinforced me in ways they cannot perceive.

My ex-husband never allowed me to speak Arabic. Every time I tried, he walked around the house whining, “Speak English! Speak English!” He never understood, or cared, that his rejection of my desire to speak Arabic figured prominently in our divorce. At least, he did not object to me going to the madrassa to learn tajweed, nor to the community college to study classical Arabic grammar. No, those skills would not have threatened the linguistic gap he wished to remain between us.

Of course, I was thankful for those learning experiences. I studied intensely, and learned more academic Arabic than most Westerners, yet my heart wanted more than anything to speak freely with my husband in his own Egyptian dialect. He never let down his guard, and never spoke to me in Arabic, and never let me speak Arabic with him, even by mistake.

Now, after having learned Italian, and spending time in Italy with my relatives, speaking Italian only, I am vindicated for the pain I felt from my ex-husband’s disdain towards my efforts with Arabic. I intend to speak Italian with near-native fluency, sooner or later. Already, I have read several books in the language, and continue to read, study, and watch Italian films without subtitles, and I take immense delight in my progress.

In spite of my success with Italian, however, I still feel a hole where the Arabic should have been planted.

 

 

The Hiatus Ends

This blog has been inactive for nearly two years. I’m surprised and pleased that no one or nothing has deleted it in my absence. I don’t know why I’ve decided to post again, and I don’t care. Such is my peculiar bent of personality; I abandon my passions for other passions and return to them sooner or later.

In addition to neglecting this blog, I have neglected all my personal writing. Instead, I’ve been doing photography as my preferred means of creative expression. I offer no explanation other than that I am still chained to a job, from which I will be rid by the end of the year, inshaAllah. Well, enough of commenting upon my hiatus…I want to dig in.

I still have “Return to Riyadh” dreams. They occur less frequently, but follow the same pattern. I begin the dream knowing I am going back to Riyadh. I pack my suitcase, buy my ticket and get on the plane, but I don’t pack correctly, I buy the wrong ticket or get on the wrong plane, or I get on the right plane but it goes to the wrong country. Complex variations on these themes weave in and out of the dreams. None of it feels unreasonable, just perplexing. Sometimes the dream begins after I’ve landed in Riyadh, having gotten myself there properly. However, I wander the streets looking for where I am supposed to live, and I look for my friends who still live there, and the hospital at which I worked and maybe am supposed to work at again. Naturally, the plots of dreams include ridiculous feelings and events. I cannot find the necessary phone numbers. I run into strange men who want to help me, and I don’t know whether they will help me or hurt me. I do find a nice swimming pool and take a marvelous dip, but then get lost again and don’t know where I am supposed to go, or I know, but don’t recognize the place, even if I arrive there. I find myself in public without an abaya. I go to a souq and try to buy some Arabic foods, but I don’t have riyals. I remember that I never told my family I was going to Riyadh, and I need to phone them, but I my cell phone is still connected to a US network. All these dreams are distressing, but I am so accustomed to them, I merely wake up  and turn over.

Long ago, I realized that my dreams are nothing more than an expression of discontent with my life here in the United States. I’ve necessarily had to re-enter (and remain in) the workforce– a fate I tried to avoid. My marriage ended in divorce– a fate I never imagined would occur. The practice of Islam here in my community is anemic compared to what I had lived in Riyadh. I’ve pushed Islam into a form that fits into the slots between my other forms, and I don’t like that.

Wonderful events have also blessed my life. I am now a grandmother to four magnificent children– a glorious position I never imagined I would occupy, but for which I am infinitely thankful.

This is enough for my first entry after a near two-year hiatus. If anyone reads it, I thank you! I wouldn’t blame any of my handful of readers for abandoning my blog as I have abandoned it. At the same time, I will be thankful and responsible to those who come back or to those who find my blog by happenstance. Maybe I will keep posting for another concentrated period. The concept of Riyadh as place, and Riyadh as metaphor, still guides me. I will never lose it, as one loses distant memories and feelings that no longer hold currency. Its character remains vivid, its personal significance does not pale as I travel further from it along the trajectory of my life. I am on a path returning to Riyadh, and I haven’t arrived.