An open letter to my grown-up kids

Dearest Laila & Archie,

While you’re young and sweet, there are a few things I want to tell you that I’m afraid I might forget to mention when you’re older.  On the other hand, I may repeat them so often throughout your lives that you’ll find yourselves rolling your eyes all throughout this letter.  And if this letter finds you in the reclined chair of a shrink’s office, go ahead and have the bill sent to Daddy and me.


There are some things that I really hope you guys will remember about the life we’ve lived here.  Laila, we just moved to the 5th house we’ve lived in since you were born.  You’re only 3 1/2 years old, but you’ve been all over the place.  Hopefully, we’ll be in this place for a good while.  You’re such a little trooper, and I’m so glad our frequent moves haven’t made you into a basket case preschooler.  I hope you’ll remember the beautiful rose bushes in our yard and the way you asked every day to cut a few of them for our dining room table.  I hope you remember our house guard who spoils you with candy and lets you watch Bollywood films with him.  Also, if you picked up some of those mad Indian dance moves, you’ll be no worse for the wear.  Lord knows you won’t have learned anything that cool from your parents.

When you think about airports, I hope that you feel the excitement of an immanent adventure.  We’ve visited so many wonderful places, and I hope your memories go beyond just the photos we have to document them.  On the other hand, if you have any recollection of wild-eyed psycho mommy in a security line at the airport, this is a false memory that was implanted in your brain by aliens.  That never happened… and that British man with the ugly pink sweater had it coming.

A lot of people might ask you, now that you’re grown, what it was like to live in such a dangerous place while you were growing up.  My hope is that you don’t remember the dangers, but rather the joys of living surrounded by people who loved you.  We have friends from all over the world, and they enrich our lives with diversity and culture.  I hope that you have a deep appreciation for everything international and the things that others might consider weird and foreign.  I hope that you can look back at your childhood and know that the lives we had made a difference in the world.

I hope you remember how to live simply and how to solve problems third world style.  Every day there are so many obstacles and weird things that happen to keep our plans from progressing the way we had, well… planned.  Most days, you didn’t know that these things were happening, but sometimes when life just happened and there were demonstrations that kept us from getting to the other side of town or celebration so thick that the streets were impassable, we just had to improvise.  My hope is that you have learned to make the best out of any and every situation.

Thank you, my sweeties, for enriching our lives.  Even on the days when I’ve felt like giving you away to the nomads for the winter, you make the days brighter.

With much love,



Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


From Under the Blue

You see them in the news, but that’s about it.  You would be hard-pressed to find someone wearing one of these blue (or any other color) garments anywhere outside of Central Asia, although you may see some muslim ladies sporting the black abaya and full face covering in almost any major metropolis of the world.  Burqas are heavy, ugly, and not well-ventilated.  They are literally a headache.

If you were to ask a local family the reason for it, they would probably tell you it’s for protection.  It protects women from the stares of wandering eyes, which in turn protects the chastity of the women.  The truth is, if you don’t understand the very non-western view of honor and shame, you’ll never understand what the burqa is all about.  I’ll try to break it down.  The honor of families here is, to a large degree, wrapped up in the chastity of its women.  If a woman breeches her chastity, it puts a huge black mark on the family’s honor.  Chastity can be defined differently by different families and different regions.  For instance, one family may deem it acceptable for their daughter to attend classes with males, while another would never allow their daughter in the same room as any males aside from her father and brothers.  One girl may be scolded for being seen talking with a non-familial male, but this could be completely acceptable for others.  In any case, the family works hard to protect its honor, and that means working extra hard to protect the purity and chastity of the females.  When you hear about “honor killings,” this is a family going to extremes trying to protect its honor.  A woman has somehow breeched the boundaries of chastity, and in order to “restore the honor” of the family, they kill her.  Please hear me out here; this is an extreme.  I know many of my local friends find this practice to be abhorrent.  But it happens, so let’s not pretend.

The burqa is a cover which serves to protect a woman from the unthinkable.  The unthinkable.  These are the actions of a man who won’t control himself, a man who has become captive to his own selfish thoughts and then acts on them.  Rather than enforcing a device to make men control themselves, this society and many others have decided women will be the responsible parties for this problem of sexuality outside of what is deemed appropriate.  Another contributing factor to the burqa is the belief is that women have more demons taunting them than men, and they are therefore more susceptible to the temptations of sexual misconduct.

Call it inhumane or an object of misogyny.  Fine.  But I cannot deny the fact that some women really do want to wear burqas.  If someone would have told me this a couple years ago, I would have called them a liar or simply misinformed.  Now that I live here and wear one myself, I understand that ideology.  Women here realize how much of their family’s honor is bound up in their behavior.  Not just their virginity, but their un-taintedness is held in high esteem.  No one wants to bring shame to their family, and that is one of the biggest fears of most non-westerners. A lot of women here feel a very real sense of protection under their burqas, and taking it away from them would be stripping away their sense of protection and privacy.  On the other end of the spectrum, some women really do have a pure hatred for their burqas and would be glad to see them burn in a giant flame of fury.

Living here has presented a lot of tough questions.  One of the many for me was whether or not I would wear a burqa.  After months of deliberating, I realized how much I appreciated the anonymity it provided.  It’s true; plenty of men really do make ugly remarks at women, and especially at the fair-skinned ones.  Being under a burqa makes me a nobody in public.  While I don’t exactly relish that thought, at least I’m not getting my rear grabbed in the bazaar.  Truthfully, there are a lot of reasons I wear that thing.  I have some very conservative friends here, and when I’m covered up, they know I’m “safe.”  Meaning, I abide by a standard of dress and modesty that they value.  I want to show them that I love and care about them, and wearing a burqa affords me that opportunity.  It’s the least I can do, especially when I consider how much others have sacrificed to show me their love.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have local friends who hate the burqa and refuse to wear it.  To them, I know it seems I’ve succumbed to the people who are trying to oppress them.  Maybe they’re right.  And for some amount of time, I felt I shouldn’t wear it in order to support their kindling fire for justice and equality.  But that responsibility is theirs alone, and as a foreigner, there is little I can do to bring about that change.  They have to want it and fight for it themselves.

I write about the burqa because to many non-muslim westerners, it is one more reason to hate or pity people in this part of the world and muslims in general.  To understand the burqa, one must take the time to understand and appreciate our differences, of which there are many.  And that’s ok.  But before you make a judgment about the burqa, remember the woman under it.  She is a human being with feelings and opinions.  She, like you, wants to be loved and treated with respect.  She wants to honor her family, and donning a burqa may be a small part of the responsibility she carries to uphold it.


Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

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