Book #17: The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

So, after I finished reading a book by a Western woman who visited a heavily Islamic country, I read…. another book by a Western woman visiting another heavily Islamic country.  However, whereas In the Land of Invisible Women was about Qanta Ahmed’s journey and experience in Saudi Arabia, The Bookseller of Kabul is very different.  In this book, Seierstad travels to Afghanistan and wants to study the culture, so she lives with an Afghani family and writes about them.

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Her aim isn’t to show what a typical family in Afghanistan is like, but rather, just to show what a family is like.  Because like any country, there are bound to by many different types of people, and there’s no way to write a story that truly represents them all.  So here, Seierstad writes about a bookseller and his family, and this is a particularly interesting facet of Afghani society, because most people in Afghanistan do not know how to read and/or write.  Thus a bookseller naturally must have a limited audience, and it would not be a common profession.

Still, I found The Bookseller of Kabul to be a very interesting book.  How the bookseller, Sultan Khan, and his large family live is riveting, yet oddly familiar.  Familiar in the sense that I can picture it in my mind, because it is like my distant memories of life in Pakistan, the few times that I have visited there.  And it shouldn’t be any surprise, since Afghanistan and Pakistan share a border.  In fact, Seierstad even talks about the all-too-common illicit border crossings; that traveling from Afghanistan into Pakistan is dangerous and difficult, but the return trip, back into Afghanistan, is relatively safe and easy.  Seierstad attributes this to the notion that Afghanistan’s economy is failing and people are having a hard time living their daily lives.

Specifically, in Sultan’s family, Seierstad talks at length about Leila, one of Sultan’s sisters.  As the youngest and unmarried female, Leila’s life is basically consigned to that of a maid.  She spends all day, every day cooking, cleaning, taking care of people.  She aspires for something more, to teach English at the school, and tries in earnest to make it happen, but it never does.  It’s heartbreaking, because you can imagine how Leila envisions a better future for herself, only to be stopped by endless bureaucratic issues.

At the same time, Leila had another potential lifeline in the form of Karim, a man with whom she’d started corresponding who purported to want a future with her.  Of course, being traditional Muslim culture, she couldn’t just bring the guy home, introduce him to her parents, and get their blessings.  Rather, it is an extremely intricate type of dance, in which she can’t show interest in him because that would reveal her to be immodest, but her family must be the one to assess him on her behalf.  Whether or not this arrangement between Leila and Karim works out, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Seierstad also talks a lot about Mansur, Sultan’s oldest son, who wants to set his own course but is hindered by his father, the patriarch of the family.  Mansur and Sultan come head-to-head several times, particularly when it comes to a particular issue of a poor man who stole some postcards from Sultan.  Sultan will not back down for any reason and demands justice at all costs.  Reading that whole account, I couldn’t help but feel that Sultan is extremely pompous and unreasonable, but there really is more to it.  True he seems merciless, and I am not defending his actions, but he worked hard to raise himself up to where he is now, and he does not want his honor and success ruined.

Seierstad writes of Leila, Mansur, Sultan, Sultan’s two wives, and all the assorted relations, and how they all interact with one another.  To write about such intricate relationships without putting much of a personal bias into the story must be extremely difficult, but Seierstad effectively conveys an aspect of Afghani society and makes the reader feel  intimately connected, as if the reader him/herself is living with this family.

The next book I’m reading is completely different!  It’s a fiction book about a white Americans living in America: Danielle Steel’s Power Play.

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Happy Birthday, Britney!

As you all know from a recent post, November 5th was Britney Day, as recognized in Las Vegas. However, December 2nd is Britney Day as known around the world, for it is none other than the birthday of the lovely Britney Jean Spears. Just like I do every year, I celebrated the anniversary of the birth of the woman who has brought me so much happiness. (Hey, I’m not forgetting my mom! I appreciate her, too!) Britney, though, is something else. A sweet, charismatic, beautiful person whom I love without even personally knowing her.

Three days ago, as I do every year, I celebrated her birthday. My little girl is now 33! I celebrated by having dinner with some friends at an all-vegan restaurant and, bless their hearts, my friends totally indulged me in my Britney worship. One of my friends even made this fantastic picture for me:

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Gosh, I still remember three years ago, for her 30th birthday, her team had asked fans to make a short clip wishing her a happy birthday and posting it to Youtube, which they’d then combine and show to her on her birthday. And of course I jumped on that opportunity! I even showed the video to a few people personally, some of whom had smirking responses, but little did they realize that their disdain meant nothing to me J

I’ve come to realize that most people are very concerned about what others think, so they refrain from displaying their passions. I think that’s a sad, sad way to live. I love Britney, she’s a HUGE part of my life, and I see no earthly reason to be “ashamed” of that or to keep it private. In fact, I think it makes me a better person to show that I’m not just floating through life in an attempt to blend in, to not cause a commotion, to just be normal. Ugh, not me! I’m proud to have some very distinctive passions, and I hope that you do as well!

And again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BRITNEY!!!!

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UVA, Ferguson, and Thanksgiving

The past couple weeks have unveiled several stories to shock us all and make us wonder about the moral compass of our country.  First, there was the Rolling Stone article about a gang rape at UVA, my alma mater.  It was a long article, and quite disturbing, but I read it all in one sitting.  Of course, no one can really know what is true and what isn’t, but the most prudent course of action is to believe the victims, because who would make up stories like that??  But the reason that it’s a little difficult for me to believe these accusations is that I have lived a very protected life.  In some sense, I’ve been very lucky to never have experienced even the slightest hint of assault.  I just wish everyone, every woman, especially, could say the same.  How do men grow up to believe that it’s ok to abuse and assault another person?  What kind of environment did they come from to think that they have the right to have their way with a woman?

It’s extremely saddening, and I know that UVA has started taking steps to fix this problem, but it’s not going to go away overnight.  Apparently, ever since that RS article came out, several other women stepped forward with their own rape stories.  And that means this problem can’t just be fixed by temporarily suspending fraternities.  I can only hope that one day in the near future, UVA is able to emerge from this crisis having shown that there is ZERO tolerance for rape and other sexual abuse.  The Honor Code should not be limited to academic activities.  I want to be proud of my alma mater for combatting a serious problem, but UVA is not going to be able to do it alone.  Parents are so important.  The parents of these men need to make them understand what is right and what is wrong, though it’s probably too late for that.  As college-age kids, who’s going to listen to what their parents have to say?

As if that weren’t enough, there was then the verdict about the Ferguson trial, and the ugly aftermath that ensued.  I read an article in the Washington Post that pictorially showed the events of the fateful day when Michael Brown was killed, and even though it should very clearly what purportedly happened, there was still uncertainty and conflicting testimonies of certain details.  Even though the actual event, and the ensuing verdict, are hard to swallow, they speak to a much bigger problem, which is the issue of race in America.

America is for white people.  No one is going to come out and actually say that, but there are so many ingrained stereotypes against all other races- East Asian, South Asian, Hispanic, black, etc., but the absolute worst has got to be for black people, and it is tragic.  To always have to walk around feeling, and knowing, that you’re really just a second-class citizen– and this in the land of the free!– to have to always watch your back, to know that you just don’t have the same opportunities as white people simply because of the color of your skin… I mean, it’s like we don’t live in the 21st century.  It’s like we’re back to the 1800s, when slavery still existed and African-Americans were widely held to be inferior (and it was even stated as such in legal documentation).

I don’t understand how it is ok for a police officer to kill another person unless that person presented a credible threat or had done something heinous.  From what I’ve seen in The X-Files, you do not want to kill a criminal unless absolutely necessary.  At best, you should them non-lethally, just enough to incapacitate them.  So I was shocked that Darren Wilson not only fired multiple shots at Michael Brown, which surely incapacitated him, but also shot him in the head, and then the court let him off scot-free!  Unbelievable!  We all know that, had the cop been black and the assailant white, the verdict would NEVER have been the same.

The outcome from the trial has fueled so much rage across the country, and I am hopeful that this rage will bring about better race relations in America.  I long for a world that is free from racism, free from assault, as I know we all do.  Our country’s moral compass has gone awry, and it’s going to take some work to fix it.

And so, on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that I have never been directly in harm’s way, even though I’ve made some less-than-intelligent choices in my life.  I’m grateful to have been raised by two very loving parents who have always pushed me to excel and be a good person, so that now as an adult I am happy to help them whenever they need me.  I’m grateful for my friends, for my vegan community, for making me feel at home and surrounded by the knowledge that my lifestyle isn’t strange, edgy, or weird.  Veganism truly is the future, but it’s here, today, and I couldn’t be happier.  Lastly, I am grateful for myself, for having a positive outlook on life, for caring about my health, and, when times have gotten rough, for persevering with the hope that it will get better.  And it did.  I’m in a great place right now, and if I hadn’t experienced hardship in the past, I wouldn’t have been able to truly appreciate what I now have.

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A Day for the X-Philes

X-Philes all over the world, rejoice!  Today, November 21 is X-Files Day!  Not in any legal sense, but all X-Philes know that 11/21 is a highly significant number that occurs very often on our favorite show.  Here is a cool page I just found that lists occurrences of special numbers on the X-Files.  For those who need be get caught up to speed, 11/21 is Chris Carter’s wife’s (Dori Pierson’s) birthday.  His is on October 13, another special X-Files number.  Today, we’re just focused on 1121.  It shows up on clocks, timestamps, case files, etc.

games_xfiles_ttl  If you’ve never seen this show, you’re seriously missing out!  It ran for nine glorious seasons (although I was only introduced to it after Season 5) and ended 12 1/2 years ago.  Yikes, that’s a long time!  It need on May 19, 2002, which also just happened to be my college graduation.

Gosh, I remember it all like it was yesterday.  The X-Files made my college years.  When I got there, those first couple of weeks before classes started, my mentor (an older student) introduced me to her friends, who happened to be on the geeky side– which is fine by me!!  So they had me over for a get-together once where we all watched the X-Files movie, and boy I was so confused!  I couldn’t keep track of which one was Mulder and which was Scully!

And then as Season 6 began, we would meet every Sunday night to watch the latest episode, and I soon became hooked, positively hooked, onto this show.  Then my mentor’s friends graduated, so now what was I to do?  Easy… I started my own X-Files viewing parties!

They were truly the best.  I also joined the X-Files forum on About.com (long since defunct) and was so active.  I made a lot of awesome friends on that forum, but unfortunately I’m only occasionally in touch with a  couple of them now.  But our love of the X-Files keeps us united :)

I also started buying all the seasons on DVD, wondering if I was just wasting my money, because would I really want to watch these again after a few years???  Haha, fast-forward to today, and the answer is a big, fat YUP!  Still watching them!

But by far the BEST moment I’ve ever had on X-Files Memory Lane had to be the time when I actually talked with Chris Carter.  Watch it here!

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully will always be the perfect couple.  I’m still seeking my own Fox Mulder (though not very actively) :)  And with that, I think it’s time to go celebrate by watching one of the 201 awesome episodes of the best.TV.show.ever!

X_Files_Wallpaper_3_by_SolidAlexei

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Book #16: In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed, MD

Here is a story about a woman, a Muslim woman doctor who was raised in London and lives in the US, who went to Saudi Arabia for a residency. In In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed, she writes about the struggles and wonders of being in the country which houses the epicenter of Islam, Mecca. An unexpected denial of a visa renewal led her to begin this journey into the Saudi Kingdom, and it is no exaggeration to say that her two years living there changed her forever.

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Ahmed is a Pakistani, Urdu-speaking woman who grew up in the Western world, just like me. As such, I found that I could really relate to her, and could easily see how I could be stuck in difficult situations just as she had been.

As is well known throughout the world, Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country and quite misogynistic, though Ahmed’s afterword hints at the promise of change. Wahabiism, the over-arching theological mindset of the Saudi Kingdom, is was forces women into oppression- the heavy veiling, the ban on driving, prohibition from consorting with unrelated men. Even though I thought I was somewhat familiar with the oppressive nature of the treatment of women in the Kingdom, Ahmed’s first-hand accounts are still shocking. I think what’s even more shocking is that of the several women she befriends, most of them are still strong people, dedicated to making their country progressive, or not letting their required public personas dictate their personal lives as well. Ahmed meets many women who are vivacious, but whom you would not know as such if you only saw them in public, veiled and scurrying from view.

Ahmed, in fact, though veiling is such a new and incomprehensible requirement for her, eventually finds herself to feel insecure when out in public, and feels like she needs to make herself invisible e.g. in the marketplace, the mall, etc. It speaks to the grand scale of the culture of oppression and fear in the Kingdom, and makes me unsure if I could bring myself to visit that country.

Ahmed does dedicate several chapters to her very sudden decision to go to Hajj during her time in the Kingdom, and it’s an absolutely transformational experience for her. Reading her account, I could almost feel myself there, the absolute beauty of Mecca and the Ka’aba. My parents have been there, and I wonder if I will ever make the journey. I have several concerns, but what disturbs me the most is the animal sacrifice that’s performed as a part of Hajj. I do not, under any circumstances, what someone to kill a sheep, goat, whichever other animal in my name. There’s got to be some sort of movement of other vegan Muslims. I mean, Islam is the second biggest religion in the world; with over one billion followers, there have got to be more than a handful of those who choose to live a life of nonviolence. Note to self: I need to look this up; I need to find how vegans complete Hajj.

Anyways, back to the book. Ahmed was in Saudi Arabia when 9/11 occurred and the reactions of the Saudis shocked her to her core. Even Saudi physicians with whom she worked, who had been trained in America, reacted to 9/11 in a way she would never have imagined. I, too, found it shocking, but not altogether surprising.

I really enjoyed reading …Invisible Women because it’s a look at world that is both fascinating and deserving of scorn. Ahmed does a good job of shedding light of daily life in the Kingdom and, as she is about to depart to return home to NYC, she experiences relief, but also a little sadness. But the overarching sensation was relief, relief to go back to place where women are valued as people and do not need to hide under an abbayah, and do not have to get a man’s permission for anything.

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The Best Holiday Ever!

November 5th, 2014 will forever be known as Britney Day. If you missed it, too bad for you. I, for one, was looking forward to it ever since Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak announced it a few weeks ago. “Britney Day? What would that entail?” I asked myself. The specifics didn’t matter so much as the fact that my love, my idol was getting her very own holiday!

Aaaaaaall my friends know—and even if you just met me, you will know—that I am a huge, HUGE Britney Spears fan. I just think she’s such an amazing person- an international superstar for 16 years, yet she’s humble and sweet, and also very shy. It’s those very qualities that make her so endearing, because you or I, or really just anyone, can imagine being friends with Britney because she’s so real and down-to-earth.

Photo By Denise Truscello

Contrast that with, say, Lady Gaga. Now I don’t mean to really throw shade on her, but every photo of I’ve seen is of her ultra-glammed up in some kind of costume. I have no idea what she really looks like. I don’t even know what her real hair looks like!

Anyway, back to Britney Day. A press release had announced that Britney would be receiving a key to the Las Vegas Strip and that the first 100 people named Britney (any variation of the spelling) at the venue (the LINQ Promenade) would get free tickets to her show that night. Why did my parents not think to name my Britney??? Sure, it’s not a very Muslim name, but couldn’t they have made an exception??? ;-)

Even though I wasn’t going to go through the process of changing my name (because that’s just a little too much), I did look into plane tickets to go to Vegas on November 4 and come back home on the 6th.   But I figured that the tickets, along with the concert ticket, hotel, food, etc. would be very expensive for a little more than a day in Vegas. Besides, I’m still planning to go sometime in the first half of 2015 :)

Why exactly did Britney Spears get her own holiday? As you should know, she has an extremely successful residency in Vegas, and her ‘Piece of Me’ show is bringing in lots of money.

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This is literally what I saw what I looked at Planet Hollywood. Everything else was fuzzed out and my eyes zoomed in on Britney :)

And that’s why Commissioner Sisolak honored her with her own day- as a thank you for creating so much revenue for Las Vegas. If I’m not mistaken, she’s the first young person to have a residency there; people were uncertain how that’d turn out for her, but I’d say it’s working out very well for her! She’s said numerous times that it was exhausting to constantly be on tour and that she now wants to be able to watch her kids grow up. Her life has changed, so it makes sense that her priorities have as well.

All I can say is that I’ve believed in her every step of the way for the past 16 years (ever since I heard/saw “…Baby, One More Time”) and I continue to support her in every way I can. And if that means buying super-expensive (to me) lingerie from Britney Spears’ The Intimate Collection (www.intimatebritneyspears.com) , or wearing my Britney t-shirt to work, so be it :) Life is short, so why NOT indulge in my passions?

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Probably the single most expensive piece of clothing I own….

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Race report: Marine Corps Marathon, October 26, 2014

The Marine Corps Marathon is a race that is near and dear to my heart, as it was my very first marathon 14 years ago. Fourteen years ago, and only my third race ever (if I remember correctly). I had previously only run two 5Ks. Nice leap, huh? Haha.

Well, I think we’re all aware of my never-ending weird leg pain that’s been haunting me for quite some time. I only very recently started to feel better to a point that I could run without that terrible feeling of something going awry inside. And without horrible pain afterwards. So, very humbly, I started with a run/walk. 2-min run/1-min walk, and repeat that several times. Seeing as how it’s only been two weeks since that first run/walk, I’m only up to 3-min run/1-min walk. It sucks. This can’t possibly be the same girl who used to run two marathons a year, and regularly go on three-hour runs on weekends.

For this race, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, but I was pretty darn sure I wouldn’t be traversing the entire course! I’ve walked a half-marathon recently, but I wasn’t about to do twice that distance. My feet would be horribly blistered and swollen and just plain achy! Well, the achiness would also result from running the whole thing, but still. The point is, I wasn’t ready to run or walk 26.2 miles. So then I decided that I’d run/walk the last seven miles, doing the 2/1 ratio. I remember looking at the course map and plotting out my strategy- which Metro stop I’d get off at, what time I should start, what I’d wear/carry.

And then, the night before, as I was lying in bed, (or maybe it was that morning when I got up!) I decided that seven miles was too measly and I had to do at least ten miles. And that was really convenient, because the 16-mile mark was right before the hairpin turn on Independence Ave, just south of the Lincoln Memorial. Being a little earlier in the course than, say, Mile 19, I didn’t need to wait so late in the day till my attempted jump-in. You see, I wanted to jump in and blend in, so I couldn’t just let myself be surrounded by sub-3 runners. Even though I was officially registered and had a bib, I was afraid that one of the officials would see me jumping in and cart me off the course, while I’m pleading with them to just humor me. But no one did. I just shed off my jacket (one I’d picked up from the ‘tossed clothing’ pile at the Army Ten-Miler, no big loss) and was on my way. I did have my hand-strap water bottle, for the sole reason that I wanted to be able to take a picture after the race and my phone just barely fit into the hand-strap pouch.

This was really just a jog/walk for me, but I really had fun running down all these very familiar, well-known areas, surrounded by throngs of people, and, the best part, not hitting the proverbial wall. The part of the course that I ran went from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, back through the Mall to 14th St bridge and over it to Crystal City, then up Rte. 110 to the Iwo Jima Memorial. It was fun, and nice to run across the finish line, though what was lacking was this sense of accomplishment. I felt like a fraud, but hey, I wanted my medal!

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I shouldn’t complain too much, since my condition is better than before, though it’s still frustrating not-perfect. If only I could be in my blissful 20s again…

P.S. Yes, it’s true, I do end up wearing the same thing for every race, haha :-p

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