readers who have followed Cross Cultures since 1991 know that it has been, and will always be, a civilized forum for free expression of thought, for the exchange of varying points of view and for sharing beliefs and cultures, with the ultimate goal of achieving harmony and mutual respect. I have not steered the publication or its contents to forward any particular ideology . . . so, “my personal opinion” is where I will express my own views, not the magazine’s . . . in exactly the same way that every other writer and contributor is able to …
Gehan AF D S (myself) .. I attended English school since I was three years old in Egypt – so although Arabic is my mother tongue, English is my first language; I also spent my teen years in London UK when my mother was with the Diplomatic mission, returned and finished school and obtained my Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1974, got married and hitch hiked with my husband throughout western Europe for a year, after which we had our own business as well as my work with several multi-national companies. We came to Canada in 1988; volunteered with several community organizations including the Neighbourhood Community Association, Laubach Literacy Council, Intercultural Women’s Group … among others to gain knowledge about Canadian ‘ways’, and realized how wonderful the people of Canada really are, but that there is a gap and lack of knowledge between the diverse ethnic and faith members, and that people have sadly been too sensitized to the point of not feeling comfortable regarding each other as fellow human beings … and so … started publishing this magazine. This will be my own column where I do not represent anyone but myself.
Oppressed ? !!
July 1 1991
I’m hearing more and more about “oppressed” middle eastern women, and it made me think deeper as to where we stand in society .. and I suddenly realized and appreciated how lucky we really are in the Arab world*.
Women in Egypt and some Arab countries have always played a key role in society .. they have more rights and do have equality in pay and job opportunities (in fact there have been more eminent career women .. lawyers, publishers, Ministers .. long before many western countries .. and eternal names of queens and leaders of political liberation through history). Women have a deeply established “status” in the community; whether it be at the family level, or in the business world.
There is a totally different EQUILIBRIUM or division of roles. That’s what westerners find difficult to grasp. They judge by their set of rules; and it is only after I’ve lived here a while now that I can begin to understand how hard it is to misconceive another culture.
The man leading by a few steps has a wonderful explanation: he does that to pave the way .. so to speak .. for his lady companion .. do you realize how much more crowded it is out there ? .. The same when men make the order at a dinner outing .. it isn’t superiority .. it is to pamper the woman and make the evening enjoyable. Of course the degree varies at the different intellectual levels, but the pattern is basically the same.
Society has granted us enviable rights and unbelievable influence. We are brought up to be tough, and have inner strength, due to the amount of restraint and tolerance we have to practice from early childhood; Yet we learn that survival and progress are not obtained by feminism or by stepping on traditions and rules, and certainly NOT by defying society and men ! We probably don’t really need to !
It is HOW the middle eastern woman chooses to use her powers and rights .. she treads lightly and tactfully; she is by nature extremely diplomatic, wise and flexible. She maintains her existence by being an obedient, respectful and very supportive and hard working partner. Most of the time the family unit depends entirely on her ‘strength’.
The MOTHER is treated with great respect, she is the absolute authority within the walls of her home. She is a most selfless person who dedicates her energies to the family’s well being. Even if she works, she is still the one morally responsible for the housework.
As a BUSINESS WOMAN, she is a very able and determined person, she is serious and respectable, and a tactful negotiator. Culture has contributed a lot to those qualities, for example : since women are required not to be appealing – except to their husbands – they go about the rest of their lives in a serious, business like way .. women were actively running and owning businesses since the sixth century .. The female STUDENT is a very high achiever, her social restrictions afford her more time and incentive to direct her attention towards academic progress; and most women obtain university degrees .. with their parents support and encouragement.
Girls don’t get to change their surnames after marriage and they have a separate legal identity.
The male and female roles are so well defined and are established since early youth that each is convinced and content and comfortable with it. Their ego is satisfied .. again I say .. there is that BALANCE .. In fact, as I see it, and to be quite fair, the way it works out .. it’s the men who are at the disadvantage .. when we give them all that middle eastern ‘prestige’, we also give them a whole lot of responsibility to go with it .. and I don’t envy the load they carry !
*I am told that for some odd reason, that has changed since I left
Why ? !
Vol 9 # 1 2000
I’ve always relinquished my “rights” to avoid law suits, and sought comfort in the belief that justice will prevail and I will be rewarded by some other means.
Then, one day, a few months ago, not quite by my choice really … a sequence of events led to necessitating a trial, so I found myself in that court room … still unable to fully grasp or rationalize the ironic situation … and although the outcome was in my favour … yet … somehow … a sacred innocence had been broken.
For now, and due to my most recent experience, I decided to temporarily succumb to the culture of resolving long outstanding matters through the legal channels … an approach that totally conflicts with my values, and that makes me very uncomfortable; but it appears to be the only language some people will understand … a very very sad realization for me … one that I may have to struggle with for some time to come, since I still, very tenaciously, cling to my childish trust in humankind’s purity of heart, and live on this belief out of an optimistic aspiration for goodness, not out of weakness. I am not yet ready to give up!
Lawn Mowers and Garage Sales
I read in the local papers about a proposal to restrict people from holding garage sales to a certain number per year … the reasoning ??? … a few isolated instances of garage sales taking the form of business trading … so, a whole entire community may now be “dictated to” to limit such a “social activity” … instead of the more obvious solution (at least to me it is) of defining ‘ garage sales’ and focusing on monitoring its implementation ?!!
Which reminds me of the numerous times I have been awakened at a very early hour on a weekend … or wasn’t able to hear myself talk to my kids during a family BBQ in the backyard because of the loud sound of some neighbour’s lawn mower nearby … but … am I going to suggest we regulate the hours for such a practice … NO … NO … NO !!! I will however, appeal to people’s sense of decency … to be more considerate in their choice of timing the next time they set out to tackle their growing grass.
Sense of Decency . . .
yes … that’s exactly what I feel would be lacking when an inconsiderate person abuses their ‘right’ in … say … crossing the street, sure, the pedestrian has the priority … but is it nice to take advantage of that by not making an effort to do it with haste, simply because it is their given right ? … or … when a parked car … very slowly pulls out of a much needed spot in a busy mall … of course after the driver takes an extra five minutes to fiddle with whatever … as though to assert their claim to it, oblivious of other people’s time restraints or needs … what is the world coming to these days … and what on earth is happening to us ?!!
Culture … Spirituality … Ethics …
Do you agree with me that a person’s upbringing … and individual experiences … are what shape their conduct and outlook on life ? If you do … then would you please help me understand why some people tend to blame the entire culture, faith or race … for some of its members’ in appropriate behaviour ? I’ve often wondered WHY … ??? I certainly do not self proclaim myself as a representative of either my ethnic, racial or social origin, nor even of my gender for that matter … so why am I being compromised as an individual, why is my identity or character ignored, and my personal value, or experience sacrificed to some absurd label, paradigm, or stereotypical image which this society has imposed upon me … is there even a remote hope that this will ever cease to be ?!!!
Bureaucrats .. ?! And other cultures
Vol 10 2004
Ah, bureaucrats, God bless them, how would we ever manage without them!
This is not intended as a rhetorical innuendo of bureaucrat-bashing, rather .. my humble attempt at explaining diversity of cultures, faiths, skin colours and the whole spectrum of our mosaic .. by using a more accepted version of our collective “uniqueness”
When people struggle so hard with the changing face of Canadian society, and mainstream ‘politely’ try to be “tolerant” of new immigrants, I always wonder why is this such a fatiguing exercise .. if one is “different” it becomes challenging for both that person and anyone who is typically “Canadian”
How come that particular distinction is taking longer to adjust to, when in fact “bureaucrat” culture, “politician” culture, “academia” culture, “business” culture, “volunteer” culture … the list is very long … each with its own traditions, etiquette and code of conduct. Yet next door neighbours of all the above “cultures” don’t struggle to understand or cope with each other’s ‘diversity’ of profession or line of work!
On the other hand, a dark skinned person- whose ancestors came to Canada at the turn of the last century, and who may be totally conversant in mainstream lingo, will still be asked ” where do you come from?”
The question in itself is not bothersome, it is the underlying mentality that is at issue.
There is a glass ceiling, for anyone who is different, for any visible minority, for women, for the disabled, for the poor … but my question is, who has the right to impose the ‘standard’ of the norm? When will inclusivity be genuine and from an equal footing, with true respect for others’ worth and value.
Of course I have a few theories of my own, I might even suggest a few solutions, but should I venture into any of this? Will I accomplish anything? How many before me tried? To what consequence? Are any of the labels associated with people who have previously travelled this path going to look good on me? More importantly, do I have the courage?
But back to my favourite topic .. bureaucrats .. just to adhere to the title I suppose .. and again, please read this with an open mind and good humour, it is not intended to be offensive in any way.
One of the hats I wear is “activist”, and since coming to Canada I have grown to appreciate more and more the value of freedom of speech, of social activism, of the safe and intellectual environment in which one can express one’s self without fearing any devastating consequences.
That said, I can sometimes sense the traces of resistance to new ways and any attempt to “rock the boat”. If I dare to come up with a novel or original idea or, God forbid, state the obvious without doing the “politically correct” dance, if I speak my mind directly and to the point, I get a deadly silence in the room !!! That is on a good day of course. You might say, be thankful you are not thrown in prison or beheaded .. sure .. that is comforting .. but, had I not come here in search of democracy? If I wish to accept the status quo, wouldn’t I still be somewhere else?
The cosiness of the job and pay-cheque may blur a person’s judgement and priorities, it can change some principled folk whose circumstances dictate their dependence on it. Money if regarded as a master tends to have that effect. Then there is the office politics, the power struggles, hierarchy, chain of command, committees or ‘meetingitis’ … counter-productive stifling, wasteful . . that’s what a business person would call it!
Human beings are individuals, with rich experiences and acquired skills, every one of us, mainstream and immigrant, has lived a full productive life, which involved at some point situations or circumstances that required flexibility, stopping to re-evaluate, re-group and grow. Stress or even traumatic lives do not necessarily spell doom. It is our choice to make it affect us positively or negatively; to pull through healed or scarred, nevertheless, a better more mature person for it. As most immigrants say: hardships set one’s priorities straight.
Do I sound like the “half-full” type? . . absolutely .. since that’s exactly what I am; I count my blessings for being able to see a bright side to what others find a grim situation. Call me an idiot if you wish, but that’s just my style of coping with life …
Denial delays healing
Vol 15 2006
Admitting the truth usually requires integrity, self confidence, honesty, a strong personality and a secure inner ego.
Apologizing for sins, errors or wrong doings elevates a person or a nation to an even higher level.
Offering retribution or other forms of compensation finally means that the victim(s) may begin their healing journey. It indicates that their pain has been acknowledged and it demonstrates a sincere desire to not repeat the mistake and an intent to correct a situation. If people or nations insist on defending an evil .. Past or present .. committed by them or by their ancestors, peace and harmony will never have a chance to prevail.
Suffering cannot be relieved without kindness and compassion, the aggressor has to be the one presenting the olive branch.
Two wrongs do NOT make a right. The constant beating up on someone will not turn this person around; insisting on burning a blind eye on justice only adds to the grief.
Circumstances may dictate that they suppress their agony, anger or sense of hopelessness and despair, but it doesn’t make any of those emotions go away. Quite to the contrary, it causes deeper anguish.
Unresolved issues ultimately lead to an outburst no matter what degree of tolerance a person may have. Bottling up the resentment will be lurking somewhere waiting to erupt – more like a volcano. The similarity to the volcano doesn’t end there, when you allow the diffusion of anger, the ultimate or final greater outburst will not be as violent.
The native peoples of North America are one striking example – they have endured over half a millennium of treachery, Residential Schools, injustice, ill-treatment, abandoned treaties . . . you name it !! How much longer should one expect them to keep their calm? Why does anyone think that it is the native people’s obligation or their responsibility to keep giving in or relinquishing their rights ? To stand back and watch abuse continue ! I am not inciting them by any means, if anything, I am expressing deep respect for their spirituality to have survived all this.
Denial and continuing to argue a false opinion only proves weakness of character, of legitimacy and of substance. It deepens the wounds, and leaves more lasting scars. Augmenting the injustice solves nothing and does not set a good example for future generations. Abundant examples from conflicts around the world has proven that over and over again. On the one hand, it breeds and perpetuates ill feelings on both sides of the conflict and instills a rooted distrust and animosity. On the other hand, the victims’ offspring grow up with no faith in the system and a possible tendency to self-distruct, usually accompanied by a reluctance to uphold the law, and a desire to deviate or abandon good values and virtues.
Even worse is the fact that they are blamed for this attitude, and are not approached kindly or wisely by society, educators, peers or authority.
Human beings were given many gifts . . . the most significant being the highly developed brain, which enables them to reason, think, invent and be creative.
I shudder to think that we compromise all this by allowing ourselves selfish indulgences, bullying, meanness, petty squabbling and drifting away from kindness, goodness and pure human-ness. Wasting the limited time allotted to us here on this beautiful earth in bitterness and evil is not smart, not smart at all !!
Think of all the conflicts around the world, then think how life would be without them. A life where we all admire the beauty around us, feel the warmth of other people, whether they are “like us” or not.
We are all created “equal” though not the same.
We all breathe, bleed and feel hunger, thirst and pain. We all fall in love, out of love – or whatever emotions of happiness and sadness, joy or boredom.
We all deserve to maintain our pride and dignity, and to always be treated with respect, and be praised and appreciated for our efforts and for who we are, at all times and circumstances.
Of course those rights come with responsibilities and obligations to reciprocate the respect, to strive to be – and do -the best we can for all inhabitants – humanity, and different forms of life on earth