Three Lives

If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I did it and I'm back and I'm sorry

So so so so so sorry to everyone who was worried about me.
The good news is I'm fine.
Thanks Peter, Kinzy, Racooooon and everyone else.

The better news is that I've just hit save on the final chapter of my PhD.
Yes yes, I know that I said I wasn't going to do it anymore in my last post- but I just couldn't help myself. I've finished 10 months ahead of schedule- just because I can. I haven't cleaned my oven for a couple of weeks though!

It's been two years, one month and five days since I started my PhD on the fear of terrorism. 10 Focus groups and 60 interviews and 140 000 words and 360 pages later I'm done! In the meantime I seem to have developed an unsightly haunch in my shoulders, a permanent frown and a somewhat nasty disposition (as opposed to my usual sun shiny shiny happy happy disposition).

OK- so let's get up to date.
Marraige- working- YAY. After some really long talks and some laying down of the laws things are working out OK. I basically told himbo that I did not want great sex and physical attraction to be my 'everything'. Sounds lame hey! And I just know that you blokes out there are now shaking your heads furiously and mouthing 'oh noooooooooooooo' while desperately hitting the exit button before your partners see this post and start getting ideas!
But it's true. Everyone I've ever spoken to about marraige problems seems to have the same problem- bad sex. They enjoy a great spiritual and intellectual connection, they describe their partners as their 'best friend' but say they would like more sex. True, that everyone I've ever spoken to about marraige problems happens to be male- but that's beside the point. I have the exact opposite problem- great sex but no intellectual connection. So here's what I did...
I demanded less sex and more connection! I put a limit on all sexual activity and reduced the frequency from 5-7 times a week to 3-4 times a week AND (here's the best bit) I made a new rule that we have to talk about our feelings more. That bit hasn't really worked mainly because I'm not really into talking about feelings unless I'm feeling particularly PMSful. The late late nights working on my thesis have assisted with the sex reduction strategy though.
I hate sounding like a sappy chick flick so I'm going to stop there.

What's next? Oh, I've been very busy writing- not just my thesis- I've been asked to contribute chapters to two books- academic stuff- not the creative kind. I have also been researching a book of my own which I hope to churn out one day (once I get my posture and my sun shiny shiny back). It will be about the discourse of jihad and the ontogenetic power of the jihadi message.

On the political front- Hilaly is out and some other old fart is in his place. I hear this guy is better- the less I hear from him the better I'll think he is! Apart from that am loving watching our PM John Howard squirm in the knowledge that nobody loves him everybody hates him, he should go eat worms! Am hoping that the election will be called soon so that we can all vote him out of office. Not that puppet head, Kevin Rudd, is any better. Anybody else think he looks like a Chucky doll? Maybe it's just me and that nasty disposition of mine.

On the subject of elections- the big big news is that I was approached by a political party (which I can't reveal here because it would blow my cover) to run for a Senate Seat in this years elections. It's really not a big deal as it is highly unlikely that I'll get a seat given that I'm third on the Senate ticket but it is nice to be asked and I really wanted to do it just to let all the Muslim girls out there know that you don't have to hide behind a burqa- you can leave the shadows and it's ok if you do.

And that's about it- boring I know- but most of my time has been spent cultivating a love affair with my laptop (I know which buttons to push to turn it on).
Love to all

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I can, I can, I can, I can't

I can graduate with high honors
I can survive a massive haemmorage after an illegal backyard abortion in a seedy looking Cairo back street (will tell that story one day)
I can withstand the pain of child birth (for 10 hours followed by 2 hours of pain relief)
I can do the midnight dash to the emergency ward with a 6 year old who is turning blue
I can stare into the face of a violent husband, hold a knife to his throat, threaten to kill him if he hits me again, then walk away and never look back (will tell this story too)
I can let the past go and help him to reconnect with his children
I can change a tyre, fix a leaking tap, hang a picture, paint a house, sew curtains, lay tiles, put together Ikea furniture, use a jigsaw, dig a pond, plant a garden and install a shelf
I can also burn out a car engine because I forgot to put oil in it
I can raise two children on very little money
I can earn six figures
I can complete a 50 page report on domestic violence among Muslim communities in 2 (very long) days and have it launched by a senior politician a month later
I can jog for 40 minutes
I can dine and chat comfortably with diplomats, academics and homeless people alike
I can complete a Masters degree in 9 months
I can complete a PhD in 2.5 years
I can tutor my son in highschool physics even though I've never studied it
I can read Foucault and get him and then I can explain him to my students
I can stand up in a room of 100 or so men, know they are probably more interested in checking out my breasts, and within one minute, have them hanging on my every word as I talk about terrorism and fear
I can stand up to a group of armed bikies taunting a Chinese student and get the group to disperse
I can write about the dark days of my teenage years and be OK about it
I can MC an event, appear on TV, sit on a panel and go live on radio without breaking into a nervous sweat
I can forgive my sister, my parents and myself
I can perform CPR

I read an article today in which this woman talks about how she was always gunning for an A+ in her marraige and I realised that's me.
Always trying to be the best at everything- the best wife, the best lover, the best mother, the best daughter, the best sister, the best student, the best teacher, the best stepmum, the best friend, the best worker.
Most of the time I think I'm probably just scraping in with a C even though I put this incredible pressure on myself. It's not enough for me to be average, or even good. No, I have to be perfect!

I can't just finish my Phd in the alotted 3 years, like everyone else- no I have to finish it in 2.5 eventhough my generous scholarship is for 3 years.
I can't just clean the kitchen like normal people- no I have to take apart the stove, scrub the little knobs till they glisten, I have to scrub the pots, I have to polish the kettle, rearrange the bloody sugar and tea cannisters for crying out loud and clean the oven 3 times in one day.
I can't just mark my students essays with ticks or crosses- no I have to write each one of them an essay back- commenting on virtually every line they have written. Then I have to take 20 hours to speak to each one of them individually about their essays (trust me- there is no university lecturer who does this!)

The worst part is that I don't want to be like this! I don't want to be bloody perfect and I don't want to exhaust myself trying anymore. Perfection is highly over rated.
I don't want to be that little girl who waits eagerly for her husband to come home, look at the gleaming kitchen with its shiny kettle and glistening nobs- praying that he nods his approval- just so that she can give herself an A+

I don't want to do it anymore.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I reckon that there are people in this world who just don't know how to find their own happiness. They look to others to make them happy, relying on those around them to take responsibility for their lives.

Then there are people in this world who measure their self worth by the happiness of those around them. They take it on themselves to be responsible for others' lives. They live for it, infact, measuring their successes and failures in life on the basis of those around them.

What happens when these two people get together?

In some ways it's the perfect union-symbiotic almost- one needs the other to be happy and one needs the other to make happy- but it's not. It's far from perfect.

I reckon I'm a pretty happy kind of person. Sure I've faced trials, heartache, sadness and hard times in my life. So what? Who hasn't? Everybody has a story- everybody.

I've been on the verge of death and back.
I've been forced to make choices that I didn't want to make, that I wasn't prepared to make that I did not have the capacity to make.
I've had days when I could only afford to feed my children and would go without (we were poor but we we had a roof over our heads and warm beds at night)
I've sat by my son's hospital bed in the middle of the night, alone, with noone to talk to, no shoulder to cry on and no hand to reassure me- wodering if he would make it through the night.
I've had days when I felt so alone, so lonely and so lost that I thought I would never make it out of the shadows.

But hasn't everybody? Compared to some people- my life has been a party and at the end of it all- I realise it wasn't half bad after all.

I do not for one minute regret any path that I've taken, any path that I've been forced to take and where I've ended up- it's all good. So, yeah- I'm happy.

But there is one thing that plagues me- a constant niggling, yearning, desire to make everyone else happy.
You might think it comes from a natural urge to nurture and love but I'm not so sure it's all that noble.
Perhaps it's a bit of arrogance- a bit of self adulation that makes me think that I have the capacity to bring happiness where there is misery; hope where there is despair and laughter where there are tears.
Perhaps it is my overblown sense of my own "sun shinyness" that defines failure for me. Failure being when I cannot make someone else happy- when, despite everything that I do, that I sacrifice, that I give- he still cannot find his happiness.

Why? Why do I do that? Why is it so important for me to do everything I possibly can, even if it means going out of my way and making myself 'unhappy', to make someone else happy? And why am I so hurt when it doesn't work?
Every common sense part of me tells me that I'm an idiot- ofcourse I can't make someone else happy- ofcourse happiness can only ever come from within- ofcourse the more I try the more I fail because it's not up to me.

So why do I do it?

Any answers out there?

Thursday, March 29, 2007


It's my birthday today. A big one- one of those ones with a zero on the end- you can guess.

Usually I look forward to my birthday. We have a bit of a tradition where we make a big fuss over birthdays and celebrate in the lead up.

Not this year.

I'll remember this birthday because for the past 5 weeks (has it really been that long?) my husband and I have not spoken, have not touched, have not said more than 2 words to eachother. It's started again and this time I don't think it's going to end in reconciliation or resolution- it never does actually- but this time I know that there is nothing more that I can do.

I've said before that my relationship has been strained and that last year I resolved to just accept the fact that we don't really share an intellectual or emotional intimacy. I was happy with that I guess- or maybe I was just fooling myself.

What does it mean to say "I don't love you anymore"?
It means that I have failed- again.
It means that I once loved you- but somehow that love got lost and I can't seem to find it. I don't know where it went and I haven't been able to hold on to it.
It means that I've finally faced up to the fact that love is not enough. All those romantic notions we had of how our love was strong enough to break cultural divides, transcend differences, live on forever- it was all bullshit.
It means that I'm not strong enough, not able to cope with the constant cycle of good and bad. One day I'm perfect- your dream wife and the next it seems like I'm everything you don't want.
It means that I can't make you happy- I tried but I just can't.
It means that I can't be who you want or need me to be and you can't accept me as I am.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh What a Night

Well the Arrested Development concert would have to be the highlight of the year, possibly the decade.

Apart from the fact that we waited 30 minutes in line and then had to sit through 2 hours of support bands (they weren't too bad except for the guy who thought he was the white and bald Craig David), and fend off the foetuses before Arrested Development finally came on stage at midnight- it was bloody brilliant.

The band played for over an hour. I know I was the biggest fan there because nobody was singing along to Mr Wendall like I was!!
And I was right up the front.

But wait there's more...

After they finished playing they came around and shook hands with all the people in the front row so I got to say a quick hello to them all.

But wait, wait there's more...

After the concert my friends and I were going to get some coffee. We walked behind the club and saw the band leaving. I got to meet them- all of them-Speech, Farida, Neisha and Baba- not just meet them but talk to them, I mean really talk about all sorts of things for around 45 minutes- we talked about life, love, kids and the fact that I have been listening to their music for 17 years. My kids were raised on Arrested Development- it was like milk to them- there is not another 17 or 14 year old in the world who can sing along to Mama's Always on Stage, Rain, Mr Natural and Tennessee like my boys can!

We took photos and said goodbye and I invited the band to a function I was MCing the next day that featured an African fashion parade. They said they'd try to make it and gave me the name of the hotel they were staying at.

But wait, wait, wait there's more....

After we said goodbye, we started walking back to my car having decided not to go for a coffee afterall. Then we saw One Love (who's been with the band for about 8 years) and the DJ from the club trying to get a cab. If you've watched the Amazing Race and know where I live, you'd know that it is virtually impossible to get a cab here- so they weren't having much luck.

What's a courteous, angelic, kind hearted girl to do in such a situation?

Offer them a lift ofcourse.
They were heading to a club in another suburb so they hopped in and we drove them to there.

But wait, wait, wait, wait there's still more...

We had a great conversation in the car and One Love (who's real name is Spencer) invited us to the after party which we stayed at for about an hour before finally heading home at 4am for some much needed sleep.

The next day (Saturday) I woke up without a voice and realised that I was going to be MCing the whole day on Sunday. Luckily my voice came back by then but I was a little croaky.

The late night/ early morning nearly killed me (I'm getting too old- time to settle down) but it was worth it.

They didn't make it to the fashion parade on Sunday but it didn't matter because they'd already given me so much through their music.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Too exciting

I'm sooooo excited
Tonight I'm taking my gal pals, Roo and Miss F, to the Arrested Development concert. It's Miss F's birthday next week and I thought dinner and a concert would be the perfect gift for the gal who already has too much of everything else that a gal wants (shoes, bags, belts, etc)

Arrested Development is one of my favourite bands and I can't wait to see them play classics like Tennessee, Mr Wendal, Everyday People, and my favourite, United Minds.

I think I've mentioned before that I live in the most isolated, boring, perochial city in the world and I never ever expected that Arrested Development would come here. Most bands that visit Australia do the East coast (Sydney, Melbourne) and that's it. That means a five hour, $600 flight plus the cost of accomodation and the entry fee if I want to see any big names.

But Arrested Development is here, and I'm going to see them tonight!
Too exciting!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Update on the domestic violence issue

You'll remember my ranting about a Muslim women's association (otherwise known as Enablers) that had first hand knowledge that a father was abusing his daughters. He had broken the nose of one of them and cause the other to become deaf in one ear by banging her head against the wall. He had held them captive in their bedrooms for 3 weeks and threatened to kill them. He had also threatened to return them to Afghanistan to face the prospect of an arranged marraige or an honor killing.

You'll remember that upon learning of this I advised the association to go to the authorities. You'll remember that the association refused and instead brought in a conservative Imam to speak to the father. You'll remember that I drove to the police station at 9pm one night and filed a report. I informed the authorities. The girls were taken from their father and placed in foster care.

You'll remember that I attended a meeting with the authorities at their request along with a representative from this association of Enablers who defended the father, denied he had done anything wrong and then later called me a Kafir because I suggested that the intergenerational conflicts needed to be addressed by engaging the girls' boyfriends so that they also understand what is going on.

You won't know that I received a copy of the letters the girls had written during their time with their father that detailed every disgusting, degrading and humiliating moment of his abuse. You won't know how much I wept over those letters.

You'll remember that I did not choose to be involved in this situation- but the burden of knowledge was far too much to bear.

Well, the authorities have returned the girls to their father. He has taken them to Afghanistan.

I can only despair.

Polyandry Fatwa

Like me, you're probably wondering wtf polyandry is.

Well it's the female answer to polygamy. That's right- imagine that ladies- two fragile egos to pander to. I'm just quivering with excitement at the prospect!

The world just gets stranger and stranger- apparently there is a Polyandry fatwa- meaning that us Muslim women who have long been subjected to the humiliating and degrading practice of polygamy may actually be able to get ourselves another hole in the head.

Did I say hole in the head? I meant husband.

Seriously though, I'm all for equal rights- but do two wrongs make a right?

The Polyandry Fatwa

By Mohja Kahf

(AL-TAL, SYRIA) Women in this small Syrian town have had absentee husbands for decades, like women in many other poorer Arab states, where the lack of livable income drives many men abroad in search of work. Now, thanks to improved DNA testing and a fatwa from Syrian ulema that some think will soon be followed by the ulema of other countries, women here have the option of taking a second husband, even if they do not want to divorce the first one.

Polygamy in Islam has traditionally been a male prerogative. The preservation of nasl, or paternity, is cited as the reason why the Quranic verse allowing polygamy for men cannot be assumed to apply in both directions. This has always posed an interpretive problem, since Quranic commandments phrased in the male gender case are not generally assumed to
apply exclusively to men. Many verses commanding prayer and fasting, for example, or detailing how zakat must be distributed, are offered in the male pronoun, but apply equally to women.

With enhanced DNA testing now making it possible for paternity to be determined non-invasively from the moment of conception, in a process accessible to everyone in this socialist state, where all health care services are considered a universal human right, ulema in the small,
Muslim-majority country are relieved to be able to extend the blessing of polygamy to women. The secular government has not played a role in devising the fatwa, but a representative of family court says such marriages will be recognized.

“It solves a real stress that is on our society,” Sheikh Habib-uddin says, as one of the scholars who was instrumental in coordinating the ijma effort. “We have political prisoners who are arrested and never seen again by their wives. We have men who migrate to the Gulf for work, but send paychecks once in a blue moon, and God knows what wives and families they have taken there.”

His own daughter, Carima, was married for four months to her cousin Rafik, in a match that had been arranged and happily celebrated by the two families, when the state police hauled Rafik away for political activism.

“I don’t want to divorce him,” Carima says. “even though my mother and father said that would be okay. He’s my cousin, and I’m fond of him.” She blushes. “He should come out of prison and find an empty room? I can’t do that to Rafik. I should be there for him if he gets out one day. When. When he gets out.” She pauses to wipe the tears that have sprung to her eyes.
“But—I should put my life on hold? Not to be able to build a family of my own? My younger sisters were having babies, and I had none to cradle in my arms.” She cites the example of another woman in the extended family who lived on tenterhooks for twenty-two years because her husband, also a political prisoner, was reported alive by a prisoner who was released. Five
years later he was said to be dead, then alive again. Doubt and hope went on for more than two decades, with prison authorities unwilling to release information.

“Divorce is allowed in such circumstance, of course,” Sheikh Habib says. “But the woman refused it as long as a shred of hope remained.” Finally it became clear that her husband had been executed the first year, in one of the repressive massacres of the Baathist state.

Carima waited three years after Rafik’s arrest before allowing her parents to arrange another marriage for her, to neighborhood shopkeeper Abu Tosheh. She still goes to the authorities with Rafik’s parents at the start of every year to file an inquiry, and meanwhile is pregnant with her first child and glowing.

“This is exactly the sort of difficult dilemma God created polygamy to relieve,” says Muslim Brotherhood representative Aqil Fahim, a Syrian dissident who lived in Riyadh for four decades. “I’ve seen men in the Gulf who are supposed to be there to support wives and children back in Syria, but they end up finding a nice local girl and settling down. What happened to sending money back home?”

More than money is on the mind of Um Wisal, whose husband is one of those deadbeat dads in Riyadh. Abu Wisal’s father and clan were willing to support Um Wisal and her eight children, given the abandonment of their son, who wouldn’t divorce her. Rumor had it, he’d married two women in Saudi, a Moroccan and a Somali. Whenever she sent word asking for a divorce, he’d
wire money, along with the words “Baby, don’t go.” So Um Wisal had no case for divorce on the grounds of non-support, plus the words made her remember his charms. “That was our song,” she says, pulling the edge of her veil over her mouth to hide a smile. “Maybe he’ll come back some day, and we’ll have us some more good times.” She puts her hand on her ample hip and says, “But I wanted a man by my side. A woman needs support in this world. I wanted the
weight of a man.”

She found one, in the hefty shape of a truck driver from Ifrin, Farris al-Youm. Her husband’s clan was furious. They tried to take the children, but she wasn’t divorced from their son, so they couldn’t. “I’m halal married,” she says triumphantly. She sends the children to their father’s
clan after school, at dinnertimes, and for breakfast and lunch on weekends. Asked whether she is a good mother despite her second marriage, she insists that she is; Farris’ driving schedule allows her time to give them plenty of motherly affection, as well as to tend her two goats and to harvest her seven walnut trees.

Advocates of the Polyandry Fatwa insist that it’s not just about sex (really? because who could resist Arab men?). Areej Basaleh (who, with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, teaches at Damascus
University’s Islamic College) says it’s about companionship, being a couple, having a mate at the dinner table, for some, while for other women it is also about finding a provider and a protector in a world that is still tilted toward male power (oh yeah- I forgot- we need protectors to keep us in the shadows, otherwise we'd whither away). Others want to balance between family obligations incurred with a first marriage, and personal inclinations addressed by a second spouse. Sometimes the first spouse is mentally instable, or infertile, or brainstem dead, but the wife wants to keep the bond out of loyalty, or for the children or inheritance issues.

And then there is also sexual need, she admits. “Marriage is a sexual outlet, among other social glues it provides.” Some first husbands have prostate problems and cannot take Viagra because of heart conditions, she explains, or simply are unable or unwilling to understand how to bring a
woman to climax, even though her equal right to orgasm is, nominally at least, recognized by Islamic jurisprudence. They want to clamber on top of a woman without the foreplay of “kisses and words” advocated by the Prophet Muhammad. Or they master vaginal sex in one traditional position, but are unwilling to adventure further, leaving her frustrated and bored, staring at the ceiling. Yet other aspects of the marriage may be fine, and the wife may
be willing to stay in the marriage for those reasons, seeing it as cruel and selfish to leave, especially if there are children. She is thus left with a sexual dilemma.

“Marriage is the one place we, as a faith community, do sanction sex, right?” Areej continues. “So it’s supposed to fulfill that natural, God-ordained function, in a context of love and compassion.”

“When it’s not doing so for too many women because the men are not stepping up, something is wrong, and religion should provide a compassionate answer,” says conservative cleric Imam Hamid al-Fahl, who works out at the gym to stay in shape for his wife, and brings her roses on the anniversary of the publication of the book that founded the Shafi’i school of fiqh. “Something
had to be done about all these restless women.” With the Polyandry Fatwa, men will realize that, for the first time in history, there are consequences for such shortcomings, Imam al-Fahl believes. Even those whose wives do not consider the polyandry route will be more motivated to try harder.

Opponents of the Polyandry Fatwa point out that it’s not just for women with absentee first husbands. Women with husbands who are present and accounted for make trouble in the family by marrying over them, they say. Feminists who would rather see polygamy ended all together are not pleased, but polyandry proponents say such activists are just not being realistic.
Christian Syrians in this 15% Christian country say they do not wish to get involved in what they see as a intra-Muslim issue, but privately, some think the Muslims have gone nuts (“We had the good sense to ban all multiple marriages by the third century after our faith started, and anyway we see abstinence as the ideal to strive for; you folks seem to swing the other way”), while others say they were glad to see Muslims finally being fair to women on the multiple marriage thing.

Romantics who insist that marriage means a pairing of two souls meant exclusively for each other are outnumbered by those who say that is a highly individualistic view, contingent on specific economic conditions in other societies. They add that marriage in Syria, rather than being merely an individual act, is a societal institution at the center of a web of complex,
pragmatic roles. Nature can be brought in to support either view, with romantics pointing to the lifelong pairings of monogamous animal species and polygamy advocates noting the proliferation of multiple partners in other species.

Conservative Muslim adversaries of the polyandry ruling, meanwhile, derisively tag it “the Slut Fatwa.” “Only a slut would want to sleep with more than one man,” says Mafini Dam of the Center for the Syrian Family in Damascus. (that's different to the other millions of slut fatwas out there mind you like the 'sew yourself up again slut fatwa', the 'it's ok to kill the slut who dishonored you fatwa' and the 'mutilate the vaginas of the sluts fatwa')

“Case in point, my neighbor Sharifa Izzat,” she says. “She’s got the apartment upstairs with her first man, and an apartment down in the basement with the second one.” There is a rhythmic rattling from the ceiling and Mafini, a widow, puts her hands to her ears. “A’ouzu billah,” she says.

Sharifa Izzat, 35, freshly showered, brushes aside Mafini’s disdain, as she enters the apartment house lobby. Sharifa’s upstairs husband is a respected contractor twelve years older than she, paunchy and bald, “but a dear,” she says, and a good father and provider.

The downstairs spouse is a long-haired starving artist with rugged good looks who takes her dancing on the town and paints loving portraits of her three children (from the first husband) in oils. Seven years younger than she, he made her feel alive after sixteen years of marriage had settled her into a rut. She was not willing to have an affair; it had to be halal and aboveboard. Nothing sordid: a clean, responsible act.

“Each husband satisfies a different side of me. I’m a complex woman in her prime,” Sharifa says brightly, pushing the “down” elevator button. “One for the money, two for the show,” Mafini says of Sharifa’s two husbands, grimacing.

Sharifa is open to the idea of a third husband, “but only if the right man came along.” It would make her life even more complex, she knows, and while her two current husbands have adjusted to each other, a third might change the dynamic. “I’ve always had a soccer player fantasy,” she says with a wink, as the elevator door closes on her. (I think she means soccer team)

Islamic education materials distributed by imams in support of the Polyandry Fatwa remind women that the Quran limits polygamy to four spouses, and that they must be scrupulously fair in dividing their time and attention among them, an ideal men have had a hard time living up to. The pamphlets also note that monogamy continues to be favored implicitly in the Quran. Most
Muslims, says Shaikh Habib, historically have been monogamous, and polygamy has been limited to small numbers in society, even if the spotlight often falls on those few. And most Muslims, he believes, will continue to be monogamous.

“But it’s nice to have options,” his daughter Carima adds.