Story of a woman in 2014

She’s my friend.

She looks at me and she tells me that she’s looking into separating from her husband. In her words, she has bore the burden of his aggressive behaviour and his violence for too long.

To get a divorce, she’ll need to go back home. For now, she can only physically separate from him.

‘When it came to beating me and hitting me and my kids, it became too much. Everyone has a limit’.

She met him at work. Now he doesn’t want her to keep working.

She tells me all of this as we’re chatting outside, seemingly having a pleasant conversation.

She’s so beautiful and graceful, always smiling, you’d never think, not in a million years, that so much pain is hidden behind all that grace.

Yet when she tells me she needs to be strong for herself and for her kids, she breaks out crying.

She’s looked for an apartment, she’s planning her escape.

I ask about her husband’s reaction.

He doesn’t know yet.

She’s scared of what he will do to her when she tells him.

‘I don’t sleep at night, I keep thinking about it’.

Fear is etched on her face, in the quiver of her voice. Fear is contagious, it gets to me, as I scramble to try and find ways of protecting her.

‘Did you ask a lawyer? Can you tell the police?’

Can’t anyone protect her?

She has a lawyer, she ‘s thinking about alerting the police.

She’s planning her escape.

She has to go back to work, and I leave, wondering how we’re all supposed to plan our escape from a patriarchal society that sends the message to men that women are their propriety, that they can dispose of us the way they see fit.

I leave, and I ring another friend, a female lawyer, someone who can help, someone, anyone, who could provide a sliver of protection.

I leave, and my blood boils at the mere thought that no man has ever been kept awake by pure, unadulterated fear of what the woman in his life might do to him if he decides to leave.

I leave, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my friend, the well-educated, poised, strong woman that I know, doesn’t get sleep at night because she’s afraid for her life, for her safety, and the life and safety of her children.

I leave, and I find myself thinking that in a way, she’s better off where she is than at home, where some religious leaders and society at large would tell her to just stick it out, that it’s her duty to stick it out, that men will be men and all that. I shamefully think that at least where she is, there are laws, and rules, and more men in suits and robes forced by law to put a distance between her abuser and her.

I leave, and I’m helpless, and useless, fully aware that being a feminist, in our day and age, is not a mere luxury, a brand we can use to look cool.

It’s a necessity for survival.

If you’re a woman facing abuse living in Geneva and looking for help, you can find it here or you can call this number 0840 110 110

Living/Leaving here

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This post was originally written as a submission for the Outpost, for their second number on the ‘possibility of living here’, so I wrote about my own experience living in Lebanon. The submission didn’t make the cut, so here it is!

You always want to come back.

No matter how comfortable you are in your life abroad, some part of you is always thinking about it. You think about it when you hear someone next to you on the bus speak Arabic and you feel your heart melt a little. You think about it when you close your eyes and can feel the Beiruti sea breeze on Rawche without having to do much else. You think about it every minute of every day, it’s like this nagging feeling that won’t ever go away, gnawing at your soul. I’ve always asked myself how can one could be nostalgic of things one barely knew. But you can. You can feel linked to where you come from by an invisible, tenuous yet incredibly strong thread, coming from your heart to that place.

I was born abroad, another statistics on the Diaspora never ending numbers, and for as long as I can remember we’ve always gone back and forth between abroad and Lebanon, for my parents didn’t, or rather, couldn’t bear exile too well.

Then one day, I decided to come back. I packed my bags and went, deciding somewhere along the way that I wanted to be part of the new Lebanon. I have two degrees in international law and human rights, work experience in that area, and I was a remote part of the booming Lebanese civil society that was trying to organize itself to bring social change to the country. I wrote articles for different Lebanese outlets and took part in any online campaigns I could get my hands on, but somehow at some point this did not seem enough. I needed to live it. I had the luxury to choose, and to be able to come back to Beirut to become an actual part of it. I thought I could bring my skills and experience to my country, I thought Lebanon would need me, and that I could give it my all. And in a way, Lebanon did need me. Just not in the way I thought.

Beirut had, and still have, this incredible attraction over me. Its bubbling creativity, exuberant force of life, its people, its smells, everything seemed to be calling my name. Needless to say, despite knowing Beirut quite well, distance and time had blurred its flaws, only leaving a frangipani flowers/diesel scented dream. I was in for a rude awakening.

Over the past couple of years, Beirut has earned in Western media the reputation of a lively, stylish city, a heaven for party goers and a cultural hub for arts, which in some part is true. However, this depiction is only one tiny aspect of Beirut, the one the most privileged only can enjoy. What I have discovered while living there is that the incredible weakness of the state is felt at all levels by people living in Lebanon. Basic infrastructure of making water and electricity available to all are not fully functional, thus once again creating inequalities between different regions of Lebanon and neighborhoods of Beirut. Political instability is clearly a drawback for anyone that is thinking of coming back to Lebanon, but I wouldn’t say that for me it was the biggest, for after a while you just learn to live with the risks. It’s the daily chaos, the constant need to have an alternative solution up your sleeve because the state simply isn’t there to fulfill its obligations and the constant violations of civil liberties and socio-economic rights that wear you off after a while. Workers do not have social security, social benefits, people’s rights are trampled on every day, human rights like the right to education and health are contingent to your financial means and this, in order to get Lebanon’s talented workforce back, needs to change. To me, the most insufferable part was the dire inequality. The wage and social gap between different strata of the population is disheartening. And can – and should- inspire revolt.

After a year in Beirut I received a job offer in Switzerland. I thought long and hard about going back to Geneva. Was I abandoning Lebanon to its inept government? I felt guilty, but here I was, having an opportunity to do a job I love, under normal working conditions, in a country that uses the taxes I pay to build proper roads and offer good public education. Something in my mind kept nagging me, telling me I had a right to a decent life after all. And so I left again. Looking back, I was too angry at Lebanon’s phenomenal potential being wasted by greed, sectarianism and corruption to stay and be useful. I was too angry at my own inadequacy to change turn things upside down. 

And so I left again.

However, i remain convinced that opportunities are there and lie in the resourcefulness of Lebanon’s inhabitants, in civil society that grows stronger and manages to get more people engaged, in the creativity of its talented people. The more we push for positive change, the more we’re likely to attract and bring change. The moment is now, when the whole region is pounding its fists for change, demanding that its potential is achieved. The moment is now to impact our region’s future and we should not let it pass. The moment is now. We have a whole new landscape to build. 

On Fashion,Clothes and Style

Mamzelle Popeling Vintage Shop in Carouge, Switzerland

I love clothes. No, really, I do, as a matter of fact, I’m this close to organising guided tours through my cupboards. I’d love to have a walk incloset where I can just lie and look at the acres of fabric spread before me.

This doesn’t make me a superficial person. This makes me a person who likes clothes. And bags. And shoes. Although I love shoes so much they’d probably deserve a post on their own.

Thing is, I don’t know if it has anything to do with getting older (30 has never looked so close), but I’ve been wondering lately if fashion hasn’t gone all cuckoo on us (this, from the woman who used to wear skirts with FEATHERS and Mao Tse Tung appliques, skirts and dresses above trousers, and every type of colours known to manking together, Jesus, I really am getting old). Anyway, browsing through different shops, some thoughts jumped at me (as you do, you know, as shopping can make one quite philosophical).

First of all, I’d like to know where most designers live, and more importantly, I’d like to know If they live in a country of perpetual sunshine and warmth, where tropical birds frolic in the trees. No, really. You see, I live in Switzerland, land of the cold, cold winters and dreary autumns. I go out and I work. I need my body temperature to avoid dropping to 34 degrees, because otherwise I’d die. Therefore, I would really like to know where all the long sleeves have gone? Why is the vast majority of clothes I find flimsy dresses and skirts, lightweight trousers and open-toed shoes? People, I am nor Kate Moss posing for Glamour, neither an It-Girl fuelled by alcohol. I need clothes I can live in.

Secondly, I also would like, no, I demand, to know why has everything in affordable places turned to polyester?

I work for an NGO. Me have no means to spend and absolute fortune on a black top. By the way, don’t you hate that? You’d enter a smart shop, thinking ok, I’m gonna invest in a item of clothing, sorry, a piece, and there you’d find yourself staring at a black cotton t-shirt on a hanger, the snooty salesperson holding it as if it were a Phoenician vase, the price tag discreetly indicating 600 Chf. Er, no. Not gonna happen. Nevertheless, I’d also like not to catch fire if there is a storm or if I sit too close to the radiator. This is getting quite unnerving.

Mamzelle Popeline Vintage Shop in Carouge Switzerland

Thirdly, why have people forgotten the words of that beloved man, Yves Saint Laurent? I mean, the man said ‘We must never confuse elegance with snobbery’. He also said ‘Fashion fades: style is forever’, which is something that should be at the entrance of every shop in the world. That would prevent me from seeing women in 12 cm stilettos, pleather leggings, fake eyelashes and a cleavage up to their bellybutton every morning before coffee. Girlfriend, you look in pain. That can’t be good. You’re sweating like a pig under that pleather legging. Most importantly, you’re not a Pussycat Doll going to a concert. You’re going to work. You need to be able to focus and not keep thinking of the hour of freedom where you’ll be able to wear something that allows you to breathe. Stop following trends, find your style, liberate yourself from the clothes and live happily ever after.

Finally, shopping has started to make me uneasy: between the non-ethical ways of producing (child labor anyone? Violations of workers rights? Really, someone, anyone?) and the current society of over consuming, I’m finding myself checking the corporate policies of my favourite shops and just buying vintage. At least, when I go and visit my friend Emmanuelle at her shop Mamzelle Popeline in Carouge, I get chocolate, she pours me tea, and between and a vintage suitcase and her creations, we take our time, and talk. Could it ever get better than that?

Salopes en Marche

De nombreuses personnes frissonnent en entendant le terme “marche des salopes”. Comment un mot si négativement connoté peut-il être érigé en étendard de la libération de la société de son carcan normatif de genre? Tout a commencé lorsque un policier canadien, Michael Sanguinetti, a déclaré au cours d’un colloque en 2011 que les “femmes devraient éviter de s’habiller comme des salopes pour éviter de devenir des victimes”, comprenez donc, pour éviter de se faire abuser sexuellement. Le mouvement SlutWalk était lancé.

De nombreuses féministes ont beaucoup débattu et débattent encore de la nécessité de se réapproprier le mot “salope”,car en effet l’on est en droit de se demander comment un mot qui a toujours été une insulte peut être réapproprié. Germaine Greer explique dans son article pour le Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/women_shealth/8510743/These-slut-walk-women-are-simply-fighting-for-their-right-to-be-dirty.html) que les femmes se réappropriant le mot “salope” réclament tout simplement leur droit à être sale (signification originelle du mot anglais slut), libérée sexuellement, en un mot, d’être libres d’être ce qu’elles désirent.

Au delà d’un simple mot, c’est tout un concept oppresseur pour les femmes que les Salopes tentent de renverser, et à travers lui, tous les stéréotypes des genre: une femme qui est active sexuellement et choisit elle-même la fréquence de ses rapports sexuels ainsi que ses partenaires est percue négativement par la société toujours prompte à l’affubler de noms d’oiseaux peu flatteurs tels que “salope” alors qu’un homme dans la même situation est célébré comme un Don Juan, un homme après qui toutes les femmes se pâment. Le postulat des Salopes est simple: il est nécessaire de renverser cette pseudo-logique réactionnaire et surtout complètement absurde qui soutient également que la manière dont une femme s’habille influe sur son risque de se faire agresser sexuellement, ce qui est non seulement insultant pour la femme car la responsabilité de ne pas se faire violer est mise sur elle, mais également pour l’homme, qui dans ces conditions n’est vu que comme un pénis sur pattes ne pouvant retenir ses pulsions dès qu’un centimètre carré de peau féminine est visible. Si mettre une mini-Jupe et contrôler ma vie sexuelle fait de moi une salope, alors soit, j’en suis une et j’en suis fière. Donnons donc une nouvelle signification positive à ce mot. Pour information, l’objectif ultime est que l’activité sexuelle d’une femme, tout comme celle de n’importe quel homme,n’amène ni questions ni haussement de sourcils: bien qu’il semble choquant qu’en 2012 l’on soit encore obligé de le rappeler, le corps d’une personne lui appartient et elle est libre d’en faire ce qu’elle veut.

Que l’on soit d’accord ou pas avec le nom du mouvement n’est par ailleurs que secondaire aux principes cruciaux pour lesquels celui-si se bat. Renverser les stéréotypes de genre, certes, mais également mettre au coeur du débat politique et collectif des questions jusque là jugées privées sont au centre des revendications de ce mouvement clairement féministe. La Collectif organisateur de la marche des Salopes de Genève qui se tient aujourd’hui à 14:00 énonce très clairement ses buts et objectifs sur son site web (www.slutwalk.ch):

 

Buts à atteindre :

– Faire des violences sexuelles une question collective, sociale et politique et non pas individuelle et privée.

– Reconsidérer la notion de consentement.

– Faire changer la culpabilité de camps.

– Cesser de hiérarchiser les violences sexuelles.

– Montrer que les violeurs ne sont pas victimes de leurs pulsions mais responsables de leurs actes.

– Faire cesser les discours sur le comportement dit « provocateur ».

Revendications :

– Changer l’art 190 du code pénal Suisse (qui décrit comme « un acte sexuel subi par une personne de sexe féminin». Un homme ne peut donc pas être violé ; les pénétrations buccales et anales ne sont pas considérées comme des viols.)

– Financer des études sur les violences sexuelles.

– Former la police afin qu’elle soit à même de recueillir les plaintes.

– Faire de la prévention auprès des potentiels agresseurs et non auprès des victimes.

– Parler des violences sexuelles dans les cours d’éducation sexuelle, civique…

– Obliger les responsables de violences sexuelles à prendre concience de leurs actes.

Lorsque l’on lit les articles ayant trait aux marches des Salopes de part le monde, force nous est de constater qu’une autre revendication, souvent tacite, émerge du mouvement de manière organique: celle d’être différent, de faire le choix de sortir des binaires de genre.

Enfin, le mouvement vient contrecarrer le projet des culturalistes de tous poils qui aiment à diviser entre les féministes d'”orient” et “d’Occident”: de Toronto à New Delhi, de Beyrouth à Paris, les mêmes revendications. Le même combat, celui contre la patriarchie universelle, et qui appelle de ses voeux l’affaiblissement du mouvement féministe révolutionaire et internationaliste. Appelez-nous Salopes ou quoi que ce soit d’autre, cela ne changera rien à nos luttes: No Pasarán! 

Photo de la marche d’aujourd’hui https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.496907833672465.126198.194530360576882&type=1&l=11368b11d6

On Speaking Arabic and Other Identity Stories

So where do you come from? is a question I have heard more than I care to mention. Attending school in France, my hair intrigued people, crossing the borders between France and Switzerland, my name on a French passport intrigued people, at university, I’ve been told it was my nose (true story) that intrigued people, or one of them at any rate, probably not the most brilliant specimen of scholar, but anyway. 

Hence, the where do you come from? 

I didn’t take it badly, after all people feel sympathies, or curiosity or find you exotic, no real harm done, and besides, in a multicultural place like Geneva, the where do you come from merry-go-round is more of a game than anything else, as everyone competes to prove that they do not know a single Swiss person actually from Geneva in Geneva (I myself am struggling to find one). 

What I was less prepared for, anyway, was getting the where do you come from question in Lebanon. I mean, getting it in Europe was bad enough, but in Lebanon? I checked myself for spontaneous blond hair sprouting out of my skull or delighfully thought I had grown overnight 10 meters of legs, Norwegian style. 

Alas, I had kept my very tangled, curly, unruly black hair and stout body. 

You see, the question stemmed from my Arabic. It’s not perfect. In fact, it’s so broken, mkassar, that people find it “cute”, “sexy”,”adorable” as if I were a small child learning to speak. 

Which in a way, I am, I’ll grant you that. However, that doesn’t mean these comments don’t irk me. They do. Each little comment on my accent in Arabic is felt like a tiny slap in the face, as if a little devil was standing on my shoulder, dancing evil jigs and mocking me each time an “r” is not rolled properly or when I can’t pronounce the qaf in a word. I manage it by itself just fine, just don’t ask me to put it in a word. Sadly, I can’t go around demonstrating that skill around, as roaming the streets of Beirut going “qaf qaf qaf qaf qaf” would only earn me a trip to the 3asfouriyeh. 

And don’t get me started on reading. I can read Arabic, very basically, but asking me to read a whole report is like asking me to interpret a UN conference  from Russian to Swahili. Get it? I can’t read properly. Yet. I still have high hopes that might change. 

You see, my main issue is that, having always stood out as the only Arab in a classroom of 30 non-Arab people (truly traumatizing, go explain to other people why you’re having mjaddara because it’s Friday, start even explaining what mjaddara is), I learnt to define myself as a Lebanese born in France, which I still do. I feel Lebanese, whatever that means, through and through, I absurdely love that little country of mine, and therefore I would just LOVE speaking Arabic properly. (One) of my identities, that is, the one of an Arab citizen, is intimately linked to mastering the language, all the more because there is a need to reclaim it, to move away from the languages inherited by past or neo colonial powers. Sometimes, when no one is looking, I picture myself giving out long, Nasser-like speeches in flawless Arabic, before the phone rings and wakes me up from my reverie and I stutter something in an idiom vaguely resembling the Lebanese dialect.

That people find it cute is of little importance: I find it patronizing, it grazes my heart. No, strike that, it grazes my pride and it grazes the anti-imperialist in me. 

So what is there for me to do? Go on an intensive class? Or became a Teflon woman, upon whom the remarks cutie comments will have little impact? 

Or learn to accept the hybrid Lebanese that I am, a composite item of a myriad of identities and languages and stories? After all, wouldn’t that be better than remaining closeted in a certain community or a certain party? 

And I can pronounce the qaf.  I can. Go on. Ask me. 

Travel Through Lenses: Geneva Meets Siberia

Link: Travel Through Lenses: Geneva Meets Siberia

julietstravels:

By now, you’ve probably heard of the extremely low temperatures we’ve been having in Geneva. Here are some pictures of the frozen lakeside and some personal tips on where to get a heart warming hot chocolate or delicious coffee in the City of Calvin and its surroundings:

1) Le Pain Quotidien,

Amazing blog post on my hometown!

You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

Saying good bye s a bitch. And I should know, I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. You see, it all started when it became apparent that I were a Lebanese living abroad but regularly going back to Lebanon. That usually pretty much entails a lot of going back and forth, of hellos and good byes, of tears of joys and sadness and let me tell you something, learning heartache at such a young age just can’t be good for your soul. Growing up, things improved a little in the sense that I taught myself not to be In shambles each time I left Beirut ( and that was a good thing, I just couldn’t be looking like a panda twice a year, it was just not on), but I couldn’t prevent little cracks in my heart from happening nonetheless. At that time, I made a promise to myself: I will go and live in Lebanon one day.
Which brings me to now, as this is exactly what I’m doing. The only tiny, teeny, oh, barely apparent itch was that I had kind of overlooked the good bye component of relocating in Cedar Land. I was living the dream! Going back where I belonged! It was fantastic!

Until my niece came along and played with me and chased me yelling PatAAAAA at the top of her lungs, making me realise I wouldn’t be seeing her every week like I do now. Oh. Not to mention my sister looking at me, tear-stricken, as if I were going to live in Zimbabwe in a wild savannah full of lions and cheetahs, never to come back. We’ve always been something very akin to drama queens in the family.

So apparently, here comes the hello good bye ballet again. Now I know this is ridiculous, I know everyone nowadays have their hearts fragmented in all parts of the world, I know I have Skype and email and texting and phone calls. No, really, I know. I’m just a selfish cow, I like all the people I love right there in front of me, where I can see them.
So I’ll say good bye in 2 days, then they’ll come visit in a month or so, then I’ll go and visit them. In the meantime, I’ll build strong ties and bonds in Lebanon, and then will come the time to say good bye to them too.

AAaaaaaaaaaaRrrrrGggghhhhh. Now don’t ask why people’s heart fail sometimes.

From Geneva With Love

Reading past posts, especially as this blog is slowly turning one (or has already turned, I can’t keep track of time), I’ve come to realise I’ve written about Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo and of course my glorious Beirut, but have never even mentionned the city I live and work in, Geneva. 

It feels only fair, now that the time of leaving the City of Calvin is drawing nearer, to make amends, and apologise to a city that has sheltered my (to date) most beautiful years, before I board that plane which will take me to new adventures in Beirut for the next year. 

Some people love to bitch about Geneva: it is small, boring, the night life is absent, blah blah blah. It’s tiring, really, the way they’d tell you New York and London are ten times more exciting, and that they’re only here for the job and the money and will leave as soon as that investement banking job in Wall Street will happen (which, in the current climate, might never happen, but let’s not be cruel to the wanna be Batemans). 

People, reality check: London and New York are roughly made of 8 million people each, while, Geneva, er, welcomes about 200 000 inhabitants. 

Ahem, so small difference in sizes, so really, I wouldn’t compare. 

The reason why people do fall into the trap of comparing Geneva to the big megalopolis of this world is because Geneva is a World City, to use a french expression “elle a tout d’une grande”. With its international organisations and banks, it attracts people from all over the world, making its population very diverse, creating a cultural melting pot, making you feel at home even if you’re so far away from it. It’s difficult to feel alien in Geneva, and it’s probably the reason why I like it so much. Talking to people, you’ll start being very surprised if somebody tells you they’re actually from Geneva. To the point where you’ll make, yes make, the people repeat their origins, and once the clearance received, you’ll be free to award them the “1st person truly from Geneva I ever met”. 

I’m not going to bore you to death with touristy type of descriptions, you’ll just have to come and visit it, to take in a very particular atmosphere of openess, the serene presence of the lake, the discreet politeness of its people, the vivid cultural life. I may never feel the crazy love relationship I have with Beirut for Geneva, but I know that when my city of Sun will burn me, I’ll find a safe haven in my Protestant Rome, in its glorious parks, flawless order and broad tolerance. And that, my friends, is simply priceless. 

Now, I’m not going to leave you high and dry without any tips or places to go in Geneva, so let me share with you the places I heart the most (which are most likely to be clothes and shoe shops, and yes, places for brunch): 

Colie Shop https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=88657203591 best clutches and bags and accessories (ok, I’ll admit most of them are from Lebanese designers, I can’t help myself) and lovely owner, a must see in Geneva Old Town

Klima https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=77464472093&v=wall the only shop in Geneva where I found By Larin Shoes, which in itself makes it a HUGE hot spot, also in Old Town

Mamzelle Popeline www.mamzellepopeline.blogspot.com THE vintage shop in Old Carouge (in itself a fantastic neighbourhood with many local designer shops). Beware, Addictive. Where you might find me buried under a pile of 40’s shoes and fifities dresses.

Famous Ape http://famousape.net/ First Concept Store in Geneva, don’t hesitate to ask for Julien to tell you if that dress suits you or not. He has a passion for Maria Callas and will just KNOW how to make you look a million dollars if you feel so inclined 

Histoires de Mode http://www.les-boutiques-de-vetements.ch/1200/5/395545/geneve/histoires_de_mode/detail.htm  in the Eaux Vives neighborhood, new shop opened by a young woman who makes a really fine selection and offers beautiful advice as well

Brunches and Breakfasts Cottage Cafe Have a BircherMuesli under the trees, breathe and relax, all things are homemade and delicious http://www.cottagecafe.ch/ 
O Calme (Comme A La Maison) http://www.ocalme.com/ for the home made pancakes and delicious coffee, under the trees as well, very quiet and lovely 
The laughing teapot For the Scones and Clotted Cream! (yes, in Geneva, aren’t we entitled to miss London sometimes?) http://www.glocals.com/guides/biz/La-Theiere-qui-rit-(The-laughing-teapot)/ 
Le Figuier My Special Place in Geneva: Salam is the sweetest Lady in the world, and cooks heavenly. The place is tiny, located right under a huge fig tree, and Salam makes the most beautiful dishes with the fruits. I usually just go there, don’t look at the menu and ask her to make Muhammara, fig rolls, labneh and her divine Msakhan for me http://www.le-figuier.ch/ If she’s not spoiling her clients, you’ll find her smoking and welcoming people at the entrance of the restaurant, in deep conversation with the Arab Bookshop Owner 😉