My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.

Longing to Laugh Out Loud

23 Comments


September 23, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I have managed to combine two assignments into one blog post.  The first assignment is the “A to Z Challenge” and we are now up to the letter “L“.  I have posted the story in today’s  “Longing to Laugh” one year ago.  However, I revised almost all of it to fit today’s assignments.  The story is as true and accurate an account of my time in the Middle East, as I can remember; the names however, have been changed.

My next assignment if for my Writing 101 class.  I am to focus this post on the contrast between two things.  Here’s the twist:  I am to write the post in the form of a dialogue.  Enjoy!  Peace, ~v.

“Miss Victoria, it is our tradition.  Women do not laugh in public.”

Of all the traditions and customs I had to learn while living in the Middle East, this was the most disturbing.  I had been teaching in a remote town in the middle of the Arabian Desert and after six months, I was finally beginning to fit in, until today.

Tears began to well in my eyes as I stammered, “I’m sorry, Miss Da’ad.  I didn’t know…” and I let my voice trail off.

“You must not cry, Miss Victoria.  I do not mean to hurt you, but we do not laugh in public.”

I knew why the women were not allowed to laugh in public, it was the same reason they wore abayas to cover their bodies and shaylas to cover their heads.  It was the same reason they couldn’t leave their homes after dark and the same reason they couldn’t see their sons graduate from high school:  Men have no self control.

That is not the official reason, of course.  However, I had had enough discussions with my tutor, Mr. Mahmoud, to have reached that conclusion long before Miss Da’ad told me that she longed to laugh.

“So why do Muslim women have to wear the veil, Mr. Mahmoud?”  I asked him one evening between lessons.

“The woman must protect her honor, Miss Victoria.”

“You mean without her veil, a Muslim woman has no honor?  I don’t get it.”

“No, no.  She must be modest in her dress, that will protect her honor.”

“Oh!  I see, dressing modestly and wearing the Shayla keeps men from lusting after the women.  So really, wearing the veil protects the man’s honor.  Well why can’t men protect their own honor?”

“No, no, no Miss Victoria, you are getting it confused!  The man, he is not allowed to look at the woman.  If he looks at the woman with the lust, the woman has no honor anymore.  So she must not draw the man’s stares and she must not look at the man in public, or even at the home, she must cover herself to protect her honor.”

“Wait!”  I said, a little more loudly that I had wanted to.  “Even in her own home she is not allowed to uncover herself?”

“Of course not.  What if her husband brings home a friend?  What if her uncle makes a visit?  She cannot make the mistake and uncover her modesty.  If she makes the man to look at her, she loses her honor.”

“It would be an honest mistake if that happened.  Her honor wouldn’t be lost.  Anyway, if that happened, it would be the man who steals her honor, not the woman who loses it.  See the difference?”

“Miss Victoria, the woman must protect herself.  Even in her own home.  The man, he does not have the will to look away.  The man, he is not responsible to keep the honor.  If the man has lust because the woman, she is not covered, the woman has failed to do her duty.  The man cannot be expected to look away!  And then what?  He see the woman, uncovered, and he has the lustful thoughts and the man, he cannot control his thoughts.  No, no Miss Victoria, the woman, she is responsible for keeping her honor pure.”

“But she has no control over what men are thinking when they look at her, whether she is covered up or not!  If a man sees a woman without her Shayla, he should quickly cover his eyes if he has no self-control.  It is the man’s responsibility to control his thoughts and protect the woman’s honor.”

“So, that is how it is in the West?  The woman, she is allowed to do whatever and the man, he must protect her honor and control his thoughts and actions?  She is allowed to make the man to lust after her?  She can stop this, she can save the man and herself if she wants to!  The woman must protect herself and she must protect the man.  The man cannot help himself, it is the woman who must protect them both. It is not the man’s fault.  The woman must not draw the attention to her.  It is because of he that the man has not pure thoughts.  It is because of her that the man, he cannot control himself.  It is because of the woman that the man does not respect and honor her.  The Muslim man, he respects the women and he honors the women, but the Muslim man, he cannot be responsible for what he thinks and what he does if the woman does not protect herself.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So there it was, the fault in the logic of Muslim society.  Intellectually, I had known it all along.  Women wore the veil because they had to protect the men, not themselves.  And here I was, apologizing to Miss Da’ad for my shortsightedness.

“Of course I shouldn’t laugh in public, Miss Da’ad.  I did not mean to draw attention.”

“No, no Miss Victoria, keep laughing.  The Muslim women, we cannot laugh.  But you my sister, you must never stop laughing.  Never stop laughing my sister, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”

And so I laugh.  I laugh long and I laugh loud, hoping that the sounds will reach across the miles and into the patient ears of my sisters in the Middle East who are longing to laugh out loud.

The following was posted in Al Arabiya newspaper September 23, 2014:

“Don’t laugh out loud,” Turkey’s deputy PM urges women

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23 thoughts on “Longing to Laugh Out Loud

  1. An excellent thought provoking post. Such a great argument against the fallibility of the Muslim treatment of women and their honor. Told in a non offensive way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading. I am grateful that my dialogue came across as non-offensive, because to the best of my recollection, that was how the discussion went.
      Thank you again for the read.
      ~victoria

      Like

  2. I’m very surprised by your final point: “…The Muslim women, we cannot laugh. But you my sister, you must never stop laughing. Never stop laughing my sister, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was very surprised when Miss D said this to me. At first she said that her and the other Arabic teachers could hear my laughter coming from my classroom every day and they were neither envious nor bitter, rather, they found it liberating laughing vicariously through me. I truly hope they are laughing

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is truly an enlightening and endearing post. I will be laughing for my sisters’ in the middle east – even though I am not Muslim, I still consider them my sister. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OH I love this! You handled the topic so well and with respect. I LOVE to laugh and now will laugh even harder for my poor Muslim sisters who can’t laugh, I can’t imagine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even after a year back in the states, it is hard for me to believe the women I worked with were not allowed to laugh. Then I see an article such as the Turkish official who two months ago re-iterating that Muslim women should not laugh in public so as to preserve their morals!

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  5. Amazing text! I loved it! I agree with Joyroses13, you handled the topic very well. Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, Victoria, you’ve proven to be a master of dialogue as well…though I shouldn’t be surprised. Your style of writing is so seamless and comfortable – it almost gets out of the reader’s way while you tackle a sticky topic (with honor and grace, by the way). I’m new to this blogging world and the offering of feedback remotely, but I’ve tried to always leave a suggestion for growth. I’ve got nothing for you. This piece is wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Coming from a seemingly professional writer such as yourself, I am flattered. I just finished reading and commenting on your post, “The Basement Door.” I could say the same to you regarding feedback for you.
      Please keep writing. Even if you do not continue to blog, even if you do not plan on publishing, please, keep writing. You have a gift that draws the reader right next to you. That is something no one can teach you. Thank you, again, for reading my posts and sharing your posts with the rest of us.
      ~victoria

      Like

  7. How unutterably sad this is – a cultural edict that doesn’t allow half the population to laugh. You present the situation so considerately.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved this piece you wrote. You write with such compassion and so much understanding. You tell the story so that everyone reading can understand as if they are right there, and feel the emotions going on as well.
    The stories the women told of not being able to laugh, reminded me a hearing Zainab Salbi speak once. I am not sure if you know who she is, but she escaped Iraq under Hussein and founded Women for Women International. I admire her greatly. In her speech she quoted Rumi, I thought about laughing, but I looked it up, it was about dancing. However, it still puts you in mind of the situation of the women and how you told the story.
    How wonderful it was for them to have you there. You are an inspiration. As are they.
    -CC

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    • I must admit that I had to look up Zainab Salbi. I was impressed with her and her story. Thank you for leading me to one of the many women I admire. Incidentally, I will have to put you in that category as well. How very courageous of you to write your blog. How personal and gut-wrenching at times it is to read. I do hope it has helped you. I hesitate to say that enjoy reading your blog. However, I do enjoy watching (I hope) the growth it affords you. Thank you for taking the time to read mine. ~victoria

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      • Actually, I am still learning WP, and your blog had been one I had so wanted to read extensively. I could not figure out why it was not on my reader or email. Well, I am only on reading in the middle of night usually, and I forgot to check the edit on my blogs I follow. So, now you are on my email. I apologize for that. I am looking forward to catching up. You are an inspiration to me.
        Thank you for the compliment. I am happy actually to hear that people enjoy or find interest in reading my blog. It was a challenge and still is to find a way to write it and make it interesting, but it has been immensely helpful, yes.
        -CC

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      • I, too, am a night owl. I do some of my best work during the witching hour.
        Reading your blog is like sipping a fine wine, I savor it. It also is very challenging and inspirational for me to read. Challenging because, well, it does make me face some of my own demons. Inspirational because I know I am not the only one with such “unusual issues”, as one of my kicked-to-the-curb therapists used to tell me. Thank you. ~v.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I hope you didn’t have to teach that to your students? It’s so twisted lol. I wouldn’t have survived over there if it had been me. Wonderful read in spite of the content 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you for visiting my blog. In answer to your question, no, I did not have to teach that to the girls because they already knew it! It was heart wrenching to watch a vibrant, free-spirited young lad of 17, graduate high school and instantly become a dour matron. The change was, to me, astonishing. Again, thank you for the read. ~victoria

      Liked by 1 person

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