Posts in Letters from Ljubljana

Who’s afraid of the black abaya?

The news of the new ban by the Minister of Education is resonating in France and abroad. Muslim girls will no longer be allowed to wear abayas in schools. In the name of secularization in public spaces, they are closing the doors to those who, in the eyes of many, are already pushed away and oppressed, ironically, precisely because of their longer and looser clothes.

The headscarf, which is not a religious symbol of Islam, but is the most visible reflection of worship in everyday life, was not enough. Now the abaya must go. The abaya, which is purely a cultural piece of clothing and not a religious one. A long loose robe with buttons or a zipper will be for-bi-dden, starting this new school year.

Many Muslim communities are outraged (while Islamophobes celebrate) and are questioning where is the line between hating the abaya and celebrating renowned French (non-Muslim) clothing designers who have been borrowing inspiration from traditional kaftans and jalabiyas from North Africa and the Middle East for well over a century, if not more. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the costume designs in Chaplin’s “Woman of Paris” from 1923, which I had the pleasure of seeing just last week at a free screening at Congress Square in Ljubljana.

Who is bothered about girls covered up, whose bodies aren’t for everyone to see? If they start wearing long skirts and blouses as an alternative to abayas — is a new ban on the horizon? In England, earlier this year (!) a male teacher humiliated girls because their skirts were too short. He allegedly used a ruler to indicate to those lined up whose legs were indecently (un)covered. Will France develop criteria for skirts and sleeves that are “too long”?

If we insist that it is our liberty and right to look at other people’s bodies, we interfere with their bodily autonomy.

The abaya is the current enemy number one in France, meanwhile, not far across from our Slovenian border, it looks like a ban on burkinis is soon to take place. The mayor of the Italian town of Monfalcone/Tržič has announced a ban on swimwear, which otherwise gives Muslim women the freedom to swim at public beaches. No, Muslim women do not come to the beach to “wash their rags” in the water. Many ladies spend a pretty penny for a quality burkini, so ignorant and hateful comments about hygiene are completely out of place. Personal hygiene and cleanliness are an integral part of the Islamic faith, while the same cannot be said for all non-Muslim users of (merely) toilet paper.

Shall I respond to the second most popular comment of bigots who are so terribly bothered by burkinis? “If we have to adapt in their countries, let them adapt in ours.”

What exactly are tourists adapting to in Western resorts in Egypt, Morocco, and for example in the notoriously backward Saudi Arabia? Not a single thing. Everything is at their disposal. Freedom to wear bikinis by the pool and on private hotel beaches as well. But if you want to go off on how much your liberties are taken away in other Muslim countries that the West has successfully left in ruins, fueled military coups and the rise of dictators, then I must kindly remind you how lucky and privileged we are to live in democratic countries.

If we insist that it is our liberty and right to look at other people’s bodies, we interfere with their bodily autonomy. Until we are ready to change this belief that (especially women’s) bodies must be available at all times for observation, evaluation, criticism, and, let’s not forget, for “resting one’s sore eyes” upon every other billboard, we have to face the unpleasant fact we do not live in so immensely celebrated democratic society with all our liberties. Funny, it is precisely our freedom and democracy that give us a false sense of superiority which often makes us look down on other social structures and cultures.

Back in the saddle

Back on the horse… Well, on a bicycle again. I’m speeding around Ljubljana once more, not too fast, of course. I overcame my fear and decided to push the pedals forward, into freedom on the streets of Ljubljana. No more waiting for the bus and the sweating in those metal boxes with non-working air conditioners.

What fear? What are you going on about, Misha? Ah… Most of you don’t know. Soon it will be 9 years since my spectacular somersault over the steering wheel and the surgeries and almost a year of physical therapy that followed. I can honestly say that at that time my life turned upside down. I felt as if something had to shake me, throw me on a different path, in a different direction. It doesn’t matter, I’m here today. I’m breathing, loving, pushing the pedals forward, I’m (almost) not afraid of anything anymore.

Eid for two

His wife woke him up at five in the morning, even though she had no intention of getting up herself. He asked her for a wake-up call so that he would not be late for the Eid prayer. “I don’t think if it’s wise for you to come with me. I don’t want your whole day to be ruined if there isn’t a space for women again,” he tried to spare her bad mood with bitterness in his mouth.

In the short period since they arrived in this country, they realized that it is not worth getting into debates with the existing community. That’s just how it is. “That’s how we do things here, women don’t go to Friday prayers, even less so to Eid prayers,” they kept hearing.

They came to the realization that they had fallen for the pretentious promises about the community for all Muslims and promotional photos and the floor plan sketches with the caption, 》prayer room for women《.

That’s just the way it is here. Two summers ago, when they were in this country just visiting and wanted to go to Jummah together, the wife was stopped at the door. “There are too many men, there is no room for women. It is too hot for us to pray outside,” a small group of worshipers told the woman, who was asking them, why can’t she go inside. Once she realized that she was not going anywhere, she kept to herself the last bit of how bizzare their point about hot weather and their inability to pray outside was. From where she came, from the land of the Prophet, where the scorching heat and desert sand are unrelenting, Eid and Friday prayers welcome thousands of believers even outside the mosques. Above all, it does not cross anyone’s mind that the space for women would be occupied by men. Or to put it another way, no one dares to discourage someone from joining the prayer in congregation.

During the biggest holiday, Eid, the courtyards and parks around the mosques are filled with families already at sunrise. Everyone gathers, old and young, to pray together and then exchange good wishes with everyone.

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That’s just not the case here. On Fridays, when the number of Muslim men to the mosque is too high and the place for women is therefore occupied, the woman must wait for men to finish the ritual. The security guard then warns her that she has five minutes before he jingles his keys and starts badgering her to leave. Two summers ago, husband and wife weren’t the only visitors from a foreign land that Friday. A few other women were ushered away from the women’s entrance, which was being filled by men. Arriving home distraught, husband and wife naively hoped for some explanation from the community’s decision-makers. A sharp and sarcastic voice on the other end of the phone infuriated the wife to even write to the other people in charge at the mosque. She did not receive a response to either her first or her second written inquiry.

Eventually, she came to connect with others in this new land who confided in her similar stories. She could feel their reluctance and disappointment. The wife wanted to speak about it out loud. “It’s not right what’s going on,” she kept saying. At the same time, she did not want to denigrate the community, to alienate herself from it, to stay behind the closed doors of the mosque even on other occasions. “But with such an attitude, they are spitting in their own bowl,” her friend kept agreeing with her, who herself had repeatedly experienced the inexcusable jingling of the security guard with the keys, as if she were some mischievous little schoolgirl and not a grown-up Muslim woman who wanted to pray in the one and only mosque in the city.

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This year, the wife did not go to the Eid prayer with her husband. She stayed at home, like other wives in this land. When her husband returned home, he brought her a red rose. “Some women were standing by the mosque, selling roses after the prayer.”

“Did they at least pray with you, perhaps somewhere in the back…” his wife asked him with a glimpse of hope for that moment.

“No. They have their own way of doing things. That’s just the way it is.” Then the wife suggested that she and her husband come up with their own new traditions for the upcoming holidays. They will recreate the atmosphere from the Prophet’s land, they will pray together, and celebrate Eid for two.

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A new leaf

A new leaf. My first one on this beautiful monstera, which I chose as my first roommate in our apartment. I got it this past winter for just a few bucks from a lady who was looking for a new home for it.

A new leaf, a new chapter. Here comes the beginning of the summer, which we will spend together for the first time in Ljubljana.

I am so very proud of Tamer and myself. Everything we do, what we strive for, even though (or especially because) we may not share it online.

I am also proud of this young green leaf that curled out and sparkled by the window. I must be doing something right. I’ve been told that monsteras are not high maintenance. But for me, who already managed to screw up corn sprouts in elementary school, then raised my hands away from plants and declared: “This is not for me, I’d rather work with animals,” believe me, this new green leaf is a tremendous achievement for me.

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Happy Birthday

He would have turned 89 today. The last time we spoke on the phone was three years ago for his birthday. I was still hoping that I would be able to visit him again in the summer, but I was stuck in Saudi Arabia because of you know what. A month later, I couldn’t even go to his funeral.

He never met Tamer, I didn’t explain to him about my trips to Egypt and Sudan and then about moving to live with my husband in Jeddah.

My grandfather’s dementia hit us all pretty hard. When he was gone, the bad days were forgotten. There are only the good old days left, with the mischievous smile of a gentleman from Šiška, who went every day at the same time to the store to buy the same kind of bread buns and then for a cappuccino in the neighboring cafe.

Tamer and I went to Žale cemetery today. We stopped at the grave, which I myself have visited several times. It was a nice day. Happy birthday, Grandpa.

At a crossroad

Funny things have been happening lately. On the one hand, they slow me down, but on the other hand, I often say to myself: “damn it, start doing everything you’ve dreamed of, regardless of others.”
A lot of us complain about the algorithm. How our instagram accounts aren’t going anywhere. Mine has been at the same number of followers for a year. But my reach often even exceeds the 50 percent share. Something’s not right. I wonder what I’m doing wrong. They tell me nothing. That I have substance, that I am not shallow. It’s true. I’m not selling anything. Could this be the problem?

I also don’t like to expose my husband all the time because it feels cheap. I praise him too much, I know. Then you are so happy when I take a picture of him. And questions, what does Tamer think about this and that, how is Tamer doing in Slovenia? At one point, I was baffled and thought to myself, “am I his lawyer, agent or something like that?” Whoever I am, I will never be a woman behind a man. I support Tamer in every possible way, as he also supports me. His success is my success, and vice versa.
But these nuggets really grind my gears: “I love following you two so much” or “I enjoy reading the two of you.”

*Looking around to see where the second person in this duet is writing this.*

Not a single text is seen by Tamer before posting. I am not asking him for his opinion or permission. Every word is mine and the English translation as well. This is not “our” account.
I know that I could easily gain a few thousand more followers with cutesy everyday videos of what we do, what we eat, what we laugh at. We could be so deliciously charming. We could pose as a wonderful mixed couple decoration hosted by a larger account, hungry to diversify its beige influence.

Last time I also heard a funny spicy sarcastic remark that we are doing too well. That I love my husband, I don’t complain about him… That’s really not interesting. There is no scandal. There wasn’t one even in Saudi Arabia because he didn’t confiscate my documents, and now there’s no reason to worry in Slovenia.
How do I proceed? Should I switch from writing to another medium, because most people don’t read anyway, they just like pretty pictures? Shall I take off my last reins of self-censorship, and welcome the devil-may-care attitude?

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A night at the Opera

Last night, sitting in the loge, I look around the hall, from stage across the ground floor and a little higher… Unsuspectedly I invited in a memory of when my aunt took me to the opera for the first time. We went to see La Traviata. “We were sitting right up there. My God. That was exactly 20 years ago,” I realize out loud.

Tamer and I listened to Troubadour for the first time last night. “Are you sure you want to come along? I don’t want you to get bored…” I double-checked before buying the tickets. He didn’t let me scare him away.

The last tuning of the orchestra always caresses my ears and gives me goosebumps. I missed this! Curtain up, it’s time for some magic. The lead tenor was disappointing. That can happen too, I guess. But the spell worked for the mezzo-soprano. Her gypsy brought me to tears. After about an hour came the intermission. I look at Tamer and dare not predict his reaction.

“Amazing. What voices! How can they sing for so long and with such volume?”

“Does that mean you like it? Shall we go again some time?”

“Yes, of course! Please, let’s go again soon.”

A few years ago, someone told me that I had to come to terms with the fact that life is pretty unexciting, quite lame to be exact. At some point, you just go from day to day, and moments of joy may slip by every now and then. “No,” I said. “I am not settling for that.”

I choose a life that is as grand or even bigger than the opera. There is no shortage of disappointments, but my stage will always be filled with stories of greatness.

Enough with the rain!

When I was in the desert, I missed the rain. On this soaking 2nd of May in Ljubljana, I’ve had enough of it. Enough!

But without it there is no greenery. There are no lush canopies in the desert where a black bird and a sparrow and a tit are waiting for the drops to give way to their singing.

These days, I find myself missing Ramadan. This year’s fasting month, which was so lovely in Ljubljana. And the Eid that followed. In this green city of Ljubljana.

A very special anniversary

He was waiting for me at the airport. I arrived in the middle of the night, for the first time alone on a plane, for the first time so far away from home.

After more than a year, we had to make this leap, to overcome the distance. He was not welcome in Slovenia back then, or rather, Austria did not let him into Schengen territory. So I came a little over half way to meet him Egypt.

He was waiting for me at the airport. I still remember his hands in his pockets, the pacing and his broad smile. How nervous he was. When we finally locked eyes through the transparent fences, hearts in our chests could only be silenced by the loud hustle and bustle of the airport at the last baggage check.

And then there was no more ocean or thousands of kilometers between us, only one more step to make for an embrace.

We held hands for the first time in the taxi. Only this last piece was missing, and the puzzle was complete.

Four years ago today, he was waiting for me at the airport. And there was an adventure waiting for us.

What to say for Eid?

Eid means a holiday in Arabic, Bayram in Bosnian and Turkish. Thus, at the end of Ramadan, when the month-long fast comes to an end, it is time for a celebration that lasts for 3 days.

If you’re at a loss for how to wish your co-workers, classmates, or friends who are celebrating, save this post for a cheat sheet.

“Eid Mubarak” comes in handy in any Arabic speaking country.

“Bayram Sheríf Mubarek Olsun” is a well-known phrase in the Bosnian-speaking Muslim community.

“Bayramınız Mübarek Olsun” can be said in Turkish language.

“Happy Eid. Joyous Bayram. Happiness and health and full of blessings to you on your holiday…” You can use all these in a sincerity in Slovenian. It’s the thought that counts.