Everybody Hates a Tourist

Ah, summer. Scorching heat, unbearable showers, natural escape, and the tourism industry’s backbone since no one is submissive enough to endure these temperatures; not even for poetic reasons. While the larger portion of us prefers the intimate fondling of passport control abroad, some of us relish in the excitement of domestic exploration. That is the general, tangible theme of tourism, the one that drives you into loans and/or carrying out murder-suicides on the members of your immediate family and an indiscernible number of very deserving cousins.

There is, however, a third, subtle form of tourism that doesn’t traverse land or distance, but instead, travels through class, money, and status. Tourism that is at heart not very different from orientalism in its approach to the culture it imposes itself on; a sort of hipsterism that preys on the circumstances people’s lives are run by. It is the tourism of socioeconomic class, and the sole manner of transportation in that trip: a one-way ticket to the lower decks.

Now emerges a trend amongst the new, educated generation of Arabs. Young men and women of the upper-middle class who hail from the best families with seemingly self-replenishing means and with access to the best education who cannot, for the lives of them, find sufficient validation in the rich lives they lead. Their exposure to Dickensian literature (for want of expensing the benefit of the doubt) or simple lack of experience in life pushes them towards finding self-assurance and relatability in the manners in which those less fortunate lead their lives.

It is no secret that nobility seems to be exclusive to the poor, but it’s not the direct link these validation vultures seem to believe in that builds character and strengthens will. You will not be one of the common people by breakfasting on the off-chance at the Fawwal. You will not be seen as a struggling individual if you can’t afford that spring break trip to Florida. You will not share the collective frustration with the inflation by shopping at the 2 Riyal shops as a hobby and not out of necessity.

It gets worse for you, dear predator, because we, middle class and lower, see that you’re not just the loser kid that’s trying to blend in by any means necessary, but you go further to the point of ostentatious audacity of complaining about your status, of claiming that you’re broke (darling, 1200 in your account is a more-than-decent amount), of calling yourself blue-collar, of “dreaming” of being rich, of whining because you can’t afford the new Celine handbag and the new Yeezy’s, and cursing your luck that your father’s credit card isn’t as open-end as you wanted it to be.

Growing up middle class meant that we always wanted to look better off, more important, richer. We stole our siblings’ better clothes, our mothers’ favourite make-up, borrowed that designer purse after weeks and weeks of begging, saved up our allowance to buy that one thing everyone was talking about at school because we were too proud to admit that things just don’t happen when we wish them to. So, as a large part of society, it is incredibly laughable for us to see someone flaunting what we grew up to see as embarrassing. But then the vultures start crooning fondly to each other in “sympathy,” and it becomes infinitely insulting.

Having breakfast at the Fawwal isn’t a choice of amusement, it is a necessity shaped by circumstance. A person’s remaining balance at the end of every month doesn’t indicate what he can spend, it indicates how he should live his life, it dictates what he perceives as success, happiness, and well being. His lifestyle shouldn’t be used as a gateway for your self-indulgence. I realise that self-search is a vital aspect in a young person’s life, but when it becomes a blatant disregard for the harsh reality of others, it becomes a childish desire to become a literary character, not a person.

When someone’s day-to-day concern is how to survive by the end of the month, it hardly comes as a pat on the back when the sons and daughters of the high-middle class attempt to identify with that struggle. When you eat out more than you cook, when you travel more than you stay, when you indulge more than you save, when you read more than you experience, your occasional strolls through Taibah speak nothing but a severe lack of touch with reality.

I plead to this young generation, the readers, the revolutionists, the Guevara wannabes, the socialists because it’s cool, to step out of their convenient bubbles of Goodreads lists and be thankful for the struggles they don’t have to fight through, to not fall for the romance of poverty, to not be trapped into theorising real life experiences in order to understand them. Not everything has to be understood, just respected.

You might be hated for the graces you’ve been given, but ultimately it’s a lighter burden than that of being hated for being an ungrateful little prick. I leave you with the masterpiece that is Common People by Pulp. I tried to be polite and explain it, but maybe Jarvis Cocker’s torrent of insults can make this unsightly charade cease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuTMWgOduFM

Everybody Hates a Tourist

Verbal Abuse

Language must be humanity’s greatest two-edged sword. For something that has elevated human thought, achievement, and perception, language has been the benign-looking, elusive microbe deconstructing collective human consciousness, consecutively and simultaneously creating and demolishing cultures and concepts thereof as it prances around time and space. (I sincerely apologise for not being able to resist that Doctor Who reference. It’s RIGHT THERE). That relentless, never-giving nature of language is what perplexes me the most, and thusly charms me to no end. A person’s manner of speaking does not only carry vocabulary acquired from baby teeth and onwards, but every piece of food stuck between them, every flavour, the dull geography of the surroundings (all geography is dull and you know it), even the basic physics of the universe. So when you utter that compliment/racial slur, you do it through what is basically the in-built Talking Tom app that renders any loud thought bouncing around your head into a setting-inappropriate squeak. 

NO ONE IS SAVED!

I mean it. No one is spared. Not even this post, which I’m typing in English because… I’m desensitised to English mockery and sense of disaster? I’m too apprehensive of the overwhelming nature of Arabic? See, even I, an incredibly tiny speck in the course of humanity, am divided between my own mother tongue -don’t even get me started on dialects- and a language I chose to pick up because, as every other sane and cool preteen, I adamantly loved and still love Backstreet Boys. I may have acquired a broader overview of the world with every new metaphor I learnt, but that view is perceived through a kaleidoscope of all the fragments of understanding which fool me into seeing the peripheral as central. 

The enriching nature of language, along with the nature/nurture element it carries, is also inherently degenerative. The human mind and its experience of the world relentlessly give new methods of expression, sometimes for the same exact experience. However, all the aforementioned steps that language undergoes to reach formation add to that about-to-be-expressed thought sending out a connotation-laden utterance with, apprehensively so, a context.

You have to understand, I hate context. If only for the sole fact that empirical truth wheezes into dust in its presence. Or non-presence. Or both. Not just wheezes, the process is anything but dignified. The idea of context takes the attempt of establishing empirical truth, rolls it up in a bunch, and wipes its ass with it.

Now void of absolute truth and burdened with context, a thought has to traverse culture, time, place, history, age, and setting to reach the intended recipient. Now mostly two or three of these factors have to be taken into account. Your barista really doesn’t give two tosses about the origin of your name to spell it correctly. They don’t even give one toss about spelling your name correctly. But take a look at how religion is passed down to us, and how many groans you utter when you realise how the one language with time difference fucked everything up for you. How those words decomposed into vague syllables rounded up to the nearest available meaning, how ballpark our understanding of them is, how we patch the fractions together but the jigsaw puzzle doesn’t quite fall into place every time. And most of all, how terribly, terribly context-bound it all is.

Language is divisive more than it is unitive, human nature suffers to rise above it, and the only way to do so is to succumb to language.

Disclaimer: I enjoy insulting the things I adore. Admiration loses its charm and I need a punching bag. If you think this was a passive go at religion not language, you will be that bag. If you think I’m attacking your language, whatever your language may be, I am. All of them. 

Verbal Abuse

Passports

We are all, by some means, loyal. To someone, to something, to an idea, or a place. We belong by natural disposition to something of our choosing, hence defining and defending our restrictions in case any insurgence should occur. In a civilised world, most of us (I’m looking at you, Kuwait) have passports that tie us to certain cultures despite our unwillingness to adhere to them. We are children of that land, that is the basis of the system. Problematically, however, for citizens of wonderful Arabia, this appears to not be the case. Whatever land you were born on is of no concern, the real concern is “where can we dump you?”

I’m legally Yemeni, as Yemeni as Yemen gets. My passport is navy blue with a hawk or an eagle or whatever that squinting bird in gold is. I speak my dialect fluently, a gift of my culturally-proud parents. I’m even marginally good at Yemeni cuisine, something I never thought I’d need to learn because, well, I’m also Saudi. I’m Saudi in the sense that I was born here, Saudi in the sense that I’ve lived nearly 25 years here, Saudi in the sense that I’m more familiar with sand than I am with greenery, Saudi in the sense that I have to ask my mother about Yemen when I effortlessly know the littlest of things about life here, in Saudi.

And so, my loyalties are hazy for I love Yemen. I love Yemen, with its poverty and insufficient infrastructure, its perfect weather, divine architecture and otherworldly scenery, its generosity, hospitality, and wonderful food, Yemen has captivated me. But Saudi has always been home, I can navigate through Riyadh (via driver) with incredible ease, even mastering the detour maze where I insistently fail a simple left turn behind my house in Yemen.

My loyalties are hazy, and have always been dormant, but now they’re not. They’re tested, tortured. Stretched from extremity to extremity to the point of laceration. Bombed in instalments of 1200 air raids so far that set the cities alight. Terrorised every night for the past 2 weeks dusk till dawn. Annihilated. Demolished. Devastated.

It is very easy to point your finger at an Apache, ripping your sky up in half in patronising force. It’s even easier to parade that force in a relaxed air of military supremacy, like a lion strutting out in the afternoon to stretch. It’s somewhat difficult, though, to lie in the lion’s den and cry for it to come back home.

My loyalties take no hue, they’re not leather-bound pages of pride. They’re words of plea away from rubble, glass, and blood.

Passports